Author Topic: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?  (Read 54952 times)

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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #90 on: November 13, 2010, 04:04:49 PM »
According to several bnooks that I read on the post Stalin kgb and the kgb at the end of Stalin's regime, the KGB did not mellow but they were restricted in the methods that they could use.  this did not make them any less effective.  While they didnt on the whole use really brutal methods to interrogate suspects, they did use techniques like forcing someone to stand for days in one spot or putting them into really confining cells where they couldn t sit or interrogating them for days so that the suspect got no sleep for days.  I am sure they used more brutal methods on some cases but my research shows this was limited.  I am anything but soft on the KGB.  They were despicable enforcers of ideology.  The best thing they produced was Gorbachev.

The Stalinist OGPU/NKVD/KGB used exactly these same methods, of forcing people to stand for days in a corner or putting them in confining cells where they couldn't stand upright, lie down, or even sit properly, but had to crouch for days and nights on end. All these methods are considered torture under the Geneva Convention, I believe, and rightly so. And, as you say, they continued throughout the Soviet period, at least until Gorbachev.

Frankly I don't know if after Stalin's death the Soviet secret police still felt free to beat up prisoners to the extent that the victims' bones were broken and their blood was left on their written "confessions," as happened in many cases during the Great Terror, as I recall. But I suspect you're correct, Constantinople, that after the deaths of Stalin and Beria, this sort of outright brutality was rapidly made a thing of the past.

Still, there exist more subtle forms of cruelty on the face of this earth. Aside from the methods of torture named above,  Petr is right to draw our attention to the very cruel methods used against dissidents in the Brezhnev, Chernenko, and Andropov eras. Psychiatric hospitals, employing all the scientific jargon and very heavy sedation against their dissident patients, worse, anti-psychotic drugs which left patients in an absolute stupor, and even worse yet, shock treatments, which often destroy long-term memory all together, and can make a mush of one's intellect. All this could be understood as a further development, an evolution, even an actual refinement of the methods of the 1930s, because it was a far more subtle and sophisticated version of inhumane treatment, but this time under the guise of "science," i.e., psychiatry, and therefore excusable, if not, strictly speaking, legal -- I honestly don't know about that point, perhaps the lawyers here like Petr can help us out.

What's interesting about the Soviet Union under Stalin is that almost (almost!) everything was made very legal, technically speaking, if not before or during the fact, then after the fact. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought it was spelled out quite clearly under one of the Stalinist legal codes that if, for example, one stole an ear of corn (i.e., gleaned an ear of corn from a previously harvested field, because one was starving) one could expect to get at least 5 years forced labor in the camps. My impression was that the Soviets under Stalin were every bit as eager to "legalize" their crimes against humanity as Nazi Germany. But I'm not a lawyer, so obviously I don't know anything but what I've read in books on the subject!
« Last Edit: November 13, 2010, 04:11:52 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #91 on: November 13, 2010, 04:31:44 PM »
I am anything but soft on the KGB.  They were despicable enforcers of ideology.  The best thing they produced was Gorbachev.

P.S. Constantinople, I know you didn't really mean to say that the KGB produced Gorbachev. As you know, he never belonged to the KGB -- unlike Vladimir Putin. Indeed, Gorbachev's own grandfather was sent to Siberia as a kulak under Stalin and perished there. (As apparently did at least one relative of every four Russians living in the Russian Federation today.) Gorbachev rose to power through the regular party ranks -- although, of course, that makes him only slightly less guilty in the eyes of many former Soviet civilians than if he had been KGB.
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Constantinople

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #92 on: November 13, 2010, 10:31:01 PM »
Gorbachev was groomed by the KGB and would never have been allowed to be chairman of the Central committee if he hadn't been groomed and vetted by the KGB.  He was seen as the best hope of transitioning the economy so that the KGB maintained power and if you look at the Gorbachev-Yeltsin-Putin succession, you can see they were really pulling the strings behind the scenes.
        As for the mental hospitals, they were an effective system of defusing political dissidents.  A lot of political opponents and troublemakers would up getting unnecessary pre fontal lobotomies and other operations or being drugged into sedation.  Gulags were also another form of punishment but they were seldom used as methods of torture to exact confessions (however, the threat of them was).

Constantinople

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #93 on: November 13, 2010, 10:40:36 PM »
The following is from Oleg Gordievsky, who was a high ranking KGB officer before defecting. The interview was from 1990

It was the KGB that from at least 1984 saw in Gorbachev the only promising candidate whom it could support and whom it wanted to be the new leader after the series of elderly and ailing leaders. The KGB felt the need for reform. It saw the catastrophic situation in the Soviet Union better than anybody else because it is the best-informed body in the Soviet Union about internal and external developments. From the start, Gorbachev asked the KGB to provide information for the government, an independent, objective view of the economic, social and political situation. The KGB remains an important tool for him. It is the only agency he has not restructured.


Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #94 on: November 14, 2010, 06:12:35 PM »
The following is from Oleg Gordievsky, who was a high ranking KGB officer before defecting. The interview was from 1990

It was the KGB that from at least 1984 saw in Gorbachev the only promising candidate whom it could support and whom it wanted to be the new leader after the series of elderly and ailing leaders. The KGB felt the need for reform. It saw the catastrophic situation in the Soviet Union better than anybody else because it is the best-informed body in the Soviet Union about internal and external developments. From the start, Gorbachev asked the KGB to provide information for the government, an independent, objective view of the economic, social and political situation. The KGB remains an important tool for him. It is the only agency he has not restructured.

I don't doubt that you're right, Constantinople, but even if Gorbachev was approved by the KGB, even if he was "groomed" by the KGB as it were, that doesn't mean he was a slave or even a minion of the KGB. After all, he didn't rise to power through the KGB, so he didn't have that particular mindset. And as you say, the KGB was an "important tool" for him, but obviously not his master. This is the point I was trying to make. (Putin, I think, is another story all together.)

Also, it has to be remembered that in the declining years of the Soviet regime there was internal, objective research done by Soviet scholars and well known to the authorities, that things in the Soviet Union were going very badly. The most famous example is that of Tatiana Zaslavskaia at the Novosibirsk outpost of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who delivered a stunningly negative report on the prospects for Soviet agriculture. Here is the Wikipedia link about her:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatyana_Zaslavskaya

I think it was Soviet scholars like Zaslavskaia who rang the alarm bells that signaled to Andropov, the KGB, and, ultimately, Gorbachev that the entire system was in need of radical reform.
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Offline Petr

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #95 on: November 14, 2010, 08:09:30 PM »
Its interesting that the Zaslavskaia's memo probably fell on receptive ears because Gorbachev was intimately familiar with Soviet agriculture having come up through Stavropol's party structure. Here is an excerpt from his bio from Wikipedia:

"In 1970, he was appointed First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom, a body of the CPSU, becoming one of the youngest provincial party chiefs in the nation.[6] In this position he helped reorganise the collective farms, improve workers' living conditions, expand the size of their private plots, and gave them a greater voice in planning.[6]"

 
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Constantinople

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #96 on: November 15, 2010, 12:37:07 PM »
Well considering that Gorbechev never touched the KGB I think we can assume that they had a mutual understanding. 

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #97 on: November 15, 2010, 12:46:20 PM »
Well considering that Gorbechev never touched the KGB I think we can assume that they had a mutual understanding. 

Since the head of the KGB Kryuchkov was one of the ringleaders of the August 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, I think it can be safely assumed that Gorbachev as leader of the USSR had not followed the KGB's guidelines in implementing his political reforms. In other words, whatever "mutual understanding" that might have existed between the two parties at the outset of Gorbachev's regime, it had quickly foundered on the rocks of "realpolitik."
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Offline Petr

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #98 on: November 15, 2010, 03:14:42 PM »
According to several bnooks that I read on the post Stalin kgb and the kgb at the end of Stalin's regime, the KGB did not mellow but they were restricted in the methods that they could use.  this did not make them any less effective.  While they didnt on the whole use really brutal methods to interrogate suspects, they did use techniques like forcing someone to stand for days in one spot or putting them into really confining cells where they couldn t sit or interrogating them for days so that the suspect got no sleep for days.  I am sure they used more brutal methods on some cases but my research shows this was limited.  I am anything but soft on the KGB.  They were despicable enforcers of ideology.  The best thing they produced was Gorbachev.

Still, there exist more subtle forms of cruelty on the face of this earth. Aside from the methods of torture named above,  Petr is right to draw our attention to the very cruel methods used against dissidents in the Brezhnev, Chernenko, and Andropov eras. Psychiatric hospitals, employing all the scientific jargon and very heavy sedation against their dissident patients, worse, anti-psychotic drugs which left patients in an absolute stupor, and even worse yet, shock treatments, which often destroy long-term memory all together, and can make a mush of one's intellect. All this could be understood as a further development, an evolution, even an actual refinement of the methods of the 1930s, because it was a far more subtle and sophisticated version of inhumane treatment, but this time under the guise of "science," i.e., psychiatry, and therefore excusable, if not, strictly speaking, legal -- I honestly don't know about that point, perhaps the lawyers here like Petr can help us out.

What's interesting about the Soviet Union under Stalin is that almost (almost!) everything was made very legal, technically speaking, if not before or during the fact, then after the fact. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought it was spelled out quite clearly under one of the Stalinist legal codes that if, for example, one stole an ear of corn (i.e., gleaned an ear of corn from a previously harvested field, because one was starving) one could expect to get at least 5 years forced labor in the camps. My impression was that the Soviets under Stalin were every bit as eager to "legalize" their crimes against humanity as Nazi Germany. But I'm not a lawyer, so obviously I don't know anything but what I've read in books on the subject!

