(1/3) by /u/Entire_Cover

The inevitable question is whether or not there really existed, during Yezhov’s tenure, a subversive underground in the Soviet Union with “an undiscovered Trotskyist center…which had to be found and liquidated,” in the words of a former Assistant People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Ya. S. Agronov, who received direct instructions from Yezhov. One of the first difficulties in answering this is that the “center,” as Agronov put it, that Yezhov was seeking is alternately described by other NKVD officials who were involved in these manhunts. For example, G. E. Prokofiev, a Deputy Peoples’ Commissar of Internal Affairs (like Agronov, another NKVD official), said the investigation Yezhov was conducting was directed “towards the discovery of underground revolutionary formations” and perhaps “of all the organizational links of the Trotskyists and the Zinovievists and to the discovery of terrorist groups.” Prokofiev’s description of the targets of the Yezhovshchina is clearly more general and nebulous: it includes a search for saboteurs or provocateurs only peripherally connected to Trotsky and his close agents. The diversity of the descriptions of the objects of Yezhov’s dragnet has only served to confuse and to play into the hands of those who seek to prove Yezhov was a villain, demented, pathological, or vice-ridden from the beginning. His own statement, quoted earlier, on Civil War confederates posing as loyal Communists after their defeat ca. 1921, who thereafter entered the state, Party, and security apparatuses - especially in rural areas far from Moscow’s scrutinizing eyes - as being his target is the clearest, most accurate, and most productive avenue of approach, especially in view of the statistical confirmation this has received. Having been a member of the “class of 1921” is the common thread that links all the varied descriptions of Yezhov’s targets, from “wrecker” to Old Bolshevik, from “Zinovievist” to “Menshevizing idealist,” from Japanese to German spy, descriptions that differed to conform to the context of the instructions containing them - many times ad hoc - that Yezhov and other police authorities issued. In the Great Terror, Yezhov was veritably continuing the Civil War because the Whites had only appeared to surrender: they had never really conceded, nor had they really given up the assistance they had received during the actual Civil War hostilities from the new-born Bolshevik regime’s foreign enemies, especially Germany, Japan, and Great Britain. (Recall, again, the above analogy with the American Civil War and what may be called the mock-surrender of the war-weary Confederates.)

In June of 1936, Stalin interrupted Yezhov at a Central Committee Plenum with what has come to be known as “Stalin’s inaudible remark.” Stalin complained to Yezhov about his having expelled too many Party members:

Yezhov: “Comrades, as a result of the verification of party documents, we expelled more than 200,000 members of the party.”

Stalin: [Interrupting:] Very many." [Stalin was criticizing Yezhov.]

Yezhov: “Yes, very many. I will speak about this…”

Stalin: “[Interrupting again:] If we expelled 30,000 [inaudible remark], and 600 former Trotskyists and Zinovievists it would be a bigger victory.”

At a time during which he enjoyed the full trust of Stalin, Yezhov debated him for nearly two years on the need for a severe repression or liquidation of his predecessor NKVD head, Genrikh G. Yagoda. In the fall of 1936, at the height of the Yezhovshchina, Stalin observed that the NKVD was about four years behind in uncovering the oppositionist underground. The blame for this was laid at Yagoda’s door, his non-feasance suspected of being due to complicity with counter-revolutionaries. Yagoda was suspected of being not a mere bungler, but an at best passive conspirator who consciously “looked the other way” to protect the old, enduring, resistant former White Guard that had once sought to defeat the Soviet system right out in the open.

That Yagoda was indeed at the critical center of such a network is borne out by detailed studies that pertain to the NKVD’s predecessor and successor organizations, such as The Soviet Secret Police, the Uses of Terror by Borys Lewytzkyj (Boris Levitsky), Soviet Secret Police by Simon Wolin and Robert Slusser, and Beria, Stalin’s First Lieutenant by Amy Knight. From these and other sources, the most reasonable extra-paradigmatic construction of events is as follows:

