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HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS COMMITTED DURING THE STALANIST AND POST-STALINIST RULE

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HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS COMMITTED DURING THE STALANIST AND POST-STALINIST RULE

Mensaje por El Compañero el Vie Jun 27, 2008 5:48 pm

What were the most important human rights violations committed by Stalin?



Joseph Stalin won a leading role in the Communist Party during Lenin's failing years, and after a few years of power-sharing he obtained dictatorial powers that exceeded even those of Lenin. In recent years, historians have gradually recognized that Stalin was personally responsible for the murder of more people than any other human being in the 20th century - and probably any other century. Stalin took Lenin's system of slave labor camps and turned it into a vast secret empire in the depths of Siberia. Lenin chose to let millions starve to death in order to sustain his war effort, but Stalin went further by deliberately engineering famines on an even greater scale. Finally, Stalin crossed the one line that Lenin would not, by ordering the executions of fellow Communists on a massive scale.

Deaths due to extreme hardship conditions in slave labor camps

Lenin pioneered the slave labor camp, but Stalin expanded it literally a hundredfold. Under Lenin, the inmates numbered fewer than 100,000. By 1930, they numbered 1,000,000. By 1940, the Gulag Archipelago housed fully 10,000,000 pitiful souls. The death rate was extraordinary: 10-30% per year, for the prisoners performed demanding labor such as mining and timber-cutting with minimal food and clothing in freezing temperatures. The slaves were ruled by an elite of secret police, now known as the NKVD. As Robert Conquest describes:

In the vast empty spaces in the north and the Far East, areas as big as fair-sized countries came under complete NKVD control. There were many camps scattered through the Urals, in the Archangel area, and more especially in and around Karaganda and on the new railway being built from Turkestan to Siberia. But in these, the NKVD administered only comparatively small enclaves... The two biggest true colonies of the NKVD empire were the great stretch of northwestern Russia beyond the Kotlas, comprising roughly what is shown on the map as the Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and the even vaster area of the Far East centered on the gold fields of Kolyma. These regions had, before the NKVD took over, populations of a handful of Russians and a few thousand Arctic tribesmen. A decade later, they held between them something between 1.25 and 2 million prisoners. (The Great Terror)

Who were the prisoners? Before Stalin's collectivization of agriculture, the composition was quite mixed. Anyone who opposed the Communists, from Czarist reactionary to Social Revolutionary, might be consigned to the camps. While almost invariably innocent of any definite action against their government, they were perceived as potential enemies. After 1930, the composition of the camps drastically changed. Suddenly, millions upon millions of peasant families were sentenced to Siberia. Stalin called them "kulaks," or wealthy farmers, though in fact any peasant somehow caught up in resistance to forced collectivization was labeled a "kulak." As the democratic socialist Carl Landauer observes:

Between the persecution of the Armenians by the Turks during the First World War and the extermination of "undesirable" races by Hitler, the Bolshevik campaign against the kulaks and the former bourgeois was probably the only instance in which large masses of men, women, and children were by administrative order dislodged from their places of habitation and brought into camps where many, if not most of them, were sure to perish - and were meant to perish. (European Socialism: A History of Ideas and Movements)

After Stalin crushed peasant resistance, the enormous death rate in the slave labor camps ensured that the number of inmates could not remain steady - unless more and more people were declared enemies of the people and sentenced to Siberia. Stalin claimed to find conspiracies and enemies everywhere. "Kulaks" were blamed for all agricultural failures, while "wreckers" bore responsibility for industrial disasters. Intellectuals, ethnic leaders, and officers in the military became targets. Anyone with contact with foreign countries could be easily declared a spy. Then Stalin began to target fellow Communists, purging them for left deviations, right deviations, treason, and espionage. As Conquest notes, at the 1939 Party Congress, "Of the 1,966 delegates to the [1934] Congress, 1,108 had been arrested for counter-revolutionary crimes." (The Great Terror) Sentences to Siberia were their typical fate. Foreign Communists living in the USSR, especially foreign Communists from non-democratic countries, almost invariably wound up in Siberia. Even the NKVD itself was purged, so that the secret policeman of today might be the inmate of tomorrow.
After Stalin was satisfied with the composition of the Communist Party, new waves of victims arose. Millions of Poles were sent to slave labor camps in 1939 when Stalin and Hitler divided Poland. In 1940, Stalin annexed the Baltic states and sent 2-4% of their populations to the slave camps. During World War II, any ethnicity deemed disloyal was likely to be deported en masse: ethnic Germans - including the Volga Germans who had lived in Russia for centuries - were deported to Siberia, along with Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and other nationalities. With the end of World War II, the prison population was replenished not only with German POWs, and German civilians (including ethnic Germans scattered across Europe), but with Soviet POWs. Stalin considered captured Soviet soldiers to be traitors, so they had the opportunity to perform slave labor for Stalin as well as Hitler.

