Fathers and Sons

John Lloyd

  • Informer 001: The Myth of Pavlik Morozov by Yuri Druzhnikov
    Transaction, 200 pp, £19.95, February 1997, ISBN 1 56000 283 2

This is the story of the Soviet Union’s most famous informer, one of the great hero-monsters of the century, and of the pressures which made it possible for a young boy in the North Urals to denounce his father to the secret services and to become an icon for doing so. Crucially, too, it is the story of the dramatic transition in the early Thirties from the relatively relaxed period of the New Economic Policy to the strenuous years of the Five-Year Plan. The NEP had made it clear – or at any rate made it plausible to claim – that independent-minded peasants and tradesmen, self-enriching and assertive, would shortly undermine all the Bolsheviks stood for. Plans were laid against the impending counter-revolution: hideous, impossible goals were set. Within five years, agriculture was to be collectivised and a massive industrial base made ready for action. To this end, Party members and the secret services were to terrorise the population into acquiescence.

Kulaks were an old class enemy, momentarily reprieved by the NEP. But how to make war on them now? They were the most active and often the most prominent individuals in the rural communities – and the Party and secret police were relatively few in number. One tactic – a most effective one – was to divide communities from within. If the kulaks were to be eliminated as a class, it would be most effectively done by those who resented them – and who could hope to gain from their imprisonment or death. Denunciation – secret, without the need for evidence – was the means by which the secret services and the Party could zero in on the ‘bloodsuckers’, sowing conflict and making it possible for collectivisation to be rammed through without fear of a united resistance.

The myth of Pavlik Morozov is straightforward enough. In 1932, finding out that his father, Trofim, head of the Gerasimovka village council (or soviet), was giving assistance to kulaks resisting collectivisation, Pavlik boldly denounced him to the local OGPU representative. Trofim was arrested, tried – Pavlik’s evidence was decisive – and sentenced to ten years in a camp. A few weeks later, counter-revolution wreaked its revenge: Pavlik and his brother were slain in the forest. Five people, including Pavlik’s grandfather and uncle, were accused of planning and executing the murder; four of them were found guilty and shot.

The way in which this myth in particular, and Soviet myths in general, were made and disseminated, is the subject of Informer 001. Yuri Druzhnikov, a former dissident, now teaches Russian literature at the University of California. He has done a great deal of hard work, finding and interviewing remaining witnesses and scouring documents – including the OGPU account of the affair. He was already working on the project in the early Eighties, before the Gorbachev thaw and, despite many obstacles, was able to gather a surprising amount of oral evidence from a variety of sources – the village schoolteacher, Pavlik’s schoolmates, former OGPU agents and Tatyana Morozova, Pavlik’s ‘hero mother’. Set beside the seamless narratives of contemporary investigative journalism, Informer 001 can seem jerky – and its substantial revelations are juxtaposed with frank speculation. Yet it is more transparent than many accounts which might be regarded as ‘better journalism’: it eschews the relentless recitation of facts, the slickness and the covert politicking which can characterise the genre. The careless way in which it has been put together means that one has to re-read a good deal to get the gist, but the price is worth paying for Druzhnikov’s commitment to telling the story and his ability to set it in context.

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