There existed a domestic underground counter-revolutionary network with strong foreign connections seeking the overthrow of the USSR. Yagoda was its (possibly passive) internal functional center. This network had a lineage that can be traced back to early counter-revolutionary factions (some even socialist) that had been assisted by foreign spy-rings, as documented by the CheKa for the earliest years of the Soviet State. Trotsky and other notable exiles were involved. The patience of this underground was uncommon (for the West). Yezhov was keener than Stalin in perceiving the threat this underground posed, and wanted to put his foot in a “revolving door” of tolerance for saboteurs that, in many cases, Stalin just kept allowing to turn. This was due to Yezhov’s unique background, and to brain-aging on Stalin’s part (to be described in what follows). Yezhov’s rock-ribbed efforts failed to reach the key personages in this underground. This underground finally prevailed at the time of the curtailment and reduction of the NKVD when the new NKGB (“KGB”) was formed, which backed Khrushchev. Khrushchev did not believe in Communism and began the dismantling of the Soviet system. Khrushchev’s efforts culminated with Gorbachev and finally Yeltsen: Bolshevism was destroyed. It is known that Yagoda and the OGPU (the Soviet Union’s State Political Administration, which had been reorganized from the Bolshevik’s original, multi-party secret police or CheKa) were opposed to peasant collectivization. Stalin was aware of this, resulting in personal friction between him and Yagoda right up to Yagoda’s very end when Stalin once threatened to “punch him in the kisser.” In July of 1934, the OGPU was abolished and its functions transferred to the all new NKVD or Peoples’ Commissariat of Internal Affairs, which, unknown to most, existed from the start. (Dzerzhinsky was, at one time, head of both the multi-party CheKa and the exclusively Bolshevik NKVD. At one point the NKVD was suspicious of - and opposed to - the CheKa.) In May of 1934, Yagoda was appointed the new organization’s head. It is frequently and glibly stated that the NKVD was the successor organization of the OGPU, and that the better known KGB was the successor of the NKVD. Neither is correct. When the NKVD was formed, a central core of former agents of OGPU reappeared as functionaries in the NKVD’s Main Administration of State Security: the GUGB. In February of 1941, a separate agency called the NKGB (later KGB) was formed from this same core of people from the GUGB. The KGB, or Committee of State Security (as it existed after Khrushchev empowered it), resembled the American CIA, FBI, and Secret Intelligence Service all rolled into one, involving itself in intelligence, counter-intelligence, and internal security. In this, it was unusual for its time and unlike its incorrectly nominated “parent” organizations: the CheKa, OGPU, and NKVD. The NKVD became the MVD, an “authority” not even a faint shadow of the old NKVD.

In September of 1953, six months after Stalin’s death, two months after the arrest of the staunch Stalinist Beria (Yezhov’s successor as NKVD chief), Khrushchev began to consolidate his power. He replaced the Old Bolshevik Malenkov, who had been First Party Secretary, and stripped the NKVD of most of the economic sections that had been under its control - ending the system established by Lenin and Dzerzhinsky. Khrushchev turned these economic functions over to other agencies. Suffering the same fate as Beria, but with less publicity involving less well known personalities, many old NKVD agents were executed - or forced to flee abroad. The NKVD was reduced to the MVD, a mere “traffic cop” operation by comparison. When the dust settled, the KGB had extraordinary powers, both internally and in foreign affairs, consisting of the same old GUGB core from the former OGPU. (Consult Bibliography for NKVD-INFO. See Felix Dzerzhinsky by A. Tishkov for information about the NKVD and other NK’s [“Narkomats” or People’s Commissariats], which were organizations regulating the Soviet economy.)



