Stalin and the Clans III
Stalin and the Clans III
The Last Stand of the Clans
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter details Stalin's ongoing battles with the clans. He could kill a lot of people, but he could not change the system. He could destroy the clan leaders and their followers, but he could not destroy the clan system and culture. Perhaps he didn't wish to do so. The main story of this book ends with Stalin's mass attempts to destroy the clans. But, this chapter asks, what has changed since the end of World War II? To what extent is the Russia of today different from the Soviet Union of then and the Russia of the past?
Both in the center and in the localities, decisions are made, not infrequently, in a familial way, as in the home, so to speak…. Today, I, Ivan Fedorovich, will let him get away with it. Later, Ivan Ivanovich will let me get away with it. Decorous and calm. Peace and goodwill.
AS HAD BEEN the case since the early 1920s, a newly arrived leader appointed by the center nearly always found himself in the midst of an existing party organization. The local Communists were mostly natives of the locale with webs of preexisting friendships, clans, and loyalties, and were naturally suspicious and resentful of the new leader. Until and unless the new boss could either win the trust of the locals and build his own working client group from them, or import his own friends and supporters, he would be an outsider. Since the early 1920s, when faced with a new boss from outside, locals had complained that they had been passed over. “Here come the Varangians to teach us lessons”1 and similar complaints were common among locals, and passive resistance, bickering, and skloki had been more the rule than the exception since the end of the Civil War. Despite the imprimatur of the TsK, any newcomer could be frozen out, as happened to even so ranking an official as A. I. Mikoian, a personal friend of Lenin's and Stalin's, in Nizhnyi Novgorod.2
Stalin needed some configuration of local leadership that would work with reasonable unity to fulfill the economic and political demands of the TsK. But given the traditions of local skloki (and the related opposition movements) that was easier said than done. Oftentimes, none of the local home-grown Bolsheviks had the stature or experience to lead a province. Stalin's experiments with such promotion from (p.238) below in the 1920s had shown that elevating a local clan favorite son to provincial leadership led to even more intense localism, and because it supported existing local networks of favoritism, it could lead to widespread criminality.
The Smolensk scandal of 1928 was the classic example. Local Communist Pavliuchenko had been given command of the province as first secretary, and within a short time his friends and relatives established a self-contained provincewide corrupt mafia, complete with extravagant private banquets, bribery, embezzlement, outright theft, and orgies at state-owned country houses. Stalin realized his “localism” mistake and broke up the Smolensk family. Among senior province officials, nine of the worst offenders were arrested, and ten others, including Pavliuchenko, were fired and “returned to production.”3 Some thought that more should be punished, but this was weighed against the chronic shortage of reliable cadres to fill vacant slots.4
Later, in order to prevent localism and the accompanying corruption, the new practice (especially in economically important provinces) was to bring in a high-ranking leader, and back him to the hilt. To avoid the Mikoian mistake, in which the new appointee had been left to twist in the wind on his own, this meant giving the new boss free rein to staff his province as he saw fit, to control the soviet and punitive apparatuses, to override any local skloki or resistance, and to leave him in place as long as he produced results. Of course, as we have seen, skloki were a way of life in the Bolshevik party and local factionalism and resistance to provincial bosses and their teams continued.
Although Stalin and his personnel assignment colleagues in Moscow resolutely backed their appointee, sometimes the local situation became so conflict-ridden as to be untenable. Sometimes, first secretaries had to be transferred, exchanged, and shifted around to fill particular needs. When things got hot in an oblast and both sides complained to the TsK, Stalin would summon both of them for a conference in Moscow, where he or another high-ranking member of his clan mediated.5 He nearly always sided with his appointed first secretary, but when he wished to undermine one of the provincial leaders, as we shall see, he could always tap into this suppressed but still potent local factionalism and mobilize it against the regional boss.
(p.239) In March 1936, the Central Committee divided Ivanovo Industrial Oblast into two parts: Ivanovo Oblast and a new Iaroslavl' Oblast. A new head had to be found for the spin-off Iaroslavl' area, and Anton Romanovich Vainov became head of the “Organizational Buro of the Central Committee for Iaroslavl' Oblast.”6 After a year's preparation working in Iaroslavl', Vainov was appointed first secretary of the newly created Iaroslavl' Oblast Committee of the VKP(b).
The thirty-nine-year-old Vainov came from Donetsk via Moscow. Four years younger than Nikita Khrushchev, Vainov also joined the party in 1918. In the early 1930s, he had been second secretary of the Donetsk Oblast Party Committee responsible for metallurgy, and had been a member of the TsK of the Ukrainian party since 1934. By 1936, at the time of his appointment to Iaroslavl', he was deputy chief of the Industrial Department of the TsK in Moscow, working under A. A. Andreev. The three major cities of the new oblast, Iaroslavl', Kostroma, and Rybinsk, along with its thirty-six districts, were undergoing major industrial expansion in the first two Five Year Plans, and these three cities were also major transshipment centers on the Volga and the new network of canals and lakes that made up the northern river transport routes. Industrial expert Vainov seemed perfect for the job.
So Comrade Vainov had his work cut out for him when he moved to Iaroslavl' in 1936. He knew nothing of the province and its Communists, and faced an existing party organization that had until recently been part of I. P. Nosov's Ivanovo machine. Now part of the new Iaroslavl' Oblast, these “Ivanovtsy” gravitated around I. A. Nefedov, who had worked in the area since at least 1932. For Vainov, as in tsarist times, “Once he arrived in ‘his’ province, a governor had to work through officials who were clients of his predecessor, and who needed to be either purged or transformed into a new network loyal to the new governor. Hence the intense distrust and animosity at the first encounter of a new governor with local officialdom. He also needed to manage the complicated relationship with the rival network represented by local nobles and headed by their marshal of the nobility.”7
Probably in an attempt to head off local resentment of the incoming “Varangian” Vainov, he made the local “marshal of the nobility” Nefedov second secretary of the new Iaroslavl' Oblast party organization. He thus coopted Nefedov and made him an ally rather than an opponent. In the beginning, Nefedov was wary and resentful of Vainov. One (p.240) party official recalled Nefedov's reaction to Vainov's arrival: “Here in Iaroslavl', before the organization of the oblast, there was a feudal principality that thought the TsK was far away…. They [Nefedov] lived in clover, getting warm applause when they went to activist meetings, warm applause when they came to party meetings, and suddenly the peaceful life of the feudal princedom was messed up by the organization of Iaroslavl' Oblast.” Early on, Nefedov was truculent and sarcastic about Vainov's arrival. “Here comes a secretary from the Donbas, let's let him try to turn things around here, let him show what he can do here working in Iaroslavl' Oblast.”8 But Vainov won him over. He took Nefedov into the provincial party committee buro's inner circle and gave him a position of trust with major responsibilities that included supervision of ideology. Later, when Nefedov would come under fire both from local party members and the TsK itself, as a loyal patron, Vainov would try to protect him.
Nefedov's possible resistance to Vainov was completely defused. He became a loyal client who had a reputation for refusing to decide anything without asking his boss. District Secretary Repkin recounted a conversation he had had with Nefedov: “[I asked] Isn't it necessary to have a party meeting to orient the Communists? Instead of an answer, Nefedov said ‘How do you see it? How do you think we should answer? What should we do?’ What kind of system of leadership is this?”9 Clan members who avoided decisions so as not to challenge the ruling grandee were a common feature in provincial clans. In Dagestan, for example, a party member characterized the head of the Dagestan Sovnarkom:
We asked Mamedbek, the chairman of the Dagestan Sovnarkom, what measures he had taken, and he answered, “I reported to the territorial party secretary, the territorial party took everything into account, and I calmed down.” Mamedbek signals, informs, and then calms down. Over there they have one mute (laughter), the chairman who never speaks and doesn't even signal. At least Mamedbek, as you see, signals and informs (laughter in the hall).10
Vainov also did what all senior leaders did when they moved to a new province: he imported friends and people he had trusted and worked with in his previous posts.11 His “artel” or “tail” included twenty-three senior leaders, including nine from the Donbas where he had worked until 1936. Although this does not seem so many in a large (p.241) party organization, it is important to remember that each member of Vainov's artel had his own “tail” to bring along. As one factory party organizer said, “Comrade Vainov brought the oblast activists here, and they, following his example, began to bring in party workers. Even in our factory, the director brought five or six guys, skilled workers, who had worked with him before.”12 In Gor'kii, a minor district party committee secretary “managed to drag along with him from Kologriv a whole group of people…. And you ask, why did he drag them along? In order to form a support group around him consisting of his people who, in a difficult moment would not give him up.”13 Also in Gor'kii territory “Comrade Dodonov, chairman of the Stalinsk Raisoviet, says that he didn't give jobs to 30 people in the raisoviet and gave none to his relatives. Comrades, it is possible that this is the case, as Comrade Dodonov says, and I in no way want to fight with him more than he deserves. But it is a fact that there is a big family of relatives there. I noted this just to be fair (laughter).”14
Back in Iaroslavl', Vainov had wasted no time taking over and forming an operational clan. Nefedov was successfully coopted, thus blunting the power of the “Ivanovtsy.” He placed his people in the provincial party committee buro, provincial party committee departments, and the leadership of the most important districts.
