The 1930s Generation of Soviet Spies and Operatives
The 1930s in the USSR became the time of political assassinations, spies, and counter-intelligence, which filled the air with suspicion. Serving as one of the top-ranked Soviet operatives, Pavel Sudoplatov opens the Iron Curtain and lets the reader of his book feel the atmosphere of lies, conspiracies, and covert operations. The information provided by the author allowed us to single out the factors that characterized spies and operatives such as intelligence, cunning, ideological stability, acting, and loyalty to Stalin.
The memoirs of Pavel Sudoplatov leave an ambiguous impression about the 1930s generation of Soviet spies. Such people’s personal stories are impressive due to the fact that every twist of their fate could be the last. In the 1930s, the political intrigues in the Soviet Union became even more sophisticated and reached a deadly peak. Any wrong move, any incorrect word could cost one his or her life. Such an atmosphere produced people of extreme cunning and intelligence. The NKVD swallowed those who were not cautious enough. Sudoplatov himself seemed to have an ability to charm people, which was one of the skills that saved him from countless purges. Other spies and operatives that he mentioned in his biography were often experienced soldiers from the civil war and traveled all the way from the lowest ranks of the Bolshevik communist party.
However, almost each of them was ready to kill the other if he or she suspected them of disloyalty. The conversation Sudoplatov and Kosterev had vividly illustrated such an approach to a relationship. After Kosterev had the imprudence to say that Konovalets was, in his view, incapable of running the organization due to his age, Kosterev was promptly eliminated. Loyalty was the central issue in the network of spies and operatives at all times and especially in the 1930s. Stalin became suspicious of every person that could undermine his leadership position, which created a tense atmosphere in the ranks of Soviet party members and the intelligence agency. Every allegation of misconduct or disbelief in the ideas of the revolution was a sufficient argument to kill a person. Spies were at the same time the harvesters, the sources of information, and the enforcers of death sentences. By earning Stalin’s trust, Sudoplatov was able to dodge the fate of many officers and party members.
Interpersonal relationships became another peculiar side of a spy’s life in the 1930s. It is fascinating to note the thin line between a good-natured and, in some ways, even friendly connection between operatives who would in a few days try to kill each other. A member of counter-intelligence had to be a good actor in order not to raise suspicion in others. In the atmosphere of total suspiciousness that dominated in the 1930s, this skill became a must. From the Soviet spy’s point of view, relationships became rather binary: a person is either loyal to Stalin, or they are working against him and the revolution. This was where ideology turned into a personality cult.
It became obvious from Sudoplatov’s book that even among a seemingly united by Lenin’s idea of communist revolution mass of party members there were those who saw its arrival differently. There were also those who interpreted his ideas in their favor or simply covered the lust for power with affection for revolution. In all that mass of people with all their hidden personal motives, spies were not only the weapons of war but also the initiators of political perturbation. Access to information made them the second major power within the structure of the Soviet Union. However, the rapid personnel replacement in the sphere speaks to the fact that the party elite also valued silence and lack of curiosity. The aforementioned ambiguity of a spy’s position appears to be centered on the question, “what lets one live longer: knowing less or knowing more?”