I’ve been going through Komsomolskaya pravda for 1928 collecting articles on whatever I find interesting. And there’s a lot–1928 was a tumultuous year. Articles about the spread of fascism in Europe, particularly in Germany and Poland, and an increasing numbers of communist victims in Mussolini’s Italy were plastered across its pages. The war scare of 1927 spawned a rush of military preparedness among youth in the summer months of 1928. I can’t count how many articles about komsomols marching around Moscow with guns in hand conducting war games. War was in the air.
The firing ranges and marching columns of ersatz soldiers were just the beginning of the war games. The entire Komsomol organization was transformed into a virtual army as it shifted into high gear with the adoption of campiagnism. The targets for their operations, however, were not the fascists abroad, but society itself. There were Komsomol campaigns against illiteracy, campaigns for grain, campaigns for culture, campaigns against alcohol, campaigns against bureaucracy, and campaigns for this and campaigns for that. Komsomolskaya pravda‘s militaristic tone gave all these “fronts,” “battles,” “armies” and “cavalries” against the ills that plagued the Soviet social body a dire sense of desperation. In retrospect, all of this faux civil war rhetoric would prove to be a prelude to the real civil war against the countryside the next year.
Anxiety over the enemy without had its parallel for the enemy within. The Shakhty Trial and its “lessons” ignited the hunt for more wreckers and masked enemies. The Komsomol intensified its hunt to weed out the sons and daughters of Nepmen, priests, and kulaks and the generally corrupt and debauched from its ranks. The slogan fueling this hunt was samokritika, or self-criticism. Namely, this was the “rank and file” exercising “democracy” through the denunciation and expulsion of its leaders for their “immoral” behavior.
While the wave of denunciations shed light on the increasingly authoritarianism within the Komsomol, such acts, as the following short article from Kom pravda shows, were not without comedic elements
Two from the District Committee
“Mama won’t stand for it”
The extraordinary plenum of the Kupian district committee LKSM was alerted.
“To what affair? What happened?”
The question was soon answered. The secretary of the district committee, cde. Efanov reported that on these days the deputies of the organizational department and agitation and propaganda were fired and removed from the buro.
“For what reasons?”
Cde. Popov, the deputy of the org dept., an old komsomol and member of the Party, bragged to komsomols about his relations with prostitutes. Another member of the buro, Kashevatskii, on the contrary, preferred Komsomol girls. A fleeting relation and then abortion characterizes this district “Lion.” Doctors refused komsomolka B. an abortion. [Kashevatskii] had to marry her. But he found the words to explain his refusal:
“Well, how can I marry you? Think of it: I’m a Jew and you’re Russian. My mama won’t stand for this.”
His mother’s interests won out. B. decided to get an abortion. Sometime after, she became deranged and finally committed suicide. But Kashevatskii’s mother profoundly believes in the dovelike purity of her son.
The district plenum drove the rotten from the committee, and Kashevatskii from the League.
Komsomolskaya pravda August 28, 1928.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
The 50th Anniversary of Khrushchev’s speech has passed but not unnoticed. There was lots of commentary over the week in English and Russia media. Below you’ll find links to English and Russian language articles that have been published in the last few days. The list is far from complete. I won’t provide any detailed commentary on them.
Khrushchev’s Secret Speech & End Of Communism
1956: Khrushchev Lashes Out At Stalin
Khrushchev: The Man Who Stood Up To Stalinism
Russia Turns Its Back On The Man Who Denounced Stalin
Stalin Nostalgia Growing in Russia
1959: Macmillan And Khrushchev Talk Peace
‘The First Nail In The Coffin Of Communism’
The Speech Russia Wants To Forget
Instead I would like to concentrate on a recent poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Social Opinion (VTsIOM) on “Repression, the Repressed and ‘the Strong Hand’” released this week in conjunction with the anniversary of de-Stalinization. An analysis of the poll can be found here. Such polls are common in Post-Soviet Russia. Many people see them as a gauge to the Russian population’s “transition” to democracy. In fact, I was at a conference on Stalin at USC last week and one presenter used statistics from VTsIOM as evidence of Stalin’s “reemergence” in Russia. I personally don’t put much stock in these polls as a representation of how Russian’s view Stalin. Instead I see them as interesting indicators to how Russians remember and understand Stalin’s Terror. Here are some of the polls statistics.
