Joseph Stalin, was born in Gori, Georgia on . He was his mother's fourth child to be born in less than four years. The first three died and as Joseph was prone to bad health, his mother feared on several occasions that he would also die. Understandably, given this background, Joseph's mother was very protective towards him as a child.
Joseph's father was a bootmaker and his mother took in washing. As a child, Joseph experienced the poverty that most peasants had to endure in Russia at the end of the 19th century. At the age of seven he contacted smallpox. He survived but his face remained scarred for the rest of his life and other children cruelly called him "pocky".
Joseph's mother was deeply religious and in 1888 she managed to obtain him a place at the local church school. Despite his health problems, he made good progress at school and eventually won a free scholarship to the Tiflis Theological Seminary. While studying at the seminary he joined a secret organization called Messame Dassy. Members were supporters of Georgian independence from Russia. Some were also socialist revolutionaries and it was through the people he met in this organization that Stalin first came into contact with the ideas of Karl Marx.
In May, 1899, Stalin was expelled from the Tiflis Theological Seminary. Several reasons were given for this action including disrespect for those in authority and reading forbidden books. Stalin was later to claim that the real reason was that he had been trying to convert his fellow students to Marxism.
For several months after leaving the seminary Stalin was unemployed. He eventually found work by giving private lessons to middle class children. Later, he worked as a clerk at the Tiflis Observatory. He also began writing articles for the socialist Georgian newspaper, Brdzola Khma Vladimir.
In 1901 Stalin joined the Social Democratic Labour Party and whereas most of the leaders were living in exile, he stayed in Russia where he helped to organize industrial resistance to Tsarism. On 18th April, 1902, Stalin was arrested after coordinating a strike at the large Rothschild plant at Batum and sent to Kutaisi Prison.
Grigol Uratadze, a fellow prisoner, later described Stalin's appearance and behaviour in prison: "He was scruffy and his pockmarked face made him not particularly neat in appearance.... He had a creeping way of walking, taking short steps.... when we were let outside for exercise and all of us in our particular groups made for this or that corner of the prison yard, Stalin stayed by himself and walked backwards and forwards with his short aces, and if anyone tried speaking to him, he would open his mouth into that cold smile of his and perhaps say a few words... we lived together in Kutaisi Prison for more than half a year and not once did I see him get afitated, lose control, get angry, shout, swear - or in short - reveal himself in any other aspect than complete calmness."
After spending 18 months in prison Stalin was deported to Siberia. At the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Lenin and Julius Martov, two of the party's leaders. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists.
Julius Martov based his ideas on the socialist parties that existed in other European countries such as the British Labour Party. Lenin argued that the situation was different in Russia as it was illegal to form socialist political parties under the Tsar's autocratic government. At the end of the debate Martov won the vote 28-23. Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.
Stalin, although still in prison, gave his support to Lenin. Other Bolsheviks included Gregory Zinoviev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Mikhail Frunze, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Lev Kamenev, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Alexander Bogdanov joined the Bolsheviks. Whereas George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Leon Trotsky, Vera Zasulich, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania, Andrei Vyshinsky and Fedor Dan supported Julius Martov.
Stalin escaped from Siberia and within a few months he was back organizing demonstrations and strikes in Tiflis. In May 1904 Stalin wrote to Lenin: "I'm overdue with my letter, comrade. There's been neither the time nor the will to write. For the whole period it's been necessary to travel around the Caucasus, speak in debates, encourage comrades, etc. Everywhere the Mensheviks have been on the offensive and we've needed to repulse them. We've hardly had any personnel.... and so I've needed to do the work of three individuals... Our situation is as followers. Tiflis is almost completely in the hands of the Mensheviks. Half of Baku and Butumi is also with the Mensheviks."
Lenin was impressed with Stalin's achievements in the Caucasus and in December 1905, he was invited to meet him in Finland. According to Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004): "According to his later account, he was taken aback by the unprepossessing appearance of the leader of Bolshevism. Stalin had been expecting a tall, self-regarding person. Instead he saw a man no bigger than himself and without the hauteur of the prominent émigré figures."
Stalin was now a committed Bolshevik. Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has argued: "Stalin was now an irreconcilable Leninist... The style of his polemics against the local bigwigs of Menshevism became more and more fanatical and bitter, reflecting both his sense of isolation among his comrades on the spot and the self-confidence imparted to him by the knowledge that he was marching in step with Lenin himself... His sense of isolation must have been the greater because of the passing of his two friends and mentors - Tsulukidze and Ketskhoveli... Ketskhoveli was shot by his jailers at the Metekhy Castle, the dreaded fortress prison of Tiflis; and Tsulukidze died of consumption."
In 1907 Stalin settled in Baku where he became friends with Gregory Ordzhonikidze, Stepan Shaumyan, Kliment Voroshilov and Andrei Vyshinsky. Their leader, Lenin, went into exile with the words: "the revolutionary parties must complete their education. They had learnt how to attack... They had got to learn that victory was impossible... unless they knew both how to attack and how to retreat correctly."
Stalin worked closely with his friends in developing the political consciousness of the workers in the region. The workers in the oil fields belonged to a union under the influence of the Bolsheviks. Stalin later wrote: "Two years of revolutionary work among the oil workers of Baku hardened me as a practical fighter and as one of the practical leaders. In contrast with advanced workers of Baku... in the storm of the deepest conflicts between workers and oil industrialists... I first learned what it meant to lead big masses of workers. There in Baku... I received my revolutionary baptism in combat."
Stalin was elected as one of the delegates of the union involved in the negotiations with the employers. Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949), has pointed out: "The delegates' conference was in session for several months, debating every point in the collective agreements, controlling strikes, and airing its political views." Gregory Ordzhonikidze commented: "While all over Russia black reaction was reigning, a genuine workers' parliament was in session at Baku."
After eight months of work on the Baku committee, Ordzhonikidze and Stalin were caught by the Okhrana and put in prison. Deutscher claimed that: "Of the two spokesman for the Bolshevik prisoners, Stalin was cool, ruthless, and self-possessed, Ordzhonikidze touchy, exuberant, and ready to fly off at a tangent into riotous affray. The discussions were poisoned by suspicion - the Okhrana had planted its agents provocateurs even in the prison cells. Time and again the prisoners, roused to feverish suspicion, would try to trace them and, in some cases, they would kill a suspect, since the code of the underground allowed or even demanded the killing of agent provocateurs, as a measure of self-defence." In November 1908 Ordzhonikidze and Stalin were deported to Solvychegodsk, in the northern part of the Vologda province on the Vychegda River.
Stalin returned to Russia and over the next eight years he was arrested four times but each time managed to escape. He returned to St. Petersburg in February 1912, when Gregory Ordzhonikidze, Elena Stasova and Roman Malinovsky were appointed to the Russian Party Bureau, on a salary of 50 rubles per month. What they did not know was that Malinovsky was being paid 500 rubles per month by Okhrana. Stalin became editor of Pravda. Lenin, who described him as my "wonderful Georgian" arranged for him to join the Party's Central Committee. Arrested again in February 1913, Stalin was sent to the distant cold north-east of Siberia. The Bolshevik leader, Yakov Sverdlov, who was also in exile, found Stalin a difficult man to work with as he was "too much of an egoist in everyday life."
After the overthrow of Nicholas II, the new prime minister, Prince Georgi Lvov, allowed all political prisoners to return to their homes. Stalin arrived at Nicholas Station in St. Petersburg with Lev Kamenev on 25th March, 1917. His biographer, Robert Service, has commented: "He was pinched-looking after the long train trip and had visibly aged over the four years in exile. Having gone away a young revolutionary, he was coming back a middle-aged political veteran." He immediately joined the Pravda editorial board.
At this time, Stalin, like most Bolsheviks, took the view that the Russian people were not ready for a socialist revolution. He therefore called for conditional support of the Provisional Government, declaring that at this time it "would be utopian to raise the question of a socialist revolution". He also urged policies that would tempt the Mensheviks into forming an alliance. However, he disagreed with Molotov, who was calling for the immediate overthrow of Prince Georgi Lvov. The historian, Isaac Deutscher, has suggested his "middle-of-the-road attitude made him more or less acceptable to both its wings."
When Lenin returned to Russia on 3rd April, 1917, he announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked Bolsheviks for supporting the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories.
Lenin accused those Bolsheviks who were still supporting the government of Prince Georgi Lvov of betraying socialism and suggested that they should leave the party. Some took Lenin's advice, arguing that any attempt at revolution at this stage was bound to fail and would lead to another repressive, authoritarian Russian government.
Stalin was in a difficult position. As one of the editors of Pravda, he was aware that he was being held partly responsible for what Lenin had described as "betraying socialism". Stalin had two main options open to him: he could oppose Lenin and challenge him for the leadership of the party, or he could change his mind about supporting the Provisional Government and remain loyal to Lenin. After ten days of silence, Stalin made his move. In the newspaper he wrote an article dismissing the idea of working with the Provisional Government. He condemned Alexander Kerensky and Victor Chernov as counter-revolutionaries, and urged the peasants to takeover the land for themselves.
On 10th October, 1917, Stalin supported the resolution proposed by Lenin that the Central Committee prepared for an armed insurrection. Only Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev opposed the measure. When they explained their reasons for taking this decision in the semi-Menshevik paper Novaia Zhizn, and therefore revealing the Bolshevik plan to the government, Lenin called for them to be expelled from the party. Stalin defended Zinoviev and Kamenev and insisted they remained as members of the Central Committee.
Lenin continued to insist that the time was right to overthrow the Provisional Government. On 24th October he wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee: "The situation is utterly critical. It is clearer than clear that now, already, putting off the insurrection is equivalent to its death. With all my strength I wish to convince my comrades that now everything is hanging by a hair, that on the agenda now are questions that are decided not by conferences, not by congresses (not even congresses of soviets), but exclusively by populations, by the mass, by the struggle of armed masses… No matter what may happen, this very evening, this very night, the government must be arrested, the junior officers guarding them must be disarmed, and so on… History will not forgive revolutionaries for delay, when they can win today (and probably will win today), but risk losing a great deal tomorrow, risk losing everything."
Leon Trotsky supported Lenin's view and urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. Lenin agreed and on the evening of 24th October, orders were given for the Bolsheviks to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The following day the Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Kerensky had managed to escape from the city.
The Winter Palace was defended by Cossacks, some junior army officers and the Woman's Battalion. At 9 p.m. The Aurora and the Peter and Paul Fortress began to open fire on the palace. Little damage was done but the action persuaded most of those defending the building to surrender. The Red Guards, led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, now entered the Winter Palace and arrested the Cabinet ministers.
On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Stalin becoming Commissar of Nationalities. As a Georgian and a member of a minority group who had written about the problems of non-Russian peoples living under the Tsar, Stalin was seen as the obvious choice for the post. It was a job that gave Stalin tremendous power for nearly half the country's population fell into the category of non-Russian. Stalin now had the responsibility of dealing with 65 million Ukrainians, Georgians, Byelorussians, Tadzhiks, Buriats and Yakuts.
The policy of the Bolsheviks was to grant the right of self-determination to all the various nationalities within Russia. This was reinforced by a speech Stalin made in Helsinki on November 16th, 1917. Stalin promised the crowd that the Soviet government would grant: "complete freedom for the Finnish people, and for other peoples of Russia, to arrange their own life!" Stalin's plan was to develop what he called "a voluntary and honest alliance" between Russia and the different national groups that lived within its borders.
Over the next couple of years Stalin had difficulty controlling the non-Russian peoples under his control. Independent states were set up without his agreement. These new governments were often hostile to the Bolsheviks. Stalin had hoped that these independent states would voluntarily agree to join up with Russia to form a union of Socialist States. When this did not happen Stalin was forced to revise his policy and stated that self-determination "ought to be understood as the right of self-determination not of the bourgeoisie but of the toiling masses of a given nation." In other words, unless these independent states had a socialist government willing to develop a union with Russia, the Bolsheviks would not allow self-determination.
Lenin also changed his views on independence. He now came to the conclusion that a "modern economy required a high degree of power in the centre." Although the Bolsheviks had promised nearly half the Russian population that they would have self-determination, Lenin was now of the opinion that such a policy could pose a serious threat to the survival of the Soviet government. It was the broken promise over self-determination that was just one of the many reasons why Lenin's government became unpopular in Russia.
During the Civil War Stalin played an important administrative role in military matters and took the credit for successfully defeating the White Army at Tsaritsyn. One strategy developed by Stalin was to conduct interviews with local administrators on a large barge moored on the Volga. It was later claimed that if Stalin was not convinced of their loyalty they were shot and thrown into the river. It was claimed this is what happened to a group of supporters of Leon Trotsky. When he was questioned about this he admitted the crime: "Death solves all problems. No man, no problem."
