Much like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin was one of the most ruthless and despised people in the recorded history of the world. Stalin though his policies found it fit to abused his people in any way he saw fit. This man started what history now calls “The Great Purges. ” Through the late 1920’s when the rest of the world was living it up as the roaring 20’s came to an end, Joseph Stalin was setting the stage for gaining absolute power by employing secret police repression against opposing political and social elements within his own Communist Party and throughout society.
This power had only been previosly used on groups against the new power of Communism but here it was now leveled against party members and citizen themselves. This was to be the following trend for the next two decades and the start of the “Great Purges. ” To understand the purges it is necessary know what the initial intentions of these actions were. According to the official party line given in the 1930’s, Stalin wanted to use the “purges” (in Russian, chistki or “cleansings”) to find out who was in the Party, and to strengthen it organizationally.
The communists at the time (and even now) claim that the purges never included imprisonment (much less executions). The communists also claim that the purges rarely resulted in expulsion. Stalin officially said that the main focus of the purges was not aimed at rooting out opposition to himself, but rather at getting rid of the dissolute, drunks, careerists, and others who clearly had no place in the disciplined Communist party. Stalin, a paranoid ruler, always feared his political opponents, military officials and even common citizens.
In his mind he felt they were plotting against him politically and posed a serious threat to his very life. Perhaps as a means of self-defense or simply just insanity, Stalin was responsible for killing millions to settle his own fears. Terror is defined as the use of extensive, indiscriminate force. This was nothing new to Bolshevism. From its start people at all levels were intimidated and forced into change at the expense of freedom and life. With Stalin the use of terror was expanded to a new range and scope. Stalin and his Bolsheviks accepted terror as a legitimate social and political means of change and indeed a weapon.
Stalin was not the first leader to use these tactics as a political weapon; however, this man certainly took it to a new level. Fear and terror reached throughout all socio-economic classes. Stalin would periodically purge the secret police, the NKVD, the townspeople and political opponents to ensure complete loyalty to him. Starting in late 1928 Stalin and his governing body launched a set of policies known as the “Five-year plans. ” These plans were designed to turn backward Russia into an industrial and military world power.
The condition of Russian culture and technology when compared to the rest of the world at this time was dismal and embarrassing to Stalin. Most of Stalin’s plans for the rebuilding of Russia as a world power were accomplished in only one decade. Though this was in and of itself a great success, the peasants paid a heavy price in property, freedom and in many cases their lives. Many people starved to death from famine during this time and many that survived were killed off in Stalin’s “purges” to rid him of opposition. One of Stalin’s innovations was to turn the people on themselves.
This allowed Stalin to in effect have his eyes everywhere and in effect impose his pollicies in every facet of Russian life. This was done by offering rewards for turning people into the state for un patriotic actions. Any mistake on the assembly line could be looked upon as sabotage and hence the charge of treason would follow. People who did become agents of the state in the context would gain favors and position. A new variety in justice was created for Stalin’s new judicial system. In this system guilt was assumed and evidence was optional.
All people were held in contempt in this system and there was no justice in Russia. By 1934 Stalin had eliminated all likely potential opposition to his leadership by internal purges. These opponents could easily face loosing their current status for the regal surroundings of a gulag in Siberia, exile, or even the theft of their lives. Never before or since in history were hundreds of thousands of people torn away from their apartments, thrown into prison, subjected to torture, made to confess to crimes, and then either exterminated or sent to concentration camps.
It is no surprise that today, even 60 years after the Great Terror, it is difficult for many people to address these questions with a great deal of composure. In these internal purges over one hundred thousand farmers died for Stalin’s form of progress and five hundred thousand intellectuals died for his security. These purges sent ripples of fear and terror though the entire country. Arrests and on the spot executions quickly became widespread and with this the atmosphere the “Great Terror” was ushered in. Stalin implemented a new brand of justice where guilt was presumed and show trials were common place.
In 1929 Stalin had the first of many show trials. These trials not only stunted Russia’s growth and prosperity but also destroyed the will of the people. In that year the “Engineer Trials” were held. During these trials the Russian elite was brought forth by Stalin on counts of treason and other high crimes. Confessions from the elite which consisted of engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers and clergy were extracted by many means not the least of which included torture. After these trials were through thousands of the Russian elite were murdered or simply became unpeople.
These trails had a horrific effect on the progress of Russia. With the loss of the educated Russian elite there was now nobody left to lead the Soviet Union into the future. The few of the elite that still remained in Russia lived in constant fear of their lives. As a result of earlier “purges” the Party elections of 1936 and 1937 resulted in a great turnover of lower and middle-level Party leadership by democratic vote of the Party membership. The new Party leaders thus elected were, on the whole, both younger, and closer to the working class in that they had more recently been workers, than the older generation of Party leaders.
