Stalin and Stalinism

Paul Grenier’s recent post on this blog about historian Nikolai Starikov and his whitewashing of Stalinism generated a record number of comments. Stalin’s legacy remains a hot topic. As it happens, a new biography of the Soviet ruler has just come out.

Authored by Russian historian Oleg Khlevniuk, Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator is based on years of research in the Soviet archives. Khlevniuk’s unparalleled access to Stalin’s papers well justifies the production of yet another Stalin biography. That said, the Stalin he describes is a very familiar one, a man who ‘was cruel by temperament and devoid of compassion’, and who ‘favored terror and saw no reason to moderate its use.’ Those who are already well versed in the dictator’s story will not find anything surprising in this book. Nonetheless, it is a useful reminder given attempts by people like Starikov to play down Stalin’s brutality and the awfulness of his legacy.

Indeed, Khlevniuk indicates early in the book that his purpose is to denounce the ‘large scale poisoning of minds with myths of an “alternative Stalin”,’ and complains that, ‘In today’s Russia … Stalin’s image is primarily being shaped by pseudo-scholarly apologias.’ Khlevniuk’s Stalin is a man who ruled through terror. ‘Fear was the primary force behind the dictator’s patrimonial power,’ he writes. Stalin’s modus operandi was to keep the Soviet people perpetually mobilized in the pursuit of internal and external enemies, and his close associates continually off balance and in fear of being the next target of one of the leader’s regular purges. Paranoia, combined with an insatiable desire for power, characterized his rule.

Khlevniuk has no patience for theories which exculpate Stalin from any of the Soviet regime’s worst crimes. Rather, he places Stalin at the centre of all of them. ‘We do not know of a single decision of major consequence taken by anyone other than Stalin,’ he writes, adding that. ‘He personally initiated all the main repressive campaigns, devised plans for carrying them out, and painstakingly monitored their implementation. He guided the fabrication of evidence for numerous political trials and in several cases wrote detailed scripts for how the trials should play out. … He often wrote commentaries and issued orders for additional arrests or for the use of torture to “get to the truth”. He personally sanctioned the shooting of many people.’ ‘Stalin personally organized acts of terror that went far beyond any reasonable sense of “official necessity”,’ Khlevniuk writes.

The Great Terror was not the result of spontaneous action by local officials. Instead, writes Khlevniuk, ‘Archival records clearly show Stalin to be the initiator of all key decisions having to do with purges of party and government institutions. …  he took a strong interest in the details. … The documentary evidence shows that large-scale operations rarely deviated from Stalin’s orders.’ During the Great Terror, ‘each region and republic was assigned specific numerical targets for executions and imprisonments’ by the Politburo. ‘Approximately 1.6 million people were arrested, and 700,000 of them were shot.’ This was a very deliberate, and highly centralized, operation, designed and overseen by Stalin himself.

Eschewing some of the larger figures conjured up by Cold War-era historians, Khlevniuk nevertheless concludes that the scale of Stalinist repression was enormous.  According to Khlevniuk,

Official records show that approximately eight hundred thousand people were shot between 1930 and 1952. The number who perished as a result of the regime’s actions, however, was much higher. … [due to] the conditions prevailing in the labor camps. … Between 1930 and 1952, some 20 million people were sentenced to incarceration … During that same period no fewer than 6 million, primarily “kulaks” and members of “repressed peoples”, were subjected to “administrative exile”. … On average, … 1 million people were shot, incarcerated, or deported to barely habitable areas of the Soviet Union every year.

… Tens of million were forced to labor on difficult and dangerous projects, arrested, subjected to lengthy imprisonment without charges, or fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes for being relatives of “enemies of the people.” Overall, the Stalinist dictatorship subjected at least 60 million people to some sort of “hard” or “soft” repression and discrimination. To this figure we must add the victims of periodic famines or starvation, which during 1932-1933 alone took the lives of between 5 and 7 million people. The Stalinist famine was largely the result of political decisions. … the Stalinist government used famine as a means of “punishing” the countryside.

All this was the result of a worldview characterized by ‘oversimplification of reality … unidimensionality … with rigid ideological and political dogmatism.’

Not even Stalin’s wartime leadership excuses, or otherwise balances, his brutality. The picture Khlevniuk paints of Stalin during the Great Patriotic War doesn’t deviate from that found in most history books – blundering incompetence for the first year and half of the war, followed by a period of ‘growth as a military leader’ as Stalin learned to listen to his generals. At first, writes Khlevniuk, Stalin was ‘The Blunderer in Chief. … As defensive lines collapsed … he developed an array of strategies that wound up depriving commanders of flexibility and often increased Red Army casualties.’ Later in the war, he began to pay attention to professional advice and there was ‘a genuine discussion of problems’ with subordinates. This is about the only positive thing Khlevniuk says about Stalin.

Stalin’s defenders sometimes maintain that the gigantic human price of his rule was a necessary sacrifice for making the Soviet Union a modern industrial economy. Khlevniuk is having none of it. The Stalin he describes is an economic ignoramus, whose policies were catastrophic. ‘No one was more guilty of putting political expediency before the needs of the economy than Stalin,’ he writes. Far from being a success of rapid industrialization, the first Five Year Plan ‘established a ruinously inefficient approach to industrialization. Vast sums were poured into undertaking construction that was never completed; into equipment for which no use was ever found.’ Stalin never learnt from this. In his final years, he encouraged ‘exorbitant spending on infrastructure’, and ‘a chaotic proliferation of projects led to losses on uncompleted construction.’ He ignored advice to stop wasting vast sums of money on grandiose projects of no economic value. After his death, the Soviet Union’s economic situation markedly improved.

As for collectivization, it was, Khlevniuk says, ‘insane’. The countryside ‘was treated like a conquered colony to be exploited.’ In 1932-33, the result was a famine which killed perhaps 6 million people. Khlevniuk blames Stalin, saying, ‘Although the famine was a complex phenomenon, posterity has every right to call it the Stalin Famine. The Stalinist policy of the Great Leap was its primary cause. … The famine was the inevitable result of industrialization and collectivization.’

In November 1952, Stalin received a letter from a party worker in Riazan province who complained that:

  1. You have to stand in line for black bread.

  2. You can’t get white bread at all.

  3. There’s neither butter nor vegetable oil.

  4. There’s no meat in the stores.

  5. There’s no sausage.

  6. There are no groats of any kind.

  7. There’s no macaroni or other flour products.

  8. There’s no sugar.

  9. There are no potatoes in the stores.

  10. There is no milk or other dairy products.

  11. There is no form of animal fat (lard etc.).

This was the economic legacy which Stalin bequeathed to his successors.

Because it is based on such thorough knowledge of the archives, Khlevniuk’s Stalin: A New Biography is thoroughly convincing. Khlevniuk writes that, ‘Historians are compelled to deal not with simple schemes and political conjecture but with the concrete facts’. The facts which he has assembled leave no room for alternative views. Stalin was a disaster for his country. There is nothing positive in his legacy.

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75 thoughts on “Stalin and Stalinism”

  1. Given that Khlevniuk seems to be even more hostile to Stalin than I am, I’ll hold off on commenting until the revisionists have had a say. However, I do have one question about the book. Does it deal much with Soviet foreign relations after the Second World War? I’m very interested in the history of Asian communism, so I’m curious if Khlevniuk has much to say about Stalin’s relations with Mao Zedong and his role in the beginning of the Korean War.

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    1. There is about a dozen pages towards the end of the book dealing with Mao’s visit to the Soviet Union and the Korean War. The bit about Mao is fairly descriptive rather than analytical, though one gets the impression that Mao out-negotiated Stalin. As far as Korea is concerned, Khlevniuk describes Stalin as approving the invasion of the South. Later, when things were going badly for the North, he instructed Kim Il Sung to evacuate all his troops to China and the USSR, but he also urged the Chinese to intervene, which made the evacuation unnecessary. According to Khlevniuk, Stalin then ‘intentionally dragged out the signing of an armistice, seeing the war as a way to let others get their hands dirty weakening the United States.’ It took his death for a ceasefire to become possible.

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      1. I do have my own very very very speculative speculation concering on facet of Stalins rule:

        Observing the Soviet Union from the outside, what is striking is the relative paucity of “Russian” general secretaries, as well as the fact that internal Soviet border adjustment did not exactly favor Russia, particularly in the early times.

        Assuming that there was some “consensus” about Russians not ruling the Soviet Union, you would have a situation where several different ethnic groupings would jockey for leadership in Moscow.

        Of course, Ukrainians were, after Russians, the by far “strongest” ethnicity, and thus were “natural candidates” for leadership. This is reinforced by the fact that Chruschev, Breznev and Chernenko were Ukrainian (although it can be kind of disputed in the case of Chruschev), and Gorbachev had some Ukrainian relations too.
        From Stalins pov. (and he did like using ethnic Georgians in some capacity, see Lavrentij Berija), this made Ukrainians highly threatening, and it could provide an additional “reason” for certain actions.

        Interestingly enough, had Stalin been Russian, this reason would not have existed.

        The German historian Baberowski does have a couple of papers/books on Stalin being basically a Georgian/Caucasian Mobster/Career criminal in the right time at the right place (from his pov.).

        Concerning his military accolades, well, given the resources available to the Soviet Union, the Germans simply had no business reaching the Volga, Moscow or even St. Petersburg. And several very major and incredibly expensive mistakes can be laid directly at Stalins feet.

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  2. Before we begin – one question to you, Paul. In your opinion, based on what you know – did Stalin do more good or bad for the Soviet Union?

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  3. My attitude towards Stalin has always been negative, given the demonstrable idiocy of his hardcore apologists’ arguments.

    That said, it is very valid to ask why said apologetics industry for Stalin developed in Russia from the 2000s in the first place. Kremlin propaganda? Nope. Only people whose only exposure to Russia is through Western journalism believe that.

    My view is that it was Russian society’s response to the wholesale “blackwashing” of Stalin that took place in the 1990s with rhetoric about “muh 72 million victims of Communism” lifted from Cold War scholars in the West who had to speculate in the absence of archival access.

    Such extreme positons were uncritically pushed by the Russian liberals once society opened up in the late 1980s and 1990s, to the extent that the phenomenon even got its own ironic meme (“billions shot dead personally by Stalin”). Considering some of the truly wild stuff that was floating about – I recall reading entirely serious articles in the liberal press speculating whether Nazi conquest could have been better for Eastern Europe than Stalin – this was not too surprising.

    One would think that given Stalin’s actual record, which was sordid enough, you would not need to “blackwash” him any further, but ideologues will be ideologues, so what happened happened, and next thing you know many people started suspecting that given the false facts and figures being pushed about Stalin – demonstrated so by the newly accessibly archival evidence itself – then maybe they were lying about everything else as well, and well maybe Stalin was actually the good guy after all, maligned by his bitter and limp-wristed successors.

    And then that led to all that “historical” pulp fiction that Khlevniuk alludes to at the start of his book.

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    1. If what you say AK is correct (and I agree with much of it), then I suspect the pendulum will swing back soon in a negative direction and a more realistic appraisal of the man will prevail.

      It should be noted however that “street-level Stalinism” never disappeared: it survived Khruschev and Gorbachev, and will probably survive whatever pendulum swing eventually occurs. This is particularly true in Georgia (where Stalin still occupies “national hero” status) and in Central Asia (arguably the region to benefit most from Sovietization).

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    2. I think there are many reasons for the revival of Stalin’s cult. In the first place, it never really disappeared completely.

      I have a relative, he’s now in his 80’s, during Stalin’s period he was a bus driver, handsome and young, and that’s all he really remembers from these times. It wasn’t that bad, he says, he had a job and every day the newspapers reported how great the USSR is and they didn’t report about any atrocities, so why should he believe anything wrong happened? This is the ‘street-level’ stalinism mentioned in the other comments and if you asked a German bus driver in Berlin in 1940 he would say exactly the same.

      And Soviet atrocities were never clearly condemned in Russia, as they were in Nurnberg. Many people do not fully realize their scale and think they are a “point of view” as they would say at RT. Some people relativize or justify them, and we have a live example in another comment – if they were innocent, they wouldn’t be executed. And even if they were technically innocent, then they were guilty in the class sense. And if they were of labour class, then it was a historical necessity and so the chain of denial continues.

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    3. @Mao Do you think this was really condemnation of Soviet terror? Did you actually read the Wikipedia article you linked? Especially the paragraph starting with “In most cases”. And ending with “posthumously”. And at the same time people like Vyshinsky or Blokhin were living happy lives, medals on their chests…

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      1. “Do you think this was really condemnation of Soviet terror? ”

        Well, not “Soviet terror”, but “the cult of personality and its consequences”:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Cult_of_Personality_and_Its_Consequences

        I think this is rather unusual and quite impressive, considering. Normally, you can’t expect this to happen, unless the regime is defeated militarily, and the radical change of the narrative is imposed by force.

        Arguably, the US has done it with its slavery period, but then they compensate it by glorifying the civil war and mythologizing it as a war to end slavery, the redemption. And they don’t condemn any of the US leaders. Maybe Richard Nixon, but for a very trivial reason. But certainly not Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington, or Harry Truman.

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  4. This is confusing: is it about Mr. Stalin, the person (“Stalin biography”), or is it an analysis of the USSR circa 1930-1953?

    If it’s the latter, is this a comprehensive analysis, with historical, ideological, political, socioeconomic, geopolitical, and other aspects and dynamics being considered?

    And if this is a comprehensive analysis, why present it as Mr. Stalin’s biography? Mr. Stalin was just a man. Yes, the period is called ‘Stalinism’, but surely we all understand that Mr. Stalin wasn’t a god or even demigod. Perhaps the author’s understanding of the role of individual in history is somewhat pre-enlightenment?..

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      1. “The focus is on what Stalin did.”

        That’s a big problem. As my university professors explained to me, decades ago: there are objective and subjective factors. Objective factors play the primary role. Individuals are shaped by their environment, and those with suitable characteristics tend to rise to the top.

        Mr. Khlevniuk was born in the USSR in 1959, he should know all this. If he does, and he is a historian (not a psychiatrist) – why focus on the person?

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      2. Because individuals can still play a huge role in events. Stalin is a case in point. So too is Lenin – would the October revolution have taken place at the time and manner it did without him? Almost certainly not. Marxist thought may have taught that ‘objective’ environmental factors are key, but Marxism no longer dominates, and we are willing to recognize the role of individuals, of contingency, etc.

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      3. To me it’s not so much marxism as simply a materialistic view. Even if Marx and Engels were the ones who expressed it clearly.

        Individuals are shaped by their environment. Societies develop, evolve, collapse as complex organisms that they are. Elites (as a phenomenon) have their own laws and cycles (see Pareto).

