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'That time Barnaul was undoubtedly the most cultural corner of Siberia. I named it Siberian Athens'

Stalin's secret train trip to Siberia

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16 October 2014


Meeting of party activists of Barnaul branch of Communist Party with Stalin on January 22, 1928. Picture: State Archives of the Novosibirsk region

Historians believe the trip became a pivotal moment in shaping the harsh Soviet regime. Scientists have uncovered hidden details of an odyssey that had huge significance for the development of the USSR and ensured the Communist grip on power for 70 years.

Stalin's concept of 'socialism in one country' and a drive towards collectivization attempted to transform the Soviet Union from an agricultural backwater to an industrial power.

But the upheaval sparked a catastrophic famine and went hand-in-hand with a tough new centralised regime that repressed and threatened peasants, created horrific correctional labour camps and ultimately led to the deaths of up to 10 million people in just 12 years.

The former Soviet leader was also behind the Great Purge that rounded up and executed or exiled so-called 'enemies of the state' including major figures in his own Communist Party in order to ensure there was no challenge to his reign.

Now it can be revealed the foundations of Stalin's dictatorship were laid with the trip to Siberia in 1928, just six years after he became party General Secretary.

Evidence has emerged to show it even paved the way for all of the USSR's repressive policies to be implemented, with the most radical tested on the Siberian people first.

During Stalin's 17-day visit, he ordered the punishment and exile of kulaks – the wealthier peasants – for deliberately holding on to corn, threatened dissenters with jail, and ordered stocks to be taken off half the farmer families for not complying with the State.

A new secret order was also written to all local Communist party secretaries to enforce his bid to clamp down on the peasants he blamed for creating the country's food shortage.

In accepting and implementing his unofficial policy, the branches demonstrated their loyalty to Stalin and not the party's Congress, which was opposed to any repression of the farmers.

Rich peasants family

Peasant family goes to exile

Prosperous peasant family in Omsk before repressions (top). Peasant family goes to exile to Khanty-Mansyisk (bottom). Pictures: State Archive of the Omsk Region

'It is pretty obvious that Stalin had chosen Siberia not accidentally,' says researcher Dr Vladimir Shishkin, a professor at Novosibirsk State National Scientific Research University. We are convinced that he headed there sure that he would be able to break the situation with corn storage and demonstrate to his allies and enemies how the job should be done.

'He could make a conclusion about his political weight in the party. The Siberian trip persuaded Stalin that he was not only the formal leader of the party, but had enough power to make absolutely personal decisions and to implement actions not approved by Congress. And this kind of self-esteem opened completely new perspectives both for Stalin and for the USSR in general.

The academic adds that the expedition signalled to Stalin that he could overwrite the party's own capitalist New Economic Policy – introduced by Lenin in the early 1920s – and move peasants to collective farms and even 'exile and shoot dead those who were not happy with it.'

Siberia was not new to Joseph Stalin. On his secret trip he visited Krasnoyarsk, capital of a region where he had been exiled in tsarist times and a place where he would, ultimately, later send countless millions to their deaths in gulags.

It was not until recently that it emerged Stalin had taken the journey east from Moscow, with almost all official records and telegraph exchanges about it seized from the local Communist Party authorities. No reports were made in State or local newspapers and the period is often described as a 'white spot' in his life.

'There have always been serious difficulties in studying Stalin's biography due to the 'secrecy' of the leader,' says Dr Shishkin, who is head of the history of social and political development sector at the History Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Science in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

'The difficulties remain in our times also because of the absence, limit or inability to access the sources of information which would tell us about his real views and motives of his behaviour.'

What Russian archivists and historians have now finally been able to find out is that Stalin left Moscow by special train on January 15, 1928, and arrived in Novosibirsk two days later.

One official document claims he only travelled on the orders of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party at the last moment to replace Sergo Ordzhonikidze who had become ill.

But Dr Shishkin disagrees. 'Having become the General Secretary, he never did anything for somebody else,' he insists. 'He did only what had to be done for himself or for the Soviet Union. Moreover, in Stalin’s mind his personal interests were very much mixed with the state interests, and it often led to contradictions in Stalin's decisions, and it also made his actions highly motivated.'

At the time of the trip, the USSR was gripped by a growing food crisis with concerns over the fact that corn storage was slowing down compared to the previous year. There were several reasons for the problem but mainly it was because kulaks and other traders were deliberately not selling their corn to the State in a bid to secure higher prices.

A month earlier at the 25th Congress of the All-Soviet Communist Party of Bolsheviks, a frustrated Stalinhad demanded change in the country’s rural policy and the stance taken towards the 'sabotaging' peasants.

The General Secretary wanted increased industrial investment, tough measures to clamp down on kulaks and the introduction of new 'forced loans' for peasants which would allow them to borrow money in order to develop industry.

But the proposals were not supported because they would affect not only kulaks but also the poorer in society.

Stalin's letter to Eikhe

'All our hopes are with you now'. Letter of Stalin to the Communist Party's First Secretary in Siberia. Picture: Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History

Yet with the corn storage still posing a problem, it is now widely thought Stalin set off to Siberia to take the matter into his own hands – and seize total control of the USSR's future. Three days before Stalin left for Siberia, the local Communist Party secretary had also called for new measures over the peasants, saying economic sanctions were not enough.

