My interview with Doug Rogers on his book The Old Faith and the Russian Land: A Historical Ethnography of Ethics in the Urals is online.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Seventy years ago today the infamous Operational Order No. 00447 was approved by the Politburo of the Soviet Union. The Order launched, according to the document, “a campaign of punitive measures against former kulaks, active anti-soviet elements, and criminals.” In the appending memo to Stalin’s personal secretary, A. N. Poskrebyshev, M. P. Frinovsky, then deputy commissar of the NKVD, wrote, “I ask that you send the decree to members of the Politburo for their vote, and please send an extract of relevant items to Comrade Ezhov.”
Dated 30 July 1937, the document outlines which groups would be subjected to “punitive measures,” how they would be carried out, and provided execution and arrest quotas for every oblast and autonomous republic.
The document split those subject to “punitive measures” into two categories. The document reads:
- “To the first category belong all the most active of the above mentioned elements [kulaks, former Whites, criminals, Mensheviks and other anti-soviet parties, fascists, religious sectarians, etc]. They are subject to immediate arrest and, after consideration of their case by the troikas, to be shot.
- To the second category belong all the remaining less active but nonetheless hostile elements. They are subject to arrest and to confinement in concentration camps for a term ranging from 8 to 10 years, while the most vicious and socially dangerous among them are subject to confinement for similar terms in prisons as determined by the troikas.”
Quotas for the first category range from 100 (in Komi ASSR and Kalmuk ASSR, for example) to 5000 (in Western Siberia, Moscow oblast, and Azov-Black Sea). Estimates for the second category ranged from 300 (again in Komi and Kalmuk) to 30,000 (Moscow).
The quotas were merely guidelines for execution and arrest. Considering that they all end in zeros says that the Party had no idea how many “anti-Soviet elements” roamed the country. The quotas were merely estimates presumably made from local NKVD reports. The quotas give a total estimate of 50,950 in the first category and 167,200 in the second category. A grand total of 218,150 persons. The order essentially transfered almost all criminal proceedings to NKVD troikas in 1937-38. According to figures released by the Russian Government in 1995, troikas handed down 688,000 sentences or 87% of all criminal sentences in the USSR in 1937 and 75% in 1938. A total of 681,692 people were sentenced to be shot in 1937-38, with 92.6% of those sentences handed down by troikas.
What is interesting about the Order is where it placed the power to deem an individual (and/or their family members) subject to “punitive measures.” Troikas (three man commissions) were to comprise of commissars of the republic’s NKVD or by regional departments. The minutes of the troikas investigation were the sole legal basis for a person’s execution or arrest. The day to day implementation of the mass operations was essentially outside the purview of central organs. Stalin basically handed local NKVD agents the power to wipe out their local rivals. And a bloodbath ensued. Most of the victims of this blind terror were regular people, most without any political connections at all.
An English translation of Operational Order 00447 can be found in J. Arch Getty, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939, p. 473-480.Post Views: 473
By Sean — 7 years ago
My interview with Lewis Siegelbaum about his book Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile is now online.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
My article, “The Shattered Self of Komsomol Civil War Memoirs,” has come out in the Fall 2012 issues of the Slavic Review. You can download it here. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Komsomol literature in the 1920s repeatedly evoked the memory of the civil war as a means to inspire young communists to sacrifice themselves for the construction of socialism. In the words of Alfred Kurella, “The heroic times of the civil war presently take on a great role in satisfying youth’s romantic proclivities.” The war, he explained, bound the Komsomol around a “single principle,” for it recalled a time when all “surrendered to one great purpose” and “individual identity was significant only as part of a large family. Everybody conformed to the principle that bestowed life or death.” Like other European nations, which used memories of World War I in the construction of national unity, the Komsomol recalled the civil war in order to unite youth around a common heroic memory. The civil war functioned as a “meaningful and sacred event,” providing “ever-present saints and martyrs, places of worship and a heritage to emulate.”
The desire to codify the civil war as a foundational event began with the creation of the Komsomol’s historical commission in December 1920: Istmol, or the Commission for the Study of the History of the Russian Youth Movement. Throughout the 1920s, Istmol collected documents and organized evenings of reminiscence and exhibitions to commemorate the participation in the civil war by members of the Komsomol. Istmol also solicited civil war veterans to write memoirs that would bring revolutionary heroism to life, adding color and depth to the official documents. Their publications varied in content and style, and recollections were often published with very few revisions. The result was a heterogeneous body of literature lacking a dominant narrative for civil war memory. The recollections constituted the main literary form of civil war commemoration since the obituaries, tributes to fallen Komsomol leaders, and articles highlighting the enthusiasm of and service provided by members of the Komsomol that were published during the war.
Komsomol civil war memoirs display an ambivalence toward the civil war. This contrasts with our broader understanding of the war’s memory as a heroic period in which communists sacrificed themselves wholeheartedly for the revolution. Alongside a narrative that framed the war as a “heroic epoch,” veterans voiced confusion, personal loss, hardship, physical suffering, and fear in the face of death. It is precisely because of these elements that Komsomol civil war narratives can be seen as part of the important phenomenon of war remembrance at the turn of the century. These narratives, like many of their European counterparts, are ultimately personal stories that attempt to come to terms with the personal transformations that war brought upon young soldiers and to render the strangeness of these experiences understandable to both the readers and the soldiers themselves.Post Views: 230