        A world war or industrialization of a nation of 150 million people is not something that can happen at someone’s whim. That’s just common sense.

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  5. Anatoly Karlin, you make perfect sense. (Is it lonely?)

    I have no dog in this fight, but the incompetence of the Stalin denunciations raises my contrarian instincts. All Stalin’s victims were “innocent” victims? What was wrong with them? Surely somebody had the guts to start plotting.

    Almost every writer on the Holomodor begins in 1932. The Peasant Revolt in 1930 isn’t relevant? (“Sow no seed!”) And whatever happened to its organizers, most of whom escaped the law and went under-ground? The famine of 1931 wasn’t relevant, nor the number of draft animals slaughtered, nor the seed grain eaten?

    “Khlevniuk has no patience for theories which exculpate Stalin from any of the Soviet regime’s worst crimes. Rather, he places Stalin at the centre of all of them.”

    You could replace this with “Yatseniuk” and be equally credible.

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  6. Am very glad to see you return to the issue, Paul. The Stalin revisionism is irrational from every point of view.

    What would be more rational, as well as far more convincing, from my perspective, would be to make the case that after Stalin Russia quickly became pretty much a status quo authoritarian state, one with big faults but also some big virtues, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary in the purely moral sense.

    Anyone buying that argument?

    It’s certainly not an original one. It was the standard narrative by (most) U.S. political scientists when I was doing Russian studies back in the 1980s (including the early 1980s).

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    1. As someone born in 70’s Poland I don’t definitely buy it as the faults were plenty and virtues few if any. Starting from inability to leave the country at your will.

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    2. I would strongly agree with this sentiment.

      Nothing was particular “evil” about Chruschev, Brezhnev etc., and the fact that the Soviet Union dissolved (mostly) peacefully despite having by far enough repressive force to quash any unrest is very remarkable and has few other historic precedents.

      Chruschev in particular had some major balls by both denouncing Stalin and later not putting up a fight when Brezhnev couped him, it was sad that this did not herald a “tradition” in which Soviet leaders did not rule until becoming incapable (which was the case with Brezhnev).

      From my personal perespective, I had family (great grandfather) that were repressed by Stalin, I very much believe that the Soviet Union triumphed in WW2 inspite, not because of Stalin (who was still a better military leader then Hitler, but that is pretty faint praise).
      I do however find certain casulty figures to be completely ridiculous, and am appaled by the deeply ahistoric overpersonification of USSR=Stalin, and also believe that the equation USSR=Russia, especially concerning the Stalinist period and todays Russia, needs to die in a fire.

      More so because the Russians could make a good case of being one of Stalinisms main victims.

      Russia is currently ruled by the “Whites”, its economy is in some ways more (in other ways less) capitalistic then the wests, and there even where “purges” of comitted communists (which was basically what the Duma massacre was about). Russia is simply not the Soviet Union.

      And well, morally, todays Russia is easily nicer then Chruschevs or Brezhnev USSR, and may well be one of the most “morally nice” Russia ever (this is btw. probably true for a lot of countries).

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    3. “Anyone buying that argument?”

      To an extent. For one thing, the post-Stalin USSR didn’t indulge in mass terror, became a bit more open and relaxed, and insofar as there was repression, it tended to be bureaucratic rather than violent. The USSR and most of its satellites were much more peaceful places in this respect than the average right-wing dictatorship in Latin America, Africa or the Middle East.

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    4. The major difference between the Soviet Union post-Stalin and other authoritarian states was the pervasive nature of the Party, which spread its tentacles into every workplace, every social organization, etc. The Party thus exercised a degree of control over society which far surpassed that of, say, Latin American dictatorships. I think that this made communist authoritarianism a very different beast.

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      1. “the Party, which spread its tentacles into every workplace, every social organization, etc.”

        Does this mean something other than “the Party, whose members were found in every workplace, every social organization, etc.”?

        Maybe “whose spies were employed in . . .” What was the budget for that? How many workplaces, etc. are we talking about?

        Or maybe “whose members were required voluntarily to report on their workplaces, etc. . . .” But how large was the membership cf. number of workplaces, organizations, etc.? How many tonnes of paper were used?

        Almost nobody writes about this topic seriously, or even seems to think about what they are saying. They just juggle hackneyed phrases.

        BTW, what criterion are you using to describe Khlevniuk’s access as “unparalleled”? My casual observation has been that access to the archives was open access to anything by anybody. I was disputing someone’s designation of the Angolan civil war as a “proxy war” and with one click on a google search pulled up the minutes of the meeting of the praesidium in which they first discovered that Cuba had been fighting in Angola for six months.

        And what are “Stalin’s Papers”? The phrase is usually used for private papers. But the topic is public policy.

        I’m still looking for a book on Stalin in which the author is not on a mission to validate what he was taught at his grandpa’s knee. Not someone like Motyl, who admits that as an adolescent he chose as his life’s work doing harm to Russia any way he could, and made his educational and professional choices accordingly. And not, I’m coming to think, a Ukrainian. Different cultures use language for varying reasons beyond transmissions of facts: dominance display and its opposite, appeasement; pleasing the listener, eliciting sympathy . . . Ukrainians seem to think it’s there to trick people into doing what you want.

        That book will also have to stand up to cross-examination (you may have noticed).

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  7. Fair enough. It was distinct in that respect. This of course gave to late Soviet life that familiar, annoying, obligatory BS quality — the set phrases lauding the Party, Lenin, etc. (in speeches, in book preambles, in school houses). And other, more pernicious aspects, such as throwing dissidents in the nut-house for challenging the official line in too blatant a fashion. All bad.

    Seweryn Bialer (Stalin’s Successors) argued that what definitely differentiated Stalinist from post-Stalinist Russia is that in the former, it wasn’t clear what one had to do in order to stay safe. Under Brezhnev, one knew precisely what was safe. We all know that. But in fact, I would argue, it was much more than just that. It was far safer in late Soviet Russia, despite the octopus-like Party, than it was in, say, authoritarian Brazil or Guatemala and Chile at their worst. There if you went against the state, you probably didn’t live to tell the tale, and if you were arrested, you were brutally tortured. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second choosing which regime to live under, if given those choices.

    Meanwhile, there were aspects of Soviet life that people rightly respected and still respect. The equality had its benefits, something that some Polish friends, incidentally, Pan Kravietz, have told me they miss — because of the social solidarity it engendered. My daughter’s nanny, a factory worker from Kiev who worked throughout the Soviet years in the same Kiev factory, considered her work colleagues her extended family. She was not only proud of her life there, it was a good life in a great many ways.

    Finally, why is it that so many — in and outside of Russia — are still so fond of Soviet era films? Everything from the wonderful children’s animated films (Krasnaya shapochka/Little Red Riding Hood to Vnimanie Cherepakha!/Look Out for the Turtle! to The Irony of Fate? The latter film is especially ironic, in the sense that part of its charm is that it subtly criticizes the cultural flatness of Soviet life, even as it displays a depth and poetry of inner life that was, in some ways (I stress: in SOME ways), more possible under the Soviet system than in the new, money-centered world.

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  8. Finally, finally: my point, in the above, is simply that I ‘get’ that kind of Soviet nostalgia — for the kind of things enumerated above. Nostalgia for the man who brought Russia show trials and mass terror I don’t get at all.

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  9. I’m not sure what this “mass terror” thing really means. Did it affect all of the society, or just certain strata?

    As discussed in a previous thread, the incarceration rate was comparable to that in the US today. Indeed, we see some mind boggling statistics about the level of repression within certain demographics, such as inner-city ghettos. But if you’re a professional living in the suburbs, you see no terror, it doesn’t exist for you.

    I could be wrong, but is it possible that the significance of the Stalinist terror – its main or only significance – is in that it affected The People Who Matter? The intellectuals, the professionals, the politicians, the bureaucrats. People who write memoirs, who give interviews, who publish books, who create the narrative?

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    1. It wasn’t just the ‘people who matter’ who suffered – millions of peasants were dekulakized, collectivized, and had their property seized, leading to millions of them dying unnecessarily during the famine of 1932-3.

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      1. I think Mao has a point: people often use the same word or term to mean different things, and the word ‘terror’ is perhaps overused these days… Someone like me, who is interested but not very well informed, in the present context can interpret the word “terror” to mean “Stalin=terrorist”. This interpretation implies clear intent on behalf of the “terrorist”, so it makes sense to distinguish between intended and unintended victims of Stalin’s orders/policy. Firstly, people need to be clear on the definition of “victim” (or “suffering”). I suppose death toll is a start. Then, is there a way of separating the intended from the unintended victims? What’s the relative size of these two groups? Does it make sense to pin the unintended victims solely on Stalin or attribute it to Stalinism?

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      2. Even if we confine our attention to the Great Terror of 1936 to 1938, the vast majority of the victims are still fairly ordinary people, not literary types. The Great Terror consisted of 3 main parts, the party purge, the kulak action (which mostly targeted peasants who had already been released after 5-year gulag terms) and the national actions, which targeted ethnic minority populations (especially Poles). If we focus on executions, the party purge accounts for a fairly small portion of them (likely around 50 000 out of close to 700 000) By far the largest part of the victims was composed of the “workers and peasants” the party was supposedly representing.

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  10. I was using the phrase ‘mass terror’ to refer not just to a specific period within Stalin’s rule, but to a climate and method that was persistent throughout almost all of Stalin’s reign.

    Some telling examples: the entire philatelic society in the USSR was repressed (why were they interested in FOREIGN stamps?!). My wife’s grandmother was repressed for having been friends with a Menshevik in 1917. She was arrested for this ‘crime’ in the late 1940s. At the time she was working as a librarian and was a loyal communist. Multiply these examples by a couple million and you get the general picture.

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    1. Still, these seem to be examples enforcing *my* point. What about a lathe mechanic (in American mythology, I guess it’d be a ‘pipefitter’)? Or a cooking lady? These were not likely to collect foreign stamps or to befriend social-democratic functionaries.

      To Ryan Ward: you certainly have a point there. But I believe my point stands too: only some groups were targeted, and, I think, it’s very important, and it seriously affects our perception, that the upper classes, the educated classes were targeted. A minor correction: they were NOT targeting ethnic minority populations. They targeted immigrants and anyone with any connections abroad. Not the same thing.

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      1. You are distinguishing, then, between real workers, such as mechanics (and, presumably, peasants) and not real workers — those who are suspect in terms of social class — such as librarians or people who like pretty stamps. I find your perspective quite scary. It would remain so, even if it were true. I honestly find it hard to see on what basis a conversation here can continue.

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      2. Obviously I’m not saying that a librarian deserves to be repressed. I’m questioning the assumption of the universal nature of this phenomenon. Which would explain why many may have supported the regime.

        Again, if in Ferguson Missouri (and thousands of places like that) it feels like terror, the situation may look perfectly normal, safe, and comfortable elsewhere, for a majority of the population. And repressing masses of the underclass and working class is likely to be less noticeable than mistreatment of a few college professors.

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      3. It’s not true that the national operations targeted only immigrants and people with connections abroad. Of course, such people received special attention, but anyone who belonged to an ethnic minority population with members both inside and outside the Soviet Union (such as Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Koreans, etc.) In fact, the “Korean operation involved the deportation of the entire Korean population of the Russian Far East. To illustrate one specific “snapshot” case of how the national operations worked, it’s useful to look at the report that Yezhov submitted to Stalin in September 1937, near the beginning of the Polish operation (it was published in the September 2011 issue of the Sarmatian review, and is available online). If you look through the names and short descriptions in the report, you’ll see that the majority of them were not immigrants, and had no connection with Poland other than their supposed espionage.
        In regard to the general point, I agree that there were at least some people who were relatively untouched by the Great Terror, but the idea that the Terror only affected a small group is not accurate. Anyone who was an intellectual, a “kulak” (or had been convicted as one in 1930-33), a Pole, a priest, a monk, a military officer, a party member, a Lithuanian, a German, a Greek, a Korean, had any kind of connection whatsoever with a foreigner or had ever at any time belonged to a party other than the Bolsheviks, had reason to fear for their life and safety. Furthermore, given the use of torture to extract information about “accomplices”, anyone who even knew someone in one of these categories had reason to be afraid. This isn’t a small select group of victims we’re talking about here

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      4. But still, people with foreign connections – or, rather, significant statistical likelihood of foreign connections – were the target, not ethnic groups per se. In fact, I believe I read somewhere that the Volga Germans were not affected at all, precisely because they’d lived in Russia for many generations and lost their connection to Germany. They were affected later, of course, in the 1940s, but that’s a different story.

        As for the size of the high-risk, terrorized population, it’s hard to tell. I’m not a historian. But the categories you listed would seem to amount to a relatively small part of the whole population. Even though I think you’re wrong about “other than the Bolsheviks”; I have the impression that the Bolsheviks may have been indeed the primary target, in the ‘thermidorian reaction’ sort of way. Still, a vast, vast majority of people – always – are utterly apolitical.

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    2. I remember when Memorial published a sort of interactive map of repressions in Moscow a few years ago. It was a fascinating exercise, I found out that a guy living in my own apartment building had been executed in 1938 (he was a Baltic German, originally from Riga).

      What stood out about the map however, was how many members of the NKVD were arrested and executed, presumably by other members of the NKVD. I don’t recall any numbers, but there was a strong impression of an organization cannibalizing itself.

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  11. 2Ryan Ward&Others.

    Sorry for a long silence – RL-stuff kept me busy for a while. Don’t think that I’m shying away from a battle for which I called personally.

    Mr.Ward! I see you keep insisting on some of your misconceptions. Now, I won’t take on the whole of this book (which I didn’t read) or all the “fine points” of it highlighted by Paul. I’d like to take a step-by-step approach.

    Let’s start with so much dreaded “Troikas” and the “Yezhovshina” – what is believed to be the “Peak of the Great Terror”,

    I still hope that the people, so to speak, “gathered” here are honest with al least themselves (which I can’t say about Vynnitsa born Ukrainian anti-Stalinist Khlevniuk, who even with the access to arcvies, if quoted provided by Pole to be believed, managed to twist some facts to suit his agende). I guess that in our discussion we will strive for truth 😉

    First of all – I’d like to remind everyone your “7 Claims”, on which you base your Anti-Satlinism (and anti-Sovietism):

    “1) In the Stalinist era, millions (I’m not really concerned to get into the fine details of numbers, so I’ll just say something north of 1 million) of Soviet citizens were executed for various crimes against the state.
    2) Millions of other citizens were sentenced to the Gulag or internal deportation, and a sizable percentage of both groups died prematurely as a result of these sentences.
    3) The “troikas” were in no sense fair courts, and therefore their findings are worthless as an index of the guilt or innocence of the people they convicted.
    4) “Quotas” which were issued for the arrest and conviction of criminals, although officially intended as maximums, were actually treated as minimums, and exceeding these quotas was largely encouraged.
    5) The “Holodomor” is a real event, by which I mean that an artificially-generated (although not necessarily intentional) famine was worsened by government policies that showed a complete disregard for human life.
    6) In the course of the various Stalinist purges, members of ethnic minorities were statistically more likely to be convicted and sentenced than ethnic Russians.
    7) Due to the general worthlessness of the troikas as indexes of guilt and innocence, there’s no reason to believe that this statistical over-representation of ethnic minorities results from any real tendency of the minorities to commit treason.”