The clan ruled the oblast party with an iron hand and tolerated no criticism. Clan members' rudeness to subordinates, as well as the reactions to it, recalled workers' complaints against management going as far back as 1917. Comrade Naumov later said at a party meeting, “Who among us doesn't remember the unpleasant names we district party committee workers got from leaders, ranging to the most obscene words … they called us ‘hooligans’ and ‘lazy sluggards.’”15 As one Federov, a district party committee secretary outside Vainov's clan put it,
I cannot but remember the unflattering epithets from the provincial party committee elite about district workers as “saboteurs,” “gossips,” “opportunists.” … And when I tried once to protest against abuse and swearing at the district party committee secretaries and in particular at me, they really gave it to me at the district party committee secretaries' conference. Zarzhitskii with the silent agreement of Vainov, characterized my statement that one shouldn't constantly swear, as slander against the party leadership.16
(p.242) This was happening everywhere. In Gor'kii territory, a primary party organization in Ardatsk district complained about party organizer Kolesov: “From him instead of help we get swearing, he yells that he is the master and brags a lot.” Comrade Valukhin “has more than one deficiency, but there's one I want to talk about. He is rude. Surprisingly rude…. If a party organizer permits such rudeness in himself, then he no doubt knows that he thus educates people to be rude. And really this happens quickly.” Also in Gor'kii, “people are always complaining that Secretary Pushkov of Rabotkinskii District Party Committee is rude, unbelievably rude, improbably rude. Pushkov himself says that he is not rude to everybody, but rather has a differentiated approach (laughter in the hall).17
From Smolensk: “a guy from the provinces came and asked Comrade Makarenko where the ORPO department was. He just waved in the general direction and said ‘there’ and rolled his eyes.”18 In several regions, party workers also complained about such arrogant and highhanded party leaders. From Rostov: “When I went to Sharikian, you know, he struck a Napoleonic pose and began to orate about how audaciously we took decisions, and about how he would teach us how to work and so forth.”19 From Krasnodarsk: Comrade Uvatsan told a meeting that “When Berezin became secretary of Krasnodarsk gorkom, he openly said there was no personnel file on him. Workers asked him to help create a personnel file, but he said ‘What, I'm some kind of poor peasant bum to you, that I should have to fill out a personnel file?’”20
Arrogance was naturally accompanied by measures to suppress any criticism (kritika/samokritika) from below. According to Iaroslavl' Comrade Repkin, “Comrade Vainov's … comrades arrived in the new oblast and thought they had come to save the situation with imported people … with naked administrative methods toward the local people … and absence of any collegiality. The situation so terrorized workers that it was impossible for them to come forward and speak of deficiencies of the oblast party organization.”21
In Dagestan, one party member said that “they are afraid of daggers in Dagestan, but they are afraid of self-criticism more than daggers.”22 In Stalingrad, “Communist criticism was called factionalism [grupirovsh-china] and scheming intrigue.”23 In Rostov-on-Don one activist remembered, “We tried to do this [criticize] now and then but we were harshly silenced, and, in certain specific cases, we found ourselves crushed as if in (p.243) a vise.”24 “When I criticized, they called me a schismatic [sklochnik]. I suffered a lot from this criticism and it brought a lot on me.”25
Vainov's clan was so strong that, like many others around the country, it thought it was safe to ignore political signals from Moscow, as Stalin put it, “to secure a certain independence from the Central Committee.”26 As late as the end of January 1937, when Moscow had already clearly called for identifying Trotskyist enemies, expanding criticism from below, and increased politicization of party meetings, Vainov's report to the First Iaroslavl' Oblast Party Conference contained only the traditional headings, such as “leading the Stakhanov movement,” and “Soviet trade: our patriotic Bolshevik business.” In “electing” the provincial party committee leadership, Vainov ignored Moscow's calls for democracy and real discussion of candidates. When it came time to elect the new provincial party committee in January 1937, he ran the procedure briskly. For each candidate, all of whom had been nominated by the leading group, Vainov said,
“Any objections? Questions or comments? No. Let's vote. Whoever is for Comrade______, please raise your cards.”
One of Vainov's candidates, Comrade Khlybov, was harshly criticized by some brave comrades for his dubious relatives and for defending suspicious people in the past. Vainov and his clan closed ranks and spoke to protect him. Khlybov received fewer than 50 percent of the votes, the lowest of any candidate, but as Vainov's nominee he was still elected.27
The same thing was happening all over the country. In Rostov-on-Don, Comrade Ivnitskii recalled how First Secretary Sheboldaev put pressure on a district party committee to elect his candidate. As a secretary from the committee remembered,
we made this decision, and when Boris Petrovich Sheboldaev found out about it, he summoned me and Gurevich, former Secretary of the Provincial Committee, and declared: “What kind of leaders are you to have allowed Ovchinnikov to be voted down?” I told him that perhaps it wasn't good to elect him, but I didn't say it strongly enough, forcefully enough. After this, the delegation was hurriedly transported in cars because the conference was supposed to take place very soon. Boris (p.244) Petrovich Sheboldaev personally appeared at the meeting of our delegation and defended Ovchinnikov for well over an hour.28
Sheboldaev was a famous protector of his clan. At a party meeting in June 1937 where his clients were attacked for their suspicious pasts, Sheboldaev said, “Let's not attack each other for what our fathers and grandfathers did. Comrades, we can't do this. We have to discuss the basic questions.”29
In Rostov-on-Don, “when a party member speaks up at this or that party meeting with criticism, or to expose this or that enemy of the party, then the next day [the leadership] gives that enemy a positive recommendation so that he can defend himself at higher party instances.”30 “Primary party organs expel people and the gorkom lets them back in and denounces us for expelling them.”31
In Voronezh, the powerful I. M. Vareikis also forcefully protected his own. When Comrade Chernikov of the Ostrogozhskii District Party Committee
told Comrade Vareikis that Alferov was unsuitable for work there because he had antistate tendencies when he had been politotdel chief and there had been a provincial party committee decision about that, Comrade Vareikis answered, “Who the hell are you, Chernikov? You evidently are starting to busy yourself with personal squabbles. He worked in a workers' school (rabfak), in an institute, and we sufficiently studied him and trust him to lead the party organization.32
Later, in his new position as first secretary of the Far Eastern territory, Vareikis again protected his clients. Comrade Kuznetsov, a factory director, came under fire for not fulfilling the plan and being unpleasant (“separated from the masses”). Vareikis pled with the territory party conference, “Without a doubt, Kuznetsov gives the impression of a major, capable economic worker, one of the best in the territory.” Despite Vareikis's intercession, Kuznetsov was only elected to the territorial party committee by the thin margin of 222 for and 217 against.33
Shortly after the January 1937 electoral meeting in Iaroslavl', a Pravda editorial publicly criticized Vainov and his clan's suppression of criticism, “toadying,” and lack of self-criticism. Vainov and his clique made a nearly fatal political mistake when they blocked discussion of the article in party meetings, refused to pass the usual repentant resolution on it, and prevented the customary republication of Pravda's editorial (p.245) in oblast newspapers. They thought their hold on power was that secure, but their decision would come back to haunt them. Perhaps they should have followed the advice of Shebolaev's “Saratov Brothers-in-Law” (svoiaki): “they told the instructors, ‘do things so you don't get into the newspapers.’”34
In the last days of 1936 and the first of 1937, Stalin moved against the clans with “musical chairs” personnel transfers designed to separate senior party chiefs from their followers. I. M. Vareikis was transferred from Stalingrad to the Far East. B. A. Semënov took his place in Stalingrad, moving from Crimea. L. I. Kartvelishvili filled the Crimea slot, sent there from the Far East when Vareikis arrived. S. A. Kudriavtsev was moved from Kharkov to Ukraine and was replaced in Kharkov by N. F. Gikalo who was transferred from Belorussia. In these and other cases, the clan leaders were now explicitly forbidden to take anyone from their “tails” with them.
