WHEN Lady Astor, in company with Bernard Shaw and Lord Lothian, met Stalin in the summer of 1931, she blurted out the unconventional question: ‘How long are you going to continue killing people?’ And Stalin, possibly taken a little off his guard, shot back the retort: ‘As long as it is necessary.’
Here one has in a nutshell the philosophy of the terrorism which has always been an integral part of the Communist dictatorship. The right of the rulers to decide how long it may be necessary to go on killing people is absolute and unquestioned. The right of the individual to live does not weigh in the balance. And the absence of habeas corpus in Soviet jurisprudence has often led to the application of a sterner substitute: habeas cadaver.
The degree of Soviet terrorism has always varied with time and circumstances. One of its fiercest outbursts was in the late summer and early autumn of 1918, when the military situation was critical and an attempt had been made on the life of Lenin. According to official reports, which certainly did not err on the side of exaggeration, the numbers of people who were rounded up and shot at this time ran into thousands. Another major example of ‘Red Terror’ occurred in the Crimea in the winter of 1920-1921, after the defeat of the last White leader, Baron Wrangel. The former President of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, Bela Kun, and a fanatical veteran woman Communist, Zemlyachka, were sent to the Crimea with sweeping powers to root out counter-revolution; under their orders there was a wholesale slaughter of former White officers and individuals of all classes who were suspected of having been in any way connected with Wrangel’s régime.
As against these high points of terror, there were times when the Soviet régime during the civil war was relatively mild, when spokesmen for opposition parties were given a very limited freedom of speech and press, something which was not permitted after the end of the civil war. At one moment, in the winter of 1919-1920, when the victory over the chief antiBolshevik leaders, Kolchak and Denikin, was virtually complete, the Soviet Government even made the striking gesture of abolishing the death penalty, a step which proved extremely shortlived, if, indeed, it ever went into practical effect. In the same way there have been considerable variations in the intensity of terrorism in more recent years. From 1922 until 1928, when life was, on the whole, becoming easier and more comfortable, there was a substantial relaxation in the pressure which the Gay-Pay-Oo, as the grim Cheka of the civil-war period had been renamed, exercised on the population. Judged by any Western standards, the processes of law and justice even in those years were decidedly abnormal; exile without open trial was frequent, and executions by administrative order occurred from time to time.
But during the Iron Age, from 1929 until 1934, the scope of terrorism immensely expanded. Some of its hardest blows were struck at the peasantry, much the largest class in the population, which had been comparatively free from the attentions of the GayPay-Oo during earlier years. During the autumn and winter of 1929, when the initial drive for collectivization was at its height, two foreigners who made separate and independent studies of the Soviet provincial press reached the conclusion that daily executions over a period of some months averaged from twenty to thirty. Most of the victims were recalcitrant peasants who were accused of resisting grain requisitions, and there was a fair sprinkling of priests among those who were shot.
In the autumn of 1930 even the jaded nerves of Russians were somewhat shocked by the announcement that forty-eight persons, including some distinguished professors and specialists, had been shot by summary order of the Gay-Pay-Oo for alleged sabotage in t he food industry. Alleged confessions of the victims, which they were obviously in no position to challenge and repudiate, were published after the shootings had taken place. In the spring of 1933 there was another wholesale slaughter; thirty-five officials of the Commissariat for Agriculture were put to death, again without public trial. The posthumous bill of indictment against them contained such strange items as ‘causing the growth of weeds and burning and destroying tractors and other agricultural machines.’ Inspired rumors were put about that one of the persons executed, Konar-Polishchuk, had been head of an espionage organization which was working on behalf of Poland. Whatever may have been the degree of truth in this, some of the men who were executed, such as the former Vice Commissar for Agriculture, Wolf, had been engaged for many years in responsible posts in the Soviet agricultural service; their motives for lapsing into crude and clumsy forms of sabotage, which were certain to be detected and to bring condign punishment, like the motives of the unfortunate professors and experts of the food industry, remain, to put it mildly, difficult to comprehend.
