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John G. Wright

Stalin’s Decrees Bare Rift with Red Officers

Pravda Reveals Growing Clash of Kremlin, Army Tops;
Stalin Can No Longer Depend on Bureaucracy He Appointed

(8 November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 45, 8 November 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is impossible for Stalin to hide any longer the gravity of the rift between himself and the officers’ corps of the Red Army. Stalin’s October 19 order “for a state of siege in Moscow” revealed to the world the growing intensity of this conflict. This order was, in effect, the first official acknowledgment of the re-shuffling of the Red High Command, which is in itself a symptom of the crisis now convulsing the Kremlin-Kui- bishev regime. But far overshadowing it in significance was another disclosure contained in this order, i.e., that Stalin is now openly relying on the GPU as his only remaining dependable prop.

The full implications of the latest re-shuffling of the High Command and the investment of the GPU with open and sweeping powers not only over the population but over the Red Army itself, soldiers and officers alike – all this can be best understood in the light of Stalin’s previous measures – a whole series in which the “shoot-on-the-spot” ukase of October 19 is only the latest link.

On June 22, the first day of the German invasion, the European territories of the USSR were placed under martial law, with the military authorities in command.

Almost, immediately Stalin demonstrated his lack of confidence in the Red command by forming, on June 30, the State Committee for Defense (composed of Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Malenkov and Berya). The then-Commissar for Defense and Commander-in- Chief of the armed forces, Marshall Timoshenko, was not included in this body. This was not an ‘oversight,’ but rather it was Stalin’s step in stripping the Red command of its powers.

Next, the High Command was reshuffled on July 11. (Timoshenko assumed command of the Moscow Military District, or the Western Central Army; Budenny – the Kiev Military District, or the South Army; and Voroshilov – the Leningrad Military District, or the Northwestern Army).

Political Commissars Reintroduced

Almost unanimously [sic!] with this reshuffling of the High Command, the system of political commissars was reintroduced in the army on July 16. It is hardly necessary to dwell on the fact that this introduction of dual authority in the armed forces was a blow at the officers, stripping them of authority, and, in effect, subordinating them to the secret police arm of the regime, the GPU.

(It should be recalled that the system of political commissars was originally reintroduced by Stalin in August 1937 to facilitate the beheading of the Red Army at the time. This system was revoked – undoubtedly under the pressure of the officers – on August 12, 1940, after the blows of the Finnish experience.)

Each of the above-cited measures was designed not to strengthen the defensive power of the Red Army, but rather to facilitate Stalin’s open assumption of the supreme command of the armed forces. They were political measures typical of Stalin’s rule. On July 19, he replaced Timoshenko as People’s Commissar for Defense.

On the very next day, the world learned that the Kremlin’s secret police had been once again reorganized. Only a few months before, in February, the GPU had been divided into two autonomous departments, namely, the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs and the People’s Commissariat of State Security. The latter department was virtually placed under the jurisdiction of the Red command. The February “reorganization” was apparently another sop to the officers’ corps, a sort of guarantee against mass purges in the army. On July 20, these two departments were “unified” again under the control of Stalin’s puppet, Berya.

On July 21, the system of political commissars was extended to the Red Fleet.

On the same day, more deputies were appointed for the post of Commissar of Defense. The significant thing about these new appointees is that among them were political commissars. In other words, the Commissariat of Defense was itself placed directly under the supervision of the GPU. Stalin had gathered all the threads of power into his own hands.

What These Steps Signified

The capitalist press interpreted all these moves as preventive measures designed to forestall any attempts at betrayal by the officers. It is undeniable that the Red command has many unreliable elements. They have found it easiest to advance precisely under the Kremlin regime.

But this interpretation evades the entire history of the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule. Today as in the past, Stalin’s moves are dictated and motivated solely by his ruthless struggle to maintain himself in power. He realized at the very outbreak of war that the officers’ corps whom he had himself raised to power a short while ago could not be depended upon to follow him blindly. The officers could not fail to become alarmed by the continued defeats of the Red Army. Besides, their own lives were at stake. Stalin’s only answer was to resort openly under war-time conditions to the real bulwark of his regime – the execution squads of the GPU. It is they, and not the military authorities who are now in supreme control in beleaguered Moscow, and this means – everywhere, both in the front lines and in the rear.

Stalin’s monstrous bureaucratic apparatus of repression began crumbling on the eve of the second World War. The war has violently speeded up this process of disintegration. The military arm of Stalin’s bureaucratic apparatus has crumbled beyond repair after less than five months of war.

Stalinism Threatens Defense of USSR

We are now witnessing the final stages of the death agony of Stalinism. These final convulsions, however, carry with them also a mortal threat to the USSR, whose strength is being sapped internally by the continuation of Stalin’s rule. Every day, every hour of the struggle brings additional overwhelming proof that the Soviet Union can be successfully defended only by the reconstitution of the Soviets and the return to the policies of Bolshevism which guaranteed the victory in October 1917 and beat back the imperialists and the counter-revolution in the Civil War of 1918–1920.

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