The most celebrated transfers, which Stalin publicized as a lesson, were those of B. P. Sheboldaev from Azov–Black Sea to Kursk, and of P. P. Postyshev from Kiev to Kuibyshev. In Kursk I. U. Ivanov traded provinces with Sheboldaev, moving to Azov–Black Sea as second secretary and replacing the arrested Sheboldaev client M. M. Malinov. When Postyshev moved to Kuibyshev, he replaced V. P. Shubrikov, who was sent to Western Siberia. These and the other reassignments were not always explicitly about breaking up “artels”: Sheboldaev's and Postyshev's sins were that they had carelessly staffed their entourages with Trotskyists who were now unmasked as enemies. But it took little imagination to see these transfers (and the way they were done without “tails”) as a major Stalin sally against clans in general: he was detaching them from their leaders.
One of the problems of our sources is that we generally have only half the conversations between the centralizers and the regional party leaders. We have no shortage of statements by Stalin and other Moscow centralizers criticizing the feudal princes, but if we leave aside the fabricated testimonies after their arrests, with few exceptions the regional nobles' voices are silent. One obvious reason is that in the end, Stalin destroyed the regional leaders, and the winners always write the history.
(p.246) But a more significant reason has to do with the traditions and culture of party discipline. Since the battles with the Left and Right Oppositions in the 1920s, public (meaning the rank-and-file party public) criticism of the TsK (and of Stalin) were tantamount to disloyalty. After all, this had been the Left Opposition's sin, and nationally the Stalin coalition—which included the regional party leaders—had been formed by closing ranks around the TsK against that Left. We do know, however, that in their private moments with close supporters, the regional chiefs did criticize the Moscow center. For example, the hot-tempered I. P. Rumiantsev, first secretary of the Smolensk Provincial Party Committee, was heard to deliver “un-party utterances and slogans” that were understood as “attacks on the line of the TsK.” And even in 1937 when his deputy Shil'man was arrested, Rumiantsev took an “antiparty attitude to Shil'man's arrest” in an attempt to “prove the baseless nature of the charges.”35 Such revelations can be found in the transcripts of local and regional party meetings, and it is to them that we now turn for the detailed account of Comrade Vainov's fall in Iaroslavl' in 1937.
Immediately following the well-scripted Iaroslavl' party conference discussed above, with Vainov's banal and apolitical speech themes and his tightly controlled elections, Pravda published a sharp criticism of Vainov's cultic and patrimonial regime. Noting that the sycophantic discussion of Vainov's main speech contained wording like “in his brilliant report,” “achievements of the oblast,” “under Comrade Vainov's leadership there have been special successes,” and “under Comrade Vainov's leadership we will reach even greater successes,” Pravda regretted the lack of self-criticism at the conference and pointed out that the speakers had criticized neither the toadying of provincial party committee defenders nor the bad work of the provincial party committee and its departments. “The whole thing was about Vainov.” True, at the end of his speech, Vainov had said that there had been weak criticism of him and none of the provincial party committee buro. But Pravda said that “it is a pity that this correct point was made at the end of the discussion and not at the beginning.”36
Vainov's inner circle, the buro of the oblast party committee, immediately met and did nothing. Party etiquette and practice required the buro to discuss the Pravda article, pronounce it “absolutely correct,” republish it and the buro's confession in the region's newspapers, and organize critical discussions of it in all the party committees of the region. (p.247) Instead, the buro discussed it privately and kept it quiet. At three meetings in February, it promulgated decisions on its draft plan of work, the unsatisfactory state of the bread trade, how to handle complaints from kolkhoz members, International Women's Day, appeals from wrongly expelled party members, and other routine problems, but nothing on Pravda's broadside.37 This was an arrogant and foolish decision. Pravda was circulated anyway in the major towns of the oblast, so members could read its criticism in any case. They could easily note the provincial party committee's silence and infer from it not only arrogance, but more than a hint of the Vainov clan's resistance to the TsK. And Pravda wasn't through with Iaroslavl'.38
Soon there was another more general attack from the TsK. On 6 March 1937, Pravda published A. A. Zhdanov's speech to the February Plenum, the first speech from that meeting to be published (even before Stalin's).39 The speech had been given on 26 February, and the two-week delay is best explained by the embarrassing fight it provoked between the territorial committee chiefs and the center. As we saw above, Zhdanov called for the “democratization” of party organizations in the regions. This meant secret ballot reelection of all party organs from top to bottom, periodic reporting of party organs to their organizations, strict party discipline and subordination of the minority to the majority, and the unconditional obligation on all party members to comply with decisions of higher bodies.40
The day after publication of Zhdanov's speech, Pravda again criticized Iaroslavl'. In an article entitled “Don't Infringe the Rights of a Party Member!” the newspaper took Vainov personally to task:
Take, for example, secretary of the Iaroslavl' Provincial Party Committee Comrade Vainov, who as soon as he arrived in a new oblast began to gather together his acquaintances and friends from all parts of the country. The chiefs of many provincial party committee departments, the secretary of the Iaroslavl' gorkom, and many district party committee secretaries were his people, who did not know the party organization and were appointed and promoted purely on the basis of friendship and old connections.41
Now faced with mounting criticism from Moscow, Vainov's Iaroslavl' clan could no longer ignore the situation. The day after the second Pravda article, it ordered a meeting of city party activists and district party committee secretaries in one week's time to “discuss the (p.248) February Plenum of the TsK.” It finally passed a belated resolution on the Pravda assault:
To consider Pravda of 7 March absolutely correct about the danger of the un-Bolshevik practice of choosing and promoting party cadres which stimulates toadying, rank-worshiping (chinopochitanie), holding back the growth of local cadres, creating a gap between leaders and masses and facilitates violations of party rules. The buro recognizes that it incorrectly and belatedly oriented itself to Pravda's report of 5 February with the result that the party organizations of the oblast did not have criticism and self-criticism when they discussed the work on the party conference.
To receive as information Comrade Vainov's statement that he recognizes his mistakes in violating Bolshevik principles of choosing cadres, especially in the area of rearing local workers, and that he was late in reacting to appearances of toadying.42
Three weeks later, Stalin's speech from the February Plenum was published, in which he also took the provincial party committee secretaries to task for “familial” choice of personnel. It must have given Vainov no comfort that he (along with L. I. Mirzoian) was singled out:
Vainov took with him people from other oblasts … 23 people. There are a lot of them because many of them are from the soviet apparatus. 9 from the Donbas: Zhuravlëv, Vaisberg, Krimer, Ivanov, Kats, Konukalov, Iurlov, Aleksandrov and Isaev…. He just couldn't do without them. And these people occupy important posts. Why did Vainov have to do that? What must be the attitude of local cadres to these people arriving from outside? Of course, it is guarded. What does it mean to take people to yourself, a group of personally loyal people, from outside? It means expressing a lack of faith in local cadres. What basis do Mirzoian or Vainov have to express this lack of confidence in local cadres? Let them tell us.43
Pravda followed up three days later with yet another article about artelnost' and bad selection of cadres in Iaroslavl', this time quoting ordinary workers speaking about it.44
Licensed by Pravda and the Stalin and Zhdanov speeches, outsiders in Iaroslavl' now had their chance to attack the clan without fear of retaliation. When Vainov was forced to call a meeting of the entire Iaroslavl' Provincial Party Committee Plenum, a torrent of pent-up anger at Vainov's crew came out against the leaders, who tried to defend themselves (p.249) using various tactics. This criticism from below and outside came from issues that went back twenty years or more: imposition of outsiders on locals, favoritism, haughtiness and rudeness of leaders. Stalin unleashed and authorized the party members' critical words, but he did not invent them or put words in their mouths. To this degree, the criticism from below was an autonomous political process manipulated but not created by Stalin.
When the criticism started, the embattled clan tried to defend itself with various tactics. One of these was for leaders to now try to put themselves in the forefront of criticism of the leadership. Comrade Zhuravlëv, head of the oblast transport department (and one of those mentioned by Stalin as being part of Vainov's “tail”) sanctimoniously criticized “eulogizing (voskhvalenie) and toadying (podkhalimstvo) at the previous conference”—even though he had been one of the main sycophants then. Non–clan members didn't let him get away with it. Zhuravlëv was rudely interrupted:
VOICE: “You also spoke there [at the last conference]. Why did you speak the way you did?”45
Comrade Shekhanov said, “Zhuravlëv from Comrade Vainov's tail is always maintaining a certain tone, for him toadying and servility are his flesh and blood: ‘Comrade Vainov said this, Comrade Vainov ordered that, Comrade Vainov specified’ and so forth…. this is leaderworship (vozhdizm).”46
The accusation of “toadying” was also aimed at the personality cults that local leaders or their underlings had created. The regional press was of course in the hands of the ruling clan. As one party said sarcastically, “the Dagestanskaia pravda reported that Comrade Samurskii went to Khunzakhskii where he gave a speech on the mess there, and that peasants arrived to hear the speech with indescribable joy. I asked the editor how it was possible for them to arrive already joyous if there was such a mess there.”47
A second defense tactic was for clan members to appear to break ranks and deflect criticism against other members. As the criticism became heated, clan members turned on one another, and the Ivanovtsy-Donetsk clan split reappeared. Zhuravlëv rounded on Nefedov: “Nefedov did nothing about problems in the districts. Like an ostrich, he tucked his head under his wing … it's defective leadership.…. I told Nefedov (p.250) that there's information that Siper (a factory director) is a Trotskyist. But he said, ‘what's wrong with you, are you crazy? He's a candidate member of the Ivanov Provincial Party Committee, the best Bolshevik in our organization.’” Speakers didn't let Zhuravlëv get away with this either. He was interrupted from the floor:
VOICE: Why didn't you say this at the party conference?
