thumbnail of People under communism; Terror as a system of power, part one
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
People under communism. This is a transcribed series of follow up programs based on documented evidence and expert knowledge about the power and intentions of the Soviet Union. This series is presented by the National Association of educational broadcasters in consultation with scholars from the Russian Research Center at Harvard University. The Russian Institute of Columbia University and the Hoover Institution library at Stanford University. The program you're about to hear Tara is based on materials and counsel provided by Dr. Michael professor of.
Dr. Morrow Fane Saad is not only the author of books on American government but is also well-known for his writings about the government of the Soviet Union. He has traveled in Russia interviewed many from the Soviet Union and as director of political studies at Harvard's Russian Research Center. Here is Dr. fain to introduce our program. Tara as a system of power the other day I told a friend of mine that we were planning a radio program on the Soviet secret police. He looked at me skeptically and I asked will people listen. I came back with another question. Why won't they listen. Oh he said we have heard so many stories of concentration camp brutality is that our interest has become dulled and our capacity for indignation exhausted tears become commonplace. Terror has become commonplace. A third of the world's population lives in its
shadow. If the man in the Kremlin have their way there will be many others. If we are to prevent that from happening we need to know how the Soviet secret police operates how it developed and where it appears to be going. This program tells that story in the authentic language of the historical record without embroidery and without sensationalism. The practitioners of terror speak in their own words the voices of the victims which you will hear come from official documents and the reports of living witnesses of terror as a system of power.
Let's see you know. These people are prisoners in the dark before dawn they're being checked off and work brigades. Soon they will be led away under God to their place of work. A forest perhaps where they will felled trees or a gold or coal mine. They will work until after sunset and they will be marched back to their camp carefully watched by men and dogs to be served a meal the size of which will be strictly determined by the amount of work they accomplish during the day. The food will be inadequate and poor but they will devour it nonetheless. Afterwards exhausted they will disperse to their wooden barracks find their places in its tiers of bunks and often without undressing drop upon them to sleep and to be free for a few hours. You see if you are sees where easy barrack number six.
How many of these people there may be we do not know accurately. The Soviet government does not give that information. There may be as many as seven or eight million or as he was three and a half million. The secret Soviet plan for 1941 which the Germans captured and which fell into American hands at the end of the war discloses that the NKVD forced labor program accounted for 12 percent of the capital investment budget six point eight billion rubles out of a total of 57 billion rubles a careful analysis of this highly revealing document indicates a minimum of three million five hundred thousand concentration camp inmates in their book forced labor in Soviet Russia doll in ski list well over 100 identifiable places where prisoners are confined. But point out that the list is far from complete. Huge camp clusters like in far eastern Siberia a number of their inmates in the hundreds of thousands. The campsites dot the map of European Russia and Siberia. Many of them lie above the Arctic Circle.
Indeed the industrial exploitation of a vast frigid zone region of the Soviet Union might well have proved impossible without the use of prison camp labor. Citizen refused. OK well I asked you a question to just write exam I feel 40 below zero outside. I can't work with nothing to cover my feet except these regs it doesn't come undone. What was the name of the one that you reported to see just in coming down from this barrack is me. Yeah just come on down take issues and give them to the What's Your work second category five hundred grams bread rationing a
punishment rational three good citizen and if I hear any more about refusing off you go to the isolator you deserve to go there and shut up. Put on you have to keep my shoes and join your brigade. Make a decent Soviet citizen out of you yet if I have to kill you to do it. Carry on. Let's get shoes. You got off pretty easy comrade believe me. Just get off easy. The largest category of labor camp prisoners is that of the political offenders the ordinary criminal constitutes a second category of labor camp prisoners. This one by all accounts enjoys much more favorable treatment from camp administrators than to the political prisoners. The camps are under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The MVD
at the end of the war the old commissariat of Internal Affairs the NKVD was finally divided into two ministries. The MVD already mentioned and the Ministry of State Security the MGB to this last ministry the MGB have been given all those functions of the old NKVD which together make up the huge secret police and terror apparatus of the Soviet government. We have no authoritative current information concerning the structure of the MGB but there is a great deal available in the reports of escapees about that of its predecessor the NKVD one of its sections administered the great network of prison camps already mentioned. Another section was charged with the duty of guarding the Soviet borders. Still another fully organized military force of a half million picked soldiers was responsible for the internal security of the state. It's protection against disorder and uprisings. There were many other sections. For instance.
