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Сергій Білокінь (Київ)

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The Party

S. Bilokin

All major decisions in the U.S.S.R. were made by the Politburo of the All-Russian Communist Party (of Bolsheviks). They were then translated into governmental decrees by the Sovnarkom or the VTsIK [1] and enforced all down the line. For this they were duplicated by the Ukrainian Politburo [2]and the central committees of the other republics, the VUTsVK, the Radnarkom [3], and the provincial administrations. From here appropriately modified signals were transmitted through the various webs, including the NKVD system, all the way down to the mass media – if the measure in question was to be made public at all.

A good example is a resolution adopted by the Politburo of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) as early as August 4, 1919:

“Sessions of Soviet [i.e., governmental – S. B.] institutions shall be prohibited from debating on decisions of Party centers or commenting on predetermination by the Party of matters concerning Sov.[iet] inst.[itutions]; if necessary, they shall adjourn.” [4]

The Party was firmly in command at all rungs of the ladder. A good illustration of the supremacy and finality of Politburo decisions is an episode referred to in the resolution of the CPU Politburo of August 15, 1919:

“HEARD: Report of Comr. Farbman on the incident with Comr. Bubnov. RESOLVED: That it be made clear that state bodies may not issue orders to Party organizations, which is why Comr. Bubnov is reproved for his conduct vis-a-vis Comr. Farbman as a representative of the Organization Bureau.” [5]

No such incidents were recorded in later years when every Party member knew this subordination, and every official who belonged to the Party realized that the lowliest functionary of the Central Committee was, for all practical purposes, his superior. But at the beginning it took the Party members some time to grasp the idea, so it is mostly in early records that mentions of similar misunderstandings can be found. On the surface of social life initiative was sometimes ostensibly taken by some lower bodies, such as people’s commissariats, but, unknown to most, behind it all was the same Politburo. Thus, on June 7, 1921 it considered the question of abortions. Having approved, by a majority of votes, the proposal of People’s Commissar of Health M. Gurevich, it resolved that it be “officially implemented through the people’s commissariats of Health and Justice.” [6] Here we have a regime where the totalitarian rule of the Politburo can be discerned in every decision even if in some instances it chose to hide behind the backs of lower administrative bodies. Veteran Party functionaries knew only too well how the state machinery actually operated. Speaking with a writer Kaganovich once said:

“Your [Writers’] Union was created in 1934.”

“Yes,” said the writer. “On Gorky’s initiative.”

“No,” corrected Kaganovich. “It was created on the initiative of the Central Committee.” [7]

This peculiar feature of the Soviet political system should be well borne in mind, and we must train ourselves to put seemingly isolated actions of individuals in a broader political context. Thus, for example, the controversy between the economists N. D. Kondratyev and S. G. Strumilin can be treated both as a strictly academic dispute and – considering the fact that the former was backed by Bukharin and the latter by Stalin – as an extension of the factional infighting in the Party’s leadership where eventually the Stalinist majority in the Central Committee would prevail.

Against this background the confession of Ukraine’s ex-President Leonid Kravchuk sounds somewhat insincere:

“You know, it took me more than 30 years to understand the true nature of this Communist Party of ours. It was an iron organization. All was decided by one man – the First Secretary. And the Politburo members existed only to share his opinions. In all my life I do not remember of a single case where the Politburo or a plenum of the CPU Central Committee failed to concur with the position of the CPSU Central Committee.” [8]

As regards operations of the secret police, both special, short-term crackdowns and campaigns lasting several decades, they, too, were controlled by the Moscow-based Politburo of the Party variously styling itself RKP (Russian Communist Party), VKP(b), and KPSS (CPSU). The web of totalitarian rule was spun from the Politburo’s conference room in the Kremlin – or sometimes at one of Stalin’s dachas outside Moscow – and ended at the desk of the most junior NKVD district operative. The most amazing thing about it all is that during several decades this system actually worked. Even the decision on whether some particular prisoner was to be given rough treatment was taken, as a rule, not by his officially assigned investigator but by the latter’s chief, sometimes not even the direct superior but somebody much higher up. In their parlance it was termed “special investigative procedures.” [9] On February 8, 1940 one secret police officer interrogating a former colleague asked:

“Did you sanction application of physical methods to prisoner Belyavsky as a result of which he gave this testimony?” The man said: “[Investigator] Severin did not request my permission for applying physical methods to prisoner Belyavsky and I never sanctioned it.” [10]


1. Vserossiyskiy Tsentralnyi Ispolnitelnyi Komitet (Rus.) ( All-Russian Central Executive Committee ( the highest body of state power between 1922 and 1938. In Ukraine this was VUTsVK (Vseukrayinskyi Tsentralnyi Vykonavchyi Komitet) (Transl.

2. Ukraine was the only USSR republic where the highest executive of the local CP was styled Politburo.

3. Rada Narodnykh Komisariv (Ukr.) ( Council of People's Commissars ( Transl.

4. Central State Archives of Ukraine (CSAU), Fund 1, Rec. 6, No. 1, Sh. 68 rev.

5. Ibid., Sh. 80.

6. Ibid, Fund 1, Rec. 6, No. 13, Sh. 9, 114 rev.

7. F. Chuyev. So Spoke Kaganovich, p. 172.

8. L. Kravchuk, "The Communist idea shall not be realized," Ukrayinske Slovo, March 4, 1999, Issue 9 (2957), p. 4.

9. Hun Pak Sen, "Reminiscences of an NKVD operative," Thorny Truth [Khabarovsk], 1990, p. 65.

10. CSAU, No. 31137 FP, 180, Vol. 2, Sh. 151.