    End of quote.

    Oh, and it’s spelled “GULag” (as in “Glavnoye Upravleniye Lagerei”) – there is nothing unholy in that acronym.

    Second – in this one post I’d like to contest the claim that “Troikas” were “in no sense fair courts”. For that one has to know the history of Troikas creation.

    What were “Troikas” anyway? Short answer: they were 3-men tribunals, consisting of representatives of persecution, NKVD and local party organizations. There were 2 types (“levels” so to speak) of them – Republican and Oblasts level. They were hardly less “legal” than, say, military field courts, that had previously, some 30 odd years earlier, produced enough “customers” for “Stolypin’s neckties” and “Stolypin’s train cars”.

    The higher power in the Soviet Union was the “Congress of Soviets”, and its decisions had higher authority than the constitution of the USSR. Between sessions of the “Congress of the Soviets” as the highest executive and legislative power in the country was in hands of the elected by the Congress of the Soviets body – the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets ((В)ЦИК). The VIII Congress of Soviets adopted a resolution “On the Soviet construction.” (“О Советском Строительстве”). According to it the legislative power of passing the was under the jurisdiction of: the Congress of Soviets, the Central Executive Committee, the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee and the Soviet of the People Commissariats (SovNarCom, SNC).

    “Troikas” were created by the “Order 00447” on July 31, 1937 by the People’s Commissar of the Internal Affairs Yezhov. The order had been approved and signed by members of the Politburo of the CPSU (b). The chairman of the Central Election Commission at that time was Mikhail Kalinin – and he also was a member of the Politburo. And a leader of the Politburo was Stalin, who was a member of the CEC. Most of the members of the Politburo were members of the CEC. It was important that all the signatures that were on the document belonged to members of the CEC and one member of the CPC. In short – they have been authorized to do so

    And thus “Troikas” were born – completely legally.

    Why were they created? Ordinary courts just failed to persecute criminals, especially criminals charged with “political” crimes. There were many reasons for that. “Troikas” were above the local system of judiciary – arguably, they were less likely to be threatened, cajoled or swayed by the powerful individuals unlike the ordinary courts. They often have to deal with already solved crimes, for which criminals still didn’t receive a well deserved sentence. For determining the verdict “Troikas” had to examine the results of the investigation, operative materials and findings, and pass the judgment according to them. And not, you know, as many so-called “Russian liberals” and Western Russophobes, because they were bloodthirsty ghouls who killed people at random.

    Anti-Soviet groups were real. No doubt here. In the country that only recently survived the chaos of 3 revolutions, a World War, a Civil war and Intervention (plus numerous revolts and uprisings) there were still a lot of “formers” (“бывших”) and sympathetic to them people who actually hated the new Soviet government and, indeed, took action to harm it. It’s another matter that Yezhov and his people tended to use this fact for the self-PR purposes, often applying exceeding and unnecessary suppression, then it was necessary. Not to mention that this system (as any judicial system anywhere and anytime) had been used to settle personal scores and exact revenge. Which, again, is hardly surprising for a country with a lot of people who just 20 years ago took part in the most turbulent events.

    Who were the targets of “Troikas”, the “field of work”, so to speak? Shy and modest intilligents? Hardworking kulaks? Brave Poles? Jews? No – and it’s all in the “Order 00447”. The “field of work” for “Troikas” is defined from the very beginning. Following groups have been targeted by their scrutiny:

    1) Former kulaks, who returned after serving their sentence and continued anti-Soviet subversive activities.
    2) Former kulaks, who had escaped from the camps and trudoposelki, plus kulaks who hid from raskulachivaniye (“de-kulakization”), continued anti-Soviet subversive activities.
    3) Former kulaks and socially dangerous elements, who took place in the rebel, fascist, terrorist and bandit formations who have served punishment, or hid from judgment, or who escape from detention, who continued anti-Soviet subversive activities.

    That’s about the “innocent” and “specially targeted peasants”. Sorry – I simply don’t buy it. Kulaks were never the majority of peasantry in Russia and especially in the Soviet Union. More like a tiny sliver of it, as is always an issue with rich people and the rest of populace. And were they really so innocent, if they decided to continue their anti-soviet activities? I guess the correct legal term for that “recidivism”, i.e. continuing to commit the same crime.

    4) The members of the anti-Soviet parties (SRs, plus the nationalists of the Caucasus, such as Dashnaks), former White policemen and gendarmes, officials, members of punishing squads, bandits, underground organizers, traffickers, re-emigrants who hide themselves from reprisals, who fled from prison and continued anti-Soviet subversive activities.
    5) Reveled members of currently liquidated Cossack, White Guard, guerrilla organizations, fascist, terrorist and espionage, sabotage, counterrevolutionary groups.

    Mr. Ward, may I ask you something? Are you opposed to the terrorism and active rebellions against government? Or you, being an Enlightened Westerner, only oppose them when they target your country and its allies? For example, in 1930s so-called “basmachi”, after being successfully expunged from the Central Asian republics, had to relocate to Afghanistan. They rather routinely crossed the border with the USSR to kill and raid people. Were they “freedom fighters” by the virtue of being anti-Soviet? Should all those “basmachs” and their sympathizers repressed by the brutal Troikas be also absolved of any crimes and rehabilitated?

    ”6) Elements of these categories at this time contained in custody, the investigation of their cases already ended, but whose cases were still not examined by the judiciary: former kulaks, members of punitive squads, churchmen, bandits, whites, sectarian activists, who are now detained in prisons/camps and continued anti-Soviet subversive activities THERE.

    7) Criminals, bandits, robbers, thieves recidivists, smugglers, professional thieves, swindlers recidivists, cattle and horse thieves continuing criminal activities and connected with the criminal environment. Elements of these categories at this time contained in custody, the investigation of their cases already ended, but whose cases were still not reviewed by the judiciary.

    8) The criminal elements in the camps and trudposelski who continue their criminal activity THERE.”

    And… that’s all! That’s all targets of Troikas. Now, honestly, given whom these “victims” were and criteria for which they were chosen – are you still going to claim that all and nearly all of them were “innocent”? That a smuggler recidivist arrested and sentenced to prison, who then continued to smuggle stuff in and out of prison is just “a victim of Stalin’s terror”? What are the chances that when the so-called “Russian liberals” are engaged in their necrophiliac activities near “Solovki’s Stone” they read out loud the last names not of shy and modest “intilligents” and worthy people but of common criminals, bandits, terrorist and traitors, who were “rehabilitated” only be their virtue of being “repressed” by the dreaded Troikas and ghoulish Stalin?

    One of the most favorite pastimes of both Russian and Western Russopho critics of Stalin’s regime is quoting the number of (pardon the pun) quotas, seen as some especially damning evidence of “regimes brutal nature”. What they DON’T quote though, is the following passage from the good old “order 00447” that has direct relevance to Troikas and their “quotas”:

    ”p.3 Approved figures are approximate ones. However, the Republican People’s Commissars of the NKVD and the heads of territorial and regional departments of the NKVD did not have the right to exceed them on their own initiative. Whatever increase of these numbers is not allowed. In cases when the situation will demand an increase of approved numbers Commissars of the republican NKVD and chiefs of territorial and regional departments of the NKVD are obliged to provide a request with sufficient reasons for that. Decreasing numbers plus transfer of persons scheduled for persecution from the 1st category to the 2nd category (and vice versa) – is permitted”.

    Category 1 was for people to be executed, category 2 for the rest. And now about quotas themselves, which, as we can see, were not treated as some sort of “plan” which ought to be “fulfilled and overdone”:

    – Armenia (Dashanks, remember?). 1st category 500, 2nd category – 1000 .
    – Tatar ASSR (population 4-5 mlns). 1st category 500, 2nd category – 1500.
    – Moscow and Moscow region (the most affected area). 1st category – 5,000, 2nd category – 30 000.
    – Uzbek SSR. 1st category 750 people, 2nd category – 4,000.
    – Krasnoyarsk region. 1st category 750 people, 2nd category – 2,500.

    Easily searchable numbers. Hardly apocalyptic proportions.

    To sum up – Troikas were temporarily, extraordinary judicial tribunals who dealt with a large number of already convicted criminals (recidivists), terrorists, and people actively engaged in the anti-Soviet activities. Hardly “innocent blameless victims” as some try to portray them. Were there excesses? Of course there were! One certain Nikita Khruchev kept sending telegrams from Ukraine to Moscow asking for quotas allocated for him to be increased. Stalin responded with his now famous “Уймись, дурак!” and relocated comrade Khruschev to carry on Troika activity in Moscow and oblast. After which (by pure coincidence!) those regions became the “most affected by the purges”.

    I’d like to finish with providing the statistics on “repressed”. From 1921 to 1953 there were 4 mlns charged with “political” crimes (“Article 58”). 800 000 of them were sentenced to execution. Actually executed were only 680 000 – that’s it, in the span of more than 30 years. In that time period 1.5 millions of the prisoners from ALL categories have died while still in prision. The largest number of those who died there (c. 600 000) coincided with the Great Patriotic War. During the “peak of Stalin’s purges” (1938) there were less than 2 mln. prisoners in the whole GULag system.

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    1. Re: “which I can’t say about Vynnitsa born Ukrainian anti-Stalinist Khlevniuk”

      Without going into your very long comment, this bit jumped out at me. Is it your contention that the historian is automatically untrustworthy due to his geographical or national origins? If so, what a (excuse me) Stalinist viewpoint.

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      1. I will gladly change my “completely preposterous” notion that, yes indeed – one’s ethnicity/nationality and class shape one’s views and prejudices more often that not, if you can name me just a few of prominent and outspoken pro-Russian/pro-communists living in the modern day Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and/or Ternipil.

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      2. Re: “one’s ethnicity/nationality and class shape one’s views and prejudices” – it’s not a “preposterous notion” at all. But neither of us has read Khlevniuk’s book, so at this point drawing a direct line between his national origins and his historical arguments is jumping the gun.

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    2. I think the comment is a bit long to reply to all at once, but I’d like to start by addressing just the very end of it, which relates to points 1 and 2 of my original claim. Actually, I’m happy to work with the numbers provided in your post. I take it, based on those numbers, that you don’t actually disagree with my claim #2 (since you note that the number of politicals was in the millions, and you give a figure of 1.5 million deaths in the gulag, which, based on most estimates of the total gulag population, would compute to a death rate of more than 10%). Furthermore, you didn’t even mention the internal deportations, which were part of claim #2, and would substantially push up the numbers both of the repressed in general and those who died in specific. But even leaving that out, what you’ve said substantiates claim #2.
      As for claim #1, you’ve only considered the people who were executed after judicial process, and of whom the records survive. Especially during the war period, there were many more who were executed summarily. As for the completeness, or lack thereof, of the records of judicial executions, it’s a matter of significant dispute. However, again, for the sake of the argument, I’ll accept the premise, and use the figure of 680 000 (thus dropping claim #1.)
      So, for the sake of the discussion, when talking about death figures, lets use 680 000 for political executions and 1.5 million for deaths in the gulag (including both political and non-political prisoners).
      Where we seem to still disagree is in how big we see these figures as being. Part of the reason why I’m not concerned to argue these figures upwards is that they already strike me as massive, even when stretched out over 32 years. To give some points of comparison, I’ve considered executions in America from 1976-2015, in Iran from 2007-2015, and deaths both from execution and while in prison in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. I’ve calculated the percentage probability of a person being executed in a single year in the four cases (total executions divided by the number of years, then the result taken as a percemtage of the total population. To be as generous to Stalin as possible, I’ve used his population figure from 1939 of 170 million, rather than the more probably accurate figure from the 1937 census of 162 million. I’ve also ignored the fact that the 680 000 number is only for political executions, and I’ve compared it to total executions in the other countries. Furthermore, I’ve consistently rounded up the number of deaths in America, Iran and Iraq, and rounded down their populations. In the case of Saddam Hussein, there’s a fair bit of doubt about his numbers, so I used the highest estimate I could find that was supported by respectable sources. Here are the results.

      Soviet Union (Stalinist era)

      Percentage chance of being executed in one year: 0.0125%
      Percentage chance of being executed or dying in the gulag in one year: 0.04007%

      United States (1976-2015)

      Percentage chance of being executed in one year: 0.00001172%

      Iran (2007-2015)

      Percentage chance of being executed in one year: 0.00075325%

      Iraq (1979-2003)

      Percentage chance of being killed (in whatever circumstances) while in police custody: 0.0388%

      It might seem like those are all small numbers, but what’s really interesting is what happens when you compare them. In the Stalinist Soviet Union, even on this extremely generous accounting, you were 1066.5 times (not percent, times) more likely to be executed than in recent America, and 16.6 times more likely than in recent Iran. Although the total of deaths directly caused by the government is much closer to the number in Iraq, it’s still higher. I’ll get more into detail on the attempted justifications later, but for now it’s good to note that the regime we’re talking about is one that shot its citizens at almost 17 times the rate of the most execution-happy regime of the present day (Iran), and was more blood-soaked in general terms than the Baathist regime in Iraq. Whatever arguments are offered are going to have to be pretty strong to justify death on this massive scale.

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      1. Actually, I’m happy to work with the numbers provided in your post. I take it, based on those numbers, that you don’t actually disagree with my claim #2 (since you note that the number of politicals was in the millions, and you give a figure of 1.5 million deaths in the gulag, which, based on most estimates of the total gulag population, would compute to a death rate of more than 10%). Furthermore, you didn’t even mention the internal deportations, which were part of claim #2, and would substantially push up the numbers both of the repressed in general and those who died in specific. But even leaving that out, what you’ve said substantiates claim #2.

        Mr. Ward – do I really have to remind you your own words now? You said:

        “2) Millions of other citizens were sentenced to the Gulag or internal deportation, and a sizable percentage of both groups died prematurely as a result of these sentences.”

        Sorry, but no amount of twisting and spinning can transform “a zisable percantage” into “slightly more than 10%”.

        Deportations and exiles are entire topic completely and I will provide statistics (reasons for said deportations) when I will talk about it.