Before 1930 the forced labor of prisoners and exiles was of slight importance in Soviet economic life; since the first huge wave of kulak liquidation the timber industry and many of the construction projects have depended very largely for their labor supply on the victims of the government’s ruthless measures of repression. Most of these conscript laborers are peasants who opposed collectivization; but the terror has also taken a heavy toll of the city intelligentsia. Engineers, agronomes, historians, bacteriologists, statisticians, art experts, men of the most varied intellectual pursuits, have been arrested, usually on the vague and formidable charge of sabotage. Some have been executed; others have been sent to chop wood in the forced-labor camps; still others have been put back to work at their professions, but in the technical status of prisoners, in new construction enterprises where unfavorable food and housing conditions made it difficult to attract professional men voluntarily.
The secrecy with which Soviet terrorism is cloaked, the fact that many executions and the great majority of sentences of imprisonment and exile are carried out without any publicity, make it impossible to give precise data as to its scope. The very size of the country also makes it easier to conceal acts of repression than it would be in a smaller land with better communications.
A resident in Moscow, Russian or foreigner, would in many cases only learn by accident, if indeed he learned at all, of such episodes of ‘class war’ as the death from hunger of many exiled peasant children in remote Luza, in Northern Russia, in the summer of 1931; or the widespread scurvy among the forced laborers in the Karaganda coal mines, in Kazakstan, as a result of inadequate diet; or the perishing of cold of kulak families which were driven out of their homes in winter near Akmolinsk, in Kazakstan; or the development of diseases of the female organs among the women exiles in bleak Khibinogorsk, beyond the Arctic Circle, as a result of the complete absence of sanitary provisions in the severe winter.
It is only very infrequently that an official statement indirectly casts some light on the scope of the Soviet terror. In August 1933, it was announced in the Soviet press that over 12,000 prisoners employed in the construction of the canal which links the Baltic Sea with the White Sea (an extensive chain of lakes and rivers has been utilized in this connection) had received a complete amnesty, and that over 59,000 more had received reductions of sentence, in celebration of the speedy completion of the canal. If one considers that there were probably tens of thousands more prisoners on this enterprise who did not benefit by the amnesty and the reduction of the sentences, it would seem that the number of prisoners on this single enterprise would easily exceed the total number of political prisoners in all the countries of Europe, and this at a time when many countries are under dictatorships which employ ruthless methods with political opponents.
The Baltic-White Sea Canal accounts for only a small fraction of the political prisoners and exiles of the Soviet Union. I could testify from personal observation that tens of thousands of such prisoners, mostly exiled peasants who had been guilty of no criminal offense, were employed at compulsory labor in such places as Magnitogorsk, Cheliabinsk, Berezniki. I was reliably informed on one occasion, from a source that must remain anonymous, that there were about three hundred thousand prisoners in concentration camps in Siberia alone. The number of persons in prison and exile fluctuates from time to time as some people finish their terms and others are sent out; but the total number of Soviet citizens who, during the Iron Age, have been deprived of liberty without anything that could plausibly be called ‘due process of law’ can scarcely be less than two million.
In the centre of Moscow, on the former Lubyanka Square (now called Dzerzhinsky Square, in honor of the fanatically idealistic and devoted Polish Bolshevik who founded the Cheka), is a tall gray building. If one looks closely enough one can distinguish near the top a bit of sculpture depicting the Parcæ, the Fates, cutting short the threads of human life. There is grim and profound symbolism in this pre-war decoration, for the building houses the headquarters of the GayPay-Oo, to use the familiar Russian abbreviation for its full official title, United State Political Administration; and no single organization in the world, it is safe to say, bears the responsibility for cutting short so many human lives as the Gay-Pay-Oo, which is simply the old Cheka, dreaded instrument of Red Terror during the civil war, under another name.
The Gay-Pay-Oo annually celebrates the anniversary of its organization in December 1917. On such occasions it is habitually referred to in laudatory speeches as ‘the unsheathed sword of the proletarian dictatorship.’ It certainly is the incarnation of the terroristic side of Soviet administration. For the Gay-Pay-Oo, during the Iron Age, has been quite above the restraints, scanty though these are, which Soviet law places on the operations of the ordinary courts. Every Soviet citizen, except a few highly placed Communists, has been at its mercy. It has repeatedly made use of its extraordinary power of shooting whom it might choose after a ‘trial’ in camera, where it performed the triple function of accuser, judge, and executioner. The GayPay-Oo may arrest anyone and hold him for an indefinite period of time without bringing any accusation. It can subject anyone, without the sentence of an open court, to several degrees of administrative banishment, ranging from the relatively mild ‘minus six,’ a prohibition to live in Moscow, Leningrad, and four other important cities, to imprisonment at hard labor for a period up to ten years in a concentration camp in the Arctic wilds.
