MOSCOW, AUG. 13 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev issued a sweeping decree today denouncing the crimes of the Stalin era and calling for restoration of full civil rights to all surviving victims of the dictator's brutal policies.
Although thousands of Soviet citizens have been politically rehabilitated in the three years since Gorbachev's first public attack on Joseph Stalin's three-decade rule, today's decree lifts what it calls the "stain of injustice" from millions more.
The crimes cited by Gorbachev today include Stalin's savage repression of religious and ethnic groups and his forced collectivization of the peasantry, a campaign that led to the abolition of private farms, mass deportations from the countryside and the deaths by starvation and firing squads of millions in Russia, the Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.
Unlike other speeches and declarations of recent years, this decree makes no attempt at all to balance Stalin's crimes with his alleged achievements. There is no longer an attempt to speak euphemistically of "mistakes" or "distortions." The decree is a clear and thorough break with the past, declaring Stalin's actions as "inconsistent with the norms of civilization." The decree also describes Stalin's acts as "illegal and contradicting all social, economic and human rights."
Although the decree does not specify particular personages of the past, it appears so all-embracing that it can be interpreted to include the reconsideration of such leaders as Leon Trotsky, one of Stalin's fiercest enemies and for decades a non-person in Soviet history books.
The decree makes no mention of official injustices committed under Lenin, the founder of the Soviet socialist state and Stalin's predecessor, and specifies that it does not apply to people arrested during World War II.
The decree's mention of religious and racial groups refers to the repression of organized churches, synagogues and mosques, as well as ethnic groups -- including the Crimean Tatars, Jews and Volga Germans. The decree gives the national legislature and legislatures in the Soviet Union's 15 constituent republics until Oct. 1 to come up with proposals on restoring all civil rights to living victims of the repressions.
Just minutes after announcement of the decree was broadcast here, Soviet televison presented a lengthy taped interview with expatriate Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which had been produced for French television.
The author of "The Gulag Archipelago" and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature has been a forced exile from his homeland since 1974. His work has been published widely here this year, but so far the government has not returned his citizenship. He now lives in seclusion in Cavendish, Vt.
The new denunciation of Stalin's agricultural collectivization is particularly important now, as Gorbachev is trying to encourage farm workers to leave state-run farms and take advantage of new laws encouraging private agriculture.
Many farmers, however, say they are reluctant to take such risks for fear that private farmers may once more be considered enemies of the people and face prosecution, as under Stalin.
There are still no adequate histories of the collectivization of the early 1930s, a period that many of its victims describe as one of unimaginable suffering. British scholar Robert Conquest, in his book "The Harvest of Sorrow," describes the Ukraine and other farming regions at the time as looking like "one vast Belsen," referring to the Nazi concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.
"A quarter of the rural population, men, women and children, lay dead or dying, the rest in various stages of debilitation with no strength to bury their families or neighbors," he wrote.
At the same time, Conquest continued, "well-fed squads of police or party officials supervised the victims. This was the climax of the 'revolution from above,' as Stalin put it, in which he and his associates crushed two elements seen as irremediably hostile to the regime: the peasantry of the U.S.S.R. as a whole, and the Ukrainian nation."
Through mass shootings and forced starvation, Stalin wiped out millions of peasant landowners, known derisively as "kulaks." Those who survived were herded onto huge collective farms to fulfill Stalin's intention of putting Soviet agriculture under bureaucratic control. The overall effect was the destruction of thousands of Russian villages and the rise of an abysmally ineffective agricultural system.
Last week, a group of people that included formerly outlawed Ukrainian Catholic priests and members of the Ukrainian legislature, erected a simple memorial in the Ukrainian countryside to the victims of collectivization. Soviet televison broadcast some of the ceremony.
Politicians of Gorbachev's generation had once extolled the collective farming system. Gorbachev himself as a young man won local fame with his father and two others by setting a harvest record in the village of Privolnoye and winning an award that helped him gain admission to Moscow State University and a career as a Communist Party official.
Gorbachev has for some time characterized Stalin's criminal excesses as an "aberration" of socialism, but his acknowledgement of the failures of the collective farm system has evolved more gradually. The leading supporter in the Communist Party of collective farming, former agriculture chief Yegor Ligachev, retired from public life after last month's 28th Party Congress.