Communism: Biography (1917-91)

Figure 1.--.

Quite a large number of individuals played a role in the Russian Revolution and Soviet state. Several like Lennin, Stalin, Molotov, Khruschev, and Gorbechv are very well known. Most of the rest are not beyond the narrow reach of Russian history scholars. Here we will collect information on some of the major individuals involved in the Revolution and the Soviet era, both these major figures as well as the many lesser known figures..


A Russian reader writes, "Somewhy western historians often think that Beria was a kind of monster, but Khruschev was white and fluffy angel. Yes, after Stalin's death Khruschev began to soften Soviet totalitarism. But Beria too planned to soften it - and even he succeed to make some important steps, for example, a 'great amnesty' of summer 1953 when more than 1.2 million prisoners of the Gulag were released. All Stalin's servants after 'the Master's' death made some steps to lesser their part in repressions and, well, "to rebrand" themselves."

Brezhnev, Lenoid (1906-82)

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was a child of the Revolution. He began workig in a steel mill with his father at age 15. As a result of the Revolution he was given a chance for an education and became a surveyor. He had a taste for politics. however, an joined the Communist Party. He rose to national prominance by attaching himself to Khrushchev. He emerged as General Secretary after playing a key role in Khrushchev's ouster. He presided over one of the most massive military builfups in history believing that America posed a threat to the Soviet Union. He failed to address the deep-rooted economic and social problems which would less han 10 years after his death destoy the Soviet Union. His rule is often referred to as the period of stagnation. In fairness to Brezhnev, as Gorbechov was later to learn, the economic problems of the Soviet Union were systemic and not amenable to reform.

Dzerzhinskii, Feliks

he Cheka was organized by Feliks Dzerzhinskii. It was at first only authorized to investigate "counterrevolutionary" crimes. In the struggle with counter-revolutionaries, however, the Cheka began a much broader campaign against of terror against the propertied classes.


General Secretary Gorbachev stands in sharp contrast to the aging, unimaginative leaders who he followed. American authors have given great attention to President Reagan's role in ending the Cold war and collapse of the Soviet Union. Much less well studied is Gorbachev's role. As best we understand, Gorbachev believed in Communism and the Soviet Union. He apparently believed that economic stagnation resulted in poor management and could bve rectifed by modern management and reforms. He does not seem to have realized that Soviet economic weaknesses were structural weaknesses related to Communism and a command economy. Nor did Gorbachev fully understand the strength of nationalism. It seems difficult to understand how a many of such obvious abilities could have made such fundamental errors in assessing the Soviet system. The one thing that we know for sure is that Girbachev refused to use the very substantial security services at his disposal to supress the forces that he set in motion, both in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union itself.

Khrushchev, Nikita (1954-64)

A power struggle followed Stalin's death in 1953. Ukranian Party boss Nikita Khrushchev emerged victorious in that struggle. Khrushchev was a true believer in Communism. Like many of his generation, the Revolution had provided opportunities thast were incoceibanle under the Tsarist regime, He was convinced that the Communist system was a scientifically based system that if properly managed would out produce the West. He was perplexed when confronted with the Soviet Union's deep seated economic problems. Perhaps his single most important achievement was launching the De-Stalinization process in 1956 with the 20th Party Congress. This too, however, resulted in difficulties as disorders in both Poland and Hungary soon followed. While Stlalin was a mass murder, Khrushchev was even more dangerous. His behavior was often crude such as when he took his shoe off and banged his desk at the United Nations when a speaker displeased him. He told Americans n"we will bury you". He rarely listen to advisors, often making important decissions on whim. Also he actually believed in Communist ideology. This combined with his mercurial personality and willingness to gamble brought the world close to nuclear war over Cuba in 1962. He once confided with Nassar that aideast crisis was like "playing chess in the dark". He was finally replaed by faceless party aparatcheks in 1964 for "adventurism". [Taubman] Conservatives in the Party leadership were concerned about the de-Stalinization process as well as dangerous adventure in Cuba, but what seems to have caused his removal was Khrushchev's efforts to reform the beaureacracy, especially fixed terms in office--a convern to an aging leadership generation. Khrushchev had essentially made Soviet officials safe from purges through his de-Stalinization program. These very same officials replaced him (October 1964).

Kirov, Sergi ( -1934)

The Popular Leningrad leader Sergi Kirov was murdered in 1934. Most historians believe that Stalin was probably responsible, but no actual evidence exists. Kirov was one of Stalin's important associates as he seized control of the Party. The two were very close. Kirov gradually came to question Stalin's methods. This probably was why he was killed. Stalin is known to have derived satisfaction over many of the executions. Kirov seems to have been different. The decesion to have him killed seems to have affected him deeply. Stalin used the Kirov assasination as an excuse for launching a campaign of teror perhaps unequaled in histoy.


