"One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic," said Joseph Stalin (1879-1953). It is estimated that between 20 to 40 million people, mostly Russians, were killed by Stalin during his dictatorship (1924-1953). Stalin, the Soviet dictator, not only exterminated purported "enemies of the peoples" but also liquidated almost the entire slate of communist Bolshevik leaders, who had been his and Lenin's friends during the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Great Leader, Joseph Stalin, in fact, killed in peacetime more communists of all nationalities, than all his fascist, Nazi, and Western democratic enemies combined.
This is not a comprehensive list; others have done that already. This report is only an interesting sampling of vignettes of "communists devouring communists" during the twenty-nine year performance of the macabre Soviet symphony conducted by the director Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, better known as "the man of steel," Stalin.
Old Bolshevik Cadres
"We will destroy every enemy, even if he is an Old Bolshevik, we will destroy his kin, his family. Anyone who by his actions or thoughts encroaches on the unity of the socialist state, we shall destroy relentlessly." I.V. Stalin, November 1937 (Quoted from Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov 1895-1940 by Marc Jansen and Nikita Petrov).
Everyone knows that after Kangaroo trials, Stalin purged and had the great Bolshevik leaders Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, and Ivan Smirnov, accused of being "leftist Trotskyites" and shot (1936) by his dreaded secret police, the NKVD, a precursor to the KGB.
Then the "right-wing" communists were arrested later in 1936, and so Nikolai Bukharin and his followers, Rykov, Krestinsky, and Rakovsky, were also executed as members of the "rightist Trotskyite Bloc."
Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko (1883-1938): Leader of the Military Bolshevik Organization that "stormed" the Winter Palace during the October Revolution and who also brutally suppressed the Tambov Rebellion (1920-1921); he was purged in 1938 and executed.
Mariya Spiridonova was one of the leaders of the Left Socialist-Revolutionary party (Left SR). This radical revolutionary faction represented the peasants, and felt betrayed by the Bolsheviks. On July 4, 1918, at the Fifth All-Russian Soviet Congress dominated by the Bolsheviks, Mariya Spiridonova, a 32-year-old woman with dark hair and wearing pince-nez, rose to the podium and attacked the Bolsheviks with words of fire: "I accuse you of betraying the peasants, of making use of them for your own ends. In Lenin's philosophy, you are only dung — only manure. When the peasants, the Bolshevik peasants, the Left SR peasants and the non-party peasants are alike humiliated, oppressed and crushed — crushed as peasants — in my hand you will find the same pistol..." The British secret agents, Bruce Lockhart and Sidney Reilly, were both there at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow where the Congress had convened and vacated by the events of the day. The expected Left SR against the Bolsheviks had failed, and Spiridonova awaited her fate calmly and composed. She was arrested and jailed that summer of 1918. Twenty Left SR hostages were shot. Spiridonova was sent to the gulag. The rest of her Left SR comrades — just like the Kadets and Mensheviks had been — were hunted down thereafter and virtually exterminated by both Lenin and Stalin. Spiridonova was shot in the gulag in 1941.
We all remember from history and from reading Pavel Sudoplatov's remarkable book, Special Tasks (1994), how he, an NKVD general and his trusted lieutenant Leonid Eitingon tracked down Leon Trotsky to Mexico. After stalking Trotsky for sometime and then befriending him, Ramon Mercader, a Spanish communist, assassinated Trotsky with a pick ax on Stalin's order (1940).
General Sudoplatov (photo, left) was a Soviet spymaster, as well as chief of "Special Tasks" or "wet affairs'" (assassinations) of the NKVD. Assigned by Stalin to execute Trotsky in Mexico, Sudoplatov, who knew the lethality and "wet affair skills" of Comrade Eitingon, decided to use him. Eitingon had served in Spain during the civil war (1936-1939) "with distinction." Yet, as Stalin had been purging the NKVD leaders serving abroad, Eitingon himself had come close to being executed by Stalin. Sudoplatov fished him out of prison for the "special task" of arranging the assassination of Trotsky, which Eitingon successfully accomplished using his communist Spanish mistress, Caridad Mercader's, son Ramon.
The Great Illegals and the Foreign Intelligence Services
"Illegal" agents were Soviet spies working under deep cover in Western countries with no diplomatic cover or immunity. Some of them became legends in Soviet hagiographic history for their masterful espionage activities against the West, particularly where it involved the recruitment and running of the celebrated British "Cambridge Five" traitors also dubbed the "Magnificent Five": Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross.
Dr Arnold Deutsch: Jewish-Austrian intellectual; another illegal deep cover Soviet agent, recruiter and controller of the infamous British traitors, the "Cambridge Five"; Dr Deutsch was recalled, denounced as a traitor and executed.