On 17th August, 1918, Moisei Uritsky, chief of the Petrograd Secret Police was assassinated. Two weeks later Dora Kaplan shot and severely wounded Lenin. Stalin, who was in Tsaritsyn at the time, sent a telegram to Yakov Sverdlov suggesting: "having learned about the wicked attempt of capitalist hirelings on the life of the greatest revolutionary, the tested leader and teacher of the proletariat, Comrade Lenin, answer this base attack from ambush with the organization of open and systematic mass terror against the bourgeoisie and its agents."
The advice of Stalin was accepted and Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, instigated the Red Terror. The Bolshevik newspaper, Krasnaya Gazeta, reported on 1st September, 1918: "We will turn our hearts into steel, which we will temper in the fire of suffering and the blood of fighters for freedom. We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. We will let loose the floodgates of that sea. Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin and Uritsky, Zinovief and Volodarski, let there be floods of the blood of the bourgeois - more blood, as much as possible."
It is estimated that in the next few months 800 socialists were arrested and shot without trial. Dzerzhinsky reported "Our enemies are now suppressed and are in the kingdom of the shadows." Lev Kamenev admitted: "Not a single measure of the Soviet government could have been put through without the help of the Cheka. It is the best example of communist discipline."
The Soviet's government's policy of War Communism during the Civil War created social distress and led to riots, strikes and demonstrations. The Kronstadt Uprising reinforced the idea that the government was unpopular and in March, 1921, Lenin announced details of his New Economic Policy (NEP). Farmers were now allowed to sell food on the open market and could now employ people to work for them.
The NEP also allowed some freedom of internal trade, permitted some private commerce and re-established state banks. Factories employing less than twenty people were denationalized and could be claimed back by former owners. Stalin supported Lenin's policy. His view was that as long as there was only a one party state, the government could allow the introduction of small-scale private enterprise. As he pointed out: "The New Economic Policy is a special policy of the proletarian state designed to tolerate capitalism but retain the key positions in the hands of the proletarian state."
Lenin found the disagreements over the New Economic Policy exhausting. His health had been poor ever since Dora Kaplan had shot him in 1918. Severe headaches limited his sleep and understandably he began to suffer from fatigue. Lenin decided he needed someone to help him control the Communist Party.
At the Party Conference on 3rd April, 1922, Lenin suggested that a new post of General Secretary of the Central Committee should be created. Lenin's choice for the post was Stalin, who in the past had always loyally supported his policies. Stalin's main opponents for the future leadership of the party failed to see the importance of this position and actually supported his nomination. They initially saw the post of General Secretary as being no more than "Lenin's mouthpiece".
Roy A. Medvedev, has argued in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) that on the surface it was a strange decision: "In 1922 Stalin was the least prominent figure in the Politburo. Not only Lenin but also Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, and A. I. Rykov were much more popular among the broad masses of the Party than Stalin. Closemouthed and reserved in everyday affairs, Stalin was also a poor public speaker. He spoke in a low voice with a strong Caucasian accent, and found it difficult to speak without a prepared text. It is not surprising that, during the stormy years of revolution and civil war, with their ceaseless meetings, rallies, and demonstrations, the revolutionary masses saw or heard little of Stalin."
Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has pointed out: "The leading bodies of the party were now top-heavy; and a new office, that of the General Secretary, was created, which was to coordinate the work of their many growing and overlapping branches... Soon afterwards a latent dualism of authority began to develop at the very top of the party. The seven men who now formed the Politbureau (in addition to the previous five, Zinoviev and Tomsky had recently been elected) represented, as it were, the brain and the spirit of Bolshevism. In the offices of the General Secretariat resided the more material power of management and direction."
Soon after Stalin's appointment as General Secretary, Lenin went into hospital to have a bullet removed from his body that had been there since Kaplan's assassination attempt. It was hoped that this operation would restore his health. This was not to be; soon afterwards, a blood vessel broke in Lenin's brain. This left him paralyzed all down his right side and for a time he was unable to speak. As "Lenin's mouthpiece", Stalin had suddenly become extremely important.
While Lenin was immobilized, Stalin made full use of his powers as General Secretary. At the Party Congress he had been granted permission to expel "unsatisfactory" party members. This enabled Stalin to remove thousands of supporters of Leon Trotsky, his main rival for the leadership of the party. As General Secretary, Stalin also had the power to appoint and sack people from important positions in the government. The new holders of these posts were fully aware that they owed their promotion to Stalin. They also knew that if their behaviour did not please Stalin they would be replaced.
Surrounded by his supporters, Stalin's confidence began to grow. In October, 1922, he disagreed with Lenin over the issue of foreign trade. When the matter was discussed at Central Committee, Stalin's rather than Lenin's policy was accepted. Lenin began to fear that Stalin was taking over the leadership of the party. Lenin wrote to Leon Trotsky asking for his support. Trotsky agreed and at the next meeting of the Central Committee the decision on foreign trade was reversed. Lenin, who was too ill to attend, wrote to Trotsky congratulating him on his success and suggesting that in future they should work together against Stalin.
Stalin, whose wife Nadya Alliluyeva worked in Lenin's private office, soon discovered the contents of the letter sent to Leon Trotsky. Stalin was furious as he realized that if Lenin and Trotsky worked together against him, his political career would be at an end. In a fit of temper Stalin made an abusive phone-call to Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, accusing her of endangering Lenin's life by allowing him to write letters when he was so ill.
After Krupskaya told her husband of the phone-call, Lenin made the decision that Stalin was not the man to replace him as the leader of the party. Lenin knew he was close to death so he dictated to his secretary a letter that he wanted to serve as his last "will and testament". The document was comprised of his thoughts on the senior members of the party leadership. Lenin said of Stalin: "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."
On 4th January, 1923, Lenin added a postscript to his earlier testament: "Stalin is too rude, and this fault... becomes unbearable in the office of General Secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint to it another man... more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc. This circumstance may seem an insignificant trifle, but I think that from the point of view of preventing a split and from the point of view of the relations between Stalin and Trotsky... it is not a trifle, or it is such a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance." Three days after writing this testament Lenin had a third stroke. Lenin was no longer able to speak or write and although he lived for another ten months, he ceased to exist as a power within the Soviet Union.
It was assumed that Leon Trotsky would replace Lenin as leader when he died. To stop this happening Stalin established a close political relationship with Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev. The three men became known as the "triumvirate". The historian, Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has pointed out: "What made for the solidarity of the three men was their determination to prevent Trotsky from succeeding to the leadership of the party. Separately, neither could measure up to Trotsky. Jointly, they represented a powerful combination of talent and influence. Zinoviev was the politician, the orator, the demagogue with popular appeal. Kamenev was the strategist of the group, its solid brain, trained in matters of doctrine, which were to play a paramount part in the contest for power. Stalin was the tactician of the triumvirate and its organizing force. Between them, the three men virtually controlled the whole party and, through it, the Government."
At the Communist Party Congress in May, 1923, Stalin admitted that the triumvirate existed. In reply to a speech made by a delegate he argued: "Osinsky has praised Stalin and praised Kamenev, but he has attacked Zinoviev, thinking that for the time being it would be enough to remove one of them and that then would come the turn of the others. His aim is to break up that nucleus that has formed itself inside the Central Committee over years of toil... I ought to warn him that he will run into a wall, against which, I am afraid, he will smash his head." To another critic, who demanded more freedom of discussion in the party, Stalin replied that the party was no debating society. Russia was "surrounded by the wolves of imperialism; and to discuss all important matters in 20,000 party cells would mean to lay all one's cards before the enemy."
In October 1923, Yuri Piatakov drafted a statement that was published under the name Platform of the 46 which criticized the economic policies of the party leadership and accused it of stifling the inner-party debate. It echoed the call made by Leon Trotsky, a week earlier, calling for a sharp change of direction by the party. The statement was also signed by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Andrey Bubnov, Ivan Smirnov, Lazar Kaganovich, Ivar Smilga, Victor Serge, Evgenia Bosh and thirty-eight other leading Bolsheviks.
"The extreme seriousness of the position compels us (in the interests of our Party, in the interests of the working class) to state openly that a continuation of the policy of the majority of the Politburo threatens grievous disasters for the whole Party. The economic and financial crisis beginning at the end of July of the present year, with all the political, including internal Party, consequences resulting from it, has inexorably revealed the inadequacy of the leadership of the Party, both in the economic domain, and especially in the domain of internal Party, relations."
The document then went on to complain about the lack of debate in the Communist Party: "Similarly in the domain of internal party relations we see the same incorrect leadership paralyzing and breaking up the Party; this appears particularly clearly in the period of crisis through which we are passing. We explain this not by the political incapacity of the present leaders of the Party; on the contrary, however much we differ from them in our estimate of the position and in the choice of means to alter it, we assume that the present leaders could not in any conditions fail to be appointed by the Party to the out-standing posts in the workers’ dictatorship. We explain it by the fact that beneath the external form of official unity we have in practice a one-sided recruitment of individuals, and a direction of affairs which is one-sided and adapted to the views and sympathies of a narrow circle. As the result of a Party leadership distorted by such narrow considerations, the Party is to a considerable extent ceasing to be that living independent collectivity which sensitively seizes living reality because it is bound to this reality with a thousand threads."
Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has argued: "Among the signatories were: Piatakov, one of the two ablest leaders of the young generation mentioned in Lenin's testament, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, former secretaries of the Central Committee, Antonov-Ovseenko, the military leader of the October revolution, Srnirnov, Osinsky, Bubnov, Sapronov, Muralov, Drobnis, and others, distinguished leaders in the civil war, men of brain and character. Some of them had led previous oppositions against Lenin and Trotsky, expressing the malaise that made itself felt in the party as its leadership began to sacrifice first principles to expediency. Fundamentally, they were now voicing that same malaise which was growing in proportion to the party's continued departure from some of its first principles. It is not certain whether Trotsky directly instigated their demonstration." Lenin commented that Piatakov might be "very able but not to be relied upon in a serious political matter".
On 5th December, 1923, Leon Trotsky published an open letter where he called for more debate in the Communist Party concerning the way the country was being governed. He argued that members should exercise its right to criticism "without fear and without favour" and the first people to be removed from party positions are "those who at the first voice of criticism, of objection, of protest, are inclined to demand one's party ticket for the purpose of repression". Trotsky went on to suggest that anyone who "dares to terrorize the party" should be expelled.
Gregory Zinoviev was furious with Trotsky for making these comments and proposed that he should be immediately arrested. Stalin, aware of Trotsky's immense popularity, opposed the move as being too dangerous. He encouraged Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev to attack Trotsky whereas he wanted to give the impression that he was the most moderate, sensible, and conciliatory of the triumvirs. Stalin waited until the end of December before addressing the issue. Without mentioning Trotsky, he asked the question: "Did the opposition demand that Lenin's rules, which banned factions and groupings inside the party, believe they should be abolished?" In this way he suggested that Trotsky was arguing against Lenin.
Lenin died of a heart attack on 21st January, 1924. Stalin reacted to the news by announcing that Lenin was to be embalmed and put on permanent display in a mausoleum to be erected on Red Square. Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, immediately objected because she disliked the "quasi-religious" implications of this decision. Despite these objections, Stalin carried on with the arrangements.
The funeral took place on 27th January, and Stalin was a pallbearer with Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Nickolai Bukharin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Felix Dzerzhinsky and Maihail Tomsky. Stalin gave a speech which ended with the words: "Leaving us, comrade Lenin left us a legacy of fidelity to the principles of the Communist International. We swear to you, comrade Lenin, that we will not spare our own lives in strengthening and broadening the union of labouring people of the whole world - the Communist International." As Robert Service has pointed out: "Christianity had to give way to communism and Lenin was to be presented to society as the new Jesus Christ."
Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), pointed out that an important point of his strategy was to promote his friends, Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov and Gregory Ordzhonikidze: "An outsider in 1924 would have expected Trotsky to succeed Lenin, but in the Bolshevik oligarchy, this glittery fame counted against the insouciant War Commissar. The hatred between Stalin and Trotsky was not only based on personality and style but also on policy. Stalin had already used the massive patronage of the Secretariat to promote his allies, Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov and Grigory Konstantinovich; he also supplied an encouraging and realistic alternative to Trotsky's insistence on European revolution: 'Socialism in One Country'. The other members of the Politburo, led by Grigory Zinoviev, and Kamenev, Lenin's closest associates, were also terrified of Trotsky, who had united all against himself."
In April 1924 Stalin published Foundations of Leninism. In the introduction he argued: "Leninism grew up and took shape under the conditions of imperialism, when the contradictions of capitalism had reached an extreme point, when the proletarian revolution had become an immediate practical question, when the old period of preparation of the working class for revolution had arrived at and passed into a new period, that of direct assault on capitalism... The significance of the imperialist war which broke out ten years ago lies, among other things, in the fact that it gathered all these contradictions into a single knot and threw them on to the scales, thereby accelerating and facilitating the revolutionary battles of the proletariat. In other words, imperialism was instrumental not only in making the revolution a practical inevitability, but also in creating favourable conditions for a direct assault on the citadels of capitalism. Such was the international situation which gave birth to Leninism."
