Saturday, March 21, 2020

‘By 1928, Soviet Workers and Peasants Were Saying They’d Lived Better Under the Tsar,’ Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 16 – “By 1928, Russian workers and peasants knew they had lived better under the tsars,” and they were prepared to say this publicly, historian Vladimir Lavrov says. What is especially important is that their comments were passed onto Stalin unedited because in the 1920s, he wanted to know the truth.

            Lavrov, who works at the Institute of Russian History, includes this information in his new book, The Peasant Was Confused. How Lenin and Spiridonova Involved the Peasants in the October Revolution (in Russian, Moscow, 2019) which draws on his work as the compiler of the 1928 volume on Lubyanka to Stalin, a collection of what the NKVD was telling him.

            In an interview about his research, Lavrov says that it is heavily based on the NKVD files of the investigation into Left SR leader Mariya Spiridonova, files he is the first historian to see (           

            He says he gained access to this file because he went right to the top of the security agency. Had he asked anyone lower down, Lavrov says, he is certain that he would have been refused. Among the documents he was able to examine was her declaration to the secret department of the NKVD running to more than 100 pages.

            In it, Lavrov says, Spiridonova described what really happened to the party of the Left SRs and to herself personally. Everything turns out to have been not as it was presented to us in Soviet textbooks and monographs on history. Thus, she was accused to plotting to kill Stalin in Moscow at a time when he was in prison in another city.

            The historian argues that the Left SR leader “doesn’t need rehabilitation; she needs understanding.”

            Perhaps the most important thing he says in his interview concerns the monthly secret reports of the NKVD to Stalin that described accurately and in detail what Soviet citizens thought including their increasingly negative views of the Soviet state and its leaders including Stalin personally.

            “Stalin in the 1920s demanded the truth,” Vlasov says. “As a politician, he needed to know what was really happening in the country. And he was told” including about the negative attitudes of the peasants and workers toward the Soviet system. They were saying by 1928 that their lives had been better “under the tsars.”

            That undoubtedly provided the Soviet leader with yet another reason to move quickly toward mass collectivization and industrialization lest such attitudes in  a still overwhelmingly peasant country lead to a direct challenge to the communists.

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