Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”)
Continuing to work through this interesting piece by Evgeny Krutikov. His thesis is that Lavrenty Beria contributed to the eventual dismantling of the USSR, thanks to his “nationalities” policy, which he started to push in the months leading up to, and following, the death of Stalin.
We have learned that Stalin, in his final months, was worried that somebody was trying to poison him, be it Jewish doctors or his Mingrelian inner circle (beholden to Beria). We’ll never know for sure, but Stalin was probably right. Probably everybody and their grandmother was trying to poison him.
Dinner at the Stalin house must have been an interesting affair, with everybody surreptitiously switching wine goblets behind everybody’s back. And while it is prudent for any national leader to have a food-taster on hand, that won’t really help if the poison is a very slow-acting one. As Napoleon Bonaparte had discovered, back in his day.
While all this comedy was going on, Beria was planning a Big Huge Reform of Soviet nationalities policy. He wanted to placate ethnic functionaries by allowing them to be the First instead of Second Party Secretary for their area. A huge mistake, which planted the seeds of later destruction. As we came to see, the cultivation of ethnic and national elites made it all the easier for the nascent compradore class to worm their way into the regional governments. The eternal dialectic between centralism and de-centralism; the widening gyre, yada yada.
And Beria specifically had targeted Gruzia and the Baltics, as the beneficiaries of his favors. Areas where support for the Nazi invaders had been significant. Instead of punishing these people for the relatively large number of collaborators, they were to be placated by gaining more national autonomy. Was Beria’s plan an act of foresighted treachery, the planting of a poison seed that was to flourish in 1991? Not at all, in my own opinion. Appeasement is not always a bad idea. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Most of the time, in fact, I would say. Buy off people’s loyalty, the new generation grows up, eventually things will settle down. It is precisely this tactic that Putin’s Russia has successfully employed in the Crimea, by buying off Tatar support for the Russian reunification. It’s not wrong now, and it wasn’t wrong then, IMHO.
But the main issue here was not even Gruzia or the Baltics, it was: What is the status of Great Russia herself? According to Krutikov, Stalin went back and forth on this issue multiple times. It was the thorny issue, and he could never quite get a handle on what to do. In 1945 Stalin issued his famous “toast” to the Russian people, at a reception in honor of Red Army commanders. Showing not only an oratorical flair but even an unexpected (for him) element of reflection and self-criticism, Stalin thanked the Russian people for saving his bacon:
COMRADES! Permit me to propose one more, last toast.
I should like to propose a toast to the health of our Soviet people, and in the first place, the Russian people. (Loud and prolonged applause and shouts of “Hurrah.”)
I drink in the first place to the health of the Russian people because it is the most outstanding nation of all the nations forming the Soviet Union.
I propose a toast to the health of the Russian people because it has won in this war universal recognition as the leading force of the Soviet Union among all the peoples of our country.
I propose a toast to the health of the Russian people not only because it is the leading people, but also because it possesses a clear mind, a staunch character, and patience.
Our Government made not a few errors, we experienced at moments a desperate situation in 1941-1942, when our Army was retreating, abandoning our own villages and towns of the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, the Leningrad Region, the Baltic area and the Karelo-Finnish Republic, abandoning them because there was no other way out. A different people could have said to the Government: “You have failed to justify our expectations. Go away. We shall install another government which will conclude peace with Germany and assure us a quiet life.” The Russian people, however, did not take this path because it trusted the correctness of the policy of its Government, and it made sacrifices to ensure the rout of Germany. This confidence of the Russian people in the Soviet Government proved to be that decisive force which ensured the historic victory over the enemy of humanity—over fascism.
Thanks to it, to the Russian people, for this confidence!
To the health of the Russian people! (Loud and prolonged applause.)
What About Russia’s Special Status?
Spirited toasts notwithstanding, the “Russian Question” kept being shoved aside. The fact is, that Russia was not an equal partner with the other Soviet Republics. The little-known fact, and laughable as this sounds to the ignorami, is that Russia was almost like a subject nation when compared to the others. This lower status came about and solidified even back in the 1920’s, when Russian interests were put on the back burner in favor of “Internationalism”. Among the Old Bolsheviks it was almost tabu to mention the former Russian Empire, with the Russian people at its head. Such a heresy was considered mauvais ton and, after the faction wars, an even worse heresy than Trotskyism itself.
That last paragraph was Krutikov’s take on the situation, and I think we can see already where he is going with this. But many others would disagree and posit that Great Russia was, by far, the dominant force in the day-to-day running of the Soviet Union. Was not oppressed at all, nor slapped on the face by the other Republics. Russia not bragging about her superior status was more like, just like holding back modestly, putting Baby in the Corner, pretending to be just one of the gang, and not cramming herself down other peoples throats. And speaking of Trotsky, this is what he had to say, in 1936, about that situation:
The Great Russian culture, which has suffered from the regime of the guardhouse no less than the others, lives chiefly at the expense of the older generation formed before the revolution. The youth are suppressed as though with an iron plank. It is a question, therefore, not of the oppression of one nationality over another in the proper sense of the word, but of oppression by the centralized police apparatus over the cultural development of all the nations, starting with the Great Russian. We cannot, however, ignore the fact that 90 per cent of the publications of the Soviet Union are printed in the Russian language. If this percentage is, to be sure, in flagrant contradiction with the relative number of the Great Russian population, still it perhaps the better corresponds to the general influence of Russian culture, both in its independent weight and its role as mediator between the backward peoples of the country and the West. But with all that, does not the excessively high percentage of Great Russians in the publishing houses (and not only there, of course) mean an actual autocratic privilege of the Great Russians at the expense of the other nationalities of the Union? It is quite possible. To this vastly important question it is impossible to answer as categorically as one would wish, for in life it is decided not so much by collaboration, rivalry and mutual fertilizations of culture, as by the ultimate arbitrament of the bureaucracy. And since the Kremlin is the residence of the authorities, and the outlying territories are compelled to keep step with the center, bureaucratism inevitably takes the color of an autocratic Russification, leaving to the other nationalities the sole indubitable cultural right of celebrating the arbiter in their own language. [Trotsky, “Revolution Betrayed”]
[to be continued]