        As for claim #1, you’ve only considered the people who were executed after judicial process, and of whom the records survive. Especially during the war period, there were many more who were executed summarily. As for the completeness, or lack thereof, of the records of judicial executions, it’s a matter of significant dispute. However, again, for the sake of the argument, I’ll accept the premise, and use the figure of 680 000 (thus dropping claim #1.)

        I deal with facts and data – not fantasy and fiction. Those who protest and dispute said numbers all to often are idealogically motivated and are not interested in the truth. Like, I wager a guess, pan Khmelniuk, who claims both that “Official records show that approximately eight hundred thousand people were shot between 1930 and 1952.” (which is not true if we are talking about political repressions) and “Between 1930 and 1952, some 20 million people were sentenced to incarceration” (ditto).

        So, for the sake of the discussion, when talking about death figures, lets use 680 000 for political executions and 1.5 million for deaths in the gulag (including both political and non-political prisoners).

        Where we seem to still disagree is in how big we see these figures as being. Part of the reason why I’m not concerned to argue these figures upwards is that they already strike me as massive, even when stretched out over 32 years. To give some points of comparison, I’ve considered executions in America from 1976-2015, in Iran from 2007-2015, and deaths both from execution and while in prison in Iraq under Saddam Hussein…

        [snip]

        Mr. Ward – you are currently engaged in an activity known colloquially in Russian as “trying to pull an owl on a globe”. Very senseless, pointless and painful thing. Why should anyone compare the Soviet Union of the 1930s with something that took place in our immediate past? Really unprofessional, I’d say. Every single time period should be judged on its own taking into account context and picture at large.

        From what I’m reading in you post it appears that you still think that all “politicals” were innocent people and did not deserve their ultimate fate. And I ask you once again (knowing perfectly well that you for some reason loathe answering my direct questions) – are the terrorists, bandits, criminals, recidivists, rebels and secessionists “innocent victims”?

        If we will be extremely generous, that after taking everything into account (like the fact that “repressions” didn’t happen instantly but were carried out through a lengthy period of time and the increase of the Soviet Unions population) than it turns out that about 3% of it had been repressed (if we understand the term “repressions really broadly”). Hardly an apocalyptic proportion that so-called “Russian liberals” and Western Russophobes are fond to reminding everyone.

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      2. A couple of final points about claims 1 and 2 beforI move on to claim 6. Firstly, “sizable” just means large. What counts as large depends on what we’re measuring, and in comparison to what. A death rate of around 10% in a prison system is massively higher than normal, thus, in my view, justifying the use of the word “sizable”. But it’s not really worth arguing over a word. We seem to agree that the death rate was around 10%, however we choose to describe that percentage.
        Moving on to the accusation that I’m comparing apples and oranges in looking at execution rates in the Soviet Union, America, Iran and Iraq, I don’t agree with the charge, certainly not in the case of Iraq, which under Saddam Hussein faced foreign threats at least as serious as anything the Soviet Union had to deal with. However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. You’re arguing that the massive disproportion in numbers was justified by the character of the times, but I haven’t gotten to the issue of justification yet (which is the same reason I haven’t answered your question yet). I want to make sure we get the numbers and percentages nailed down first before we deal with the hows and whys.
        Our final numerical point to deal with in treating the issue of the terror/purges is the ethnic question (claim 6). Again, I just want to treat this by the numbers first, then we can deal with justifications later. This question is slightly complicated by the fact that the NKVD didn’t start keeping exact ethnic records until 1938. However, there are a few angles we can take to establish historically probable, if not quite certain, conclusions here. The first is to look at the ethnic composition of the NKVD, and how it changed over the course of the purges (I’ve used the years 1934 and 1939 as my reference points) According to Nikita Petrov (Tendencies of Change in the Consistency of the Cadre of the Organs of the Soviet State Security during the Stalin Era), in 1934 the higher echelons of the NKVD were 31.25% Russian, 38.54% Jewish, 4.17% Polish and 7.29% Latvian. By contrast, in 1939 the percentages were 56.67% Russian and 3.92% Jewish. By that point, there was not a single Pole or Latvian left in the upper echelons of the NKVD.
        Another window onto the question can be gained by looking at a specific region. Melanie Ilic did a study of the NKVD records from the Leningrad region (The Great Terror in Leningrad:a Quantitative Analysis), and determined that the population of the Leningrad region was 88.79% Russian, and only 1% Polish. Nonetheless, Poles constituted 16% of the number of people sentenced with political crimes in that region.
        Another method is to look at the full ethnic statistics when they become available in 1938. Then we see that, between September and November 1938, 55% of those arrested in the “Polish action” that was in full swing at the time were ethnic Poles. A further 15% were Bielorussians. These numbers are massively out of proportion with these groups’ share of the total Soviet population. As a bibliographic note, this final bit of data comes from the website massviolence.org, which estimates a total of 120 000 Poles sentenced between 1937 and 1938, and 72 000 Germans.
        Leaving aside massviolence.org’s estimate, it’s a pretty steep hill to climb to deny that ethnic minorities (and especially Poles) were more likely to be repressed than ethnic Russians. To do that, you have to argue that the massively disproportionate repression of minorities with the NKVD itself, and the statistics from Leningrad, are both pure flukes, not offering any insight on any general pattern. You also have to argue that there was a sharp break between egalitarian repression before detailed ethnic records were kept, and ethnically focused repression after. It’s a lot easier to just conclude that, however you explain the reason, minorities like the Poles, the Balts and the Germans were repressed at disproportionately high rates.

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      3. ”A couple of final points about claims 1 and 2 beforI move on to claim 6. Firstly, “sizable” just means large. What counts as large depends on what we’re measuring, and in comparison to what. A death rate of around 10% in a prison system is massively higher than normal, thus, in my view, justifying the use of the word “sizable”. But it’s not really worth arguing over a word. We seem to agree that the death rate was around 10%, however we choose to describe that percentage.

        …You’re arguing that the massive disproportion in numbers was justified by the character of the times, but I haven’t gotten to the issue of justification yet (which is the same reason I haven’t answered your question yet). I want to make sure we get the numbers and percentages nailed down first before we deal with the hows and whys”

        And I already told you, Mr. Ward, that I will address “ethnic repressions” in due time. You also, yes – continue to compare apples to oranges. Why won’t make the same sort of “projection” about your chance of survival if you were, say, an ordinary English peasant during the reign of Henry VIII? You know, those jolly big fellow oh-so-popular in mass media, thanks to whom a countless number of peasants (what, you think you will be a posh noble?) lost their land and according to laws established by this very same mountain of good spirits, and also voted in by the “progressive” and “democratic parliament” executed about 72 000 for “vagrancy”. Or why won’t you try to measure you chances of survival during the French Wars of religion?

        Are you arguing the death rate in the Soviet prison system of GULag was something unique and over the what? What about then the much more “civilized” and “democratic” USA? If you can take examples which suit your agenda “off” by several decades then I can do that too, right? According to Rooted in Slavery article

        “Much like the system of slavery from which it emerged, convict leasing was a violent and abusive system. The death rate of prisoners leased to railroad companies between 1877 and 1879 was 16 percent in Mississippi, 25 percent in Arkansas, and 45 percent in South Carolina.[5]”

        Which is anyway higher than the death rate in Soviet prisons. Also, I guess it’s realty dishonest to “cling” to this number – 10% death rate – while ignoring the fact that nearly a 1/3 died during the Great Patriotic War where the entire country experienced shortages of the most needed things. Besides, we are talking about 1920-30s when the level of medicine (and its availability) was far, far below the modern standards – even on the so-called “First World Nations”.

        ”Our final numerical point to deal with in treating the issue of the terror/purges is the ethnic question (claim 6). Again, I just want to treat this by the numbers first, then we can deal with justifications later. This question is slightly complicated by the fact that the NKVD didn’t start keeping exact ethnic records until 1938. However, there are a few angles we can take to establish historically probable, if not quite certain, conclusions here. The first is to look at the ethnic composition of the NKVD, and how it changed over the course of the purges (I’ve used the years 1934 and 1939 as my reference points) According to Nikita Petrov (Tendencies of Change in the Consistency of the Cadre of the Organs of the Soviet State Security during the Stalin Era), in 1934 the higher echelons of the NKVD were 31.25% Russian, 38.54% Jewish, 4.17% Polish and 7.29% Latvian. By contrast, in 1939 the percentages were 56.67% Russian and 3.92% Jewish. By that point, there was not a single Pole or Latvian left in the upper echelons of the NKVD.

        Another window onto the question can be gained by looking at a specific region. Melanie Ilic did a study of the NKVD records from the Leningrad region (The Great Terror in Leningrad:a Quantitative Analysis), and determined that the population of the Leningrad region was 88.79% Russian, and only 1% Polish. Nonetheless, Poles constituted 16% of the number of people sentenced with political crimes in that region….

        Once again – guessimates, extrapolation, no hard data. Do you know why there was such a change in the ethnic composition of the NKVD of Leningrad region? Do you have some direct irrefutable proof that it was due to “repressions”, that all those “non-Russians” were arrested and/or executed? I don’t think so. If we look at the ethnic composition of prisons population in 1937-40 period (quoted by Viktor Zemskov, who uses GARF (TsGAOR), fond 9414, opis’ 1, delo 1155, listy 1, 11), RGAE (TsGANKH) f. 1562, op. 329, d .144 (1937 census data) and Frank Lorimer’s “The Population of the Soviet Union” (Geneva, 1946).

        According to Zemskov the ethnic Russian population of prisons in 1937 was 494 827 and went to 820 491 in 1940. Jews were “represented” by 11 903 in 1937 which went to21 510 in 1940 (that’s about 0,61% of all Jewish population of the USSR and were the 3rd highest represented ethnicity in the Party). There is no data about Poles in 1937 – only starting with 1938 (6975) which became 16133 in 1940. So we can’t speak that “Russians were spared while other ethnicities suffered”. The simple statistical fact that a lot of high positions in the society and government was taken by Jews, Poles, Pribalts and that exactly where the “hammer fell” during the inter-party struggle its hardly surprising that they were later so highly “represented” in prisons. “Terror” as a rule targeted no particular ethnic group but particular political and elite groups.

        As for the statistics provided by this massviolence.org – well, what sources do they use in their “estimate”?

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      4. To start with the general points, I never claimed in this thread or anywhere else that Stalin was a uniquely bloody or tyrannical leader. Unfortunately, he has more than enough competition on that score (among whom Henry VIII is one of the fiercer competitors. If the outcome of this discussion is that Stalin is comparable to Henry VIII, I think that would be a pyrrhic victory, to put it very mildly, for anyone trying to defend Stalin. Serious historians, as opposed to the popular media, have quite thoroughly exposed Henry’s record.) Rather, I’m more concerned to defend the specific seven claims I made in the last thread (or rather, since I think your own data on claim 1 is close enough, six out of the seven). Speaking a little more generally, I’m concerned to defend the traditional historiographic and political consensus that Stalin’s methods of government have nothing to recommend them, and that the Stalinist model and ideology should be consigned in toto to the dustbin of history (as an aside, even from an economic point of view, there are far better models available for countries that want to develop quickly, including Park Chung Hee’s model in Korea, the Singapore model and the model pursued by the current governments of China and Vietnam). It’s irrelevant to that claim to notice that Stalin and his system will have plenty of company in the dustbin.
        Moving on to the issue of gulag deaths, again, my point is not to argue that the gulag was a uniquely lethal prison system, just that it was an unusually lethal one. As to the comparison suggested with 19th century America, that’s less apples and oranges than apples and kangaroos. To take the single (and relatively small) most deadly part of one prison system, and compare it to the entirety of another system, is smoke and mirrors. By isolating the deadliest sectors of the gulag, I could easily turn the balance back around the other way. A much more relevant point of comparison would be to compare the gulag to the prison system of imperial Russia, when medicine and available resources were even more primitive than in Stalin’s time. Of course, such a comparison will do far less to justify the death rate in Stalin’s prisons than the others suggested. As for my three comparisons, only one of them was relevant to the issue of the gulags, since in the cases of America and Iran I was looking at only executions, not deaths in prison. That leaves us with the comparison with Baathist Iraq. If anything, to compare those two cases is unfair to Iraq. Baathist Iraq was far weaker in comparison with its major enemies than was the Soviet Union, and under the American sanctions regime, suffered far more from a lack of resources, given Iraq’s relatively small size and lack of resources, and its prior dependence on international trade. It also contained more serious threats to the ruling party (most particularly in the form of the Dawa party, which enjoyed support from Iraq’s larger, and also (after the Gulf War) wealthier and less isolated eastern neighbour.)
        As for it being “unfair” not to factor in the influence of the war, it’s not really unfair at all. The Second World War was not a period of major famine in the portions of the Soviet Union not under German control or (like Leningrad) under German siege. Clearly political decisions were being made to allow the prisoners to starve or be worked to death, which were not necessitated by any general food shortage remotely proportional to the death rate in the gulags. Also, the figures we’re using ignore the deaths in the punishment battalions during the war, as well as ignoring the fact that NKVD records don’t properly record deaths en route to the camps, or the people who died soon after their release from causes directly related to their time in prison (this final category is impossible to quantify precisely, but given the severity of the gulag’s requirements for medical release, combined with the number of people who were so released, mean that the number must be quite substantial.) If anything, the numbers we’re using are quite lowball, being based solely on the people who are recorded as dying in NKVD records. The only reason I don’t find it worth challenging is that it’s quite substantial enough as it stands.
        Moving on to claim 6, I never said that “only” ethnic minorities suffered in the repressions. What I said is that, statistically speaking, they suffered in greater percentage terms. Why this was is a separate point (related to my claim 7). That it was is pretty hard to deny. To say that I didn’t provide “any hard data” is ridiculous. I provided precise statistics showing a) the complete ethnic breakdown of all sentences issued during a three-month period in 1938, b) the complete ethnic breakdown of all political sentences in the Leningrad region (You seem to have misread this point by conflating it with the next one. My stat concerning the Leningrad region showed all political sentences in the region, while my stat concerning the NKVD was not limited to the Leningrad region, but covered the whole Soviet Union) and c) the complete ethnic composition of the NKVD at a number of different points in time. This data is as hard as historical data gets, and what it shows beyond question is that a vastly disproportionate number of ethnic minorities were sentenced in the relevant three months of 1938, and that the same fact applies to the Leningrad region over the entire course of the Great Terror. The only “extrapolation” is to say that, since we have no reason whatsoever to think that the relevant three months and the Leningrad region were significantly out of sync with the overall pattern, it’s more reasonable to conclude that the percentage of minorities repressed was higher than the percentage of Russians than the opposite, especially given that this is backed by the demographic data, which shows a decline in the numbers of some of the ethnic minorities, particularly the Poles. To say that this isn’t “indisputable proof” is true, but completely idle, given that the same objection could be made to 90% of our historical knowledge. History isn’t a matter of absolute proof. It’s a matter of weighing the balance of probabilities, and it’s intellectually dishonest to fill in the “gaps” with whatever you like, then object that no one can “prove” that you’re wrong. Almost any historical claim remotely related to the facts could be defended on such a basis.
        Finally, the numbers you yourself provide support my claim 6. Firstly, it should be noted that, since the great majority of repressed Poles were repressed in the course of the “Polish National Action”, which targeted the so-called “Polish Military Organization” (for which there is not one shred of historical evidence that it even existed after the conclusion of the Polish War), and since the Polish National Action had the highest ratio of executions when compared to gulag sentences for any portion of the Great Terror, it would actually be reasonable to expect that the proportion of Poles in the Gulag would be lower than average. But, for both of the data points you provided, the opposite is the case. According to the 1926 census, the ratio of Poles to Russians in the Soviet Union was approximately 1:100. However, based on your numbers, the ratio of Poles to Russians in the gulag system was about 1:70 in 1938, and about 1:50 in 1940. This is a clear and significant disproportion. Additionally, given that, as already mentioned, the Polish National Action resulted in more death than gulag sentences, whereas the reverse was true for other actions, the disproportion between Polish and Russian executions was much greater than the disproportion in prison.
        Although this is going beyond the territory of claim 6 (which concerned only the statistics, not their interpretation), it also won’t do to point out the disproportionate number of ethnic minorities in the NKVD and party organs (at least before the Great Terror). In terms of the numbers involved, the sentences given out in the intra-party struggle were a drop in the ocean compared to the number of sentences given out in the Kulak and assorted National Actions (Polish, German, Korean, etc. etc. etc.) Clearly, just based on the numbers involved, whatever explanation is offered for the ethnic balance of the Terror must focus on the Kulak and National Actions, not on the intra-party struggle.

