Thus Spake Kaganovich

Feliks Chuyev

Feliks Chuyev's book 'Tak govoril Kaganovich' (Moscow, 1992), from which excerpts are given below, is a slim companion volume to his 'Sto sorok besed s Molotovym' which was discussed in the previous issue of this journal. The work, based on recorded interviews with L.M. Kaganovich, gives a number of insights into some of the vexed questions of the Stalin epoch. Care is required in taking this as a source-material for this period. These reminiscences are no substitute for the archival materials which are becoming available in the former Soviet Union. It needs to be borne in mind, moreover, that the strength of Feliks Chuyev lies in his being a poet, raconteur and literary figure rather than as a trained historian of this period. It is to be hoped that the translation and publication of these pages may interest some publisher to bring out this volume in full. It is appropriate that we publish this on the 60th Anniversary of the Moscow Underground which was named originally after L.M. Kaganovich.

Stalin's Struggle Against Trotsky and Bukharin was One of Principle

Stalin carried out a principled struggle against Trotsky and Bukharin. Rut there were many whose psychology was such that they supported him not for his ideas but due to personal likings.

Perhaps there was misreporting in the organs of the NKVD.

Exactly, this is what I would like to tell you, was it possible to check every detail? Not that we were scared of anyone or were only bothered about our own lives... no... the reality of those times was such. If you are told that XYZ is an enemy, would you defend him? Can you afford to go against your conscience? This was indeed a most complicated question. Where we were sure of the person's innocence we defended him. In fact, I also went by this principle.

It was only 20 years after the revolution after all, the white officers, kulaks and the Nepmen were all alive...

Do you think that there could have been a counter-revolutionary sabotage in this 1930s?

Of course there was such a threat - Kaganovich emphatically exclaims - not only this there were also instances of terrorism.

Is it true that during his last days Stalin had become terribly suspicious of things?

I think that after such experiences perhaps... though we did not see much change, but saw that he has become serious. Earlier he was not such a serious person, that is during the time of Lenin and then afterwards. He went through quite hard times.

After Lenin, initially, when he took over people started attacking him. It was hard, this fight with Trotsky. Later even his so-called friends like Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky did not spare him. Evidently he had a lot of enemies and those who did not like him.

All this must have hardened him. It was impossible to remain unaffected.

Things on the international front were also not quite easy. And in the face of all that he had to lead the country exuding confidence as well! Indeed this was a lot for a single person! The Fifth Column was at our doorstep. Without destroying them we could not have won the war. The Germans would have beaten us to pulp.

Russia would have slipped back many centuries as happened after the Tartar invasion. This is what the people should try and understand. Of course, a person is bound to change and then there were mistakes. The main thing is that we not only won the war but Stalin also left our country a power to reckon with. Despite the destruction brought by the war our socialist country was resurrected from the ruins. This was a result of the efforts of the people, the heroic workers, but without effective leadership this heroism would have gone to waste. Just think how our country rose to such heights, competing militarily even with America. So one must keep all this in mind. How? Who was the driving force for all this? Who did all the work? Seeing all these achievements one could go into raptures.

The Decision To Make the "Secret Speech" was Taken By Khrushchev Alone

I think it was after the elections, or even earlier... the entire Presidium of the Central Committee collected in the lobby of the Congress Hall. Some were sitting, some could only stand as the room was small. They were given red books.

One should speak at the Congress, said Khrushchev. Rut we had agreed at the Plenum of the Central Committee, we said, to coolly work out the Resolution after the Congress. The Congress was already over. We all spoke quietly without any dissidence. It should be now, said Khrushchev. We went through the Report but reading it properly was simply not possible because of lack of time. We had come out for a 15 minute break from the Congress, it was kept waiting. We went for the meeting of Pospelov's committee.

Khrushchev later on wrongly stated: 'It was proposed that I should make a Report'. Nobody proposed his name, he himself expressed the desire to do so. Molotov, Voroshilov and I did object. Not to say that we very vehemently objected as it was not really possible. The fact is that the meeting was still on. Khrushchev wrongly wrote that only Kaganovich, Molotov and Voroshilov differed. Maybe it was our fault that we did not strongly oppose him. We did not want to split the Congress. All three of us spoke and I had more actively opposed than the others. Believe me, this is how things were.

Lenin's Notion of Socialism

Yes, Lenin had said socialism means liquidation of classes. All workers and farmers would together become workers of the state socialist economy. All this is contained in 'State and Revolution'. If one interprets Lenin's concept of socialism as a cooperative then this is what Lenin had to say about this: in the present Soviet state with the working class at the helm of affairs and where industrial enterprises, banks and the railways are under the joint ownership of the state and society, where the classes are breaking up and cooperatives are developing, this is all one needs for the construction of socialism. All this will make socialism a possibility though this is still not socialism.