Who in your opinion carries the primary responsibility for mass repression in the country after the Revolution up to the 20th Party Congress? (in percent)
Leaders of the NKVD –Iagoda, Ezhov, Beria.
The upper Party leadership – Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov, Kaganovich, and others.
In the conditions of enemy encirclement and the threat of war, repression was inevitable.
Difficult to answer.
What is interesting about these answers is not that 41% named Stalin. It is that fact that 59% said that it something else besides Stalin was responsible for mass repression? Now, does this mean that Russians are more favorable to Stalin? I would say no. What it tells me is that given a set of explanations, many Russians understand mass repression as a phenomenon conducted by individuals. This is perhaps because of the canonizing effect of Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, which was very popularity when it was translated into Russian in the 1990s. Conquest portrays the Terror as part of a master plan executed flawlessly by Stalin.
What is conspicuously missing in the list of answers are the Russian people themselves. There is no space for collective responsibility. This could be simply explained by the fact that the questionnaire did not provide an answer for some sort of collective responsibility. This in and of itself is suggestive of how such polls construct the memory of such events. They reduce a potentially diverse set of viewpoints into a few. They create a narrative for how events are represented and remembered. It however makes one wonder whether Russians see any collective responsibility at all for the horrors of the Soviet regime. My guess is that there continues to be little sense of this, and as a result a failure to come to terms with living and participating in an authoritarian society.
The lack of recognition of a collective responsibility about mass repression in Russia has always stuck me. After all, the term “mass repression” is not only one that denotes scope; it also suggests a process that goes beyond one man or a group of leaders. Essentially, this survey hides the fact that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of rank and file Party members, secretaries, local leaders, and regular people participated in the execution of this “mass repression.” Without them, I doubt it could ever have become mass. Take for example, this denunciation written by a student of the Leningrad Technical Institute and Komsomol member in 1936 to the editor of Pravda, Lev Mekhlis about one N. V. Kitaev:
How can a parasite WHO ALWAYS SOBS WHEN HE HEARS LENIN’S NAME AND GROANS WHEN HE HEARS STALIN’S (those are not just words, comrade Mekhlis, but the appalling truth), how can such a person be allowed to remain within the walls of the institute, how can we, comrade Mekhlis, shelter such a snake in our bosom?
The letter went on to state how the denunciation of Kitaev was not out of personal malice toward him.
No comrade Mekhlis, it’s much worse—for four years, until February 1935, we venerated him as a “real party man,” politically highly developed, an activist, someone who always spoke up at every meeting and assembly, who could quote Lenin and Stalin and in our (Komsomol members’) eyes was the INCARNATION OF PARTY CONSCIENCE, ethics, and PARTY SPIRIT.
Since Kirov’s murder, [Kitaev] arouses an animal fear in me, an organic disgust. Just as I previously venerated him and respected him, now I fear him and expect him to do something terribly evil, some irreparable harm to the whole country. If you could have seen the unfeigned joy we all felt . . . when we learned of his expulsion [later revoked] from the Institute after the execution of Zinoviev and Kamenev . . . It is impossible and criminal to allow him to finish his studies at the Institute, because comrade Mekhlis even THE CAMPS OF THE NKVD WILL NOT REFORM HIM . . . I am terribly sorry now that he was not sitting next to his hero Zinoviev and Kamenev [in the court that ordered their execution.](cited in Shelia Fitzpatrick, Tear Off the Masks, 213.)
The fate of Kitaev is unclear. What is clear is that many more similar denunciations can be found in the archives as well as incidents where people participated in the public denunciation of others in local show trials.
None of this would be found in the survey. It only recreates the idea that history is the work of great individuals rather than the multitude of actions carried out by regular people.
The memory of the “mass repression” is inscribed in other parts of the survey. Here it is the memory of victims rather than perpetrators is formed.