Theodore Maly: Head of the Illegal London (Soviet) "residency" (1936). He completed the recruitment, training, and running of the "Cambridge Five" spy ring. He was recalled, denounced as an enemy of the people, and shot.
Moisei Axerold: Deep cover Soviet agent operating in Italy; denounced as a traitor to the motherland, recalled to Russia, and executed during the Great Terror (1937-1938).
It was not only the Soviet agents who were hunted down; so were the Soviet foreign spymasters. Abram Slutsky, head of the secret police, foreign intelligence (INO), was found dead of a "heart attack" (most likely cyanide poisoning) in his office in 1938, as his department was being purged of enemies of the people in the Great Terror.
His immediate successors, Zelman Pasov and Mikhail Shpigelgas, soon followed him to the grave, executed as enemies of the people. Their counterparts in the internal security police, the NKVD, Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov, as we shall see, would also be purged and executed during Stalin's Great Terror.
General Jan Berzin (photo, right): Latvian Bolshevik and Chekist; creator of Soviet military intelligence (GRU); he served with General Alexander Orlov as Head of Red Army Intelligence in Spain (1936-1937); purged by Stalin and shot in 1938.
The Red Army
All students of Russian military history know of the purge, trial, and execution of the most distinguished and most capable general in the Red Army, Marshall of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Tukhachevsky (photo, below) in 1937. According to Stalin and the NKVD, the Marshall was a traitor to the Motherland, a member of the Trostkyite-Bukharinite-Fascist counterrevolutionary conspiracy. Along with Tukhachevsky, 40,000 Red Army personnel were eliminated during the Terror of 1937-38. Consider the fact that the entire Defense Council of the Red Army, Generals Mekhlis, Dybenko, Lukin, Yegorov, Zhigur, all would be shot within six months after the trial and execution of Tukhachevsky. Only one of these generals did not brake under interrogation, General Blyuker, who died in prison after being repeatedly tortured. Forty-five percent of the Army and Navy command and political staff from the position of Brigade commander up the officers' ranks were eliminated by Stalin's security police, according to Russian historian and Army General, Dmitri Volkogonov. When the World War II came only two years later and the German Panzers rolled over the western expanse of the USSR, the Red Army was not ready. It had been decapitated.
NKVD and Security Services
Stalin also routinely purged his security services (secret police). Genrikh Yagoda, head of the NKVD, was purged and executed (1936) for his failure to promptly falsify evidence to convict the "right-wing" Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bukharin. His successor was the blood-drenched, dwarfish Nikolai Yezhov.
As we mentioned before, the "right-wing" communists were finally arrested in 1936 by Yagoda; Bukharin (i.e., Lenin's "Beloved of the Revolution"), Rykov, Krestinsky, Rakovsky were also executed as members of the "rightist Trotskyite Bloc." Their final persecutor was Nikolai Yezhov (photo, left), Yagoda's NKVD successor, who presided over the Great Terror and Purges of 1937-1938, the "Yezhovina," as if Yezhov was chiefly responsible. Yezhov would be arrested, purged by Stalin, and executed a couple of years later.
Yakov Blyumkin: Assassin of the German Ambassador to the USSR during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations (pardoned in 1919); shot on order of Stalin in 1929 as a Trotskyite.
Martyn Latsis (1883-1938): Bolshevik, assistant to Feliks Dzherzhinsky, "Iron Feliks," founder and first chief of the Cheka (i.e, the first Soviet secret police authorized by Lenin to spread terror and eliminate enemies of the people "without bourgeoise moral prejudices"). During Lenin's Red Terror of 1918, Comrade Latsis ordered the extermination of White suspects and prisoners in the Crimea. He exhorted: "We are not carrying out war against individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. We aren't looking for evidence or witnesses to reveal deeds or words against the Soviet power. The first question which we ask is — to what class does he belong, what are his origins, upbringing, eduation, or profession. These questions define the fate of the accused. This is the essence of Red Terror." But for Latsis, the chickens came home to roost. During Stalin's Great Terror, Latsis was purged and executed in 1938.
Gleb I. Boky: Deputy head of Cheka under Dzherzhinsky; purged 1937; died in the gulag in 1941.
Viktor Abakumov: Former SMERCH ("Death to Spies") commander during World War II and then NKVD Chief, arrested during the Jewish Doctors' Plot Affair; purged, imprisoned, and tortured; finally shot in 1954 under Khrushchev.
Yakov Ganetsky: Polish communist; Lenin's liaison with the German High Command during the Great War; purged and shot 1937.
