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Stalinist Confessions

Stalinist Confessions: Messianism and Terror at the Leningrad Communist University

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    Stalinist Confessions
    Book Description:

    During Stalin's Great Terror, accusations of treason struck fear in the hearts of Soviet citizens-and lengthy imprisonment or firing squads often followed. Many of the accused sealed their fates by agreeing to confessions after torture or interrogation by the NKVD. Some, however, gave up without a fight.

    In Stalinist Confessions, Igal Halfin investigates the phenomenon of a mass surrender to the will of the state. He deciphers the skillfully rendered discourse through which Stalin defined his cult of personality and consolidated his power by building a grassroots base of support and instilling a collective psyche in every citizen. By rooting out evil (opposition) wherever it hid, good communists could realize purity, morality, and their place in the greatest society in history. Confessing to trumped-up charges, comrades made willing sacrifices to their belief in socialism and the necessity of finding and making examples of its enemies.

    Halfin focuses his study on Leningrad Communist University as a microcosm of Soviet society. Here, eager students proved their loyalty to the new socialism by uncovering opposition within the University. Through their meetings and self-reports, students sought to become Stalin's New Man.

    Using his exhaustive research in Soviet archives including NKVD records, party materials, student and instructor journals, letters, and newspapers, Halfin examines the transformation in the language of Stalinist socialism. From an initial attitude that dismissed dissent as an error in judgment and redeemable through contrition to a doctrine where members of the opposition became innately wicked and their reform impossible, Stalin's socialism now defined loyalty in strictly black and white terms. Collusion or allegiance (real or contrived, now or in the past) with "enemies of the people" (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Germans, capitalists) was unforgivable. The party now took to the task of purging itself with ever-increasing zeal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7352-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION: The Revolution Devours Its Children
    (pp. 1-23)

    For every Communist, the Great Purge marked the opening of a momentous personal trial. To determine whether he was worthy of entering the classless paradise, the most dedicated of revolutionaries had to wrestle with a fundamental issue: who was to judge his ideological purity, himself or the Party? Not only state policy but also a state of mind, Stalinist terror was characterized by never-ending interrogations of the self.

    Few will deny that the Great Purge remains the most pervasive mystery of Soviet history. The years 1934–38 witnessed the great Moscow Show Trials, as well as a large number of...

    (pp. 24-96)

    During the 1930s, Soviet history was constantly accelerating. Nothing remained the same; everything was subject to the scalpel of the Party and Marxist theory.¹ First the economy was changed, then society. Finally, in the second half of the decade, the Stalinist leadership decided to consolidate its victories by changing the human mind itself. Communist identity was malleable, shaped by inner labor, not assigned by law or any other convention. Tradition meant nothing: every citizen of the young republic was enjoined to break with the past, to work on himself or herself as a free agent.² And this was no mean...

    (pp. 112-173)

    A watershed in the history of the Bolshevik elite, the NKVD investigation of the so-called Anti-Soviet United Trotskyist-Zinovievist Center led to the arrest, interrogation, and conviction of many of Communist University’s instructors; most were eventually executed. The repercussions of this case resulted in the destruction of Leningrad’s entire Party educational establishment and haunted the university until its dissolution.

    During the Great Purge, a considerable apparatus of political theory, legislation, and practice—from the definition and identification of oppositionists to the final steps against the unrepentant and the relapsed—made both the term “oppositionist” and the measures taken against oppositionists very...

    (pp. 174-228)

    From the official perspective, the enthusiasm with which the Party faithful met each and every proclamation of the Central Committee was excellent proof that they were ready to respond to the challenges that lay ahead. This does not have to be seen as coercion: the historical perspicacity of these larger-than-life individuals put them in a unique position to attempt a final assault on the historical peak called “classless society” in their own eyes as well. The intensification of the NKVD’s cleansing activities was not necessarily perceived by the rank and file as something to which they had to adjust but...

    (pp. 246-300)

    During the years of the Great Purge, the Party invested great effort in terminating the contest for the future; history was given closure, and a perfect society was said to be essentially already complete. Time had been consummated, and there was no further need for mediation between the historical now and the metahistorical beyond.

    The world of the mid- to late 1930s was a world fully expressed. No longer split into the signifier and the signified, the language of the period rendered reality without any residue or remainder. Language was triumphant—it knew no obstruction, no obfuscations. Every truth was...

    (pp. 301-335)

    How are we to analyze the history of Communist higher learning in Leningrad during the Great Purge? Was Communist University, as the saying goes, a small village that turned into a big hell? If so, the period from 1931 to 1937 saw a long procession of individuals rising to power, clinging to it for a moment, then being cast down. Late in 1931, Fedchenko and Pantiukhin accused Izak and Dmitriev of Trotskyism, only to become victims of similar accusations themselves a few weeks later. After their rise to power in 1932–1933, the young and boisterous Izak, Dmitriev, and Altaparmakov...

  7. EPILOGUE: The Truth of Sacrifice
    (pp. 352-370)

    Who was responsible for the Great Purge? Who endorsed the notion that classless society could be reached only through the sacrifice of countless human lives? Archival materials suggest that there was a central agency behind the manslaughter—the destruction of the Party elite in 1936–38 was carefully orchestrated through decrees coming directly from Moscow. Still, the scope of violence was too wide, and the number of participants too great, to corroborate the notion that the violence was a result of Stalin’s conspiracy against a helpless Party. It is impossible to explain the magnitude of reprisals unless we advance a...