Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 






The World Wars and Interwar Period 

1914-1945


 


The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


 



Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937

 

 

 


The Soviet Union
 


1917-1939
 

 

see also:
Socialist Realism

 

The Russian czar was deposed in 1917, even before the end of World War I. The radical left-wing Bolsheviks emerged victorious out of the dispute between the democratic transitional government and the revolutionary Soviet Council of Soldiers' and Workers' Deputies. They came to power in the October Revolution in 1917 under the leadership of Lenin, ended the war, suppressed counterrevolutionary uprisings in a civil war, and constituted the first Communist-ruled state in the world: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After Lenin's death in 1924, the Soviet Union became an increasingly centralized personal dictatorship under Stalin in the 1930s. Stalin oversaw a massive industrialization program and forcibly collectivized agriculture, while millions fell victim to the regime's repression.

 


Stalin's Reign of Terror in the 1930s
 

Stalin's personal dictatorship of state and party reached its bloody pinnacle with his large-scale political purges in the 1930s.

 

After the 1920s, Stalin's dictatorship was linked to a growing personality 12 cult and the development of the state as a tight, centrally controlled administrative machine.


12 Model of the Soviet Palace of Culture including
a memorial to Lenin, almost 1600 feet (500m) tall,
designed by Boris M. Iofan 1933


Stalin's policies were declared socialist dogma, and in 1936 the hegemony of the Communist party at all levels of society and state was officially established. The state secret police kept the population under surveillance and eliminated any opposition with 11 shootings, forced labor, and deportations to Siberia.

Without regard for human life, forced farm collectivization was introduced in 1928; the farms were to be combined into great production cooperatives.

The farmers who owned medium and large tracts were defamed as "enemies of the people" and "exploiters"; their land was expropriated, and they were sent off to 8 work camps in Siberia.

A temporary, massive collapse of agriculture was the result; in the Ukraine four million people 9 starved to death.

Between 1935 and 1939, Stalin eliminated all potential or imagined opponents in the "Great Purges."


11 Mass graves from the Stalin era
near Kursk, only discovered in 1987


8 Forced laborers in a quarry, 1930


9 Dead children,
winter of 1921-1922

The 13 persecution took place at all levels of party, state, economic, and cultural groups.

Millions of people were sent to penal or work camps, accused of being "vermin," spies, or saboteurs. Opposition to official views was labeled "devi-ationist" and the holders were often accused of acting on behalf of foreign powers. Between 1937 and 1938, Stalin had the majority of the military leadership elite eliminated: 35,000 officers were arrested, and about 30,000 were executed. Non-Russian peoples also were victims of Stalin's persecution.

The 10 Volga German Republic was dissolved in 1941 and its inhabitants put into camps. Prominent party members were accused of being "counterrevolutionaries" in three great public show trials and sentenced to death.

Of the members of the party's Central Committee elected in 1934. two-thirds did not survive the years 1937 and 1938.
By the end of the wave of terror in 1939, practically the entire revolutionary elite of 1917 had been extinguished and replaced in all areas of the party structure by "apparatchiks" whose loyalty to Stalin was assured.


13 1937 order for a mass arrest of senior
party figures signed by Stalin


10 Meeting of a community of Voiga German farmers
to organize collectivization, 1931

 



ALEXANDER RODCHENKO


(1891-1956)

Russian photographer.
 

 


1928

 


1932

 


1932

 


1932

 


1935

 


1935

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1936

 


1937

 


1938

 

 

 


Political repression in the Soviet Union

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Throughout the Soviet history millions of people became victims of Soviet political repression, which was an instrument of the internal politics of the Soviet Russia and Soviet Union since the first days after the October Revolution. Culminating during the Stalin era, it still existed during the "Khrushchev Thaw," followed by increased persecution of Soviet dissidents during Brezhnev stagnation, and didn't cease to exist during Gorbachev's perestroika. Its heritage still influences the life of the modern Russia.
 

Origins and early Soviet times

Early on the theoretical basis of the repressions was the Marxist view at the class struggle and the resulting notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Its legal basis was formalized into the Article 58 in the code of RSFSR and similar articles for other Soviet republics.