General of division equality speaking just to get a special section of the NKVD would be good enough general to see me at the special section offices and I want to talk very well. Comrade investigated. The special section concerned itself with the loyalty of the armed forces. Another section the economic administration dealt with wrecking production failures sabotage and in general with what is called counter revolutionary activity in Soviet industry and agriculture. They form an come right investigator seems unable to explain why the boring machines are not giving results within the tolerance limits required. There's no I'm in New York that Alexander went as a secret political administration protected the regime against the possible effects of impermissible political activity within or without the Communist Party ranks. I feel it my duty comrade investigated to lay before you my doubts concerning comrade Carr you have
been reliability. At our last unit meeting during the discussion of the need for constant vigilance against the United Trotskyite block of records and spies comrade Kajal been stated that some of those already arrested and punished may not be guilty of counterrevolutionary activity. Now when you compare that remark with what he said in his address of the church and religious sects national minorities and members of the intelligentsia were all objects of the secret political administration's interest. Another section the counter-intelligence administration sought out foreign agents within the country and carefully checked on foreign visitors and embassies. The foreign administration was principly an espionage organization operating outside the Soviet Union. One of its duties was to keep an eye on Soviet personnel stationed in foreign countries as the Canadian spy investigation in 1946 revealed. It also recruited agents from among communists communist sympathizers and others who passed
along information of interest to the Soviet government. The prisoners of the condom. Why did that song and the aspirations it stood for lead to the development of this great organization of espionage terror and enslavement. More specifically why did that great dream of the Russian people which seemed in the spring months of 1917 even among the horrors and suffering of war so close to realisation. Why did that dream leave not to liberty but to this.
New love. Let's see here. A prophetic observation of Leon Trotsky's made in one hundred poor is worth considering as we attempt to answer these questions. You know I mean scheme the party takes the place of the working class the party organization displaces the party the Central Committee displaces the party organization and finally the dictator displaces the central committee and often quoted remark attributed to me Tomsky a leading Bolshevik who was later to commit suicide during the great purge of 1936 to 38 supports Trotsky's analysis of Lennon's philosophy of politics certainly two three all four parties may exist under the conditions of working class dictatorship but only provided that one party is in power. And all of the rest imprisoned. While it would not be true to say that all Bolsheviks subscribe to Thom ski's view of the party's
role it is true that such a conception exerted a determining effect upon its attitude when it seized power in November 1979. It was a view moreover which gained added force and prestige from the support it received from Lenin himself. Only a few days after the seizure of power for example a party member protested vigorously against what he saw happening. I deem it my duty to make the following statement. I cannot in the name of party discipline be silent when I feel with all my soul that the tactics of the Central Committee are leading to the isolation of the advance guard of the proletariat to civil war within the working class and to the defeat of the great revolution. I cannot in the name of party discipline be silent when I see what is being done with the press when I see before me how endings and prosecutions searches and arrests all of which arouse the masses and lead them to think that the dictatorship of the proletariat which the socialists have preached for decades is the same old
regime of the club in the saber. The course of future developments within the Bolshevik Party is implicit in that a common criticism of the Party's tactics. The Central Committee has already presented an ultimatum to the leading advocates of the policy requiring them to submit unconditionally to the decisions of the Central Committee and its programme and to refrain from subversive activity of any kind. And two months later he was expelled. The party takes the place of the working class. The party organisation This place is the party the Central Committee displaces the party organisation and in time the dictator was to displace the Central Committee. During those first days of the Bolshevik Revolution the party's membership did not exceed 200000. In spite of the fact that it had the support of many Industrial Workers of Petrograd and Moscow of some of the army contingent stationed in and around Petrograd and of the bulk of the sailors at the
nearby naval base the party represented only a small percentage of the population of Russia. Regardless of its minority status however it refused to share power with any political group which would not accept completely the party program when in January 1018 the long awaited Constituent Assembly met in Petrograd to create a constitutional government for the country. It was dissolved by a show of force for the obvious reason that the Bolshevik Party would have been easily outvoted by the preponderant Bolshevik party's a member of one of those parties put the matter in these woods on the high side of legality. Great ideals and faith in the triumph of democracy on their side lower activity machine guns weapons against such a background of thought and action it is hardly surprising that one of the first moves of the Soviet government now in control of the Bolshevik Party was the