Were any of your relatives repressed in the 1930s and 1940s? (in percent)
Of all Respondents
60 and older
Yes, I know much about their fate from stories of close relatives and family archives (letters, photos, etc)
I know that my relatives were repressed but the details aren’t known to me.
None of my relatives were repressed.
I don’t know if any of my relatives were repressed or not.
Difficult to answer.
According to the survey one in four respondents were “repressed.” But what does repressed mean? Does it mean execution, arrest and imprisonment, deportation, or dispossession? Or does it also include much more? Does this include all soldiers imprisoned after the war? War collaborators? It is difficult to say because the survey doesn’t give a definition. This says to me that there is a question as to what repression means, and how it is defined and remembered by the respondent. I think that what exactly “repression” means is an important question because the trend has been to think that everyone imprisoned under Stalin was “repressed.”
It would be difficult to verify if the 25 percent figure in the survey is correct. The difficultly is not simply that “repressed” is not defined, neither is “relative.” Does this mean close relative—mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, etc? Or does it mean great uncle, cousin, third cousin etc? On this, the survey is potentially misleading in demonstrating the scope of repression among the population because when reading the one in four statistic, one assumes that one in four soviet citizens in the 1930s and 1940s were “repressed.”
Thanks to the opening of the archives, we now have a better sense of the numbers of executions, Gulag inmates, arrests, etc. Some of them are considered accurate; others are based on estimates when set against demographic materials. Some of the numbers are for specific periods, like 1936-1937, or for the whole Stalin period 1930-1953. Some include NKVD victims, other numbers include famine, and still others even include war deaths. The point is how you frame the figures, what you include in the count, and what you don’t. Most importantly when evaluating numbers on the victims of Stalin, what you mean by “repression” and what you think Stalin is responsible for is of utmost importance.
Here part of what we now know. And I should first preface this by stating that all of these figures are from scholarly studies, most of which are based on archival documents. But as many scholars freely admit, the numbers from archival documents and census data also contain inaccuracies. All in all, they act more as a guide than a way to posit completely accurate figures. The population of the Soviet Union in 1937 was 162 million. In 1939 was 167.3 million. Population growth was estimated to be around an average of 3 million per annum.
1921-1953 total arrests
1938 camp population
1938 prison and camp population
1952 camp population
1937-38 camp deaths
Source: J. Arch Getty, Gabor T. Rittersporn and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Vitcims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence,” American Historical Review, 98:4, 1993, 1022.
Grated these figures don’t give us a sense of the percentage of people repressed in the Stalin period in terms of overall population. Most the above figures are for a narrow period of time that coincides with the Great Purge, 1937-1938. These also don’t include deportations of ethnic groups or kulaks (razkulachivanie). There are estimate figures for these too, but I will only state one since it coincides with not only the anniversary, but also Russia’s Men’s Day holiday that was on February 23.
On February 23, 1944 the NKVD began the deportation of Chechens to Kazakhstan. I won’t go into the history of it because I am not an expert on this. But according to figures in the archives, 400,478 Chechens and Ingushes were recorded in special settlements (spetsposeleniia). This is not the number of those deported, only those who arrived. Some estimate that over 100,000 died in transit to Kazakhstan.
Suffice to say and attempt on producing numbers on the victims of Stalinism will remain only estimates. And like I mentioned above, it depends on what you mean by “repression” and to a certain extent “victim.” But complexity hasn’t stopped scholars from trying. But the more sophisticated scholars who are armed with minutia of demography tend to be inconclusive on total numbers, but have offered numbers in specific areas: executions, deportations, sentences, Gulag populations etc more as a way to disprove previously offered guesstimates that were often steeped in Cold War ideology and misconceptions about how the Soviet Union functioned. As one can imagine the battle over figures has caused fierce academic debates. Even though most scholars agree that we have a much better picture of the scope of repression, the ability to come up with a best estimate on the total of victims under Stalin continues to be marred in politics, definition, inaccurate data, not to mention academic nit-picking over tables, calculations, and figures.