Fritz Platten: Swiss Social Democrat and guarantor of the sealed train affair that brought Lenin and his Bolsheviks through Germany to Russia in 1917; the man who had saved Lenin's life during an assassination attempt was purged by Stalin and died in a labor camp in the gulag.
Eino Rahja: Finnish communist, Lenin's friend and bodyguard in the early years of the Revolution; purged and shot 1936.
Karl Radek: Polish communist, Bolshevik, and Internationalist (Comintern). He was purged in the 1937 and sent to the gulag, where was shot by an NKVD operative in 1939.
Solomon Mikhaels: Leader of the Jewish Antifascist Committee; assassinated on Stalin's direct order in Minsk in 1948.
Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930): Decadent poet, early supporter of the Bolsheviks; disillusioned with Stalin's Russia, committed suicide.
Maxim Gorky (1868-1936; photo, left): Poet, novelist, proletarian writer, early supporter of the Bolsheviks, then later critic of Lenin's communist repressive tactics; exiled; enticed to return to Russia by Stalin, and then utilized as a captive, useful idiot in Stalin's Russia; probably poisoned along with his son on orders of Stalin.
Dr. Yakov G. Etinger: Jewish intellectual and renown physician; arrested, tortured, and died in the custody of the secret police (MGB) before fully confessing in Stalin's plot against the Jewish Doctors (1951).
Nikolai C. Krylenko: People's Commissar for Justice (1929-1931) and Prosecutor General of the USSR; exponent of socialist legality (i.e., political consideration, rather than guilt or innocence determines culpability and punishment). Under this sham legal theory, he sent thousands to their deaths, but he received his just dessert. He was arrested during the Great Purge, confessed to "wrecking" and "anti-Soviet agitation" and was summarily executed in 1938. He was succeeded by another sanguinary prosecutor in the mold of Fouquier-Tinville, Andrey Vyshinsky, who would survive Stalin.
Kulaks and the Proletariat
We tend to remember the Great Terror of 1937-1938 when so many old Bolsheviks and communist party functionaries were eliminated by Stalin during the the Great Purge. But the Soviet State continued to grind down upon the very citizens whom the Revolution had sworn to liberate and protect. And it began with Lenin from the inception of the Revolution of October 1917 to the end of the Soviet era. Stalin only intensified the repression to unimaginable limits. And the common Russians suffered too.
Millions of Kulaks and poorer Russian peasants were killed during the forced establishment of collective farms. Peasants fought requisition and collectivization by killing farm animals, hoarding or burning crops. Stalin's militia and secret police fought back by drowning, shooting, and starving the peasants. Others were sent to the gulag for slave labor, used in the construction of the White Sea and Volga canals, timber and lumber projects in the tundra and taiga, etc., so that the lifespan of peasants and workers (the proletariat in chains) was barely 3 months in the labor camps!
Likewise, millions of workers (the sanctified proletariat) denounced each other in the suspicious, paranoid atmosphere of Stalinist Russia. Many of them heard the dreaded knock on the door and were taken away by the feared secret police in Black Marias, or were removed directly from the workers' assemblies or workplaces, taken to the gulag or summarily shot as "wreckers, spies, and saboteurs," enemies of the people. The dead count is an estimate by various scholars, but from 20 to 40 million perished during the 29-year rule of Stalin, the Great Teacher.
Commissars of Death
Yakov Sverdlov (1885-1919) was a hard-working Bolshevik, confidante and closest advisor to Lenin, and probably after Lenin, the person most responsible for authorizing the execution of Czar Nicholas II, Czarina Alexandra, and the Imperial family at the Ipatiev House in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, which subsequently was renamed after him, Sverdlovsk.
This Bolshevik Commissar died a natural death in 1919, but in what can only be conceptualized as an "eye for an eye" justice, consider the fate of the actual murderers of the Imperial family (photo, right), the Czar, the Czarina, the Grand Duchesses, Olga, Tatiana, Mariya, and Anastasia, the Tsarevitch Alexei, and four of their servants.
Other than Sverdlov and Lenin himself, no other persons were more directly responsible for the murder of the Imperial family, by either insisting on their execution or carrying it out, than the following blood-thirsty trio:
Yakov Yurovsky: Urals Cheka chief; he actually took his Chekists to the Ipatiev House, armed them and led the shooting of the captive family; Yurovsky was purged by Stalin and shot as a Trotskyite in 1937 or 1938.
Aleksandr Beloborodov: Urals Soviet District chief, who kept urging Moscow for the execution; he was himself purged and shot by Stalin in 1938.
