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John G. Wright

What the Soviet Press Reveals

(August 1942)

From Fourth International, Vol.3 No.8, August 1942, pp.241-244.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The official Moscow press continues to arrive in this country only after long delays. The files are far from complete. The material now available consists of scattered issues covering the months of January, February, March and April of the current year.

The most striking thing about the propaganda for home consumption is the emphasis placed upon the year 1942 as the year of victory. In its leading editorial on January 1, Pravda solemnly pledged:

“The new year must become—and it will actually become the year of the complete annihilation of Hitlerite Germany.” (Emphasis in the original.)

“In 1942 we shall strangle, we shall tear to pieces and finish off the bloody beast that attacked us so vilely.”

The same issue carries a letter to Stalin from the citizens of the Sverdlovsk region in the Urals. This letter bears the signatures of 1,017,237 individuals “engaged in enterprises, collective farms, machine and tractor stations, and state farms.” It strikes the same keynote:

“For Hitler the year 1942 is the fatal date, it is the year of ignoble doom, of obscure death.”

This promise of definitive victory as an immediate perspective has been incessantly reiterated. On April 24, Pravda declared:

“The fighters of the Red Army have whipped the enemy in the winter and they will continue to whip him during the spring and summer; our troops will continue to drive out the invaders from the Soviet land and they will not allow the initiative to slip from their mighty hands right up to the complete annihilation of the Hitlerite bandits.”

These boasts of impending victory were accompanied by a renewed campaign in the press designed to deify Stalin. The central formula throughout this period reads as follows:

“The leader of our army, Comrade Stalin is confidently leading the Red Army to the annihilation of the invading enemy-forward to the emancipation of all the peoples enslaved by German fascism.” (Pravda, Jan. 1, 1942.)

Stalin’s name, assures Pravda, is “the symbol of victory.”

Stalin’s speeches are invested with magical military properties, especially his speeches of November 6 and 7, 1941:

“On November 6th the whole world heard Comrade Stalin’s report ... to the effect that whoever stepped on our soil to occupy it must be and would be annihilated. Twenty days after the historical speech of Comrade Stalin the German received the first crushing blow beneath Rostov.” (Pravda, Jan. 6, 1942.)

In the next day’s leading editorial, Pravda revealed that in his speeches of November 6 and 7

“Stalin, the genius, already foresaw the signs of the coming breaking point in the course of the war.” (Pravda, Jan. 6, 1942.)

Here are some of the ritualistic paeans published in praise of the “great leader of the Soviet people and director of all the armed forces of our country”:

“Stalin—the farsighted helmsman of the Soviet ship of state.”

“Stalin—this is the Lenin of today.”

“Stalin—the living incarnation and embodiment of the strength and greatness of spirit of the Soviet people.”

“The glorious leader of the Red Army, its Commander-in-chief, the father and friend of the peoples—Great Stalin.”

“For the Fatherland! For Stalin! With these words on their lips the defenders of the fatherland go to meet the enemy, surround them, annihilate them.”

The New Year’s letter from Sverdlovsk, already cited above, contains this declaration:

“Everyone knew that Stalin is with us, and this caused privations to be forgotten, lightened all hearts, made the marksmen shoot straighter and sped all work.”

The letter concludes:

“Forward for the Fatherland! For Stalin! Forward with Stalin! For Freedom! For Victory! For Our Happiness!”

The successes of the Red Army last winter were thus utilized by the bureaucratic regime primarily to bolster up its prestige. The Kremlin sought to cover up its responsibility for the previous terrible defeats and losses by assurances that the war had reached a breaking point, that only victories lay ahead. Stalin’s sadly tarnished reputation as “organizer of victories” had likewise to be restored. Drunk by temporary successes, the Stalinists apparently threw all caution to the wind.

The question naturally arises: What will the effect be of the latest terrible military reverses? Once again the Soviet masses have been caught unawares, if they believed the promises of the Kremlin. Instead of the victories promised them, they are suddenly confronted with new disasters. Stalin has once again dealt the most fearful blows to Soviet morale.

His latest campaign of self-glorification will have consequences just the opposite of those he sought. Through it he has succeeded in further compromising his regime in the eyes of the masses. Having taken credit for all the winter successes, he cannot now evade the full responsibility for all the defeats that followed.