As a result, a secret order Number 101 was written and sent to all branches and to secret police departments telling officials to punish kulaks by choosing four of the 10 richest households and take away all their corn.

During his time in Siberia, the Party leader visited Novosibirsk, Barnaul, Rubtsovsk, Omsk and Krasnoyarsk, taking part in more than a dozen debates devoted to the corn crisis.

'At those meetings the General Secretary looked quiet and friendly, but actually he was tough and even aggressive sometimes,' says Dr Shishkin.

'As a rule he was the last to speak, having listen to the other speakers. But it was not a dialogue between equal partners. Stalin listened to the others, not for the sake of making the balanced decision - he had always made this decision himself and beforehand.

'The General Secretary needed all those meetings and debates in order to persuade the local communist party leaders of Siberia that his evaluation of the situation with corn storage plan failure was the only right one, and that the measures he suggested to break the crisis were the right ones too.'

Repeatedly he blamed the kulaks and in Banraul on January 22 he said: 'I am saying it again, the main reason should be found in ourselves, in our organizations, in the fact that we let the kulak and traders to feel free, to push up the prices'.

Stalin then insisted that those Communists who were not ready to go along with him should be thrown out of the Party and threatened with jail under Article 107 of the Crime Code for breaking the rules of trading. 

His new policy had an immediate impact and photographs exist showing rich peasants leaving their homes, or in their new lives at collective farms.

Others were arrested, jailed or worse and, just a month after returning from his trip, his repression of the kulak in Siberia was replicated across the country, often carried out by the GPU secret police.

In a letter to the Communist Party's First Secretary in Siberia, Stalin wrote on February 23, 1928: 'I do not doubt that in general this campaign has already improved and will keep improving the Communist Party's work in the village. There are the same sort of messages coming from other regions. We are asking you all to keep the current tempo of the corn storage process in Siberia.

'The Northern Caucasus and the Southern Ukraine are already getting out of order because of the muddy season. The same problem will reach central regions soon. All our hopes are with you now.'

Peasants couple in special settlement

Repressed kulaks on Narym

Peasant couple in a special settlement in Krasnoyarsk Krai (top). Repressed 'kulaks' work on special settlement in Narym (bottom). Pictures: Elizaveta Akirova, Narym Museum of Political Exile

Stalin's onslaught continued and, less than 11 months after his visit to Siberia, he went on to erase the kulaks as a class, with almost two million peasants and their families deported, arrested or executed during the 'dekulakization'.

'This behaviour of the General Secretary was a severe violation of Party's norms and traditions,' says Dr Shishkin. 'As a result of Stalin's pressure, the Siberian branches of the Party accepted and started using his terms, demonstrating their loyalty not to the decisions of the Congress, but to the orders of the Party's General Secretary.

'Dozens of civilians, Communists, hundreds of Soviet trade workers who were not active in fulfilling Stalin's orders, and thousands of Siberian peasants who did not want to sell their corn at low prices, all of them were hit by the flow of repressions, multiplied by the tyranny of various punishing bodies and other authorities.

'The majority of Siberian peasants understood that the New Economic Policy was over and that a 'military communism' policy was back.'

As controversial as the policy was, many idealistic thinkers backed Stalin, even those whose loyalties lay with the old Bolshevik Lev Trotsky.

In a letter, currently held in the Hogton’s Library at Harvard University, one wrote: 'Fighting with a kulak – it is not a move but a result of class contradictions escalations, it will lead to certain consequences, and despite of all the pig wash we experience now, we have to greet this move.'

Trotsky's position was seriously weakened by this behaviour of some of his supporters, allowing Stalin to maintain an even closer grip on power.

Repressed kulaks work in Narym

Repressed kulaks work in Narym

Repressed kulaks work in Narym

Repressed 'kulaks' work on special settlement in Narym. Pictures: Narym Museum of Political Exile

Dr Shishkin, a 1970 graduate of Novosibirsk State University, is in no doubt that Stalin's trip was a resounding success for the fledgling dictator, and says it was pivotal to the shape of the USSR's repressive future policies.

He says: 'On one hand, the General Secretary demonstrated to the Party how corn storage process must be organized in the 'kulaky' Siberia in order to get a necessary result.

'On the other hand, the secret aim of his Siberian voyage was also achieved. But it remained secret for both his political supporters and for his former and future enemies. Moreover, many supporters of Trotsky were disoriented and they had to pay for it soon afterwards.

'Researchers offer various interpretations of Stalin's trip but many agree that it was mainly about changing the Communist Party's policy in terms of peasants and giving a try to the new system of emergency measures later widely used during mass collectivization.'

Comments (1)

amazing story


learn about the anglo american support behind Stalin and the taking over of Soviet Russia
in the war strategy that decimate Russia and its territories, crush Germany and reorder the NEW WORLD ORDER

two volumes, published 2014
kris dietrich, new york city, usa
22/10/2016 05:13

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