Those people were part of Stalin’s entourage, his old friends and associates. That group could actually depose Stalin because they had very powerful levers in their hands and their clout was limitless. Professor Simon Maskharashvili has more.
GJ – The economic policies of Stalin and his supporters as well as their attempt to blame the specialists of various fields for the failure of the Soviet economy practically ended in fiasco. Most of those people who were arrested in 1932 were exonerated a while later.
SM – In 1932, the Soviet Union embarked on the fulfillment of the second five-year plan. In 1934 almost all apprehended persons who were indicted for ‘harming the country’ and for the ‘treason against the Soviet motherland’ were out of prisons because, with them being detained between 1932 and 1934, the economic situation in the country had not improved at all. It soon became obvious that the failure was not the fault of the specialists and the intelligentsia. The wave of discontent was quickly growing in the country. This time, Stalin decided to use the old political elite as a scapegoat, for which he needed to turn the Soviet People into his ally and reliable force. The political elite immediately understood the ruse which Stalin was thinking of – putting the entire blame for failure on their shoulders and getting rid of them as a result. In 1934, Stalin demanded the creation of such a constitution and such an electoral code, via which the powers other than communist, would be able to achieve victory and get access to management. This was the time when the all-union communist party congress took place which was supposed to elect the central committee of the communist party, and then the central committee would elect the secretary general of the party as well as the Politburo and the so called Orgburo (organizational bureau). It so happened that the congress gave more votes to Kirov than to Stalin. Sergei Kirov was the party secretary for the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) regional committee, a famous political and public figure.
GJ – Does this mean that certain new faces were becoming known on the political arena?
SM – Yes! Some new faces were appearing, and in Kirov’s case, his favorable treatment was easily explainable. The industry was developing very weakly in general, but it was still developing to a certain extent. Leningrad was the biggest industrial city at that time. And Secretary Kirov was the leader of Leningrad. In addition to that, there were more educated people in Leningrad than anywhere else in the Soviet Union, and the Leningrad workers had better skills and higher qualification than the workers in other Russian cities. Suffice it to say that even in the Tsarist period, there was a huge factory operating there. The general picture in the country, as I said, was not pretty: the countryside was devastated and was not developing at all, in most Soviet cities the industry was inching forward at a snail’s pace, and the situation in Leningrad looked a little better against this background.
GJ – So even the minor success was associated with Kirov’s personality, wasn’t it?
SM – Of course it was! He was the leader in that city and he was naturally responsible for certain processes taking place there. This fact had stymied Stalin (he was suspicious and jealous anyway by nature and would not easily spare anybody). He thought that the winners of more votes could make alliance against him and decided to preempt any unfavorable developments. On the other hand, the old party workers, being aware of Stalin’s unsparing character, had a hunch about his plans. So they created their own plan of getting rid of Stalin. As soon as Stalin demanded the introduction of the new constitution and the new electoral code, the anti-Stalinist group wanted and made an attempt to depose Stalin.
GJ – Who were the members of the anti-Stalinist grouping?
SM – The most active members were Tukhachevski of the Soviet Army – the first deputy of the defense commissar (minister), Abel Enukidze – secretary of the central executive committee who monitored the Kremlin security service and the minister of state security Yagoda. These people were not exactly ‘Trotskyites’ and ‘Zinovievites’. They were Stalin’s close associates, his old friends and fellow-fighters. This group could practically oust Stalin, but in 1934, a semi-deranged person whose wife’s lover used to be Kirov himself, assassinated Kirov. Stalin welcomed the fact latently because this got him rid of his competitor, but at the same time, he became scared and thoughtful.
GJ – Why?
SM – He had the investigation started whether Kirov was killed by the anti-Stalinist powers.
GJ – Did Stalin think that the same thing could be perpetrated against him too?
SM – Yes, he did! Stalin now had a wonderful reason for the ‘detection’ and neutralization of enemies. Kirov’s assassination was a perfect reason for starting a new wave of the party cleansing. One of the participants in the anti-Stalinist conspiracy was his brother-in-law Alexander Svanidze who used to be the head of the Soviet trade mission in Germany. In 1935, Svanidze was writing to Stalin that he was planning to oust him and apologized for the fact.
GJ – To make a long story short, he let the cat out of the bag . . .
SM – The information about the conspiracy had reached Stalin in good enough time, but his reaction to it was a little too belated. As I said, among the conspirators were Tukhachevski of the Soviet Army – the first deputy of the defense commissar (minister), Abel Enukidze – secretary of the central executive committee who monitored the Kremlin security and the minister of state security Yagoda. Even Sergo Orjonikidze himself was presumably one of them. They all had very powerful levers in their hands, and their clout was limitless. Stalin started the covert fight against that grouping in order to finally eliminate them. He deposed Enukidze from the secretarial position of the central executive committee and from the leadership of the school of the state security personnel. He was relegated to the position of the secretary of the South Caucasus executive committee. In 1936, the state security minister Yagoda was substituted by a new minister Yezhov. Soon after this, Stalin opened the court case against Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and Rikov – his political enemies who were against the introduction of the NEP (New Economic Policy). Those people were part of the political elite who had already been elected members of the communist party central committee. The court was open to public. As it became known later, the indicted persons were promised a chance to save their lives in case they recognized their ‘crimes’ before the court.