Personally, I don’t have much of an intellectual interest in numbers. I can’t comprehend the mass slaughter of a 100 people let alone millions. Plus at some point the humanity in all of it gets lost. The human gravity in the difference between one million and two million gets erased by the short abstract distance between one and two. After all, whether the estimate on the total number is 20 or 30 million, does 20 million make the Stalin period less repressive than 30 million? Or does 30 million make it more repressive than 20 million? Less or more inhuman? Hardly.Post Views: 876
By Sean — 11 years ago
It was only a matter of time before this was going to happen. The Moscow City Court has ruled that the National Bolshevik Party constitutes an “extremist organization.” This ruling legally liquidates the NBP since authorities can now arrest anyone who participants in the group. Participation in an “extremist group” comes with the penalty of a 200,000 ruble fine and up to two years in prison.
NBP lawyer, Sergei Belyak, called the rulling “shameful and appalling, it is not based on law at all.” Eduard Limonov declared it a “farce.” That is, he backed away from any responsibility for leading the group. “An organization called NBP has not been registered with any state agency, and there is no evidence that I am leading any organization or party.” Now all of a sudden Limonov is no longer the leader of an organization that is wholly identified with him. “I am a famous writer and ideologist,” he told the court. “But I cannot be the head of an organization that does not exist.” He also apparently explained that “he now attends events as an individual and insisted he is no more than a symbol of the group.” Way to take a stand, Eddie.
Garry Kasparov is also under the “extremist” lens. The chess champion was summed by the FSB on Tuesday for a “meeting.” A statement on his website said that “the FSB was investigating whether, in a radio interview he gave before the protest and in a newspaper published by the opposition movement, he made calls for extremist action.”
The State Duma is also looking to add amendments to the extremism law. Amendments were passed a second and third reading on Wednesday that introduces “fines of 2,500 rubles for individuals and 100,000 rubles for companies that make, sell or purchase Nazi paraphernalia” and increased the penalty for “vandalizing property during political or ideological protests to a maximum of three years in prison.”
The amendments will surely make things worse for the rank and file NBPer. Their symbols and activities can easily be classified under both these amendments. And they don’t have the luxury, like Limonov, to declare themselves a “famous writer and ideologist” nor can they find sanctuary in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, like Gary Kasparov did, and cry injustice to the corporate intelligentsia. For a taste of how National Bolsheviks and other protesters are treated by the Russian police, I suggest reading Galina Stolyarova’s article “Brutality as Usual” on Transitions Online. She writes,
Andrei Dmitriev, National Bolshevik leader in
, says he has firsthand experience with the subject [of police abuse]. St. Petersburg
Dmitriev was taken to the police station for talks in the run-up to last July’s G8 summit in
. Since June the police had been pressuring opposition activists to “keep quiet” during the prestigious political event. St. Petersburg
He said the talks swiftly turned violent. “The officers attacked me, handcuffed me, and ripped off my clothes,” he recalled. “They threatened to rape me and were saying all sorts of humiliating things, while also taking photographs of me crawling on the floor.
“It continued for five hours, and it was a nightmare,” he added. “If I had a choice I would probably have preferred being beaten.”
Dmitriev says torture is used systematically against members of protest groups and small opposition parties.
“After our men are detained and taken to police stations after a street protest, it typically involves an excruciating level of violence against us,” he said. “They beat us so hard there are puddles of blood on the floor at the scene.”
During the beating the police reportedly demand “cooperation,” seeking to recruit informants, try to obtain confessions, or even prevent a protest event.
This kinda throws Limonov’s and Kasparov’s “heroics” into a whole new light. As always, when leaders are dancing in the media limelight, the only stars the rank and file youths are seeing are those spinning around their bludgeoned heads.Post Views: 439
By Sean — 7 years ago
Over the past few years, I’ve argued that Nashi has been in a state of confusion in a post-Colored Revolution world. The Putin youth cult was created in 2005 precisely to defend Russia from enemies within and without hellbent on bringing “democracy” to Russia. But since 2008, when the “Orange Threat” was declared vanquished, Nashi has bobbed along on the Russian political scene without any resounding battle call to unite its forces. Sure their annual summer-fest at Seliger has grown in number and scope and their day-to-day campaigns, pickets, and pranks have continued in more and more colorful ways. The Russian liberal “opposition” continues to play its role as the target for legal, media, and sometimes physical harassment. But all of these activities still lack a certain oomph, let alone urgency, when Russia appears as more or less politically and economically stable.
