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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

A stab in the back

Stalin killed his victorious WWII generals
29 March, 2011 - 00:00

Totalitarian regimes are known to extol their military and political victories as singular achievements, only their own — as something that allows their “Great Leaders” to secure undivided power while keeping the masses ruthlessly subdued, even though all such victories were won with the sweat and blood of those masses.

Joseph Stalin proved a singular dictator with a uniquely cynical attitude to the sufferings of tens of millions under his reign after celebrating V-Day [formally established on May 9, 1945, in the Soviet Union – Ed.]. This date was promptly utilized by Stalin’s propaganda machine (and is still being capitalized upon by Russia’s ideologues and all types of adepts of the “Russian world”) as a target of shameless dirty speculations. Their concept, starting with the generalissimos’ demagogical speeches, boils down to “Great Stalin as the sole victor of the war” and that this victory gave the “leader of nations” the right to change nothing in his bloody methods of governance (he defeated such a formidable enemy, so his methods were right and he could continue practicing them); besides, one had to stay vigilant, what with the British and US enemy becoming active in the West!

This concept was especially manifest in two well-known speeches by Stalin: at the Kremlin, on June 25, 1945, and one addressing the electorate on February 9, 1946. Below is an excerpt from the 1945 speech (an eloquent example of Stalin’s treacherously false-bottom approach).

Stalin was supposed to make a toast to Victory, but he began as follows: “Do not think that I will say something unusual. I have a very simple, usual toast. I would like to drink to all those people who have very small ranks and positions; to all those people who are regarded as cogs of the government machine, but without whom all of us marshals and front commanders aren’t worth a damn, to put it bluntly. I’m raising this toast to plain ordinary people, to all those cogs that keep our great state mechanism ticking in all spheres of science, economy, as well as in the military sphere. There are very many such people, their name is ‘legion’ (hardly a coincidental allusion to the Scriptures and their formula of the devil — Author); there are tens of millions of such people. These are quiet and humble individuals. No one writes about them; they don’t occupy important posts, yet these people are holding us the way the foundation holds the top of the building. I’m drinking to these people, our esteemed comrades.”

Those familiar with the inimitable style of Stalin’s speeches (he wrote all of them himself) shuddered at hearing these words, because they knew that this statement had precisely the opposite meaning, that every cog should know its place and never doubt the Leader’s might, otherwise they would be ruthlessly destroyed. By contrast, his speech on February 9, 1946, had to be bought at face value. He declared: “Our victory signifies, first of all, that our Soviet social system was victorious, that the Soviet social system successfully passed the test of fire in the war and proved that it is fully viable.” The inference was clearly apparent (those who had any doubts were sent to the GULAG to be “re-educated”): no changes are necessary, no reforms needed. The Leader has the ultimate power, period.

Still, there were those who had their doubts. Some — among them ranking army officers — even voiced them together with their indignation. For them Stalin had one irrefutable argument: arrest, torture, prison camp, or a bullet in the back of the head. There is a story backed by recently declassified archival documents.

In Lubyanka’s dungeons it was known as the Generals Case. The arrested general officers were subjected to inhuman tortures, the least of which was being kept awake for days and nights, denied water, fed oversalted food, having a powerful desk lamp in one’s eyes in the course of endless interrogations, with guards gripping the victim’s hands... Among the archival documents are statements squeezed out of the arrestees. What makes this particular case unique is the availability of authentic recordings of conversations these people had at home and with trusted friends, owing to bugs planted by MGB [Ministry of State Security — the KGB’s immediate predecessor. —Ed.] specialists.

Among them were Colonel General Vasily Gordov, former commander of the Volga Military District, recipient of the USSR’s most prestigious decoration and title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” who made his name in the Battle of Stalingrad; his second-in-command, Marshal Grigory Kulik, who was demoted to Major General in 1942 because he ordered his troops to retreat from Kerch [forced to do so in view of the Wehrmacht’s apparent superiority in terms of manpower and materiel, determined to save as much of his manpower as he possibly could – Ed.]; Major General Filip Rybalchenko, chief of staff at the same military district. On January 12, 1942, all three were arrested, on high treason charges, and eventually shot, with secretly recorded conversations serving as incriminating evidence (Stalin was given the transcripts and the ax fell).

In 1992, these recordings were declassified, so we can understand the political mentality of some of the Soviet military elite back then. This data in many ways alters one’s concept of the Soviet generals — the way they were and the way they should be. Below are some hard facts.