The New Officer Corps

Among the important developments of the war is the rise of a new officer corps. Kharitonov, Remizov and Lopatin, the generals credited officially with the recapture of Rostov last November, are three recent appointees. Also newly appointed are: Lieutenant-General I.S. Konev, commander of the Kalinin front; Lieutenant-General P.A. Kurochkin, commander of the northwestern front; Colonel-General A.I. Yeremenko and Lieutenant-General M.A. Priskayev.

In January, 13 other generals were singled out and decorated: 1) Belov; 2) Boldin; 3) Govorov; 4) Lelyushenko; 5) Rokossovsky; 6) Sokolovsky; 7) Beloborodov; 8) Vlassov; 9) Golikov; 10) Golubev; 11} Yefremov; 12) Zakharkin; 13) Kuznetsov. All of them are likewise new to the roster of Soviet general officers.

Wholesale new appointments have apparently become the rule. On January 2 there were four lieutenant-generals and 16 major-generals appointed; on January 3—one lieutenant-general and six major-generals; on January 6—four rear admirals and two major-generals; January 10—nine major-generals; January 19—six major-generals; January 22—one colonel-general, one lieutenant-general and seven major-generals; January 25—one lieutenant-general and six major-generals. For the space of these three weeks alone the total amounts to four rear-admirals, one colonel-general, seven lieutenant-generals and 52 major-generals.

This process continued throughout the following months. Thus, on March 25 Pravda reported six new major-generals; on March 28—four lieutenant-generals and 13 major-generals.

To the hundreds of new generals must be added thousands and tens of thousands of lower ranking officers. The old officer corps, which has been in this way superseded, owed its rise entirely to bureaucratic connections. It was handpicked from top to bottom after the blood purges of 1937-38. A considerable number of the new officers, especially from among the lower ranks, appear to have gained their posts on an altogether different basis, i.e., through ability and merit demonstrated in the very heat of battle. The future will tell to what extent this has weakened Stalin’s stranglehold on the army.

The Condition of the Communist Party

The Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky drew in hundreds of thousands of new fighters into its ranks during the Civil War of 1918-20. One might naturally expect that the enormous mass upsurge in the Soviet Union would find its reflection in the growth of the only legal political party in the country and moreover the party which is supposed to wield the power. But that is not at all the case. The party is stagnating in the regions behind the lines. Those new recruits that have been added come predominantly from the ranks of the administrative and governmental apparatus. Pravda cites as an example the situation in the Chelyabinsk oblast:

“For the entire past year and for the two months of the current year the party organization of this oblast has accepted as candidates of the party 660 workers, 289 collective farmers and 2,025 government employees. From among the candidates there have been accepted as members into the party 903 workers, 389 collective farmers and 3,515 government employees. The figures show that the growth of the party organization has occurred primarily at the expense of government employees: more than 70 per cent of the comrades accepted as candidates and members of the party are—government employees. Even in such an organization as that of Magnitogorsk the workers constitute only 35 per cent of the total number accepted into the party.” (Pravda, April 22, 1942.)

After painting such a picture of “growth,” Pravda immediately adds:

“The party district committees in Karakulsk, Mishkinsk, Uksyansk and Shatrovsk have accepted only a single individual each into the party during January and February of this year; the Galkinsk and Dalmatovsk regional committees did not accept a single individual.”

The bulk of the party has for a long time consisted of functionaries. The war has apparently reinforced the deterinitiation of the bureaucrats to permit entry only to those from their own caste. The resulting bureaucratic shell is completely isolated from the masses. Pravda’s statistics for Chelyabinsk graphically reveal this isolation which is further emphasized by figures released by Pravda on January 18 relating to the numerical strength of the party organization, in the city of Rostov. After the unprecedented mass upsurge of last November, when the German armies were swept out of Rostov by the joint struggle of the civilians and the Red Army, the Stalinists were able to claim only 5,000 members of the party in the entire area. The population of Rostov alone is more than half a million. This means that less than one per cent are enrolled in the party.

In most areas close to the front lines the conditions are far worse. Pravda is compelled to report “serious changes” in the ranks of the party even in the central Moscow region where the membership has dropped sharply. The official explanation offers two reasons:

“In connection with the mobilization into the army and the evacuation of industrial enterprises the number of party members has decreased.” (Pravda, Jan. 14, 1942.)