The Gay-Pay-Oo at times has almost shown signs of becoming a state within a state, although the present tendency is to clip its wings slightly. It has its own army in the shape of a number of crack regiments, which correspond to the Guards Regiments of the Tsar in their supposed special reliability and in the care and attention which they receive. It has under its command more serfs than the richest mediæval Russian boyar, in the persons of the involuntary laborers who are herded in its concentration camps. Its officials ride around in the shiniest and newest automobiles and generally live in a style which betokens their power. Whoever else may go cold or hungry in the Soviet Union, the Gay-Pay-Oo official and his family are always well provided for. A post in the Gay-Pay-Oo is the ambition of every Soviet young man who wishes to make a successful career and is not encumbered by ‘bourgeois’ humanitarian scruples.
The saying, ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here,’ must have occurred to many who have been rounded up in the familiar nocturnal raids of the Gay-Pay-Oo, for this organization has much more than power of life and death over its victims. Under the peculiar Soviet juridical practices it is also in a position to bring the strongest kind of pressure on its victims by threats directed not only against them, but also against members of their families.
On this point we have the interesting testimony of the wife of Professor Tchernavin, a distinguished scientist who was arrested on the familiar charge of sabotage and was fortunate enough to escape from the Soviet Union, with his wife and son, in 1931. ‘I learned afterwards,’ she writes, in describing her own arrest, ‘that the examining officer had confronted him with the dilemma of either signing the statement that he was a “wrecker” or of being the cause of my arrest. . . . After my arrest my husband was presented with another alternative: either he must confess his “guilt” or he would be shot, I would get ten years penal servitude and our son be sent to a colony for homeless children.’ This is a useful bit of first-hand testimony to remember in considering the psychological background for the curious sabotage trials which have been such a characteristic feature of the Iron Age.
Professor Tchernavin’s experience closely coincides with an instance of Gay-Pay-Oo methods with which I happen to be personally acquainted. For obvious reasons names must be withheld. A man who was fairly well known in some circles abroad had made himself obnoxious to the GayPay-Oo by his intercession with other Soviet authorities on behalf of political prisoners. It was considered inexpedient to arrest him on account of his age and because his arrest would have attracted attention abroad. So it was intimated to him that if he did not abandon his intercession his son would be banished.
It is difficult to estimate how many people have been secretly put to death during recent years. I may cite two typical cases within a limited circle of personal acquaintances. Julius Rozinsky was formerly an employee in the service of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. In the autumn of 1929 his father-in-law, an elderly man who had been refused permission to join his family in Riga, made an attempt to cross the frontier illegally and was caught. Shortly after this, Rozinsky himself was arrested; and in the spring of 1930 the old man whose crime was his desire to join his family, and Rozinsky, who may have been suspected of knowing of the plan without reporting it to the authorities, were both shot without publicity and without any kind of open trial.
It is noteworthy that Rozinsky was a man of distinctly Communist, sympathies, the best proof of which was that he had frequently been assigned as an interpreter to sympathetic radical visitors. If he encountered such summary treatment it is easy to imagine what kind of ‘justice’ an omnipotent Gay-Pay-Oo tribunal would mete out to anyone who, by very class origin, was guilty in advance — a priest or a well-to-do peasant, a professor or engineer of the old school, for instance.
The other victim of secret execution was a certain Sergei Treivas, who, as secretary of Voks, the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, was in the habit of showing off the achievements of Soviet culture to admiring visitors. His fate was perhaps a realistic commentary on his glowing expositions.
When one distinguished scientist after another disappeared into the clutches of the Gay-Pay-Oo, the familiar official explanation was that they had been guilty of that extremely elastic crime known as sabotage. Toward the end of 1930, eight professors and engineers were brought to a public trial on a formidable bill of indictment which charged them with deliberately misplanning and mismanaging industrial enterprises which were under their charge, maintaining connections with French and British military authorities with a view to promoting intervention and the armed overthrow of the Soviet Government, and organizing a so-called Industrial Party, which was to set up a military dictatorship after the Soviet Government was overthrown. The defendants all obediently confessed practically everything that was laid to their charge, professed edifying repentance, and got off with their lives. So they were luckier than their predecessors, the alleged saboteurs of the food industry, who were shot without benefit of public trial.