Before meetings of the Politburo Stalin would neet with his supporters. This included Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Lazar Kaganovich, Vyacheslav Molotov, Gregory Ordzhonikidze, Sergy Kirov and Kliment Voroshilov. As Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004), has pointed out: "He demanded efficiency as well as loyalty from the gang members. He also selected them for their individual qualities. He created an ambience of conspiracy, companionship and crude masculine humour. In return for their services he looked after their interests."
According to his personal secretary Boris Bazhanov, Stalin had the facility to evesdrop on the conversations of dozens of the most influential communist leaders. Stalin told Lev Kamenev that he was willing to do whatever was necessary to defeat his opponents. Kamenev warned him that Trotsky had more supporters than he did, Stalin replied: "Do you know what I think about this? I believe that who votes how in the party is unimportant. What is extremely important is who counts the votes and how they are recorded."
Leon Trotsky accused Stalin of being dictatorial and called for the introduction of more democracy into the party. Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev united behind Stalin and accused Trotsky of creating divisions in the party. Trotsky's main hope of gaining power was for Lenin's last testament to be published. In May, 1924, Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, demanded that the Central Committee announce its contents to the rest of the party. Zinoviev argued strongly against its publication. He finished his speech with the words: "You have all witnessed our harmonious cooperation in the last few months, and, like myself, you will be happy to say that Lenin's fears have proved baseless." The new members of the Central Committee, who had been sponsored by Stalin, guaranteed that the vote went against Lenin's testament being made public.
Trotsky and Stalin clashed over the future strategy of the country. Stalin favoured what he called "socialism in one country" whereas Trotsky still supported the idea of world revolution. He was later to argue: "The utopian hopes of the epoch of military communism came in later for a cruel, and in many respects just, criticism. The theoretical mistake of the ruling party remains inexplicable, however, only if you leave out of account the fact that all calculations at that time were based on the hope of an early victory of the revolution in the West."
In January 1925, Stalin was able to arrange for Leon Trotsky to be removed from the government. Some of Trotsky's supporters pleaded with him to organize a military coup. As the former commissar of war Trotsky was in a good position to arrange this. However, Trotsky rejected the idea and instead resigned his post. Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has argued: "He left office without the slightest attempt at rallying in his defence the army he had created and led for seven years. He still regarded the party, no matter how or by whom it was led, as the legitimate spokesman of the working-class."
With the decline of Trotsky, Joseph Stalin felt strong enough to stop sharing power with Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev. Stalin now began to attack Trotsky's belief in the need for world revolution. He argued that the party's main priority should be to defend the communist system that had been developed in the Soviet Union. This put Zinoviev and Kamenev in an awkward position. They had for a long time been strong supporters of Trotsky's theory that if revolution did not spread to other countries, the communist system in the Soviet Union was likely to be overthrown by hostile, capitalist nations. However, they were reluctant to speak out in favour of a man whom they had been in conflict with for so long.
Stalin now formed an alliance with Nikolay Bukharin, who wanted an expansion of the New Economic Policy that had been introduced several years earlier. Farmers were allowed to sell food on the open market and were allowed to employ people to work for them. Those farmers who expanded the size of their farms became known as kulaks. Bukharin believed the NEP offered a framework for the country's more peaceful and evolutionary "transition to socialism". He disregarded traditional party hostility to kulaks and called on them to "enrich themselves".
Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004), argued: "Stalin and Bukharin rejected Trotsky and the Left Opposition as doctrinaires who by their actions would bring the USSR to perdition... Zinoviev and Kamenev felt uncomfortable with so drastic a turn towards the market economy... They disliked Stalin's movement to a doctrine that socialism could be built in a single country - and they simmered with resentment at the unceasing accumulation of power by Stalin."
When Stalin was finally convinced that Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev were unwilling to join forces with Leon Trotsky against him, he began to support openly the economic policies of right-wing members of the Politburo such as Nikolay Bukharin, Mikhail Tomsky and Alexei Rykov. They now realized what Stalin was up to but it took them to summer of 1926 before they could swallow their pride and join with Trotsky against Stalin.
Kamenev argued: "We're against creating a theory of the leader; were against making anyone into the leader...We're against the Secretariat, by actually combining politics and organisation, standing above the political body… Personally I suggest that our General Secretary is not the kind of figure who can unite the old Bolshevik high command around him. It is precisely because I've often said this personally to comrade Stalin and precisely because I've often said this to a group of Leninist comrades that I repeat it at the Congress: I have come to the conclusion that comrade Stalin is incapable of performing the role of unifier of the Bolshevik high command."
In September 1926 Stalin threatened the expulsion of Yuri Piatakov, Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Grigori Sokolnikov. On 4th October, these men signed a statement admitting that they were guilty of offences against the statutes of the party and pledged themselves to disband their party within the party. They also disavowed the extremists in their ranks who were led by Alexander Shlyapnikov. However, having admitted their offences against the rules of discipline, they "restated with dignified firmness their political criticisms of Stalin."
Stalin appointed his old friend, Gregory Ordzhonikidze, to the presidency of the Central Control Commission in November 1926, where he was given responsibility for expelling the Left Opposition from the Communist Party. Ordzhonikidze was rewarded by being appointed to the Politburo in 1926. He developed a reputation for having a terrible temper. His daughter said that he "often got so heated that he slapped his comrades but the eruption soon passed." His wife Zina argued "he would give his life for one he loved and shoot the one he hated". However, others said he had great charm and Maria Svanidze described him as "chivalrous". The son of Lavrenty Beria commented that his "kind eyes, grey hair and big moustache, gave him the look of an old Georgian prince".
In the spring of 1927 Trotsky drew up a proposed programme signed by 83 oppositionists. He demanded a more revolutionary foreign policy as well as more rapid industrial growth. He also insisted that a comprehensive campaign of democratisation needed to be undertaken not only in the party but also in the soviets. Trotsky added that the Politburo was ruining everything Lenin had stood for and unless these measures were taken, the original goals of the October Revolution would not be achievable.
Stalin and Bukharin led the counter-attacks through the summer of 1927. At the plenum of the Central Committee in October, Stalin pointed out that Trotsky was originally a Menshevik: "In the period between 1904 and the February 1917 Revolution Trotsky spent the whole time twirling around in the company of the Mensheviks and conducting a campaign against the party of Lenin. Over that period Trotsky sustained a whole series of defeats at the hands of Lenin's party." Stalin added that previously he had rejected calls for the expulsion of people like Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Central Committee. "Perhaps, I overdid the kindness and made a mistake."
According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996): "The opposition then organized demonstrations in Moscow and Leningrad on November 7. These were the last two open demonstrations against the Stalinist regime. The GPU, of course, knew about them in advance but allowed them to take place. In Lenin's Party submitting Party differences to the judgment of the crowd was considered the greatest of crimes. The opposition had signed their own sentence. And Stalin, of course, a brilliant organizer of demonstrations himself, was well prepared. On the morning of November 7 a small crowd, most of them students, moved toward Red Square, carrying banners with opposition slogans: Let us direct our fire to the right - at the kulak and the NEP man, Long live the leaders of the World Revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev.... The procession reached Okhotny Ryad, not far from the Kremlin. Here the criminal appeal to the non-Party masses was to be made, from the balcony of the former Paris hotel. Stalin let them get on with it. Smilga and Preobrazhensky, both members of Lenin's Central Committee, draped a streamer with the slogan Back to Lenin over the balcony." However, as Robert V. Daniels has argued: "After vainly challenging the party organization in a wide-ranging controversy over the future of the proletarian dictatorship, the opposition leaders were ousted from all their party posts."
Stalin argued that there was a danger that the party would split into two opposing factions. If this happened, western countries would take advantage of the situation and invade the Soviet Union. On 14th November 1927, the Central Committee decided to expel Leon Trotsky and Gregory Zinoviev from the party. This decision was ratified by the Fifteenth Party Congress in December. The Congress also announced the removal of another 75 oppositionists, including Lev Kamenev.
The Russian historian, Roy A. Medvedev, has explained in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971): "The opposition's semi-legal and occasionally illegal activities were the main issue at the joint meeting of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission at the end of October, 1927... The Plenum decided that Trotsky and Zinoviev had broken their promise to cease factional activity. They were expelled from the Central Committee, and the forthcoming XVth Congress was directed to review the whole issue of factions and groups." Under pressure from the Central Committee, Kamenev and Zinoviev agreed to sign statements promising not to create conflict in the movement by making speeches attacking official policies. Trotsky refused to sign and was banished to the remote area of Kazhakstan.
In December 1927 it was reported to Stalin that the Soviet Union faced a severe shortfall in grain supplies. On 6th January, 1928, Stalin sent out a secret directive threatening to sack local party leaders who failed to apply "tough punishments" to those guilty of "grain hoarding". During that winter Stalin began attacking kulaks for not supplying enough food for industrial workers. He also advocated the setting up of collective farms. The proposal involved small farmers joining forces to form large-scale units. In this way, it was argued, they would be in a position to afford the latest machinery. Stalin believed this policy would lead to increased production. However, the peasants liked farming their own land and were reluctant to form themselves into state collectives.
Stalin was furious that the peasants were putting their own welfare before that of the Soviet Union. Local communist officials were given instructions to confiscate kulaks property. This land was then used to form new collective farms. There were two types of collective farms in the 1920s. The sovkhoz (land was owned by the state and the workers were hired like industrial workers) and the kolkhoz (small farms where the land was rented from the state but with an agreement to deliver a fixed quota of the harvest to the government).
Stalin's advisers told him that with the modernization of farming the Soviet Union would require an extra 250,000 tractors. As well as tractors there was also a need to develop the oil fields to provide the necessary petrol to drive the machines. Power stations also had to be built to supply the farms with electricity. Since the October Revolution industrial progress had been slow. It was only recently that production had reached the levels achieved before the start of the First World War.
Stalin decided that he would use his control over the country to modernize the economy. The first Five Year Plan that was introduced in 1928, concentrated on the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. Stalin set the workers high targets. He demanded a 111% increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron production and 335% increase in electric power. He justified these demands by claiming that if rapid industrialization did not take place, the Soviet Union would not be able to defend itself against an invasion from capitalist countries in the west.
Stalin blamed Nickolai Bukharin and the New Economic Policy for these failures in agriculture. Bukharin feared that he would be removed from power and made overtures to Lev Kamenev to prevent this. "The disagreements between us and Stalin are many times more serious than the ones we had with you. We (those of the right of the party) wanted Kamenev and Zinoviev restored to the Politburo." This placed Bukharin in great danger as Stalin's agents were listening to his telephone conversations.
Bukharin also wrote an article, Notes of an Economist, where he criticised what he called "super-industrialisation". According to Bukharin, this policy was "Trotskyist and anti-Leninist". He argued that only a "balanced, steady relationship between the interests of industry and agriculture would secure healthy economic development". Stalin disagreed with Bukharin. He believed that fast industrial progress would provide military security. Stalin felt so strongly about this that he was willing to crush anyone who stood in the way of the policy.
Bukharin also clashed with Stalin over foreign policy. At the Comintern's Sixth Congress in July 1928, Stalin declared that anti-communist socialists in Europe (members of labour and social-democratic parties) were the deadliest enemies of socialism and described them as "social-fascists". Bukharin wanted communists and socialists to unite against the fascist menace in Italy and Germany. However, Stalin had little difficulty in persuading the rest of the Politburo that he was right.
Every factory had large display boards erected that showed the output of workers. Those that failed to reach the required targets were publicity criticized and humiliated. Some workers could not cope with this pressure and absenteeism increased. This led to even more repressive measures being introduced. Records were kept of workers' lateness, absenteeism and bad workmanship. If the worker's record was poor, he was accused of trying to sabotage the Five Year Plan and if found guilty could be shot or sent to work as forced labour on the Baltic Sea Canal or the Siberian Railway.
Ivar Smilga and Karl Radek gave support to Stalin's policy of collectivization in 1929. As Roy A. Medvedev, the author of Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) has pointed out: "Stalin produced a split among the Trotskyites in the spring of 1929, when some of them (Smilga and Radek, for example) decided to support Stalin on the grounds that he was adopting their program of an offensive against the kulaks and a swift rate of industrialization. Trotsky himself strongly opposed Stalin's new policies, declaring that they had nothing in common with the earlier proposals of his own group."
In November, 1929, Nickolai Bukharin, was removed from the Politburo. Stalin now decided to declare war on the kulaks. The following month he made a speech where he argued: "Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production with the production of kolkhozes and sovkhozes… Now dekulakisation is being undertaken by the masses of the poor and middling peasant masses themselves, who are realising total collectivisation. Now dekulakisation in the areas of total collectivisation is not just a simple administrative measure. Now dekulakisation is an integral part of the creation and development of collective farms. When the head is cut off, no one wastes tears on the hair."
