Wrecking (Soviet crime)

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Wrecking (Russian: вредительство or vreditel'stvo, lit. "inflicting damage", "harming"), was a crime specified in the criminal code of the Soviet Union in the Stalin era. It is often translated as "sabotage"; however, "wrecking", "diversionist acts", and "counter-revolutionary sabotage" were distinct sub-articles of Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code) (58-7, 58-9, and 58-14 respectively), and the meaning of "wrecking" is closer to "undermining".

These three categories are distinguished in the following way.

  • Diversions were acts of immediate infliction of physical damage on state and cooperative property.
  • Wrecking was deliberate acts aimed against normal functioning of state and cooperative organisations, e.g., giving deliberately wrong commands.
  • Sabotage was non-execution or careless execution of one's duties.

As applied in practice, "wrecking" and "sabotage" referred to any action which negatively affected the economy, including failing to meet unrealistic economic targets, allegedly causing poor morale among subordinates (e.g. by complaining about conditions of work), lack of effort, or other incompetence. Thus, it referred to economic or industrial sabotage in the very broadest sense. The definion of sabotage was interpreted dialectically and indirectly, so any form of non-compliance with Party directives could have been considered a 'sabotage'.[1][2][3]

"Wrecking" in Soviet Census of 1937[edit]

One of the show trials involving charges of "wrecking" was that of official coordinators of the 1937 Soviet Census. The census was organised with great expectations of the government to confirm the superiority of Soviet economics and social model, with Stalin publicly declaring in 1934 that Soviet Union was gaining at least 3 million citizens per year. Census questions and procedure were prepared for several years by a commission of professional statisticians and demographers, but then significantly changed by Stalin and other members of the Central Committee to better match their political goals, the collection phase of census was shortened and procedures simplified. The results obtained from the census were short of at least 8 million people compared to the expected outcome and immediately classified. The formal organizers were accused of "wrecking" and sent to camps and shortage was officially presented as caused by their negligence and intentional sabotage. The actual measurement error, as estimated by statisticians in 90's, did not exceed 1.5% and such a disappointing result was caused by huge human losses during collectivization, Famine of 1932-1934, Holodomor and mortality of Gulag.[3]

Cultural depictions[edit]

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his historical account of the prison camps of the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago, describes Nikolai Karlovich von Meck (son of Karl and Nadezhda von Meck, patroness of Tchaikovsky), an engineer who advised heavier-than-average loads being placed on freight trains for the betterment of the economy. He was accused of being a wrecker and shot, his crime being supposedly having overloaded the trains for the purpose of wearing out the rails faster.[4]

In Harry Turtledove's 2015 alternate history novel Joe Steele, a totalitarian American government of the 1930s and '40s codifies the crime of "wrecking" and has numerous people imprisoned and in some cases executed for it, with the equivalent of Gulags being located in Wyoming and nearby states.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Heller, Mikhail (1988). Cogs in the Wheel: The Formation of Soviet Man. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0394569260. 
  2. ^ Kravchenko, Victor (1988). I chose freedom. ISBN 978-0887387548. 
  3. ^ a b A. G. Volkov Census of 1937 Facts and Fictions originally published in Перепись населения СССР 1937 года. История и материалы/Экспресс-информация. Серия "История статистики". Выпуск 3-5 (часть II). М., 1990/ с. 6-63
  4. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. (1973). The Gulag Archipelago, pp. 44–45 (1st ed.). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-080332-0.