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The Lost Politburo Transcripts

The Lost Politburo Transcripts: From Collective Rule to Stalin's Dictatorship

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Lost Politburo Transcripts
    Book Description:

    In this groundbreaking book, prominent Western and Russian scholars examine the "lost" transcripts of the Soviet Politburo, a set of verbatim accounts of meetings that took place from the 1920s to 1938 but remained hidden in secret archives until the late 1990s. Never intended for publication or wide distribution, these records (known as stenograms in Russia) reveal the actual process of decision making at the highest levels of the Soviet communist party. The transcripts also provide new, first-hand records of the rise of Stalin's dictatorship.

    The contributors to the volume explore the power struggles among the Politburo members, their methods of discourse and propaganda, and their economic policies. Taken as a whole, the essays shed light on early Soviet history and on the individuals who supported or opposed Stalin's consolidation of power.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15222-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Paul Gregory
  4. I. Introduction

    • 1 Findings and Perspectives
      (pp. 3-15)

      The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended a seventy-four-year experiment in the building of a socialist society in what was territory of the former Russian Empire. It would be hard to look at that three quarter-century history without a sense of relief that it is over with. The lives needlessly expended, the resources squandered, and the suffering inflicted on society know few parallels in the annals of human history. The damage done to the members of what was called the East European bloc was immense. The countries of the region have broken with the past and joined the...

    • 2 The Politburo’s Role as Revealed by the Lost Transcripts
      (pp. 16-38)

      The “holy grail” of scholars studying the Soviet system has been to view its highest level of political and economic decision making. Although thousands of pages of party congresses, party platforms, official speeches, decrees, and Central Committee plenums have been published, they mostly capture ritualistic presentations of decisions made earlier at the highest level—by the Politburo, or by Stalin alone.

      The essays in this collection provide a first glance at thirty-one “lost” verbatim transcripts (called “stenograms” in Russian) of Politburo meetings from 1923 to 1938. These verbatim transcripts cover primarily the 1920s and early 1930s. The 1938 stenogram on...

  5. II. The Power Struggle

    • 3 Stalin in the Light of the Politburo Transcripts
      (pp. 41-56)

      The Politburo of the Communist Party, the de facto highest decision-making body of the Soviet Union, was long believed to have taken no verbatim transcripts of its meetings or, if it did, not to have preserved them. This assumption has been proven wrong. Thirty-one verbatim transcripts, dating from the 1920s and 1930s, have been declassified and transferred into open Russian archives. It is unlikely that there are more extant transcripts some-where deep in the secret depositories of Moscow.¹ Whatever the case, these new Politburo stenographic reports, albeit limited in number, are of utmost importance to the study of Stalin and...

    • 4 “Class Brothers Unite!”: The British General Strike and the Formation of the “United Opposition”
      (pp. 57-77)

      At first glance, there is no direct connection between the British General Strike of May 1926 and the power struggle within the ruling circles of the Bolshevik Party. These two events were widely separated by geography, but the transcripts of the Politburo reveal a direct link. The dueling camps within the ruling Politburo—Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, and Grigory Zinoviev versus Stalin, Nikolai Bukharin, and Aleksei Rykov—had radically different interpretations of the General Strike and offered different policy responses. Their open clash on this issue within the Politburo on June 3, 1926 was one of the first manifestations of...

    • 5 Stalin, Syrtsov, Lominadze: Preparations for the “Second Great Breakthrough”
      (pp. 78-96)

      The “antiparty affair” preoccupied Soviet ruling circles from the end of October through the beginning of November 1930. The charge was that party functionaries, headed by S. I. Syrtsov, a candidate Politburo member and the head of the government of the Russian Federation, and V. V. Lominadze, the first secretary of the Transcaucasian Party Committee (which encompassed Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia), had formed an illegal faction. The case of Syrtsov-Lominadze constitutes a puzzling and obscure chapter in the history of power struggles within the Bolshevik Party. This essay uses the verbatim Politburo transcripts and supporting documents from the November 4,...

