The Great Terror in the Soviet Union 1937 - 1938: Stalin purges the Communist Party

owedtojoy

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The Communist Party of the Soviet Union always used terror and repression to enforce its rule, especially in the period while Joseph Stalin was its leader, from 1924 to 1953.

In the early 1930s, millions died after enforced collectivisation of agriculture in Ukraine, South Russia, North Caucasus and Kazakhstan. There were famines, riots and rural rebellions. But Stalin doubled down on the violent enforcement of his policies, the centrepiece of which was the Five Year Plans to create a Soviet economy around urban-based heavy industry. The countryside was sacrificed to feed the urban working class. And in both country and city, the gulags or prison labour camps were ready to receive anyone who did not conform or who protested too loudly.

But against the constant noise of violent repression, 1937 and 1938 stand out as a "spike" in the grim chart of those incarcerated yearly in the sames. Towards the end of 1936, Stalin began to turn on Party associates, old enemies and even those lower down the hierarchy.

Some see the beginnings of the Great Terror, or Great Purge, in the assassination of the Stalin's associate Segei Kirov in 1934. Kirov was shot at the Leningrad Party headquarters, and as his assassin was also shot, and Kirov's NKVD (KGB) guards were exiled to the camps and later executed by Stalin, the facts of the assassination will probably never be known. Whether Stalin was the ultimate author is unclear, but he used the event as the jumping-off point for the Terror.

Old Bolsheviks like Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev (who Lenin had once called "the darling of the party") were dragged out of retirement in 1936 and put on "show trials" where they confessed to extravagant plots with Leon Trotsky (then in exile) and British Intelligence to undermine the Soviet Union. The verdict was Guilty, and the sentences were Death, which were almost immediately carried out by shooting in the back of the head, the preferred Soviet method.

Stalin took his example from Adolf Hitler in the Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler had his enemies in Party, Country and Government summarily shot without trial. The Soviet dictator admired the directness, but his purge was on a massive scale, so the methods were somewhat different.

Stalin's main tool was the NKVD, or State Security Police, led by Nikolai Yezhov, to whom he managed to shift all of the odium for the brutal slaughter that took place. The whole dark episode became popularly known as the Yezhovschina , or "the Times of Yezhov" in Soviet history. Having a clique of underlings like Andrei Zhdanov and Viktor Abakumov of military intelligence, Stalin spread an atmosphere of Terror using threats, denunciations, torture and espionage. Stalin and his henchmen agreed "quotas" to die from each part of the Soviet Union, and the Dictator's underlings were dispatched to ensure the quotas were met willy-nilly.

The higher parts of the Party having been divided against itself the atmosphere of Terror spread quickly. Families dreaded the sounds of cars pulling up, and the midnight knock on an apartment door, the search by security police, and usually the arrest of both a husband and wife. A grim joke told about the relief of a couple woken by midnight hammering to be told their house was on fire.

Spouses of arrested couples were sent to the gulag, even though they may not even be charged with any crime. The accused was usually shot after a perfunctory trial, possibly with a "confession" taken under torture. But even fake confessions were important to stifle dissent and add to the climate of fear dividing people from each other.

Colleagues denounced colleagues, wives husbands, brothers and sisters denounced their siblings. Colleagues and associates were "encouraged" to post petitions that an arrested colleague should feel "the full rigour of the law". Of course, failure to sign attracted suspicion, while signing enforced complicity and guilt.

Among the victims were Karl Radek, who had travelled with Lenin on the famous "sealed train" through Germany via Sweden to the Finland Station of in 1917. Radek got 10 years penal labour and died in a camp. Another was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, hero of the Russian Civil War, the leading Soviet theorist of mobile armoured warfare, whose doctrines were to flourish in WWII. Tukhachevsky's "confession" is still in the Moscow archives, but proved to be spattered with blood. He was executed in the usual way, as were most of the General Staff and many of the Officer Corps, leaving the Soviet Union short of top-echelon and mid-level commanders.