What does a rudderless counterrevolutionary youth organization do when there is no threat to rally the troops to battle? Why, you invent one.
Russia is once again in peril. That’s right, in peril. Or so thinks Vasili Yakemenko, Nashi founder and head of the Russian Department of Youth Affairs. Two weeks ago, a document, presumably written by Yakemenko, titled, “For Background Information Only” appeared on a Nashi discussion board on Vkontakte calling for members to troll the Internet to prevent Russia’s destruction at the hands of Boris Nemtsov, Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Alexei Navalny, and Lev Ponomarev. The text is nothing less than a conspiracy laden call to arms. Here’s a translation of its more juicy parts:
In the next two years an attempt will be undertaken to remove the legally elected President of Russia. The attempt will be to realize a Lybian-Iraqi scenario in our country which will bring total chaos, civil war, and the appointment of a President by the US State Department. In preparation for this event the Nemtsovs, Navalnys, Linomovs, Ponomarevs and others have bought themselves grantees, fascists, and rouges, and have begun a smear campaign against United Russia.
What follows is an plea to support United Russia even though it’s not “ideal” and has many “bribe-takers,” “ineffective officials” and “plain criminals” in its ranks. To break from it now, Yakemenko asserts, would lead to Russia tearing itself apart.
We must understand that if we don’t like United Russia, we must enter it and change it from the inside. If someone doesn’t like United Russia to the extent that he can’t join it, let him go to another party. If he doesn’t like an existing party, let him register one himself, but honestly, and not out of false and dead souls like Nemtsov and PARNAS.
But the POINT IS, that just because we don’t like what is happening in our country, it is NO REASON TO DESTROY IT! Just because we don’t like United Russia, it is no reason to destroy it!
No, Nemtsov, Kasyanov and Navalny need the destruction of the party and the country!
The destruction of the country always begins with the destruction of the Party. The collapse of the USSR in 1991, which carried millions of our parents into poverty in the 1990s, lost territory, and wars also began with the destruction of the KPSS.
Yakemenko then goes on to explain what he expects from his minions over the next two years:
1. Figure out what is going on. Special schools will work for you. You will study geopolitics, politics, conceptual design, rhetoric, psychology, and social networking. Learn to dispute and state your opinion. It is necessary to talk, read books, and watch movies to convince people.
2. That you become the most famous people on the Internet. Become pundits, journalists, bloggers and plain authorities to your contemporaries.
3. That you begin to work with information and the means to spread it, and that means to begin to influence the perception of Russia and what is going on around it.
4. That you will be the first who begin to direct people through social networking.
5. That we create a powerful All-Russian Internet network together that will be able to independently formulate federal white papers, and promote and spin its own news agenda.
6. That you will become the best creators of Internet content.
. . .
You will send me proposals to overcome these problems:
Trolling search engines for Vladimir Putin. The illusion of the dominance of the oppositional opinion on the Internet. The spread of child pornography. The absence of people with our outlook at the top of LiveJournal. The spread of extremist material. Internet provocation.
And also proposals for the creation of any social-political Internet content, able to attach attention of a large number of people. This, above all, TEXTS and video clips, pictures, demotivators, interviews on the street, comics, graffiti, sketches, calendars, songs, dances, street actions, flash mobs, and any other means.
The text then urges 16 to 25 year-old LiveJournal, Twitter and YouTube users to register for a special group, “Sponge Bob and his Friends, and attend a meeting to discuss how the youth will save United Russia, and by extension, Russia itself.
Who is this Sponge Bob? It’s none other than Yakemenko himself, as his Vkontakte page suggests.
