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John G. Wright

Stalin’s Pre-War Purge

(December 1941)

From Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 10, December 1941, pp. 311–313.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Precisely during the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact, which the Kremlin and its hirelings now claim had been utilized as a breathing space to strengthen the country, the basic plants of the USSR were operating at two-thirds, one-half, two-fifths of their capacity, and even below these levels. In a previous article (Fourth International, November 1941), we adduced, from Stalin’s own official data, incontrovertible proof of this catastrophic condition of Soviet industry.

Stalin’s Secret Purge of 1940–41

Stalin sought to emerge from the crisis in his customary manner—through new repressions and purges. The Kremlin’s sole concern on this as on all other occasions was to unload its own responsibility on scapegoats. Sufficient data are now available to demonstrate that the little-known and “bloodless” purge which was unleashed by Stalin toward the end of 1940 and which continued throughout the first part of 1941 assumed proportions second only to the monstrous blood purges of 1936-1938.

The signal for this purge came with the call for the Eighteenth Party Conference which convened in Moscow in February 1941.

A partial list of the People’s Commissariats that were decimated during the “discussion period” in the months prior to the Conference follows:

At the Conference itself six members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (among them Maxim Litvinov), 15 alternates and 9 members of the Central Auditing Commission were expelled on the charge of “incompetence” and “failure to fulfill their duties.” The People’s Commissars of Agriculture, Medium Machine Building, Timber and Defense Industry were purged. Immediately after the Conference the ax fell on the Commissariats of Aircraft, Munitions, Electrical Industry, Chemical Industry, Marine Transport, River Transport and Fishing Industry.

All this was only the beginning. The Moscow press, issues of which are finally available, reveals conditions that verge on the incredible. Pravda from March 2 to March 27 reported further “reorganization” in the following Commissariats:

The Kremlin’s average during this period was approximately a Commissariat a day. Many of the Commissariats were purged several times during the month of March alone. Over and above this the columns of Pravda in the space of a little more than three weeks in March contain reports of the prosecution of Soviet industrial and administrative staffs on criminal charges in the following key industrial areas: Gorky, Kursk, Novosibirsk, Moscow, Stalingrad oblast (province), Dniepropetrovsk oblast, Kemerovo and Novorossisk oblasts, Sumsk oblast, and so on—in short, from one end of the country to the other.

The Official Explanation for the Purge

The purge reached its peak in the months of April and May, i.e., on the very eve of Hitler’s invasion. Official confirmation of this is contained in the Bolshevik, the “theoretical” organ of Stalin’s Communist Party. The leading editorial in the March issue of the Bolshevik is in effect an order to “cleanse” the primary organs of the party, under the guise of “elections” scheduled for the months of April and May.

“The elections of party organs as the primary organizations,” declares this editorial, “must assist us in uncovering the actual state of affairs in every enterprise. Bold Bolshevik criticism can be of decisive help in laying bare all the inadequacies, in lashing the uncouth attitude toward carrying out the entrusted tasks, and in exposing the do-nothings, babblers and ignoramuses who are acting aa a brake on our progress.” (Bolshevik, March 1941, No. 6, pp. 4–6)

In the period of the Moscow, frame-ups which preceded the Stalin-Hitler pact, the Kremlin labelled its victims and scapegoats as “enemies of the people,” “spies,” “wreckers,” “saboteurs,” “diversionists,” etc. The formula for the 1940-41 purge reads: “do-nothings,” “babblers,” “ignoramuses.” By the admission of the Kremlin, this was the kind of “leadership” it had itself foisted upon Soviet industry as a consequence of its monstrous purges. This is how Stalin “strengthened” the Soviet Union by his purges! Naturally, we shall wait in vain for an explanation from such gentlemen as Davies, Hopkins, Ingersoll, who together with the liberals in the New Republic, have at this late hour jumped forward to whitewash Stalin.

The direct connection between this drive against “do-nothings,” “ignoramuses,” etc. and the crisis in Soviet industry is explained by the editors of Bolshevik as follows:

“The elections of party organs must demonstrate whether or not the party organizations and their leaders are fighting daily and consistently to fulfill the decisions of the Eighteenth Party Conference; whether or not they have begun everywhere to penetrate in essence into production and to interest themselves in questions of new technique and technology, in the organization of production, in the proper placement of individuals and their utilization, in the basic costs of production and the quality of production.” (idem, page 5)

If these words have any meaning at all, they mean that Soviet industry had been left in charge of people who were least concerned with and least qualified to deal with its functioning and its most elementary problems. And as if to leave no room for doubt on this score, the editors of Bolshevik flatly declares:

“Unfortunately there ore still not a few leaders — both in the party and industry—who concern themselves with production only superficially; they do not penetrate into the economy of their enterprises; they try to evade responsibility by mouthing meaningless common-places. One need have no doubt that such leaders will be subjected to severe criticism and that they will not be entrusted with the leadership of party work.”

