Friday, March 13, 2015

Stalin’s purges – what really happened?



By Andy Brooks

STALIN'S PURGES' OF 1937-38:  WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? by Yuri Emelianov, Scientific Socialism Research Unit, West Bengal India 2015, 80pp, illus, £3.00.

IN RUSSIA today Joseph Stalin is remembered as a great war-time leader. But he is still reviled by the powers-that-be as a tyrant who had his rivals shot on trumped up charges and sent millions of innocent people to Siberia during the massive purges that swept the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Much of this narrative comes from Stalin’s successor, Nikita Krushchov, whose anti-Stalin critique, which began after the 20th Communist Party Congress, was used to remove and disgrace all those who opposed his revisionist line.
Khrushchov’s lies were used by bourgeois and Trotskyist historians alike to portray this period as the time of "Stalin's terror". Ludicrous figures were given of the numbers sent to labour camps during the crackdown and astronomic numbers were said to have died in the camps. Most claim "millions" perished. The most rabid talk about "25 million" in an effort to equate Stalin with the very real number of people who died on the orders of Adolf Hitler and the German Nazis during the Second World War.

But when the archives were opened up in the 1990s a different picture emerged. Two  academicians discovered that the total number held in the Gulags was much lower, little more than half-a-million, and that most were common criminals. Other Russian academicians are now challenging the very foundations of the myth of the “great terror”. Yuri Emelianov is one of them.
            Back in 2012 Emelianov, a social scientist in the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, wrote a series of articles on the purges that were published in Communist Review, the theoretical journal of the Communist Party of Britain. Now an Indian progressive publishing house has made them available to a much larger audience.
            The author draws on archival documents and direct past experiences in an attempt to answer the old questions of why did the purges happen and who was to blame for breaches of Soviet legality.
Emilianov starts off by debunking the figures for those executed during the purges and the numbers sent to the Gulags that are regularly trotted out by Russian bourgeois historians, even today. He then looks at the Moscow Trials. Most of this is familiar ground for New Worker readers. Some of it is not.
The purges followed the assassination of Sergei Kirov in Leningrad in 1934. Kirov, regarded as second only to Stalin himself in the Party leadership, was shot dead by an agent of those long opposed to Stalin within the Bolshevik party. Stalin’s enemies within the Soviet leadership were arrested and charged with treason. All the accused confessed to being members of a secret "Block of Rights and Trotskyites" that was responsible for all sorts of anti-Soviet crimes in preparation of a coup to overthrow the Stalin leadership.
 Emilianov says that “though some of the accusations were plausible most of them now appear far-fetched”. But he adds:  “Practically no-one in the Soviet Union had doubted the indirect responsibility of the two opposition leaders (Zinoviev and Kamenev)  for Kirov’s murder; so it was easy to believe that both of them, as well as their supporters, were directly involved in organising the murder not only of Kirov but of other Soviet leaders as well.”
            The author then startlingly argues that while Stalin was battling against his old foes inside the Party there were other hidden enemies, like Krushchov, who posed as loyalists while encouraging mass arrests to sabotage the new “Stalin” constitution plans for secret ballots and multiple choices at elections.
 Emilianov says: “The leaders of the provinces and republics were afraid that they would lose the first general, direct, equal and secret elections with alternative candidates. By resorting to reprisals they wanted to create an atmosphere of Red Terror, characteristic of the situation in Russia during the Civil War. In such an atmosphere it would be impossible to conduct political debates between different candidates but it would be easy to make loud speeches against class enemies.”
            Though Emilianov defends Stalin he also criticises the Soviet leader for not bothering to “check many of the dubious accusations made at the Moscow Trials”; condoning false accusations; failing to make a profound analysis of “these tragic events” and not finishing the political reform of the Soviet Union that he, himself, had initiated in the first place.
             There is plenty more of this in the profusely illustrated, quality publication from India. It’s an important contribution to the study of Soviet history and it’s available for just £4.50 including postage from:
 NCP Lit, PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ.

