Latvians in the Soviet Political Elite 1920-1937

The Latvian nation has suffered from the Soviet repressions like no other. However, among ranks of communist supporters and top officials, Latvians took a high position. It happened because of the nature of the times before the Russian revolution and after. On the beginning of the 20th century, the New Current (Jaunā Strāva) was strongest Latvian leftist movement with whom many Latvian future social democrats and communists emerged. The revolution of 1905 was directed by Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. Before World War I some Latvians moved to Russia to look for new farmland, while intellectuals like Krišjānis Valdemārs, Krišjānis Barons, Baumaņu Kārlis and others established carriers in Petersburg and Moscow. The German invasion in 1915 made hundreds of thousand Latvians go on the refuge to Russia. Locals in Moscow begun to notice that city is full of Latvians and Jews, who were forced to leave Lithuania and Latvia. The fall of Russian invasion made many previously mistreated minorities including Latvians to believe  its their time to take power for themselves. And since Bolshevism an international movement in its roots seemed the most popular and strongest choice many Latvians chose the Soviet way. In future it turned out an ill-fated tragic choice, but in 1917 the perspective of independent Latvian state seemed far from reality.

The story about the Red Latvian Rifleman is told here.  This is a story about top Latvian communist members during first twenty years of the Soviet Union. After peace agreement with Latvia on August 11 1920 more than 200 Latvians refugees moved back to Latvia. But many stayed either because of problems making impossible to return or because of ideological convictions. According to Soviet census of 1926 151 410 Latvians lived in the Soviet Union along with them 9707 Latgalians who were counted separately. 12 thousand lived in Leningrad and 10 thousand in Moscow.  The census of 1939 counted 128 345 Latvians and  13 869 Latgalians. Official data showed the loss of 23 065 Latvians that was a just blank reminder of repressions made towards people once loyal to the Soviet system.

After the end of the Russian Civil War, the percentage of Latvians within the communist party was rather high. Latvians were second to Russians in numbers of pre-revolutionary members. Some Latvians moved back to Latvia and continued to work as communist party members in underground. On 1927 there was 11  680 Latvian communist party members and 1656 party member candidates. From Latvia, either being deported or emigrated 1301 Latvian communists. Latvians were in a better situation than other party members especially Russians because of their education already acquired before World war, while there was 5% or nonreading members. Readability among Latvians were 79% in the Soviet Union. Latvians also knew more than one foreign language mostly German. So it was no wonder that Latvians took posts in many Soviet ministries and state enterprises.

Pēteris Stučka

Pēteris Stučka

The patriarch of Latvian communists was Pēteris Stučka the veteran of the Latvian Social democrats and leader of the Latvian Soviet government on 1918-1920. After 1920 he no longer took any important post but was regarded as a symbol for Latvian communists. From 1923 he was a chairman of the Supreme Court of Russian Soviet Federal Soviet Republic. He also leads the Latvian Communist Party and its Central Committee Foreign Bureau. Stučka was a gifted jurist and academician. Stučka often questioned the legal side of the actions of the Emergency Commission (Cheka), however, allowed red terror in Latvia during his rule on 1919-1920. Stučka was a genuine follower of Lenin and his ideas and after his death, his influence started to crumble. On 1925-1927 he edited the first Soviet Encyclopedia of State and Law. On 1927 after reforming the court system he became deputy of the RSFSR Commissar of Justice. On 1929 he was elected as professor of the civil rights in Moscow 1st University. 1930 was the last good year for Stučka as his 65 anniversary was celebrated in party Moscow committee Red Hall and awarded with Order of Red Banner of Labor. Stučka still hopped that Latvia will be one day again with Soviets.

On 1931 he became director of the Soviet faculty of justice. He was not found of Stalinist brutal policies against farmers and peasants during collectivization campaign. He was known for his radical agricultural reforms that lead to the breakdown of the communist order on 1918-1919 in Latvia. Stučka was aware of coming Stalin’s repressions against his party members. The criticism of his past actions and academic views grew stronger in 1931 and 1932. On January 24 1932 the Latvian Communist party made plenum insisting on investigating the mistakes of the old social democratic elite and its inability to follow Bolshevik way. It was also hinted on Stučka himself. He died next day from natural causes, escaping the fate of his comrades. Stučka was taken out of history after Stalin’s purge, but later was taken out of the closet a city was named after him known today as Aizkraukle.  His monuments were installed in Rīga and Aizkraukle. Some Russian tourists mistaken his monument for Stalin were delighted that “Latvians still honor Stalin”.

Jānis Rudzutaks

Jānis Rudzutaks

Most prominent Latvian within party ranks was Jānis Rudzutaks.  Born on August 15 1887 Rudzutaks started as a member of the Latvian Social democrats in Ventspils. He was arrested in 1907 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was sent to Butirki prison in Moscow and released in 1917. Together with Felix Dzerzhinsky, he was released by the revolting workers. Soon he was elected as the chairman of the Moscow Textile trade union and organized resistance against the Provisional government.  After the coup of October he was elected in All-Russia Trade Union Central Soviet Executive Committee and after that in Presidium. He took over important posts in the economical sector in All Russia National Economy soviet, Moscow Economical Soviet and Workers and peasant defense soviet. On 1918 he became personally involved with Lenin who regarded him as his right-hand man. He was responsible for supply routes through Volga river after the main railroads were cut.