The terms "repression", "terror", and other strong words were normal working terms with respect to the internal politics of the early Soviet state,[citation needed] reflecting the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat was supposed apply ruthless force to suppress the resistance of the social classes which Marxism considered antagonistic to the class of proletariat. This phraseology was gradually abolished after destalinization, but the system of persecution for political views and activities remained until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

At times, the repressed were called the enemies of the people. Punishments by the state included summary executions, sending innocent people to Gulag, forced resettlement, and stripping of citizen's rights. At certain times, all members of a family, including children, were punished as "traitor of Motherland family members". Repression was conducted by the Cheka and its successors, and other state organs. Periods of the increased repression include Red Terror, Collectivisation, the Great Purges, the Doctor's Plot, and others. The secret police forces conducted massacres of prisoners on numerous occasions. Repression was practiced in the Soviet republics and in the territories liberated by Soviet Army during World War II, including Baltic States and Eastern Europe.

State repression led to resistance, which were brutally suppressed by military force, such as the Tambov rebellion, Kronstadt rebellion, and Vorkuta Uprising. During the Tambov rebellion, Bolshevik military forces used chemical weapons against villages with civilian population and rebels. Prominent citizens of villages were often taken as hostages and executed if the resistance fighters did not surrender.

Red Terror

Red Terror in Soviet Russia was the campaign of mass arrests and executions conducted by the Bolshevik government. The Red Terror was officially announced on September 2, 1918 by Yakov Sverdlov and ended in about October 1918. However Sergei Melgunov applies this term to repressions for the whole period of the Russian Civil War, 1918-1922.

Collectivization

Collectivization in the Soviet Union was a policy, pursued between 1928 and 1933, to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms (Russian: ́, kolkhoz, plural kolkhozy). The Soviet leaders were confident that the replacement of individual peasant farms by kolkhozy would immediately increase food supplies for the urban population, the supply of raw materials for processing industry, and agricultural exports generally. Collectivization was thus regarded as the solution to the crisis in agricultural distribution (mainly in grain deliveries) that had developed since 1927 and was becoming more acute as the Soviet Union pressed ahead with its ambitious industrialization program. As peasantry, with exception of the poorest part, resisted the collectivization policy, the Soviet government resorted to the harsh measures to force the farmers to collectivize. In his conversation with Winston Churchill Stalin gave his estimate of the number of "kulaks" who were repressed for resisting collectivization as 10 million, including those forcibly deported.

Great Terror

The Great Purge (Russian: , transliterated Bolshaya chistka) was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin in 1937-1938. It involved the purge of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, repression of peasants, deportations of ethnic minorities, and the persecution of unaffiliated persons, characterized by widespread police surveillance, widespread suspicion of "saboteurs", imprisonment, and killings. Estimates of the number of deaths associated with the Great Purge run from the official figure of 681,692 to nearly 2 million.

Genocide, ethnic cleansing, and population transfers

In Soviet Union, political repressions targeted not only individual persons, but also whole ethnic, social, religious, and other categories of population.

Population transfer in the Soviet Union may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population, often classified as "enemies of workers", deportations of nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite directions to fill the ethnically cleansed territories.

Entire nations and ethnic groups have been collectively punished by the Soviet Government for alleged collaboration with the enemy during World War II. At least nine of distinct ethnic-linguistic groups, including ethnic Germans, ethnic Greeks, ethnic Poles, Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Chechens, and Kalmyks, were deported to remote unpopulated areas of Siberia and Kazakhstan. Population transfer in the Soviet Union led to millions of deaths due to the inflicted hardships. Koreans and Romanians were also deported. Mass operations of the NKVD were needed to deport hundreds of thousands of people.

The Soviet famine of 1932-1933 was severely aggravated by the actions of the government of the Soviet Union, such as the confiscation of food, the lack of meat, planned delivery limitations that ignored the famine, blocking the migration of its starving population, and the suppression of the information about the famine, all of which prevented any organized relief effort. This had led to deaths of millions of people in the affected area. The overall number of the 1932-1933 famine victims Soviet-wide is estimated as 6-7 million or 6-8 million.


Gulag

Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum, explains: "It was the branch of the State Security that operated the penal system of forced labour camps and associated detention and transit camps and prisons. While these camps housed criminals of all types, the Gulag system has become primarily known as a place for political prisoners and as a mechanism for repressing political opposition to the Soviet state.