    • 6 The “Right Opposition” and the “Smirnov-Eismont-Tolmachev Affair”
      (pp. 97-118)

      On November 27, 1932 a joint session of the Politburo and the Presidium of the Central Control Commission spent untold hours grilling three “Rightist” Old Bolsheviks: Alexander Smirnov, Mikhail Tomsky, and Alexei Rykov.¹ Much of the questioning in this session reflected the Stalinist leadership’s need to hear Smirnov and the leaders of the “Right Opposition,” Tomsky especially, repeatedly acknowledge their “mistakes.” With Stalin’s reputation and party support for the collectivization and industrialization campaigns at a low point, the Politburo was determined to squash those they blamed for “inspiring” discontent within party ranks. It could not tolerate prominent party members criticizing...

  6. III. Discourse, Ideology, and Propaganda

    • 7 The Way They Talked Then: The Discourse of Politics in the Soviet Party Politburo in the Late 1920s
      (pp. 121-134)

      The Soviet Politburo in the late 1920s was the agency for the most important discussions and decisions about domestic and foreign policy. Its institutional ascendancy in the state order was consolidated almost instantaneously at the point when the central party apparatus was reorganized in early 1919, and the Central Committee devolved powers between its meetings to the Politburo and Orgburo. The Politburo was by far and away the more important of the new internal adjuncts of the Central Committee. It was established at a time of civil war and several of its members could not always be in Moscow. This...

    • 8 Making the Unthinkable Thinkable: Language Microhistory of Politburo Meetings
      (pp. 135-164)

      The meetings of the Politburo held on October 8 and 11, 1926 and September 9, 1927 officially addressed the “party discipline” that was being subverted, as it were, by the United Opposition (Lev Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, Grigory Sokol’nikov, Nikolai Muralov, and others). This essay studies the lexical tug-of-war at these meetings. It follows developments in the use of one syntactic structure and of two words at the meetings of October 8 and 11, 1926 and, in less detail, a broader range of stylistic phenomena that characterize the meeting of September 8, 1927. The essay demonstrates the overlap and...

    • 9 The Short Course of the History of the All-Union Communist Party: The Distorted Mirror of Party Propaganda
      (pp. 165-178)

      The Politburo sessions of October 11 and 12, 1938, which were devoted to the publication of theShort Course of the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks),took place at a time when the official end of the Great Terror lay one month ahead. The party had already been purged from top to bottom as a new and younger party leadership replaced the Old Bolsheviks who had perished in the purges. TheShort Coursewas written by and approved by a committee of the Central Committee, but Stalin was its principal author. Between 1938 and 1953, over 42 million...

  7. IV. Economic Policy

    • 10 Grain, Class, and Politics During NEP: The Politburo Meeting of December 10, 1925
      (pp. 181-198)
      R. W. DAVIES

      The Politburo session of December 10, 1925, item No. 1, dealt with “The Work of TsSU [the Central Statistical Administration] Concerning the Grain-Fodder Balance.” This was a remarkable and rare occasion. Governments in the twentieth century were often anxious to present statistics to their own advantage. In Britain, under the Thatcher government in the 1980s, the definition of “unemployment” was changed on many occasions, resulting in a considerable reduction of the official figure. The falsification of the grain harvest under Stalin after 1932 is notorious. But it is very unusual—perhaps unique—for the supreme policymaking body in a major...

    • 11 The Politburo on Gold, Industrialization, and the International Economy, 1925–1926
      (pp. 199-223)

      The Politburo transcripts for the 1925–26 economic year (October–September) record three sessions on macroeconomic management. The transcripts are broadly consistent with prior historiography, based on both archival and public sources, which has given us a comprehensive picture of policymaking in this crucial year for the fate of the NEP.¹ In the sessions, the Politburo—and invited leaders from the key economic bureaucracies—grappled with the challenges of managing the country’s integration into the international economy in light of an unprecedented push for industrial expansion. The challenges were significant, involving an unfavorable trade balance, dwindling gold reserves, and difficulties...

    • 12 Prices in the Politburo, 1927: Market Equilibrium versus the Use of Force
      (pp. 224-246)

      The Politburo met on January 3, 1927, to discuss progress towards cutting the retail prices of industrial commodities.¹ The meeting itself had no great influence on events. The policy of cutting retail prices had been previously adopted—at the party Central Committee plenum in April 1926—and was already in effect. The policy was supported by a broad consensus of those present, although the Left Opposition was no longer represented in the Politburo.² The main purpose of the meeting was evidently to review progress, which had been difficult. The main outcome was to refer the discussion to a subcommittee that...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-258)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 259-260)
  10. Index
    (pp. 261-271)