«The Stalin Years, 1929-1953»

The Bukovsky Archives contain little on the Stalin era. The majority of files focus on the period when Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union’s other long-serving leader (1964-1982), was in power. Yet Brezhnev, too, first came to prominence within the Party during Stalin’s time.

For over twenty years Stalin was ruler of the world’s largest country and he ruled as he saw fit. In Judgment in Moscow this formative and deeply scarring experience is referred to as “the Stalinist void”. A group of documents BUKOVSKY acquired from the Central Committee in the early 1990s illustrates what that meant.

Early in 1938 the leading Party official in the Gorky Region wrote to Stalin and his secret police chief Yezhov, requesting their permission (4 February 1938, No 95/III) to increase the quota in his area for first category and second category “arrests”. A fortnight later a similar request was made by the NKVD in Ukraine (17 February 1938*, Pb 58/57).

In the latter case the the chief Party official was not named — this was a direct request from the organisation that arrested, investigated, tried and condemned the victims. The document does not specify how the total would be divided between arrests and executions. Throughout that year, similar permission was sought by many other officials across the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Requests came from Siberia, from Omsk (10 May) and Krasnoyarsk (31 December); they came from Belorussia (17 July). This was, be it noted, after the Politburo had already agreed, to raise quotas for “arrests” of both kinds, region by region (31 January 1938, Pb 57/48).

How informants helped compile the lists of victims, how the names of others were beaten out of the victims themselves, how the troika or Special Board swiftly divided those destined for the Gulag from those to be  shot straightaway – that story has been told, here and elsewhere.

What can only be guessed at are the long-term effects on a terrorised and atomised society. “It is hard to believe that anyone who lived through that period, as either executioner or victim, remained normal,” writes BUKOVSKY. Certainly, so long as people remembered such a time, and passed on their memories as fear and caution to succeeding generations, there was little need to keep the bloody process constantly in motion.

The memory became a part of the legacy of those living in more “vegetarian” times. “I am afraid that insane era will always remain a black, frightening void in the popular consciousness, no matter how many new documents we may find,” comments Vladimir BUKOVSKY in his account of the documents he retrieved from  the Party archives (Judgment in Moscow, forthcoming).