This month marks almost 70 years since the NKVD directives for Eastern Europe—discovered and published in Poland in 1981—were penned by Lavrentiy Beria, then head of the KGB’s precursor, following Stalin’s indications.
The directives—written for Poland in particular, with speculated similar versions for Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria—were devised to strengthen the control of occupied eastern European nations by the Soviet forces after the Second World War, mainly by controlling key administrative positions and by subverting strategic sectors such as transportation, health, and education.
The content and tone of these directives is hardly surprising, given the well-known involvement of USSR secret services in the ‘Sovietization’ of the Eastern bloc at the time. Beria himself, Russia’s own “Himmler” (as Stalin reportedly introduced him at the Yalta conference in 1945), is remembered for his pivotal role in this takeover, together with his equally central role in the expansion of Gulag labor camps and the execution of Polish war prisoners at Katyn.
What might nevertheless ring a bell in relation to recent times are some directives which—as they have been then formulated—eerily resemble the effects, and sometimes the purpose, of various modern political proposals. These concern education and freedom of speech, property rights and commercial affairs, and the development of the bureaucratic apparatus as an instrument for thwarting the efficiency of private operations. For example:
(a) The policy towards the small family farm will seek to make it an unprofitable household. Then, collectivization must begin. If greater resistance from the peasants is met, their assigned means of production must be reduced, while at the same time increase their state quota (obligations towards the state).
(b) State bureaucracy must be expanded at the highest level in all areas. Criticism regarding the poor functioning of the public administration is allowed, but the reduction of the number of staff nor the normal functioning of the bureaucracy will not be allowed.
(c) Constant pressure must be made on public services in order for them to not release documents proving land ownership; the only released documents will be those that prove the quality of the land, but never the property holder.
(d) Special attention should be paid to the churches. Cultural-educational activity must be conducted so as to result in a general antipathy towards them.
(e) All valuable teachers from elementary schools, colleges and universities must be removed, especially those who enjoy popularity. Their seats must be filled by people appointed by us, with a weak or mediocre level of training. The differences between disciplines must be analyzed in order to reduce the amount of documentary material; high schools will stop teaching Latin and old Greek, philosophy, logic and genetics. History textbooks must not mention rulers who served or wanted to serve in the best interest of the country. They will insist on the greed and wickedness of any king, on the negative effect of the monarchy and the oppressed people’s struggle. In specialized schools, specialization will be narrowed down.
(f) The only leaders who should be promoted in hierarchy are those who flawlessly execute all orders given to them, without questioning anything.
Although they are no longer part of a large scale conspiratorial takeover of political regimes, such issues continue to arise today due to the same fundamentally flawed ideas of socialism which we have not shaken off. Many of these effects are now (perhaps unwittingly) accomplished not through direct public ownership and distribution of resources, but through much subtler fiscal and monetary policies, educational reforms, and the inner workings of bureaucratic organizations, both at a national and supranational level. Their tragic reoccurrence only confirms Mises’s view that in the end, “only ideas can overcome ideas.”