OGPU Unified State Political Directorate
(Ob"edinennoe gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie—OGPU)
In early 1922 the Cheka was abolished and its functions transferred to the State Political Directorate (Gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie—GPU). When the Soviet Union was formed in December 1922, the GPU was raised to the level of a federal agency, designated the Unified State Political Directorate (Ob"edinennoe gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie—OGPU), and attached to the Council of People's Commissars. Other soures report that in 1924 the GPU became the OGPU when the word Ob"edinennoe — United was added to its name.
Of the 12 years of the OGPU's existence (1922-34), the first half, which coincided with the NEP period, was relatively quiet compared with the preceding civil war and subsequent "Socialist offensive" era. Between 1922 and 1928 the party was divided in three groups. Leon Trotsky on the left, Stalin in the center and Nicolai Bukharin on the right. Bukharin and Stalin supported the capitalist NEP. Between 1922 and 1928 only six GPU reports mention the arrest of strikers and only five reports mention other strikes in which force was used or threatened.
On paper it appeared that the powers of the political police had been reduced significantly. Indeed, police operations during the NEP period were considerably less violent, and the staff and budget of the political police were reduced. Initially, the OGPU was subject to definite procedural requirements regarding arrests and was not given the powers of summary justice that its predecessor had. But the legal constraints on the OGPU were gradually removed, and its authority grew throughout the 1920s.
The OGPU was drawn into the intra-party struggles that ensued between Stalin and his opponents and was also enlisted in the drive to collectivize the peasantry by force, beginning in late 1929, an operation that resulted in the death of at least 5 million people.
After the death of Feliks Dzerzhinski in 1926, his aide, Vyacheslav Menzhinski, a colorless personality and a sick man, completely loyal to Stalin since the latter's accession to power, became head of the OGPU. Menzhinski did not leave a profound mark on the Soviet police system. His aide and eventual successor, Genrikh Yagoda, became the actual chief of the Soviet police.
A former pharmacist and a not very able man, Yagoda worked in close contact with Stalin and was the latter's right hand in the carrying out of repressions and persecutions. It appears that for a short time in 1928 Yagoda had had some contact with the "right opposition"; this was only an accidental deviation [but years later, when Stalin decided to get rid of Yagoda, he recalled this crime of an earlier period].
Unlike Menzhinsky, who was courteous, well-educated, and cultured, Yagoda was rough and brutal, and not much to look at, with his greyish yellow complexion, watery eyes and pigeon breast. During the War he fought at the front, fell into the hands of the insurgents, and was flogged within an inch of his life. It was only after many months of careful nursing that the doctors succeeded in putting him on his feet again. But no experience of this kind could possibly make him more odious than he was before. Intrigues in the Political Bureau, envy of his successful colleagues, a lively hatred of everybody and everything, and sadistic orgies with Young Communist girls occupied his whole time.
The system of confessions to crimes that had never been committed was Yagoda's handiwork, if not his brainchild. In 1933 Stalin rewarded Yagoda with the Order of Lenin, in 1935 elevated him to the rank of General Commissar of State Defense, that is, Marshal of the Political Police, only two days after the talented Tukhachevsky was elevated to the rank of Marshal of the Red Army. In Yagoda's person a nonentity was elevated, known as such to all and held in contempt by all. The old revolutionists must have exchanged looks of indignation. Even in the submissive Politburo an attempt was made to oppose this.
The operations of the OGPU reflected the dominant preoccupations of the Party leadership. Particular attention was devoted to checking on church activities, persons of unfavorable social origins, and former members of opposition parties. As the struggle of the Trotsky opposition mounted in intensity, the OGPU concerned itself increasingly with non-conformity and deviation within the Party itself. Its field of supervision included the foreign embassies and foreign visitors. Through its Economic Administration, it sought to restrain malpractices and sabotage in industry; its Special Section penetrated the armed forces and kept a watchful eye on their morale, loyalty, and efficiency. Its Foreign Section conducted espionage abroad, observed the activities of Russian emigre colonies, and reported on personnel in all Soviet foreign missions. Its specially assigned troops were charged with guarding rail and water transport, policing the borders of the Soviet Union, and suppressing any counterrevolutionary risings which might take place.