VOICE: It's late now.
ZHURAVLËV: True, but better late than never.
VOICE: Better late than never is an old excuse.48
And Comrade Telegina, secretary of a factory party committee, agreed: “I must say that Comrade Zhuravlëv made a clever maneuver in his speech. He directed attention to Nefedov's mistakes to divert criticism away from Comrade Vainov and the provincial party committee.”49
A host of speakers denounced Vainov and his minions for trying to bury the first Pravda article in February. Repkin, a raikom secretary outside the Vainov clan, said “the Pravda article was 5 February, but it took the provincial party committee until 8–10 March to respond with a decision and nothing was published in the local party press. This was an attempt to hide Pravda's materials from the oblast party organization.”50
Guliaev, head of the trade department of the Provincial Party Committee and another member of the clan, remembered, “Why didn't we in the buro call a meeting? We incorrectly reacted to Pravda.” He too was rudely interrupted:
You are talking like you were 100 km. from the buro.
An innocent little lamb!51
One district party committee secretary chimed in, “the provincial party committee party organization didn't even discuss the Pravda article.” Pavlov, secretary of the provincial Komsomol, and a member of the buro that suppressed the Pravda piece, said, “In the provincial party committee buro we discussed the Pravda article and there was disagreement, we papered over our mistakes.” Busiankov, first secretary of the Rybinsk gorkom, said:
First of all, I consider that the biggest mistake of the provincial party committee was that the decision of the buro disagreeing with the Pravda article was hidden [by the buro] from the members of the provincial party committee plenum and, unfortunately, (p.251) Comrade Vainov did not consider it necessary to reveal it at the plenum.
There was no decision of the buro.
And this was done deliberately with the specific goal of disagreeing with Pravda's criticism.52
The real issue, of course, was Vainov's closed clique, his clan, and the iron hand with which he had ruled the oblast; fear had made criticism impossible. Now, licensed and protected by Moscow, speakers attacked Vainov and his people personally. Diakov, a district party committee secretary outside the clan, said, “I think that the main problem here is that in the oblast leadership and mainly in Comrade Vainov, there was a suppression of criticism.”53
Senior clan leaders were being personally blamed for not promoting, and therefore insulting, local cadres. Federov, another nonclan outsider, spoke for the Ivanovtsy: “Is it an accident that we don't have more local cadres [in leading positions]? No. Some support the theory that our cadres haven't been through the same tough school as cadres from the south. I'm talking about Comrade Vainov's speech at one of the district party committee secretaries' conferences.”54 In Rostov-on-Don,
Workers were elected to the territorial party committee, from production, the best part of industrial workers in our primary party organizations. And what happened with them? Their only contact with the territorial committee was to be summoned, sometimes but not always, to big meetings. Nothing more: no tasks, no responsibilities, no attempt to use them…. They didn't bring up, grow new people, didn't cultivate local people.
VOICE: Why didn't they grow them?
VOICE: Or more accurately they didn't incubate them (vyrasbcbivat'sia). Why? Because of the policy of the territorial party, consciously or unconsciously on the part of Comrade Sheboldaev.55
Leaders continued to complain that local talent was scarce, and were taken to task for not looking hard enough. In Gor'kii, District Party Committee Secretary Ostrovskii had to admit that there were local choices:
These days we don't have a reserve of possible chairmen of district soviet executive committees. It wasn't the case that we (p.252) had a group of experienced people to appoint to such work…. We looked but didn't find anyone so we called Moscow, which sent a person. We talked to this guy, looked him over, and to our surprise found out that we weren't so lucky with him. Fortunately, he went back to Moscow and refused to return here. So we appointed our guy (nash chelovek). Not in the sense that he was “our guy” (svoi paren') but in the sense that he was from Gor'kii.
Comrade Ostrovskii, so it turned out that there wasn't an absence of cadres and that there are some.56
In the Far East, a Moscow emissary went to far as to quote Aesop in chastising district party committee secretaries:
I think that Comrade Shkiriatov will help us fill out the apparat.
What helpless people you are, waiting for everything from Moscow. What, you can't appoint local people?
Of course we can pick people here, but we asked the territorial committee to give us 5 people and received only 1. We need the support of the territorial committees and then we can do it without crying. I think that Comrade Vareikis will help us and we'll escape this situation.
the old religious saying works in a nonreligious way: “God helps those who help themselves.” Comrade Vareikis, sure, Comrade Vareikis but if you yourselves don't do anything nothing will come of it.”57
Party leaders' refusal to appoint local members to leading positions was part of a more generalized resentment among the rank and file at party leaders who were distant and out of touch, or “separated from the masses” in party language. In Azov Black–Sea, Comrade Ostrovskii said:
We have party secretaries who are connected with the masses only by telephone.… The Komsomol strongly requested that District Party Committee Secretary Comrade Ovsiannikov speak at their conference. Comrade Ovsiannikov found an original means to do that: in his office he wrote a speech of greeting and had it delivered by telegram to the conference, which took place next door.
KAGANOVICH: just a few steps away.58
TsK emissary G. M. Malenkov told the Azov–Black Sea party organization that
(p.253) Many secretaries of district committees found it impossible to talk to their superiors for a full 3 or 4 years. Is this the way a Bolshevik apparat works? I shall permit myself to ask Comrade Sheboldaev how he would feel as the chief representative of the party in the region, if upon arriving at the Central Committee he could not talk to someone, could not resolve his problems. And here there are people who have been trying hard to talk to somebody for 3 or 4 years and they can't.
VOICE: 5 or 6 years!59
In Gor'kii, First Secretary Pramnek defended his travel to the localities:
Many comrades spoke about leaders' travels and their visits to factories, districts and so forth…. Many of us go to the districts and spend a lot of time in the localities. I cannot reproach myself for this. Maybe others are not so modest, but I can say openly that I personally think that they travel a lot and use all means of communication in order to be in the districts and factories. We don't think of ourselves as office people…. Moreover, I think that leaders cannot be everywhere…. What would become of the provincial committee of the party? At the next conference, you would say that the leaders are always traveling, spending too much time out of the office, are never in the provincial party committee, so there are waiting lines there and bureaucratism. That's what would happen.60
In Dagestan, some speakers blamed the system as well as First Secretary Samurskii:
Obkom departments are an empty place. People sit there living out their days who never see the people at all…. I'm not saying that Comrade Samurskii doesn't know how to work or doesn't want to. He works sincerely, strongly, but there is such a paper cobweb braided around him that he sees things through paper rather than through a clear window.61
Back in Iaroslavl', Nefedov had become a lightning rod for criticism, partly as a result of Zhuravlëv's efforts. One non-clique secretary said that Nefedov “actively enabled the glossing over of every political mistake in connection with this counterrevolutionary nest which was uncovered in Iaroslavl'…. He was an active defender of Siper and Leonov and others. Comrade Vainov knew about this but didn't say one word about it to anybody.”62
(p.254) Anticipating criticism of Nefedov, perhaps even from his own Donbas “artel,” Vainov had allowed Nefedov to leave town, ostensibly for medical treatment, and thus avoid attending the meeting as he was expected to do. Vainov was nothing if not loyal. When attacked for that, Vainov replied, “I think that there is a bit of demagoguery here about Nefedov's absence…. He's had a heart attack in the past. I am not glossing over his mistakes, but we are sufficiently serious people that we can avoid demagogic statements.” Polumordvinov, secretary of the Kostroma gubkom and a member of Vainov's entourage, lashed back at Busiankov: “Comrade Busiankov, who was at the party conference and spoke there calling the work of the buro satisfactory, now after a month suddenly finds things out and wants to remove secretaries…. you want to have democracy but you yourself violate it, wanting to remove a secretary in his absence.” Trying to keep decisions about clan members within the clan, Vainov said, “I don't agree with the comrades who think that we can move against Nefedov on the basis of the facts presented in his absence. The provincial party committee buro should check it out and report back.”63 This is not the last time we will hear of the beleaguered Nefedov.
