May 26, 2017

"Undermining the social order, abrogating the rule of law, ... and sowing distrust" to eliminate threats to power

The Order of Lenin: ‘Find Some Truly Hard People’  Jonathan Brent examines the institutionalization of violence in Bolshevik culture and the Soviet state.


The extreme conditions of the civil war from 1917 to 1922, in which some seven million people were killed, together with Lenin’s ruthless economic policies, led to the destitution and desperation of millions of people who found themselves without food, livelihood, shelter or security.  Mass uprisings of the peasantry resulted from the Soviet state’s draconian methods of procuring grain supplies. The fledgling Bolshevik regime needed this staple to stave off famine in the cities, and seeing no other option, Lenin issued in August 1918 this order, later discovered in a secret archive:

“Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers.” “Publish their names,” he instructed. “Take from them all the grain. Designate hostages.“Do it in such a way so that for hundreds of versts around people will see, tremble, know, shout,” he went on, that the Bolsheviks “are strangling, strangling to death the bloodsucker kulaks.” He concluded this grisly note with the directive: Find some truly hard people.” The following month, he ordered: It is necessary secretly — and urgently — to prepare the terror.”


Lenin used terror against the avowed enemies of the state. Stalin turned it against the institutions of the state and Soviet society itself. Stalin followed Lenin, but surpassed him....The paradox, then, is that Stalin unleashed the Great Terror in 1936 at a time of relative peace and stability. The masses of enemies who suddenly appeared within Soviet society were largely invented. Millions of innocent people were arrested, tortured and shot, without evidence and according to quotas established in the Kremlin. Stalin did not bluff: Literally “anyone” could be guilty....

Nikolai Bukharin, the veteran Bolshevik and editor of Pravda, became one of those enemies: arrested in February 1937 and executed in March 1938. The authoritarian state Bukharin envisioned was based on a permanent state of destabilization, in which disruption and fear were essential ingredients of government. The writer Lydia Chukovskaya depicted the fear at the core of this inverted world in her devastating 1939 novel, “Sofia Petrovna,” which was not published in Russia until the late 1980s. The heroine of the title “was now afraid of everyone and everything,”

Undermining the social order, abrogating the rule of law, putting fear at the core of individual consciousness and sowing distrust were essential to Stalin’s goal of eliminating any threat to his absolute power.

One horrifying example of how far Stalin was willing to go is the artificial famine he imposed on the Ukraine during peacetime from 1932-1933, a deliberate action of mass murder known as the Holodomor or death by hunger.

The Two Abysses of the Soul by Costica Bradatan

In a recent book, Bloodlands, Yale historian Timothy Snyder estimates that approximately 3.3 million people died then of starvation. (Some three millions were ethnic Ukrainians; the rest were Russians, Poles, Germans, and Jews.) How was this done? First, when the peasants could not meet the excessively high quotas of grain set by Moscow, all their food supplies were confiscated. “The authorities searched for that grain as if they were searching for bombs and machine guns,” writes Vasily Grossman, whose book Everything Flows offers one of the most compassionate accounts of the Ukrainian famine. Everything edible was taken away by party activists and OGPU (Soviet security services) officers. Their entire seed fund was seized; even cooked food, dinner already set on the table, was swept away.

Once that was done, people were left to die the slowest of deaths: “The village was left to look after itself — with everyone starving in their huts. […] And all the various officials from the city stopped coming.” To make sure nobody escaped, roadblocks were set up by the OGPU, and the railway stations were guarded by armed soldiers. Through Party and OGPU channels, Stalin was kept abreast of what was going on.

“Death by hunger” is a degrading death. You don’t just die — before you do so you regress to an animal state. When no dogs and cats were to be found, people turned to mice and rats. When there was absolutely nothing left to eat, they started eating each other.

Walter Duranty, the New York Times Bureau Chief in Moscow at the time wrote a series of reports in which he criticized reports of the famine and denied its existence for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.

It was clear, meanwhile, from Duranty's personal exchanges that he was fully aware at the time of the scale of the calamity. In 1934 he privately reported to the British embassy in Moscow that as many as 10 million people may have died, directly or indirectly, from famine in the Soviet Union in the previous year. Both British intelligence and American engineer Zara Witkin (1900–1940), who worked in the USSR from 1932 to 1934, confirmed that Duranty knowingly misrepresented information about the nature and scale of the famine.

Years later, there were calls to revoke his Pulitzer; The New York Times, which submitted his work for the prize in 1932, wrote that his articles constituted "some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper".

The Pulitzer Prize board declined to revoke the prize.

Posted by Jill Fallon at May 26, 2017 5:46 PM | Permalink