On 30th January 1930 the Politburo approved the liquidation of kulaks as a class. Vyacheslav Molotov was put in charge of the operation. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), the kulaks were divided into three categories: "The first category… to be immediately eliminated; the second to be imprisoned in camps; the third, 150,000 households, to be deported. Molotov oversaw the death squads, the railway carriages, the concentration camps like a military commander. Between five and seven million people ultimately fitted into the three categories." Thousands of kulaks were executed and an estimated five million were deported to Siberia or Central Asia. Of these, approximately twenty-five per cent perished by the time they reached their destination.
During 1930 this policy led to 2,200 rebellions involving more than 800,000 people. Lazar Kaganovich and Anastas Mikoyan led expeditions into the countryside with "brigades of OGPU troopers and armoured trains like warlords". Lavrenti Beria, who was involved in this operation, recalled: "When we Bolsheviks want to get something done, we close our eyes to everything else."
The kulaks responded by destroying their own livestock. The Russian historian, Roy A. Medvedev, has argued in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971): "Influenced by kulak agitation, many peasants, before joining the collective farms, began to slaughter their livestock: cows, sheep, pigs, even poultry. Just in February and March, 1930 around 14 million head of cattle were destroyed; also one-third of all pigs and one-fourth of all sheep and goats." The government decreed that kulak property could be confiscated if they destroyed livestock, but the killing continued.
With the modernization of industry, Stalin argued that it was necessary to pay higher wages to certain workers in order to encourage increased output. His left-wing opponents claimed that this inequality was a betrayal of socialism and would create a new class system in the Soviet Union. Stalin had his way and during the 1930s, the gap between the wages of the labourers and the skilled workers increased.
Stalin gave instructions that concentration camps should not just be for social rehabilitation of prisoners but also for what they could contribute to the gross domestic product. This included using forced labour for the mining of gold and timber hewing. Stalin ordered Vladimir Menzhinski, the chief of the OGPU, to create a permanent organisational framework that would allow for prisoners to contribute to the success of the Five Year Plan. People sent to these camps included members of outlawed political parties, nationalists and priests.
Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004), has pointed out: "During the First Five Year Plan the USSR underwent drastic change. Ahead lay campaigns to spread collective farms and eliminate kulaks, clerics and private traders. The political system would become harsher. Violence would be pervasive. The Russian Communist Party, OGPU and People's Commissariat would consolidate their power. Remnants of former parties would be eradicated… The Gulag, which was the network of labour camps subject to the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), would be expanded and would become an indispensable sector of the Soviet economy… A great influx of people from the villages would take place as factories and mines sought to fill their labour forces. Literacy schemes would be given huge state funding… Enthusiasm for the demise of political, social and cultural compromise would be cultivated. Marxism-Leninism would be intensively propagated. The change would be the work of Stalin and his associates in the Kremlin. Theirs would be the credit and theirs the blame."
On 2nd March, 1930, Stalin declared in Pravda that collectivization was a great success. He announced that 55% of USSR agricultural households were working in collective farms. However, he did not reveal that peasant communities in Ukraine, the north Caucasus and central Asia, had taken up arms against collectivization. The Red Army was able to suppress these risings but the resentment felt by rural workers resulted in a decline of productivity.
Eugene Lyons was an American journalist who was fairly sympathetic to the Soviet government. On 22nd November, 1930, Stalin selected him to be the first western journalist to be granted an interview. It took place on 22nd November, 1930. Lyons claimed that: "One cannot live in the shadow of Stalin's legend without coming under its spell. My pulse, I am sure, was high. No sooner, however, had I stepped across the threshold than diffidence and nervousness fell away. Stalin met me at the door and shook hands, smiling. There was a certain shyness in his smile and the handshake was not perfunctory. He was remarkably unlike the scowling, self-important dictator of popular imagination. His every gesture was a rebuke to the thousand little bureaucrats who had inflicted their puny greatness upon me in these Russian years.... At such close range, there was not a trace of the Napoleonic quality one sees in his self-conscious camera or oil portraits. The shaggy mustache, framing a sensual mouth and a smile nearly as full of teeth as Teddy Roosevelt's, gave his swarthy face a friendly, almost benignant look."
Walter Duranty was furious when he heard that Stalin had granted Lyons this interview. He protested to the Soviet Press office that as the longest-serving Western correspondent in the country it was unfair not to give him an interview as well. A week after the interview Duranty was also granted an interview. Stalin told him that after the Russian Revolution the capitalist countries could have crushed the Bolsheviks: "But they waited too long. It is now too late." Stalin commented that the United States had no choice but to watch "socialism grow".
Duranty argued that unlike Leon Trotsky Stalin was not gifted with any great intelligence, but "he had nevertheless outmaneuvered this brilliant member of the intelligentsia". On 18th January, 1931, he wrote in the New York Times: "Stalin has created a great Frankenstein monster, of which... he has become an integral part, made of comparatively insignificant and mediocre individuals, but whose mass desires, aims, and appetites have an enormous and irresistible power. I hope it is not true, and I devoutly hope so, but it haunts me unpleasantly. And perhaps haunts Stalin."
Some people complained that the Soviet Union was being industrialized too fast. Isaac Deutscher quoted Stalin as saying: "No comrades... the pace must not be slackened! On the contrary, we must quicken it as much as is within our powers and possibilities. To slacken the pace would mean to lag behind; and those who lag behind are beaten.... The history of old Russia... was that she was ceaselessly beaten for her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol Khans, she was beaten by Turkish Beys, she was beaten by Swedish feudal lords, she was beaten by Polish-Lithuanian Pans, she was beaten by Anglo-French capitalists, she was beaten by Japanese barons, she was beaten by all - for her backwardness... We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. we must make good this lag in years. Either we do it or they crush us."
In the summer of 1932 Martemyan Ryutin wrote a 200 page analysis of Stalin's policies and dictatorial tactics, Stalin and the Crisis of the Proletarian Dictatorship. Ryutin argues: "The party and the dictatorship of the proletariat have been led into an unknown blind alley by Stalin and his retinue and are now living through a mortally dangerous crisis. With the help of deception and slander, with the help of unbelievable pressures and terror, Stalin in the last five years has sifted out and removed from the leadership all the best, genuinely Bolshevik party cadres, has established in the VKP(b) and in the whole country his personal dictatorship, has broken with Leninism, has embarked on a path of the most ungovernable adventurism and wild personal arbitrariness."
Ryutin then went onto making a very personal attack on Stalin: "To place the name of Stalin alongside the names of Marx, Engels and Lenin means to mock at Marx, Engels and Lenin. It means to mock at the proletariat. It means to lose all shame, to overstep all hounds of baseness. To place the name of Lenin alongside the name of Stalin is like placing Mt. Elbrus alongside a heap of dung. To place the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin alongside the works of Stalin is like placing the music of such great composers as Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and others alongside the music of a street organ grinder... Lenin was a leader but not a dictator. Stalin, on the contrary, is a dictator but not a leader."
Ryutin did not only blame Stalin for the problems facing the Soviet Union: "The entire top leadership of the Party leadership, beginning with Stalin and ending with the secretaries of the provincial committees are, on the whole, fully aware that they are breaking with Leninism, that they are perpetrating violence against both the Party and non-Party masses, that they are killing the cause of socialism. However, they have become so tangled up, have brought about such a situation, have reached such a dead-end, such a vicious circle, that they themselves are incapable of breaking out of it... The mistakes of Stalin and his clique have turned into crimes.... In the struggle to destroy Stalin's dictatorship, we must in the main rely not on the old leaders but on new forces. These forces exist, these forces will quickly grow. New leaders will inevitably arise, new organizers of the masses, new authorities. A struggle gives birth to leaders and heroes. We must begin to take action."
Ryutin also wrote up a short synopsis of the work and called it a manifesto and circulated it to friends. General Yan Berzin obtained a copy and called a meeting of his most trusted staff to discuss and denounce the work. Walter Krivitsky remembers Berzen reading excerpts of the manifesto in which Ryutin called "the great agent provocateur, the destroyer of the Party" and "the gravedigger of the revolution and of Russia."
John Archibald Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, the authors of The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 (2010) have argued: "This manifesto of the Union of Marxist-Leninists was a multifaceted, direct, and trenchant critique of virtually all of Stalin's policies, his methods of rule, and his personality. The Ryutin Platform, drafted in March, was discussed and rewritten over the next few months. At an underground meeting of Ryutin's group in a village in the Moscow suburbs on 21 August 1932, the document was finalized by an editorial committee of the Union.... At a subsequent meeting, the leaders decided to circulate the platform secretly from hand to hand and by mail. Numerous copies were made and circulated in Moscow, Kharkov, and other cities. It is not clear how widely the Ryutin Platform was spread, nor do we know how many party members actually read it or even heard of it. The evidence we do have, however, suggests that the Stalin regime reacted to it in fear and panic."
Stalin interpreted Ryutin's manifesto as a call for his assassination. When the issue was discussed at the Politburo, Stalin demanded that the critics should be arrested and executed. Stalin also attacked those who were calling for the readmission of Leon Trotsky to the party. The Leningrad Party chief, Sergy Kirov, who up to this time had been a staunch Stalinist, argued against this policy. Kirov also gained support from Stalin's old friend, Gregory Ordzhonikidze. When the vote was taken, the majority of the Politburo supported Kirov against Stalin. It is claimed that Stalin never forgave Kirov and Ordzhonikidze for this betrayal.
On 22nd September, 1932, Martemyan Ryutin was arrested and held for investigation. During the investigation Ryutin admitted that he had been opposed to Stalin's policies since 1928. On 27th September, Ryutin and his supporters were expelled from the Communist Party. Ryutin was also found guilty of being an "enemy of the people" and was sentenced to a 10 years in prison. Soon afterwards Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev were expelled from the party for failing to report the existence of Ryutin's report. Ryutin and his two sons, Vassily and Vissarion were later both executed.
The journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, discovered the existence of widespread famine in the Soviet Union in 1933. He knew that his reports would be censored and so he sent them out of the country in the British diplomatic bag. On 25th March 1933, the Manchester Guardian published Muggeridge's report: "I mean starving in its absolute sense; not undernourished as, for example, most Oriental peasants... and some unemployed workers in Europe, but having had for weeks next to nothing to eat." Muggeridge quoted one peasant as saying: "We have nothing. They have taken everything away." Muggeridge supported this view: "It was true. The famine is an organized one." He went to Kuban where he saw well-fed troops being used to coerce peasant starving to death. Muggeridge argued it was "a military occupation; worse, active war" against the peasants.
Muggeridge travelled to Rostov-on-Don and found further examples of mass starvation. He claimed that many of the peasants had bodies swollen from hunger, and there was an "all-pervading sight and smell of death." When he asked why they did not have enough to eat, the inevitable answer came that the food had been taken by the government. Muggeridge reported on 28th March: "To say that there is a famine in some of the most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth; there is not only famine but - in the case of the North Caucasus at least - a state of war, a military occupation."
On 31st March, 1933, The Evening Standard carried a report by Gareth Jones: "The main result of the Five Year Plan has been the tragic ruin of Russian agriculture. This ruin I saw in its grim reality. I tramped through a number of villages in the snow of March. I saw children with swollen bellies. I slept in peasants’ huts, sometimes nine of us in one room. I talked to every peasant I met, and the general conclusion I draw is that the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year’s time its condition will have worsened tenfold... The Five-Year Plan has built many fine factories. But it is bread that makes factory wheels go round, and the Five-Year Plan has destroyed the bread-supplier of Russia."
Eugene Lyons, the Moscow correspondent of the United Press International pointed out in in his autobiography, Assignment in Utopia (1937): "On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information. In any case, we all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. But the inquiries coincided with preparations under way for the trial of the British engineers. The need to remain on friendly terms with the censors at least for the duration of the trial was for all of us a compelling professional necessity."
Lyons and his friend Walter Duranty, who were both supporters of Stalin, decided to try and undermine these reports by Jones. Lyons told Bassow Whitman, the author of The Moscow Correspondents: Reporting on Russia from the Revolution to Glasnost (1988): "We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in roundabout phrases that damned Jones a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka."
Duranty published an article, Russians Hungry But Not Starving, in the New York Times on 31st March 1933, where he argued that there was a conspiracy in the agricultural sector by "wreckers" and "spoilers" had "made a mess of Soviet food production". However, he did admit that the Soviet government had made some harsh decisions: "To put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevik leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socialism as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction." Duranty then went on to criticize Gareth Jones. He admitted that there had been "serious food shortages" but Jones was wrong to suggest that the Soviet Union was enduring a famine: "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition, especially in the Ukraine, North Caucasus, and Lower Volga." He then went on to claim that Jones description of famine in the Soviet Union was an example of "wishful thinking".
Eugene Lyons has argued: "Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes - but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials."
