On Corruption in the Post War Soviet Union
Letter of P. Golub to I.V. Stalin

(30 July 1946)

P. Golub was a low to mid-level employee of various People’s Commissariats during the 1930-1940s. He was a long time Party member (once he mentioned he was in the Party for 25 years) and judging by his letter, an honest and hard-working comrade dedicated to the communist cause.

In the summer of 1946 he sent a letter to the CC of CPSU(b) addressed to Stalin and Zhdanov concerning various ‘small matters’ of Soviet life, particularly of the functioning of state apparatus, which were disturbing him. There are indications that letter reached its address. Across the text, many paragraphs are marked by red pencil, and the line addressing the letter to com. Stalin was also underlined by red pencil. And lastly, the letter was found in the Stalin archive.

In his letter, Golub touched two main themes: 1) the widespread corruption in the Soviet society (see also a letter by Arbuzov published by RD previously), 2) the poverty in which Soviet people lived. There were also two relatively minor themes he touched briefly: 1) family relations and 2) democratic centralism inside the Party.

Drawing from his experience, mostly serving in the People’s Commissariat of Sovkhozes, Golub writes that the state apparatus functions ineffectively, that it doesn’t serve the interests of the people and the state. It is important to note here that Golub always assumes the interest of the people and the socialist state to be one. He describes how corrupt officials steal state property in order to make it their own de-facto private property, how state institutions and individual bureaucrats enter relations of exchange of stolen goods and services, de-facto market relations. Golub, to credit his insight, makes a correct conclusion that corruption in the socialist society is not just violating the law but represents the resurgence of capitalist relations. He mentions that many people who amassed great wealth during the war are waiting for the ‘change of policy’ from the above and mentions that this would be against all he believed and fought for.

One particular term he uses multiple times is worth some explanation. Blat means a service given by a person enjoying certain privileges (like access to limited goods) to a person he or she knows (not just anyone). It is not just about the money, but about having a privilege to spend it. Blat is not just corruption, it is a corruption inside certain group of people who tend to form a close circle. In this sense, it is opposed to the ‘free market’ and is a form of resurgent pre-capitalist formations.

Golub mentions that the rise of corruption was possible due to war and the great shortages produced by it. He gives many striking examples how difficult was life of ordinary Soviet workers and peasants and intelligentsia (particularly doctors). Golub considers himself better off just because he was having an apartment and will probably able to find work. We tend to view the last Stalin years (1945-1953) mechanically, as a period of post-war reconstruction and the revival of productive forces. In reality, and Golub’s letter shows this very well, it was a period of acute class struggle between forces which pushed to the restoration of capitalism (the state apparatus, the criminal elements, shadow private bourgeoisie) and the forces which stood for socialism and communism (the honest state and party officials and members, workers and peasants). The question of quality of life which Golub finds crucial, was the key to winning this battle and the Soviet leadership understood this very well. During last years of socialism, many improvements had been made, including the financial reform and famous annual reduction of consumer prices. However, this wasn’t enough and Khrushchev after coming to power used this question opportunistically to gain mass support. How it turned out is another story.

Considering family matters, Golub is somewhat reactionary because he firmly believes the family should consist of mother, father and children. He opposes the law which let women not to name the father of their child. It is difficult to say what exactly Golub was proposing to rectify this, because no one can to forcibly create a family by issuing a decree. What he argues (from reactionary standpoint) is that such a law would ‘reduce morals.’

The question of democratic centralism Golub touches only briefly but is important. He says that the Party leadership stopped consulting ordinary Party members about important decisions and rank and file do not even know what is currently the Party line. Golub finds it offensive and a sign of distrust towards ordinary Bolsheviks. Indeed, the last Party Congress was in 1939 and it was not called again till 1952 (the fact which Khrushchev also used opportunistically to attack Stalin). During the late Stalin years, democracy inside the party was reduced and position of party apparatus strengthened which also contributed to the defeat of socialist forces after 1953.

Summing up, Golub’s letter offers an important insight into Soviet life immediately after the war and is also a human document of great emotional strength showing the will of a Bolshevik to fight and to go on despite immense difficulties.

N. Svetlov

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