Staunton, August 28 – There were many things in Soviet times that “didn’t exist” or “couldn’t exist,” according to official propaganda. One of the most tightly held of these views concerned the possibility of any opposition to Stalin among the Red Army, with the singular exception of the fabricated Tukhachevsky affair in the late 1930s.
But in an article for Radio Liberty, journalist Vladimir Voronov says, recently released documents show that the Soviet secret police were reporting a rising tide of anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet attitudes among the predominantly peasant soldiery at that time as a result of the brutality of collectivization (svoboda.org/a/30132767.html).
And those attitudes help to explain one action by Soviet soldiers that because of these reports, Stalin and his regime were ready to view as indications that a military coup against him and the Bolsheviks was not only possible but imminent, a perception that helps to explain Stalin’s turn to ever greater repression and the Great Terror.
In 1930, the OGPU as the secret police was then known reported upward that among soldiers’ letters home had been found such observations as “if there were a war, all the Red Army men would turn their guns” on Soviet power not the enemy and “in the case of war, you won’t go to defend Soviet power but desert and organize bands to destroy the collective farms.”
At the same time, the secret police reported that rumors were circulating among soldiers that “Poland has occupied Kyiv,” “Siberia has risen in revolt and China has come to its aid,” and even “Voroshilov has killed Stalin!” By the spring of 1933, the OGPU was reporting upward ever more anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet attitudes among the military.
The chekists said they had identified 313,762 expressions among Soviet soldier in 1932 and 346,711 in 1933 and that such attitudes affected 60 percent of those in uniform including officers as well as soldiers. As a result, the organs continued, 22,308 soldiers had been dismissed from the services for such anti-regime and seditious attitudes.
Such reports, invented or accurate at least in part, set the stage for the regime’s reaction to several cases that through that optic looked like a potential military coup in the making, Voronov continues.
Eighty-five years ago, on August 5, 1934, Artyom Nakhayev, a Red Army commander who was studying at the Military Academy, led 200 soldiers into Moscow and delivered an impassioned speech to them, urging them to seize weapons from military units there and attack Soviet power.
“We fought in 1914 and in 1917,” he reportedly said. “We conquered factories and land for the workers and peasants, but they didn’t get any of this. Everything remains in the hands of the state and a handful of people run this state. It enslaves the workers and peasants. There is no freedom of speech, [and] the country is run by [Jews].”
It remains unclear whether any of those who heard him were inspired to act, and Nakhayev himself was quickly arrested, and it turned out that he was a man who had left the party in 1927 over the exclusion of the left opposition and had had personal problems since leaving the military thereafter before somehow gaining entry into the Military Academy.
Bolshevik officials in Moscow portrayed him as a psychologically disturbed individual, but Stalin, who was then in Sochi, would have none of that, preferring to see Nakhayev’s actions as an indication of rot within Soviet institutions that foreign forces – including Japanese, Polish and Estonian intelligence services -- were preparing to exploit.
Stalin’s underlings quickly fell in line with his thinking and a conspiracy was found or more precisely invented – with all the ensuing consequences including the arrest and execution of people who had little or nothing to do with Nakhayev. As Vorontsov observes, Stalin viewed the Nakhayev case as more serious than it was because of what the organs had told him earlier.