organization of a secret police the Cheka. Less than a year after the abolition of the terror operators the new one was being created and with a similar end in view the maintenance and power of a minority group. The decree establishing the check or All-Russian extraordinary Commission clearly defined its duties first to persecute and liquidate all attempts and acts of counter-revolution and sabotage all over Russia. No matter what their origin second to hand over to the Revolutionary Tribunal all counter revolutionists and saboteurs and workout measures of struggle against them. Third to make preliminary investigations only in so far as that may be necessary for suppression by counter revolutionists and saboteurs. The Council of peoples commissar was was not only thinking of the disenfranchised nobility and bourgeoisie it also had explicitly in mind members of the parties of the left who are refusing to accept the
Bolshevik program nonetheless persisted in carrying on political activity. It was for the checker to decide when this activity overstepped the limits of permissible protest. The commissioners to watch the press saboteurs strikers and write socialist revolutionary revolutionary tribunals were also established to try those accused of such activity into fixed penalties in accordance with the circumstances of the case and the dictates of the revolutionary conscience. One of the chiefs of the Cheka lot Cece declared We are no longer waging war against separate individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class do not seek in the dossier of the accused for proofs as to whether or not to oppose the Soviet government by words or deeds. The first question that should be put is to what class he belongs of what extraction what education and profession. The questions should decide the fate of the accused. Here lies the meaning and the essence of the terror.
But members of the former property classes were not the only ones to bear the brunt of the onslaught Mensheviks and socialist revolutionaries suffered as well. Besides these political victims peasants who resist a grain requisitioning for the Red Army also felt the heavy hand of the checkout Tara. Along with the Red Terror there was a white terror of equal ferocity during this period of civil war tens of thousands lost their lives. Victims of one of the other. Indeed the actual figure may have been in the hundreds of thousands. Yet as the Cheka intensified its activities behind the lines of the Red Army's warning voices were heard within the Bolshevik ranks. The question was raised for instance as to how the activities of the Cheka could be controlled. The widening of its jurisdiction halted at the second all Russian conference of commissars of Justice at Moscow in July 1918. A comrade Yabut you have raised the crucial question.
I admit comrades the necessity for the existence of these extraordinary commissions but I wish to point out that it is important to limit their sphere of activity. Otherwise we shall have a state within a state. Comrade testified settler of has shown us how acute this question is in the provinces. To say if he reports the president of the audio check guys having said I am responsible to no one. My powers are such that I can shoot anybody demonstrates how easily an organ like that tends to widen its authority more and more. If was answered by the Commissar of Justice Nikolai Christine. In the light of what later happened to commissar Christian ski his reply is worth remembering. So long as the car functions the work of Justice must take a secondary place and its sphere of activity must be considerably
curtailed. A member of the Czech comrade Peters was more blunt in its activity that is completely independent carrying out searches arrests shootings and afterwards making a report to the Council of People's Commissars and the Soviet Central Executive Committee. We were asking a little while ago why the dream of Liberty which in February 917 seemed so close to realisation resulted instead in the great apparatus of terror and slave men sketched at the beginning of this program. Have we not reached a point where we can begin to see the outlines of an answer Dr. Fein. We have noted for one thing how the idea of dictatorship was implicit in the Leninists theory of politics. And for another how a weapon of terror the check was forged during the period of civil war from the time that is of the Bolshevik seizure of power in November
1917 to the autumn of 1920. Dictatorship where the two are it would seem inevitably linked together. No doubt terror is not the only means by which a totalitarian regime maintains itself in power. Loyalty and devotion must also be elicited. But behind the facade of any dictatorship the instrument of terror can always be found ready for use when needed. Operated of above all even when not visible. By the mere fact that it is known to be there. By the end of one thousand twenty then the two elements which were to play such important roles in the future life of Soviet Russia had already been revealed. The dictatorial control of state power and secondly the instrument by which that power could be applied. The secret police.