or from our online bookshop

Saturday, March 07, 2015

An African Warrior Queen

By Caroline Colebrook

QUEEN Ana de Sousa Nzinga is famous as a 17th  century African warrior queen in the region now known as Angola who fought against the colonisation of her homeland by the Portuguese and the slave trade, making a stand where her father and brother had been unable to do so. She was renowned for her strategic military tactics and political and diplomatic intelligence.
Nzinga was born to King Kiluanji in 1583. According to tradition, she was named Nzinga because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck (the Kimbundu verb kujinga means to twist or turn). It was said to be an indication that the person who had this characteristic would be proud and haughty, and a wise woman told her mother that Nzinga would become queen one day.
According to her recollections later in life, she was greatly favoured by her father, who allowed her to witness as he governed his kingdom, and who carried her with him to war. She also had a brother, Mbandi, and two sisters, Kifunji and Mukambu. She lived during a period when the Atlantic slave trade and the consolidation of power by the Portuguese in the region were growing rapidly.
In the 16th  century, the Portuguese position in the slave trade was threatened by England and France. As a result, the Portuguese shifted their slave-trading activities to the Congo and South West Africa
Mistaking the title of the ruler, ngola, for the name of the country, the Portuguese called the land of the Mbundu people "Angola" — the name by which it is still known today.
Nzinga resisted Portuguese colonial occupation of the region for over four decades but officially she ruled Ndongo only from 1624-1626 and 1657-1663.
Prior to Nzinga's birth, the Portuguese had settled along the southern part of the Congo River and began moving up the Kwanza River Valley in search of slaves and gold. According to historical reports, the Imbangala in the 17th  century mostly comprised bands of pillaging warriors native to this region, founders of the kingdom of Kasanje. They aided the Portuguese colonial campaigns as early as those of Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos in 1618.
The first European records concerning Nzinga was of her acting as an embassy on behalf of her brother, who was king at the time, at a 1622 peace conference with the Portuguese Luanda governor João Correia de Sousa. Luanda is an Atlantic coastal city, the largest city in Angola and the country's capital.
The immediate purpose of her embassy was her brother's attempt to get the Portuguese to withdraw the fortress of Ambaca that had been built on his land in 1618 by the Governor Mendes de Vasconcelos, to have some of his subjects in Kimbundu and sometimes called slaves in Portuguese who had been taken captive during Governor Mendes de Vasconcelos' campaigns (1617–21) returned and to persuade the governor to stop the marauding of the Imbangala.
Nzinga's efforts were successful. The governor, João Correia de Sousa, never gained the advantage at the meeting and agreed to her terms, which resulted in a treaty on equal terms.
One important point of disagreement was the question of whether Ndongo surrendered to Portugal and accepted vassalage status.
A famous story says that in her meeting with the Portuguese governor, João Correia de Sousa did not offer a chair to sit on during the negotiations, and, instead, had placed a floor mat for her to sit, which in Mbundu custom was appropriate only for subordinates.
Not willing to accept this degradation she ordered one of her servants to get down on the ground and sat on the servant's back during negotiations. By doing this, she asserted her status was equal to the governor, proving her worth as a brave and confident individual. The scene was imaginatively reconstructed by the Italian priest Cavazzi and printed as an engraving in his book of 1687.
Though a treaty was signed with the Portuguese at this peace conference, they never honoured it. They did not withdraw from Ambaca, nor did they release the slaves. And they soon hired the Imbangala to fight against the Ndongo Kingdom as they pushed to capture more slaves.
Nzinga's brother committed suicide following this diplomatic impasse, convinced that he would never have been able to recover what he had lost in the war.
The Mbundu tradition prohibited women rulers. After her brother’s death Nzinga's became regent to his son Kiza. She soon convinced the Portuguese to support her bid to the throne. In 1622, she was baptised and took the Christian name Ana, the surname of the Luanda governor de Sousa and the Portuguese title Dona. So Princess Nzinga became known as Dona Ana de Sousa in a political move to help secure her succession to the Ndongo Kingdom throne.
The Portuguese began negotiating directly with Nzinga. The arrival of Fernão de Sousa in 1624 started with discussions with her, but because she was not submissive to the Portuguese, they ended with her being ousted from Kidonga.
That same year she is reported to refer to herself as "Rainha de Andongo" (Queen of Andongo). After she was ousted by the Portuguese, Nzinga continued fighting against them while in exile. She fled east but reclaimed the title in 1627. She was again driven out by the Portuguese in 1629, the year her sister was captured by their military forces.
By 1641 Nzinga had entered among the earliest African-European alliance against a European nation when she entered into negotiations with the Dutch. In 1646 her army defeated the Portuguese at Davanga, but her other sister was captured.
By 1647 her alliance with the Dutch was fruitful in the seizure of Masangano from the Portuguese. In 1648 her army retreated to Matamba, a pre-colonial African Kingdom located in what is now the Baixa de Cassange region of Malanje Province of modern day Angola.
In a 1657 speech, Queen Nzinga reportedly said to her army that an alliance with the Imbangala was then a necessary evil in the military war against the Portuguese. But in the same year she signed a peace treaty with the Portuguese.
She had fought against their colonial and slave raiding attacks for decades.  Queen Nzinga died on 17th  December 1663 at the age of 80. Unfortunately her death accelerated Portuguese colonial occupation, as well as their Atlanta slave trade activities in South-West Africa.

Soviet night witches

By New Worker correspondent

THE NAZIS during the Second World War referred to Soviet women pilots who operated on and around the eastern front as “Nachthexen” (night witches) because the whooshing noise their plywood and canvas airplanes made reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch’s broomstick.
The women who piloted those planes, former crop dusters, took it as a compliment. In 30,000 missions over four years, they dumped 23,000 tons of bombs on the German invaders, ultimately helping to chase them back to Berlin. Any German pilot who downed a “witch” was awarded an Iron Cross.
The 588th Night Bomber Regiment was formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya. The women pilots, all volunteers and most in their teens and early 20s, became legends of the Second World War II but are now largely forgotten. Flying only in the dark, they had no parachutes, guns, radios or radar, only maps and compasses. If hit by tracer bullets, their planes would burn like sheets of paper."
Later they became known as the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment of the Soviet Air Force. The word Taman referred to the unit's involvement in two celebrated Soviet victories on the Taman Peninsula during 1943.
The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 to the end of the war.
At its largest size, it had 40 two-person crews. It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 800 missions by the end of the war and 23 having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty of its members died in combat.
The regiment flew in wood and canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop-dusting, and to this day the most-produced biplane in all of aviation history.
The planes could carry only six bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were necessary. Although the aircraft were obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional manoeuvrebility; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, the German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down.
An attack technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots "Night Witches." Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes.
From June 1942 the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was within the 4th Air Army. In February 1943 the regiment was honoured with a reorganisation into the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment and in October 1943 it became the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment.