Today continuing my review of this piece by reporter Evgeny Krutikov. Where we left off, there is a whole lot of tension between Beria’s “Mingrelian cadres” and the Great Russian upstarts, all factions seeking more power (and even just sheer physical survival) in Stalin’s waning years. Yesterday we took a quick detour with Goglidze’s biography. However competent the man was, his very presence as Head of Counter-Intelligence irritated some. And he was only the tip of the iceberg: so many of the top positions in State Security were held by bushy-eyebrowed Caucasians. Like having to deal with squabbling children, Papa Stalin (himself a bushy-eyebrowed Caucasian) attempted to mollify the anti-Mingrel faction. The war years had taken a toll on the old man: No longer could he, at the stroke of a pen, just bark out orders and physically purge a bunch of cadres like in the old days. Now he had to deal with powerful factions, always at each others throats. He had to become the wily maneuverer again, like he was back in the 1920’s.
At the 19th Party Congress, Stalin once again attempted to deal with the ethnic disproportions within the top layers of the security forces. And decided to take on the issue of Mingrelian corruption. Of which there was quite a lot. In Gruzia corruption was, and always has been, a way of life. Oh, nothing like the corruption of later Yeltsin’s Russia, involving the theft of billions. No, this was just a matter of local officials taking measley bribes and that sort of thing. But was still considered a big deal and quite horrifying to the common man, who earned his crust in an honest fashion. Anti-corruption investigations resulted in the arrest of over 500 people, mostly ethnic Mingrels. But then the repressions took a darker turn, when the Mingrelian language itself was banned (for teaching in school), and Mingrelian printing presses shut down. According to wiki phonology, the Mingrelian language has 5 vowels and 30 consonants, and every single one of those phonemes was banned by Stalin in 1951. Boo!
Things got so bad that rumors started buzzing around Gruzia, to the effect that all the Mingrels were to be deported to Siberia! And it didn’t take a genius to see that Stalin was actually, in his usual ham-fisted manner, going after Beria! But again, this wasn’t 1936. In 1936 Stalin would blink, and Beria would just be gone. Things were more complicated now. And Beria fought back! This was when he made his famous speech, at that same Congress, almost like a retort to Stalin, in which he denounced “Great Russian chauvinism” and “Russian imperialism”. кто кого? as Lenin was wont to say? The Great Race is on: Will Stalin be able to arrest Beria before the latter has him poisoned? Only time will tell..
Okay, and now, after such a long preparation, this is where we get to the very meat of Krutikov’s thesis. If this were a play, we are now at the “crisis” scene. And in this crisis, Beria is standing at the podium of the 19th Party Congress, vigorously defending himself against Stalin’s anti-Mingrel attitude; and also against those “Great Russian upstarts” (which include reporter Krutikov’s grandfather!) who think to restore the Russian Empire!
In full battle array, Beria lashes out at the very idea of the autonomy of the Russian Republic. In this he achieves an unexpected, an astounding, and long-term victory. Thanks to Beria’s rhetorical flourishes, accentuated by his piercing pince-nez, the dogma of banning a Russia-specific Communist Party existed well into the Brezhnev era, long past the date of Beria’s own demise! As a result of which, the Russian Republic continued to exist as an oppressed colony of the other Republics, while continuing the day-to-day drudgery of feeding and clothing them. And for what in return? For nothing! Russia was like your dear old mum working her fingers to the bone to feed her ungrateful children; and nothing to show for it except the occasional, mocking, peck on the cheek!
This was, according to Krutikov, the very definition of “reverse colonialism”; as a result of which Russians remained poor, and got even poorer every year while their hard-earned product was simply robbed from them. Crass highway robbery! [Just for the record, I do agree with Krutikov on this point; it’s an economic fact of life in the USSR.]
Hence, thanks to Beria’s ideological victory, even unto the Brezhnev era the idea of a Russian Party was still heresy. And then suddenly: Perestroika! Boris Yeltsin not only revived the old idea, but even became its beneficiary. Resurrecting the old idea of the “Leningrad heretics”, Yeltsin crafted the Russian Party as the first step in proclaiming “Russian Independence” from the Soviet Union. And this was how, just as Beria had predicted, Yeltsin built his own power center as a counterpoint to the federal government.
What this led to … everybody knows. The horrors of the Fall, the Time of Troubles. Maybe I have just a linear mind, but I would draw my own conclusions: “Beria was right. People should have listened to him, for a longer period of time.”
Krutikov, however, draws the opposite conclusion: Oh, if only the “Russian Party” had not been crushed in 1949 and then ideologically pounded into the dust once again by Beria, in 1951 — then everything would have been different, and better: The Soviet Union could have reformed itself the correct way, with economic prosperity for all, including the Russian people. There would have been no Khrushchev in 1953. The correct ethnic Russian men (from Leningrad) would have taken the top spots in the federal government. There would have been no moronic Brezhnev with his Ukrainian-Moldavian mafia and his Dnipropetrovsk clan. The Soviet Union would exist to this day, as an intelligently-run “planned market economy”, everybody would be not only powerful but also rich.
Krutikov could be right. Or he could be wrong. Who knows? In another version of ALT-History, those Leningraders of 1949 could have ended up being the Yeltsins of their era: Dismantled the planned economy, awarded themselves lucrative contracts, become oligarchs, disarmed the Soviet Union, dismantled the Warsaw Pact, given up The Bomb in return for American approval and a pat on the head (??)
The only scientific way to test whose theory of ALT-History is correct is this: To build a time machine, go back in time, kill Beria before he ascends the podium in 1951, and then sit back and see who was right.
Epilogue: Men Without Rank or Breeding
After laying out his main thesis of a Missed Reform Opportunity (MRO), Krutikov finishes his piece with a fascinating poison pen letter to Beria, written in pure bile instead of ink. This is a rather well-done hatchet job aimed at “upstarts” in general, not just Beria.
[to be continued]