December 1946. Gordov’s apartment. The Colonel General talks to his wife and to his deputy, Major General Rybalchenko. Gordov mentions the reason that made him change his attitude to life: “My being elected member [of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR] was what ruined me. That’s the cause of my destruction. I visited the districts, saw what was happening. It was horrible and I found myself born a different man. I hated what I saw. Let me tell here and now: my impression is that should they [‘upstairs’] discard the kolkhozes, we [would have] everything in order by tomorrow, the market, everything. Just let people live; they have the right to live, they have won it, they have fought for it!…” (Couldn’t be better said, yet Stalin found this very concept especially hateful.) The general went on to discuss the situation in the countryside, the famine in Ukraine and Volga Region, about people having to kill and cook cats, dogs, and rats. Rybalchenko said authorities were robbing the kolkhozes of all grain, leaving nothing, not even seed grain; that the truth was the collective farmers hated Stalin and couldn’t wait to see him die. They believed that the kolkhozes would meet their end after Stalin’s death.

Both generals complained about corruption and overall adulation of the Leader. Gordov’s wife said he should send a letter to Stalin, but he became animated, telling her “I wouldn’t, I couldn’t. By doing so I would simply destroy myself politically. I don’t want to look a liar in your eyes. This would mean I’d have to do something somewhere, behind some screen, so you could have your life. I just can’t, it’s not in my blood. What this man did, he brought all Russia to ruin (along with all the USSR republics — Author)… Russia is no longer there! I have never stolen a thing. I can’t act contrary to my own code of ethics. You keep telling me go talk to Stalin. Does this mean I should face him and say, ‘Sorry, I was wrong, I will serve you honestly, with all dedication from now on?’ Do you really want me to serve this epitome of baseness, barbarity, [latter-day] Inquisition, with so many people dying?”

Another striking aspect to the Generals Case is that they actually tried to formulate an alternative to Stalin’s administration — this considering that Uncle Joe’s secret police were all out hunting down his enemies, and that this witch-hunt was common knowledge. Gordov and Rybalchenko kept convincing each other that what they needed was democracy as the only way to get the Soviet Union out of the [ideological] deadlock.

Gordov: “We should have established a true democracy.”

Rybalchenko: “Right. A one hundred percent true democracy.”

These statements may have been included in the MGB transcripts Stalin received and determined the three generals’ tragic lot.

They were all arrested on January 1947, on heavy charges.

Gordov was accused of high treason; that, being an enemy of the Soviet system, he sought to restore capitalism within the USSR, being aided and abetted by Rybalchenko and Kulik; that, in 1946, he voiced malicious slander against some of the party officials and Soviet government functionaries, saying it was necessary to overthrow the Soviet system; that he spent several years organizing and controlling hostile elements, and that he made statements against “the Head of the Soviet State.”

Kulik was charged with capital treason; that he was an active enemy of the Soviet system; that he was involved with anti-Soviet groups; that he wanted capitalism restored in the USSR; together with his criminal associates Gordov and Rybalchenko, voiced threats against the Party and Soviet government leadership. Testimonies made by his fellow convicts fully expose him as a participant in an anti-Soviet military conspiracy.

Rybalchenko’s indictment sounded very much alike. Gordov, Rybalchenko, and Kulik stood trial in August 1950. Apart from high treason, they were charged with preparations for acts of terrorism. None pleaded guilty (a very significant occurrence at the time!). All were condemned to death by shooting. All were executed that same month. All were rehabilitated in 1956 [under Nikita Khrushchev’s “thaw”] because all criminal cases were found to have been falsified. I might add that Stalin personally endorsed Soviet State Security Minister Abakumov’s request that all convicts be executed. Also, that Abakumov would be arrested in 1951, with Stalin’s knowledge and consent, and executed three years later. 

* * * 

Much can be said about the objectives Stalin was after by ordering the execution of three Soviet Army generals who performed so valorously during WW II. Gordov proved an efficient commander of several fronts, and deserved his Hero of the Soviet Union title. Kulik, a former Soviet marshal, later demoted to general, wasn’t a great military leader, but he was no traitor, of course, and suffered his tragic lot because he was known to be a close associate of Marshal Zhukov’s. At the time, Stalin had his reasons for hunting him down.

Doubtlessly, the main reason was to be found elsewhere. Generalissimo Stalin wanted his subjects — all of Russia’s downtrodden peoples — to get his message straight: after winning WW II, there would be no civil rights and liberties, not as long as he lived. Conversely, there would be mass repressions like the ones in the 1930s. However, neither Stalin nor the peoples under his reign could call that victory all their own, for the simple reason that he was just another mortal despotic leader (Omar Khayyam, the famous Persian polymath, wrote that each should remember about his eventual passing). Stalin’s totalitarian system also proved mortal (even though it is still there, shedding skins like a venomous snake, fading into the backdrop only to reappear with its venom-bearing fangs glaring). Stalin kept destroying his Parteigenossen in retaliation for the slightest sign of dissent.

There will be the usual official pomp on May 9, 2011, paying homage to the graves of all those men and officers, along with the ever-present emphasis on Victory as a justification of that hateful political system. Let the reader judge the moral value of this ceremony, now that there are freshly unveiled facts.