What safeguarded these “leaders” from criticism all this time? How did they come to be “entrusted” with leadership in the first place? Who is really responsible? On these as on all other questions, there is only silence from the Kremlin and all the hired and voluntary apologists of Stalin and Roosevelt.

The Kremlin’s “Leaders” of Industry

The editors of Bolshevik, who speak only on Kremlin’s orders, return again and again to the impermissible state of affairs in the industrial “leadership.”

“There still remain not a few leaders,” they keep harping, “who do not understand the need of widening their knowledge and their horizons and who think that they can get by with common-places, hollow phrases and superficial administration. Such leaders must be reminded ... by communists that the party will not stand on ceremony in dealing with them. Babblers and ignoramuses who refuse to study modern technology, who refuse to penetrate into economy and production cannot remain at the head of plants, factories and railways: they are acting as a brake on our further development.”

The Kremlin which itself placed “babblers” and “ignoramuses” in charge of plants, factories and railways would have the world believe that the real trouble was this, that these same babblers and ignoramuses “refused” to study (modern technology!) and proved themselves incapable of “penetrating” (into production and economy!); and that they must now be reminded of this by “communists.” Beneath contempt are those people who are trying today to embellish such self-confessed bankrupts and criminals, and their “horizons.”

Having presented this self-indictment, the editors of Bolshevik conclude:

“People who are incapable of living things, people who have broken away from the masses, who do not penetrate in essence into industrial and party work, who refuse to broaden their political and technico-economical knowledge and their horizons will be removed from party leadership as a result of the elections. Communists will elect to their leading organs people who understand the political line of the party and are capable of realizing it in practice.” (idem, page 9)

The turn-over in the “leadership” of the primary party organizations (which are entrusted with the direction of the country’s economic life) assumed fantastic proportions long before Stalin had issued his orders for the mass purge.

Thus, according to the Bolshevik:

“During the year 1940 in Kalinin oblast (province) 645 secretaries of primary organizations had to be relieved; and in the Ivanovstk oblast there were 665 replacements. Many of them turned out to be worthless, poorly prepared for leadership and incapable of coping with their duties.” (idem, page 9)

If such conditions prevailed in relatively unimportant regions as Kalinin and Ivanovsk, what must have been the situation in the key areas?

The collapse of the technical and administrative apparatus and the extent of the purge can be gauged by the warning to the top layers of the bureaucracy that they must supervise the removal of the bankrupts and the appointment of new “leaders.”

“Higher party organs—the district committees, the city committees, the oblast (province) committees of the party,” instructs the leading editorial in the Bolshevik, “must provide a day-to-day direction of the elections of party organs, and assist the primary party units in ridding themselves of worthless, weak and spineless workers, babblers and ignoramuses; they must advance to leadership people who are unswervingly devoted to the cause of the party of Lenin-Stalin.”

Stalin’s Policies Assured Hitler’s Successes

It should be borne in mind that the Kremlin’s implacable censorship succeeded in hiding the true conditions from the masses inside and outside the USSR. But Hitler and his General Staff were fully informed. They struck at the Soviet Union while the country’s economy was being disrupted internally and while the bureaucracy was once again devouring its own ranks. What more propitious circumstances could the enemy have asked for?

The conclusion is indisputable: Hitler and Hitler done gained from his pact with Stalin. Over and above the fact that Hitler protected his rear in the initial phases of war, isolated the USSR, and assured himself of the broadest possible military arena from which to launch his attack, he obtained through this pact not only political support but also aid from the Kremlin in the shape of foodstuffs, raw materials, oil, et cetera. While Soviet economy was declining, enormous quantities of these vital materials were being pumped by Stalin into Germany. As a matter of fact, the Kremlin has reiterated time and again that it had fulfilled to the letter all its obligations to the erstwhile ally.

It can be said without any fear of exaggeration that Stalin’s policies served only to guarantee all the advantages to Hitler. This was the case before and during the Stalin-Hitler pact. The very same thing is true today, when Stalin’s policies, translated to the military arena, have brought the USSR nothing but defeat after defeat.

Stalin’s bureaucratic apparatus had cracked on the eve of the invasion. The war has acted to speed up this process of disintegration. Every defeat recalls more and more sharply to the minds of the Soviet masses the fact that the military reverses are inextricably bound up with the entire previous course of the Kremlin, above all the monstrous purges which beheaded the Red Army and Soviet economy. To remain in power Stalin must at all costs restore his waning prestige. He can hope to refurbish his prestige only from the outside. He has now found new apologists in the ranks of the “democratic” imperialist bourgeoisie and their liberal camp-followers. They are crawling out of their skins to perform this service for the Kremlin. But they cannot and will not succeed. Stalin’s own admissions give the lie direct to the claims that his purges and his regime had “strengthened” the defensive power of the USSR.

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