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Early in 1937, a crucial meeting of the Bolshevik Party
Central Committee took place. It decided that a purge was necessary
and how it should be carried out. Stalin subsequently
published an important document. At the time of the plenum, the police
had gathered sufficient evidence to prove that
was aware of the
conspiratorial activities of the anti-Party groups unmasked during the
was confronted with these
accusations during the plenum. Unlike the other groups,
was at the very heart of the Party and his political influence was great.
Some claim that Stalin's report sounded the signal that set off `terror'
and `arbitrary criminality'. Let us look at the real contents of this
His first thesis claimed that lack of revolutionary vigilance and political
naïveté had spread throughout the Party.
murder was the
first serious warning, from which not all the necessary conclusions had been
drawn. The trial of
revealed that these elements
were ready to do anything to destroy the régime. However, economic
successes had created within the Party a feeling
of self-satisfaction and victory.
Cadres had forgotten capitalist encirclement and the increasing bitterness of
the class struggle at the international level. Many had become submerged
by little management questions and no longer preoccupied themselves with
the major lines of national and international struggle.
`Comrades, from the reports and the debates on these reports heard at this
Plenum it is evident that we are dealing with the following three main facts.
`First, the wrecking, diversionists and espionage work of the agents of foreign
countries, among who, a rather active role was played by the
affected more or less all, or nearly all, our organisations --- economic,
administrative and Party.
`Second, the agents of foreign countries, among them the
penetrated into our lower organisations, but also into a number of
`Third, some of our leading comrades, at the centre and in the districts, not
only failed to discern the real face of these wreckers, diversionists,
spies and assassins, but proved to be so careless, complacent and naive
that not infrequently they themselves helped to promote agents of foreign
powers to responsible positions.'
Stalin, Report and Speech in Reply to Debate at the
Plenum of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U., p. 241.
From these remarks, Stalin drew two conclusions.
First, political credulity and naïveté had to be eliminated and
revolutionary vigilance had to be reinforced. The remnants of the defeated
exploiting classes would resort to sharper forms of class struggle and would
clutch at the most desperate forms of struggle as the last resort of the
, p. 264.
In 1956, in his Secret Report,
referred to this passage. He claimed
that Stalin justified `mass terror' by putting forth the formulation that
`as we march forward toward socialism class war must ... sharpen'.
, p. S24.
This is a patent falsehood. The most `intense' class struggle
was the generalized civil war that drew great masses against each other, as
in 1918--1920. Stalin talked about the remnants of the old classes that,
in a desperate situation, would resort to the sharpest forms of struggle:
attacks, assassinations, sabotage.
Stalin's second conclusion was that to reinforce vigilance, the political
education of Party cadres had to be improved. He proposed a political
education system of four to eight months for all cadres, from cell leaders
all the way to the highest leaders.
Stalin's first report, presented on March 3, focused on the ideological
struggle so that members of the Central Committee could take note
of the gravity of the situation and understand the scope of subversive
work that had taken place within the Party. His
speech on March 5 focused on other forms of deviation, particularly leftism
Stalin began by explicitly warning against the tendency to arbitrarily
extend the purge and repression.
`Does that mean that we must strike at and uproot, not only real
but also those who at some time or other wavered in the direction of
and then, long ago, abandoned
not only those who,
at some time or other, had occasion to walk down a street through which
had passed? At all events, such voices were heard at this
Plenum .... You cannot measure everyone with the same yardstick. Such
a wholesale approach can only hinder the fight against the real
wreckers and spies.'
Stalin, op. cit.
, p. 278.
In preparation for the war, the Party certainly had to be purged of
infiltrated enemies; nevertheless, Stalin warned against an arbitrary
extension of the purge, which would harm the struggle against the
The Party was not just menaced by the subversive work of infiltrated enemies,
but also by serious deviations by cadres, in particular the tendency to
form closed cliques of friends and to cut oneself off from militants
and from the masses through bureaucratic methods.
First, Stalin attacked the `family atmosphere', in which `there can be no
place for criticism of defects in the work, or for self-criticism by leaders
of the work'.
, p. 280.
`Most often, workers are not chosen for objective reasons, but for causal,
subjective, philistine, petty-bourgeois reasons. Most often, so-called
acquaintances, friends, fellow-townsmen, personally devoted people,
masters in the art of praising their chiefs are chosen.'
, pp. 279--280.
Finally, Stalin criticized bureaucracy, which, on certain questions, was
, p. 296.
many ordinary workers were excluded from the Party for `passivity'. Most
of these expulsions were not justified and should have been annuled
a long time ago. Yet, many leaders held a bureaucratic attitude towards
these unjustly expelled Communists.
, p. 294.
`(S)ome of our Party leaders suffer from a lack of concern for people,
for members of the Party, for workers .... because they have no individual
approach in appraising Party members and Party workers they usually act in
a haphazard way .... only those who are in fact profoundly anti-Party
can have such an approach to members of the Party.'
, pp. 292--293.
Bureucracy also prevented Party leaders from learning from the masses.
Nevertheless, to correctly lead the Party and the country, Communist leaders
had to base themselves on the experiences of the masses.
Finally, bureaucracy made the control of leaders by Party masses impossible.
Leaders had to report on their work at conferences and listen to
criticisms from their base. During elections, several candidates had to be
presented and, after a discussion of each, the vote should take place with
a secret ballot.
, pp. 282--283.
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Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995