Unfortunately for the convincingness of this spectacle-trial, which was most brilliantly staged to make a proletarian holiday, — the courtroom filled with loud speakers and flashlights, the papers full of resolutions from all sorts of bodies, from the members of the Moscow bar to Young Pioneer school children, all demanding the shooting of the prisoners, the Young Communist son of one of the defendants duly demanding the death of his father, — the head of the alleged Industrial Party, Professor Ramzin, included in his confession some items which were obviously and even absurdly untrue. If there had been one free opposition newspaper in Russia, the trial would probably have broken down amid gales of general laughter on the day when Ramzin’s ‘confession’ was published. For the man who was mentioned as the destined Premier of the counter-revolutionary government which the self-confessed plotters were proposing to set up was one P. P. Ryabushinsky, a well-known pre-war Russian industrialist. And P. P. Ryabushinsky had died in Paris several years before. A ‘conspiracy’ of which the prospective chief was a dead man would seem to be a more suitable subject for a comic paper than for a serious trial, especially as another of the ‘proposed Ministers,’ Vishnegradsky, was also no longer among the living.
Other sweeping arrests, which were not followed by open trials, occurred among historians, bacteriologists, and other classes of scientists. Among the large number of historical scholars who were arrested were men of international reputation, including four members of the Academy of Science — Professors Platonov, Tarle, Likhachev, and Lubavsky. Most of the historians were middle-aged and elderly men; Platonov and one of the others implicated in this affair died in exile; two suffered mental breakdowns as a result of the rigors of confinement, interrogation, and exile. In the absence of any official explanation of this wholesale arrest of Russia’s historical scholars, which affected scores of people, one can only repeat the rumor that Platonov, while abroad, had met his former pupil, the Grand Duke Andrew. If this really occurred, it was a highly indiscreet action on the part of Platonov, although it is not altogether clear how a talk between a venerable professor and a forgotten scion of the Romanov family could have greatly endangered the stability of the Soviet state. But the penalty for Platonov’s supposed action fell not only on him, but on many of his friends, associates, and pupils, who had no responsibility for the meeting and knew nothing about it.
It would require an entire book to give an adequately detailed picture of Soviet repression during the Iron Age. The cases that have been cited, however, convey some idea of the state of absolute terror which was created for considerable classes of the population: the old intelligentsia, any peasants who could be suspected of being well-to-do, and, of course, the pariah caste of the lishentsi, or disfranchised ex-aristocrats, former merchants and traders, prewar officers and Tsarist officials, and so forth.
Every historical period of terrorism has, of course, its definite causes. Not all the victims of the Gay-Pay-Oo can be regarded as innocent, although the utter defenselessness of the individual against the omnipotent state does make it conceivable, and in some cases even probable, that a man who was innocent, or guilty of some trivial offense, might accuse himself falsely if this were the price of fife for himself and of security for his family.
There is foreign espionage in Russia, just as there is Soviet espionage in other countries; and here and there the Gay-Pay-Oo has doubtless caught real spies along with imaginary ones. Cases of corruption and slackness in industrial administration also undoubtedly occurred. Some Soviet citizens, on the rare occasions when they could travel abroad, probably yielded to the temptation — humanly understandable, although quite inexcusable considering the risk to which this exposed them, their families, and their friends to indulge in surreptitious meetings with old friends among the emigres. In view of the far-flung network of Gay-Pay-Oo espionage abroad as well as in the Soviet Union, such meetings were almost certain to be discovered, with the most disastrous consequences for the Soviet citizens concerned.
In very infrequent cases an engineer or technical expert might have been so desperately embittered against the Soviet regime that he indulged in deliberate sabotage in the enterprise where he was employed. But, with the knowledge that the penalty for sabotage was death or a long term of exile at hard labor, it taxes one’s credulity to believe that many of the proverbially soft Russian middle-class intelligentsia possessed either sufficient fanaticism or sufficient nerve to resort to it.
