A lecture on "Memorial"

A lecture on "Memorial"

Tasks and mission of the organization

The last paragraph needs a more detailed explanation yet. It has to be expressly mentioned that "Memorial" is far away from being a political organization, if we understand a political organization as an organization, which follows a program and fights for power. "Memorial" is an entirely voluntary union of people, who - regardless of their political opinions, are in agreement on the disapproval of violence as a means of solving problems. It suffices to say that "Memorial" is made up of people (who, by the way, are also trying to find a common language), who have the same opposing opinions as have the Communists and the "Democratic Alliance". A political party pretends to know, HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE, and it fights for this principle. "Memorial" knows, or at least tries to recognize and detect, HOW THINGS MUST NOT BE, and it undertakes all efforts to make sure that THESE THINGS WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

The activities of the organization

The organization locates the position of places, where there are mass graves of vistims of political reprisals (including former camps), and organizes collections for the erecting of memorial stones at the burial plces (and at the same time its members explain their point of view about the necessity of such memorial stones). Kurapaty. The Krasnoyarsk Kurapaty: the ZR industrial area (Zelenoy Roshchey, a Krasnoyarsk city district; translator's note).

The organization collects, purchases or accepts as gifts or testamentary dispositions all kinds of oral, written or documentary information that are connected with political reprisals. These materials are classified by preparing card indexes and producing extensive reference books.

At the moment this seems to be our main work (the people are passing away, one after the other: we have to remember them all, since they have not simply been killed, but were ERASED from memory).

The region of Krasnoyarsk was one of the centers of the GULAG archipelago. The so-called kulaks were deported to the banks of the river Yenissey during the collectivization period, without being provided them with the necessary means of existence; and on their bones they built the city of Igarka. And from Solovki they sent large prisoner transports to this region to have them built the Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Combine. These measures started in 1934, after Kirov's murder.

After the Baltic states had been conquered, the Communists started their mass oppressions on this territory, and on the 14th of June 1941 inhabitants of the Baltic republics were deported on a large scale - mainly to the Krasnoyarsk region. Soon after the outbreak of World War II the entire polulation of Germans from the Volga Republic were displaced to the Krasnoyarsk region and to Kazakhstan. They were exposed to these places without any basis and means of existence. The local residents treated them in anutterly bad and inkind way; and then all men fit for work were chased into the trud-army (labor army; translator's note), i.e. to the forced labor camps. At the end of the war entire ethnical groups were exiled to the Krasnoyarsk region: Kalmyks, Tatars, Chechens, Ingush and others. The Kalmyks were taken into the woods. And after the war they did the same they had done to the Baltic people before to the inhabitants of the West Ukraine and Belorussia, Moldavia, the Turki.

Late in the 1940s: the cosmopolitans, the recidivists ("repeaters"; persons reimprisoned or exiled again on the bases of a fabricated case; translator's note).

The boggest camps were: the Norillag, camp No. 503, the Kraslag with its center in Kansk (there were lots of compounds), the Mariinsk camps (Siblag).

The organization wants to succeed in persuading the authorities that the State must grant the urgently needed social and financial allowances to all those, who suffered from political reprisals. The organization furthermore tries to assist the victims in this within the bounds of possibility: to obtain the status of a veteran, to achieve an alliance of the victims of reprisals, to grant moral support.

The organization is going to found an information and research center, where they can carry through all kinds of research and enlightenment work, as well as a permanently operating museum; it evaluates and analyzes all collected information, using the resultats for the enlightenment activities, i.e. the publication of documents and articles, public speeches and lectures, discussions, etc.

The establishment of such a center has already been achieved. Its director is Y. Afanasev, the principal of the Institute of Historical Records. Professional historians are intended to explain the roots and sources of what happened in this dark past, the more since this task has turned out to be of an utmost importance nowadays; for some kind of revolutionary situation is just coming up again in our country: those on top of the government are unable to rule over the country in the old manner, and the people do not want to live on in the usual way. Something has to be done to solve this problem, but one has to be very careful not to do it in the same way as they did in the past. Strictly speaking, a revolution will always end in the killing of the masses - just for the one and only reason to avoid things to become worse than before. And how do we start this present revolution? If we try to push the party apparatus against the wall, then we will end up once again in the year 1937, i.e. we will exterminate each other. Therefore it is most essential to keep track of the events that happened in the past, to learn from the bad experiences and mistakes of history, so that the present fighters for justice do not become oppressed persons agaian. See the case of Gusev, Tolstoi's secretary.