The year 1928 marked the end of the NEP and the start of the 5-year plans, which were followed by the collectivization of farming. Pressures mounted as industrialization was pushed with extreme intensity. With the abandonment of the NEP and the decision to proceed with a program of rapid industrialization and agricultural collectivization, the OGPU began to play a much more prominent role. Its energies were concentrated on three targets: the Nepmen or private traders, who had been permitted to flourish under the NEP; the old intelligentsia, who were made the scapegoats for early failures and difficulties in the industrialization drive; and the kulaks, who offered active or passive opposition to the collectivization program.
In their drive against dissidents of various kinds, non-Communist as well as Communist, Stalin and the OGPU embarked on the series of judicial "trials," which continued, with interruptions, for a decade from 1928 to 1938. In the beginning it was members of the old Russian "intelligentsia" who were the main target, Communists not yet appearing among the defendants. "Wrecking," a newly invented criminal offense, was the accusation leveled against old engineers, professors, and agronomists; the standard crime was intentional sabotage and obstructing of Soviet economic development on instructions of Russian emigre capitalists and non-Russian Western "bourgeoisie."
"Wrecking" was defined in paragraph 58(7) of the Soviet Criminal Code : "The undermining of state industry, transport, trade, currency, or system of credit, or of the co-operative system, with counterrevolutionary intent, by utilizing the state institutions or enterprises concerned or by work- ing against the normal activities, or the utilization of state institutions or enterprises, or opposition to their activities, in the interests of the former owners or of interested capitalistic organizations, entails the measure of social defense prescribed in article 58 (2) of the present code."
The trials were intended to prove to the Soviet people that the economic shortages, industrial chaos and privation were due not to the course taken by the government but to conspiracies of capitalist organizations. Among the defendants there were usually some actual, though inactive, opponents of the regime; a number of frightened nonpoliticals; and a few OGPU agents-provocateurs assigned to testify against and expose their co-defendants. The accusations were frequently absurd, but the prosecution always won its case.
The first of the trials was that of the Shakhty engineers, held in April-June 1928. Among the defendants were 50 Russian and three German engineers and technicians. The accusation against them was as follows: ". . . Starting in 1925, this counter-revolutionary organization acted under the immediate direction of the so-called Paris center, which embraced members of different organizations, in particular the "Society of former mine owners of the South of Russia," "Society of the Creditors of old Russia," etc. . . . They inundated mines, damaged mechanisms, caused explosions and obstructions, set fires, etc. To provoke discontent among the workers, they damaged ventilation systems and impaired working and living conditions of the miners. Wrecking activities were also extended to leading central organs of the coal industry."
Of the defendants, 10 "confessed" to wrecking activities; 11 were sentenced to death, of whom 5 were executed and 6 were reprieved; 38 were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
In November-December 1930 occurred the trial of the "Industrial Party," in which five of the eight defendants were sentenced to death, the sentences later being commuted to 10 years in prison. This spectacular trial was brilliantly staged to make a proletarian holiday — the courtroom rilled 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, even the Young Communist son of one of the defendants duly demanded the death of his father. But the reality of the scene was impaired when the head of the alleged Industrial Party, Professor Ramzin, included in his confession some items which were obviously and even absurdly untrue.
Absurdities in the indictments, to which the defendants, in their own interest, pleaded guilty, became a standard feature of the hastily concocted affairs. 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 — very thoughtlessly, from the standpoint of the organizers of the trial — had died in Paris several years before the trial was held. 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. There were other amusing discrepancies in the testimony, as when Ramzin told of a "meeting" in London with Colonel Lawrence at a time when it was conclusively evident that Lawrence had been stationed, as an aviator, on the northwest frontier of India, or when he spoke of meeting a certain "Sir Philip," whose last name he did not know — because, he said, in England lords are always called by the first name with the prefix "Sir."
