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TitlePolitical Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism
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LanguageEnglish
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Page 95

others, and he drew a distinction between those who were 'cold' and others
who were more 'humane.'"19
The third type emerges from more recent references to some of the personnel of the KGB. These were
well-educated, often suave careerists who found satisfactory employment and mobility opportunities within
this organization. According to Andrei Sakharov, they "traveled and read widely, and they knew far better
than anyone else the true picture of desperation within Soviet borders and the realities beyond them." This
was also the case in Eastern Europe, especially, East Germany, where "the Stasi men were always an
elite, a group that benefited from opportunities for training and education of
which many Easterners could only dream." 20 A former Czech dissident, Milos Calda, who had several
encounters with the Czech political police, found the police "intelligent and cynical."21 Oleg Kalugin,
discussed below, belongs to this group to some degree.
Money motivated the otherwise uncommitted, as in communist Czechoslovakia, where even within the state
security system domestic or internal surveillance was considered distasteful. According to a former
employee "No one wanted to do this work.
arresting and interrogating political people. So it paid
well. I got eight hundred crowns a month more than in the old job." As time went by, the morale of the Czech
state security declined: "By the end of the 1980s the StB didn't believe its own propaganda."22 Eugen Loebl,
a former high-ranking Czech official and one of the defendants in the Slansky trial, reported that "by
increasing their output of confessions and arrest, my interrogators . . . were getting a higher bonus and . . .
by discovering ever bigger spies and traitors, they were assuring themselves
promotions and raises in pay."23
Material and "moral" incentives were not always easy to separate. Reportedly the Hungarian political police
(AVO, later AVH) officers "were trained . . . for devotion, blind discipline, and were at the same time filled
with a consciousness of mission and professional pride . . . Their self-confidence was further
inflated by the fact hat they could fill their pockets with various allowances, bonuses and benefits."24
While the elite of the political police were well provided, the personal risks were also high: many erstwhile
leaders and officers were devoured by the system, brought down by their successors. People imprisoned
during the Great Purge sometimes met in prison those who had interrogated them earlier (this also happened
in Eastern Europe). Hardly any head of the political police in the Soviet Union or elsewhere in the Socialist
Commonwealth ended his life peacefully and with an untarnished reputation.
The fourth group consists of the least attractive human beings: amoral or unmistakably malevolent
individuals, those at the higher level motivated
by the lust for power and those at the lower one by sadism. The latter include the anonymous guards,
torturers, and interrogators who enjoyed the suffering they inflicted on their victims, 25 often also believing in
their guilt or human inferiority.26 Sketches of such individuals can often be drawn from the memoirs of their
former victims. A Hungarian defendant in the Rajk trial27 writes: "The detectives . . .
all fell upon me, threw me on the floor . . . kicked me all over my body. They . . . acted like a party of drunks
intoxicated with rage. Nor for a moment did their fury appear simulated."28
It is this fourth group.
seemingly composed of the kind of individuals who gravitate toward organizations of violence and coercion for
undeclared personal motives.
that has attracted the least social scientific interest. The same group conjures up associations with the
concept of the "authoritarian personality," which used to be reserved for supporters of Nazism and other
radical right-wing movements. Fred Greenstein writes: "Such an individual abases himself before those who
stand above him hierarchically or whom he perceives as powerful and lords it over whoever seems to be
weak, subordinate or inferior . . . such individuals . . .think in power terms . . . acutely sensitive to questions
of who dominates whom . . . These authoritarian traits . . . hang together . . .: dominance of subordinates;
deference to superiors; sensitivity to power relationships; need to perceive the world in a highly structured
fashion; excessive use of stereotypes."29 It did not even occur to the originators of the concept that these
attitudes could be encountered elsewhere on the political spectrum.30
Victor Serge observed during the early years of the Soviet state that the apparatus of coercion attracted two
contrasting types of individuals.
the amoral and power-hungry, on the one hand, and the principled, on the other: "The Party endeavoured to
head it [the Cheka, the first embodiment of the KGB] with incorruptible men like . . . Dzerzhinsky, a sincere
idealist, ruthless but chivalrous, with the emaciated profile of an Inquisitor . . . But the Party had few men of
this stamp and many Chekas: these gradually came to select their personnel by virtue of their psychological
inclinations. The only temperaments that devoted themselves willingly and tenaciously to this task of 'internal
defense' were those characterized by suspicion, embitterment, harshness and sadism. Long-standing social
inferiority-complexes and memories of humiliations and suffering in the Tsars' jails rendered
them intractable . . . the Chekas inevitably consisted of perverted men tending to see conspiracy