There is, however, a third reason for the drop. An inkling of it is given in the report of a party committee of an unspecified region recaptured from the Germans during the winter. The report states:

“The regional committee of the party decided that it was first of all necessary to call together the cadres of the activists and to reestablish the organs of Soviet power in the liberated localities. Not all of the people returned to their former posts. Among them were to be found also those who revealed in the critical moments the souls of grafters, cowards, and traitors ... New and tested cadres of party and non-party Bolsheviks were advanced.” (Pravda, Jan. 16, 1942.)

Two things are admitted by this report: first, that the party ceased to exist and function the moment the Germans conquered the region and had to be reconstituted from the top after reoccupation by the Red Army; and second, that the party ranks are riddled with unreliable and corrupt elements who either run away or desert to the enemy. Grafters, cowards, traitors—this is how Stalin’s own organ characterizes an obviously considerable part of Stalin’s party!

It is of course impossible to estimate the actual proportion of this human scum. But it is in any case clear that part of the losses in party membership in the areas near the front cannot be accounted for in any other way than by the readiness of a section of the Stalinist bureaucracy to desert the field of battle or to go over to the side of the victorious enemy.

Not so long ago the Kremlin sought to justify its monstrous blood purges by the claim that in this way the “Fifth Column” had been destroyed. Now comes the official admission that the murder of the whole generation of Bolsheviks who together with Lenin and Trotsky made the October Revolution has only facilitated the entry into the party of “grafters, cowards and traitors.” By all his policies, above all his strangulation of the party, Stalin has promoted rather than retarded the development of a “Fifth Column” in the USSR.

The Bureaucracy Behind the Lines

In our previous articles we have already reported that a section of the bureaucracy behind the lines refused to make any sacrifices or to adjust itself to the necessities of the war in the initial period of the struggle. The same situation prevailed throughout the winter. After more than six months of war, in the midst of the winter successes of the Red Army, Pravda still continued to reason with this gentry and to plead with them to mend their ways.

In a leading editorial we find the following almost incredible statements:

“It is necessary to live more modestly than has been the case. By renouncing all sorts of superfluities not only in the country’s economy but also in day-to-day life, it is possible to give greater means to the front. In time of war it is necessary to economize in everything; it is necessary to expend raw materials and supplies, fuel and foodstuffs with exceptional zealousness. A regime of rigid economy can save enormous resources for the front.” (Pravda, Jan. 5, 1942.)

But in addition to refusing to live “more modestly,” the bureaucracy utilizes the war in order to cover up its arbitrariness, inefficiency and mismanagement. The same editorial immediately adds:

“In the meantime it is to be observed that here and there some people are hiding their poor work, their incapacity and lack of management, and at times even their crimes behind the pretext of war difficulties. The dining rooms are filthy ... What has the war to do with this? The streets are covered with snowdrifts ... What has the war to do with this? There is fuel in the warehouses but the regional soviet does not take the bother to deliver it to the dwellings—what has the war to do with this? There are not a few facts relating to the worsening of services supplied to the population not because, let us say, products are lacking, or fuel, or the means of city transportation but on the contrary because the local party and soviet organizations forget about their perpetual Bolshevik duty—to be concerned daily about the needs of the population.”

Throughout the month of January, Pravda kept reminding these forgetful bureaucrats about their duty. They “forgot” to provide the population with food, fuel and transportation. They “forgot” to clean the snow from the streets. “For several days in Kazan the car-lines have not functioned (on account of snow-falls). These car-lines unite the center of the city with the periphery and hundreds of people have been coming daily late to work.” (Pravda, January 5, 1942.) They “forgot” to keep the dining rooms clean. In some places they “forgot” even to provide spoons!

“Many factory committees of the Ivanovsk oblast ... interest themselves either little or hardly at all with the functioning of factory dining rooms ... In the factory Balashavo, the dining room functions unsatisfactorily ... it has been without spoons for a long time.” (Pravda, January 16, 1942.)

They “forgot” about the public baths, the sole means whereby the workers can keep clean and avoid infection.

“In Chelyabinsk the baths were not fixed up for the winter. It is necessary to stand in line for hours in order to get a bath.” (Pravda, January 5, 1942.)

Pravda reports with alarm the attitude of the authorities in the Novosibirsk oblast:

“The most dangerous thing is that the agricultural organs of the oblast are little concerned about the fate of the next harvest.” (Pravda, Jan. 15. 1942.)

