In the early 1960s Khrushchev mounted a campaign against economic crimes, possibly out of a desire to reduce the flagrant cheating that had begun under Stalin as a matter of self-preservation — if you couldn’t fulfill the plan, you had better fiddle with the figures — and had become at least partially routinized and institutionalized. “Antiparasite” laws were passed and the death penalty was attached to conviction for certain crimes. … Any Soviet reader would have been struck immediately by the extraordinary prominence of Jews in these cases. The Jewish character of their names was stressed — Ber Peisakhovich Frid, Leyb-Khayim Yudovich Dynov, Abram Moiseevich Kantor, etc. — so there would be no mistaking their nationality. The stereotype of the Jewish speculator was not unknown to Soviet peoples, and the message was quite clear: Jews are heavily involved in speculation and are thereby making economic gains at the expense of others and the state. Over 400 trials for economic crimes which involved Jews prominently were reported in the press of several republics. Bribery, embezzlement, falsifying records, and foreign-currency speculation were the most frequent charges. The familiar themes of links to foreigners, Israeli diplomats, and the synagogue were often raised, further highlighting the distinctively Jewish character of these odious, anti-Soviet practices. Of the 117 people sentenced to death in the 512 trials analyzed in the Pinkus study, ninety-one (78 percent) were Jews.
— Zvi Y. Gitelman, A Century of Ambivalence
“The most widely prosecuted economic crimes in the first years of NEP [the New Economic Policy of 1921] consisted of misdeeds that Soviet lawmakers had upgraded from administrative violations (under the tsars) to crimes — homebrewing and marketing homebrew; and violating the rules on the felling of timber. However, the criminal code included as well a list of offenses designed to police the boundaries of the mixed economy. These included nonfulfillment of contracts (especially with state agencies); violations of the state monopoly (in industry); violation by an employer of labour laws and rules of collective contracts; and failure to pay taxes.
— Peter H. Solomon, Soviet Criminal Justice Under Stalin
No matter how often the economy crashes and shatters, they [the “guys in the towers”] have no fear of being tried and executed for “economic crimes” – a rare feature of Soviet communism that one can actually feel nostalgic for.
— Rick Salutin, today’s Globe
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.