Gareth Jones wrote to the New York Times complaining about Duranty's article in the newspaper. He pointed out that he was not guilty of "the strange suggestion that I was forecasting the doom of the Soviet regime, a forecast I have never ventured". Jones argued that he had visited over twenty villages where he had seen incredible suffering. He accused journalists such as Duranty and Lyons of being turned "into masters of euphemism and understatement". Jones said that they had given "famine" the polite name of "food shortage" and "starving to death" is softened to read as "wide-spread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition".
Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990) has argued that Lyon's record on the famine was appalling: "He had been among the earliest to hear of it, suggested at first by the investigations of his own secretary and confirmed later by the findings of Barnes and Stoneman. But Lyons declined to go into the famine-stricken area.... The zealous Lyons fulminated about moral and ethical issues, but he had shown little inclination himself to interrupt what was an unusually successful social life in Moscow."
Walter Duranty and Eugene Lyons were not the only journalists in the Soviet Union who attacked Gareth Jones for his account of the famine. Louis Fischer questioned Jones estimate of a million dead: "Who counted them? How could anyone march through a country and count a million people? Of course people are hungry there - desperately hungry. Russia is turning over from agriculture to industrialism. It's like a man going into business on small capital."
Arthur Koestler lived in the winter of 1932-33 in Kharkiv in the Ukraine. When he visited the countryside he saw starving young children that looked like "embryos out of alcohol bottles." Traveling through the countryside by rail was "like running the gauntlet; the stations were lined with begging peasants with swollen hands and feet, the women holding up to the carriage-windows horrible infants with enormous wobbling heads, stick-like limbs, swollen, pointed bellies." Later the Soviet authorities began to require that the shades of all windows be pulled down on trains traveling through the famine areas. To Koestler, it was most unreal to see the local newspapers full of reports of industrial progress and successful shock workers, but "not one word about the local famine, epidemics, the dying out of whole ' villages.... The enormous land was covered with a blanket of silence."
Victor Kravchenko was a soviet official who witnessed these events: "People dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables. There was not even the consolation of inevitability to relieve the horror.... Everywhere were found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless."
William Henry Chamberlin was eventually allowed into Kuban that autumn. On 13th September, 1933, Chamberlain argued in the Christian Science Monitor: "The whole North Caucasus is now engaged in the task of getting in the richest harvest of years, and shows few outward signs of recent poor crops." However, Chamberlain told officials at the British Embassy that he estimated that two million had died in Kazakhstan, a half a million in the North Caucasus, and two million in the Ukraine. Historians have estimated that as many as seven million people died during this period. Journalists based in Moscow were willing to accept the word of the Soviet authorities for their information. Walter Duranty even told his friend, Hubert Knickerbocker, that the reported famine "is mostly bunk".
On 16th May 1934, Joseph Stalin called for the Central Committee of the Communist Party to take action in controlling the teaching of history in the Soviet Union. As David R. Egan pointed out in Joseph Stalin (2007), this action "eventually led to the rewriting of Russian history and a new phase in Soviet historiography". This resulted in "the standardization of history textbooks and the difficulties faced by authors in their efforts to write new textbooks to the satisfaction of the special commission established by the party's Central Committee to oversee the textbook project."
At the 17th Party Congress in 1934, when Sergey Kirov stepped up to the podium he was greeted by spontaneous applause that equalled that which was required to be given to Stalin. In his speech he put forward a policy of reconciliation. He argued that people should be released from prison who had opposed the government's policy on collective farms and industrialization. The members of the Congress gave Kirov a vote of confidence by electing him to the influential Central Committee Secretariat. Stalin grew jealous of Kirov's popularity. As Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "In sharp contrast to Stalin, Kirov was a much younger man and an eloquent speaker, who was able to sway his listeners; above all, he possessed a charismatic personality. Unlike Stalin who was a Georgian, Kirov was also an ethnic Russian, which stood in his favour."
Kirov put forward a policy of reconciliation. He argued that people should be released from prison who had opposed the government's policy on collective farms and industrialization. Once again, Stalin found himself in a minority in the Politburo. After years of arranging for the removal of his opponents from the party, Stalin realized he still could not rely on the total support of the people whom he had replaced them with. Stalin no doubt began to wonder if Kirov was willing to wait for his mentor to die before becoming leader of the party. Stalin was particularly concerned by Kirov's willingness to argue with him in public, fearing that this would undermine his authority in the party.
As usual, that summer Kirov and Stalin went on holiday together. Stalin, who treated Kirov like a son, used this opportunity to try to persuade him to remain loyal to his leadership. Stalin asked him to leave Leningrad to join him in Moscow. Stalin wanted Kirov in a place where he could keep a close eye on him. When Kirov refused, Stalin knew he had lost control over his protégé.As usual, that summer Kirov and Stalin went on holiday together. Stalin, who treated Kirov like a son, used this opportunity to try to persuade him to remain loyal to his leadership. Stalin asked him to leave Leningrad to join him in Moscow. Stalin wanted Kirov in a place where he could keep a close eye on him. When Kirov refused, Stalin knew he had lost control over his protégé. According to Alexander Orlov, who had been told this by Genrikh Yagoda, Stalin decided that Kirov had to die.
Yagoda assigned the task to Vania Zaporozhets, one of his trusted lieutenants in the NKVD. He selected a young man, Leonid Nikolayev, as a possible candidate. Nikolayev had recently been expelled from the Communist Party and had vowed his revenge by claiming that he intended to assassinate a leading government figure. Zaporozhets met Nikolayev and when he discovered he was of low intelligence and appeared to be a person who could be easily manipulated, he decided that he was the ideal candidate as assassin.
Zaporozhets provided him with a pistol and gave him instructions to kill Kirov in the Smolny Institute in Leningrad. However, soon after entering the building he was arrested. Zaporozhets had to use his influence to get him released. On 1st December, 1934, Nikolayev, got past the guards and was able to shoot Kirov dead. Nikolayev was immediately arrested and after being tortured by Genrikh Yagoda he signed a statement saying that Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev had been the leaders of the conspiracy to assassinate Kirov.
According to Alexander Orlov: "Stalin decided to arrange for the assassination of Kirov and to lay the crime at the door of the former leaders of the opposition and thus with one blow do away with Lenin's former comrades. Stalin came to the conclusion that, if he could prove that Zinoviev and Kamenev and other leaders of the opposition had shed the blood of Kirov". Victor Kravchenko has pointed out: "Hundreds of suspects in Leningrad were rounded up and shot summarily, without trial. Hundreds of others, dragged from prison cells where they had been confined for years, were executed in a gesture of official vengeance against the Party's enemies. The first accounts of Kirov's death said that the assassin had acted as a tool of dastardly foreigners - Estonian, Polish, German and finally British. Then came a series of official reports vaguely linking Nikolayev with present and past followers of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other dissident old Bolsheviks."
Leonid Nikolayev was executed after his trial but Zinoviev and Kamenev refused to confess. Ya S. Agranov, the deputy commissar of the secret police, reported to Stalin he was not able to prove that they had been directly involved in the assassination. Therefore in January 1935 they were tried and convicted only for "moral complicity" in the crime. "That is, their opposition had created a climate in which others were incited to violence." Zinoviev was sentenced to ten years hard labour, Kamenev to five.
Genrikh Yagoda now had the task of persuading Kamenev and Zinoviev to confess to their role in the death of Kirov as part of the plot to assassinate Stalin and other leaders of government. When they refused to do this Stalin had a new provision enacted into law on 8th April 1935 which would enable him to exert additional leverage over his enemies. The new law decreed that children of the age of twelve and over who were found guilty of crimes would be subjected to the same punishment as adults, up to and including the death penalty. This provision provided NKVD with the means by which they could coerce a confession from a political dissident simply by claiming that false charges would be brought against their children.
Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001), claims that Alexander Orlov later admitted: "In the months preceding the trial, the two men were subjected to every conceivable form of interrogation: subtle pressure, then periods of enormous pressure, starvation, open and veiled threats, promises, as well as physical and mental torture. Neither man would succumb to the ordeal they faced." Stalin was frustrated by Stalin's lack of success and brought in Nikolai Yezhov to carry out the interrogations.
Orlov, who was a leading figure in the NKVD, later admitted what happened. "Towards the end of their ordeal, Zinoviev became sick and exhausted. Yezhov took advantage of the situation in a desperate attempt to get a confession. Yezhov warned that Zinoviev must affirm at a public trial that he had plotted the assassination of Stalin and other members of the Politburo. Zinoviev declined the demand. Yezhov then relayed Stalin's offer; that if he co-operated at an open trial, his life would be spared; if he did not, he would be tried in a closed military court and executed, along with all of the opposition. Zinoviev vehemently rejected Stalin's offer. Yezhov then tried the same tactics on Kamenev and again was rebuffed."
In July 1936 Yezhov told Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev that their children would be charged with being part of the conspiracy and would face execution if found guilty. The two men now agreed to co-operate at the trial if Stalin promised to spare their lives. At a meeting with Stalin, Kamenev told him that they would agree to co-operate on the condition that none of the old-line Bolsheviks who were considered the opposition and charged at the new trial would be executed, that their families would not be persecuted, and that in the future none of the former members of the opposition would be subjected to the death penalty. Stalin replied: "That goes without saying!"
The trial opened on 19th August 1936. Five of the sixteen defendants were actually NKVD plants, whose confessional testimony was expected to solidify the state's case by exposing Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other defendants as their fellow conspirators. The presiding judge was Vasily Ulrikh, a member of the secret police. The prosecutor was Andrei Vyshinsky, who was to become well-known during the Show Trials over the next few years.
Yuri Piatakov accepted the post of chief witness "with all my heart." Max Shachtman pointed out: "The official indictment charges a widespread assassination conspiracy, carried on these five years or more, directed against the head of the Communist party and the government, organized with the direct connivance of the Hitler regime, and aimed at the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in Russia. And who are included in these stupefying charges, either as direct participants or, what would be no less reprehensible, as persons with knowledge of the conspiracy who failed to disclose it?"
The men made confessions of their guilt. Lev Kamenev said: "I Kamenev, together with Zinoviev and Trotsky, organised and guided this conspiracy. My motives? I had become convinced that the party's - Stalin's policy - was successful and victorious. We, the opposition, had banked on a split in the party; but this hope proved groundless. We could no longer count on any serious domestic difficulties to allow us to overthrow. Stalin's leadership we were actuated by boundless hatred and by lust of power."
Gregory Zinoviev also confessed: "I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned as scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky."
Kamenev's final words in the trial concerned the plight of his children: "I should like to say a few words to my children. I have two children, one is an army pilot, the other a Young Pioneer. Whatever my sentence may be, I consider it just... Together with the people, follow where Stalin leads." This was a reference to the promise that Stalin made about his sons.
On 24th August, 1936, Vasily Ulrikh entered the courtroom and began reading the long and dull summation leading up to the verdict. Ulrikh announced that all sixteen defendants were sentenced to death by shooting. Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "Those in attendance fully expected the customary addendum which was used in political trials that stipulated that the sentence was commuted by reason of a defendant's contribution to the Revolution. These words never came, and it was apparent that the death sentence was final when Ulrikh placed the summation on his desk and left the court-room."
The following day Soviet newspapers carried the announcement that all sixteen defendants had been put to death. This included the NKVD agents who had provided false confessions. Joseph Stalin could not afford for any witnesses to the conspiracy to remain alive. Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out that Stalin did not even keep his promise to Kamenev's sons and later both men were shot.
Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent based in Moscow, was willing to accept this story. "The details of Kirov's assassination at first pointed to a personal motive, which may indeed have existed, but investigation showed that, as commonly happens in such cases, the assassin Nikolaiev had been made the instrument of forces whose aims were treasonable and political. A widespread plot against the Kremlin was discovered, whose ramifications included not merely former oppositionists but agents of the Nazi Gestapo. As the investigation continued, the Kremlin's conviction deepened that Trotsky and his friends abroad had built up an anti-Stalinist organisation in close collaboration with their associates in Russia, who formed a nucleus or centre around which gradually rallied divers elements of discontent and disloyalty. The actual conspirators were comparatively few in number, but as the plot thickened they did not hesitate to seek the aid of foreign enemies in order to compensate for the lack of popular support at home."
Robin Page Arnot, a member of the British Communist Party, also did his best to promote the theory that the conspiracy to kill Kirov had been led by Leon Trotsky: "In December 1934 one of the groups carried through the assassination of Sergei Mironovich Kirov, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Subsequent investigations revealed that behind the first group of assassins was a second group, an Organisation of Trotskyists headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev. Further investigations brought to light definite counter-revolutionary activities of the Rights (Bukharin-Rykov organisations) and their joint working with the Trotskyists."
