New Light on Old Spies - A Review of Recent Soviet Intelligence Revelations - part 4 - Dagger and Cloak

Sunday, 15 July 2007

New Light on Old Spies - A Review of Recent Soviet Intelligence Revelations - part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


For several decades the Soviet regime has endeavored to justify the counterintelligence activity of its security service, calling it the "punishing sword of the Revolution," the defender of the Soviet nation and state against foreign and domestic enemies. Its intimate relationship to the party leadership was deliberately blurred; its full role in intra-party struggles for power has been concealed.

The participation of the security service in these struggles and the purges they brought forth, events that are well remembered by the Soviet people, made difficult the task of investing it with any sort of glamour. In practice it was necessary to concentrate on the earliest period of its history, the period of revolution, civil war, and early post-revolutionary years, when it was headed by Feliks Edmundovich Dzerzhinskiy, the Polish revolutionary idealist, friend and associate of Lenin, who died before Stalin began his purges. The Dzerzhinskiy period of the service is portrayed as a time of high idealism, a golden age.

The exigencies of Soviet internal politics have made it impossible to glorify Dzerzhinskiy's successors, who were either nonentities (Menzhinskiy), mere tools of Stalin (Yagoda, Yezhev) or latter-day villains in their own right (Beriya). Soviet party leaders will do nothing that might undermine the effectiveness of the security service as the defender of the regime, hence the history of the service under Stalin's dictatorship is not likely to be revealed. Their efforts to refurbish its image will never be allowed to endanger its internal efficiency. It is unlikely, therefore, that any detailed history of state security will appear in the foreseeable future.

Historical material on the service nevertheless continues to appear. As noted above, much attention is given to the life and personality of Dzerzhinskiy, so much in fact that something of a cult of personality seems to have grown up around him. In 1956, selections of his diary and family letters, all pre-revolutionary in date, made their appearance. P. G. Sofinov published during the same year a popular biography of Dzerzhinskiy that made use of certain hitherto unpublished archival material. In the following year, a selection of Dzerzhinskiy's writings that emphasized his work in other components of the Soviet government such as the Commissariat of the Interior, Commissariat of Transportation, and Supreme Council of the National Economy made its appearance. A more rounded view of his career is thus now available.

During recent years Soviet authors have continued to mine the ore of Dzerzhinskiy's life and career. A. Khatskevich published a careful biographical study of him in which he uses his subject's prerevolutionary documentary files. On the other hand, N. Zubov has produced another popular biography repeating well-worn facts and stories. Dzerzhinskiy's eighty-fifth birthday was commemorated by the appearance of a rather barren volume of reminiscences that adds little or nothing to our knowledge of the man.

Perhaps the most interesting volume on Dzerzhinskiy to appear in recent years is Mme. Dzerzhinskiy's memoirs, published in 1964. She gives the texts of letters never before published or previously published only in part. She also provides an interpretation of her husband's background and development based on an association of many years that should contribute significantly to an understanding of the man. It will be interesting to see whether Soviet historians produce additional significant material on Dzerzhinskiy's career as chief of state security. If, as one authority contends, the Cheka archives were destroyed, that task may be difficult.

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