Page 96

everywhere." 31
These observations are echoed in another characterization of those recruited into the Cheka: "Work in the
Cheka . . . attracts corrupt and outright criminal elements . . . However honest a man is, however
crystal-clear in his heart, work in the Cheka . . . begins to tell." Dzerzhinsky himself notes that "only saints
or scoundrels can serve in the GPU, but now the saints are running away from me and I am left
with the scoundrels."32 In the estimation of Volkogonov only two types of investigative officers could be found
in the NKVD by the mid-1930s: "unfeeling cynics and sadists bereft of the notion of human conscience."33
Further light is shed on the criteria for recruitment to these services from the recollections of a former Soviet
agent, Nikolai Khoklov. He was instructed by his superior, Pavel Sudoplatov to "go search for people who are
hurt by fate or nature.
the ugly, those suffering from an inferiority complex, craving power and influence but defeated by unfavorable
circumstances. Or people who have suffered not so much from hunger and cold, but from the humiliation
connected with poverty . . . The sense of belonging to an influential and powerful organization will give them a
feeling of superiority . . . For the
first time in their lives they will experience a sense of importance, a close connection with power."34
Similar criteria were applied by the Hungarian political police. According to a former victim, the writer George
Paloczi-Horvath, "The SP [security police] was constantly purged by General Peter [Gabor Peter, head of
the SP]. Many former SP officers were with us in jail. They were arrested for the slightest sign of elementary
decency. With this method General Peter succeeded in finding in a few years that
criminal and potentially sadistic five per cent which is there in any given population."35 Mehmet Shehu, head
of the Albanian political police under Enver Hoxha, must also have belonged to that 5 percent, given his
predilection to take revenge on pregnant mothers (of whom there were many because of the
official pressure to increase the population) for the political misbehavior of members of their family.36
The idea that in every society there are groups of people who possess or develop a personality congenial to
service in a repressive police force has been expressed by many authors. Antonio Candido, the Brazilian
man of letters,
observes that for these tasks "society needs thousands of individuals with appropriately deformed souls . . .
society draws from these people the brutality, the need, the frustration, the depravity, the defect.
and gives them the repressive function." 37 Josef Skvorecky, the Czech émigré writer, perceives the
hardcore supporters of both Nazi and Communist systems as "people scarred by private hatreds, grounded
in deeply negative personal experience . . . [people] with physical or psychological malformations . . .
haunted by a feeling of insecurity . . . exploit [ing] ideas and movements to achieve a
feeling of self-worth."38 A Czech student of communist affairs, Peter Hruby, writes: "Every nation has a
small percentage of potential criminals in its population. In totalitarian dictatorships these people . . . get
their best chance and can really enjoy themselves, at the same time feeling proud that they are
serving the great cause."39
Pryce-Jones goes so far as to suggest that even Western intellectuals supportive of various communist
systems..
such as Althusser, Foucault, Ernst Bloch, Lukacs, Marcuseand "thousands more men of letters, academics
and opinion-makers had a brutal and manic sreak in their characters." For others, like Brecht, Neruda,
Sartre, and Graham Greene, "it was a question of being on the side of the winners."40
Lavrenti Beria is aptly characterized by "the seeming absence of a human dimension in his personality." But
Amy Knight also believes that "to portray him as an exception . . . is to misrepresent the very nature
of the Soviet system during the Stalinist period."41 According to Volkogonov, Beria's "predatory character
and lust for power" made a deep (and favorable) impression on Stalin.42 After Stalin's death in 1953, Beria,
with exceptional hypocrisy, rebuked the Hungarian Stalinist leader Rakosi for ordering the use of physical
force during interrogations and for the possibility that "innocent people could have been
sent to jail."43
Beria's deputy and intimate friend Viktor Abakumov "tortured prisoners himself and followed Beria's practice
of snatching attractive girls off the street, taking them home, and raping them."44 Molotov..
himself described as a man of "cold-blooded ruthlessness"referred to Yagoda (Beria's
predecessor) as "a filthy nobody who wormed his way into the party . . . We had to work with reptiles like
that."45 Reportedly, "Yagoda, who prized historical souvenirs, collected the bullets with which fanous
revolutionaries had been shot. When Yagoda was shot, his executioner, Yezhov, appropriated the historic
bullets. When Yezhov himself was shot later, the bullets were preserved in his case record. The inventory
attached to his file lists 'revolver bullets, blunted, wrapped in paper, inscribed Zinoviev, Kamenev.'" 46
There was an affinity between certain personal traits and the political system: "Stalin and his lieutenants
made their decisions with little or no regard for the Soviet people. Indeed, what bound them together was
their contempt for human individuality and their ability to inflict terrible cruelty on their people with no
remorse." A connection between official policies and less than creditable human traits is also noted by Luba

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