Most journalists covering the trial were convinced that the confessions were statements of truth. The Observer reported: "It is futile to think the trial was staged and the charges trumped up. The government's case against the defendants (Zinoviev and Kamenev) is genuine." The The New Statesman commented: "Very likely there was a plot. We complain because, in the absence of independent witnesses, there is no way of knowing. It is their (Zinoviev and Kamenev) confession and decision to demand the death sentence for themselves that constitutes the mystery. If they had a hope of acquittal, why confess? If they were guilty of trying to murder Stalin and knew they would be shot in any case, why cringe and crawl instead of defiantly justifying their plot on revolutionary grounds? We would be glad to hear the explanation."
Walter Duranty was the New York Times journalist based in Moscow. He wrote in the The New Republic that while watching the trial he came to the conclusion "that the confessions are true". Based on these comments the editor of the journal argued: "Some commentators, writing at a long distance from the scene, profess doubt that the executed men (Zinoviev and Kamenev) were guilty. It is suggested that they may have participated in a piece of stage play for the sake of friends or members of their families, held by the Soviet government as hostages and to be set free in exchange for this sacrifice. We see no reason to accept any of these laboured hypotheses, or to take the trial in other than its face value. Foreign correspondents present at the trial pointed out that the stories of these sixteen defendants, covering a series of complicated happenings over nearly five years, corroborated each other to an extent that would be quite impossible if they were not substantially true. The defendants gave no evidence of having been coached, parroting confessions painfully memorized in advance, or of being under any sort of duress."
Eugene Lyons, the author of Workers’ Paradise Lost: Fifty Years of Soviet Communism: A Balance Sheet (1967) argued: "Somewhere along the line, however, Stalin apparently decided to join the anti-Semitic tide instead of fighting it. His inborn anti-Semitism had been exacerbated by the bitter struggle with Trotsky and his chief associates, many of them also Jews. He came to abhor intellectuals in general and Jewish intellectuals in particular. His alliance with Hitler was marked by the immediate expulsion of virtually all Jews from high office in the diplomatic and military services and from the higher reaches in the Soviet elites generally. Essentially this condition still prevails."
Leon Trotsky, who was living in exile in Mexico City, was furious with Duranty and described him as a "hypocritical psychologist" who tried to explain away the terrors of the regime with "glib and facile phrases." Trotsky condemned Joseph Stalin "for betraying socialism and dishonoring the revolution" and describing the leadership as being "dominated by a clique which holds the people in subjection by oppression and terror." The trial, Trotsky claimed was a "frame-up" that lacked "objectivity and impartiality" and volunteered to go before an international commission to prove his innocence."
In September, 1936, Stalin appointed Nikolai Yezhov as head of the NKVD, the Communist Secret Police. Yezhov quickly arranged the arrest of all the leading political figures in the Soviet Union who were critical of Stalin. The Secret Police broke prisoners down by intense interrogation. This included the threat to arrest and execute members of the prisoner's family if they did not confess. The interrogation went on for several days and nights and eventually they became so exhausted and disoriented that they signed confessions agreeing that they had been attempting to overthrow the government.
Lazar Kaganovich blamed his opponents, Leon Trotsky, Nickolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov and Maihail Tomsky, for the change in his behaviour. He argued: "In the early years Stalin was a soft individual... Under Lenin and after Lenin. He went through a lot... In the early years after Lenin died, when he came to power, they all attacked Stalin. He endured a lot in the struggle with Trotsky. Then his supposed friends Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky also attacked him. It was difficult to avoid getting cruel."
On 26th August 1936 Joseph Stalin appointed Alexander Orlov as the Soviet Politburo adviser to the Popular Front government. The following month Orlov travelled to Spain and was given considerable authority by the Republican administration during the Spanish Civil War. His official assignment was to organize intelligence and counter- intelligence activities and guerrilla warfare in the territory under the control of General Francisco Franco. Stalin also sent large quantities of Soviet tanks and aircraft to the Republicans. They were accompanied by a large number of tank-drivers and pilots from the Soviet Union. All told, about 850 Soviet advisers, pilots, technical personnel and interpreters took part in the war.
Orlov and his NKVD agents had the unofficial task of eliminating the supporters of Leon Trotsky fighting for the Republican Army and the International Brigades. This included the arrest and execution of leaders of the Worker's Party (POUM), National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT) and the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996) has pointed out: "Stalin had a secret and extremely important aim in Spain: to eliminate the supporters of Trotsky who had gathered from all over the world to fight for the Spanish revolution. NKVD men, and Comintern agents loyal to Stalin, accused the Trotskyists of espionage and ruthlessly executed them." Orlov later claimed that "the decision to perform an execution abroad, a rather risky affair, was up to Stalin personally. If he ordered it, a so-called mobile brigade was dispatched to carry it out. It was too dangerous to operate through local agents who might deviate later and start to talk."
Alexander Orlov also organized the transfer of about 70 per cent of Spain's gold reserves to Russia for "safe-keeping". At the time Spain had the fourth largest reserves in the world (worth nearly $800 million) as a result of the trade boom during the First World War. Orlov's men were given false papers that suggested the gold was being moved by the Bank of America: "If the anarchists intercepted my men, Russians with truckloads of Spanish gold, they would kill my men, and it would be a tremendous political scandal all over the world, and it might even create an internal revolution." On its arrival in Moscow, Stalin was said to have remarked that "the Spaniards will never see their gold again, just as one cannot see one's own ears".
Lavrenti Beria started plotting against Stalin's old friend, Gregory Ordzhonikidze. In December 1936 Beria arrested Papulia Ordzhonikidze, Sergo's elder brother, a railway official. His other brother, Valiko, was sacked from his job in the Tiflis Soviet for claiming that Papulia was innocent. Ordzhonikidze's home was searched by the NKVD. Ordzhonikidze complained to Anastas Mikoyan: "I don't understand why Stalin doesn't trust me... I'm completely loyal to him, don't want to fight with him. Beria's schemes play a large part in this - he gives Stalin the wrong information but Stalin trusts him." Ordzhonikidze added that he could not understand how "he could put honest men in prison and then shoot them for sabotage".
According to Adam B. Ulam, the author of Stalin: The Man and his Era (2007): "In Party circles Ordzhonikidze enjoyed genuine popularity. Unlike Molotov or Kaganovich, he was reputed on occasion to stand up to Stalin and to try to soften his cruel disposition. It is quite possible that the very fact of their early intimacy, the memory of the pre-Revolution days when Ordzhonikidze ranked him in the Party, now grated on Stalin. Later on it was alleged that the tyrant's new favorite, then head of the Transcaucasian Party, Lavrenti Beria, had for a long time intrigued against Ordzhonikidze and worked systematically to arouse Stalin's suspicions against him. Beria's rise was enhanced by the very fact that those who knew him, like Ordzhonikidze, considered him a scoundrel and advised Stalin accordingly: a man like that had to be personally loyal; perhaps the very hostility against him was prompted by fear that he would unmask their intrigues, tell Stalin what they were saying behind his back."
On 17th February 1937 the NKVD searched Ordzhonikidze's offices. He complained to Stalin but he replied that it was just a routine investigation. The following morning Ordzhonikidze committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Within an hour Joseph Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Andrei Zhdanov, Kliment Voroshilov, Lazar Kaganovich, Lavrenty Beria and Nikolai Yezhov arrived at the apartment. However, Beria soon left after he was physically attacked by Ordzhonikidze wife, Zinaida.
Stalin insisted that the press be told that Ordzhonikidze had died of a heart attack. Zinaida protested that "No one will believe that. Sergo loved the truth. The truth must be printed." Stalin was insistent and on the 19th February, 1937, the newspapers announced the death of Sergo by heart attack. Four doctors signed the bulletin: "At 17.30, while he was having his afternoon rest, he suddenly felt ill and a few minutes later died of paralysis of the heart." Within a few weeks three of the four doctors were dead, including Grigory Kaminsky, the Commissar for Health, who was executed.
Nikolai Yezhov established a new section of the NKVD named the Administration of Special Tasks (AST). It contained about 300 of his own trusted men from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Yezhov's intention was complete control of the NKVD by using men who could be expected to carry out sensitive assignments without any reservations. The new AST operatives would have no allegiance to any members of the old NKVD and would therefore have no reason not to carry out an assignment against any of one of them. The AST was used to remove all those who had knowledge of the conspiracy to destroy Stalin's rivals. One of the first to be arrested was Genrikh Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD.
Within the administration of the ADT, a clandestine unit called the Mobile Groups had been created to deal with the ever increasing problem of possible NKVD defectors, as officers serving abroad were beginning to see that the arrest of people like Yagoda, their former chief, would mean that they might be next in line. By the summer of 1937, an alarming number of intelligence agents serving abroad were summoned back to the Soviet Union. Most of those, including Theodore Mally, were executed.
Ignaz Reiss was an NKVD agent serving in Belgium when he was summoned back to the Soviet Union. Reiss had the advantage of having his wife and daughter with him when he decided to defect to France. In July 1937 he sent a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Paris explaining his decision to break with the Soviet Union because he no longer supported the views of Stalin's counter-revolution and wanted to return to the freedom and teachings of Lenin. Orlov learnt of this letter from a close contact in France.
According to Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001): "On learning that Reiss had disobeyed the order to return and intended to defect, an enraged Stalin ordered that an example be made of his case so as to warn other KGB officers against taking steps in the same direction. Stalin reasoned that any betrayal by KGB officers would not only expose the entire operation, but would succeed in placing the most dangerous secrets of the KGB's spy networks in the hands of the enemy's intelligence services. Stalin ordered Yezhov to dispatch a Mobile Group to find and assassinate Reiss and his family in a manner that would be sure to send an unmistakable message to any KGB officer considering Reiss's route."
Reiss was found hiding in a village near Lausanne, Switzerland. It was claimed by Alexander Orlov that a trusted Reiss family friend, Gertrude Schildback, lured Reiss to a rendezvous, where the Mobile Group killed Reiss with machine-gun fire on the evening of 4th September 1937. Schildback was arrested by the local police and at the hotel was a box of chocolates containing strychnine. It is believed these were intended for Reiss's wife and daughter.
In the Soviet Union Nickolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Krestinsky and Christian Rakovsky were arrested and accused of being involved with Leon Trotsky in a plot against Stalin. They were all found guilty and were eventually executed. In January, 1937, Yuri Piatakov, Karl Radek, Grigori Sokolnikov, and fifteen other leading members of the Communist Party were put on trial. They were accused of working with Leon Trotsky in an attempt to overthrow the Soviet government with the objective of restoring capitalism. Robin Page Arnot, a leading figure in the British Communist Party, wrote: "A second Moscow trial, held in January 1937, revealed the wider ramifications of the conspiracy. This was the trial of the Parallel Centre, headed by Piatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Serebriakov. The volume of evidence brought forward at this trial was sufficient to convince the most sceptical that these men, in conjunction with Trotsky and with the Fascist Powers, had carried through a series of abominable crimes involving loss of life and wreckage on a very considerable scale."
Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996) has pointed out: "After they saw that Piatakov was ready to collaborate in any way required, they gave him a more complicated role. In the 1937 trials he joined the defendants, those whom he had meant to blacken. He was arrested, but was at first recalcitrant. Ordzhonikidze in person urged him to accept the role assigned to him in exchange for his life. No one was so well qualified as Piatakov to destroy Trotsky, his former god and now the Party's worst enemy, in the eyes of the country and the whole world. He finally agreed I to do it as a matter of 'the highest expediency,' and began rehearsals with the interrogators."
One of the journalists covering the trial, Lion Feuchtwanger, commented: "Those who faced the court could not possibly be thought of as tormented and desperate beings. In appearance the accused were well-groomed and well-dressed men with relaxed and unconstrained manners. They drank tea, and there were newspapers sticking out of their pockets... Altogether, it looked more like a debate... conducted in conversational tones by educated people. The impression created was that the accused, the prosecutor, and the judges were all inspired by the same single - I almost said sporting - objective, to explain all that had happened with the maximum precision. If a theatrical producer had been called on to stage such a trial he would probably have needed several rehearsals to achieve that sort of teamwork among the accused."
Yuri Piatakov and twelve of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. Karl Radek and Grigori Sokolnikov were sentenced to ten years. Feuchtwanger commented that Radek "gave the condemned men a guilty smile, as though embarrassed by his luck." Maria Svanidze, who was later herself to be purged by Joseph Stalin wrote in her diary: "They arrested Radek and others whom I knew, people I used to talk to, and always trusted.... But what transpired surpassed all my expectations of human baseness. It was all there, terrorism, intervention, the Gestapo, theft, sabotage, subversion.... All out of careerism, greed, and the love of pleasure, the desire to have mistresses, to travel abroad, together with some sort of nebulous prospect of seizing power by a palace revolution. Where was their elementary feeling of patriotism, of love for their motherland? These moral freaks deserved their fate.... My soul is ablaze with anger and hatred. Their execution will not satisfy me. I should like to torture them, break them on the wheel, burn them alive for all the vile things they have done."