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      5. I’d like to finally move on to the question of justification for the political sentences. In this, I’m focusing primarily on claim 3. Really, this is the most important claim of the 7 (leaving aside #5, which, dealing with the Holodomor, is a fairly separate issue). If the troikas were generally handing down fair sentences, the high number of them would be an indication of the magnitude of the problem Stalin faced rather than any particular “bloodiness” in his regime. However, if they weren’t, even a much lower number of sentences than has been established would be a significant black eye on Stalin’s record.
        But before I get into that, I want to make one comment about massviolence.org. Their estimates of the number of victims of the Great Terror belonging to different ethnic groups are based on a study of the NKVD records wherever they either mention ethnicity, or where the ethnicity can be determined, backed up by demographic data. Their estimate is similar to that of Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan, and is actually lower than that of Bogdan Musial, who argues that the Polish minority in Ukraine was reduced by about 30%, while the Polish minority in Belarus was almost completely wiped out. In any case, as far as I can tell, the website’s claims are not particularly controversial. I personally have been honestly unable to find a single respected historian who denies that ethnic minorities were sentenced in disproportionate numbers in the Great Terror (again being careful to distinguish between the statistical fact itself and the interpretation of the meaning of the fact, about which there is naturally more debate). Anyway, massviolence.org’s estimate really wasn’t a central part of my post. I mainly mentioned it to show where I found the specific numbers for September-November 1938, which come straight from the NKVD archives, and therefore are not dependent on the accuracy or otherwise of the website’s overall estimates.
        Getting back to the question of the troikas, I’d like to start by picking the low-hanging fruit first. The comment that, more than any other, drew me into this conversation was the claim that the NKVD sentences were, “not so different from the modern execution of law.” However, in response to this, I’d like to quote Stalin’s comments of 7 November 1937, “We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts-yes, his thoughts!-threatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!” (Quoted in Hiroaki Kuromiya-Stalin) Leaving aside the Orwellian reference, “yes, his thoughts!”, the key point I want to focus on is the final words, “themselves and their kin!” This wasn’t just a rhetorical excess on Stalin’s part. On August 15, 1937, Order #00486 had been issued, mandating repression of the families of, “traitors of the Motherland, members of Right-Trotskyist spying-terrorist organizations convicted in the first and second categories since 1 August 1936. This was a blanket order for indiscriminate repression of the families of those who had been sentenced for political crimes. It wasn’t until the issuing of Order #00689 on October 17, 1938, that it was even instructed for NKVD cadres to do anything to establish any personal guilt, however remote, on the part of the repressed family members themselves. This means that, for more than a year, at the height of the great terror, it was a crime to even be related to a political criminal, regardless of your own actions or lack thereof. The collective punishment of families has no remote echo in any modern legal system, and is indicative of a severe lack of interest in the personal guilt or innocence of individual repressed people, preferring instead to indiscriminately target those who were seen as even potentially dangerous.
        Getting to the question of the troikas in general, it’s inaccurate to suggest that they were first set up in 1937. Indeed, troikas as an occasional ad hoc legal body predate even Stalin’s period as leader of the Communist Party. Most notably, troikas were responsible for a large number of political sentences in the period of agricultural collectivization in the early 1930’s. This is extremely important, since the overwhelming majority of the “kulaks” targeted in the Kulak Action had been previously sentenced, not by ordinary courts, but by earlier troikas. If there’s reason to doubt the fairness of the troikas, this means that their earlier sentences were no more reliable than their later sentences. It therefore adds no extra credibility to the findings of the troikas of the the Great Terror to note that, in the case of the Kulak Operation, they targeted those who had already been convicted.
        In terms of the actual question of the fairness of the troikas, it’s not really relevant to look at the legality of their creation, especially since the structure of the Soviet Union at the time meant that legality meant little more than, “The Politburo wants it.” It’s also not relevant to quote the laws in question, since what is at issue is whether there is any good reason to believe that people convicted by troikas were guilty of violating any law whatsoever, and whether, if they did, the troikas had any reliable procedure for determining the fact. What’s relevant is the actual conditions under which the troikas carried out their investigations.
        These conditions were an absolute charade. In accordance with Order #00447, 64 troikas were set up across the Soviet Union to carry out the Kulak Operation. Counting executions alone, this means that (on average) each troika handed down about 6000 death sentences, over the course of less than 2 years. According to Vladimir Nikolskij (Kulakenoperation), who has intensively studied the Kulak Operation in the Donbas region, the Stalino troika handed out 1102 death sentences in July-September 1938 alone, while the Voroshilovgrad troika handed out 1226 death sentences in the single month of September 1938. To put that latter number in perspective, even if the troika heard cases every second of every day and night of September 1938, it would still have to issue one death sentence (again, plus a larger number of gulag sentences) every half hour. Given that the troikas didn’t actually spend anywhere close to 24 hours a day in session, this means that death sentences were being handed out with literally only seconds of consideration given to the case. This is confirmed by Nicolas Werth (“The NKVD Mass Secret Operation #00447 (August 1937-November 1938)”), who notes that it was common for “several hundred cases” to be dealt with in a single half-day session. These rubber-stamp conditions have no remote resemblance to properly-functioning courts, even special field tribunals.

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      6. One final point, since I promised to answer the question about my attitude to rebellion/anti-government activity. I think the proper judgment of that sort of activity depends on the nature of the regime that one is rebelling or conspiring against. I certainly don’t think there are many people who would argue that von Stauffenberg did something wrong by trying to assassinate Hitler, even though the action constituted clear treason under the legal regime of the time. But, in general, it’s natural for a regime to try to protect itself, and I don’t think even a bad regime does anything “extra” wrong by sentencing and punishing conspirators. To continue with the example, I don’t think the Nazi regime was any worse than it otherwise would have been because it executed von Stauffenberg. Similarly, whatever my personal views of anyone conspiring against the Stalinist regime, I wouldn’t judge the regime more harshly than I otherwise would for repressing those people. However, this whole discussion is beside the point, since my central contention is that, because of the outrageously unfair conditions of the troika trials, there’s no reason to believe that the convicts were guilty of any crime in the first place (and, as an aside, this conclusion is not affected by any evidence that can be presented to suggest that Stalin had real conspiracies to deal with, which in any case is rather thin. There’s of course some evidence that not every Soviet citizen was a loyal Stalinist, but there’s no evidence for any conspiracies or treasonous activities remotely on the scale of the numbers involved in the Great Terror. Anyway, even if the conspiracies were real, the troikas give us no reason to believe that the people convicted for them are actually the individuals who were involved). Even when individuals were tried by much more thorough courts than the troikas (I’m referring to the Moscow trials), the Molotov Commission of 1956-1957, which spent more time considering the facts than the original Moscow trials ever did, found that the confessions had been produced by, “Lies, blackmail and ‘physical influence'” (which, of course, is a genteel way of saying torture).

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  12. “The picture Khlevniuk paints of Stalin during the Great Patriotic War doesn’t deviate from that found in most history books – blundering incompetence for the first year and half of the war, followed by a period of ‘growth as a military leader’ as Stalin learned to listen to his generals. At first, writes Khlevniuk, Stalin was ‘The Blunderer in Chief. … As defensive lines collapsed … he developed an array of strategies that wound up depriving commanders of flexibility and often increased Red Army casualties.’ ”

    One must occasionally take the Germans into account. Khlevniuk is obviously unaware that the year before the German Armed Forces trounced un-Purged, non-led-by-Stalin advanced Western Allied armies numbering about 3.5 million in six weeks, and suffered only about 27,000 German troops killed in so doing. The Germans had no business rolling down the Bay of Biscay to the Spanish border.

    And yet they did.

    On the other hand, those bumbling Soviets killed over 83,000 German troops, and thousands more Finnish, Slovak, Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian troops in the first seven weeks of Op. Barbarossa.

    It suffices to say that the only acceptable solution to the 1940-41 Wehrmacht was miles of deep salt water. Those lacking that had to accept solution that were… less than acceptable.

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    1. I’d argue against the “Holy Truth” of the theory, that repressions in the RKKA (not the poster;)) were indeed a) As huge as some particular people keep insisting b) Really touched “only the best and the brightest”. In fact – next time I may talk about it.

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    2. Now that that’s out of the way, one must ask how it came to be that the USSR came to be endowed with the industrial sinews of war such as no Tsar had ever dreamed, just in time for the commencement of a war of racial extermination against the Slavic subhumans, Poles & Ukrainians very much included, not much of which existed a decade previous. Here are my thoughts.

      In 1917, Imperial Russia died of strangulation, the Central Powers having closed off Russia’s best-developed ports and transportation infrastructure on the Baltic and Black Seas. Her own resources were manifestly inadequate for waging modern war against the secondary effort of the Central Powers. Then there was an enormously destructive Civil War. It took until about 1928 to recover to 1913’s general production and income levels. Germany on the other hand had little of its industrial infrastructure damaged, and was the recipient of considerable US investment in the ’20s and early ’30s.

      And by the early ’30s, there was this politician in Germany who had written stuff like “When we speak of land in Europe today, we can have in mind primarily only Russia and her vassal border states.”

      So in 1930 the Russian economy was only a little ahead of the 1913 level, which had proved inadequate for the demands of war of the 1914-1917 variety, while the German economy had developed further, and war had transformed.

      So the real Soviet problem was how to prepare to face the main effort of a German economy that had grown and modernized since 1919 while the Soviet economy was only a bit above the level that had proven utterly inadequate 1914-1917. What to do…

      How about seeking allies! By 1935 the USSR had an alliance with two major industrial powers, France and Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia between the wars was an armaments complex with a small country attached. The Skoda Works of Pilzen and Prague had been the arms industry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Royal und Imperial battleships had mounted Skoda 12″ and 14″ naval rifles, and Skoda even supplied armor plate for the King George V class battleships HMG laid down in 1937.

      Then came Munich, and that priceless asset, as well as the equipment of 30 divisions and a small though quite a good air force was shifted from the “Anti-Nazi” column to the “Pro-Nazi” column. Fully a third of the tanks that conquered France were of Skoda design & manufacture.

      So the “seek alliances ” thing didn’t work out, did it.

      Fortunately for Poles and Ukrainians, the Soviets somehow acquired the capacity to build ~30,000 tanks a year, ~40,000 combat aircraft a year, ~150,000 artillery pieces a year, and ~150,000 trucks a year, very little of which existed in 1931.

      Criticize it all you want, but the fact of the matter is it proved sufficient to prevent GeneralPlan Ost succeeding in Poland and Ukraine. And I really doubt that if you’d had Churchill or Roosevelt somehow replacing Stalin in 1931 they would have done any better, just as the Western Allied armies didn’t do any better in 1940 than the Soviet Army did in 1941.

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  13. In response to Mr. Ward’s answers.

    “To start with the general points, I never claimed in this thread or anywhere else that Stalin was a uniquely bloody or tyrannical leader. Unfortunately, he has more than enough competition on that score (among whom Henry VIII is one of the fiercer competitors. If the outcome of this discussion is that Stalin is comparable to Henry VIII, I think that would be a pyrrhic victory, to put it very mildly, for anyone trying to defend Stalin. Serious historians, as opposed to the popular media, have quite thoroughly exposed Henry’s record.):

    Exactly. Wouldn’t it be more internally honest for the Westerners to “deal” with their own past and its portrayal in the Media (which forms the public opinion and perception much more forcefully, than the writings of the professional academics, whom only a limited number of people read), before rushing with their “advises” how should Russia (and, most importantly – Russians) approach their own history?

    I can’t remember the universal accusations and condemnations of the Tudor period coming from the academia, Mass-Media producers AND the common people. Instead we have this. If you ask a random person “on the street” about what they know about Henry VIII rule, most of those will even recall such a person, will probably name just 2 “facts” – Reformation and that Henry apparently liked to chop his wives’ heads. Otherwise – he was a jolly good fat fellow! And all those Tudors were not so terrible (well, with the exception of Blood Mary), and their rule was some sort of the “Golden Age” which spearheaded (by Jingo!) the Britain’s dominance. And why should the people on the street remember anything nasty about Tudors (unless they are Catholics)? Their murderous policies both against their own populace and Ireland paved the way for the development of the capitalism and other things that made the Britain great. In that case – means to reach those ends are found extremely justifiable by the vast majority of the Enlightened Western Public ™.

    But what if we ask someone about Stalin from those knowledgeable “people on the street” in the West? Again, only two associations – terror and “gulags”. Not the industrialization, not near total literacy, not discoveries and the start of development of the vast mineral and other resources of the Soviet Union. Not the victory over Nazi Germany, nor the nuclear bomb and the key role of the USSR in the creation of the UN and its place at the security. You know, these little “achievements” thanks to which the West can’t just roll over modern Russia as it rolled over other less fortunate countries. Nah, we are told that everything achieved in the 1920-50s period was “no thanks to Stalin, but despite of him” (c). And no arguing with that – this is an Axiom!