These were the people Yezhov’s “Iron Gauntlet” failed to reach. They became Khrushchev’s chief backers. The NKVD, which existed simultaneously with the CheKa in 1917, had consisted only of Bolsheviks. The CheKa and OGPU core referred to above had been multi-party, as were the sympathies of many of Khrushchev’s supporters in what had officially by then become a one party state. Khrushchev declared against a “Beria gang.” He showed marked prejudice toward any former Stalinist or old-style Marxist-Leninist, even if such stalwart Communists represented only technical programs or science affairs. He distrusted Trofim Lysenko for having been Stalin’s favorite agricultural expert. It was not Stalin, but rather the “liberalizing” anti-Stalinist Khrushchev (who hated to be contradicted) who determined all ousters, appointments, and liquidations based on the simple rule of whom he (and his patrons) could or could not work with - to once again use the phrase historian Tim Naftali incorrectly applied to Stalin’s modus operandi of governing. Anyone who had been loyal to Stalin had insurmountable hurdles to leap to gain Khrushchev’s confidence. This was so even if he had spent time in a forced labor camp under Stalin, such as Sergei P. Korolev, the “Russian von Braun,” known anonymously as the “Chief Designer” due to the secrecy surrounding his work, who engineered the Soviet Union’s huge N-1 rockets and all rockets used for launches that put the Soviet Union clearly ahead of the U.S. in the “space race” until the U.S. launched an aggressive, well-funded, successful effort to place a human on the moon. It was not Stalin and Yezhov who purged remaining Old Bolsheviks, but rather Khrushchev who, having both time on his side as well as the old “Yagoda gang” now holding together in the newly organized KGB, eventually ousted the very last of them, all great heroes of Bolshevism: Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, General Zhukov, et. al. The latter group made a last unsuccessful effort to overthrow Khrushchev in 1957.

Anyone who has seen the newsreel of Khrushchev personally congratulating the world’s first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, for successfully orbiting the Earth (April 12, l961), who has heard the simple, uncomprehending, awkward words that Khrushchev stumblingly delivered as he shook Gagarin’s hand, will not be convinced that Khrushchev had much intelligence. This was certainly not true of his backers, who made fools of almost every historian in the West. These were people who had Darwin’s theory of evolution taught to children at elementary school levels (instead of pap like “And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind… . And the evening and the morning were the sixth day”). They created institutes with formal courses of study for optimal chess play, schools which still have had no likeness in the world (except for a few academies in Japan where a more difficult and profound Chinese game called Wei-ch’i or “Go” is studied in an elaborate dan [competitive] system admired to this day by 8 to 10 million Japanese Go players). These were the people who really ran the government of the USSR, directing the lofting of the Earth’s first artificial satellite (Sputnik I), exhibiting to the world the first close-up photos of the moon’s surface (including its never before seen dark side) from a lunar probe (Luna Three in October, 1959), and then putting the first human in space. These three feats of engineering alone make the construction of the pyramids of Egypt seem rudimentary.

Western historians - like Naftali - find Khrushchev’s ostensible statements and acts easy to understand. However, the real Stalin is a puzzle to them. They need to dumb him and his comrades down, as in Tsitriniak’s “portrait” of Yezhov given above. The dominant paradigm played a key role in this kind of anti-Soviet propaganda by doing what Western historians, steeped in the Great Chain of Being paradigm, have been very good at doing: cretinizing the representatives and beliefs of Stalinism. The most egregious recent example of this is an article by David Joravsky in The Russian Review (57, January 1998, p. 1 - 9) in which he sententiously counsels against Alexei Kojevnikov’s novel and high-brow interdisciplinary recommendation to apply chaos theory and Wittgenstein’s epistemology toward understanding Stalinist society - a structuralist approach. Joravsky states that Soviet ideology, in which Marxism is thought to have distinctive principles useful for all branches of knowledge, is “undeserving of philosophical dignity, since it was overwhelmingly inane [Joravsky’s emphasis]” and was simply a facet of “the pathological thought-control that was the most obvious [!] feature of Russian cultural history in the Stalin era” (p. 8). (Here paradigmatic features have become, in Joravsky’s mind, what is “obvious” about Stalinist society.) The reference to “pathological thought-control” is the contribution to “understanding” Soviet society that Joravsky fallaciously believes the totalitarian paradigm gives. He obviously thinks the paradigm yields more that is true than Kojevnikov’s suggestion ever could. (Joravsky’s scientific errors and pretensions with regard to Lysenko’s theories and ideas will be dealt with in Part II, showing the need for scientists to take the history of science away from historians until the latter can show they have done some real work in a physical science first.)

