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Сергій Білокінь (Київ)

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The significance and implications of Stalin’s coup

S. Bilokin

Whoever approaches the subject of the Great Terror cannot fail to pay a good deal of attention to the person of Joseph Stalin. The literature about this man is colossal. As of March 1999 the U.S. Congress Library stored more than 1,100 books on him presenting most diverse, and often divergent, views. Very interesting methodological guidelines that may be useful in studying Stalin’s personality have been provided by Kaganovich:

“He was a unique man, by the way. Also, he must be examined according to the times, by periods; he was different. After the war that was another Stalin. Before the war he was different. […] I saw at least five-six different Stalins.”

[Question:] “What was the reason? Did his character change according to the political situation? […]”

“According to how intense the work was. On how tense the situation was. On how intense the struggle was. [301]

These words should not be dismissed too lightly: for a very long time Kaganovich could watch the Leader at a rather close range.

The Russian Communists have recently been glorifying Stalin as best they can. This is only too natural in a huge country with no democratic traditions. After all their autocratic czars and emperors followed by the Soviet leaders, who – whatever else may be said about them – led the country from the candlewood to the nuclear bomb, the Russians can hardly be expected to be totally immune to imperial forms of statehood. Parliamentary figures of the Milyukov type mean nothing to them. One stumbling block has been the reassessment of General Vlasov and his Russian Liberation Army on which the citizenry have so far failed to agree. While denouncing Bolshevist practices and Lenin’s policies from the traditional positions of Russian nationalism, Russia’s present-day great-power chauvinists simply have no other frame of reference outside the state structures. Idealizing Stalin, these authors are inevitably at variance with historical facts. For example, General Viktor Filatov had only this to say about the Great Terror:

“The glorious year of 1937! That year Stalin finally understood that it was Zionism, not Communism, that had been being built in the U.S.S.R. – and he crushed it. After 1937 Suvorov and Kutuzov, Nakhimov and Ushakov, Bohdan Khmelnytskyi [302], and the Knight in a Tiger’s Skin [303] returned to the country… Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians [304] – all whom the Zionists had been leaving to rot in prisons and exterminated as ‘nationalists’ and ‘anti-Semites’ – were released from the camps. The glorious year of 1937! Almost all our military academies and schools – nurseries of military cadres – were opened that year. The youth flocked into military classrooms. By the beginning of 1941 those who began their studies at the military academies and schools opened in 1937 were all platoon, company and battallion commanders. It is this category of the officer corps that decides the outcome of every engagement on the battlefield. [305]

It goes without saying that there is little historical truth in this reconstruction. Suffice it to say that not more than 10–15% of those imprisoned in 1937 survived and were released after 1956. [306]

The discordant choir of retired Russian generals has been singing off key, and Filatov most definitely strikes a false note if only because his model fails to account for horrible postwar crimes that cannot be blamed on factions or the opposition, or anybody else but Comrade Stalin in person. Numerous specific atrocities can be cited that were perpetrated already after 1938, particularly in Western Ukraine. Ivan Bilas has published 73 documents falling under the general heading “Absorption of Western Ukraine and Expansion of the Repressive-Punitive System in 1939–1941. [307]” All changes of its internal policies notwithstanding, the regime’s Communist nature remained, unfortunately, the same, as evidenced, among other things, by documents relating to mass deportations from Western Ukraine and other newly annexed territories over 1939–41. Here is a vivid example:


on deportation of socially alien elements from the Baltic Republics, Western Ukraine, Western Belorussia and Moldavia.

Grounds: Resolution of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) CC and the U.S.S.R. Sovnarkom No. 1299-526 ss of May 14, 1941.