Vainov also dealt with the question of his clan. Since Stalin had personally highlighted it, he had no choice but to agree in principle. He said that he had made a serious mistake in the selection of cadres in that “I brought here with me a so-called tail of several workers from the Donbas where I worked a long time (and not lower workers) and who were installed at my suggestion in leading party positions.” As Stalin said, he went on, leaders who do this want to be independent from the TsK and from the broad party mass. “I am saying that workers arriving from Ivanovo, Moscow, Donbas, and other regions of the Soviet Union suffered from one bad disease: they imagined themselves to be saviors. Arriving from other regions, ‘here we are to save you’ (Voice: ‘Right’).” He also took responsibility for Zhuravlëv's rudeness and toadying to him: “Why is Zhuravlëv such a toady? Only because he worked with me several years in the Donbas. Rudely or not, he's part of my tail. If another person worked in his position, one I did not bring and who was not part of my tail, there would be no toadying.”64
Vainov fell on his sword when it came to the draft resolution of the meeting. That draft had blamed the provincial party committee in general, rather than specific leaders. As Organov, a district party committee (p.255) secretary outside the Vainov clan, said, “We need to be specific. Pravda criticized Comrade Vainov. The newspaper Severnyi rabochii criticized Comrade Zhuravlëv, but the plenum proposed a draft resolution in which these were [only] mistakes of the provincial party committee…. if this isn't toadying then in any case it is not the sharp criticism the situation calls for.” Vainov agreed, and moved to change the wording of the resolution to include “The plenum of the provincial party committee considers Pravda's criticism of Provincial Party Committee Secretary Comrade Vainov completely correct …”65
But he also defended himself and disclaimed a certain responsibility for the problem, suggesting that he couldn't keep track of everybody: “You know that Pravda spoke of a whole series of workers [from my “tail”]. Just from simple arithmetic, that's only 7–9 people. But that's not the point. Yaroslavl' is a new oblast. Dozens of people come here from every corner of the Soviet Union…. so am I responsible for the work of [them all] including those whom the TsK sent here? What gets me off the hook? Nothing.”66
Other provincial clan leaders and members defended themselves in other ways. Some, when faced with criticism that their entourages contained enemies, urged caution. As E. K. Pramnek said in Gor'kii, “Comrade Luchinin expressed it that ‘the provincial party committee should better help clean out the ranks of the party of enemies. That's right…. But don't forget Comrade Stalin's warning: don't consider everyone who shook hands with a Trotskyists or a rightist to be an enemy…. That is why the more attentively, carefully, and selectively we approach this question, the better off we will be.”67
Others, like Tataria first secretary Lepa, were, like Vainov, generally contrite, and tried to put the matter to rest with promises of future improvement: “About my so-called Tashkent tail. I told the oblast plenum, the activists of Kazan’ party organization about the political mistakes. I admitted my mistakes. There's no need to go over that ground again here. We are waging a struggle against artels and familyness. Led by the instructions of the TsK plenum, we have started on the path of a decisive, brave promotion of workers.”68
Other clan leaders used an “I didn't know” defense. Malinov, one of Sheboldaev's lieutenants in Rostov, said, “Comrades, who doesn't know about the Saratov svoiaki? Everybody in the organization is talking about it…. Really I didn't know that our apparat was so closed and (p.256) exclusive and that party membersand non–party members couldn't approach territorial committee secretaries, and when I took a look at this, as a Bolshevik should, I didn't do anything.”69
In Voronezh, Comrade Temnikov of the clan's revision commission turned out also to have a bad memory, but his listeners didn't let him get away with it:
TEMNIKOV: And it's not accidental that they were among those who were always in Anchikov's apartment which became a sort of club where a whole group of Anchikov's close friends gather for “amusement.”
(VOICE: Name their names.)
Evgenii Ivanovich yesterday said in his report that at Anchikov's place a whole group of responsible workers gathered….
(Noise in the hall. VOICE: Name them all.)
I said that Anchikov gathered people from the provincial party committee in his apartment.
I don't remember the list.
(VOICE: What are you talking about? You have to remember.)
It's a long list.
(Noise in the hall. VOICE: Name their names!)
Comrades, I already said that Anchikov gathered a group of leading workers.
(VOICE: Who?) I said that several leading provincial party committee workers were at Anchikov's place.
Some denied that they had a “tail” at all, or declared that if they did, it was no longer functioning. Riabokon of the North Caucasus said: “I should say that I had no tail, and I never selected cadres according to an artel approach. Although comrades have adduced no actual facts, so that people will know in the future, during the time of my work here in the North Caucasus I brought absolutely nobody to the territory from Rostov or from anywhere else I previously worked.”71 In Tataria, Lepa said, “Comrade Zaitsev asked what had changed after the plenum. Baskin, Anderson and Kurnikov are still in their jobs. Why does he conclude that I in particular did not fulfill the decisions of the TsK? Does it say anywhere in the TsK materials that we have to remove these people? No. Be consistent. Show us some materials about an artel (p.257) existing now, or that I behaved with them more mildly than others, that I didn't make demands on them.”72
Others tried to minimize the size of their “tails” as Vainov had done: “from simple arithmetic, that's only 7–9 people.” But the locals knew who was who and refused to go along. When Sheboldaev tried to minimize the numbers of the “Saratov Brothers-in-Law,” Comrade Brike said, “Last evening Comrade Sheboldaev said that with difficulty he could remember 8–10 people. That's not true, Comrade Sheboldaev. I have a list of 22 people and it's incomplete. Even second-level people were imported and settled in various posts … showing a bureaucratic lack of faith, kicking out the best local cadres (voice: ‘That's right!’).”73 Some clan leaders used the tried and true method of lashing back at their critics. Comrades Aivasov and Gafurov, noninsiders in Tataria, criticized the provincial party committee but were taken to task by one of its members:
Thus we have not fulfilled the task set us by Com. Stalin. I must say directly that the agitprop department of the provincial party committee and the provincial party committee in general has unfortunately done nothing in this regard.
Why didn't you do anything? Why are you always slandering the provincial party committee?
I already talked about myself.
Why in that case do you need to talk all the time about the provincial party committee? You need to work yourself …
Listen, Gafurov, you criticize the provincial party committee and Comrade Lepa very well and thereby said nothing about yourself in the way of self-criticism.
Today I have only 10 minutes for self-criticism. I'll leave it for next time. (Laughter in the hall.)74
In the North Caucasus, Riabokon became indignant when one speaker criticized his artel, which he had denied existed:
Just after Comrade Pivovarov's speech … justifiable doubts arise about what motivated Comrade Pivovarov. We have to figure it out, and figure it out politically. And I think that to figure it out politically, we will have to say that it was his attempt to avoid the blows of samokritika. It won't work, Pivovarov! It won't work! Why did Pivovarov have to attempt this? What were the political causes? The political (p.258) causes were based on his need not to talk about his own past serious political mistakes…. We are obligated to criticize Comrade Pivovarov and we will criticize him further in order to help him correct his mistakes, if he is able to do so. As for the useless conversations about who likes whom, in party affairs we can quietly push them aside as useless garbage. (Voices: Right! Right!) We will criticize your mistakes, Comrade Pivovarov, as long as you don't admit to them as a Bolshevik leader should. (Voices: Right! Right!)75
Vainov recognized the “artel” problem and its effect on the locals and now claimed to have secretly fought it all along: “I never talked about it, but I must tell you that I expended so much energy neutralizing the mood [resentment of his “tail”] which started from the beginning when workers arrived, about my tail's and others' incorrect relations with the so-called Ivanovists…. Ivanovists showed up and complained about non-Ivanovists. Kamenskii, Rudnev, and Zhuravlëv complain about the Ivanovists. I spent a lot of time neutralizing this.”
Vainov's clan escaped this March provincial party committee plenum meeting bruised but intact. Vainov successfully saved Nefedov by suggesting that the buro gather more information and make a decision. More than three weeks later on 19 April, the buro met again. It resolved “to charge Comrade Vainov with preparing a memo to the TsK on the impossibility of Comrade Nefedov remaining second secretary of the Iaroslavl' Provincial Party Committee VKP(b) in connection with his mistakes.”76 Nefedov was accused of avoiding inconvenient questions and being a layabout, protecting exposed enemies, toadying, rank-worship, and “continuing to round off sharp corners” by refusing to self-criticize. Gruzel, the KPK representative, said that “when the Orgburo installed Nefedov, he was experienced here and they thought he could help. He didn't live up to it.” Gruzel said it was impossible for Nefedov to remain second secretary because now he lacked any authority. Rudnev, a district party committee secretary, reminded the buro that “this question of Comrade Nefedov's mistakes comes before us not by our own initiative but rather from below and only after that did we start to discuss it.”
