Saturday, January 22, 2022

A Curious Exception: Stalin Didn’t Boost Kill Orders in Non-Russian Autonomies as Much or Often as He did in Union Republics, Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 2 – During the Great Terror, the entire Soviet Union suffered horrific human losses; but there were places where Stalin approved fewer executions and incarcerations than others, raising the question as to why he approved some requests by regional officials in some cases to boost repressions but not others.

            Nikita Petrov, a Russian historian who works with Memorial and studies the Soviet security forces, says that one of the most curious exceptions he has found is the difference between Stalin’s agreeing to higher quotas for repression in the union republics than in the non-Russian autonomies within the RSFSR (

            When the Great Terror began, Stalin issued quotas to all the components of the USSR as to how many people were to be arrested and how many shot. Almost immediately, his subordinates in the regions and republics requested that they be allowed to arrest and shoot even more, requests undoubtedly driven by a desire to be more Stalinist than Stalin.

            Stalin approved almost all of these requests for boosting repression, but there was a notable exception: the non-Russian republics within the RSFSR. There, except for border republics like Karelia and the Buryat-Mongol ASSR, Stalin and the Politburo at least in their formal decisions did not increase the death and incarceration rates as requested.

            In one case, Yakutia (Sakha), local officials argued against even the original quotas saying that “the class struggle there was occurring in different forms than elsewhere because “there are no kulaks in Yakutsk, and there is no interest in it by foreign intelligence services because there is no industry, army or other objects having significance for defense.”

            Moscow rejected those arguments and told the NKVD in Yakutsk to use the original figures in making arrests and carrying out executions. But the center did not tell the security service there to boost its numbers.

            All this raises the question, Petrov says, “how is one to explain this Stalinist selectivity in decisions about additional repressions” in this case? One might suggest that “the absence of Stalin’s desire to allocation increased executions to the small autonomies was connected with his new calls for the formation of the ideology of ‘a community of Soviet nations.’”

            “It was important for ideological goals to preserve and stress the national multiplicity of the country,” Petrov says. “In the Stalinist understanding, this was a precondition for the creation of a new type of multi-national socialist state capable of expanding by bringing in other new peoples.” If the existing ones were stripped of non-Russians, that wouldn’t be as easy.

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