The worst of the worst: a memorandum

In researching an upcoming post relating to Soviet language policy (oh stop rubbing your hands with such anticipation — it’s distracting), I came across a memo that casts a sadly familiar light on the current U.S. administration’s justifications of the use of torture. I’ll let the memo — and the identity of its author — speak for themselves:

To the Secretaries of oblast and regional party committees,
To the CCs of national Communist parties,
To the people’s commissars of internal affairs, and to the heads of NKVD directorates

It has become known to the VKP CC that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees, in checking up on employees of NKVD directorates, have laid blame on them for the use of physical pressure against those who have been arrested, treating it as something criminal. The VKP CC affirms that the use of physical pressure in the work of the NKVD has been permitted since 1937 in accordance with a resolution of the VKP CC. This directive indicated that physical pressure was to be used in exceptional cases and only against blatant enemies of the people who, when interrogated by humane methods, defiantly refuse to turn over the names of co-conspirators, and who refuse for months on end to provide any evidence, and who try to thwart the unmasking of co-conspirators who are still at large, and who thereby continue even from prison to wage a struggle against the Soviet regime. Experience has shown that such an arrangement has produced good results and has greatly expedited the unmasking of enemies of the people. True, subsequently in practice the method of physical pressure was abused by Zakovsky, Litvin, Uspensky, and other scoundrels, converting it from an exception into a rule and beginning to apply it against honest people who had been arrested accidentally. For these abuses, they [the scoundrels] have been given due punishment. But this in no way detracts from the value of the method itself when it is properly used. It is known that all bourgeois secret services use physical pressure against representatives of the socialist proletariat and rely on especially savage methods of it. We might therefore ask why a socialist secret service should be any more more humane in relation to inveterate agent of the bourgeoisie and sworn enemies of the working class and collectivized farmers. The VKP CC believes that the use of physical pressure must absolutely be continued from here on in exceptional cases and against blatant and invidious enemies of the people, and that this is a perfectly appropriate and desirable method. The VKP CC demands that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees and the CCs of national party committees bear in mind this explanation when they check up on the employees of NKVD directorates.

Secretary of the VKP CC
J. Stalin
10.1.1939

Gorbachev: More Dangerous than Stalin?

Gorbachev on Time magazine

Commentary magazine wants us to believe that Iran is the new Nazi Germany, its president Ahmadinejad is Hitler reborn. The questions worth asking are: how realistic is Commentary in assessing threats? What is their track record like?

Let’s take the way-back machine and read Hilton Kramer’s essay “The Importance of Sidney Hook” which ran in the August 1987 issue of Commentary. Near the end of the essay, Kramer compares the Soviet Union under Stalin with Gorbachev’s regime:

The world has changed, but has it really changed for the better as far as the power and influence of democracy are concerned? Are we less endangered now than we were then? Communism was then clearly and correctly perceived to be a worldwide threat to the survival of democratic institutions, but it actually controlled the fate of far fewer inhabitants of the globe than it does today. Under Stalin, both the military power of the Soviet Union and its vast espionage apparatus were seen to constitute a danger to every non-Communist society in the world – yet Gorbachev commands a far greater war machine than any Stalin ever had at his disposal, and if recent revelations are any guide, a no less effective espionage network. By every significant measure, the Soviet Union is a far more formidable adversary today than it was forty years ago, and one of the things that makes it more formidable is its unbroken record of conquest in the intervening years. It already enjoys an unchallenged hegemony in more parts of the world than it did forty years ago, and the momentum of its drive to seek further conquests shows no sign of abatement.

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