Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nikita Khrushchev Denounces Stalin's Paranoid Persecution of Doctors in his "Secret Speech" to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party

This January 1953 cartoon from the Soviet humor magazine Krokodil (Crocodile) shows a doctor being unmasked as a poisoner of the Soviet political and military leadership. Money from foreign intelligence agencies is falling out of the doctor's pocket.

On January 13, 1953, near the end of Stalin's rule, an infamous article appeared in Pravda titled "Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians" (1-13-53). This article marks the beginning of the aborted Soviet purge known as the "Doctors' Plot." (See also Time, 4-13-53.)

According to this conspiracy theory, "killer doctors" (often Jews) had "dishonored the holy banner of science" by using their scientific expertise in an attempt to exterminate the Soviet leadership. Today, people laugh at this canard, which is so reminiscent of the medieval anti-Semitic libel about Jews poisoning the Christians' wells; but this Stalinist canard is not so different from the vicious canard known as "Climategate," which professional global warming denialists are spreading in order to discredit and persecute allegedly dishonest and meretricious climate scientists.

The denialist conspiracy theories are spread by organizations and individuals such as Pravda, Russia Today, Fox News, Senator James Inhofe, Inhofe's former aid Marc Morano, Putin's former Advisor Andrei Illarionov (on the Libertarian CATO Institute site), Lord Monckton (on the Science and Public Policy site), The Heartland Institute, Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and even some some 9-11 Truth Movement sites.

The Stalin-era canard about the killer-doctors who allegedly plotted against the leadership of the Soviet Union was discredited a few months later in the Soviet media when Stalin died and again in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev in his "secret" Speech to 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U. (February 24-25, 1956). Khrushchev was in a power struggle for control of the Communist Party, and the admissions in his famous "secret" speech were a way of compromising his political enemies.

Khrushchev was probably not being very sincere when he claimed that Stalin's secret police henchman Lavrenty Beria was an agent of a foreign intelligence agency; never-the-less, Khrushchev did admit that the regime had fabricated the doctors' plot out of thin air.

Khrushchev stated:

Let us also recall the “affair of the doctor-plotters.”

(Animation in the hall.)

Actually there was no “affair” outside of the declaration of the woman doctor [Lidiya] Timashuk [more here], who was probably influenced or ordered by someone (after all, she was an unofficial collaborator of the organs of state security) to write Stalin a letter in which she declared that doctors were applying supposedly improper methods of medical treatment.

Such a letter was sufficient for Stalin to reach an immediate conclusion that there are doctor-plotters in the Soviet Union. He issued orders to arrest a group of eminent Soviet medical specialists. He personally issued advice on the conduct of the investigation and the method of interrogation of the arrested persons. He said that academician [V. N. ] Vinogradov should be put in chains, and that another one [of the alleged plotters] should be beaten. The former Minister of State Security, comrade [Semyen] Ignatiev [the fall guy], is present at this Congress as a delegate. Stalin told him curtly, “If you do not obtain confessions from the doctors we will shorten you by a head.”

(Tumult in the hall.)

Stalin personally called the investigative judge, gave him instructions, and advised him on which investigative methods should be used. These methods were simple – beat, beat and, beat again.

Shortly after the doctors were arrested, we members of the Politbiuro received protocols with the doctors’ confessions of guilt. After distributing these protocols, Stalin told us, “You are blind like young kittens. What will happen without me? The country will perish because you do not know how to recognize enemies.”

The case was presented so that no one could verify the facts on which the investigation was based. There was no possibility of trying to verify facts by contacting those who had made the confessions of guilt.

We felt, however, that the case of the arrested doctors was questionable. We knew some of these people personally because they had once treated us. When we examined this “case” after Stalin’s death, we found it to have been fabricated from beginning to end.

This ignominious “case” was set up by Stalin. He did not, however, have the time in which to bring it to an end (as he conceived that end), and for this reason the doctors are still alive. All of them have been rehabilitated. They are working in the same places they were working before. They are treating top individuals, not excluding members of the Government. They have our full confidence; and they execute their duties honestly, as they did before.

In putting together various dirty and shameful cases, a very base role was played by a rabid enemy of our Party, an agent of a foreign intelligence service – Beria, who had stolen into Stalin’s confidence. How could this provocateur have gained such a position in the Party and in the state, so as to become the First Deputy Chair of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union and a Politbiuro member? It has now been established that this villain climbed up the Government ladder over an untold number of corpses.

Time (4-13-53) describes the fate that befell the unfortunate Dr. Lidiya Timachuk after Stalin died and the party line changed:

Lidiya Timashuk was decorated last January with the Order of Lenin, the Soviet Union's top order, "for exposing the doctor assassins." "She fought," said Pravda, "as one fights with enemies of the homeland—a life and death struggle." Last week Dr. Timashuk was stripped of her decoration because the information she gave had not accorded with "the actual state of affairs." (See page 3.)

Stalin's Last Crime (2003) by Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian, and Jonathan Brent, a Yale University Soviet scholar, tells the story of the Doctors' Plot and also provides new evidence for the old story that Stalin was poisoned. According to a review of the book in The New York Times (3-5-03):

Fifty years after Stalin died, felled by a brain hemorrhage at his dacha, an exhaustive study of long-secret Soviet records lends new weight to an old theory that he was actually poisoned, perhaps to avert a looming war with the United States.

That war may well have been closer than anyone outside the Kremlin suspected at the time, say the authors of a new book based on the records.