The trial of the "14 Mensheviks" took place in March 1931. Although only one was at the time of the trial a member of the Menshevik party, the defendants admitted to having prepared armed uprisings and invoked foreign military intervention against the Soviet government. . . . The highlight of the framed trial was the alleged "trip of Raphael Abramovich to Moscow in the summer of 1928." The prosecutor maintained that Abramovich, a party leader living in Germany, had made a trip to Russia in order to induce undecided members of the underground to organize armed uprisings against the Soviet power. In their testimony before the court the defendants "confessed" that Abramovich had been in Moscow at the time indicated by the prosecution and had taken part in discussions. It happened, however, that at the precise time that the Socialist leader had been "conferring" with his friends in Moscow, an International Socialist Congress was in session in Brussels, Belgium, and in addition to records and press reports which belied the accusations of the Moscow prosecutor, a photograph taken and published during the conference showed that Abramovich had been present at the parley in Belgium. Neither the judges nor the Soviet press, of course, mentioned this falsification.
Of the defendants, seven were sentenced to ten years in prison, four to eight years, and three to five years.
Another political group placed on trial about the same time was the Party of the Toiling Peasantry. This trial was secret. In the majority of cases the OGPU did not stage a public trial, and itself sentenced the defendants. In one case, a group of employees of the food industry was arrested and tried in camera; 48 food specialists were shot. The case of the "Academicians" occupied public attention from 1929 to 1931. This involved more than 150 scientists and professors, who were scattered through various prisons, the case being concluded, without a public trial, only in the summer of 1931. Many were executed and others sentenced to various terms of exile.
At the end of 1931 Stalin again thundered public threats against wreckers and saboteurs, including those "professors who in their wrecking go to the length of infecting cattle in collectives and on Soviet farms with plague germs and the Siberian anthrax, spreading meningitis among horses, and so on." . . . "Theft and plunder in plants, warehouses, and commercial enterprises— these are the main activities of these people," he charged.
In January 1933 another show trial was staged, this time directed against six British Metro-Vickers engineers, ten Russian technicians, and a woman secretary who had been associated with them. All were charged with sabotage of power stations and the usual accompaniment of conspiracy and espionage.
The collectivization drive imposed a huge and extraordinary task on the OGPU, which now reverted to the "mass terror" of a decade before. During the drive which began in 1928 to force the peasants to join the collective farms, the OGPU troops were widely used to quell local rebellions and round up dissident peasants. They formed the main punitive instrument of the Party and government in enforcing the collectivization drive, a policy which, as Stalin later admitted to Churchill, claimed ten million victims.
The drive toward collectivization was interrupted by a period of modest relaxation in the spring of 1930, but it was soon resumed with augmented fury. Not only the central OGPU but its small local agencies as well made use of the wide powers entrusted to them. The peak of the drive was reached with the enactment of a new law, on August 7, 1932, which introduced the death penalty, along with long terms in prison (or labor camps), for "plundering" of kolkhoz property. If a peasant slaughtered his cattle instead of turning it over to the col- lective, he was guilty of "plundering" ; if a hungry peasant child collected a few spikes in the kolkhoz fields, he was guilty of "plundering."
The number of "special troops" of the OGPU trained and armed to fight popular movements in cities and villages grew to about 300,000; new regulations were issued to regiment the population of the cities, especially the industrial workers. In December 1932 the government proceeded to introduce obligatory passports: now no one could move about in Russia without one. In every job, the management had to mark the dates of service in the passport. Thus increasing control over the workers was becoming possible. Another decree issued in 1932 ordered that workers dismissed for repeated failure to report to work were to be evicted from their apartments.
Despite the fact that by that time terrorism had somewhat abated, a measure of extraordinary severity against Soviet defectors fleeing abroad was signed on June 8, 1934, under which members of the defectors' families were made hostages. In the case of escape or flight abroad of a member of the armed forces adult members of that person's family erre to be punished by deprivation of liberty for a period of from five to ten years with confiscation of their entire property, if they had assisted in any way the planned or committed act of treason, or at least had knowledge of it and did not inform the authorities. The other adult members of the family of the traitor, who had been living with him or were supported by him at the moment when the crime was committed, erre to be deprived of their right to vote and are to be exiled for five years to remote districts of Siberia. Failure by a member of the armed forces to inform the authorities concerning the prepared or perpetrated act of treason was punishable by deprivation of liberty for ten years.
