The Purges

Emily L, Vanja, and Sarah's information on the Great Purges:

1. There was a difference between the earlier purges (chistki), which were non-violent, and the Great Purges, which used terror against the party.

-different than earlier purges.
- Occurred throughout 1920s.
- 20% of party expelled as a result of the clearing out process" after collectivization (1932-35).
-Show trials became more prominent throughout the Great Purges (they had been used before though, just nonviolent; members expelled, not executed.)
-secret police (Yezhovshchina) —> NKVD period of mass terror 1937-8 when thousands were denounced, arrested, imprisoned, or executed/placed in labor camps.

2. Terror had been a consistent feature of Stalinist regime from its beginning.

-Lenin crushed outside opposition while Stalin was more focused on internal opposition in the government.
-Chekha used more frequently.
-A great example of Stalin's tactics of terror: collectivization —> starvation —> death.
-Secret police
-1932 is when the most opposition emerged (Ryutin denounced Stalin and was expelled).

3. There was marked opposition to Stalin before 1934 and at the Seventeenth Party Congress.

Before 1934:
1932- Ryutin tried to counter Stalin's ideas and was expelled from Politburo.
At 17th Party Congress:
26th February
-17th Party Congress also called "Congress of victors".
- 2nd 5-year plan and lower targets, but it became clear that Stalin did want to continue such rapid industrialization.
-Sergei Kirov, a popular member of the Politburo, wanted to stop forced grain requisitioning and increase rations for workers.
-Kirov's applause at the Congress was just as long as that for Stalin.
-Position of General Secretary was done away with, and Kirov and Stalin were given title of General Secretary of equal rank.

4. The murder of Sergei Kirov triggered the Great Purges.

- Kirov murder on December 1, 1934
- Kirov went to Smolny Institute
- His assassin (Leonid Nikolayev) was waiting in the bathroom; he hopped out and shot Kirov in the neck.
- circumstances of death were very suspicious and many believed Leonid Nikolayev either had help or was hired by someone.
- Stalin carried out the interrogation of the assassin.
- "When asked why he murdered Kirov, Nikolayev pointed to NKVD men, saying that Stalin should ask 'them' that question" pg. 209
- Borisov, Kirov's bodyguard, was going to be a witness, but was mysteriously killed in a truck with several NKVD men. Nobody else was hurt.
- After Borisov's death, the 1st arrests were made under Stalin's instructions. Thousands in the Leningrad party were purged. This was the beginning of the Great Purges.

Amy, Andrew, and Christina's information on the Great Purges:

5. Old Bolsheviks from both left and right wings of the party were disposed of in a series of show trials.

  • Stalin used Kirov's murder as justification for the Purges
  • Extensive purge of the Leningrad party occurred (Kirov's power base)

-"Leningrad culture"
-Kamenev and Zinoviev were arrested and put on trial in January 1935
-No direct evidence was found but they were charged and imprisoned

  • Stalin discovered there was communication between Trotsky and oppositionist groups in the party

-Stalin retaliated by creating the Central Committee circular in June 1936

  • August 1936, Stalin pulls Kamenev and Zinoviev out of prison and placed them on public trial

-Fourteen previous party members were accused too
-The state prosecutor, Vyshinksky, proved them to be guilty of espionage, the Kirov murder, and plotting to kill Stalin
-The accused confessed and were executed the next day
-These were the first executions of people in the Central Committee

  • January 1937, Karl Radex (Trotskyite) and Pyatakov (deputy of Commissariate of Heavy Industry) were charged and found guilty
  • Third and last great trial: March 1938, Bukharin and Rykov, along with twenty others, were charged and executed
  • Those charged confessed because they were worn down by torture and interrogation, even if charges were untrue. Also, if they confessed, their families were often spared.

6. The party was purged from above and from below when members were encouraged to criticize and denounce others.

  • After 1st show trial, it was clear that Stalin wanted to advance terror.
  • in 1936, Yagoda was criticized for not finding enemies of the state quickly enough. Nicolai Yezhov replaced him as as head of the secret police.
  • Yezhov planned to initiate a period of terror: the yezhovschina, reaching its height in mid-1937 and lasting until late 1938.
  • Stalin had become suspicious of traitor and spy infiltration into the party by 1937, and thereafter encouraged lower ranking officials to denounce those in higher positions
  • A flood of accusations resulted from this, creating a [ torrent] as more and more party members were dragged in by many of the false accusations
  • High raking officials also denounced lower ranking officials to show their loyalty to the party. Yezhov and the NKVD pursued top party members.

7. The terror engulfed other sections of the population, notably the armed forces. Millions died or were imprisoned.

-no longer restricted to party members - took in all areas of society and all institutions.
JULY 1937 - the Politburo passed a resolution condemning "anti-soviet elements" in Russian society
- these anti-soviet elements included: writers, artist, musicians, managers, and administrators
MEDIA CAMPAIGN began - encouraged ordinary people to criticize party officials and to denounce workers
-after suspects had been arrest and subjected to interrogation by the NKVD, then that person's workmates, friends, spouses, children, friends could be arrested for having connections - TERROR INCREASED EXPONENTIALLY
-1937 - began to purge the army
-Stalin was convinced that he could not count on the army to follow his policies - felt that they were plotting to overthrow him
-well-revered civil war heroes had confessions beaten out of them, arrested, exiled, killed, sent to Gulags.
-a knock at the door in the middle of the night (usually between 11 pm and 3 am) was terribly frightening because it meant the secret police were coming for you

Interpretations of The Great Purges:
Totalitarian line - that Stalin's personality was central to the way the purges were carried out - used the purges as a terrorism mechanism.
Revisionist line - Stalin is responsible, but personality cannot be considered. they believe that anyone else in charge would have done the same thing - that the time and conditions were suitable for such an event to take place.

8. At the end of the process, Stalin emerged as dictator of the USSR with supreme control of a party that had been molded by him and a populace that was, in the main, subservient to the leader and the party.


(Emily L, Vanja, and Sarah)
- Increasing control over the party
- Responding to the threat of war
- Deflecting blame for economic problems/
- Supplying slave labour
- Controlling an unstable society
- Consolidating the power of the NKVD.

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