Stalin’s next phase started in 1932. The name that has come to this is the “Terror Famine. ” In this Terror Famine, Stalin started to order grain from the peasantry in the Ukraine and then used the Soviet military to retrieve this grain. Under the orders of Stalin, the army took practically all the grain for the state. This intern caused a famine among the peasants of the Ukraine. Stalin justified the taking of the grain by saying that it was just a way for the state to regulate the price of grain. In the end this grain was sold and the money raised went to the state.
The result of doing this was Stalin breaking the back of the Georgians and the Ukrainians and once more securing his power. Knowingly in causing this famine Stalin eliminated millions upon millions of Russian peasants. The conservative estimated losses due to this famine has been calculated between 30 and 50 million people. By killing so many of the Russian’s who were the ones that the economy was supported on, Stalin had broken the Ukraine. Stalin’s new philosophy of justice and show trials climaxed during 1937 and 1938 with 7 millions of innocent Soviet citizens being sent off to labor camps or executed.
Starting in 1937 Stalin’s rein led into what is known now as “The Great Terror. ” The Great Terror consisted of many events including the Purge Trials and many massacres. The Purge Trials eliminated many military officers, engineers and the Elite of Soviet society. The numbers are not exact, but between 250,000 to 500,000 Russians died specifically because of Stalin’s orders. These trials caused mass paranoia of the elite. These people were ultimately afraid to make any decision that might be perceived as un patriotic, un communistic or anti-Stalin.
This was because they knew that any such infraction would eventually kill them. Stalin and his policies not only haltered the growth of his own country, but he retarded the growth of neighboring counties, one of which being Poland. In Poland during the Great Terror, Stalin ordered the Katyn Massacre to occur. This mass killing was one of the bloodiest in history only to be topped by Hitler in World War II. During this phase of Stalin’s authoritarian presence the top 15,000 officers in the Polish army were rounded up and killed in the forests of Belarus.
This deeply wounded the Polish people and severely stunted the Polish progress. Poland was now without leaders in top positions and there was no one with any leadership experience to take over. Once again history had repeated itself and Stalin had broken another nation. While the Katyn Massacre was taking place Stalin was also methodically killing off all of his political opponents, or anyone who posed as to be the most remote of a threat to him. One key feature to Stalin’s Purge is the killing off many people in his own country and party.
Stalin showed mercy to no one, he was evil incarnate, killing the innocent and severely damaging any possibility of future progress for Russia in the near future. Stalin had broken once again broken a nation…but this nation was Russian. After the last purge in March 1938, the spread of terror was out of control. The Soviet society was in danger of collapsing. It was clear that the purges had literally deformed Soviet society. The end of the purges showed the collapse of almost all local government; the disappearance of private land ownership and a governing body totally devoted to Stalin.
In addition to these items approximately 80 percent of the the people held in gulags were males and by the 1950’s the percentage of males to females in the age groups most affected by the purges was about 35 percent versus 65 percent. In 1939 Stalin put an end to the chaos that he started. He officially blamed the secret police for letting things get out of control and at times he pointed his finger at them in blame. This would not be the end of the killing altogether. Stalin’s fear and terror had become an integral part of his leadership style and was required to maintain his power.
This man who had rather meek beginning and had started as an Autocrat had made the leap to dictator early on in his reign. By the time the terror subsided in 1939, Stalin had managed to bring both the party and the public to a state of complete submission and panic to his rule. The Soviet people were so demoralized and so fearful of reprisals that mass arrests were no longer necessary. Stalin’s influence even reached into the church encouraging people to serve the state and pray to him. Stalin ruled as absolute dictator of the Soviet Union throughout World War II and until his death in March 1953.
Even after Stalin’s death his policies of fear and oppression still reach into the heart of the Soviet union. Fear of persecution for most any reason still persists today. The twenty years of Stalin have left what appears to be a perminate shade of mistrust of any government and fear of non-conformity. One effect of the intellectual voids that Stalin created during the Great Purge allowed common men to become upwardly mobile. The upper echelons of business and in government became vacant of highly qualified people.
This change of industrial leadership crippled Russia’s mechanization efforts and it is still argued today if the effects are still felt. By removing these people from the Soviet society both the biologist theories of Nature verses Nurture were challenged at best and destroyed at worst. For the argument of nature being the greatest influence on learning ability most of the intellectuals and brightest leaders were removed from the gene pool. In contrast to Nurture these people could not influence society any longer. Through these changes in society Stalin has forever made his mark. His pollicies effected every area in Russian culture.