Stalin now decided to purge the Red Army. Some historians believe that Stalin was telling the truth when he claimed that he had evidence that the army was planning a military coup at this time. Leopold Trepper, head of the Soviet spy ring in Germany, believed that the evidence was planted by a double agent who worked for both Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Trepper's theory is that the "chiefs of Nazi counter-espionage" took "advantage of the paranoia raging in the Soviet Union," by supplying information that led to Stalin executing his top military leaders.
Stalin became convinced that the leaders of the Red Army were involved in a plot to overthrow him. In June, 1937, Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other top commanders were charged with conspiracy with Germany. William Stephenson, head of the British Security Coordination (BSC), who was aware of what was going on later pointed out: "Late in 1936, Heydrich had thirty-two documents forged to play on Stalin's sick suspicions and make him decapitate his own armed forces. The Nazi forgeries were incredibly successful. More than half the Russian officer corps, some 35,000 experienced men, were executed or banished. The Soviet chief of Staff, Marshal Tukhachevsky, was depicted as having been in regular correspondence with German military commanders. All the letters were Nazi forgeries. But Stalin took them as proof that even Tukhachevsky was spying for Germany. It was a most devastating and clever end to the Russo-German military agreement, and it left the Soviet Union in absolutely no condition to fight a major war with Hitler." Tukhachevsky was found guilty and executed on 11th June, 1937. It is estimated that 30,000 members of the armed forces were killed. This included fifty per cent of all army officers.
By the beginning of 1938, most of the intelligence officers serving abroad had been targeted for elimination had already returned to Moscow. Joseph Stalin now decided to remove another witness to his crimes, Abram Slutsky. On 17th February 1938, Slutsky was summoned to the office of Mikhail Frinovsky, one of those who worked closely with Nikolai Yezhov, the head of ADT. According to Mikhail Shpiegelglass he was called to Frinovsky's office and found him dead from a heart attack.
Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of Stalin: The Count of the Red Tsar (2004): "Yezhov was called upon to kill his own NKVD appointees whom he had protected. In early 1938, Stalin and Yezhov decided to liquidate the veteran Chekist, Abram Slutsky, but since he headed the Foreign Department, they devised a plan so as not to scare their foreign agents. On 17 February, Frinovsky invited Slutsky to his office where another of Yezhov's deputies came up behind him and drew a mask of chloroform over his face. He was then injected with poison and died right there in the office. It was officially announced that he had died of a heart attack." Two months later Slutsky was posthumously stripped of his CPSU membership and declared an enemy of the people.
Joseph Stalin told Nikolai Yezhov that he needed some help in running the NKVD and asked him to choose someone. Yezhov requested Georgy Malenkov but Stalin wanted to keep him in the Central Committee and sent him Lavrenty Beria instead. Simon Sebag Montefiore commented: "Stalin may have wanted a Caucasian, perhaps convinced that the cut-throat traditions of the mountains - blood feuds, vendettas and secret murders - suited the position. Beria was a natural, the only First Secretary who personally tortured his victims. The blackjack - the zhgtrti - and the truncheon - the dubenka - were his favourite toys. He was hated by many of the Old Bolsheviks and family members around the leader. With the whispering, plotting and vengeful Beria at his side, Stalin felt able to destroy his own polluted, intimate world."
Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004) has argued: "Yezhov understood the danger he was in and his daily routine became hectic; he knew that the slightest mistake could prove fatal. Somehow, though, he had to show himself to Stalin as indispensable. Meanwhile he also had to cope with the appointment of a new NKVD Deputy Commissar, the ambitious Lavrenti Beria, from July 1938. Beria had until then been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia; he was widely feared in the south Caucasus as a devious plotter against any rival - and almost certainly he had poisoned one of them, the Abkhazian communist leader Nestor Lakoba, in December 1936. If Yezhov tripped, Beria was ready to take his place; indeed Beria would be more than happy to trip Yezhov up. Daily collaboration with Beria was like being tied in a sack with a wild beast. The strain on Yezhov became intolerable. He took to drinking heavily and turned for solace to one-night stands with women he came across; and when this failed to satiate his needs, he pushed himself upon men he encountered in the office or at home. In so far as he was able to secure his future position, he started to gather compromising material on Stalin himself.... On 17 November the Politburo decided that enemies of the people had infiltrated the NKVD. Such measures spelled doom for Yezhov. He drank more heavily. He turned to more boyfriends for sexual gratification."
On 23rd November 1938, Lavrenty Beria replaced Nikolai Yezhov as head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Yezhov was arrested on 10th April, 1939. It is claimed by the authors of Stalin's Loyal Executioner (2002) that Yezhov quickly confessed under torture to being an "enemy of the people". This included a confession that he was an homosexual.
Nikita Khrushchev later recalled: "Beria and I started to see each other frequently at Stalin's. At first I liked him. We had friendly chats and even joked together quite a bit, but gradually his political complexion came clearly into focus. I was shocked by his sinister, two-faced, scheming hypocrisy. Soon after his transfer to Moscow, the atmosphere in the collective leadership and in Stalin's inner circle took on an entirely different character from what it had been before. It changed very much for the worse." Stalin told Khrushchev: "Before Beria arrived, dinner meetings used to be relaxed, productive affairs. Now he's always challenging people to drinking contests, and people are getting drunk all over the place." Khrushchev was always cautious when Stalin criticised people: "Even though I agreed with Stalin completely, I knew I had to watch my step in answering him. One of Stalin's favorite tricks was to provoke you into making a statement - or even agreeing with a statement - which showed your true feelings about someone else. It was perfectly clear to me. that Stalin and Beria were very close."
Stalin became increasingly concerned that the Soviet Union would be invaded by Germany. Stalin believed the best way to of dealing with Adolf Hitler was to form an anti-fascist alliance with countries in the west. Stalin argued that even Hitler would not start a war against a united Europe. Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, was not enthusiastic about forming an alliance with the Soviet Union. He wrote to a friend: "I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears."
Winston Churchill, an outspoken critic of British foreign policy, agreed with Stalin: "There is no means of maintaining an eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia. Russian interests are deeply concerned in preventing Herr Hitler's designs on eastern Europe. It should still be possible to range all the States and peoples from the Baltic to the Black sea in one solid front against a new outrage of invasion. Such a front, if established in good heart, and with resolute and efficient military arrangements, combined with the strength of the Western Powers, may yet confront Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Goebbels and co. with forces the German people would be reluctant to challenge."
Stalin's own interpretation of Britain's rejection of his plan for an antifascist alliance, was that they were involved in a plot with Germany against the Soviet Union. This belief was reinforced when Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler at Munich in September, 1938, and gave into his demands for the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Stalin now believed that the main objective of British foreign policy was to encourage Germany to head east rather than west.
Stalin realized that war with Germany was inevitable. However, to have any chance of victory he needed time to build up his armed forces. The only way he could obtain time was to do a deal with Hitler. Stalin was convinced that Hitler would not be foolish enough to fight a war on two fronts. If he could persuade Hitler to sign a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Germany was likely to invade Western Europe instead.
On 3rd May, 1939, Stalin dismissed Maxim Litvinov, his Jewish Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Litvinov had been closely associated with the Soviet Union's policy of an antifascist alliance. Meetings soon took place between Vyacheslav Molotov, Litvinov's replacement and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister. On 28th August, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed in Moscow. Under the terms of the agreement, both countries promised to remain neutral if either country became involved in a war.
Stalin now ordered the Red Army into Poland and reclaimed land lost when the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was signed in 1918. Another aspect of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that made the Soviet Union vulnerable to attack was the loss of Finland. Leningrad was only thirty-two kilometres from the Finnish border. This made Leningrad and its 3.5 million population, a potential target of artillery fire. Stalin therefore began to consider the Invasion of Finland.
After attempts to negotiate the stationing of Soviet troops in Finland failed, Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade. Adolf Hitler, who also had designs on Finland, was forced to standby and watch the Soviet Union build up its Baltic defences. It took the Soviet troops three months to force the Finnish government to agree to Stalin's original demands. Although the world was now aware of Stalin's shrewdness in foreign affairs, Finland's small army of 200,000 men had exposed the Soviet Union's poorly trained and equipped army.
Stalin believed that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union until Britain and France had been conquered. From Stalin's own calculations, this would not be until the summer of 1942. Some of his closest advisers began to argue that 1941 would be a much more likely date. The surrender of France in June, 1940, also cast doubts on Stalin's calculations.
Stalin's response to France's defeat was to send Vyacheslav Molotov to Berlin for more discussions. Molotov was instructed to draw out these talks for as long as possible. Stalin knew that if Adolf Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, he would have to wait until 1942. No one, not even someone as rash as Hitler, would invade the Soviet Union in the winter, he argued.
Germany was now in a strong negotiating position and Molotov found it impossible to agree to Hitler's demands. As soon as talks broke-up, Hitler ordered his military leaders to prepare for Operation Barbarossa. The plan was for the invasion of the Soviet Union to start on the 15th May, 1941. Hitler believed that this would give the German Army enough time to take control of the country before the harsh Soviet winter set in.
Information on the proposed invasion came to Stalin from various sources. Richard Sorge, an agent working for the Red Orchestra in Japan, obtained information about the proposed invasion as early as December, 1940. Winston Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin in April, 1941, explaining how German troop movements suggested that they were about to attack the Soviet Union. However, Stalin was still suspicious of the British and thought that Churchill was trying to trick him into declaring war on Germany.
When Sorge's prediction that Germany would invade in May, 1941, did not take place, Stalin became even more convinced that the war would not start until 1942. The reason for this delay was that Germany had invaded Yugoslavia in April. Adolf Hitler had expected the Yugoslavs to surrender immediately but because of stubborn resistance, Hitler had to postpone Operation Barbarossa for a few weeks.
On 21st June, 1941, a German sergeant deserted to the Soviet forces. He informed them that the German Army would attack at dawn the following morning. Stalin was reluctant to believe the soldier's story and it was not until the German attack took place that he finally accepted that his attempts to avoid war with Germany until 1942 had failed.
The German forces, made up of three million men and 3,400 tanks, advanced in three groups. The north group headed for Leningrad, the centre group for Moscow and the southern forces into the Ukraine. Within six days, the German Army had captured Minsk. General Demitry Pavlov, the man responsible for defending Minsk, and two of his senior generals were recalled to Moscow and were shot for incompetence.
With the execution of Pavlov and his generals, Stalin made it clear that he would punish severely any commander whom he believed had let down the Soviet Union. In future, Soviet commanders thought twice about surrendering or retreating. Another factor in this was the way that the German Army massacred the people of Minsk. Terrified of both Stalin and Adolf Hitler, the Soviet people had no option but to fight until they were killed.
The first few months of the war was disastrous for the Soviet Union. The German northern forces surrounded Leningrad while the centre group made steady progress towards Moscow. German forces had also made deep inroads into the Ukraine. Kiev was under siege and Stalin's Chief of Staff, Georgi Zhukov, suggested that the troops defending the capital of the Ukraine should be withdrawn, thus enabling them to take up strong defensive positions further east. Stalin insisted that the troops stayed and by the time Kiev was taken, the casualties were extremely high. It was the most comprehensive defeat experienced by the Red Army in its history. However, the determined resistance put up at Kiev, had considerably delayed the attack on Moscow.
It was now September and winter was fast approaching. As German troops moved deeper into the Soviet Union, supply lines became longer. Stalin gave instructions that when forced to withdraw, the Red Army should destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. The scorched earth policy and the formation of guerrilla units behind the German front lines, created severe problems for the German war machine which was trying to keep her three million soldiers supplied with the necessary food and ammunition.
By October, 1941, German troops were only fifteen miles outside Moscow. Orders were given for a mass evacuation of the city. In two weeks, two million people left Moscow and headed east. Stalin rallied morale by staying in Moscow. In a bomb-proof air raid shelter positioned under the Kremlin, Stalin, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, directed the Soviet war effort. All major decisions made by his front-line commanders had to be cleared with Stalin first.
In November, 1941, the German Army launched a new offensive on Moscow. The Soviet army held out and the Germans were brought to a halt. Stalin called for a counter-attack. His commanders had doubts about this policy but Stalin insisted and on 4th December the Red Army attacked. The German forces, demoralized by its recent lack of success, was taken by surprise and started to retreat. By January, the Germans had been pushed back 200 miles.
Stalin's military strategy was basically fairly simple. He believed it was vitally important to attack the enemy as often as possible. He was particularly keen to use new, fresh troops for these offensives. Stalin argued that countries in western Europe had been beaten by their own fear of German superiority. His main objective in using new troops in this way was to convince them that the German forces were not invincible. By pushing the German Army back at Moscow, Stalin proved to the Soviet troops that Blizkrieg could be counteracted; it also provided an important example to all troops throughout the world fighting the German war-machine.