That means it is necessary to destroy classes. It is important that state enterprises become state Socialist enterprises in order to have a workers' state. To realize the socialist dream it is necessary to have state land along with cooperatives. This was Lenin's idea.

If only cooperatives are made, then it will only be populist socialism and not genuine socialism. So you see this is a very serious question theoretically. On decodifying Lenin's understanding of socialism in detail, one would realise that, yes, we have a Soviet workers' state, workers' and farmers' state, and not just a people's state. The latter would include all kinds of people, traders, speculators etc., are these people for socialism? Of course not.

Stalin or Kirov

At the time of the 17th Congress of the Party there was great euphoria because of the First Five-Year Plan. In fact for this reason this Congress was named the 'Congress of the Victories' by the people. Molotov's, Stalin's and, if I am not being immodest, my presentation was also very well received by the participants. Today the critics make an all-out effort to discredit the 17th Congress. They also concocted the story that 300 delegates voted against Stalin. I suppose that this kind of gossip was necessary so that one could say that Stalin later took revenge for this. They also generated the false story that Kaganovich, at the behest of the presidium of the Congress, interfered with work of the Counting Committee to misreport the votes against Stalin.

The Cunning Fox

And what did Molotov tell you about Bukharin?

His opinion was that in the year 1918 Bukharin supported the arrest of Lenin.

I shall tell you, said L.M. Kaganovich, that the Left SRs, who were against the Brest Peace treaty were together with the 'Left' Communists. The leader of the latter was Bukharin. The Socialist Revolutionaries told Bukharin that Lenin's arrest would solve the purpose of breaking up the Brest peace treaty. The idea was that Lenin might later on be resurrected but the treaty would have fallen apart. Thereafter they wanted to assign the work to Pyatakov.

There are documents which were published in the newspapers which prove all of this. In one of the Regional Conferences Bukharin himself narrated this story when he was in the Central Committee and fighting the Trotskyites. When confronted with accusations later on and to justify himself he said: "Well, I only told you this!"

Bukharin was then supporting the Left SRs?

Of course, they proposed Lenin's arrest. The 'Left' Communists published Bukharin's explanation in 'Pravda'. Bukharin not only did not refute the statement, but did not even inform the CC.

Till the year 1924, not a word passed Bukharin's lips about this story, that the 'Left' SRs proposed Lenin's arrest to the Communists. See what blasphemy! I don't know whether Molotov told you or not that amongst ourselves we called Bukharin a cunning fox. Bukharin in my opinion was a double-faced man. He was unreliable. A lot can be said about him and then there were contradictions too. Stalin affectionately called him 'Bukharchik'. We also related well to him. But when he once again went to the right and started lashing out at the Party, and organised his own rightist followers, we all opposed him. This should be underlined. Today people would like to juxtapose Stalin the cruel man, with Bukharin the kind, affectionate person, in order to rake up unpleasantness.

What is being written today is that if only they had paid heed to Bukharin there would have been no collectivisation or its victims.

Exactly, today the 'democrats' are using him as a shield and support as the symbol of kulak restoration: Chayanov, Kondratiev and Bukharin. Chayanov and Kondratiev openly supported the kulaks and stood for kulak cooperatives. Nobody talks about all this. It is wrong to say that Chayanov was a theoretician of the cooperatives, he was a propagator of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois cooperatives. The fact is that Bukharin shielded them as communists and marxists.

Stalin Held Firm at the Time of the Nazi Invasion

A question about 22nd June, 1941. Was Stalin confused? It is said that he did not meet anyone?

It is all lies. We were with him. At night while Molotov was meeting Schulenberg we were there at Stalin's place. He immediately handed over the responsibilities. I was given - Transport, and Mikoyan - Supplies. And transport was ready! To carry 15-20 million people, the factories... it was not a joke. Stalin was working all the while. Of course, he was surprised. He had thought that he would be able to avert the invasion for some more time as the crisis in Anglo-American relations would deepen. I do not think that this was a miscalculation. It was impossible to provoke us. Perhaps Stalin was over-careful. At that time there was no alternative. At first I thought that perhaps Stalin's idea at the start of the war was to overcome the crisis diplomatically. Molotov said 'No'. This was war and nothing could have been done.

Hitler was not able to out-smart Stalin. Despite all logic Hitler did not end the war with the British but attacked us. Hitler acted as an imperialist. Only they attack first. We never attacked first. Our socialist system stood the test of time and we won the war.