F. I. Goloshchekin: Commissar of the Urals; like his Comrade Beloborodov, he urged for execution of the Tsar; and like his Soviet District chief counterpart, he was purged and died in the gulag in 1941.
The "Greatest Russian"
Under the entry for Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, page 392 of The Encyclopedia of Revolutions and Revolutionaries, From Anarchism to Zhow Enlai, editor Martin van Creveld summarizes:
"Stalin, as general secretary, convened the 17th Communist Party Congress, dubbing it "the Congress of Victors." In the 10-member Politburo chosen at the end of the congress, only Stalin remained of those who had been included in the first post-Lenin Politburo a decade earlier….
"The wave of arrests and executions that followed was bolstered by draconian emergency laws proposed by Stalin. The blood purges lasted until Stalin's death, interrupted only by World War II, and in the end struck virtually every pre-existing institution in the Soviet Union: the Communist Party (98 of 135 central committee members were shot and 1,108 of the 1,966 delegates to the 17th Congress of the Communist Party were arrested and tried); the Red Army (3 of 5 marshals were executed, as were almost all the commanders of armies, and about one-third of the officer corps was arrested); the political police (two of its heads were purged); the governmental apparatus and cultural organizations."
Yet, in 2008 a widely conducted poll in Russia found that the number one spot for "the Greatest Russian" went to the greatest mass murderer, not only of Russians but of his communist comrades, Joseph Stalin; distant second and third places went to the legendary Aleksandr Nevsky, and surprisingly, the assassinated Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin (1911), who served under Nicholas II, the last Czar of Russia.
Let's repeat that between 20 to 40 million sons and daughters of Russia were killed by Stalin and Soviet communism.
Let's hope the Russian people come to their senses and divest themselves of the mistaken "good ole days" nostalgia for "Stalin's greatness" that could lead them to another holocaust! But fortunately, there is hope for understanding and repentance.
In 2009, the administration of Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (photo, left) decreed that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's monumental masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago, be required reading in Russian high schools. It is a great step forward for Russia to walk away from and look at her Stalinist and communist past, facing the stern and sobering reality of repression, mass terror, and mass extermination of her own people for a false principle and a bold-face lie!
References and Sources
1) Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge (1971) and Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties (1968) are excellent and more comprehensive sources of this material.
2) Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow — Russia's Revolutions 1905-1917 (1977). An idealized but well-written and researched history of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. It is a surreal look at what was to come but it made me aware of Medveded's work.
3) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1918-1956) — An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Parts I-II (1973) and The Destructive Labor Camps and The Soul and Barbed Wire, Parts III-IV (1975). Translated into English by Thomas P. Whitney. This is the magnum opus of this subject and told in mesmerizing, graphic detail. It is a must-read work for the fortunate literate of the world.
4) Pavel and Anatoli Sudoplatov, Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness — A Soviet Spymaster (1994). It is cited in the text as essential, details honestly coming out from one of the main protagonists in this drama.
5) Dmitri Volkogonov, Stalin—Triumph and Tragedy (1991). Very important material, particularly as it relates to the military purges.
6) Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield---The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (1999). Essential work as it relates to the decimation of the Soviet Foreing intelligence and the Great Illegal agent network.
7) Amy Knight, Beria — Stalin's First Lieutenant (1993). Excellent biography of Lavrentii Beria, Stalin's henchman and chief of the security police.
8) Marc Jansen and Nikita Petrov, Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895-1940 (2002). The gruesome biography of Stalin's diminutive executioner during the Great Terror, 1937-1938.
9) See also my published book reviews of two seminal Stalin books:
Written by Dr. Miguel A. Faria
Dr. Miguel Faria is the author of “Cuba in Revolution -- Escape from a Lost Paradise (2002)”; he has presently completed a medical study on Josef Stalin’s death, written about Stalin’s legacy, and the lingering influence of Stalinism in Russia today.
This article was edited from two longer articles on the subject. I have also recently published an article in a peer-reviewed, medical scientific journal on the clinical death of Stalin, which concludes that within the highest medical certainty Stalin did not die a natural death but was poisoned with warfarin, a compound then widely used as a rat poison, but now more frequently used as a medical anticoagulant (blood thinner). Warfarin caused Stalin’s “stroke.” This silent assassination was an act of desperation on the part of his inner circle, cowed men who feared for their own lives.
This discussion is beyond the scope of this column. Readers interested in the article on Stalin’s death can find the complete article at: www.haciendapublishing.com/articles/stalins-mysterious-death
A full page version of this article also appeared in the "Perspectives" section in the Macon Telegraph on Sunday, January 8, 2012, p.4D. under the Stalinism, Bolsheviks, and the Revolution's Fatal Statistics
Copyright ©2011 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.