The German Army was severely handicapped by the Soviet winter of 1941-42 and once spring arrived they began to advance once again. German forces were particularly successful in the south and they were able to close in on Stalingrad.
Stalin was horrified to hear reports that the Red Army in the Ukraine had been in such a hurry to retreat that they had left behind their weapons and equipment. Not only were soldiers shot for desertion but Stalin gave permission for highly critical articles of the army to be published in the newspapers. The army, which had been praised during the early stages of the war, was now accused of betraying the Soviet people. It was an extremely risky move on Stalin's part, but it had the desired effect and its performance improved.
Stalingrad was Stalin's city. It had been named after him as a result of his defence of the city during the Russian Civil War. Stalin insisted that it should be held at all costs. One historian has claimed that he saw Stalingrad "as the symbol of his own authority." Stalin also knew that if Stalingrad was taken, the way would be open for Moscow to be attacked from the east. If Moscow was cut off in this way, the defeat of the Soviet Union was virtually inevitable.
A million Soviet soldiers were drafted into the Stalingrad area. They were supported from an increasing flow of tanks, aircraft and rocket batteries from the factories built east of the Urals, during the Five Year Plans. Stalin's claim that rapid industrialization would save the Soviet Union from defeat by western invaders was beginning to come true.
General Georgi Zhukov, the military leader who had yet to be defeated in a battle, was put in charge of the defence of Stalingrad. The line held and on 19th November, 1942, Stalin gave the order to counterattack from the north and the south. Although the German 6th Army continued to make progress towards Stalingrad, they were gradually becoming encircled. General Friedrich Paulus, the German commander, asked permission to withdraw but Adolf Hitler refused and instructed him to continue to advance on Stalingrad. This they did, but with their supplies cut-off from the west, they were unable to take the city.
In recognition of his commander's bravery, Adolf Hitler made Friedrich Paulus a Field Marshal on 30th January, 1943. Hitler was furious when a couple of days later Paulus surrendered. The German losses at Stalingrad were 1.5 million men, 3,500 tanks and 3,000 aircraft. It marked the turning point of the war. From this date on, Germany began to retreat.
It was only when the Red Army regained territory previously controlled by the Nazis that the Soviet Government became fully aware of the war crimes that had been committed. Soviet soldiers who had been taken prisoner had been deliberately starved to death. Of the 5,170,000 soldiers captured by the Germans, only 1,053,000 survived.
Women and children were also killed in large numbers. The Jews were always the first to be executed, but other groups, especially the Russians, were also killed. German soldiers were given the instructions that the "Jewish-Bolshevik system must be destroyed". Adolf Hitler was aware that to control the vast population of the Soviet Union would always be an extremely difficult task. His way of dealing with the problem was by mass exterminations.
Soviet authorities estimated that in all, over twenty million of their people were killed during the Second World War. However, it has been argued that Hitler's policy of exterminating the Soviet people guaranteed his defeat. Stories of German atrocities soon reached Red Army soldiers fighting at the front. Faced with the choice of being executed or being killed fighting, the vast majority chose the latter. Unlike most other soldiers, when faced with defeat in battle, the Soviet army rarely surrendered.
This was also true of civilians. When territory was taken by the German Army, women, children and old men went into hiding and formed guerrilla units. These groups, who concentrated on disrupting German supply lines, proved a constant problem to the German forces.
In November, 1943, Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met together in Teheran, Iran, to discuss military strategy and post-war Europe. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt argued that any attempt to land troops in Western Europe would result in heavy casualties. Until the Soviet's victory at Stalingrad in January, 1943, Stalin had feared that without a second front, Germany would defeat them.
Stalin, who always favoured in offensive strategy, believed that there were political, as well as military reasons for the Allies' failure to open up a second front in Europe. Stalin was still highly suspicious of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and was worried about them signing a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. The foreign policies of the capitalist countries since the October Revolution had convinced Stalin that their main objective was the destruction of the communist system in the Soviet Union. Stalin was fully aware that if Britain and the USA withdrew from the war, the Red Army would have great difficulty in dealing with Germany on its own.
At Teheran, Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942. Later they postponed it to the spring of 1943. Stalin complained that it was now November and there was still no sign of an allied invasion of France. After lengthy discussions it was agreed that the Allies would mount a major offensive in the spring of 1944.
From the memoirs published by those who took part in the negotiations in Teheran, it would appear that Stalin dominated the conference. Alan Brook, chief of the British General Staff, was later to say: "I rapidly grew to appreciate the fact that he had a military brain of the very highest calibre. Never once in any of his statements did he make any strategic error, nor did he ever fail to appreciate all the implications of a situation with a quick and unerring eye. In this respect he stood out compared with Roosevelt and Churchill."
The D-Day landings in June, 1944, created a second front, and took the pressure off the Soviet Union and the Red Army made steady progress into territory held by Germany. Country after country fell to Soviet forces. Winston Churchill became concerned about the spread of Soviet power and visited Moscow in October, 1944. Churchill agreed that Rumania and Bulgaria should be under "Soviet influence" but argued that Yugoslavia and Hungary should be shared equally amongst them.
The most heated discussion concerned the future of Poland. The Polish Government in exile, based in London, had a reputation for being extremely anti-Communist. Although Stalin was willing to negotiate with the Polish prime minister, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, he insisted that he was unwilling to have a government in Poland that was actively hostile to the Soviet Union.
In February, 1945, Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met again. This time the conference was held in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict postwar influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries.
Once again, Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union.
Stalin also promised that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan three months after the war with Germany ended and in return would recover what Russia had lost at the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
At Yalta, the decision at Teheran to form a United Nations organization was confirmed. It was only on this issue that all three leaders were enthusiastically in agreement. At the time of Yalta, Germany was close to defeat. British and USA troops were advancing from the west and the Red Army from the east. At the conference it was agreed to divide Germany up amongst the Allies. However, all parties to that agreement were aware that the country that actually took control of Germany would be in the strongest position over the future of this territory.
The main objective of Winston Churchill and Stalin was the capture of Berlin, the capital of Germany. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not agree and the decision of the USA Military commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, to head south-east to Dresden, ensured that Soviet forces would be the first to reach Berlin.
The leaders of the victorious countries met once more at Potsdam in July, 1945. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died in April, 1945, had been replaced by the Vice-President, Harry S. Truman. While the conference was taking place, the British General Election results were announced. The landslide victory of the Labour Party meant that Clement Attlee replaced Winston Churchill as Britain's main negotiator.
Although Germany had been defeated, the USA and Britain were still at war with Japan. At Yalta, the Allies had attempted to persuade Stalin to join in the war with Japan. By the time the Potsdam meeting took place, they were having doubts about this strategy. Churchill in particular, were afraid that Soviet involvement would lead to an increase in their influence over countries in the Far East.
At Yalta, Stalin had promised to enter the war with Japan within three months of the defeat of Germany. Originally, it was planned that the conference at Potsdam would confirm this decision. However, since the previous meeting the USA had successfully tested the Atom Bomb. Truman's advisers were urging him to use this bomb on Japan. They also pointed out that its employment would avoid an invasion of Japan and thus save the lives of up to two million American troops.
When Harry S. Truman told Stalin that the USA had a new powerful bomb he appeared pleased and asked no further questions about it. Truman did not mention that it was a atomic bomb and it appears that Stalin did not initially grasp the significance of this new weapon. However, with the dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, the Japanese quickly surrendered and the Allies were successful in preventing Soviet gains in the Far East.
Stalin's main concern at Potsdam was to obtain economic help for the Soviet Union. Nearly a quarter of Soviet property had been destroyed during the Second World War. This included 31,000 of her factories. Agriculture had also been badly hit and food was being strictly rationed. Stalin had been told by his advisers that under-nourishment of the workforce was causing low-productivity. He believed that the best way to revive the Soviet economy was to obtain massive reparation payments from Germany.
Unlike at Yalta, the Allies were no longer willing to look sympathetically at Stalin's demands. With Germany defeated and the USA now possessing the Atom Bomb, the Allies no longer needed the co-operation of the Soviet Union. Stalin felt betrayed by this change of attitude. He believed that the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt was an important factor in this.
The ending of lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union immediately the war ended with Germany in May, 1945 and the insistence that Henry Wallace, the US Secretary of Commerce, resign after he made a speech in support of Soviet economic demands, convinced Stalin that the hostility towards the Soviet Union that had been in existence between the wars, had returned.
Stalin once again became obsessed by the threat of an invasion from the west. Between 1945 and 1948, Stalin made full use of his abilities by arranging the setting up of communist regimes in Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He now had a large buffer zone of "friendly states" on his western border. Western powers interpreted these events as an example of Stalin's desire to impose communism on the whole of Europe. The formation of NATO and the stationing of American troops in Western Europe was a reaction to Stalin's policies and helped ensure the development of the Cold War.
In 1948, Stalin ordered an economic blockade of Berlin. He hoped this measure would help him secure full control over Berlin. The Allies airlifted supplies to the beleaguered Berlin and and Stalin was eventually forced to back down and allow the land and air routes to be reopened.
Stalin also miscalculated over Korea. In 1950, he encouraged Kim Il Sung, the communist ruler of North Korea, to invade South Korea. Stalin had assumed that the USA would not interfere and that Kim IL Sung would be able to unite Korea as a communist state.
Stalin's timing was particularly bad on this occasion as the Soviet representative had at that time been ordered to boycott the Security Council. With the Soviet Union unable to use its veto, it was powerless to stop the United Nations sending troops to defend South Korea.
The Korean War ended in 1953. Not only had the communists failed to unite Korea, the war also provided support for those right-wing American politicians such as Joseph McCarthy who had been arguing that the Soviet Union wanted to control the world. Hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States continued to increase as the world became divided between the two power blocks. Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill may have been responsible for the start of the Cold War but Stalin's policies in Eastern Europe and Korea had ensured its continuance.
At home, Stalin was closely associated with the Soviet Union's victory in the Second World War and so his prestige and status remained high. His only possible rival for the leadership was Georgi Zhukov, who had played such an important role in the defeat of Germany. Stalin's response to the public acclaim that Zhukov received was to accuse him of "immodesty, unjustified conceit, and megalomania." After the war Zhukov was demoted and once again Stalin had removed from power someone who was potentially his successor.
Now in his seventies, Stalin's health began to deteriorate. His main problem was high blood-pressure. While he was ill, Stalin received a letter from a Dr. Lydia Timashuk claiming that a group of seven doctors, including his own physician, Dr. Vinogradov, were involved in a plot to murder Stalin and some of his close political associates. The doctors named in the letter were arrested and after being tortured, confessed to being involved in a plot arranged by the American and British intelligence organizations.
Stalin's response to this news was to order Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Secret Police, to instigate a new purge of the Communist Party. Members of the Politburo began to panic as they saw the possibility that like previous candidates for Stalin's position as the head of the Soviet Union, they would be executed.
Fortunately for them, Stalin's health declined even further and by the end of February, 1953, he fell into a coma. After four days, Stalin briefly gained consciousness. The leading members of the party were called for. While they watched him struggling for his life, he raised his left arm. His nurse, who was feeding him with a spoon at the time, took the view that he was pointing at a picture showing a small girl feeding a lamb. His daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who was also at his bedside , later claimed that he appeared to be "bringing a curse on them all". Stalin then stopped breathing and although attempts were made to revive him, his doctors eventually accepted he was dead.
Three years after his death, Nikita Khrushchev, the new leader of the Soviet Union, made a speech at the Twentieth Party Congress, where he attacked the policies of Stalin. Khrushchev revealed how Stalin had been responsible for the execution of thousands of loyal communists during the purges.
In the months that followed Khrushchev's speech, thousands of those people imprisoned under Stalin were released. Those who had been in labour camps were given permission to publish their experiences. The most notable of these was the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose powerful novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, became a world-wide bestseller.
In 1962 the official party newspaper published a poem by the poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko called the Heirs of Stalin. The poem describes the burial of Stalin but at the end suggests that the problems are not yet over: "Grimly clenching his embalmed fists, just pretending to be dead, he watched from inside. He was scheming. Had merely dozed off. And I, appealing to our government, petition them to double, and treble, the sentries guarding the slab, and stop Stalin from ever rising again."
After Khrushchev's revelations, attempts were made to erase Stalin's image from the Soviet Union. Statues and portraits of Stalin were removed from public places. Towns, streets and parks named after him were changed. Stalingrad, which had been closely associated with his generalship during both the Civil War and the Second World War, was renamed Volgagrad. Even his ashes were takes from the Kremlin Wall and placed elsewhere.
Although the superficial aspects of Stalinism was removed, the system that he created remained. Stalin had developed a state apparatus that protected those in power. It was a system that the Soviet leaders who were to follow him for the next thirty years, were only too pleased to employ in order to prevent any questioning of their policies. Writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Yevgeni Yevtushenko were free to criticize Stalin but not those currently in power. The excesses of Stalinism had been removed but the structure of his totalitarian state remained until the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.