Vainov resisted the trend and continued to protect Nefedov: “I don't want to say that everything you have said is right.” Many comrades asked what he was doing about Nefedov, but “I postponed the question and thought it necessary to first of all give every comrade time to think it over.” He also defended giving Nefedov permission to skip the (p.259) provincial party committee plenum meeting: “I never thought that Nefedov would be so strongly criticized both by the activists and the plenum, or I would never have permitted him to leave.” Because of Vainov's loyalty, we find Nefedov still in place at subsequent buro meetings of 20 April and 8 May.77
Most provincial barons doggedly protected their retainers even when they came under fierce attack. Rumiantsev of Smolensk even defended his man Shil'man after the latter had been arrested. Why? First of all, good clan practice required that a lord show himself to be a loyal protector, a safe bet for those who in the future might seek to join his clan. Second, if one of his retainers should turn out to be a bad apple or, worse, an “enemy,” he as patron would be implicated in dubious or criminal activity for having given the enemy a job. Third, if the subordinate were to be expelled and arrested, he could be forced to give testimony against his patron. Finally, even though this was a serious political situation in which the players played for keeps, one cannot exclude the possibility that simple decency, a sense of justice, and personal loyalty played a role in a patron's defense of his clients.
Over the next few weeks, the Iaroslavl' party organization held the new party elections by secret ballot mandated by Zhdanov in his speech to the February Plenum, and the returns were mixed for the Vainov clan. In 726 of 1272 primary party organizations of the oblast (57 percent), the election meetings had found party work “unsatisfactory,” and in Iaroslavl' the proportion was higher (67 percent). Across the oblast, there were objections to 26 percent of the proffered candidates (32 percent in Iaroslavl'). Nevertheless, the Vainov clan retained its hold on top positions. Although 36 percent of the new party secretaries in major party organizations were new cadres elected for the first time, “in the large party organizations, the old cadre partkom secretaries were preserved.”78 Vainov would later admit that only six secretaries of leading party organizations had been changed.79
Vainov's final party conference came in early June 1937. He had been under sustained attack since the beginning of the year but had held power through thick and thin. This time, though, the meeting was attended by two high-ranking guests from Moscow: L. M. Kaganovich and G. M. Malenkov. Vainov began the meeting with a self-critical recitation of his mistakes in choosing cadres and how this principle of selection by personal connections had aided Trotskyists. “It is not an (p.260) accident that there are so few local Iaroslavl' cadres promoted into regional and city leading soviet organs.” And “Take Comrade Nefedov who turned out to be a rotten liberal who was always passive in struggling with enemies of the people.… Why didn't we concern ourselves with these facts earlier?”80
Naumov, a party secretary outside the clan, said that Vainov's clan was a “rotten artel” that pushed around the local cadres from the beginning, and put pressure on district party committee secretaries they didn't appoint. Voice: “That's right!”81
Since the last meeting, the hapless Nefedov had been directly accused of sheltering enemies. Despite a resolution three months earlier to remove him, he was still in his job under Vainov's protection. He then took the podium and admitted to “crude political mistakes” since he had started working in Ivanovo in 1933.82 It didn't help. The next day, Vainov announced that Nefedov had been arrested by the NKVD.83
Speaker after speaker attacked Vainov's “artel” and how it had displaced local workers. Krylov, a lowly factory party worker, continued the drumbeat of criticism:
In our factory we couldn't elect a chairman of the factory committee. Why? Because they sent us somebody we didn't know, we didn't know how he would work. Really, comrades, was it impossible to raise up people to the work of factory committee chairman in a big factory with such a large group of young people? We didn't trouble ourselves with this.
from where did they send you a chairman?
From the TsK of the union.
and was it impossible to find a chairman among yourselves?
Of course we could have.84
Many first secretaries were also accused of ignoring and not promoting local people. As we saw, in an early 1937 “musical chairs” rotation of several leading provincial nobles, they were forbidden from taking their “tails” with them. When Sheboldaev reached his new post at Kursk, rather than promoting local people he immediately demanded thirty new secretaries from the TsK. This was regarded as an attempt by him to “blacken and smear Kursk Oblast.”85
Back at Vainov's last Iaroslavl' plenum, the gallant Kaganovich particularly encouraged women to speak. When Comrade Valeva took the (p.261) floor, she began, “Comrades, I'm speaking for the first time, so take that into consideration.” Kaganovich interjected, “Women speak better and more sharply than men.”86
The plenum's resolution was hard on Vainov. It noted his “crude political mistakes,” and “impermissible family selection” of cadres. It noted that after the February Plenum “Comrade Vainov did not rebuild his work in accordance with the decisions of the TsK plenum and instead of Bolshevik mobilizing, permitted petty-bourgeois confusion in the party organizations and led to new failures in party work.”87
Even then, Vainov did not go down without a fight. He asked for the floor to challenge the resolution's wording as it had been suggested by the drafting commission: “I ask to make one correction … where it says ‘to recognize the entire political and practical activity and leadership of the provincial party committee as completely unsatisfactory’ I suggest taking out the word ‘completely’ and to say ‘to recognize the leadership and work of the provincial party committee to be unsatisfactory.’” It didn't work:
The commission didn't change anything. That is the exact formulation that was proposed.
Who is for accepting the suggestion of the commission, raise your cards. Who is for the proposal of Comrade Vainov, I ask you to raise your cards.—two members. To accept the proposal of the commission.88
On the last day of the plenum, 8 June 1937, the meeting removed Vainov from the position of first secretary and from the Iaroslavl' Provincial Party Committee membership.
Disciplining party clan leaders was difficult, even for a dictator like Stalin. Before 1937, Stalin tried a number of separate tactics: private, then public criticism, rotating barons to new posts, infiltrating their groups with “king's men,” and holding their feet to the fire with electoral campaigns and party committee elections that (as they would in Khrushchev's time) threatened their patronage. The penultimate tactic was encouraging and protecting open criticism from below (as Mao would do in the 1960s). This was particularly dangerous—and Stalin deployed it as a last resort short of violence—because it could lead to (p.262) discourses criticizing not only the noble leaders in particular, but leadership in general and threaten the very stability of the regime (as happened under Mao).
But the clan leaders held on. They were powerful in their bailiwicks, powerful enough to exercise tight control over their organizations and powerful enough to withstand considerable pressure from above and below. To finally break them required personal visitations and intervention from even higher persons and, eventually, violence.
Theirs was a personalized, patrimonial leadership where personal prestige was more important than rules or ostensible rank. Such a powerful prince as Vainov could of course simply be arrested. But in patrimonial terms, he had to be removed (in the eyes of his followers in the province and his peers on the TsK) only in the presence of an even more powerful personage: a member of Stalin's dominant clan. A feudal prince's persona could be demoted and displaced only by a bigger man, a “king's man” like Kaganovich, in person. In addition to appearing in Iaroslavl', Kaganovich went to Smolensk to preside over the removal of Rumiantsev.89 Malenkov went to Kursk to depose Sheboldaev. A. A. Andreev rode a circuit from Tashkent (removing Ikramov) to Saratov (overthrowing Krinitskii), and on to Cheliabinsk, Sverdlovsk, and Voronezh.90
Beheading a tight clan that had commanded unquestioned local authority was a messy business. In the wake of a clan leader's removal, provincial party meetings erupted into chaos and mutual recriminations, as clan members tried to protect themselves by turning on their former boss and each other, and as non–clan members smelled blood in the water and sought to destroy anyone even tenuously connected with the defeated faction. Another of the powerful Moscow visitor's jobs was to restrain this process.
In Kursk, where A. A. Andreev traveled to oversee the dethronement of Sheboldaev, we can see the emissary's attempt to restrain the lynch mob:
It seems to me that some of you comrades are hurrying too much. Some of those denounced are known and trusted in the TsK but now some suggest listing them as enemies. Is there any basis for this?
Are there any facts?
No. If not, then what basis do you have for doing this? It's impossible. … If you have any facts, then give them to me and I am sure we will investigate them no less thoroughly than you have at this conference …91
Malenkov did the same thing in Rostov:
Comrade Brike [of the KPK] has failed to secure things, that he must also be relieved of his duties…
Comrades, the draft resolution includes an assessment of the activities of the Plenipotentiary of the KPK. The Central Committee shall concern itself with this matter, and this matter shall henceforth become the Central Committee's concern.
