1962 Novocherkassk Shootings Led Rise of Dissident Movement and End of Soviet System, Historians Say
June 2 -The massacre of striking
Novocherkassk workers by Soviet military units 55 years ago this week initially
spread fear throughout the USSR but then helped power the rise of the dissident
movement and thus played a key role in the collapse of the communist system and
the disintegration of the Soviet Union, according to Russian historians.
Novocherkassk massacre as the events of June 1-3, 1962, have come to be known,
began with workers at the Budyonny Locomotive Factory protesting against
conditions in the factory and food shortages in the southern Russian city. The
situation there was exacerbated by Nikita Khrushchev’s June 1 decision to raise
food prices across the country.
police lost control of the situation, and Moscow sent in military units and KGB
detachments as well. They shot and killed at least 26 of the strikers and
wounded 87 others.The Soviet forces
imposed a curfew but people continued to assemble, and more than 100 were
arrested. To hide their crimes, the
authorities dispersed the bodies across the USSR.
no coverage of this event in the Soviet media at the time, and Moscow did not
acknowledge it until the glasnost period. But stories about it continued to
circulate, both because of the way in which this showed that any close ties
between the people and the powers had been shattered and because of the lessons
this event had for the future.
one hand, such heavy-handed and brutal use of force by the Soviet siloviki
worked to spread fear and thus gave Moscow some breathing room after any
outburst of dissent. But on the other hand, actions like the one in
Novocherkassk showed the limits of force and how it could prove
to a certain extent, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin learned that lesson
and used force more selectively than did their predecessors. But Vladimir Putin
seems to believe as did Stalin and Khrushchev that he can employ force without
such blowback. Given that, current discussions of Novocherkassk are especially
anniversary, journalists from the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency spoke with three
Russian historians about the meaning and continuing importance of the
Novocherkassk massacre (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303642/).
Makarov of the Association of Researchers on Russian Society says that the
Novocherkassk protests reflected “the general dissatisfaction of citizens”
about Khrushchev’s policies.Those
policies were breaking down “many fundamental links both political and economic”
between the regime and the population.
protest and subsequent shootings not only showed the lack of appreciation among
those in power of what was occurring in society but they “destroyed the balance
of forces among various structures of the state which led not only to a
reduction in the growth of production but to the sharpening of struggle behind
consequently, Makarov says, “the protest in Novocherkassk bore an exclusively
anti-government character.” Indeed, he says, there may very well have been “among
the strikers those who wanted to discredit Khrushchev.”
Daniel, a historian at the Memorial Society, points out that the Novocherkassk
events were not as isolated as many think. In 1961, there had been strikes in
Murom and Krasnodar, and a little earlier there had been serious protests at
the metallurgical factory in Temirtau in Kazakhstan.
result of the mass protests,” he continues, “the authorities developed a more
careful policy toward the working class,” making concessions rather than using
force as they had done in Novocherkassk.But in contrast to what they were doing with the workers, the
authorities stepped up their crackdown on the intelligentsia.
to Daniel, “the events in Novocherkassk gave the party and state elite an
understanding of the volcano on which they were sitting. The fear of the elites
that massive worker hatred of the authorities might combine with the
intelligentsia dissents did not leave them until the disintegration of the
Kudyukin of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, agrees. He says that
Novocherkassk “frightened the leadership of the country and sharply intensified
the attention of the KGB to major industrial enterprises and student
dormitories. The government recognized that the working class … is no less dangerous
for a communist regime than for a capitalist one.”
massacre also contributed to the growth in unhappiness with Khrushchev among
the nomenklatura and thus played a role in his ouster in 1964.But importantly it also meant that Moscow did
not increase prices or cut wages from that date “until the end of the 1980s.”
These became, thanks to the strike, “’holy cows’” that could not be touched.
events in Novocherkassk [also] led to the beginning of a strong dissident
movement” because other Russians began to reflect that “’if the workers are
striking, this is a good thing,” and those who send tanks against them are “bastards”
– and that those bastards “are in the Kremlin” and nowhere else.