The working conferences (of course, the are still "vulnerable", but we do not insist, after all, to be always right and always have the final say). There cannot be any total consent, because the Democratic Alliance is considered to be a right-wing party and the Communists tend to much to the left. Let us say it this way: this or that is my point of view, and many "Memorialists" have a s imilar opinion. The essential point is the effort to bring economy, politics, law and justice into harmony. Unfortunately, the thesis has been evolved that Yusef Dzhugashvili, an evil man, was allowed to come to power by accident, and that he then caused such a mess. But all these tragic events were not exclusively due to Stalin.


The October subversion caused a number of preconditions, which finally lead to the mass terror.

  1.  One of the prevailing opinions was that good existences were disturbed by certain enemie, who had usurped the power: the Tsar, the capitalists, big landowners. It was assumed that things would improve, as soon as these people had been deprived of their power. The foe image took our consciousness by storm; and in the eyes of the masses the party apparatus is considered to be such an enemy (not the common Communists, but the apparatus itself), and many people think that all problems can be solved, as soon as we have put this party apparatus out of the way. This is one of the most horrible stereotypies of our consciousness, and this very phenomenon was made good use of during the period of the mass terror: to justify economic setbacks, for example.
  2. It was said that the moral common to all mankind (very simply formulated by Christianity: do as you would be done) had become antiquated and that from now on everything was moral that would lead to the victory of the revolution. This was, in fact, a revival of the thesis "the end justifies the means" from the Nechaev era (Yegor Yefimovich Nechaev, 1847-1882, Russian revolutionary and conspirator; translator's note). 
  3. There was, of course, no clear idea and comprehension of how to continue the process. Well, the Marxist theory supplied reasons and arguments, but practice showed that things moved down into some utopianism à la Campanelli, namely into what we call war communism. An economic incentive, any stimulans to do one's work, were simply eliminated; they were substituted by compulsory allotments. The consequences were: the emergence of a party and government machinery with an unlimited authority on the one hand, and the economic breakdown on the other. Just this very fact is so obvious, so manifest that it was even recognized by the official press.
  4. Nevertheless, the revolutionaries were convonced of the rightness of their ideology, and the even went so far to consider it possible and necessary to stay in power, and this meant, in fact, that they returned to Nechaevism. The theoretical position grew weaker and weaker, according as the position of the opponents become stronger. This problem remained the same until nowadays: every dissident, every person of a differnet opinion is being persecuted in our country by forcible measures, for there is no possibility to gain the victory before the state machinery in anopen and honest discussion. All this finally leads to a civil war.
  5. The civil war, irrespective of the fact that it cost the lives of 18 million people and even aggravated the economic dislocation and ruin of the country, had two demoralizing consequences: firstly, the alienation effect among the people increased considerably, assuming alarming proportions; it was impossible to peacefully live with one's neighbours, who, not long ago, had killed eachother; and particularly at that time the foe image stroke roots in the people's consciousness; secondly, the people got used to solve problems by using the nagan revolver - that was so easy. Human life lost its value and the last sorry remnants of a sense of justice got lost among the people. 

    However, the civil war was entailed apositive concomitant phenomenon, as well: some reasonable representatives of the government, first of all Lenin, of course, finally conceived their mistakes and were not afraid to honestly admit their faults before the public. The NEP (New Economic Policy) was put into force. It brought about quite a lot of economic incentives, but it also involved a certain threat for those who were in power: alternative political forces were now given the chance to act, and those, who were already eagerly enjoying their power, did neither intend to lose nore share it. This problem still exists nowadays. There are only two ways: hand over one's position of power to someone else or maintain it, even though this might result in disastrous consequences for the country. And the state machinery will, of course, always try to consolidate its power, and if the worst comes to the worst, it will even push this through by means of mass terror. Without any doubt, mass terror might be applied again, if this is considered necessary by the state machinery. The one and only difference is that the state machinery of THOSE DAYS unconditionally intended to keep its claim to power, i order to achieve its objectives, its ideology, while our TODAY'S state merely defends its privileges.

    Since the early 1920s the method of how to discuss with the representatives of political currents that did not sympathize with the All-Russian Communist Party of the Bolsheviks, was the following: political isolation. The fight against different opinions was suspended by the fight against the representatives of these different opinions. Such political isolators where, in fact, prisons, and later, starting with Solovki - the camp network. In the prisons they were merely kept behind bars, but in the camps they had to do forced labor.