There was, however, an additional, secret, clause in this decree which prescribed that: "... if an officer of the NKVD fled the country or failed to return from a mission abroad, his closest relatives were liable to imprisonment for ten years, and in those cases when the officer had disclosed state secrets, they were liable to the death penalty. "
A series of secret instructions and a secret periodical (Bulletin) were issued during these years to control the press and the publication of books. The proscriptions were drastic and comprehensive. For instance: In order "to prevent foreigners from drawing an analogy between Osoaviakhim [the para-military Society for the Promotion of Defense and Aero-Chemical Development] and the Red Army, ... all references to Osoaviakhim as a fully armed and rigidly trained organization are forbidden." Stress was to be placed on its "voluntary character," expressing the "voluntary" surge of people to "deepen their military and military- political knowledge. . . ."
The perechen [a list of forbidden items] in the economic field was equally drastic. For the year 1934 no quantitative data on crop-yields in any locality were to be published unless such data first appeared in Pravda or Izvestia. All numerical data pertaining to grain deliveries and purchases for the U.S.S.R. as a whole as well as localities were ordered withheld. The prohibition extended to percentage as well as absolute figures, except that raions [counties] were permitted to report percentage increases in grain deliveries computed on a 1933 base. . Specific news on railroad construction in certain areas and on the hiring of labor for these projects was also interdicted.
Detailed data on court cases, crimes, and convictions were to be withheld, and description of the activities of the OGPU deleted. Special care was to be exercised to stop the publication of "distorted" pictures of Stalin and Lenin. Censors were to guard against exaggerating the incidence of kulak terror, arson, the murder of Soviet officials, election disorders, or other phenomena calculated to emphasize "internal instability" in the USSR or the activities of anti-Soviet elements.
The terrorism diminished in 1933, as the main goals of the collectivization drive were approaching realization and the famine was reach- ing its apogee. A secret instruction, signed by Stalin and Molotov on May 8, 1933, which ordered a slowing down of the "offensive," at the same time contained a confirmation of the terrible cruelty of the campaign when it was at its height : "The Central Committee and the Sovnarkom are informed that disorderly mass arrests in the countryside are still a part of the practice of our officials. Such arrests were made by . . . all who desire to, and who, strictly speaking, have no right to make arrests. It is not surprising that in such a saturnalia of arrests, organs which do have the right to arrest, including the organs of the OGPU and especially the militia, lose all feeling of moderation and often perpetrate arrests without any basis, acting according to the rule: "First arrest, and then investigate." "
A circular issued in Moscow on May 25, 1933 said: ". . . Information coming in to the Central Control Commission from the localities still shows that mass arrests continue, that there is legal repression on an extraordinary scale, which has led everywhere to intolerable over- loading of the places of imprisonment, to inordinate burdening of all organs of investigation, the courts, and the procuracy. . . , "
Under the terms of the [Stalin-Molotov] order, the 800,000 prisoners who were at that time confined in places of detention, aside from camps and colonies, were to be reduced to 400,000 within a two-month period, and a quota of 400,000 was established as the maximum number of persons who could be kept in prisons. The decree envisaged the mass transfer of some categories of prisoners to forced labor camps, the mass transfer of other categories, including kulaks sentenced to a term of three to five years, to so-called labor settlements; and the release of the remaining prisoners under bail or other forms of supervision.
Soon afterward, certain categories of kulaks were released from the camps. Since early in 1934 rumors had spread that the dreadful OGPU would be abolished altogether. Actually, by decree of July 10, 1934, the OGPU was replaced by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, better known by its abbreviation NKVD (Narodnyi Kommisariat Vnutrennikh Del). Genrikh Yagoda, head of the OGPU, became chief of the NKVD; other leading officers of the police agency also retained their posts. It seemed reasonable to assume that the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, in methods and personnel, would 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.
It was expected, however, that the NKVD would assume a more liberal course of action than its predecessor. In particular, it did not have the right to pass summary death sentences. The Commissariat for Internal Affairs retained 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 numerous large forced-labor camps which have grown up in Russia during the last few years. The hopes and expectations that the NKVD would be more lenient and liberal than the dreadful OGPU did not, however, materialize.
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