Rehabilitating Lavrenti Beria?
We recently received an e-mail from someone inquiring about Lavrenti Beria, People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs from (NKVD) Nov. 1938- June 1953. This particular question had to do with the pervading thinking that Beria was a traitor to the USSR by seeking to re-establish capitalism in the constituent Soviet republics.
Though unmercifully slandered by Khruschev and other revisionists following his ousting in June 1953, Lavrenti Beria remained one of the Soviet Union’s most energetic leaders carrying forth the banner of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism.
Unfortunately, history has been slow to exonerate the legacy of L.P. Beria, including among man a Marxist with favorable views towards the Soviet Union.
But in considering Beria’s resume, it’s difficult to reconcile this irrational distaste (bordering on outright hatred) with the view of a man who committed his life to the building and construction of socialism first in his native Georgia, then Transcaucasia, and finally throughout the entire USSR.
It matters little that Beria has been subject to the routine vitriol from the foreign (and modern Russian) bourgeoisie. That much goes without saying, and is equally in line with the hostile attitudes dumped on J.V. Stalin and other Soviet leaders. However rotten Beria may appear in the pages of the bourgeoisie’s slanted and ideologically driven historiography, why then, and under what pretexts, does the Left continue to despise Lavrenti Beria?
Clearly, the accusations that Beria was an agent of foreign capitalist intelligence is absolutely ludicrous. Following Beria’s illegal seizure at the hands of Zhukov and other senior Soviet military officers at the behest of Khruschev et al., the conspirators began circulating these and other nasty rumors to justify their acting against a fellow comrade and Politburo member. Among the other charges leveled against Beria was the time-old accusation that he had served as a counter-intelligence agent for the Azeri nationalist Musavat Party. But this accusation is also without merit, having been debunked as early as the 1920s by an investigation by the Communist Party of Transcaucasia; which found that Beria was in fact acting as a double agent for the Bolsheviks in pre-Soviet Georgia (nonetheless, the charge lived with Beria throughout his life).
The accusation that Beria attempted to undermine Soviet power following Stalin’s death is equally left wanting of hard evidence. The pragmatic moves to adjust and modify certain policies were representative of Beria’s overwhelming realism that predominated in his views of foreign, and to a large extent, internal affairs. His colleagues and later jailers accused Beria of attempting to restore capitalism – but that’s, again, is simply not true. Beria clearly understood that his own political fortunes were inextricably linked with socialism and the Soviet system – and that nothing he did would have ever enabled him to survive (politically, and possibly physically) if capitalism were restored. Beria’s actions then can best be understood by a realistic appreciation of the new challenges facing the Soviet Union following the death of its greatest leader, Josef Stalin.
For Beria, the policy changes pushed forth between the time of Stalin’s death and his arrest were a means of securing, not destabilizing, the Soviet Union. Beria, unlike many of his contemporaries, was able to appreciate that the loss of Stalin would signify a need to re-assert Soviet power in a different way, particularly in light of the changing dynamics following the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany at the conclusion of World War II and the rise in Western hostility and provocations marking the onset of the Cold War. True, many of Beria’s tendencies and activities following Stalin’s death may qualify him as a revisionist; but that’s, at the very least, disputable. What is unequivocally true, though, is that Beria was in no way, shape or form a traitor or counter-revolutionary.