    At that time the state machinery was going through a very cruel struggle for power, step by step its best leaders were degraded, since a struggle for power is a struggle for ideas and ideologies, as well - different things, of course, but when the only way to push through one's ideas is the accession to power, then it is done this way - although, these very ideas are quickly dropped and forgotten about, as soon as one has finally risen to power, right?
  6. The NEP was sligthly one-sided: at the time, when agriculture, services sectors and some  parts of the consumer goods industry were developing quite dynamically, the industry was able to overcome the crises, due to the existence of economic incentives and the incompetence of the blown up administrative machinery. Of course, this led to various kinds of incongruities, i.e. rising prices for bread; people began to hide away foodstuffs, etc. Once again the state machinery was confronted with a problem: either give the people freedom and let them off to the industrial sector (thus losing their influence on the march of events), or liquidate the farmers and consolidate one's position and power. In fact, this was the beginning of the collectivization - a mighty and farsighted blow: first of all, an indpendent political power was smashed and subjugated (the farmers actually were an independent force, because they were ECONOMICALLY independent, owned their piece of land and feeded others: the others were all depending on them, but the farmers were not depending on anybody and did not give a damn about what Stalin or Sinovev were thinking about them); secondly, free of charge workers could now be supplied to the industry. Those farmers, who had survived and had not been deported into camps, threw themselves into the work for large construction projects, because there they were even able to earn their living; and they were humble and quite modest in their demands, due to all the previous scare technics. The farmers, who found themselves in camps, in fact, became slaves; they merely worked for their feeding. This mechanism had already been eagerly and carefully tested in practice in the Solovki (special-purpose forced labor camp) complex. The Gulag project for the construction of the White Sea - Baltic Canal had also proven its usefulness, and the State began to take more and more advantage of people working for nothing: in 1928 - 30.000 people were in camps, in 1930 - more than 600.000, in 1931-1932 - about 2 millions, 1933-1935 - approximately 5 millions, 1935-1937 - about 6 millions and in 1953 - approximately 12 millions.
  7. The early 1930s were historically marked as a further period of subjugation of the people. A system of compulsory registration was introduced in the cities, which practically exposed the people to the despotism and cruelties of the local authorities: nobody was allowed to live or work where he had liked to. The kolkhoz farmers had de facto been transformed into serves, because they were entirely, in all spheres of life, commanded by that very same machinery. During this time they also finally closed the border, elsewise the mass exodus of people leaving the USSR would have assumed alarming proportions - and a considerable number of people had already left the country at that time. The lack of material incentives lead to the ruin of economy; the solution of the problems was forced in the proven manner: the exploitation of slaves with the aim of cutting the prime costs.

    However, in order to guarantee a continuous supply of manpower, one had to influence the piblic opinion (which was achieved by creating the above mentioned for image, by spreading the thesis of a quickly expanding class conflict, etc.) and sharpen the existing laws - and this is what was de facto done. We have to stress that our cruel legislation is not only a consequence of our common brutality and our being so uncivilized - it was and still is a menas of solving economic difficulties. Large construction projects, now as before, are carried out by prisoners, and in order to secure the supply with these prisoners to the needed places, it is not necessary to sentence them, but to write them off as criminial offenders. Thus, it becomes obvious that the law courts did not function as institutions of jurisdiction, but became the suppliers of living work force: the more moanpower was needed and requested, the more they strived to make the laws increasingly cruel. The terror played another roll yet: it eradicated the very last remnants of different thinking, even of any kind of independent thinking at all. The machinery of terror moved on in such a rotational speed that every fairly remarkable, fairly autonomously thinking person was caught up into the whirl-pool of events. In the first place these were the specialists (not only the intelligentsia, but any other expert as well, since each of them disposes to a considerable extent of self-respect and independence at least in their behaviour). But any other person could accidentally get caught in this machinery, too. When terror become the symbol of national policy and the authorities were demanded an explanation from above, in how far they had successfully realized the means of this terror, the upper governmental circles began to also apply such terroristic campaigns to the administrative body, and if these instructions and orders were not complied with, the responsible persons were threatened with arrest, execution, etc. This was the moment, when the operative men in charge of apparatus went mad; hoping to save their own skin, they started to eat up everyone who got in their way, even one another. This period is called the year 1937, when the terror got completely out of control and became entirely senseless in its cruelty: about one million of people were simply executed, and this fact cannot be explained by ans economic "necessity".
  8. After 1937, when the wave of terror had sligtly calmed down, the people remained in a state of shock and apathy, the requested conformity of opinions had been achieved, the execution of any further means of terror had already become an every-day occurrance, the people had already got accustomed to them, and since then this has remained unchanged.


We must reject the myth of enemies to be exterminated. They are no enemies, but merely political opponents.

We must object to forcible fighting methods. This is particularly significant for the "Left", because nothing else can be expected from the machinery of the State; it is ignorant and, if being put under pressure, immediately starts to use force - even nowadays: remember at least the Klepachev story. One has to recall it: who waises his sword, will perish of it himself. The end does not justify the means, and it is better to lose with dignity than win without.

We have to reject the monopolization of one single truth, must learn to accept and consider other people's right to utter their own opinion, no matter how wild or strange these opinions or views appear to us.

These are all truisms, but they will probably fall into oblivion sooner or later, too.

Alexey Babiy, 1989