Khrushchev had Supported Trotsky

But for supporting Khrushchev you will be blamed.

Yes, you are right. I was the one who pushed him up as I thought him to be a capable person. But he had been a Trotskyist. I informed Stalin that he had been a Trotskyist. I told this to Stalin when Khrushchev was elected a member of the Moscow Committee. Stalin asked: 'How is he now?' I replied: 'He is fighting against the Trotskyists, genuinely, actively'. Stalin then asked me to support him on behalf of the CC at the conference.

We heard of this episode differently. It seems Khrushchev had said that Kaganovich wanted to destroy his career when he was pushed for the Moscow Committee. You at the last moment reportedly pointed out to Stalin that Khrushchev had been a Trotskyist, to which Stalin replied that he already knew about it.

Really, is it so?

Yes, that is how the story is told.

I told you how it exactly happened. Khrushchev came to me during the conference in tears and asked me whether he should speak or not. I told him that I would consult Stalin. Stalin suggested that he should speak, narrate, everything, and later on I was supposed to speak and express trust in him on behalf of the CC.

Learning To Trade

The Market: Buying and Selling.

But it is the workers' state that we have and the power is in their hands. Slowly we can bring everything under control: factories, plants, the railways, we have all. A year later at the 11th Congress, in March, 1922, Lenin had said that for one year we retreated, now it is the time to move ahead. That is to say that along with NEP trade, we should develop our state co-operatives. We will be able to give a hitting blow to private enterprise only if state and co-operative trade, if our factories come of age and give the required production levels, that is if their production is of a higher level than the private ones. 'Who will win'. So that is the basic question today. It is therefore important for the Communists to learn the techniques of trade, to be able to outsmart our competitors. We need to produce consumer articles like matchboxes, nails etc. for our people. The struggle now is 'who will win'. This is possible as the power is in the hands of the workers: banks, railways etc. - everything - all this is necessary for building socialism.

Now they are saying that Lenin's concept of NEP is the concept of socialism. This is not true. The very posing of the question explains this, and Lenin said that the struggle is between capitalist elements and us. In his last address in 1922 at the Moscow Soviet and the 11th Congress, Lenin had emphasized that capitalism with us has gone to the world, but we need to be careful. I am confident that the Russia of NEP will be transformed into socialist Russia. It is enough to say the NEP Russia was not considered socialist by him. And now it is being said that Lenin considered NEP Russia as already socialist. This is absurd and foolish. There were communists who said that NEP is the end of us, that NEP will lead us to capitalism and that Lenin was only consoling them. I well remember that there were people who cried while Lenin spoke at the Comintern Congress. They thought that all was over. Our strength could have been judged by the fact that Lenin said: 'So, friends, we have already accumulated 20 million roubles of gold to buy equipment for our industry.' How poor we were!

I remember, many people left the Party at the time of NEP. They said that now the working class must fight as under capitalism. The Workers' Opposition was organised which was headed by Shlyapnikov, Kollontai and Medvedeyev. They did not leave the Party. Instead Lenin took Shlyapnikov as a Candidate Member of the C.C. I am talking about their platform, their position. Their position was that we are heading for capitalism and that there would not be any socialism.

Trotsky's position was that without the intervention of Western Europe no socialism could be built. The world revolution has failed and we do not have the capital to re-establish industry. Krasin took the position of Struve after Lenin's death. Struve was of the opinion that we should learn from the capitalists.


The position of Stalin and the Stalinists was that we should depend on our resources. It would be difficult for the people but nevertheless we should be strict. If the capitalists want to help they would - we will not give in. We rallied round on this point. This is what I would like to say through my reminiscences which are of an ideological nature. One should not simply hurl words: that we are already having capitalism, that we have socialism, to hell with it! The Marxist-Leninists must seriously think over all this.

No Dialogue with Enemies

Perhaps our progress slumped as the Party, the dictatorship of the proletariat became weak?

The issue of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a very complicated issue. What it was with us, when it started to weaken... There were personal reasons also. As you know, every person has his own nature. And sometimes the general is identified with the personal. It is, of course, a blatant lie that Stalin did not distinguish between personal and political power or interchanged the two. Without power it is impossible to implement the processes of the struggle for socialism. Of course, he did commit mistakes and indulged in extremes. The will was to do big things, the possibilities also were great and on top of that the power was great.

Jews Were His Opponents

Krestinsky? Kaganovich expressed surprise, he was a Bolshevik. Lenin had a beautiful phrase of which I was very proud that there are proportionately more revolutionaries amongst the Jews than in other nationalities.

And that is how it is.