Of course, if skepticism regarding the advisability of Soviet industrial and agricultural policies and discontent with material hardship could be regarded as sabotage, a very large part of the pre-war educated class was undoubtedly guilty of this offense. But this was something very different from the actual damaging or wrecking of plants and machinery.1
One can only understand the sweeping arrests for sabotage, often on what seem fantastically improbable charges, if one bears in mind the white heat of fanaticism which the Communist lead-
ers whipped up among the masses, and to some extent also among themselves, in connection with the fulfillment of the five-year plan. When plans went awry, when deprivations, instead of disappearing, became more severe, when promised improvements in food supply did not materialize, the subconscious temptation to seek scapegoats became almost irresistible. And who were more natural scapegoats than intellectuals of the old school who were out of sympathy with the new order anyway? Nero, one feels, could have understood the reality behind many Soviet sabotage trials and arrests. His effort to cast the blame for the burning of Rome on the Christians is one of the first ‘sabotage trials’ recorded in history; and the Christians, it must be said, had imprudently furnished circumstantial evidence to Nero’s Gay-Pay-Oo by indulging in dark prophecies about the approaching end of the world.
The effect of the huge Gay-Pay-Oo system, with its army of spies and provocators, on Russian daily life is formidable and prodigious. Anecdotes abound on the theme that, where three Russians meet, one is certain to be an agent of the Gay-Pay-Oo. No doubt the omniscience of this organization is exaggerated; but the terror which it strikes is real and ever-present and is by no means confined, as its apologists would like to suggest, to incorrigible enemies and critics of the Soviet regime. I have seen a plain-clothes agent take a man off a train for talking too freely, and the flow of critical conversation in queues is substantially checked by the general belief that the eyes and ears of the Gay-Pay-Oo are everywhere.
My chief personal grievance against the Gay-Pay-Oo is the number of friendships with educated Russians which its system has cut short or made impossible. Many Russians would as readily spend an evening with a man in an advanced stage of typhus as with a foreigner; and one certainly cannot blame them if one bears in mind the allpervading espionage and the amazing imagination of Gay-Pay-Oo examiners in making up accusations of bribery, spying, and what not on the basis of the most harmless social contacts between Russians and foreigners. I know of one case where a Russian was arrested and held in prison for months because a servant (in the households of foreigners, servants are very apt to be willing or unwilling spies) had overheard and misunderstood some fragments of conversation in which he had been advising a foreigner about walking trips on the famous Caucasian Military Roads. The Russian was suspected of betraying secrets about military roads.
On one occasion I had invited to my house two Communist Party members, whom I shall call A and B. The latter arrived late, and asked whether there were any other guests. When he heard that A was there he turned pale, mumbled an unconvincing excuse, and bolted away with a speed that would have been amusing if it had not been pathetic. I cannot say whether there was any foundation for B’s apprehensions about being seen by A in the home of a foreigner; that the apprehensions existed was unmistakable.
An amusing official confirmation pf the close surveillance under which foreign residents of the Soviet Union are kept was supplied to a foreign correspondent in the course of an argument with an official in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. The official was reproaching the correspondent for alleged remarks in private conversation which the correspondent denied having made. Finally, losing patience and discretion at the same moment, the official pointed to a thick dossier which lay on a shelf and triumphantly exclaimed: ‘Everything is reported. Everything is reported.’ This is the ideal of the Gay-Pay-Oo for foreigners and Russians alike. Unfortunately, as is bound to be the case under such a universal espionage system, while much is reported, much more is certainly misreported.
There is a sharp line of administrative demarcation between what the Gay-Pay-Oo is permitted to do to foreigners and what it habitually does to Russians. It is one of the many amusing inconsistencies of Russian life that while the Soviet Government, in principle, is strongly opposed to any form of extraterritorial privileges, it actually concedes, in fact if not in name, an extraterritorial status to foreigners resident in the country. A foreigner in Moscow may with impunity say and do many things which would place a Russian in a concentration camp. Occasionally the line is overstepped, as when the Soviet Government in 1924 caused the arrest, trial, and conviction — on highly improbable charges, including participation in a plot to murder Stalin and Trotzky — of three German students, Kindermann, Wolscht, and Von Ditmar. The students were released when a Soviet revolutionary agent named Skobelevsky, who had been sentenced to death for organizing a terrorist group among German Communists, was released by the German authorities. A German engineer and two mechanics were brought to trial in the Shachti sabotage case; and, although they were acquitted, the circumstances of their arrest and investigation created a considerable temporary coolness between the Soviet Union and Germany.
