"Soviet Terror: A New Stalinism Emerging?" - Triumph Magazine - Paul Cole Beach

This article by Paul Cole Beach was written in 1970, and brings light to the fact that after Stalin things did not necessarily "democratize" as some in the West had expected. Rather, a continuation of the Soviet state held on, even if it took less overt forms than under Stalin. 

The Cheka - Soviet Secret Police

Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Beach begins, even before the October revolution never were against the use of terror in order to achieve their communist aims, they only selectively applied it when they thought it suited. After they Revolution they certainly felt as though it was the right time for such a tool and increased the Soviet secret police, the Cheka, to 30,000 agents all over the country. They were given orders by Lenin to purge the country from anyone who would stand against the Revolution, and against the bourgeoise class as a whole. 1

"Within a year the Cheka had spread throughout the country- 40 province and 356 district units with about 30,000 operatives were created almost immediately - with instructions that criminals, 'hooligans,' and opponents of the Revolution were to be summarily shot." 2

In the Cheka's first year and a half it was reported that 100,000 political opponents were arrested or executed by them. The prisons filled so quickly that the government resorted to concentration camps to put these people to good use, with many simply dying in the process. The Cheka mission was not just against the obvious political opponents of Communism, but served the purpose of getting any free thinkers in the mass of everyday humanity to fall in line as well. The old institutions of society needed to be broken down to make way for the new, and the Cheka were the central and necessary tool of this transformation, according to Stalin. After the Second World War the Cheka became even more busy given the paranoia of Stalin at being betrayed, as well as by the corrupted POWs who returned from their contact with the West. 3

"After the close of World War II, the Soviet people desperately longed for a respite from violence. Almost twenty million Soviet citizens had died from wounds, starvation, and deportation. The Soviet masses hoped to be free not only from the brutalities of war, but from the police terror which had marked Soviet life in ever-increasing measure from the very founding of the Bolshevik regime until its climax in the Great Purge era - a terror claiming somewhere between twenty and forty million victims before its end." 4

There were even those in the Cheka who used Stalin's paranoia for their own gain to eliminate perceived rivals through false charges, or to eliminate minority groups such as the Russian Jews. 5 

Cheka After Stalin

Given this history of the Cheka, what has happened to it after the death of Stalin? The consistent terror and false persecution of people was only slowed by Stalin's death. Under Khrushchev, certain accused were cleared, there were promises of a return of personal rights, and even a lenience on imprisonment without trial. Lavrenti Beria, the one who had used the Cheka to get rid of his political opponents, was even arrested and executed for his crimes, along with many of the other previous leaders in the Cheka up to that point. 6

"Manifestly intent on taking every necessary step to re-establish itself more firmly in control of the security organs, the Party abolished the dreaded Special Board of the M.V.D. (which had plenary power to dispose of anyone arrested by the secret police in any way it saw fit) by secret decree. The Kirov decrees, which had provided legal rationale for mass executions, were also repealed." 7

Besides this, a department was established to oversee the secret police, their economic benefits were cut, they were transferred, and conditions in the concentration camps were made better, even allowing certain groups of people free from the camps (though some claimed that the number released was only but a tiny fraction those in and coming to the camps). While these policies were part of Khrushchev's campaign of "de-Stalinization," it is not clear that they are anything more than precarious. People can still be dealt with very harshly if they are determined to be anti-Soviet or anti-Revolution. Any types of legal rights are insecure at best, depending on the moment. 8

There are some who think that Khrushchev simply didn't have the firm support to enact such brutal leadership as did Stalin. The temptation was always there, though, to make that return to the Cheka as the instrument of political suppression, as it was difficult to resolve disputes in the Soviet government. 9 "A leader cannot insulate himself from the instability of the Kremlin politics unless he gains massive coercive power to wield against his political adversaries." 10 

Likewise in the larger society the Secret Police still continued under Khrushchev, manifesting itself in the departments of observation connected with every "farm, plant, military unit, office, or higher school...". Nor was violence as a means of control denounced by Khrushchev, rather it has been made known that, if necessary, it would be used. In the 1960's the number of Secret Police was between 350,000 to 400,000. They still were able to impose five years of labor camps on individuals as punishment, as well as seek to root out threats before they arise. The shift was from actual violence to the threat of violence, and thus those who herald the Soviet Union as having changed may be mistaken in this notion. As still more evidence of this, a new means of accomplishing the same end goal was employed. By creating a citizen force to police other citizens, many of the same outcomes were still had while drawing much less attention to government agencies. In fact, it would be more totalitarian in nature to have the impetus for policing arise from within the population on its own, rather than be enforced by imposed violence.11

"Such is the thrust of the comrades' courts and peoples' militia created a few years ago - groups designed, in Khrushchev's words, to act 'parallel with such agencies as the police and the courts to perform the functions of safeguarding order and security.' Some 80,000 units of these citizen police - numbering about 2,500,000 members - were established in major industrial and agricultural enterprises and have engaged in such illiberal pastimes as beating, killings, and night-time searches and harassment. Such groups remove the immediate onus of coercion from the regime by making citizens accomplices in terror..." 12

Beach concludes the article saying that, as of 1970, the Soviet Union is at a crossroads. There are those who wish to liberalize it and continue down the trend of relaxation, while at the same time there may be a rise of Neo-Stalinism which reverts back to the much more rigid and open police state. Either way, he concludes with a quote from Khrushchev which sums up the whole sentiment, that regardless, in one way or another, the control of the Communist regime on its people will continue. 13 "'Our enemies are hoping that we will relax our vigilance, that we will weaken our state security agencies. No-this will never happen! The proletarian sword must stay sharp!'"  14


1 - Beach, Paul Cole. Soviet Terror: A New Stalinism Emerging?. Triumph Magazine. vol. 5 no. 3 1970. Pg 16.

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