On 1919 he was sent to install Soviet power in Turkestan (Turkmenistan) where he took hostile action against the will of the local Turkmenian communists to create a united Turkic Soviet republic. Rudzutaks was respected for his work helping Bolsheviks taking over all Central Asia. On 1920 Lenin made him a member of National economy Supreme Soviet council. On 1921 in  Russian Communist Party IX congress he was elected for the first time as the member of the Central Committee. Rudzutaks established a trade union policy that was approved by Lenin. Trade Unions with his help were brought under the state control.

Rudzutaks prominence grew as he was sent to Soviet diplomatic delegation at Genoa where he staunchly defended the Soviet foreign claims and backed down any western calls to return the old tsarists debts. Rudzutaks continued to work on fulfilling the soviet power in Central Asia and took part in making the new borders of the Central Asian republics. The borders still used today by the independent Central Asian countries. On 1923 he was elected as secretary of the Communist Party and worked along with Stalin and Molotov. At 1923 Rudzutaks grew ill and Lenin had ordered him to take time off for recovery, however, Rudzutaks fanatically resisted and continued his work.

There were rumors that in his last days Lenin had wanted Rudzutaks to replace Stalin as the General Secretary. Rudzutaks took an important role in his funeral, carried his coffin to Red Square making him one of the closest man next to the deceased leader. However, despite postmortem Lenin call to replace Stalin as General Secretary, Stalin kept his place. Lenin did not name the replacement for  Stalin. Rudzutaks was criticized among his members for indecision. Also in line for the power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin Rudzutaks was caught in the middle. Rudzutaks was Central Committee candidate. Rudzutaks played between Stalin, Trotsky, Bukharin making historians struggling on which side he was cause he also praised Stalin. However, Stalin on 1925 suspected him together with Zinoviev and Kamenev in a plot to replace him as General Secretary. On 1927 Rudzutaks insisted that Stalin should be re-elected as General Secretary.

On 1931 Rudzutaks became the head of the Central control commission and Worker-peasant inspection commissariat that was responsible for enforcing Stalinist collectivization policies. On 1932 Rudzutaks sided with Stalin on his campaign against Zinoviev and Kamenev. Stalin entrusted Rudzutaks to lead the “party cleansing” within his lead Central Control Commission. On 1934 the commission was liquidated to empower Stalin Rudzutaks was elected as the candidate of the Politburo. Rudzutaks was also responsible for restoring railroad tracks as commissar of the roads. By his lead the railroads were restored, new locomotives were built. Also, river and sea routes were improved his economic management skills were recognized the most.

Amateur filmmaker Rudzutaks stayed in power until 1937. Stalin has recognized him as rival and part of old “October guard” that he wanted to replace with his loyal Stalinist nomenklatura. Stalin required a loyal party that would fulfill his every order without question. On May 18 Stalin sent the poll letter to Central Committee where he asked to exclude the Rudzutaks from the party together with Marchall Mikhail Tukhachevsky for taking part in Trotskyist conspiracy and espionage on behalf of the Nazi Germany. With Stalin abstaining the vote was “for”. On May 24 Rudzutaks was arrested along with his brother Voldemārs. After the trial which received low publicity Rudzutaks was executed on July 29 1938. Rudzutaks was convinced communist, a potential Stalin’s rival for power but if not executed would follow Stalin until the end. He had lost his connection with Latvia since 1907 and despite contacts with Latvians in Russia never displayed any sign of national affection, always stayed true to his internationalist convictions.

Kārlis Baumanis who graduated the Kiev commercial institute and took part in Civil War in Ukraine in 1923 made it to Communist Party Central Committee. He was assigned as the head of the Moscow organizational and cadre assignment committee.  On 1928 he became its first secretary and then in 1929 as secretary of CK and candidate of the politburo. His success, however, was short-lived next year he was discharged from Moscow committee for difficulties during collectivization. He was chosen as a scapegoat for Stalin’s fallacies during collectivization. He, however, kept the CK secretary and was sent to Central Asia as the first secretary of the Central Asian Bureau. As others, he ended his life shot in 1937.