Lenin had promissed that the suspension of bourgeois freedoms was to be temprary during the Revolution and Civil War. He promissed the Russians that they were creating a state which would allow greater freedoms than anything experienced in the Western bourgeois democracies. On the contrary, Lenin played a part in creating the foundation for a police state. Here the Bolsheviks can not be uniqueky faulted. They at first simply recreated their version of Tsarists institutiins which included a secret police (the Olcrana). arbitrary arrest and courts, and Siberian exiles at hard labor. Under Lenin and especially Stalin, however, the Soviets created a much more efficent police states than the Tsars ever imagined.


Marx, Karl

Karl Heinrich Marx was born into a well-to-do middle-class family in Trier (1818). Trier was, as result of the Napoleonic Wars in the Prussian Rhineland at the time. His father was a lawyer, but came from a long line of destinguished Rabbis. He had to convert to Protestantism in order to work as a lawyer. Karl entered the University of Bonn to study law at the age of 17 years. Here he became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, whose father, Baron von Westphalen, convinced Marx to read Romantic literature and Saint-Simonian politics. A year later, Marx's father moved him to the University of Berlin where he became fascinated by Hegelianism He was influenced by Ludwig Feurbach. Marx from an early point was attracted to G.W.F. Hegel's dialectics and became convinced of the idea of historical inevitability--essentially proceeding to the point of converting history and economics to a science. Marx wasnot satified with the idealism and abstract thought of philosophy. Rather he concluded that the force and material base of economics drove history and could be studied and predicted like a natural science. He diverged from Hegel's focus on the philosophy of law. Marx saw civil society as the sphere to be studied in order to understand the historical development of man. Marx was awarded his doctorate at Jena writing a disertation on the materialism and atheism of Greek atomists (1841). After completeting his uiversity studies he worked for the Rheinische Zeitung, a radical Cologne newspaer. He also began working on a materialist theory of history. He published extensively during his lifetime. He moved to Paris (1843) where he began writing for other radical newspapers. It is here that he first met Friedrich Engels. The two become lifelong friend and collaborator. The Revolution of 1848 and rhe Rise of Napoleon III changed the political envirinment in France. Napoleon expelled Marx as he had enough French radicals to deal with. Marx moved to London with his wife and chilren where he did most of his research and writing. His most important works were 'The Communist Manifesto' (1848), published while still in Paris and Das Kapital (18671894). Marx's work in economics and history was the first systimized attempt to the relationhip between labor and capital, and highly influential subsequent economic thought. He became a tireless campaigner for socialism and a significant figure in the International Workingmen's Association. Marx's theories have been proven wrong in practice. The wealthy countries of the world are all liberal democracies with strong capitalist sectors. These countries which adopted Communism, either on their own, or through Soviet occupation proved to be not only poor with low living standards, but terible abusers of human rights, many guilty of mass murder. Even so the ideology of socilism is so appealing that it contiunues to attract ardent devotees.



It is now recognized by most authors that Stalin's ruthless policies including engineering a famine in the Ukraine resulted in more deaths that even Hitler's Holocaust and other genocidal policies. Stalin set up a cult of personality in which the Soviet people were forced to virtaully worship him. Stalin organized a series of show trials in which priminent officials and military officers were forced to admit to ludicrous accounts of treason. Soviet citizens were encouraged to denounce their neigbors. Many did in an effort to improve their chances of survival.



Zhdanov, Andrei Alexandrovich (1896-1948)

Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov (1896-1948) is not a name known to most Americans except a few Soviet scholars. He was a Soviet Communist Party official and leading Soviet cultural ideologist. We know nothing about his childhood. He became a membr of the Russian Social Democratic Labour (Bolshevik) Party during World War I (1915). He rose rapidly in Party ranks after the Revolution. He became the All-Union Communist Party manager in Leningrad after the assassination of Sergei Kirov (1934). This was important not ionly because Lennigrad was such an important city, but because Stalin probably ordered Kirov killed. Thus his choice of a replacement was especially important. Part of Stalin's manmagement strategy was to involve his associates in his crimes. Zhdanov seems to have been less active than others (Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich and Kliment Voroshilov), but vhe was one of the perpetrator of the Great Terror and purges. He his known to have approved 176 documented execution lists. [Memorial] Zhdanov played a major role in the all importannt defense of Lenningrad with the NAZI World War II invasion (1941). He served as Chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet (193847). Control of Soviet culture was an important post. And it was Zhdanov's responsibility to ensure that Soviet intelectuals creating art conformed to the Party definded ideology. Ideology perhaps until recently may not seem very important to Americans. To the Soviets, however, it was important. Intelectuals could be shot or sent to the Gulag over questions of ideology. And Zhdanov was at the center of this. First to work in the arts you needed Government apprival. Second all artistic work was government employment. Third, all artistic work had to confirm to the ideolgical mandates of the Party. And Zhdanov is the person who set the standards and oversaw the evluations and disclipining the artisistic community. Even more important, he became very close to Stalin to the point that there was talk of him being Stalin's sucessor. Zhdanov's relatinship with Stalin deteriorated as a result of the Yugoslav crisis and heavy drinking.


Memorial Society. Stalin Lists.


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Created: December 29, 2002
Last updated: 1:16 PM 7/4/2018