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  • Enemies within the Gates? The Comintern and the Stalinist Repression, 1934–1939
  • R. Craig Nation
William J. Chase , Enemies within the Gates? The Comintern and the Stalinist Repression, 1934–1939. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

The Great Terror of 1937-1938 was a seminal event in Soviet history and indeed in the history of the twentieth century. The orgy of denunciation, incarceration, and execution laid bare the terrorist foundations of the Stalinist regime, discredited Soviet power, and shattered the international Communist movement. Although the Soviet [End Page 174] Union eventually emerged from the ordeal and the war that followed as a leading world power, it never again could persuasively claim to embody the ideals of liberation and social justice.

William Chase's Enemies within the Gates? appears in the Yale University Press Annals of Communism series, which incorporates translations of declassified documents from former Soviet state and party archives into narrative accounts of particular episodes in Soviet history. Chase has assembled sixty-six documents from the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (formerly known as the Central Party Archive), using them to illustrate what he describes as a "case study" of how the Soviet mass repression of 1937-1938 "unfolded within and affected the headquarters of the Comintern"—the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI). These texts—internal communications and directives, protocols, appeals for review— shed a great deal of light on the systematic repression within the Comintern apparatus. Chase is judicious in his treatment of the documentary material, which he presents in the context of a composed narrative but also allows to speak for itself. The result is a masterful application of the documented narrative approach.

What do the documents assembled in Enemies within the Gates? tell us about the Stalinist terror? One might begin by taking note of what they do not reveal. As in all accounts of the repression that have appeared to date, the figure of Josif Stalin remains enigmatic. Chase is correct in asserting that, in the absence of relevant documentation, it is to some degree pointless to build interpretations entirely on "an assumption about Stalin's intention." Stalin was clearly responsible for the mass repression. Was he always in control, and did the terror, as it actually unfolded, rest on some kind of coherent strategic design imposed from above? The materials assembled in this collection do not support any kind of definitive conclusion.

What Chase's documents do reveal is the dynamic of the terror itself as it swept through the ECCI, the self-styled "headquarters of the world revolution." Chase's account makes clear that the Comintern's unique character as an embodiment of internationalism and an interface between Soviet Communism and representatives of "fraternal" Communist parties based in the capitalist world left it particularly exposed once a wave of terror, focusing on the putative penetration of Soviet society by foreign agents, was under way.

Chase argues that the Comintern was simultaneously an agent, instrument, and victim of the repression. These are well-chosen interpretive categories that help to demonstrate the complexity, nonlinearity, and occasional arbitrariness of the purges.

Repression within the Comintern was decisively conditioned by what Chase describes as the "conspiratorial logic" derived from the values and norms of the Bolshevik tradition. Chase's account begins with the protocol of the ECCI party organization session of 28 December 1934, which takes up the case of Ludwig Magyar (Lajos Milgorf) by presenting a series of accusations that illuminate the entire process of repression. In the immediate wake of the assassination of Sergei Kirov, and in response to calls from above for "vigilance" and "verification of cadres," Magyar was [End Page 175] summoned before his longtime coworkers and comrades to be mocked and denounced as a "degenerate" and "scum"; accused without any discernible grounds of having the "blood of Comrade Kirov" on his hands; expelled from the party; and placed under arrest. Many of the accusers (Béla Kun, Moisei Chernomordik, Fritz Heckert, Gevork Alikhanov, Bronsław Bronkowski) would themselves become targets of identical attacks in the months to come. Although the call for blood had not yet been raised, Magyar was in fact made the object...