Yes, now about Lenin you cannot under any circumstance say that he was an anti-semite.

And, Stalin, what can be said about him?

I will tell you something about Stalin. There are Stalin's statements on this question that anti-semitism is criminally punishable. He was not an anti-semite. But life is such a paradox that all his opponents were Jews. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky... what could he do if all his enemies were Jews?

Then he was very scrupulous and careful by nature on political and nationality matters.

Cross-Examination of Bukharin in the Politbureau

Since the days of his youth at the gymnasium, Stalin asks him: 'What was your underground name?' He answers: 'Blokha' [flea]. Stalin looks at the court and says 'Blokha!' Bukharin's character has been developed at the cost of servile caricaturisation of another part, this is a kind of theft.

Why, was he untrustworthy?

Of course not. But he did everything to destroy Stalin, this is for sure.

Is this true?

Yes, there was his confrontation with Kulikov. He was a Moscovite. At the meeting of the Politbureau members, Kulikov addressed Bukharin: 'You remember, Nikolai Ivanovich, how you took me by the arm and we walked along the Vozdvizhenka, and I said to you: 'Why are you wasting your time there, when it is time to act and simply talk.' Bukharin inquires 'but where are your people? Who would act?' 'Well, people could be found.' 'And why don't you act yourself? Participate in terrorist acts?'

'I never said that' shouted Bukharin. How do you deny this when you wanted the surnames [familia] of the persons I had listed - said Kulikov who was a member of the Moscow Committee, Secretary of the Regional Committee, a tanner by trade and very politically aware.

Sergo [Ordzhonikidze] asks Bukharin whether he had said this or not.

Yes, answered Bukharin.

How could you?!

I thought that Sergo was about to hit him.

I asked Kaganovich whether he was present during all of this.

Yes, of course.

Which year was it?

Perhaps 1933 or 1934 or 1935. Sergo was still alive. Bukharin was arrested in 1938.

The Trial was already in 1938.

He only sat for awhile... Slepkov was cross-examined during the trial: 'Did Bukharin send you to the Northern Caucasus?' - 'Yes'. 'What tasks did he give you? - 'The task was to find out the mood of the Kazakhs, and the residents of the Kuban and the Don whether they were prepared for something or not?' Once again they asked Bukharin: 'Did you say this to him?' He hesitated and said 'Yes'.

Once again Sergo sprang up: 'Is it really possible that you might have said this?' - 'Then I was opposed to all the politicians of the CC, but today - no.

I asked Kaganovich whether Stalin was present in these proceedings.

Of course, he, as well as all members of the Politbureau were present. Voroshilov was there. Molotov chaired the meeting.

Rykov's proceedings were arranged with Chernov.

And was not this Kulikov already arrested? Yagoda might have cooked up something.

Look, a cross-examination was arranged to see the truth in Kulikov's utterances. We were convinced about his statement.

Kulikov perished after that?

Yes, perished.

I wonder whether it was worth executing them. They should have been removed front all posts, and sentenced to an unknown life in some provincial town.

See, my dear, the situation of capitalist encirclement was very complicated. There were the supporters of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Rykov. Each one of these could have headed separate governments. Out of the opponents of Stalin three states could have emerged.

Trotsky was sent away. Bukharin could also have been.

Those were difficult and complicated times. This only shows Stalin's patience, that he carried along with Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev uptil 1927. Kamenev in those days had organised a parallel rally: 'Down with the Government, Down with Stalin!' Then he was dropped from the Politbureau, he was a member of the P.B. until 1927. How forbearing Stalin was! There were times when Kirov and Kamenev wanted to drop Trotsky from the Politbureau and Stalin was defending him.

It is said that you shot people even for ideas.

Not for ideas. Why for ideas at all? But who would believe that these old, experienced conspirators, using the experience of Bolshevik conspiracy and cooperation, underground organisation would not get together to form an organisation.

They did form an organisation. Tomsky and Zinoviev did get together. They met at their dacha. And what about the Ryutin Platform - these were not ideas. These people organised an uprising against the Soviet state and they could have headed a revolt.

The entire method of Lenin's struggle against the bourgeoisie could have been used against us. They had their people everywhere, in the army and elsewhere. They had formed organisations spread out in chains. Bukharin used to meet Kamenev and others and talk over the matters of the CC. How could one let this happen freely? People ask how could they possibly get in touch with foreign governments? Well, they saw themselves an independent underground government. Trotsky being a good organiser could have led the revolt.

They were all in contact with each other. One would show restraint and the other would say everything. We already knew that this was a strong, organised group, such opponents who could organise terrorist activities and even kill.