Soon after the inauguration of the New Economic Policy in one thousand twenty one there was an effort made to limit legally the operations of the chicka the necke period. In retrospect appears a relatively mild one to many who lived through it it was the golden age of the Soviet regime only limited categories of citizens were objects of the political administrations special interest. But whatever the hopes that may have been entertained by the more optimistic during this period they were to be rudely broken toward the end of one thousand twenty eight when the new economic policy was discontinued. And Stalin inaugurated the first five year plan of rapid industrialization and the collectivization of agricultural holdings. The secret police apparatus was turned upon three classes in particular the locks the old intelligentsia comprising many of the countries sorely needed technicians and the class of traders which had grown up during the period of the NEP
liquidated as a class for any kind of opposition to collectivization their liquidation at the least involved exile. Many of the NEP men were also exiled. The percentage of these who were imprisoned or simply disappeared into the laboring class cannot be determined. As for the old intelligentsia always viewed with suspicion by the Soviet government. This class became the scapegoat for the failures and breakdowns of the industrialization program. In a series of show trials arranged by the secret police industrial failures were identified with sabotage undertaken at the behest of the foreign capitalist enemies of the Soviet state. These trials however by no means represented the full extent of the attack of the secret police upon the intelligentsia. Thousands were exiled sometimes for no more reason than that they were classified as engineers. Then after this decimation of the ranks of the country's technical leaders had resulted in an inevitable slowing down of the Industrial Process A halt was called
in June 1941. Stalin spoke. It would be wrong and dialectical to continue our formal policy. It would be stupid and unwise to regard to practically every expert and engineer of the old school as an undetected criminal and wrecker. We have always regarded and still regard expert dating as a harmful and disgraceful phenomenon. As a consequence of Stalin's attitude a large number of technicians who had been tried and sentenced on presumably substantial evidence as traitors and saboteurs were not released and restored to their former positions. But with the increasing strains and tensions induced by the effort to industrialize the Soviet Union quickly a new series of accusations trials and executions of technicians soon followed. The period was one during which a vast expansion took place in the poor Soviet security organization the forced labor camp system mushroom and
the cold locks were liquidated. This business like word applied to human beings has taken on the grimmest connotations applied to the collapse it meant in all cases. Forcibly Jackson from their land. Those who physically resisted ran the risk of being shopped. And some were. But most were turned over to the OG pool and so became that huge reservoir of labor which the prison camp system exploits. Indeed so great was this huge captive labor force that some of it was even farmed out to other Soviet enterprises which could not obtain sufficient free labor. The US became an industrial empire as well as a security organization. The realities of government by dictatorship were making the outlines of the dream of freedom fainter and fainter. But the iron control over a population of dictatorship can exercise when necessary had not yet manifested itself completely in July 1934.
People under communism
Terror as a system of power, part one
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-dr2p9h1s).
Part one of this program discusses how fear and intimidation are powerful tools of control in the Soviet Union.
A series of documentaries, interviews and talks based upon documented evidence and expert knowledge about the power and intentions of the Soviet Union.
Politics and Government
Persecution--Soviet Union
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Advisor: Fainsod, Merle, 1907-1972
Guest: Gliksman, Jerzy G., 1902-
Narrator: Scourby, Alexander, 1913-1985
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Writer: Driscoll, David
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 52-38-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:14
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “People under communism; Terror as a system of power, part one,” 1952-12-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 26, 2021,
MLA: “People under communism; Terror as a system of power, part one.” 1952-12-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 26, 2021. <>.
APA: People under communism; Terror as a system of power, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from