More recently, in the spring of 1933, the Gay-Pay-Oo endeavored to cast six British engineers in the employ of the Metro-Vickers Company for the familiar rôle of villains in a sabotage trial; and still more recently there were a number of mysterious arrests among foreigners in the service of the International Control Company, an organization which had been functioning in the Soviet Union for a number of years, certifying the quality of grain and other cargoes which were dispatched from Soviet ports. Citizens of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Austria were arrested in this case, held for many weeks, and finally let go and expelled from the country without being brought to trial.
Such cases of arresting foreigners on political and economic grounds are rare, however; they involve too many disagreeable diplomatic consequences. Normally the Gay-Pay-Oo, so far as foreigners arc concerned, confines itself to such harmless activities as opening and reading their letters, keeping voluminous records of their associates, personal habits, and political views, and plying with spies and provocators those who are regarded as more important. When a new journalist or man of affairs applies for an entrance visa, the Gay-Pay-Oo scans his record closely, apparently oblivious of the fact that people’s original views, favorable or unfavorable, often change very much after a period of residence in the Soviet Union. There have been so many disillusioned liberals and radicals that I have sometimes wondered whether the Soviet Government, if it must control admission to the country so strictly, would not be better advised to grant entrance visas only to hardened conservatives, who would come without great expectations and presumably leave without pained disillusionment.
Early in 1934 there were persistent rumors that the Gay-Pay-Oo would be reorganized as a Commissariat for Internal Affairs and stripped of some of its more sweeping powers, such as that of executing persons without open trial.2 A number of circumstances make some sort of reorganization of ‘ the unsheathed sword of the proletarian dictatorship’ not improbable. First of all, the internal situation definitely eased as a result of the favorable harvest of
1933, which has convinced the Soviet leaders that the worst of the agrarian crisis is over. The improvement in the Soviet international situation, reflected in America’s recognition and in the more cordial relations with France, also furnishes a motive for improving the international reputation of the Soviet regime by curbing its terrorist arm of administration. As far back as 1931, Stalin publicly stated that it was time to cease regarding every old engineer as an uncaught criminal; and privately the Soviet leaders can scarcely fail to recognize that the virtually uncontrolled hand which the Gay-Pay-Oo has enjoyed in arresting and banishing alleged saboteurs has had a demoralizing effect upon the class of old technical experts on which the success of Soviet industrial projects still depends to a very considerable degree. Finally, too great independent authority for the Gay-Pay-Oo is not consistent with the position of absolute domination which Stalin has built up for himself in the Soviet and Party machine of government.
As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, Soviet terrorism has gone through successive phases of relaxation and intensification in the past; and a milder period may be in store for the immediate future. It would be a grave mistake, however, to associate the ruthlessness of the Soviet regime exclusively with the Gay-Pay-Oo, or to assume that a renaming and reorganization of the latter will mean an end of ruthlessness, although it doubtless will herald a period of somewhat greater formal legality and administrative mildness. Some of the fiercest measures of recent years — the law authorizing the liquidation of the kulaks as a class, the law of August 7, 1933, which permits the application of the death penalty for any theft of state property (a definition which, under Soviet conditions, covers almost all property), the mass deportations from Kuban villages in the winter of 1932-1933, the decision to let the famine take its course in the winter and spring of 1932-1933 — were acts of the general Party leadership, for which the Gay-Pay-Oo bears no special responsibility.
A final and complete abandonment of terrorism as an instrument of government will only come when the grimly pragmatic philosophy which assumes that the individual has no rights which the state is bound to respect is discarded. So long as that philosophy prevails, one may expect a continuance of executions for crimes which would not be regarded as capital offenses in Western countries — hoarding silver coins, for instance, or stealing grain from a collective farm field, or negligence leading to wrecks and accidents.
The Soviet Government is proud, with some reason, of the modern humanitarian methods which it has introduced in dealing with common criminals and in reclaiming street waifs and prostitutes.3 But it clings to an idea which even the least progressive penologists in other countries have discarded for many generations: that the application of the death penalty for a most varied list of offenses has a permanently wholesome reformatory effect.