The “half-secret” meeting foretold in the manifesto was held last Friday at the Mir movie theater in Moscow, reports Nezavisimaya gazeta.
The gathering of the meeting with the head of Rosmolodezh came to life in circumstances of a quasi-conspiracy. Or a role playing game. A week prior, young visitors to cafeterias in the capital were given white envelopes with their lunch checks with “If you’re happy with everything in life, pass this envelope to a neighbor” written on them.
One of the receivers of the letter, deciding to participate in Rosmolodezh’s game further, but didn’t want to give his name, told NG, “On that day, September 5, friends and I were sitting at a cafe on Staryi Arbat. We were given a white envelope with the check with an invitation to a parade of Mоscow students at an event Yakemenko [is organizing]. The letter was addressed to young people who are socially active and wish to create a better life for themselves and Russia. Those wanting to participate in the meeting had to send an SMS message with “Ready” (Gotov) to a short four digit number.
On Thursday night, unbeknown to the “Ready-ers,” young people got an SMS from a number addressed as “Organizer.” On Friday they were expected to meet at 6 pm at the Mir movie complex on Tsvetnoi Bulevar.
When NG‘s source arrived at the appointed place, he didn’t notice any posters or announcements informing about the forthcoming meeting. Metal detectors were put in front of one of the movie entrances where participants were to register. Young people dressed in red jackets (Nashi’s uniform–Sean) with “Come with us” written on them, asked to leave their information on the invitation of the Youth department. “There was a girl standing next to me, a freshman from a private university in Moscow, who came to the event with her mother,” a participant told NG. But they wouldn’t let her mother in. The guys in the red jackets explained that this meeting was only for young who sent an SMS request beforehand.
At the meeting Yakemenko spoke for an hour and a half to 150 attendees about preventing a Middle Eastern scenario and stressed the importance of young people to become the “conscience of the nation” on the Internet to prevent it. “The Internet and social networking played a big role in these revolutions,” he told the audience. “Through them, the opposition passed information about protests and spread calls to overthrow the regime.” Also of note, Yakemenko didn’t mention President Medvedev or even United Russia once. He only repeatedly referenced Putin “as the leader of our government.”
What to make of Yakemenko’s manifesto, his semi-conspiratorial gathering, and the call to arms on the Internet? Some of it is merely an attempt to broaden what Nashi is already doing. For example, Nashi has been waging a campaign against Alexei Navalny for a while now. The most recent was attempt at slander was to charge that he was reviving money from Anatoly Chubais. Navalny thoroughly dismissed that notion by pointing out that Chubais’ company Rosnano was a sponsor of Seliger, adding a photo of Putin meeting with the oligarch to boot. Nevertheless the anti-Navalny screed shot straight up LiveJournal’s top posts list. As Anton Nosik told Novaya gazeta, Nashi uses bots to hock the popularity of their posts.
But part of this Internet campaign to become the “conscience of the nation” is right out of this summer’s Seliger camp. Two of the seminars given at Seliger, “Information Flow” and “Politics,” promoted the above activities. “Information Flow” sought to teach campers how to “write corresponding texts, create stories, record podcasts and make films for a “new generation,” reported Lenta.ru in May. “Moreover, instructors will talk about methods of conducting PR-campaigns on the Internet and rules of conducting blogs.” “Politics” looked to train United Russia foot soldiers for December’s Duma elections, and presumably for the Presidential election in March. The goal of “Politics” was to facilitate “the formation of the country’s new political elite, capable of independently solving key social and political problems, advocate freedom and self-sufficiency, to realize their political and civil rights, and to train nationally orientated youth.”
When you add the fear of a Lybian-Iraqi scenario to the mix, you get Sponge Bob goes to war.
Speaking of Sponge Bob, it’s more than a bit ironic that just as he and his friends prepare to defend Russia from enemies within and without, that Professors Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, of the University of Virginia’s Department of Psychology, released a study showing that SpongeBob Squarepants “dampen preschoolers’ brain power.” Can you imagine what’s happening to youth in the clutches of Russia’s Sponge Bob?Post Views: 539