Today continuing with this piece by Evgeny Krutikov. Working through his thesis that Lavrenty Beria helped to dissolve the USSR. By planting a long-range time bomb of centrifugal forces.
Krutikov’s reasoning didn’t actually go in the direction that I thought it would, when I first started reading this piece. I thought it was going to be about granting more regional autonomy. Which, as we have seen, allowed regional Soviet elites, especially within the Party Nomenklatura, to proclaim themselves as the new comprador bourgeoisie, once Yeltsin and the others completed the capitalist counter-revolution.
Instead, it’s about the Russian Republic and its lack of autonomous organs, not even having its own Communist Party. Economically, Russia was the powerhouse of the Union, feeding and clothing the whole country; and yet the Russian Republic did not have its own autonomous economic planning mechanism; everything was subordinate to the Center. This led to the de-facto looting of the Russian Republic and the redistribution of its product to the other Republics, via the Gosplan mechanism. Soviet Communism was a strange system indeed, in which the Metropolis was the colony of the Regions. As a result of this system, oddly enough the “oppressed” nationalities living in Gruzia, the Ukraine and the Baltics [Krutikov is correct here, this is a proven fact] lived a much better lifestyle on the whole, than those in the core Russian regions. (And Russian tourists could see this for themselves whenever they went on holiday to these other Republics.)
Ordinary ethnic Russians felt the injustice of this situation, leading to outbreaks of popular rebellion in 1949. One can imagine Stalin’s Oprichniki running to him with breathless news of: “Sire! The peasants are revolting!”
For sure, the Russian people resented their “carpetbagger” overlords, especially those from the Caucasus. In response to this, and to mollify the revolting peasants, Stalin initiated a plan to “Russify” Russia again. He issued orders to each Minister at the Union level, to prepare his own replacement within five years, and preferably from among the ethnic Russians. One can only imagine how those Ministers felt, upon receiving such an order. It was around this time that Stalin was also working through his own, more secret plan, to rid himself of his Caucasian entourage and poison-tasters, replacing them with fresher, more Slavic-looking roadies from the Russian North, especially graduates from the Leningrad Obkom and Gorkom.
In January of 1949, Alexei Krutikov [grandpapa of reporter Krutikov!], who was technically the second man in the entire USSR, right after Stalin, as he held the title of Deputy Chairman of the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR — signed a decree authorizing wholesale farmers markets to open in Leningrad. This would allow enterprises and kolkhozy (collective farms) of the Russian Republic to bring their “excess” wares for trade and sale. The whole concept of “excess wares” was actually tabu and unthinkable in the context of a planned economy. But Minister Krutikov actually used the term “excess production”. And the name of the enterprise itself, the “All-Russian” (Всероссийская) in “All-Russian Wholesale Fair” was a word that had not been heard since the days of the Tsarist Russian Empire. This wasn’t going to be the type of fair with Morris Dancers. There might be prize pigs, though. The fair was designed to exchange goods only within the Russian Republic and not to be, as was the usual case, dispatch all the good product to the other Republics in return for a cheery “Thanks!” The goal was to raise the living standard of ordinary Russians by giving them more stuff to eat.
Who Doesn’t Want To Go To The Fair?
Georgiy Malenkov, for starters. Malenkov was the Secretary of the Central Committee and was Beria’s best friend (at that time). Malenkov had initially gone along and supported the Wholesale Fair idea, but then suddenly turned against it. He sat down at his desk and wrote a rat-fink denunciation of a man named Alexei Kuznetsov.
Who was Kuznetsov? Good question! He was the former head of the Leningrad Obkom, a war hero who had defended the city during the Siege, one of the participants in the Atom Project, and currently a Favorite within Stalin’s inner circle.
In his denunciation of the list of traitors, besides Kuznetov, Malenkov also threw darts at Mikhail Rodionov (Chairman of the Council of Finances of the Russian Republic), and around ten other guys. Malenkov accused them, perhaps accurately, of attempting to create a “Russian Party” as a counterweight to the CPSU. As a result of Malenkov’s denunciation, the “Farmers Fairground” morphed into a sinister “Russian plot” and went down in history as the “Leningrad Affair”. Malenkov, by the way, was ethnic Russian himself, but with a dose of Macedonian on his father’s side.
Beria, who, recall, was Malenkov’s friend, presented this denunciation to Stalin, and got the old man worked up about such an underhanded attempt to create an alternative center of power in the USSR, based in the largest republic (=Russia). This was nothing less than a return to the bad old days of “Great Russian Chauvinism and Imperialism”, so loathed by Lenin and the others. And Beria had a point here, as did Malenkov. In the world of Office Politics, it takes a wily bureaucrat to sense an actual threat to his dominance.
[to be continued]