Stalin's slave empire lasted so long and went through so many waves of victims that one is left speechless. So many millions perished within the Gulag Archipelago for so many reasons, or for no reason. With a minimum of 5,000,000 slave laborers from 1931 to 1950, and a minimum death toll of 10% per year - both improbably low figures - one can conclude that Stalin's camps claimed a minimum of 10,000,000 victims, and easily two or three times as many.

Deaths due to man-made famine.

Lenin knew that his agricultural policies might cause widespread famine, but implemented them anyway. Stalin went further. Not only did he know that his policies would cause widespread famine; he turned famine into a political weapon by deliberately and selectively amplifying its horrors. Lenin nominally gave peasants the title to their land, while effectively expropriating them by forcing them to sell their crops for a pittance. Stalin went further by ordering the forced collectivization of agriculture. The peasants lost their land and became employees of the state; moreover, they had to obtain government permission to quit their jobs, which was often impossible to obtain. State-owned serf plantations had returned to Russia after a 70-year lapse.

Naturally, reducing landed free peasants to serfs required massive application of government force. Wealthy, prominent, or recalcitrant peasants were dubbed "kulaks" and deported to Siberia. Still the peasants resisted; food production drastically declined, farm animals were slaughtered, and surplus grain ferreted away. In 1930, the peasants' reaction to forced collectivization was so extreme that even Stalin backed away. But this was only a tactical retreat, and by 1934 90% of sown acreage in the USSR was owned by collective (i.e., government) farms.

Food production of all kinds drastically declined. Slave labor in the fields proved far less efficient than free labor; the harvest of grain and other crops shrank. The herds of livestock often declined by 50% or more by either slaughter before collectivization, or neglect after collectivization. But Stalin was not interested in total food production, but in how much food he could squeeze out of the peasants without compensation. The collective farms were ordered to surrender their quota of food to the state, under severe penalty. As Conquest explains, "The basic principle was that a certain amount of grain must be delivered to the state regardless, and that this demand must be satisfied before the needs of the peasantry could be taken into consideration. A law of 16 October 1931 forbade reserving grain for internal kolkhoz [collective farm] needs until the procurement plan was fulfilled." (The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine) If production declined, it could be taken out of the hides of the peasants. This was precisely what Stalin had in mind.

From the outset, the quotas set for delivery were far too high, especially considering the decline in total production. As the peasants began to face severe hunger, in 1932, one might have expected the quotas to be reduced - especially since Stalin actually had grain to export. But instead, in early 1933 Stalin demanded still more food from the desperate peasantry. Yet his exactions were uneven: they were particularly inhuman for the Ukraine, Don, Kuban, and lower Volga - regions where popular sentiment against Communist oppression and Russification was strong. As Conquest notes, "Nor is it the case that the famine, or the excessive grain targets, were imposed on the most productive grain-producing areas as such, as a - mistaken or vicious - economic policy merely. There was no famine in the rich Russian 'Central Agricultural Region'; and on the other hand the grain-poor Ukrainian provinces of Volhynia and Podilia suffered along with the rest of the country." (The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine)

All of the facts point to a deliberate effort to use starvation as a tool of genocide. Seed grain in 1932 in the Ukraine was for the first time taken from the peasants and stored in urban granaries: officials realized that once starvation set in the peasants would try to eat the seed grain. The Ukrainian-Russian border was carefully guarded to keep Russian grain out of the famine-stricken Ukraine and starving Ukrainians out of Russia. Government grain stockpiles were available, but unused.