The 402-page book, Stalin's Last Crime, will be published later this month. Relying on a previously secret account by doctors of Stalin's final days, its authors suggest that he may have been poisoned with warfarin, a tasteless and colorless blood thinner also used as a rat killer, during a final dinner with four members of his Politburo...

Four Politburo members were at that dinner: Lavrenti P. Beria, then chief of the secret police; Georgi M. Malenkov, Stalin's immediate successor; Nikita S. Khrushchev, who eventually rose to the top spot; and Nikolai Bulganin...

Mr. Brent and Mr. Naumov, the secretary of a Russian government commission to rehabilitate victims of repression, have spent years in the archives of the K.G.B. and other Soviet organizations.

Russian officials granted them access to some documents for their latest work, which primarily traces the fabulous course of the Doctors' Plot, a supposed collusion in the late 1940's by Kremlin doctors to kill top Communist leaders.

The collusion was in fact a fabrication by Kremlin officials, acting largely on Stalin's orders. By the time Stalin disclosed the plot to a stunned Soviet populace in January 1953, he had spun it into a vast conspiracy, led by Jews under the United States' secret direction, to kill him and destroy the Soviet Union itself.

That February, the Kremlin ordered the construction of four giant prison camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Arctic north, apparently in preparation for a second great terror -- this time directed at the millions of Soviet citizens of Jewish descent.

But the terror never unfolded. On March 1, 1953, two weeks after the camps were ordered built and two weeks before the accused doctors were to go on trial, Stalin collapsed at Blizhnaya, a north Moscow dacha, after the all-night dinner with his four Politburo comrades.

After four days, Stalin died, at age 73. Death was laid to a hemorrhage on the left side of his brain.

Less than a month later, the doctors previously accused of trying to kill him were abruptly exonerated and the case against them was deemed an invention of the secret police. No Jews were deported east. By year's end, Beria faced a firing squad, and Khrushchev had tempered Soviet hostility toward the United States.

In their book, Mr. Naumov and Mr. Brent cite wildly varying accounts of Stalin's last hours as evidence that -- at the least -- Stalin's Politburo colleagues denied him medical help in the first hours of his illness, when it might have been effective.

Khrushchev and others recalled long after Stalin's death that they had dined with him until the early hours of March 1. His and most other reports state that Stalin was later found sprawled unconscious on the floor, a copy of Pravda nearby.

Yet no doctors were summoned to the dacha until the morning of March 2. Why remains a mystery: one guard later said that Beria had called shortly after Stalin was found, ordering them to say nothing about his illness.

Khrushchev wrote that Stalin had been drunk at the dinner and that his dinner companions, told of his illness, presumed that he had fallen out of bed -- until it became clear things were more serious.

More telling, however, is the official medical account of Stalin's death, given to the Communist Party Central Committee in June 1953 and buried in files for almost the next 50 years until unearthed by Mr. Naumov and Mr. Brent. It maintained that Stalin had become ill in the early hours of March 2, a full day after he actually suffered a stroke.

The effect of the altered official report is to imply that doctors were summoned quickly after Stalin was found, rather than after a delay.

The authors state that a cerebral hemorrhage is still the most straightforward explanation for Stalin's death, and that poisoning remains for now a matter of speculation. But Western physicians who examined the Soviet doctors' official account of Stalin's last days said similar physical effects could have been produced by a 5-to-10-day dose of warfarin, which had been patented in 1950 and was being aggressively marketed worldwide at the time.

[The blood-thinner marketed as Coumadin is actually Warfarin. According to National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), "Warfarin may cause severe bleeding that can be life-threatening and even cause death."]

Why Stalin might have been killed is a less difficult question. Politburo members lived in fear of Stalin; beyond that, the book cites a previously secret report as evidence that Stalin was preparing to add a new dimension to the alleged American conspiracy known as the Doctors' Plot.

That report -- an interrogation of a supposed American agent named Ivan I. Varfolomeyev [see more here], in 1951 -- indicated that the Kremlin was preparing to accuse the United States of a plot to destroy much of Moscow with a new nuclear weapon, then to launch an invasion of Soviet territory along the Chinese border.

Mr. Varfolomeyev's fantastic plot was known in Soviet documents as ''the plan of the internal blow.'' Stalin, the book states, had assigned the Varfolomeyev case highest priority, and was preparing to proceed with a public trial despite his underlings' fears that the charges were so unbelievable that they would make the Kremlin a global laughingstock.

Mr. Naumov said in an interview today that that plan, combined with other Soviet military preparations in the Russian Far East at the time, strongly suggest that Stalin was preparing for a war along the United States' Pacific Coast. What remains unclear, he said, is whether he planned a first strike or whether the mushrooming conspiracy unfolding in Moscow was to serve as a provocation that would lead both sides to a flash point.

''I am told that the only case when the two sides were on the verge of war was the Cuban crisis,'' in 1962, he said. ''But I think this was the first case. And this first time that we were on the verge of war was even more dangerous,'' because the devastation of nuclear weapons was not yet an article of faith.

Mr. Brent said he believes that fear of a nuclear holocaust could have led Beria and perhaps others at that final dinner to assent to Stalin's death.

''No question -- they were afraid,'' he said. ''But they knew that the direction Stalin was going in was one of fiercer and fiercer conflict with the U.S. This is what Khrushchev saw, and it is what Beria saw. And it scared them to death.''

The authors say that Stalin knew of his comrades' fears, citing as proof remarks at a December 1952 meeting of top Communist leaders in which Stalin began laying out the scope of the Doctors' Plot and the American threat to Soviet power.

''Here, look at you -- blind men, kittens,'' the minutes record Stalin as saying. ''You don't see the enemy. What will you do without me?''

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