    And if someone should suggest to film some sort of biopic about Stalin where he won’t be portrayed as the complete monster – all “progressive humanity” (and the so-called “Russian liberals”) will have fit, accusing everyone involved in its production of all possible crimes. Double standards 101.

    “Speaking a little more generally, I’m concerned to defend the traditional historiographic and political consensus that Stalin’s methods of government have nothing to recommend them, and that the Stalinist model and ideology should be consigned in toto to the dustbin of history (as an aside, even from an economic point of view, there are far better models available for countries that want to develop quickly, including Park Chung Hee’s model in Korea, the Singapore model and the model pursued by the current governments of China and Vietnam). It’s irrelevant to that claim to notice that Stalin and his system will have plenty of company in the dustbin.”

    You are strawmanning here. No-one is here claiming that we should re-apply Stalin’s methods and system pronto. There are reasons why this or that system of government arises in particular time period in this or that period. There is no universal recipe that will satisfy all and fit every single diverse country of the world. To think otherwise – about the universal system to fit all – is a folly.

    As for “the traditional historiographic and political consensus” about Stalin, you should’ve added “in the West”. Said “consensus” also sees nothing wrong with holding generally Russophobic views. So, as you can deduce by now, I’m not beholden to it.

    And no – I won’t even bother your to answer your attempts to “equalize” the USSR with “Baathist Iraq”. If you have to resort to such temporal acrobatics to prove your points – that’s your opinion and method of preference (as you can’t find anything better). Not mine.

    “As for it being “unfair” not to factor in the influence of the war, it’s not really unfair at all. The Second World War was not a period of major famine in the portions of the Soviet Union not under German control or (like Leningrad) under German siege. Clearly political decisions were being made to allow the prisoners to starve or be worked to death, which were not necessitated by any general food shortage remotely proportional to the death rate in the gulags.”

    […]

    […]

    *Sigh*

    Mr. Ward – you are not honest here. Not with me, neither with yourself. Do you understand that he Soviet union lost a lot of arable land (Kuban and Ukraine – rings any bell?) due to German invasion, and that due to war it had lesser people to spare for tending the land. You, coming from the fat and prosperous Canada (and yes – it was fat and prosperous during the whole course of WW2, and suffered much, much, much less compared to the USSR), don’t know what a real hunger and famine means. Your ancestors didn’t suffer as much as mine during the WW2. So for you it seems only “natural” to make such far fetched and outright offensive, baseless extrapolations.

    Not to sound baseless myself – here are some numbers.

    Grain production: 1940 – 95.6 mln tons. 1945 – 47.3 mln tons.
    Cattle: 1941 – 54.8 mlns. 1946 – 47.6 mlns.
    Pigs: 1941 – 27.6 mlns. 1946 – 10.6 mlns.
    Sheep: 1941 – 80 mlns. 1946 – 58.5 mlns.
    Production of meat: 1941 – 4.7 mln tons. 1946 – 2.6 mln tons.
    Production of milk: 1941 – 33.6 mln tons. 1946 – 26.4 mln tons.

    See any correlation between the change in numbers between the date of the start of the Great Patriotic War and the sharp fall of said production numbers? What – evil bloody ghoul Stalin ate all of that?

    Also, are you interested to know how the people of the Soviet Union lived, food-wise, during the War? Ordinary people – not “innocent criminals” in GULag? I still have relatives who’ve survived through that. My grand-grand father Alexander Gerogievitch (who, sadly, died long before my birth) was the chief of the brigade in one of Ural’s weapon factories. This made him a “1st degree recipient of the rations” – but not his family consisting of his wife and 5 children (including my grandmother, who was his eldest child), most of which not even in their teens. He got (and, obviously, shared with his family) his ration of 800 grams of bread (per day), 800 grams of sugar (per month). Children and “dependables” in every family got only 400 grams of bread daily, and 200-300 grams of sugar monthly. Try to live on that for 4 years while working daily and you WILL lose much more weight, than any brand new “green” diet ever promised you. While in the first half of 1941 the calorie “weight” of Ural worker’s rations was about 3370 calories – in the second half of 1941 it became 1100-1600 calories. You’ve probably noted the absence of the ration cards for the meat or fish in my listing. Well, because there were not any! There were also no potatoes, carrots, meat and fish for sale.

    Naturally, prisoners from, say, neighboring Tagillag got less rations. Because – why should they? They got 450 grams of bread daily. Soviet citizens belonging to the category 2 of the rationing system (i.e. not military plants workers, children and “dependables”) received only 600 grams of bread. As for me, I personally don’t think that criminals should eat more than normal citizens. And even normal Soviet citizens suffered from the malnutrition – for example, on one of Nizhniy Tagil’s tank factories there were 16 000 workers (Grade 1 ration recipients). By the late 1941 13 000 of them were suffering from malnutrition.

    So, Mr. Ward – cut your pharisean wailing about “innocent victims of the regime purposely worked to death”.

    “Also, the figures we’re using ignore the deaths in the punishment battalions during the war, as well as ignoring the fact that NKVD records don’t properly record deaths en route to the camps… If anything, the numbers we’re using are quite lowball, being based solely on the people who are recorded as dying in NKVD records. The only reason I don’t find it worth challenging is that it’s quite substantial enough as it stands.”

    If your rest is troubled by the lack of data about “innocent victims of Stalinism perished in ShtrafBats” – just find them! Have trouble with that? Okay – will provide you! Looks like looking for reliable data about the discussion at hand is not your forte anyway:

    ShtrafBats and Rotas existed as a “fighting formations” in the Red Army from July 28 1942 till June 6 1945. Totally, 427 910 people “spend their time” there. Which is exactly 1.4% of the total amount of people who’ve served in the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. They’ve lost 170 298 men during the war. Yes – it was greater than the average compared to others in the Red Army. So what? If you forgot it, I will remind you Mr. Ward – they were criminals and volunteers.

    As for your constant attempts to find some “conspiracy”, to prove without proof that we “can’t trust NKVD records” and that “The Truth is Out There”, I find it all very unprofessional and extremely biased. NKVD records about deaths en route to camps are exactly forms of records we should trust. We have no reasons to doubt it – it was their “internal accounting”. When you transport a very large amount of exiles (like kulaks, or collaborationists, or the prisoners) you keep absolutely reliable and easily checkable accounts. You can’t arrive to your destination, miles away, and claim that, say, 50% of your charges died en-route and you just threw their corpses (of accursed enemies of the proletariat!) through a window, but, sadly, have no physical proof to that. Your superiors would take you for a either a bloodthirsty maniac, or an enormous screw-up – or even a traitor, who’ve allowed so much of his charges to escape, and will persecute you accordingly. Now, keep in mind that trains with exiles had to make stops (often – lengthy) and that guards convoying kulaks had to send accounts about their status to the local superiors and colleagues, their superiors at the final station and to their immediate superiors from the oblast/republic HQ of the NKVD. The paper trail was enormous – you can’t fake that much.

    Even the so-called “Russian liberals” relented after their screams about “fake archives” were proven baseless. Official statistics provided by the archives of NKVD is deemed one of the best by Russian historians. Whatever you (or Conquest… or Solzenitsin…) say – you can’t “disappear” so much people. So, once again – stop with this conspirology. Only facts, please.

    ” The only “extrapolation” is to say that, since we have no reason whatsoever to think that the relevant three months and the Leningrad region were significantly out of sync with the overall pattern…”

    Yes we have reasons for that, and, yes, you do trying once again to extrapolate your far-fetching conclusions totally ignoring my data. Once again – re-read what data on “minorities” and Russians sentencing I’ve provided. Then meditate over that numbers. Don’t dismiss them – think over them. These numbers were derived not from some crude extrapolation, but from the STATISTICS. There is no need for you invent a wheel anew. What you are trying to do with one parcel of data is akin to trying to pull an owl over a globe – rather pointless and cruel exercise.

    And the “repression and deportation of ethnic minorities in the USSR” is a topic deserving one big, fat and concise answer from my part. To silence all doubts, so to speak. But that’s in case you are actually ready to listen and accept hard facts that other’s offer you.

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    1. “I can’t remember the universal accusations and condemnations of the Tudor period coming from the academia, Mass-Media producers AND the common people. Instead we have this.”

      Hey, did you actually watch “The Tudors”? I did. It does not portray Henry in a positive light.

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      1. Yes, I watched. Girls and women who watched it with me “aaaaaaah’ed” at sexy Henry played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (and at Henry Cawill, of course) and paid more attention to balls and costumes.

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    2. Dealing with the points in order, I’ll start from the top.
      In regard to why people in popular culture don’t spend a lot of time condemning the Tudors, it’s for the same reason people don’t spend a lot of time condemning Ivan the Terrible. Although it’s a generalization, I don’t think it’s entirely inaccurate to note that English-speaking people in general tend to have fairly short historical memories. Even if it is remembered, any event from more than about 100 years ago is pretty unlikely to stir any real emotion, positive or negative. Give it another 50 years or so, and Stalin will probably fall in the same category. In any case, the popular media, and especially the makers of TV dramas, are primarily interested in finding events and characters that can be sensationalized in some way. That’s why older history sometimes appeals to them, because the family feuds in royal families provide lots of racy material, and the historical setting creates a sense of exoticism. (HBO’s series “Rome” is another good example) It has nothing to do with a concern to improve or harm the historical reputations of the characters themselves. The makers of popular media entertainment programs aren’t likely to respond to appeals to historical accuracy, because they’re not really interested in history in the first place. That’s just the nature of the product they’re selling.
      As far as telling Russians how they should view their history, to look at it that way doesn’t do justice to Stalin’s historical role. For better or for worse, he’s an integral part of the story of many different countries (very directly in the case of the countries of Eastern Europe, a little more tangentially in the case of countries that fell on the Western side of the Cold War, except of course for South Korea). Just as you (rightly) noted, English monarchs are a part of Irish history just as much as English, Stalin is a part of world history just as much as Russian. In any case, some historians choose to study their own country, and some choose to study others. Having both “locals” and “foreigners” study a country’s history is a good thing, as each can help to counteract the natural imbalances in the perspective of the other.
      In regard to the question of copying Stalin’s model, I never said that anyone here suggested doing that. Of course, different historical contexts call for different methods of government (although it’s a tad ironic that ignoring this fact was one of the many sins of Soviet “social imperialism” during the Cold War era), but there’s a distinction between modes of government that have a basic validity, and therefore contain elements that might be applicable in some other contexts, even if the whole system is not, and modes that are thoroughly rotten, and have nothing to teach anyone anywhere. The claim I’m making is that Stalinism falls into the latter category. Also, in a more specifically moral context, I would say that there are some tactics and methods of government that are never justified under any circumstances (for example, collective punishment of entire people groups), that Stalin was guilty of, for example in the “Korean action”.
      Moving on to the issue of gulag deaths, it’s important to remember what this discussion was about. It was about whether it was fair to say that around 10% of gulag prisoners died, or whether that figure should be asterisked with the note that a disproportionate number of those deaths occurred during the Second World War. However, since the 10% figure is only a statistic (which should be kept separate from any question of justification or the lack thereof), to say that the Second World War is relevant, you have to show that some of the deaths weren’t really because of the gulag, but were because of the general circumstances of the war. The way to show that would be to show that people in the Soviet Union (specifically the part of the Soviet Union not occupied by the Germans) were dying of starvation and starvation-related diseases at statistically significant rates. It’s not enough to show that there were serious food supply problems. What matters for the purposes of the statistic is whether these problems were causing a large number of deaths outside the gulag. Unless you can show that, the fact remains that the people in the gulags died because of decisions made by the Soviet leadership, and not because of a necessity created by the food situation. You might think that it was a good decision in the circumstances, but it was still a decision, and therefore the deaths resulting from the decision are properly considered a part of the gulag mortality statistics.
      In regard to the other points I mentioned (deaths in transit, deaths in the punishment battalions, deaths following release from the gulag, but traceable to the experience in the gulag), I didn’t bother with specific numbers because I’m not the one trying to revise the 10% number. My point in mentioning these things is simply that these deaths are also properly seen as having been caused by the gulag, so if we were to reduce the number of fatalities to account for the effect of the war, we would also have to increase it to account for these factors. Again, this has nothing to do with whether these deaths are “justified” or not. It’s just a matter of trying to determine how many people died in a way that can reasonably be attributed to the experience of the gulags. And as for deaths in transit, it doesn’t take any elaborate conspiracy theory to account for why they might not be properly represented in the statistics we have. I agree that the archives should be treated as fairly trustworthy, but that’s only as far as they go. The archives as they now exist don’t include every document that was written by government functionaries in the Soviet era. In particular, portions of the records of a number of the camps have been lost (Stephen Wheatcroft in particular has commented on this a fair bit). I’m sure they were reliable when they existed, but they don’t exist anymore. The same goes for a lot of other records, especially at the lower levels of the administration. For this reason, our statistics concerning the number of sentences and the papertrails of the central administration are more complete and reliable than the records concerning the details of what actually happened in the camps, or on the way to them. Many historians have commented on this, and not only those of the “Conquest” camp.
      Finally, in regard to the ethnic composition of the repressed, this portion of your response was a touch bizarre. You suggested that I ignored or “dismissed” the figures you quoted, when I did no such thing. Rather, I calculated on the basis of the figures you provided, and found that the figures showed that Poles were disproportionately represented in the gulags in both 1938 and 1940. In what way using your numbers to make that calculation constitutes ignoring them I honestly can’t tell. In any case, in dealing with my claim #6, your figures are considerably less useful than the ones I posted, since they only consider inmates in the gulags, not those who were executed, whereas my figures considered sentences as a whole. Since the “national actions” resulted in executions rather than gulag sentences at a much higher rate than the other actions, this is quite an important point. And again, even with this slanted and partial data set, it’s still apparent that Poles were being repressed at a higher rate than ethnic Russians. As for Jews, you’re right that they don’t seem to have been disproportionately repressed, at least in the 1930’s. This is however, not surprising. The ethnic groups that were disproportionately targeted were those that shared an ethnicity with the governing group of a neighbouring state, and therefore fell under blanket suspicion for “spying” (for example, Poles, Balts and Germans). The Jews didn’t form the majority in any neighbouring state, and therefore didn’t arouse suspicion in the same way.

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      1. ‘Some historians choose to study their own country, and some choose to study others. Having both “locals” and “foreigners” study a country’s history is a good thing, as each can help to counteract the natural imbalances in the perspective of the other.’ – As a Canadian who writes on Russian history, I have to agree. We can’t limit the study of history only to people who live in the country in question. That would be preposterous.