It appears that some of these people are so absent-minded that they have simply forgotten that the war is on:

“And there are still among us,” complains Pravda, “not a few backward enterprises; not a few leaders who have succumbed to the inertia of peace-times—leaders who are carefree and negligent. A firm working regime has still not been established in all the collective farms, machine and tractor stations and soviet farms.” (Jan. 10, 1942.)

In the vital sphere of railroad transportation the situation is no less ominous. With characteristic understatement the January 25 Pravda says that “It is impermissible to say that all the railroads are supplying industry as they should.”

Speaking about industry in general, Pravda has this to say in a leading editorial on January 11:

“There are in the meantime still some administrative workers in industry who do not approach the fulfillment of military orders from the point of view of the state ... Administrative workers who supply a different product from the one now needed by the front are cheating the country.”

It is clear that the war has not had the effect of bridging the abyss between the bureaucracy and the people. On the contrary, the bureaucracy is brought by the war into an increasingly sharper conflict with the army and the mass of the population. Admonitions or threats from above have little effect. Each local bureaucrat is law unto himself. He is immune from any pressure from below, because the mass is not permitted to criticize or intervene in any way. That is why individually and collectively, the bureaucrats “forget” and cheat and continue to commit all their abominations and crimes. It is hardly necessary to point out how this hits at the front and at the morale of the entire population.

The only remedy for the situation is to restore the democracy in all organizations which used to prevail in the USSR under Lenin and Trotsky. Only in this way could effective control be exercised over the direction of the industry, the army and the country. The restoration of workers’ democracy in the Soviet Union is now a life and death issue for the embattled workers’ state. But the bureaucracy, beginning with Stalin, resists all tendencies toward democratization.

Among the gravest crimes of the bureaucracy is its treatment of the evacuated millions. The world has been told a great deal about the alleged miracles performed in the evacuation of industries. It goes without saying that in this sphere the Soviet masses have been able to accomplish with nationalized property feats inconceivable under a regime of private property. But under the bureaucratic rule of Stalinism the cost and the waste have been frightful.

The plight of the evacuated millions had by January of this year become so desperate that Pravda was compelled to take official notice of it:

“In a number of eastern districts and oblasts of our country there has arrived a great number of people evacuated from the territories temporarily occupied by the enemy, and also from the zones closest to the front. The party and the government are extending great assistance to the evacuated population. But not all of the city and regional executive committees of the local Soviets have done everything that is necessary and possible in the way of providing the arrivals with working conditions, in the way of securing them with shelter, fuel, medical aid and food. It is possible and necessary to build quickly dwellings of a temporary type for the workers of the evacuated enterprises, but in a number of regions this construction is being done, slowly, badly.” (Pravda, Jan. 5, 1942.)

Here is an official admission that “in a number of regions” where the evacuated population came for refuge it has had to live without adequate food, fuel and medical supplies. They lacked even temporary shelter. And this in the midst of winter! How could they have operated the evacuated factories under these conditions? How did they survive the winter?

On January 15, Pravda carried a special section headed: It Is Necessary to Take Concern About the Needs of the Evacuated Population. Cited under this title are “facts of bureaucratism and unconcern towards people.”

“In certain localities,” admits Pravda, “there has been evinced a spirit of formalism and at times even a heartless attitude toward the evacuated population.”

A group of workers evacuated to the Murashinsk region, Kirov oblast, writes:

“The evacuated comrades are working in a furniture factory. Nobody bothers here about the living needs of people. There is no dining room in the factory. Some of the comrades have not been supplied with living quarters. Just what are the trade union organizations busy doing in this factory?” (Pravda, Jan. 15, 1942.)

Another letter in the same issue reports:

“Not all of the local organizations show the necessary attention to the evacuated population. Some of them limit themselves to taking care only of the native population, and behave towards the new arrivals as if they were aliens. Such manifestations are absolutely intolerable. The party organizations must eliminate the inadequacies existing in this connection and do everything that is necessary as quickly as possible.” (Idem)

Even bureaucrats and their families upon being evacuated suffer such treatment. That is one of the reasons why Pravda was forced to make a public issue of the situation. It is impossible to reconcile the contradiction between the immune, arbitrary, greedy and self-seeking bureaucracy and the needs of the country in war time. The two clash in every sphere of activity. The graver the military situation becomes, all the sharper grows the conflict.

The war has incontestably demonstrated that the Stalinist bureaucracy is the greatest internal obstacle, both in its war policies and its conduct at home, to the victorious defense of the USSR.

Last updated: 28.12.2005