A new proof that terrorism remains an essentia! element in Soviet administration was furnished by a law prescribing penalties for treason which was promulgated on June 8, 1934. This law makes the death penalty mandatory in the case of soldiers who are guilty of espionage, betrayal of military or state secrets, or flight abroad. Civilians may also be put to death for any of these offenses or may be given the milder punishment of ten years’ imprisonment with confiscation of all their property. Members of the family of a soldier who knew of his intention to flee from the country without informing the authorities are to be punished with imprisonment of from five to ten years and confiscation of all their property. The law contains one further clause which certainly could not be duplicated in the legislation of any civilized country. It prescribes that other adult members of the ‘traitor’s’ family, living with him and dependent on him, even though they may have had no knowledge of his act and no responsibility for it, are to be deprived of electoral rights (which means also deprivation Of food cards) and face ‘exile to remote regions of Siberia for five years.’
It is a matter of common knowledge that the Gay-Pay-Oo extorts confessions from its prisoners by making threats against the safety of members of their families. But this is the first time that the Soviet Government has itself supplied public documentary proof of its policy of treating relatives of its offending citizens as hostages who may be punished for no crime of their own. The purpose of this extraordinary law is apparently to check desertions from the Red Army and, still more, flight from the huge forced-labor camps of Eastern Siberia.
Until the individual’s right to live and to enjoy liberty is regarded as superior to the state’s right to put him to death or to exile him to forced labor, the Soviet Union, in its treatment of political offenders of various kinds, seems destined to remain where Tsarist Russia stood: somewhat more ruthless than Other dictatorial European regimes, somewhat less ruthless than the more backward Asiatic countries.
- An incident reported in Izvcstia late in 1930 showed on what curious material a charge of sabotage could be based. A certain Professor Tushnov, in an institute in Kazan, was accused of saying that every scientific student abroad had his own microscope and other equipment, a situation which does not exist in the Soviet Union, and of adding that ‘some who come to study in the Soviet Union cannot even handle an oil stove.’ The Kazan proletarian students promptly accused the Professor of ‘ideological sabotage,’ and Izvestia solemnly characterized Tushnov’s statement as being ‘direct solidarity with those who, in the name of saving capitalism and its “culture,” strive to destroy the sole proletarian state in the world.’ — AUTHOR↩
- These rumors were officially confirmed in a newspaper dispatch from Moscow dated July 10. According to the dispatch, the Gay-Pay-Oo was replaced as an institution by the Commissariat for Internal Affairs by a Soviet decree of July 10, 1934. Inasmuch as the new Commissar for Internal Affairs is Yagoda, former acting head of the Gay-Pay-Oo, and his two assistants were prominent figures in the Gay-Pay-Oo, it seems reasonable to assume that the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, in methods and personnel, will be very similar to the Gay-Pay-Oo, just as the latter organization, when it was created in 1922, took over to a large extent the working apparatus of its predecessor, the Cheka, or Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution.↩
- The most important change indicated in the new decree is that the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, unlike the Gay-Pay-Oo, will not be able to pass summary death sentences. This right is reserved for the ordinary and special courts. It may be recalled that a similar change Was announced when the Cheka was renamed as the Gay-Pay-Oo; but the abstention from inflicting summary death sentences was very brief. It remains to be seen whether the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, unlike the Gay-Pay-Oo, will remain within the limitation which the decree imposes upon it. The Commissariat for Internal Affairs retains the right to inflict the penalty of exile at hard labor up to a term of five years without trial before a public court. It also retains the management of the nume rous large forced-labor camps which have grown up in Russia during the last few years. — AUTHOR↩
- As a general rule there is an effort in Soviet prisons and prison labor camps to avoid affixing a stigma of inferiority on the criminal through the requirement of wearing a special uniform. Sentences are indefinite and are made progressively shorter in the event of good behavior, and efforts are made to teach trades to the prisoners. Although the maximum prison sentence is ten years, criminals of a very hardened type are sometimes shot as ‘socially dangerous.’ Common criminals who have been convicted of more serious offenses are often sent to the rougher and more unpleasant places of exile, such as the Solovetzky Islands, in the White Sea, or the Narim Region, in Siberia, where they are employed at hard labor along with kulaks and other ‘class enemies’ of various brands. It is the general testimony of people who have been in concentration camps that common criminals get better treatment than those whose offenses are of a political or economic type. The Gay-Pay-Oo overseers apparently believe that a murderer or a bandit is easier to reclaim than a priest, a kulak, or an anti-Soviet intellectual. — AUTHOR↩