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      2. Being a foreigner is not the issue, of course. In the case of Stalinism, and the communist experiment in general, it’s ideology. The west, the western people, they are very much into individualistic liberalism these days, and that colors their perception. That’s a relatively recent phenomenon, and it’s not clear to me how long-lasting it’s going to be. I’m not sure it’s sustainable.

        Sartre, for example, was a foreigner too, but his world-view was completely different; thinking by completely different categories. And this kind of thinking is, I believe, what’s completely *foreign* for Ryan. And perhaps for Paul too, albeit to a lesser degree,

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      3. Of course it’s true that political ideology/worldview makes a difference in historical interpretation (although it should, at least in theory, be possible to separate it from the answers to at least some specific questions. For example, “How many Soviet citizens were executed in the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1953?” It’s in the shaping of the answers into a narrative that questions of worldview and interpretation become unavoidable). But to suggest that only people sharing (or at least sympathetic to) the political ideology of the period or individual in question constitutes the same kind of willful parochialism as suggesting that “foreigners” should stay out of the conversation. Furthermore, if really taken seriously, this approach would make it impossible to talk about early Russian communism, because anyone sympathetic to the old order would be disqualified from studying the communists or the communist period, while people sympathetic to the communists would be disqualified from studying the imperial period, and therefore would be unable to place the communist period in any kind of context. The problems would be even greater in discussing more ancient periods of history where the main characters all share views and perspectives that no one shares anymore. In general, I would say that the attempt to summarily dismiss “outsider” views (whether inside and outside is determined ethnically, politically, religiously or whatever else) represent an intellectual form of turf-guarding rather than a real defensible principle.
        On a final (and somewhat personal) note, I feel like the term “liberal” has been used a few times in this conversation in a kind of broad-brush way, to suggest that anyone who objects in principle to the use of methods such as mass deportations of entire ethnic groups, collective punishment of families, etc. must be committed to the full “liberal” agenda of the “West” (which itself tends to be a somewhat broad-brush description that fails to note the major differences within the mainstream of the West itself). For my part, I don’t consider myself a “liberal” except in the broadest and vaguest sense of the term. Although I’m not a Catholic (it might be interesting in the context of this blog to note that I’m actually an Orthodox Christian), I feel most at home politically in the world of Catholic social teaching, which is explicitly anti-liberal in many respects, although of course not in the sense of a root-and-branch rejection. It might bear consideration here that one of the most prominent anti-communists of the twentieth century was Pope John Paul II, who was most certainly not on board with the mainstream of the contemporary secular West. In any case, I don’t see how not being a fan of Stalin makes me personally responsible for Robert Conquest, Anne Applebaum or the TV series of HBO.

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      4. “For example, “How many Soviet citizens were executed in the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1953?””

        You think this is an important question, but others, who might be thinking in somewhat different categories, may not agree.

        Similarly, some say: ‘finding out whether the blacks have, on average, lower IQ than the whites is a mere scientific inquiry’. And others reply: ‘no, it’s not – why would you even want to ask a question like that?’

        “would be disqualified from studying”

        No one is disqualified (how can anyone be disqualified?), I’m just trying to explain how people are talking past each other. They tend to dismiss some aspects and concentrate on other aspects, and vice-versa, depending on their ideological preferences. And that makes the opponents’ analysis seem grotesquely lopsided.

        “I feel like the term “liberal” has been used a few times in this conversation in a kind of broad-brush way”

        Yes, indeed, I meant it in the most general way, as a tendency to concentrate on the plight of individual (often ignoring the context that is of high importance for marxists or nationalists), rather than concentrating on large collectives (like socioeconomic classes or national entities). Nothing’s wrong with that, it’s just a particular world-view. I actually do consider myself a liberal in this sense (most of the time anyway), but I also realize that this is not the only preference, or the only correct one.

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  14. To Mr. Ward.

    Response to this post.

    …The comment that, more than any other, drew me into this conversation was the claim that the NKVD sentences were, “not so different from the modern execution of law.”… The collective punishment of families has no remote echo in any modern legal system, and is indicative of a severe lack of interest in the personal guilt or innocence of individual repressed people, preferring instead to indiscriminately target those who were seen as even potentially dangerous.

    Mr. Ward! Looks like you already forgot (or didn’t even read) what I’ve said in our previous discussion beneath the article about Nikolai Starikov. I will remind you and everyone relevant parts about the “Dreaded article 58”:

    ”Art. 58-1v deals with relatives of those accused by the previous 2 articles, who knew about it and didn’t report. But, I guess, family ties trump national security, right?”

    Art. 58-1g deals with comrades at arms of the military traitor, who knew about the planned treason, but didn’t report.

    Art. 58-12 – Non-reporting of a counter-revolutionary activity (for civilians). For example, local “patriots” from OUN-UPA are killing indiscriminately Jews, Poles and communists. Locals and their relatives keep their modest silence. Apparently, they can even live the rest of their life knowing that. What – they should not be punished or, to use the over popular parlance, “repressed” for this “no-crime”?

    Article 58 existed before the so-called “Great Terror”. And the fact that Stalin had to remind his own people about its articles points out how lenient were they in the execution of the justice. And if you are going to argue that “non-reporting” is not “a modern legal term” and that in the Culturally Superior West ™ people are not persecuted for that – well think again. Think about “mandatory reporting laws” in different parts of the Western World.

    If you, Mr. Ward, can prove that said relatives of the “repressed” person who were repressed as well were indeed in the dark about their (probably – very close) relative activities and that’s the reason they failed to report the crime – I’d be very interested to see examples. As for me, I hold a different opinion – that said relatives DID know about the crime and failed to report it. Which made them a fair target for the implementation of Article 58.

    Getting to the question of the troikas in general, it’s inaccurate to suggest that they were first set up in 1937. Indeed, troikas as an occasional ad hoc legal body predate even Stalin’s period as leader of the Communist Party .

    I know that. But I was talking about “Ezhov’s Troikas” there.

    …If there’s reason to doubt the fairness of the troikas, this means that their earlier sentences were no more reliable than their later sentences. It therefore adds no extra credibility to the findings of the troikas of the the Great Terror to note that, in the case of the Kulak Operation, they targeted those who had already been convicted.

    We have no reason to doubt the fairness of Troikas in regards of the “Kulak Operation” because kulaks were criminals according to the Soviet Law. I explain it here.

    In terms of the actual question of the fairness of the troikas, it’s not really relevant to look at the legality of their creation, especially since the structure of the Soviet Union at the time meant that legality meant little more than, “The Politburo wants it.” It’s also not relevant to quote the laws in question…

    Now-now – stop here. Its actually rather important to point out that Troikas were created legally. They were not some ad hoc courts – they were official tribunals. This alone makes them legal judicial organs. Also – I don’t understand your dismissive attitude of the Soviet Union’s structure – it’s rather important to understand it fully to understand how it worked and how the decisions were taken. Or you don’t like it because it’s not the Western-type governmental structure, and, therefore, you find it “alien” and “unlawful” by default?

    Saying (with negative connotations) that “legality meant little more than «The Politburo wants is»” is like saying “so-called legality of a law passed by the Parliament”. I know – there were a huge difference between the British Parliament and Politburo in 1930s. Doesn’t make anything that they passed (if you want to simplify things to “Politburo decided all”) as the laws illegal.

    OR are you trying to go even further with your claims? Are you claiming that the entire Soviet System was illegal then, because it didn’t fit in the Western Liberalism model?

    These conditions were an absolute charade. In accordance with Order #00447, 64 troikas were set up across the Soviet Union to carry out the Kulak Operation. Counting executions alone, this means that (on average) each troika handed down about 6000 death sentences, over the course of less than 2 years. According to Vladimir Nikolskij (Kulakenoperation), who has intensively studied the Kulak Operation in the Donbas region, the Stalino troika handed out 1102 death sentences in July-September 1938 alone, while the Voroshilovgrad troika handed out 1226 death sentences in the single month of September 1938. To put that latter number in perspective, even if the troika heard cases every second of every day and night of September 1938, it would still have to issue one death sentence (again, plus a larger number of gulag sentences) every half hour. Given that the troikas didn’t actually spend anywhere close to 24 hours a day in session, this means that death sentences were being handed out with literally only seconds of consideration given to the case. This is confirmed by Nicolas Werth (“The NKVD Mass Secret Operation #00447 (August 1937-November 1938)”), who notes that it was common for “several hundred cases” to be dealt with in a single half-day session. These rubber-stamp conditions have no remote resemblance to properly-functioning courts, even special field tribunals.

    First – I’d like to see the sources of that two handshakable historians. Second – I once again recommend you to re-read what I’ve wrote about Troikas. All too often they had to deal with already investigated and determined cases that were decided in other courts years ago and only needed a verdict. I wrote about it my comment – no need to reiterate here.

    Was there rubber-stamping in some cases? Yes, there were. Which didn’t change the fact that said much decried “rubber-stamping” dealt with already solved cases. This alone proves nothing. But I guess, its enough for you – instead of actually reviewing some case or the process in details you’d rather quote second-hand sources (sorry, I don’t think that you read those two historians you are quoting) then the primarily sources or even some excerpts from them. And you even don’t doubt the numbers.

    C’mon, Mr. Ward! Give us something more real to prove your point about “outrageously unfair conditions of the troika trials”! So far I see nothing besides “they were issuing too many death sentences” and “they were nothing like we use today in the Blessed West”. With your attitude to Troikas you demonstrate a peculiar “conspiracy theorist” approach, when you simultaneously don’t believe the official data because “Authorities are hiding the truth”, while presenting your own suspicions and extrapolations as “proof”.

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  15. To Mr. Ward in response to this post

    ”In regard to why people in popular culture don’t spend a lot of time condemning the Tudors, it’s for the same reason people don’t spend a lot of time condemning Ivan the Terrible.”

    And here you are wrong. So-called “Russian liberals” and the general Russophobic-minded historians perversely like to mention Ivan IV Grozny and the “crimes of his bloody regime”. For them it’s absolutely necessary to remind everyone only about his “terror” against innocent nobles and priests with a caveat that “Grozny was the direct precursor of Stalin”. Both so-called Russian liberals and a HUGE amount of Westerners even go so far as to call Oprichnina – “Ivan Grozny’s secret police” (with quite obvious connotations).

    It long became a point of the “shy and modest intilligents” and idealogically correct Western historians, to use Russian history (no matter of what time period) to justify their Russophobic views – that Russia was always “a hellhole”, that the powers that be were “uniquely brutal”, that Russia and Russians are nothing like the “Culturally Superior Civilized West”.

    Just two examples! On the one hand we have a putrid ”Tsar” (2009) movie by a handshakable and honest to a fault director Pavel Lungin with budget $17 mil. On the other hand – we have Henri 4 (2010) with budget of €20 mil. Strangely enough, the European film doesn’t try to drive with a hammer a point that “Wars of Religions in France were precursors of Le Terror”. Or that “French Monarchs were as brutal as Robespierre and got what they deserved”. European movie is not attempting to “prove a point”, that the French were rabid uncivilized brutes. No one is wailing that all those assassinations, poisonings, mass executions meant that “there were no way a democracy could begin in such oppressive system”.

    The thing is – when we are talking about Russian history – that the West not as much has “short memory”. It’s just very selective in its “remembering”. Naturally, it’s been decided long time ago to remember only bad things about Russia – or you’ll be accused of “whitewashing” the history. That’s why the general Western public has trouble remembering Duke Alba, Wars of Religions and mass executions in the most brutal ways possible for various “criminals” in their countries, but they all “remember” Ivan Grozny’s “terror”. Because “that’s what happens in Russia”, right?

    Although – your, Mr. Ward, attempt to whitewash the Western approach (i.e. double standards when addressing history) is rather telling.

    ”The way to show that would be to show that people in the Soviet Union (specifically the part of the Soviet Union not occupied by the Germans) were dying of starvation and starvation-related diseases at statistically significant rates.”

    I have a growing suspicion, Mr. Ward, that you are simply not interested in finding out whether it was true or not. You decided for yourself that “Stalin starved prisoners to death” while “the free people were not starving”. Looks like you didn’t even tried to find any information and it falls to me to that. Again.

    Previously we already established that the civilian population of the Soviet union territories not under Nazi occupation had their rations really small and that a lot of them, who were engaged in the hard labor (like in the military factories) were malnourished (sometimes – to the point of dystrophy) – but for you this is not a proof.

    Okay then. There are several works accessible on-line about that:

    1) Article about demographic situation in Yakutia during the War

    2) Chapter 5 of prof. Rybakovskiy work on demographic changes in the USSR during the Great Patriotic War.

    3) Alexander Kozinskiy’s article about total losses of the USSR in the years of the Great Patriotic War.

    According to these articles (and cited sources) there were series of famines affecting the Soviet territories beyond the frontlines (to name just a few most seriously affected):

    1941 – Western Siberia.
    1942 – Vologda oblast.
    1943 – Chita oblast.
    1944 – several oblasts in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tatar and Mordovian ASSRs, several districts of Altai kray, Gorkiy and Sverdlovsk oblasts,
    1945 – Uzbekistan, Kabardino-Balkarian and Buryat-Mongolian ASSRs.

    Two professors – I.E. Zelenin and V.N. Zemskov – independently from each other researched the change of mortality dynamics in, respectively, Siberian cities and countryside, and the prison facilities and camps.

    So, the morality rate for Siberian cities/countryside during the War was the following:

    1941 – 24.1%/19.7%
    1942 – 29.6%/21.3%
    1943 – 27.2%/13.6%
    1944 – 17.3%/10.6%
    1945 – 12.2%/7.4%

    And now lets compare this to the changes in mortality rate of the prisoners (data for deaths per 1000 of inmates):

    1941 – 67.
    1942 – 175.
    1943 – 173.
    1944 – 92.
    1945 – 61.

    Amazing! There is a correlation between the two! There are much more tables and statistics in these articles which you can check out yourself. Well, that’s in case you are actually interested in reliable data.

    Your point, Mr. Ward:

    the fact remains that the people in the gulags died because of decisions made by the Soviet leadership

    is so beyond any serious analysis and just shows your stubborn refusal to accept the facts in your blind determination to “highlight the crimes of the bloody regime”. Why not then to accuse the “bloody regime” of just about everything? Why not accuse it in causing the famines in unaffected civilian oblasts as well? Why not accuse it in the deaths of all Red Army soldiers killed by Wermacht? Why not, ultimately (and yes, there are people who do this in the Russophobic camp rather routinely) accuse the USSR and its leadership of starting the WW2? Hell, Snyder in his “Blood lands” accuses the USSR in being “Nazi Germany’s accomplice in the Holocaust” – what, are you worse than Snyder, Mr. Ward?

