Today's title is taken from "The OGPU," a chapter in one of the history books I've lately dusted off: Walter Krivitsky's In Stalin's Secret Service.
An early, senior defector from same, Krivitsky uses the phrase to sum up what Yezhov, Stalin's new leader of the OGPU, told a gathering of OGPU leaders in the "club room" of the annex to the Lubianka, as Stalin's old leader, Yagoda, was himself being purged.
It is March, 1937 and Stalin's blood purges -- purges, purges and more purges -- are intensifying in order to eliminate political opposition and all thoughts of political opposition.
Some quotations from the chapter.
As the Soviet State became progressively more totalitarian, as the Bolshevik Party itself became the victim of what it had created in 1917, the Secret Police gained greater and greater power, terror became an end in itself, and fearless revolutionists were slowly replaced by hardened, dissolute and demoralized executioners.
The OGPU executioners took their greatest toll during 1937 and 1938, when the great purges engulfed everything.
Yezhov came to his peroration, which was in effect: We need purges, purges and more purges
The older members of the OGPU command, veterans of the Bolshevik Revolution, slated as the next victims, sat pale and impassive. They applauded Yezhov. They applauded as if the matter did not concern them at all. They applauded to demonstrate their devotion. Who knows? A timely confession might yet save them from a bullet through the base of the brain. Perhaps they might buy the right to live by betraying their closest friends.
Everyone was a traitor, until he proved the contrary by exposing someone else as a traitor.
In the chambers of the OGPU the very word guilt lost all meaning. The reason for a man's arest no longer bore any relation to the charges entered against him.
I am not relating these fantastic facts, or rather nightmares, in order to entertain the reader. I want to prove to him my assertion that in the OGPU, when Stalin's purges got under way, the very concept of guilt was lost sight of. The reasons for a man's arest had no relation to the charges lodged against him. Nobody expected them to have. Nobody demanded it. Truth became entirely irrelevant. When I say the Soviet government became a giant madhouse, I mean it literally. Americans laugh when I recount some of the preposterous things that happened -- and I could fill a volume with them -- but it was not a laughing matter to us. It is not funny when your lifelong friends and comrades are disappearing in the night and dying all around you. Please remember that I was an inmate of that gigantic madhouse ... (Italics and ellipsis in the original.)
Stalin's bond with the masses was also kept fresh by a veritable army of OGPU spies and stool pigeons, specializing in the arrest of ordinary citizens for chance remarks against the regime. This type of police rule, perfected in Russia, has been adopted by Nazi Germany.
Growing suspicious of the actions of one of his clerks, he [Stalin] began to shadow him. ... According to the story we recieved, it was found that this clerk was connected with a number of officers of the Kremlin guard leagued to assassinate not only Stalin, but the entire Political Bureau. ... This alleged plot was the pretext for a wave of arrests not only within the Kremlin, but throughout the country,