A common core of sympathy united brash, notorious personalities like Khrushchev with the surreptitious, intelligent, patient conspirators who came to back him: they believed in Russia (they were nationalists), but not in Communism. Stalin had known them as a “Right Opposition.” They not only opposed and resisted agricultural collectivization, they favored a capitalist system of the type Lenin had provisionally instituted after the Civil War under the rubric of the NEP (National Economic Policy), which he regarded as a necessary but only temporary retreat from socialism. This opposition group, unreachable by Yezhov, linked together both the Trotskyites of the “left” and the Bukharinites of the “right.” They approved of one of Khrushchev’s most important steps in dismantling the Soviet system: the privatization of the machine-tractor stations that supplied farms with heavy machinery for planting, harvesting, and processing. They secretly applauded Khrushchev’s not-so-secret “secret speech” denouncing Stalin in 1956.

The false impression given by utilizers of the dominant paradigm is that the rise and fall of Stalinism, ending with Khrushchev, was either some kind of natural historical decay process involving a flawed Marxist ideal, or that the Khrushchevites prevailed by dint of Khrushchev’s quaint peasant charm - missing in the intellectual Lenin and the “thuggish” Stalin - coupled with Khrushchev’s stolid Russian strength and undogmatic, “un-Marxian” flexibility. These personal qualities, the paradigmists assert, enabled him to do many things impossible for Lenin and Stalin who, it is implied, needed heavy-handed persuasion or outright force where the “liberal” Khrushchev did not. Khrushchev could make unguaranteeable - or even demagogic, they often concede - promises of stimulating the Soviet economy by infusing it with Western-style consumer goods. Lenin or Stalin could not or would not do this. When Khrushchev could not secure the vote of the Politburo against remaining Old Bolsheviks he could not work with any more, he did not appoint a “Yezhov” to liquidate them as Stalin supposedly did: he went to the Party Central Committee for a full vote and victory. These moderate and “legitimate” maneuvers - worthy of a “true parliamentarian” (by Western standards) - leave out of the picture, however, Khrushchev’s powerful but little known behind-the-scenes backers, such as Ignatiev, Ryumin, and many others even lesser known. These men had for decades looked upon the Old Bolsheviks much as Westerners do: as fanatical Marxist purists and idealists, like Yezhov and Dzerzhinsky and Molotov, as well as the multitude of unknowns who attempted to make Marx and Lenin’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” work, such early CheKa men and Stakhanovites whose names are lost to history. The formula “dictatorship of the proletariat” was learned by rote at an early age by Khrushchev and many of his age cohorts. It had no more real meaning for them than it does for Westerners, and seemed equally unworkable to them. This is one of the reasons many contemporary American, British, and French Marxist intellectuals were so enamored with Khrushchev: they did not think the “formula” could work - or be made to work - either. Khrushchev’s renowned expression of belief in “many roads to socialism” spoke to the Western Communist intellectuals’ agnosticism and to its psychic sister: eclecticism. At the same time, the Chinese Maoists denounced Khrushchev because they remained doctrinaire Stalinists and collectivists: they still believed in Marxism-Leninism. Marxist and non-Marxist Westerners regarded actions by Khrushchev that were traitorous in the eyes of Old Bolsheviks like Molotov and Kaganovich as being part of a salutary “thawing” of Communism’s “frozen rigor.” This had been the thinking of Yagoda’s group since the Civil War.



It is not the purpose of this part of the essay to set forth either a detailed critique of Khrushchev or his policies (or those of Stalin, Gorbachev, et. al.). To return to the main subject: Yezhov was clearly more convinced about - and aggressive toward - this oppositionist underground than Stalin was. Stalin seems to have taken it - or parts of it - rather seriously, however, because, as several historians have pointed out, though he showed a great deal of skepticism about - and a need for close scrutiny of - Yezhov’s official actions, he approved of and took full responsibility for the Yezhovshchina. Stalin read through Yezhov’s manuscript on counter-revolution, making underlines and marks in the margins. Yet, as J. Arch Getty put it, not only with Yagoda, but even “in the cases of Piatakov and Bukharin, Ezhov [Yezhov] and others were ahead of Stalin in pushing for the need for severity” (op. cit., pp. 59 - 60). Why was this so?


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