    Once. Again. During the war there was a huge hunger in the USSR which affected EVERYONE. Including GULag prisoners. During the Great Patriotic War the mortality rate of the Soviet citizens increased manifold. Including GULag prisoners, who were not some special snowflakes to be treated somehow more favorably than the rest of the USSR’s (law-abiding) population. They were not “victims of GULag system”. They were victims of hunger.

    “And as for deaths in transit, it doesn’t take any elaborate conspiracy theory to account for why they might not be properly represented in the statistics we have… I’m sure they were reliable when they existed, but they don’t exist anymore. The same goes for a lot of other records, especially at the lower levels of the administration. For this reason, our statistics concerning the number of sentences and the papertrails of the central administration are more complete and reliable than the records concerning the details of what actually happened in the camps, or on the way to them. Many historians have commented on this, and not only those of the “Conquest” camp.”

    No, actually – this IS conspiracy theory (not elaborate – rather beaten to death) to assume that “we don’t have ALL data, ergo – The Authorities Are Hiding the Truth!” What’s your solution, Mr. Ward? To dismiss the archival data altogether and just out of random “turn up to 11” all officially reported deaths ‘cause “Soviets are all liars” and “we know the Truth!”? What are you suggesting? To doubt everything “Soviet” and to trust all “anti-Soviet” even if not based on the evidence?

    For now you just weakly handwaved all statistical data which doesn’t fit into your narrative. I still wait, for example, for you to provide us with the evidence that all those Leningrad NKVD serving members of ethnic minorities who were “purged” were indeed lined up against the wall and shot with extreme prejudice.

    I also noticed that by and large those unnamed “many historians” tend to be Western (or local) Russophobes hell-bent on proving their old Cold War theses like there is no tomorrow. .

    Also – no, I don’t think that you read statistics provided by me properly. Otherwise how are you still claiming that:

    ”Poles were disproportionately represented in the gulags in both 1938 and 1940”

    First of all, Mr. Ward – our discussion will be much more productive if you cease and desist from using made up words like “gulags”. GULag is the term – singular. Next – once gain – statistic on Russians in prisons and prison camps and the Poles:

    Russians:
    1937 – 494 827 (60.28% of the total camps population).
    1940 – 820 089 (63.05% of the total camps population).

    Poles:
    1938 – 6 975
    1940 – 16 133 (1.28% of the total camps population).

    “Disproportionately represented” – indeed!

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  16. Paul, my posts (already – 2 of them) are hanging in the limbo of the Spam filter. Can you tweak it a bit so that posts with out-going links won’t be sent here? I promise to spam your fine blog with ads ;)!

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      1. Thank you! And, ehm, I meant to write “I promise NOT to spam your fine blog with ads”. Huh. Must be Freudian slip! 🙂

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  17. A lot to cover here. Let’s start with the question of historians and media coverage. In your attempted counter-example to my point, you’ve failed to make the distinction that you earlier insisted on, between academic historians and the popular media. Maybe oddly, since we can’t seem to agree on much else, I actually agree with your portrayal of a lot of English-language historiography of pre-revolutionary Russia (although you make it sound like the point covers all historical material written in English, which is most certainly not true). But it’s this same group of English academic historians that have comprehensively dismantled Henry VIII’s reputation over the last 60 years or so. As for the popular English (as opposed to Russian) media, it largely ignores Russia, and always has. Other than a few World War 2 films, which tend to portray the Soviets (when they portray them at all), in a mixed and mildly sympathetic light, there have been very few A-list English films dealing with the history of Russia. The example you gave was Russian, and therefore supports rather than diminishing my point. In Russia, Ivan the Terrible can be trotted out to make a lame liberal point (another area we agree on, I don’t have any more respect for contemporary Russian liberals than you seem to). In the English-speaking world, it’s “Ivan who?” Outside academic circles, it’s not at all difficult to find people who have never even heard of Ivan, or any other pre-modern Russian figure. On the contrary, it’s a very rare English “person on the street” who even knows what words like “oprichnina” or “oprichniki” refer to. You’ve suggested that both the English-speaking academia and general public are fairly uniformly Russophobic, while ignoring the flaws of their own history. But this claim only seems plausible if you conflate the two groups. The English-speaking academia does indeed have some tendency to Russophobia, but is not given to papering over the ugly points of Anglo-Saxon history. The general public (speaking en masse) doesn’t care enough about Russia either way to be Russophobic, and doesn’t care enough about history to have any strong attitude toward more than a few post-modern figures, whether English, Russian or whatever else.
    As for Gulag deaths in the Second World War, again your sources support my point rather than refuting it. According to the 1937 census, there were around 162 million people in the Soviet Union at the time (I’ve chosen the lower figure rather than the higher 1939 census figure so that a calculation I’ll do later will work in your favour as much as possible) Now, just to avoid getting into tiresome detail, let’s assume that 100 million people either fell behind German lines, were besieged (as in Leningrad) or were in the Soviet military, and therefore unlikely to be included in stats for non-combatant deaths (again, this number is outrageously high, but, as we’ll see, it doesn’t matter). According to the third source you posted (from Alexander Kozinsky), somewhere between 700 000 and 1 million Soviets died “unnatural deaths” away from areas of German occupation or German siege during the Second World War. Using the (absurdly low) population figure of 62 million, that’s about 1.6% of the population. That can be considered the “natural starvation rate”, attributable to the general hardship of the times. Now, let’s see how many gulag prisoners would have died if they had died at that “natural rate.” Again, to avoid tiresome detail, I’ll round every number generously in your favour. There were about 1.5 million people in the gulag system at the beginning of the war. To very generously allow for “turnover”, let’s quadruple that figure to say that 6 million people went through the gulag system for at least part of the second world war. Even on this generous accounting, deaths attributable to the hardship of the times (calculated at 1.6%) would have totaled 96 000. Now, let’s round that up to 100 000. Since those 100 000 deaths represent “natural mortality”, let’s take them out of the total of gulag deaths. That leaves the death total at 1.4 (rather than 1.5) million. It’s still 10%. And I get that number without including the dead of the punishment battalions, estimates of mortality en route, estimates of those who died shortly after medical release, etc. It’s just the number you provided, generously reduced to allow for wartime conditions, and it’s still 10%. This is what I meant when I said that any deaths attributable to the war, rather than the specific conditions of the gulag, were statistically insignificant. Compared to the total number of deaths in the gulag system, the deaths that can remotely reasonably be attributed to the war conditions (rather than Stalin’s harsh response to those conditions) is a drop in the bucket. There’s no way to squirm out of the conclusion that the gulag system literally decimated the army of prisoners condemned to spend time in it.

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  18. Moving next to the question of whether ethnic minorities (and specifically Poles) were disproportionately repressed, the first point to make is that your calculation is not valid, because you don’t consider the size of the Polish population in the Soviet Union. Your math is limited to saying that, in 1940, the Poles constituted only 1.28% of the gulag population, and that’s a small number. Therefore, the Poles were not disproportionately repressed. The argument is invalid at every point. Firstly, 1.28% is neither a big nor a small number until you compare it to the Soviet Polish population. To calculate that, I’ve used the 1926 census, since that is the last Soviet census that was undisputed (and thus avoids the difficulty of choosing between the 1937 and 1939 versions of the census), and there’s no reason to believe that there was a massive influx of Poles into the Soviet Union between 1926 and the Great Terror. Anyway, according to the 1926 census, Poles accounted for about 0.5% of the Soviet population. That means that, in 1940, they were (on your own calculation) over-represented in the gulag by a factor of 2.5. Of course, as there essentially was no Great Terror in Central Asia, those minorities are under-represented, and as a result, all the other nationalities (including Russians) were slightly over-represented. However, this doesn’t nearly account for the over-representation of Poles. As I’ve already pointed out, Poles were, even relative to ethnic Russians (who outnumbered Poles in the Soviet Union by a ratio of more than 100 to 1), over-represented in the gulag, since the ratio of Poles to Russians in the gulag was 1:70 in 1938 and 1:50 in 1940.
    However, what’s more important than this, and what you’ve ignored, is that counting gulag numbers is a fatally flawed way of comparing the repression of different groups, since it completely fails to take account of executions. As I’ve already said, this is absolutely critical in this case, since the majority of repressed Poles were repressed in the “Polish Operation” under order 00485, rather than in the Kulak Operation. According to Nikita Petrov, of 139 835 people convicted in the Polish Operation, 111 091 were sentenced to death. This ratio of executions to gulag sentences was massively higher than in the Kulak Operation. So, the reason the Poles weren’t even more over-represented in the gulag than they actually were is that the vast majority of them never made it there, having been simply shot. Since you’ve complained that I don’t quote enough primary sources, here are a few to buttress the point, although really, all they do is illustrate specific sections of the stats analyzed by Petrov.

    First, showing (although this should be obvious), that Poles were the majority of those targeted by the Polish Operation, and they were (at least sometimes) targeted merely by virtue of being Polish, and for no other reason.

    27 Aug 1937, Report from Kiev NKVD chief Sharov to Israel Leplevsky ->of 1521 arrested in Polish Op, 953 ethnic Poles

    11 December 1937, Report from Sharov to Leplevsky -> Of 4175 arrested in Polish Op, 2535 were ethnic Poles.

    15 August 1937, Telegram from Stepanov to Belsky, reporting on the progress of the Polish Op in Ukraine, of 3283 arrests, 2180 Poles

    NKVD Order 00485 -> explicitly orders political refugees from Poland and armed forces POW’s from 1920 war who had remained in the Soviet Union to be indiscriminately arrested

    16 August 1937, Order from Stepanov to local NKVD leaders, explicitly ordered the indiscriminate arrest of ethnic Poles.

    Second, showing that the Polish Operation, in contrast to the Kulak Operation, involved many more executions than gulag sentences

    10 October 1937, report from Leplevsky to Yezhov, of cases so far reviewed in the Polish Op, 1394 “First Category”, 205 “Second Category”

    15 December 1937, Leplevsky to Yezhov, convicted in Polish Op, 17393 First Category, 2412 Second Category (88% First Category)
    Convicted in Kulak Operation, 26 429 First Category, 49 511 Second Category (35% First Category)

    25 February 1938, Report from Kiev 8th Div. UGB of the NKVD to Alexander Radzilovsky
    In Polish Op, 33 882 First Category sentences, 7245 Second Category sentences
    In Latvian Op 1258 First Category sentences, 163 Second Category sentences
    (Last figure included to give an example of how the disproportionate number of executions was a feature of the national operations in general, not a specific feature of the Polish Operation)

    So Poles, despite being disproportionately targeted by an operation that handed out death sentences rather than gulag sentences at a rate substantially higher than the Kulak Operation, still managed to be significantly over-represented in the gulag system as well. This ties in with the data I’ve already presented for the Leningrad region, showing that, relative to their share of the population, Poles were substantially over-represented among the victims of the Great Terror.

    Finally moving on the the fairness of the troikas themselves, you’ve misrepresented Order 00486. You’ve suggested that it was just a restatement of the already-existing penal code, which only penalized family members if they knew about the crimes committed, and failed to report them. However, this is simply not what 00486 says, nor is it how it was interpreted on the ground. On 8 October 1937, Leplevsky sent out an order to the oblast directorates, explicitly interpreting 00486 as requiring the arrest of “wives of ALL individuals” facing arrest under the Polish Operation, and criticizing the local NKVD branches for not implementing 00486 strictly enough. No order came amending this one, or suggesting that any investigation of personal guilt whatsoever had to be conducted, until late 1938, when the Terror in general was being wound down. For over a year, under 00486, and according to the explicit instructions of Leplevsky, wives of Polish Op convicts were to be arrested without regard to evidence of personal guilt. This is explicit policy.
    As to the troikas merely giving out sentences to people already convicted in ordinary courts, this is false in the vast majority of cases, and I think you know that. At the beginning of the Great Terror, there were cases backed up in the courts that could be expedited through troikas without compromising due process (or at least such due process as was ever available in the Soviet Union). As time passed, and the numbers grew, and the quotas were raised multiple times over, this was no longer the case. The vast majority of those condemned by troikas were only ever “convicted” by NKVD investigators. Even if the NKVD used fair investigative methods, as opposed to threats and torture, sentences in these conditions would have little in common with the “modern execution of law”, which involves a trial AFTER police have already decided, for their part, that the suspect is guilty. The troika system removed any pretense at having a trial, leaving only the police investigation, which, again, was frequently carried out by the use of threats and torture. This is well-known, from the evidence of the Molotov Commission, from the archives which show that Yezhov personally participated in torture, and Stalin explicitly approved it, and from numerous letters and reports, such as the letter from the prisoner Gustaw Dalmer of 30 November 1937, in which he complains that he and other prisoners had been beaten with rifle barrels, bottles, fists and kicks, and that three pregnant prisoners had been beaten badly enough to suffer miscarriages.
    As for the evidence I’ve presented from Werth and Nikolskij, I have indeed read the works I quoted, so I can tell you that Werth doesn’t cite his sources, his article being a more general summary. So let’s leave Werth aside. Nikolskij derived his numbers from folios 6, 16 and 42 of Ukrainian Security Services Branch of of the State Archives, from the Temporary Storage Archives of the Doneck Region(Stalino-Voroshilovgrad Region) Security Services, and from the Temporary Storage Archives of the Ukrainian Security Service of the Lugansk Region. In the case of the numbers I quoted, it’s very easy to check those from the archives, as Nikolskij is just copying information directly from the troika protocols for the relevant periods. As an aside, Nikolskij includes some more information regarding how murderous the national operations were. One report he cites (from 24 November 1937), notes that the “dvoika” (which handled national operation prosecutions until 1938, had handed out 1337, of which 1203 were death sentences. Once the “Special Troika” was set up in the Stalino region in 1938, the pace of executions quickened even more. The month I already mentioned from Nikolskij (September 1938), resulted in not a single gulag sentence. All 1226 sentences were death sentences.
    As to whether I can “prove” that the convicts were innocent, of course I can’t. In most cases, the only historical record that exists of these people is what we find in the NKVD archives. But the very request that I “prove” that accused people were innocent is itself indicative of how far we’ve strayed from the “modern execution of law”. When people are considered guilty until proven innocent, of course you can justify pretty much any degree of judicial malpractice. Almost any kangaroo court in history can stand up to such a standard.
    What I can prove is that these people were not given anything remotely resembling a fair trial. Most of them never had their case considered in any kind of regular court, and thus weren’t even given the most perfunctory opportunity to defend themselves. Many of them were convicted on the basis of evidence gained by the use of torture. On top of all this, the troikas and dvoikas that considered their case, without ever seeing the prisoner in person, decided the cases in a matter of minutes, or sometimes even seconds, and convicted people at a rate of higher than 99%. If these are fair trials, there’s no such thing as an unfair trial.

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