I know that psychiatric hospitals were used as early as the late 50's and early 60's. I am personally familiar with an artist who was confined to such a facility because he wanted to paint and not work and therefore was in violation of the laws against "parasitism". However, in the early days  such confinement was not punitive in nature in that "active measures" were not employed. It was an easy way to dismiss  the individual as "unbalanced" and in the artist's case permitted him to paint without violating the law since he was "unable" to work. A neat solution to the problem.  Subsequently, this took on a harsher tack with all that entailed. I remember an article in the New York Sunday Times Magazine discussing this and the complaints voiced by international psychiatric bodies. Shades of Mengele. 
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #99 on: November 22, 2010, 01:00:48 PM »
Shades of Mengele, indeed. Were there not doctors on call for the NKVD throughout the Great Terror and its many interrogations of "enemies of the state"? Whenever I think of these times and these methods I am reminded of those horrendous photographs from Dachau, of the man being submerged into ice water in the "scientific interest" of finding out at what specific temperature one dies of hypothermia, or, vice versa, if you pull him out soon enough, with which revival procedure he survives. These photographs of a living breathing human being, subjected to these tortures (the guinea pig was Jewish of course), are nightmare-making, for anyone who has a human bone left in their body.

I think the Soviets were either smarter or sloppier, they didn't leave behind for posterity such "scientific" records of their crimes against humanity, did they? Please correct me if I'm wrong. Of course they left behind the interrogation records of political prisoners, often spattered with their victims' blood. So that's evidence enough that NKVD methods of interrogation were inhuman, even leaving aside the innumerable personal testimonies to that fact. But is there any evidence anywhere that the Soviets carried out medical experiments on prisoners the way the Nazis and Japanese did during World War II? I honestly don't know.
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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #100 on: November 24, 2010, 12:08:57 AM »
Let us say that the NKVD KGB were shrewder.  They kept extensive records of things that incriminated the person they were interrrogating and sloppier records of the interogators and their methodology.

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #101 on: October 21, 2011, 05:46:25 PM »
Tsarist russia may not have been paradise but it was one compared to the USSR especially under Stalin. It should be also be pointed out besides has already been printed Tsarist russia 1900-14 the economy was booming and if WW I had not occured the country could have been the worlds largest economic power in the world in 1950 had things continued as they were according to Pipes. Also under Lenin the middle class, officers ect were sometimes hunted down and shot for the simple reason they were middle class and officers. Also about 2 million people including many educated ones fled the country because of this. Then there is Stalin he slaughtered his own people by the millions and i am afraid the educated people suffered the most. In the book "To the Gates of Stalingrad' David Glance he gives you bios of the Red army generals of which i think only two were members of the pre-1914 russian army officer corps. the rest if they hadn't fled the country were dead mainly killed by Lenin or Stalin. And now you know why the red army did so badly during the early WW II years a lack of competant generals do to Stalins purges. I believe there were plans to set up a Health minestry in 1916 in Russia but the revolution stopped that. Education wise if anything the Lenin Stalin ect set the country back decades bacause of the above purges ect. Nicholas II was not a great leader but he understood that in order for Russia to remain a great power the country had to modernize and he had no problems with his subjects going abroard to study ect and did not have the closed society problems the communists had.
 For more information read: Pipes, Conquest, Solzheniysyn.  Also see "Young Stalin" and the "Court of the Red Tsar' . I don't think anybody had to worry about getting shot at the court of Nicholas II or his predessors.

Offline Rodney_G.

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #102 on: October 22, 2011, 03:32:39 PM »
In addition  to the horror stories endemic to the Soviet police state, there is this. Shortly after the establishment of the Soviet Constitution (1935?) which reads very nicely as a model of liberal legality but which in fact, as noted by others here,served as a cover, as camouflage, for the Stalinist persecutions, it was amended. The amendment  most striking to me was that which lowered the age of eligibility for the death penalty to twelve. Twelve! What pressing political or societal need could there be to kill preteen miscreants? Was sixteen or whatever the previous age limit was  not low enough to rid the workers paradise of capital punishment-eligible "hooligans"?
In fact, it's commonly thought that Stalin wanted this amendment in order  to be able to extort confessions during the Great Terror  from some of his worst political enemies by threatening to execute their children. I think  several of the highest Politburo level victims finally confessed under this threat.

The execution or even imprisonment of children  of political enemies or even of common criminals was not practised in tsarist Russia.
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Offline TimM

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #103 on: October 28, 2011, 07:38:23 PM »
I'm surprised the Soviets even bothered with a Constitution.
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Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: Tsarist Russia vs. The USSR: Which Was Worse for Its Subjects?
« Reply #104 on: November 03, 2011, 09:48:01 AM »
I'm surprised the Soviets even bothered with a Constitution.

Why? Part and parcel of the Soviet system were an elaborate set of lies intended to deceive those within and outside Russia. They used the lies as a cloak of legitimacy to which they were not entitled.