Stalin's Defeat

     46. During 1935, under the aegis of Andrei Vyshinski, Chief Prosecutor of the USSR, many citizens who had been exiled, imprisoned, and -- most significantly for our present purposes -- deprived of the franchise, were restored. Hundreds of thousands of former kulaks, richer farmers who were the main target of collectivization, and of those who had been imprisoned or exiled for resisting collectivization in some way, were freed. Vyshinsky severely criticized the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, including internal security) for "a series of the crudest errors and miscalculations" in deporting almost 12,000 people from Leningrad after the December 1934 assassination of Kirov. He declared that from then on the NKVD could not arrest anyone without prior consent of the prosecutor. The enfranchised population was expanded by at least hundreds of thousands of people who had reason to feel that State and Party had treated them unfairly. (Thurston 6-9; Zhukov, KP Nov. 14 & Nov. 19 02; Zhukov, Inoy 187; Zhukov, "Repressii" 7)

     47. Stalin's original proposal for the new constitution had not included contested elections. He first announced it in his interview with Roy Howard on March 1, 1936. At the June 1937 Central Committee Plenum Yakovlev -- one of the CC members who, together with Stalin, worked most closely on the draft of the new constitution (cf. Zhukov, Inoy 223)  -- said that the suggestion for contested elections was made by Stalin himself. This suggestion seems to have met with widespread, albeit tacit, opposition from the regional Party leaders, the First Secretaries, or "partocracy," as Zhukov calls them. After the Howard interview there was not even the nominal praise or support for Stalin's statement about contested elections in the central newspapers -- those most under the direct control of the Politburo. Pravda carried one article only, on March 10, and it did not mention contested elections.

     48. From this Zhukov concludes:

This could mean only one thing. Not only the 'broad leadership' [the regional First Secretaries], but at least a part of the Central Committee apparatus, Agitprop under Stetskii and Tal', did not accept Stalin's innovation, did not want to approve, even in a purely formal manner, contested elections, dangerous to many, which, as followed from those of Stalin's words that Pravda did underscore, directly threatened the positions and real power of the First Secretaries -- the Central Committees of the national communist parties, the regional, oblast', city, and area committees. (Inoy 211)

     49. The Party First Secretaries held Party offices, from which they could not be removed by defeat in any elections to the Soviets they might enter. But the immense local power they held stemmed mainly from the Party's control over every aspect of the economy and state apparatus -- kolkhoz, factory, education, military. The new electoral system would deprive the First Secretaries of their automatic positions as delegates to the Soviets, and of their ability to simply choose the other delegates. Defeat of themselves or of "their" candidates (the Party candidates) in elections to the soviets would be, in effect, a referendum on their work. A First Secretary whose candidates were defeated at the polls by non-Party candidates would be exposed as someone with weak ties to the masses. During the campaigns, opposition candidates were sure to make campaign issues out of any corruption, authoritarianism, or incompetence they observed among Party officials. Defeated candidates would be shown up to have serious weaknesses as communists, and this would probably lead to their being replaced. (Zhukov KP Nov. 13 02; Inoy 226; cf. Getty, "Excesses" 122-3)

     50. Senior Party leaders were usually Party members of many years' standing, veterans of the really dangerous days of Tsarist times, the Revolution, the Civil War, and collectivization, when to be a communist was fraught with peril and difficulty. Many had little formal education. Unlike Stalin, Kirov or Beria, it seems that most of them were unwilling or unable to "remake themselves" through self-education. (Mukhin, Ubiystvo 37; Dimitrov 33-4; Stalin, Zastol'nye 235-6).

     51. All of these men were long-time supporters of Stalin's policies. They had implemented the harsh collectivization of the peasantry, during which hundreds of thousands had been deported. During 1932-33 many people, perhaps as many as three million, had died by a famine that had been real rather than "man-made," but one made more severe for the peasantry by collectivization and expropriation of grain to feed the workers in the cities, or in armed peasant rebellions (which had also killed many Bolsheviks). These Party leaders had been in charge of crash industrialization, again under harsh conditions of poor housing, insufficient food and medical care, low pay and few goods to buy with it. (Tauger; Anderson & Silver; Zhukov, KP Nov. 13 02).

     52. Now they faced elections in which those formerly deprived of the franchise because they had been on the wrong side of these Soviet policies would suddenly have the right to vote restored. It's likely that they feared many would vote against their candidates, or against any Bolshevik candidate. If so, they stood to be demoted, or worse. They would still get some Party position, or -- at worst -- some kind of job. The new "Stalin" Constitution guaranteed every Soviet citizen a job as a right, along with medical care, pensions, education, etc. But these men (virtually all were men) were used to power and privilege, all of which was threatened by defeat of their candidates at the polls. (Zhukov, KP Nov. 13 02; 1936 Const., Ch. X; cf. Getty, "Excesses" 125, on the importance of religious feeling in the country).

Trials, conspiracies, Repression

Notes, Bibliograpy part One