The Great Purge was a systematic campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union under the careful guidance of Stalin from 1936 to 1939. It involved a large-scale purge of the Communist party and government officials, along with the repression of the peasants, but especially the Red Army leadership. This mass systematic killing of leaders was because of a suspicion of “saboteurs” and those who would destroy the government internally. The political purge was primarily an effort by Stalin to eliminate challenge from past and potential opposition groups, including the left and right wings led by Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin. In 1934 with the murder of Sergi Kerov that Stalin used this as justification to thin out the opposition, all in the name of protecting the government from those disloyal.
Some believe that Stalin orchestrated Sergi’s murder as a reason to begin this purge. But in reality under Stalin’s new form of party organization with him at its head and under him his selected Politburo they were the sole dispensers of communist ideology. This required the elimination of all Marxists with different views, especially those among the prestigious “old guard” of revolutionaries. The purges were enacted through Stalin’s personal secret police ( NKVD). The NKVD under the orders of Stalin shot Communist heroes, Mikhail Tukhachevsky (Commander of Red Army) as well as the majority of Lenin’s Politburo, for disagreements in policy. The NKVD attacked the supporters, friends, and family of these “heretical” Marxists, whether they lived in Russia or not.
“The Great Terror was punctuated by three elaborately staged show trials of former high-ranking Communists. In July-August 1936 Lev Kamenev, Grigorii Zinoviev, and fourteen others were convicted of having organized a Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist center that allegedly had been formed in 1932 and was held responsible for the assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934. Still dissatisfied with the efforts of the police to investigate and liquidate such nefarious plots, Stalin replaced Genrikh Iagoda with Ezhov as head of the NKVD in September 1936. A second show trial followed in January 1937 with Iurii Piatakov and other leading figures in the industrialization drive as the chief defendants. At a plenary session of the party’s Central Committee in February-March 1937, Nikolai Bukharin and Aleksei Rykov, the most prominent party members associated with the so-called Rightist deviation of the late 1920s and early 1930s, were accused of having collaborated with the Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorists as well as with foreign intelligence agencies. They along with Iagoda and others eventually were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in March 1938.”
To sum up these three trials they centered around three areas of government:
1) Trial one was around the government and thinning out those who could possibly pose a threat to Stalin in the future and to cut off those who were opposed to his policies
2) Trial two was centered on the Industry part of the government and the security zone.
3) Trial three was centered on the heads of the opposing political parties.
These trials really decimated the Red Army and the leaders who would run the government for the future. This would have a dramatic effect later on especially during WWII when the Army would need those commanders.
“The purge of the Red Army and Military Maritime Fleet removed three of five marshals (then equivalent to five-star generals), 13 of 15 army commanders (then equivalent to three- and four-star generals), eight of nine admirals (the purge fell heavily on the Navy, who were suspected of exploiting their opportunities for foreign contacts),1 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.1″
One could also weave the in-efficiency of the various government agencies to this purge.Because now the government would have to run on the toes of those learning there positions on the fly. Also the government would be centered on pleasing Stalin, so virtually from 1938 on the government was no longer any form, but a dictatorship. I wonder what would have happened if Stalin had not committed those purges, would he still have been in control at the start of WWII, because there is evidence that many members that were killed plotted against him. What would have happened to the military if it was not purged, evidence suggests that the Germans had there hands in fabricating claims of cooperation with various generals, would the Germans have invaded or would the war have ended sooner? These are just some interesting questions from the point of the military.
1. (1.) Conquest, Robert (2008) . The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-531700-8.
2. Picture 2: http://www.marxists.org/subject/bolsheviks/
3. Picture 1: http://www.glogster.com/cccdddccc/glog-great-purge/g-6lu30dltbv4umraim58ve74
4. Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1936: The Great Terror.” 17 Moments in Russian History. National Endowment for Humanities, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936terror&Year=1936&navi=byYear>.
The most interesting part of this was that Stalin still felt the need to put on trials because it made everything so much more official. The trials fooled everyone into thinking that it was something other than clearing out political enemies. Perhaps it was in the years after the Purge after his main threats were taken care of that he was able to rule with a true iron fist and not to use trials in the future to take care of his political enemies.
You chose great images for this post. The Central Committee “cause of death” grid is especially useful! On Rob’s comment – the Show trials did serve multiple purposes, however “unnecessary” they might have been (in terms of the fate of the individuals involved).
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