But may we ask about it? (Laughter)92
We do not know why Stalin chose the summer of 1937 to destroy the regional princes. Perhaps he feared a conspiracy against him. In general, the Old Bolsheviks felt bypassed and underused as Stalin promoted younger officials. Some TsK members “could not keep their mouths shut about this” and wondered if Stalin was the only possible leader.93 Of those we have met, Vainov, Sheboldaev, Riabokon, and Rumiantsev received public visitations from Politburo members and were ceremonially removed between 6 and 23 June 1937. Lepa and Samurskii followed in September and October, Postyshev and Pramnek in early 1938. Arrest followed removal in short order. Vainov was shot on 10 September 1937; Sheboldaev and Rumiantsev both on 30 October 1937; Riabokon, Lepa, Pramnek, Samurskii, and Postyshev on various dates in 1938. Between mid-1937 and early 1938, all of the seventy-one regional party clan heads were deposed and arrested save two: Khrushchev and Beria, who were functionally members of Stalin's own clan.
Stalin and his associates seem to have believed that a large-scale conspiracy was about to overthrow them. Years later, in the 1970s and 1980s, both Kaganovich and Molotov admitted their responsibility in the terror against the elite. But while not evading blame, they both claimed that the terror was necessary to preempt a coup. As Kaganovich recalled,
You see, in the situation of capitalist encirclement, so many [shadow] governments were at liberty; really they all were members of governments. There was a Trotskyist government, a Zinovievist government, a Rykov government. This was very dangerous, just impossible. Three (p.264) governments could pop up from Stalin's opponents…. They created an organization … they met together—they were organizing an uprising against Soviet power and would lead it.
They had their people in the Army, they had their people everywhere. They circulated through a network of organizations. They informed each other and organized communications…. how could one leave that at liberty? … They regarded themselves as a government, an underground illegal government.
We knew that they organized a strong group…. such opponents who could carry out terror, murder … anything. Today we see various coups in all kinds of countries.
The Stalinists' suspicions were strengthened by their shared conspiratorial heritage with the presumed plotters. Old Bolsheviks were just that way.
Who could believe that these old, experienced conspirators, using the whole experience of Bolshevik secrecy and Bolshevik cooperation and underground organization, did not maintain connections among themselves and put together an organization? … They were old experienced Bolsheviks.94
Molotov agreed: “But really, let someone prove to me that we shouldn't have done this. Only someone could say this who was never a Bolshevik before the revolution.”95
The Great Terror consisted of a number of discrete repressions of various groups, including show trials of the Old Bolshevik elite, arrests of military, economic, police, and other officials, and mass operations against ordinary citizens. All of these except the last were aimed at the elite,96 while as we have seen, the mass operations were in some measure promoted by that elite. Space (and the subject of this book) do not permit a thorough account of the origins and process of terror against the elite, a subject which has been well treated in the literature.97 And although we cannot know Stalin's plans with any certainty, arrests in the elite strongly suggest that at least one motivation was the destruction of clans.
Just as Kaganovich and Molotov could not believe that their fellow Old Bolshevik nobles, because of who they were, were not plotting something, they could not believe that the conspiracy did not include the main plotters' underlings. The pattern of arrests followed trails of personal connections. The arrest of an official coincided with arrests of his subordinates downward, and of his chiefs upward. Sometimes a (p.265) subordinate was arrested and forced to give testimony against his boss, as with the arrests of Rumiantsev's deputy Shil'man in Smolensk and Sheboldaev's deputy Malinov in Rostov.98 Other times, the boss was the first to go, followed by his subordinates.
We have a list of senior leaders arrested in Eastern Siberia in the first round of terror in 1937. Separate lists for party, soviet, economic, railroad, military, and police workers arrested clearly show that the decapitation of a given institution was accompanied by the arrests of those working for its chief. The arrest of a provincial party committee party secretary meant the arrest of his second and third secretaries, of chiefs of the provincial party committee departments (industry, agriculture, agitprop, and so forth), of provincial party committee instructors, and of most secretaries of the district party committees underneath the provincial party committee. Arrest of an economic official meant the arrest of his assistants and clients all the way down to bookkeepers.99 In another example of krugovaia poruka, traditional Russian collective responsibility, “his people” were considered just as guilty and answerable as the arrested official.100
Although Moscow had information about who was who in the provincial party clans, another purpose of the visiting Politburo emissary was to listen to party plenum discussions in order to learn who was and was not a member of the targeted clan.101 For example, as Andreev went from place to place in 1937, he regularly reported to Stalin about how the plenum discussions had added new information about local clan membership. Stalin either ordered arrests, asked for further information, or left it to Andreev or the locals to decide.102 For example, Stalin telegraphed Andreev:
If the plenum demands the arrest of Ikramov, you can arrest him. If not, you can limit yourself to removing him from office as secretary and send him to the TsK. His further fate will be decided in Moscow after your return there. How do the local party workers feel about the candidacy of Segizbaev? Who is this Tiurabekov? Who remains the representative of SNK? [Sovnarkom, the government apparatus.] Who will be temporary first secretary of Uzbekistan? Do you think you should go to Tadzhikistan? When?103
The transcripts of interrogation of arrested officials also reveal how arrests followed personal connections. It is clear from reading these texts that the interrogators had two basic instructions: to get the accused to (p.266) confess to various acts of treason or espionage, and to name names. Sometimes the interrogator already had a list of connections (“accomplices”), other times he demanded that the accused list the names of his circle or clan. In either case, the task was to fill out the tree of personal connections. The interrogations are peppered with questions like,
- When did you meet [“were recruited for terrorist activity by”] ____?
- When did you hire [“recruit for terrorist activity”] ____?
- When did you meet with [“give terrorist instructions to”] ____?
M. Frinovskii, Ezhov's deputy at NKVD, knew how things worked.104 When his time came to be arrested and interrogated, rather than waste time denying the accusations and refusing to confess (and enduring torture), Frinovskii began his own interrogation session by taking the initiative. Instead of the usual question-answer format, his interrogation consists of a long statement he proposed and composed naming all his personal connections.105
In all these transcripts, every family name appears in all capitals, to make it easy to scan later for this most important information. These interrogations were sent to Stalin, who read and sometimes annotated them, limiting his comments almost always to orders to arrest (or not to arrest) the capitalized persons. For example, Stalin's marginalia on Frinovskii's statement consist of: “Need to arrest Roshal',” and several repetitions of: “Who are they?” “Where are they?” “Who is there?”
Stalin had revealed his root-and-branch, clan approach to removing officials years before. Speaking in a much earlier, nonlethal context of firing or transferring clan leaders (rather than arresting them), Stalin told the Orgburo in 1931: “In order to destroy the gangs, you have to remove dozens of people; otherwise you don't destroy them. We will smash it to the bones if the chieftain regimes don't end, if they don't renounce chieftainship…. we will break bones in order to drive chieftainship out because you can't implant partyness without smashing the ribs that hold it together.”106 As chieftain of his own clan-gang, Stalin hated and distrusted the other clans, and in 1937, he decided to literally smash ribs in order to destroy them.
Stalin could kill a lot of people, but he could not change the system. He could destroy the clan leaders and their followers, but he could not destroy the clan culture and system, and it is by no means clear that he wished to do so.
(p.267) Our detailed story ends here, with Stalin's destruction of the clans. But a glance ahead suggests that even after World War II, little had changed. As one postwar interviewee said, “the obkom [provincial party committee] plays an important and to some extent independent role in the oblast. It has a wide margin of executive initiative and may be said to be, on a small scale, God and Tsar in the oblast.”107 Another said, “Patronage was always resorted to by some people and in some cases; now, it is universal in the Soviet Union.”108 Local cliques continued to form family circles and think of themselves as a breed apart. As another recalled from the 1940s, “If you walk into a theatre in some raion town, you will see that the top Party people (verkhusbka) keeps itself apart, all to one side. They have their own circle or clique.”109 Even in the late 1940s, when the Soviet economic bureaucracy became considerably more professionalized, its parts were always headed by members of Stalin's clan.110
Brezhnev would delegate power to first secretaries in the provinces. In his time, the elite was divided “into cliques, each with its own boss and its own clients…. Even when he became old and ill, Brezhnev remained essential as a mediator among them…. This was the kind of tacit understanding which had given the tsars apparently absolute power in the sixteenth century.”111
As the epilogue will show, many of these practices continue to the present day, having outlived the Soviet Union. They are embedded in Russian history as a “deep structure.” There had never been any other way to govern Russia, and upon reflection it would have been surprising indeed if Stalin could have replaced a thousand years of governing practice just by killing the current incumbents. “Stalin's terror was aimed in large measure at breaking down these intermediate networks for they obstructed the transmission of commands down the line. Yet the system depended on them, and therefore he was bound in the end to fail—which he did, like Ivan IV, though having first caused enormous suffering, and having destroyed many individuals, as distinct from the system.”112
For ten centuries in Russia, princes, tsars, general secretaries, and presidents have each surrounded themselves with an inner circle, a clan, a druzhina to help them govern. In the case of Kievan princes, they were the prince's liudi, his fellow fighting men. In Muscovite times, they were the prince's relatives or the relatives of his wife. In (p.268) Soviet and post-Soviet times, they were the leader's comrades with whom he had worked in previous positions. The similarities jump across eras. Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev had their wartime comrades, Putin his former service mates in the KGB and Leningrad. But in all these cases, a royal or leading clan presided over a network of subordinate clans that together ruled a country based on personal connections and loyalty rather than law.