Categories of persons that are to be deported under the present Directive:

1) active members of counterrevolutionary organizations and members of their families;

2) former gendarmes, guards, command personnel of the police and prisons, and, given incriminatory evidence, rank-and-file policemen and warders;

3) former large landowners, merchants (with an annual turnover in excess of 150,000 lats); former factory owners (with an annual turnover in excess of 200,000 lats), and highly placed officials of the former bourgeois governments together with members of their families;

4) former officers incriminated by available evidence (including those who served in territorial corps of the Red Army);

5) families of members of counterrevolutionary organizations sentenced to the supreme penalty and also those who have gone into hiding or have been in the underground;

6) persons who have been repatriated from Germany or have traveled from Latvia to Germany, if incriminated by available evidence;

7) those who have fled from former Poland and refused to adopt Soviet citizenship;

8) criminal elements who have continued to engage in criminal activities;

9) prostitutes registered with the [former] police who engage in their old trade. [308]

Under this directive, 94,896 persons, instead of 85,716 provided for by the quotas, were resettled in the Altai and Krasnoyarsk territories, Kazakhstan, the Komi autonomous republic, and the Omsk Region. Any Old Bolshevik would have gladly signed this document.

The most curiouis thing is that Stalin does not qualify for rehabilitation even from the point of view of Russian imperial nationalism. Even if the present-day chauvinists are prepared to ignore Stalin’s crimes against the civilian population of the Baltic States, Western Ukraine, Western Belorussia, and Moldova, his very real crimes against ethnic Russians have long been a matter of common knowledge. Suffice it to mention the extermination of Russian Cossacks from the Don, the Kuban and the Terek who were treacherously surrendered to the U.S.S.R. by her Western allies under the Yalta agreements [309]. General Filatov assures us that the “Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians” had all been relased from camps still before the war. But what would he say about the barbaric decree of November 26, 1948 under which all previoisly released prisoners were to be kept in internal exile for the rest of their lives? [310] A veteran inmate of the GULag, Jaques Rossi, did not even know about this decree and, of course, had never read it, but he made a well-informed guess. He attributed Stalin’s measure to the fact that it was in that year of 1948 that most 10-year terms generously handed out during the Great Purge of 1937–38 were to expire. [311] He seems to have been absolutely right there. But the vast array of charges that any true Russian of “Little-Russian” nationalist should bring against Stalin is by no means confined to that episode. Why did the above-mentioned Petro Marchenko, a Party functionary of unquestionable loyalty, have to die on the Kolyma River? And – even more to the point – why did the Russian nationalist Stalin engineer the “Leningrad Case?” [312]


301. F. Chuyev, Tak govoril Kaganovich, pp. 154(155. General Volkogonov took a simpler view of the matter. "Some of the more perspicacious people," he wrote, "maintain that the war changed Stalin. I am not so sure." (D. Volkogonov, Sem vozhdey, Book 1, p. 276.)

302. To be more exact, after 1941.

303. Ancient Georgian epic poem by Shota Rustaveli (2nd half of the 12th cen. ( beginning of the 13th).

304. Allusion to the brief period of Beriya's "thaw" which was followed by a new wave of terror.

305. V. Filatov, Dayesh 37-y!, Zavtra, 1997, September, No. 37 (198), p. 6.

306. R. Medvedev, O Staline i stalinizme, p. 454.

307. I. Bilas, Represyvno-karalna systema v Ukrayini 1917(1953, Book 2, p. 96.

308. Natsionalni protsesy v Ukaryini: Istoriya i suchasnist: Dokumenty i materialy. Part 2, Kiev, Vyshcha Shkola, 1997, pp. 302(303.

309. B. Dvinov, "Zagadka Yalty," Sots. Vestnik, March 25, 1949, No. 3 (618), pp. 37(41; "Nasilstvennaya repatriatsiya," M. V. Shatov, Bibliografiya Osvoboditelnogo dvizheniya narodov Rossii v gody Vtoroy mirovoy voyny, New York, 1961, pp. 101(125; V. Naumenko, Velikoye predatelstvo: Vydacha kazakov v Lientse i drugikh mestakh, 1945(1947, Vols. 1(2, New York, 1962(1970; N. D. Tolstoy, Zhertvy Yalty, Moscow, Russkiy Put, 1996.

310. State Archives of the Russian Federation (SARF), Rec. 2, No. 269, Vol. 1, Sh. 348. See: D. Volkogonov, op. cit., Book 1, p. 358.

311. Jaques Rossi, op. cit., Part 2, pp. 288(289.

312. A wholesale "lightning" purge of Leningrad's entire Party and State apparatuses (1951) in which all functionaries and officials down to the lowliest clerks and secretaries were arrested and executed virtually overnight. One of the most macabre episodes of Stalin's "career."