It is also said that Stalin held discussions with Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev: 'If they confess they would be pardonned, or their children and their wives would be shot.' They were told all this?

They themselves asked for a meeting. I know that Zinoviev and Kamenev met Stalin, Voroshilov was also present. Kamenev and Zinoviev had requested mercy. They were already arrested, still Stalin met them. Stalin asked them to admit their guilt. They said that they were guilty. It was clear that they would never forgive Stalin for cornering them like this.

There were rumours that he promised them their lives.

This I do not know. I doubt that there was such a conversation. Stalin immediately understood that Kamenev and Zinoviev were against the October Revolution. Trotsky was a Menshevik and he did not believe in socialist revolution. Rykov also was against the revolution and refused to be part of Lenin's government. Bukharin knew that the SRs wanted to have Lenin arrested and still chose to keep silent.

With such people around him Stalin could not have possibly waited for such a time when these people would have caught him by the neck and like they did to Robespierre annihilated him. Robespierre was eliminated because he awaited a reconciliation with his opponents. Those who had applauded him were today shouting: 'To the Guillotine!' If Robespierre had not been there, with all his ferocity, feudalism would not have been uprooted. He was a despot, as they say, the Trotsky of the French revolution.

If things are analysed legally one may draw different conclusions. But if one keeps the larger historical consequences in view then one can say that Stalin acted decisively and strongly. Stalin was a man of great historical will and if we can speak bluntly, so was Lenin. We did still arrest communists. In 1907 we were together with the Mensheviks in the Stockholm Party congress and already by 1918 we arrested them and shot them. Not everybody can understand this revolution where you have to destroy your own comrades and relatives. Each revolution they say devours its own children. Nothing of the sort! Lenin saw beyond all this, he defended Martov, and even allowed him to leave. The rest, of course, did not...

The Menshevik Trukhanov at the 7th Congress of the All-Russian Soviets in 1920 spoke of Lenin's dictatorship in politics and deeds. Lenin spoke against him and said workers' dictatorship did not mean the dictatorship of an individual. With our kind of situation with peasant reserves and with capitalists all around us we had to stand up and preserve our state.

Humane Socialism - Sweet Candy

The resolutions of the 28th Congress of the Party are false, shameful words about an authoritarian state, it is all that the West had said about us in the course of 70 years. Their propaganda was that we had a totalitarian regime, slavery of sorts... It is shameful... As Stalin has said: We have a workers' and farmers' state and Soviet power. But as a result of tragedies, wars and the necessity to fight and having to apply force and violence it became a habit and then it all turned into distortions. Our workers' state became distorted. Bureaucratic distortions crept in.

It would be right to state that violence entered our system as a habit and in itself became law. This was a mistake and distortion. Socialism itself is not violent, it is very humane. In fact, to say that socialism is humane is to say the obvious. But for socialism to remain democratic and humane it is necessary to have it without classes. But the road to socialism cannot be humane, because it is a journey full of struggle and strife. Any struggle means bloodshed and violence. And the road to socialism is through class struggle with its enemies.

Dictator From the Party

I don't think that the Presidential system in our country is in principle very right. Earlier we had Soviet power and now it is President's power...

And if we were to have a strong person as Stalin?

Stalin would not have gone in for military dictatorship.

He himself was a dictator.

But he was a dictator from the Party. There is a great difference. Dictator on behalf of the Party.

The 'Anti-Party Group'

Stalin during his last years, says Kaganovich, made wrong assessments of people. People like Khrushchev, Malenkov and Beria came closer to him. Molotov and Kaganovich were not so close to him in his last days. Stalin probably thought that Molotov and Kaganovich may like to take over after him... he was preparing for his exit already... perhaps.

On whom could he probably depend - Khrushchev or Beria?

Stalin did push us (Molotov and Kaganovich) aside and did not assess us properly, much as it would sound strange, we were both very strong contenders. It is a pity, that he made a mistake. Due to this Khrushchev and a kind of liberal politics came up. Had one of us come to power, the story would have been different. Yes, Stalin did not properly understand our politics.

You missed the moment. I said this to Molotov also. At the time of the activity of the 'Anti-Party Group' you could well have taken power. You had the authority and backing of the majority.

A majority of the Presidium. But we were unorganised. We were also not a fraction.

No, Nikita was able to outsmart you all?

What do you mean out-smarted us, he was a rogue of the highest order. And we were simply busy with parliamentarism, that was our fault.

But you had control over everything, you could have removed him. He could have sat in one of the collective farms.

Well, we were unorganised, we were not meeting people secretly, not hob-nobbing. That was our shortcoming.

Translated from the Russian by Ranjana Saxena