Stalin and his successors would govern the same way after the Terror as before it, with some changes. Khrushchev's and Brezhnev's attempts to build personality cults around themselves failed; Brezhnev's mass-printed and unread memoirs, along with his bemedaled portrait, became the butt of jokes. The time for naïve belief in benevolent patriarchs had passed but patrimonial mores and clans remained. These two leaders would surround themselves with those with whom they had fought or worked; each of whom, of course, had his own subordinate clan.113 Gorbachev didn't even try for a cult, but by 1988–89 he had replaced far more boyars and lower-level clan leaders than Stalin had done. Some of these were transferred, some went into business. But they invariably took their “tails” with them. Like a Muscovite prince, Yeltsin actually surrounded himself with his kin and in-laws. That was how Russia had always been governed.
(1) . “Varangian” was the term applied by Russians to the Vikings who entered the Russian lands in the ninth century, subjugated the Slavic tribes, and set up the first Russian state.
(2) . T. H. Rigby, “Early Provincial Cliques and the Rise of Stalin,” Soviet Studies 33, no. 1 (1981), 3–28.
(5) . For an example, see James R. Harris, The Great Urals: Regionalism and the Evolution of the Soviet System (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999), 82ff.
(6) . Typically, before a new oblast or krai was formed, a temporary “organizational buro” was established to create and organize territorial party organizations and recruit new leaderships for them.
(7) . Susanne Schattenberg, Die korrupte Provinz? Russische Beamte im 19. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2008), 165–68, cited in Alexander Martin, “History, Memory, and the Modernization of 19th-Century Urban Russia,” Kritika 11, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 856.
(26) . Stalin's “Concluding Words” to the February–March 1937 TsK Plenum. Voprosy istorii, nos. 11–12 (1995): 13–14.
(27) . “Stenogramma 1-i Iaroslavskoi oblastnoi konferentsii VKP(b) i otchetnyi doklad o rabote Orgbiuro TsK VKP(b) s materialami. Tom 3. 30 ianvariia-4 fevraliia 1937 g.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 21, d. 5951, ll. 88–108, 127.
(36) . “Iaroslavskaia Oblastnaia Partiinaia Konferentsiia,” Pravda, 5 February 1937, p. 2.
(38) . Provincial secretaries frequently tried to hide central reprimands from their party organizations. For example, the Kara-Kalpak buro had refused to forward the important TsK letter “To all party organizations …” (about the upcoming first show trial of Zinoviev and others) to its district organizations. “Stenogramma VII Kara-Kalpakskoi oblastnoi konferentsii KP(b) UZ. 19–25 maia 1937 g.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 27, d. 142, l. 344.
(39) . “Materialy fevral'skogo-martovskogo plenuma TsK VKP(b) 1937 goda,” Voprosy Istorii, no. 5 (1993): 7–13.
(41) . “Ne ushchemliat' prav chlena partii!” Pravda, 7 March 1937, p. 1.
(43) . Voprosy istorii, nos. 11–12 (1995): 14, and Pravda 1 April 1937, 1.
(44) . “O nepravil'nom podbore kadrov, podkhalimstve i chinopochitami,” Pravda, 10 March 1937, p. 2.
(76) . “Protokoly zasedaniia biuro Iaroslavskogo oblastnogo komiteta VKP(b), 19 aprelia 1937 g.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 21, d. 5985, l. 19. The transcript of the unusually lengthy buro meeting is on ll. 19–76.
(78) . “Protokol II Iaroslavskoi oblastnoi konferentsii VKP(b) s materialami. 7–12 iuniia 1937 g.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 21, d. 5953, ll. 24–35. Because of the carefully crafted way this election report was written by the oblast leadership, here and in other provinces it is not possible to document the actual number of raikom secretaries removed.
(79) . “Stenogramma II Iaroslavskoi oblastnoi konferentsii VKP(b), 7–8 iuniia 1937 g.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 21, d. 5954, l. 52. IaroslavP's elections mirrored those across the country, where at primary organization level, 50–70 percent of the committees were replaced, but above that the leading cadres were barely affected. See Pravda, 23 May 1937, and the discussion in J. Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: the Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933–1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 157–60.
(93) . V. N. Khaustov and Lennart Samuelson, Stalin, NKVD i repressii: 1936–1938 gg. (Moscow: Rosspen, 2009), 141.
(94) . Feliks Ivanovich Chuev, Tak govoril Kaganovich: Ispoved' stalinskogo apostola (Moscow: Olma Press, 2001), 187–89.
(95) . Feliks Ivanovich Chuev, Sto sorok besed s Molotovym: Iz dnevnika F. Chueva (Moscow: Terra, 1991), 296–97.
(96) . For an analysis showing that although Old Bolshevik status and elite rank overlapped, the latter was a better predictor of risk of arrest, see J. Arch Getty and William Chase, “Patterns of Repression among the Soviet Elite in the Late 1930s: A Biographical Analysis,” in Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives, ed. J. Arch Getty and Roberta Thompson Manning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 225–46.
(97) . For works representing various interpretations, see J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999); O. V. Khlevniuk, “The Objectives of the Great Terror, 1937–1938,” in Soviet History, 1917–53: Essays in Honour of R. W. Davies, ed. Julian Cooper, Maureen Perrie, and E. A. Rees (London: Macmillan, 1995), 158–76; Peter H. Solomon, “Soviet Criminal Justice and the Great Terror,” Slavic Review 46, nos. 3–4 (1987): 391–413; Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Robert Thurston, Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934–1941 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996); William Chase, Enemies Within the Gates? The Comintern and the Stalinist Repression, 1934–1939 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001).
(100) . For a different discussion of krugovaia poruka and the Terror, see G. Alexo-poulos, “Stalinism and the Politics of Kinship: Practices of Collective Punishment, 1920s–1940s,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, no. 1 (2008): 91–117. She argues that a Stalinist assault on the family in the 1930s made it the “basic unit” of terror, with krugovaia poruka as the method. Aside from the fact that Stalinist policy in the 1930s was to strengthen the traditional family, we note that krugovaia poruka was more often the justification for uprooting political clans, whose victims far outnumbered kinship family members.
(101) . For examples, see: “Protokol 2-go plenuma Zapobkoma VKP(b) ot 18–20 iiunia 1937 goda.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 21, d. 4092, l. 4. “Stenograficheskii otchet plenuma Azovsko-Chernomorskogo kraikoma VKP(b). 6 ianvaria 1937 g.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 21, d. 2196, l. 239. “Stenogramma zasedaniia pervoi oblastnopartiinoi konferentsii g. Voronezha. 6 iiunia 1937 g.” RGASPI, f. 17, op. 21, d. 741, l. 149.
(104) . See the various “Spetssoobshchenie N. I. Ezhova I. V. Stalinu” in V. N. Khaustov, V. P. Naumov, and N. S. Plotnikov, eds., Lubianka: Stalin i glavnoe upravlenie (p.347) gosbezopasnosti NKVD, 1937–1938 (Moscow: Rosspen, 2004); and Khaustov and Samuelson, Stalin, NKVD i repressii.
(105) . RF, f. 3, op. 24, d. 373, ll. 3–44.
(107) . Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System, Schedule B, vol. 1, case 101, p. 11 (seq. 9). Widener Library, Harvard University.
(108) . Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System, Schedule A, vol. 33, case 338/(NY) 1390, p. 49.
(109) . Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System, Schedule A, vol. 19, case 385, p. 81.
(110) . Yoram Gorlizki, “Ordinary Stalinism: The Council of Ministers and the Soviet Neopatrimonial State, 1946–1953,” Journal of Modern History 74, no. 4 (2002): 699–736; Yoram 76 Gorlizki and O. V. Khlevniuk, Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945–1953 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
(111) . Geoffrey Hosking, Russia and the Russians: A History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), 542.
(112) . Geoffrey Hosking, “Patronage and the Russian State,” Slavonic and East European Review 78, no. 2 (2000): 317–18.
(113) . John Willerton, Patronage and Politics in the USSR (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)