Ivars Smilga  on the right side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga on the left side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga was a revolutionary old-timer from 1905. He was in prison in Russia before 1917 and after the revolution was a member of Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic War Soviet. He took part in the organizing the October coup in 1917 and moved the Bolshevik forces from Finland to Petrograd. From 1919 to 1921 he was the head of the Red Army Political Department. Along with Mikhail Tukhachevsky, he led the Seventh Army during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920. After the end of the war, he moved to economical work in National Economical Supreme Soviet and in State Plan Commission. A friend of Stalin at first who lived with his family for a while Smilga on 1927 became convinced anti-Stalinist. On October 7 the day of October revolution Smilga openly displayed a large banner from his flat with the slogan”Without Lenin, along the Leninist way” with portraits of Lenin and Trotsky. Soviet militsiya stormed his apartment to remove it. Smilga leads the opposition rallies against Stalin but was deported to Siberia. His deportation was followed by opposition protest at the train station. On 1929 his party membership was restored, but he kept his anti-Stalinist beliefs even when meeting Stalin face to face. After Kirov was assassinated on 1935 Smilga was again arrested and on 1938 shot.

Vilhelms Knoriņš took many posts. He was head of the Central Committee Agitation and Propaganda and was a member of editorial board of the newspaper Pravda and journal Bolshevik. Also, lead the Party History Institute. He was convinced Stalinist who followed Stalin’s view that historians who research history in archives are the “archive rats”. History and science as a whole should only be according to Marxist – Leninist principles.  That means history could be faked. As others, he was erased from history in 1938.

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe born in Dobele in 1890 begun his career at the age of 15 during 1905 revolution. He was arrested many times and then went to England. He returned in 1911 and while doing work in the factory he became a top member of the Latvian Social democrats. Eihe was moved towards Bolsheviks and supported Lenin. On 1914 he has arrested again and sent to Siberia. He escaped his imprisonment and returned to Latvia on 1917 took part in the Bolshevik take over of the Latvian Social democrats. After Germans captured Riga he stayed there underground was arrested, but escaped again and later moved to Moscow. During the Soviet Rule in Latvia on 1919 he was the Commissar of Provisions and imposed heavy food rations. After Soviets were forced to leave Riga he moved to Russia and took care of provisions on other front sectors.

On 1922 he arrived at Novosibirsk. As the man known for his fierce loyalty to the party orders and ruthless way of carrying out them, he was the man needed for the job of the chief deputy of the Siberian Revolutionary Committee. In Siberia Eihe to keep low food prices made heavy repressions against the local farmers and dealers. Following the shift from the Lenin’s New Economic Policy to Stalin’s Gulag Economy Eihe showed how it should be done. Repressions against so-called Kulaks were the Eihe’s preoperative and used “troika” type tribunals were three party officials in fast pace made trials and sentences. On 1929 Stalin visited Siberia and was impressed with Eihe’s work. He became the first Secretary of the Western Siberian district. With full power over Siberia Eihe reported to Stalin that he will turn Siberia into industrial and collectivized Siberia. He was fully dependent on Moscow and had to fulfill every Stalin’s order. But he did them all with ruthless precision. Eihes camps for kulaks were regarded as the best in the Soviet Union by the party leaders. Eihe started to develop concentration camp system in far Northern Siberia that later turned out in Gulag system. 17 525 kulak families were repressed on 1931 39 788 families. Local party functionaries stood against the harsh methods of Eihe and sent the letter to Stalin asking to replace him. Instead, Stalin punished those who accused his most trusted comrade.

After that Eihe was unquestioned “ruler of Siberia”. Eihe provided camps for deported kulaks and forced peasants to join collective farms. Last great deportation in Western Siberia took place in 1936. He also managed the deportation of the ethnic Germans from the European part of Russia.  Eihe was awarded the Order of Lenin and promoted as the candidate of the  Central Committee member of Politburo.

The “Old Guard” of the October coup did all the best for Stalin to reach absolute power. He no longer needed them. Eihe, Rudzutaks, and other Latvians were driven to same fanaticism as Stalin. But megalomaniac Stalin after consolidating his power now was preparing for the next step. Despite the slogan “socialism in one state”, Stalin wanted Worldwide Socialist Revolution to happen and now was preparing for future war. In so he needed the most loyal party cadres who would follow his plan. And he distrusted many of his most loyal old guard comrades like Eihe. In the war where the Baltic States should be annexed, Poland attacked and Germany fought with, Latvian, German, Polish communists were considered as foreign spies a dangerous national element that had to be dealt with. Eihe was arrested in April 1938 and was accused of state treason. On October 1 1939 Eihe wrote the letter to Stalin and denied the accusations: “There is no greater torment than sitting in prison of a country that I had fought for all my life”. Eihe stood strong against all accusations wrote another long strong worded letter to Stalin. He was tortured and lost his eye from beating but still denied of being a foreign spy. On February 2 1940 Eihe was executed after three years of prison and constant torture.

That was the end of the Latvian communist political elite. These are just a few of the many persons who served the Soviet power that turned against them and their homeland in the quest for global supremacy. Separate articles about Latvians in Cheka, the Red Army and Latvian Soviet cultural elite that also was doomed by Stalin will follow in the future.


Goldmanis,Juris (Editor) 2013 Latvieši PSRS varas virsotnēs : ilūzijas un traģēdija: 20. gadsimta 20.-30. gadi.  Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.


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