“I regret to disappoint the followers of this faith,” Yudkevich continues, “but there was corruption and ‘the firm hand’ [of Stalin] did not interfere with stealing from the people and the state” and “often there wasn’t any ‘real order’ either in the economy or in the law enforcement spheres.”
Among those who provided evidence of this was Dina Kaminskaya, a lawyer who defended dissidents in the 1970s, including Mustafa Dzhemilyev and Ilya Gabay who were repressed for exposing the persecution of Crimean Tatars. (She is remembered now if at all as the mother of Dmitry Simes.)
In her memoirs, Final Judgment: My Life as a Soviet Defense Attorney (1882) Kaminskaya recalls that there was corruption “even during the Great Fatherland War” and that in the second half of the 1950s, there were an enormous number of major economic crime cases brought against those guilty of corruption while Stalin was alive.
Some of those involved became fabulously wealthy, indeed for the times comparable to the fabulously wealthy of today. The only major difference between the two generations of the corrupt, Yudkevich continues, is that those who engaged in such activities in Stalin’s time generally kept them quiet, while today the corrupt flaunt their wealth.
But these major thieves shared something in common as well. Those who engaged in corrupt practices remained unpunished as long as their boss was in power. Prosecutors were to go after those engaged in “anti-Soviet conspiracies” or who were deemed “enemies of the people” but in no case the corruptly rich near the throne.
After Stalin died, however, they became in many cases fair game; and Kaminskaya recounts some of their cases – a reminder of just how much corruption there was under Stalin and what happens to the corrupt when the person at the top passes from the scene and is succeeded by others who need to make their own way.
Many of those brought up on corruption charges in the 1950s, Kaminskaya says, should have been charged for their role in political repressions. But Stalin’s successors found it more useful and less dangerous to go after the corrupt than after the politically significant lest they call attention to the criminal nature of the state itself.
This is something both those engaged in corruption now and those who are nostalgic for Stalin’s time should remember. Today’s system is not as different from Stalin’s as they imagine in this sphere either, Yudkevich says. “Should we be nostalgic any longer?”