Abakumov sent to the gulag an actress who refused his sexual advances. Another who went to the gulag and survived was General Konstantin Rokossovsky, who planned the famous Operation Bagration in 1944, became a Marshal of the Soviet Union and Polish Minister of Defence. Another who survived 6 years in a camp was Sergei Korolev, who later led the Soviet Rocket Programme, designing ICBMs and the rockets that took the first men into space.

The leading Russian poet of the era, Osip Mandelstam, had recklessly composed a poem against Stalin. He did not write it down, but recited it to friends. One of them betrayed him. Satirising or joking about Stalin was "anti-soviet propaganda", which could carry a minimum of 5 years in a labour camp. Mandelstam died in a camp.

Yezhov's (on the right in the top picture) arrest in April, 1939 is usually taken to be the end of the Yezhovschina or Great Terror, though arrests, executions and deportations continued at "normal" levels. Yezhov was executed in 1940 and his place was taken by Lavrenti Beria.

How many died in total? Historian Robert Service says "Roughly three quarters of a million people perished under a hail of bullets in the brief space of those two years". Most are buried in mass graves outside the cities where they were arrested. In total, 1.5 million were arrested, and only 200,000 returned from the ghastly camps, where the rations were calculated to be just high enough to keep someone alive, but low enough to give them a prolonged death.

Finally, why? Joseph Stalin was a brutal and paranoid man, and the answer lies in the recesses of his mind. Somehow, he calculated that it was worthwhile to kill a million and thereby remove what must have amounted to a handful of traitors, if any existed at all. The most rational "spin" is that he foresaw a titanic war, in which it was essential that the Communist Party be stripped down to its "loyal" elements, by which he meant the part most subservient to his will.

Ironically, his butcher's surgery almost killed the patient, as when Hitler invaded the Soviet Army was ill prepared and lost millions of men. What would it have done without the likes of Rokossovsky, or Korolev? How many soldiers, scientists or artists of genius perished in the Great Terror? We will never know, but it is obvious that the vast majority were innocent of any crime.

While some of the more senior victims of the Terror like Tukhachevsky have been "rehabilitated", most others have not, nor is it even likely in Putin's Russia, the successor-state to the Soviet Union.

As if the dead alone had mattered,
And those who vanished nameless in the North.
The evil he implanted in our hearts,
Has it not done the damage?
As long as poverty divides from wealth,
As long as we don't stop the lies,
And don't unlearn to fear,
Stalin is not dead.


- Boris Chichibabin, 1967, quoted in Anna Appelbaum's Gulag (Penguin)

Robert Service, Joseph Stalin, A Biography, MacMillan
 


making waves

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The purpose of the Show Trails was the elimination of the Left Opposition and the consolidation of the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Stalin and his henchmen eliminated practically the entire leadership of the Bolshevik party in October 1917.

(And Robert Service is a propagandist)
 

Kilbarry

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Irish Fellow-Travellers O'Casey and Shaw

Sean O'Casey and George Bernard Shaw were vocal supporters of Comrade Stalin and the Great Terror. HOWEVER both were a little out of the mainstream of Stalinists. In the case of Shaw, he was an admirer of dictators as such - not just left wing ones. O'Casey was mainstream in that he only supported Communist butchers BUT he continued to support Stalin even after Khrushchev denounced the old cannibal in 1956. When the Party line finally came into conflict with Stalinism, O'Casey rejected the Party Line!

"It's a bit Irish" as our colonial masters used to say!
 

Catalpast

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Lenin and Trotsky were just as Ruthless

Though today we have numerous micro parties that openly admire the latter...

Go figure...
 

razorblade

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Stalin a brutal murdering tyrant, who oversaw a brutal communist regime which should be confined evermore in the dustbin of history.
 

owedtojoy

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The purpose of the Show Trails was the elimination of the Left Opposition and the consolidation of the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Stalin and his henchmen eliminated practically the entire leadership of the Bolshevik party in October 1917.

(And Robert Service is a propagandist)
So that is still the "Party Line", eh?