This mixture of ruthless methods resulted in the starvation deaths of about 7 million people: 5 million in the Ukraine, 1 million in the North Caucasus region, and 1 million elsewhere. On top of this, a similar collectivization campaign carried out against the nomads of Kazahkstan led to 1 million further deaths.

The famine in 1933 was the worst under Stalin's rule, but not the last. Famines swept Eastern Europe and the USSR again after World War II, although here the Nazis bore part of the blame. Stalin also shares responsibility for the deaths - again mostly through hunger - of ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe with the Red Army's advance. The Communist-dominated governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia shared with Stalin the blame for some 2 million unnatural deaths of ethnic Germans. (see Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944- 1950)

Executions

On April 7, 1935, Stalin issued a decree authorizing the death penalty for children as young as 12 years old. While far more of Stalin's subjects died in slave labor camps and man-made famines than from execution, even here the numbers are startling. There were approximately one million executions during the Great Terror of 1936-1939, and probably over five million for his entire reign. The executed were often Stalin's opponents within the Party, or his less eager friends, or foreign Communists. Large numbers of officers were executed. Polish POWs taken in 1939 were executed en masse in Katyn and elsewhere. Almost all of Stalin's comrades in the Russian Civil War were executed or assassinated at his orders: Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Kamenev, Rykov, Tomsky, and (as recent discoveries confirm) Kirov. Many of these were tortured, bullied, and threatened into condemning themselves in the so-called "show trials," where they absurdly confessed to large-scale espionage and subversion. The poetic justice of the trials of Stalin's ex-comrades is palpable, since a Nuremberg-style trial of the Communist leadership for crimes against humanity would have condemned most of them to death. So numerous were Stalin's victims that amongst the oceans of innocents executed, justice occasionally accidentally descended upon the guilty.



What were the most important human rights violations perpetrated by the Soviet Union during the post-Stalin era?

In comparison with Stalin's hellish regime, the rule of his successors seemed benign. But even compared to Czarism, the rule of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and later leaders remained bloodthirsty. There were no significant man-made famines in the post-Stalin era. The number executed for political offenses from 1953-1991 was perhaps one or two hundred thousand, many of them Hungarians and Czechs who opposed Soviet rule.

The significant post-Stalin mass killings were in the slave labor camps. While living conditions in the camps greatly improved over the decades, the death rate remained enormous: while Stalin's camps had annual fatality rates in the range of 10-30%, the rates fell to 5-15% in the late 50's, 2-6% in the 60's, and still lower in later periods. The slave labor population declined, but even in the 1980's was numbered in the millions. The unnatural fatality rate and the large population in camps add up to a major, albeit drawn-out, crime against humanity: at least 3 millions during the later part of the 50's, and 2 million more during the 60's. Certainly even a fatality rate of 4% is high enough to qualify as reckless endangerment of human life and therefore murder - consider that with an annual fatality rate of 4%, 1 in 3 inmates (generally healthy young men) would not survive a decade. There is a line-drawing problem for later periods - a 1% fatality rate for young men is high, but probably not murder. Ironically, Western focus on Soviet human rights abuses under the Carter and Reagan administrations began only after mass murder in the USSR had largely ceased. This unfortunately left the impression that prison, emigration restrictions, and censorship were the most heinous crimes ever committed by the Soviet leadership.

Source: Museum of Communism

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"Confiamos en que la pureza de nuestra intención nos traiga el favor de Dios para lograr el imperio de la justicia en nuestra patria. Si caemos, que nuestra sangre señale el camino de la libertad. Porque, tenga o no, nuestra acción el éxito que esperamos, la conmoción que originara nos hará adelantar la senda del triunfo."
José Antonio Echevarría : La Habana, 13 de Marzo de 1957.
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