Gorbachev Calls Stalin Crimes ‘Unforgivable’ : But He Praises Decisions to Collectivize Farms and Push for Rapid, State-Run Industrialization

Times Staff Writer

Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev told the Soviet people Monday that Josef Stalin committed “enormous and unforgivable” crimes in the 1930s, and he announced that a top-level commission has been set up to investigate them and exonerate their victims.

At the same time, Gorbachev praised Stalin’s decision to collectivize farming and proceed with rapid, state-controlled industrialization despite the “excesses” and widespread suffering they caused.

Harshest Criticism

Gorbachev addressed about 6,000 top party and government officials and foreign visitors in the Grand Palace of the Kremlin on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. His speech, lasting more than 2 1/2 hours, contained the harshest criticism of Stalin that Gorbachev has made since he came to power in the spring of 1985, yet they fell short of what many of his supporters expected.


The Soviet leader was greeted with enthusiastic applause as he entered the Kremlin hall with the other 12 full members of the ruling Politburo. As he spoke, he was interrupted frequently by applause, during which he occasionally sipped a glass of milk. As he enunciated his attack on Stalin, however, the applause was only polite.

In the audience were the leaders of some East Bloc and other nations, among them President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

Referring to his proposals for radical reform of the Soviet economy, known in Russian as perestroika , Gorbachev said they are under increasing attack from conservatives who see them “as a threat to their selfish interests” and from “overzealous” supporters who feel that the pace of change is too slow.

On arms control, he made it clear that when he meets with President Reagan next month in Washington he will press for agreement on substantial reductions in strategic nuclear weapons and for a ban on space-based missile defenses.


In his review of Soviet history, Gorbachev appeared to be following the middle of the Communist Party’s ideological road. Some Western diplomats said he appeared to be toning down his personal views in deference to more conservative opinions in the ruling Politburo.

For example, although he condemned Stalin for “wanton repressive measures,” he made no reference to the fact that millions of Stalin’s victims were executed or died in labor camps. He spoke only of the “many thousands” of Stalin’s victims.

His speech, broadcast throughout the Soviet Union and to its East Bloc allies, provided fewer details of Stalin’s crimes than have appeared recently in Soviet newspapers and magazines operating under his new rule of glasnost , or public openness.

“There is now much discussion about the role of Stalin in our history,” Gorbachev said. “He was an extremely contradictory personality. To remain faithful to historical truth, we have to see both Stalin’s incontestable contribution to the struggle for socialism . . . and the abuses committed by him and those around him, for which our people paid a heavy price and which had grave consequences for the life of our society.”


Gorbachev said there is documentary proof that Stalin was aware of the crimes.

“The guilt of Stalin and his immediate entourage before the party and the people for the wholesale repressive measures and acts of lawlessness is enormous and unforgivable,” Gorbachev said. “This is a lesson for all generations. We now know that the political accusations and repressive measures against a number of party leaders and statesmen, against many Communists and non-party people, against economic executives and military men, against scientists and cultural personalities, were a result of deliberate falsification.”

Pretext for Resettlement

He cited for the first time the “doctors’ plot” of 1952 in which Kremlin doctors, many of them Jewish, were arrested on charges of trying to kill Stalin. Historians have said the charges were intended to be used as a pretext for large-scale resettlement of Jews to Siberia. In his speech, Gorbachev said the case against the doctors was “fabricated.”


Gorbachev spoke of the formerly unmentionable Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who delivered the famous “secret speech” at the 20th party congress in 1956 accusing Stalin of being a tyrant.

‘No Small Courage’

“It required no small courage by the party and its leadership, headed by Nikita Khrushchev, to criticize the personality cult and its consequences, and to re-establish socialist legality,” Gorbachev said.

He noted that thousands of innocent victims of Stalin were rehabilitated after the 1956 speech, which has never been published in the Soviet Union.


“But the process of restoring justice was not seen through to the end and was actually suspended in the middle of the 1960s,” Gorbachev said, referring to a step taken by former leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.

The party’s Central Committee, Gorbachev said, decided at its plenum last Oct. 21 to renew the process of exonerating those who were falsely accused.

“The Political Bureau of the Central Committee has set up a commission for comprehensively examining new facts and documents pertaining to these matters,” he said. “Corresponding decisions will be taken on the basis of the commission’s findings.”

New Party History


He said their work will be summarized in a new history of the party to be prepared by a special commission of the Central Committee.

“This is something we have to do,” he said, “since even now there are still attempts to turn away from painful matters in our history, to hush them up, to make believe that nothing special happened.”

Soviet historian Roy Medvedev, who has written a sharply critical book about Stalin that was published in the West, said in an interview after the speech that Gorbachev went further than he has before in condemning Stalin for abuse of power.

But he said Gorbachev made a “half-liberal, half-conservative speech” that pleased neither conservatives nor liberals in the upper party ranks.


Gorbachev praised Stalin for his leadership in World War II as well as for his decisions on the collectivization of agriculture and the rapid industrialization of the 1930s. But he said the Stalin personality cult was alien to the nature of socialism and was completely unjustified.

He said that the centralized, top-to-bottom methods of management that were successful in the rapid industrialization were used in dealing with peasants as well.

‘Those Excesses’ Cited

According to Western historians, millions of people died from 1929 to 1931 in the drive to wipe out private farms and organize them into state and collective farms. But Gorbachev referred only to “those excesses,” without mentioning a devastating famine in the Ukraine and the imprisonment and exile of millions of rural residents.


“The basically correct policy of fighting the kulaks (well-to-do peasants) was often interpreted so broadly that it swept in a considerable part of the middle peasantry, too,” he said. “Such is the reality of history.”

Moving on to the present, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet grain harvest this year exceeded 210 million tons, about the same as last year and far short of the goal that had been set--240 million tons.

He said the Soviet Union is entering a new stage of restructuring and that the next two or three years will show whether the program will succeed.

‘Increase in Resistance’


He cited “a certain increase in the resistance of conservative forces . . . those who prefer to keep ticking off the slip-ups instead of combating shortcomings and looking for new solutions.”

Then, in an apparent rebuff to his outspoken Politburo supporter, Boris N. Yeltsin, he added, “Nor should we succumb to the pressure of the overly zealous and impatient--those who voice their disappointment with what they regard as a slow rate of change, who claim that this change does not yield the necessary results fast enough.”

Yeltsin, an alternate member of the Politburo, has offered to resign as Moscow party chief after getting into a debate at the last Central Committee meeting over his charges that some top officials were blocking progress on reforms.

Yeltsin, among the officials seated on the dais behind Gorbachev, displayed no obvious reaction to his leader’s remarks.


In a relatively brief reference to his forthcoming meeting with Reagan, Gorbachev said the agreement to abolish medium- and shorter-range nuclear forces was “largely settled” more than a year ago at the summit meeting in Iceland.

“In this critical period the world expects the third and fourth Soviet-American summits to produce more than merely an official acknowledgement of the decisions agreed upon a year ago and more than merely a continuation of the discussion,” he said.

“That is why we will work unremittingly at these meetings for a palpable breakthrough, for concrete results in reducing strategic offensive armaments and barring weapons from outer space--the key to removing the nuclear threat.”