Interesting.
 

owedtojoy

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The purpose of the Show Trails was the elimination of the Left Opposition and the consolidation of the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Stalin and his henchmen eliminated practically the entire leadership of the Bolshevik party in October 1917.

(And Robert Service is a propagandist)
The so-called Left Opposition had been neutered well before 1936, and all were dead or in labour camps by mid-1937.

Yet the Yezhovschina continued unabated, and murdered hundreds of thousands more.

Riddle me that, Socialist.
 

GDPR

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Dry your eyes Paddies; Joseph Stalin who is the greatest leader Russians ever had after St Tsar Ivan the Awe Inspiring sent the Freemasons in the CPUSSR and Trotskyite rootless cosmopolitian terrorists to the hang man's rope and like the majority of Russians I see nothing at all wrong with that.
 

GDPR

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Drain the swamp!!!!!!!!
When we were in Russia my better half got totally freaked by me wanting to bring back an Icon of Joseph Stalin for our home, and I do mean freaked! For such a calm rational man he becomes agitated and irrational whenever my admiration for Stalin raises it's head. I did bring back an Icon of the righteous wonder worker Grigori Rasputin though!
 

Clanrickard

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So that is still the "Party Line", eh?

Interesting.
Your OP is an example of why socialism is a sick twisted ideology and anyone who supports it is a sick twisted individual. Sometimes I wish we could liquidate all the loony left. But then the effete liberal in me takes over and much I despise them we must stoop to their levels of darkness.
 

owedtojoy

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Your OP is an example of why socialism is a sick twisted ideology and anyone who supports it is a sick twisted individual. Sometimes I wish we could liquidate all the loony left. But then the effete liberal in me takes over and much I despise them we must stoop to their levels of darkness.
Marxism as expounded by Lenin and pushed by Stalin was indeed sick and twisted.

Marx was once asked what he most hated, and he answered "Servility!". Servility and being servile to the tyrant was one characteristic that guaranteed survival in Stalin's Soviet Union, and even then you could be unlucky.
 

Catalpast

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Marxism as expounded by Lenin and pushed by Stalin was indeed sick and twisted.

Marx was once asked what he most hated, and he answered "Servility!". Servility and being servile to the tyrant was one characteristic that guaranteed survival in Stalin's Soviet Union, and even then you could be unlucky.
Marx would have died in a car crash or fallen out of a window or died of the hiccups or some such

- if he had lived in Russia under Stalin

Strange to relate that the Great Defender of the Workers - Karl Marx - never held down a job in his Life!

While dear ol Fred Engels

- was a Capitalist businessman!
 

razorblade

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It just shows up the bs that so called communist utopia is, and a failed economic system which killed millions.
 

owedtojoy

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It just shows up the bs that so called communist utopia is, and a failed economic system which killed millions.
I am surprised that Uncle Joe has few defenders on the site - I thought he had a bigger Fan Club than that.

Adolf can still pack 'em in, even if you throw a mild aspersion in his direction.
 

Dimples 77

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Dry your eyes Paddies; Joseph Stalin who is the greatest leader Russians ever had after St Tsar Ivan the Awe Inspiring sent the Freemasons in the CPUSSR and Trotskyite rootless cosmopolitian terrorists to the hang man's rope and like the majority of Russians I see nothing at all wrong with that.
Of course he wasn't even Russian himself. The f*cking blow in.
 

GDPR

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I am surprised that Uncle Joe has few defenders on the site - I thought he had a bigger Fan Club than that.

Adolf can still pack 'em in, even if you throw a mild aspersion in his direction.
The uniforms weren't as appealing to our Piesters. petunia
 

owedtojoy

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A depressing article about the current Russia, where uncovering victims of the Terror is considered a suspicious activity, and the Terror itself is not recognised as a crime by the authorities.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/03/gulag-grave-hunter-yury-dmitriyev-unearths-uncomfortable-truths-russia

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said in June that “excessive demonisation” of Stalin has been a “means of attacking the Soviet Union and Russia”, and several branches of Memorial [Human Rights Organisation] have been declared “foreign agents” in recent years.
 


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