Post-Stalin era (1953-1991)
After Stalin's death, the suppression of dissent was dramatically reduced and took new forms. The internal critics of the system were convicted for anti-Soviet agitation, Anti-Soviet slander, or as "social parasites". Others were labeled as mentally ill, having sluggishly progressing schizophrenia and incarcerated in "psikhushkas", i.e. mental hospitals used by the Soviet authorities as prisons. A number of notable dissidents, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Bukovsky, and Andrei Sakharov, were sent to internal or external exile.

 

 

 


KGB



The Federal Security Service headquarters building is the gray one to left side, No. 1/3


Main
agency, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Russian in full Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, English Committee for State Security

foreign intelligence and domestic security agency of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era the KGBs responsibilities also included the protection of the countrys political leadership, the supervision of border troops, and the general surveillance of the population.

Pre-KGB Soviet security services
Established in 1954, the KGB was the most durable of a series of security agencies starting with the Cheka, which was established in December 1917 in the first days of the Bolshevik government. The Cheka (originally VCHEKA, an acronym derived from the Russian words for All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage) was charged with the preliminary investigation of counterrevolution and sabotage, but it quickly assumed responsibility for arresting, imprisoning, and executing enemies of the state, which included the former nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the clergy. The Cheka played a prominent role in the Russian Civil War (191820) and aided in crushing the anti-Soviet Kronshtadt and Antonov rebellions in 1921. When Soviet archives were opened in the 1990s, it was learned that the Cheka, which in 1921 had a staff of more than 250,000, was responsible for the execution of more than 140,000 people. Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the Chekas chief during the early years of Soviet power, molded the service into an effective, merciless tool of the ruling Communist Party.

In 1922 the Cheka was supplanted by the GPU (State Political Administration) in an effort by the Communist Party to reduce the scale of the Chekas terror. A year later the GPU was renamed the OGPU (Unified State Political Administration) and given additional duties, including the administration of corrective labour camps and the surveillance of the population. As Joseph Stalin consolidated his power and directed the modernization of the Soviet Union, the OGPU implemented the forced collectivization of agriculture and the deportation of the kulaks (wealthy peasants) and staged show trials of enemies of the people. By the early 1930s the OGPU controlled all Soviet security functions, directing a vast army of informers in factories, government offices, and the Red Army. During this period the OGPU also conducted covert operations on foreign soil to disrupt the activities of the regimes opponents, some of whom it kidnapped and murdered.

In 1934 the OGPU was absorbed into the new NKVD (Peoples Commissariat of Internal Affairs), which helped Stalin to consolidate his power by carrying out purges (see purge trials). More than 750,000 people were executed in 193738 alone, including tens of thousands of party officials and military and security officers. Among the victims were more than half the members of the ruling Central Committee (the Communist Partys highest organ) as well as the NKVDs first two chiefs, Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolay Yezhov. Yezhov was succeeded as head of the NKVD by Lavrenty Beria, who served from 1938 to 1953.
 

 


Feliks Dzerzhinsky




Main
Russian revolutionary
Polish Feliks Dzierżyński

born Sept. 11 [Aug. 30, Old Style], 1877, Dzerzhinovo, near Minsk, Russian Empire [now in Belarus]
died July 20, 1926, Moscow

Bolshevik leader, head of the first Soviet secret police organization.

Son of a Polish nobleman, Dzerzhinsky joined the Kaunas (Kovno) organization of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party in 1895. He became a party organizer, and, although he was arrested by the Russian Imperial Police for his revolutionary activities five times between 1897 and 1908, he repeatedly escaped from exile in Siberia. Not only did he participate in the Russian Revolution of 1905 but he also became a leader of the Polish-Lithuanian Social Democratic Party and was influential in convincing his colleagues to unite with the Russian Social Democrats in 1906. Afterward, Dzerzhinsky pursued his revolutionary activities within the Russian Empire and in western Europe. Arrested for the sixth time in 1912, he remained in captivity until after the February Revolution of 1917.

Dzerzhinsky was elected to the Bolshevik Partys Central Committee in July 1917, and he played an active role in the October Revolution (1917). On Dec. 20 (Dec. 7), 1917, he was named head of the new All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage (Cheka), which became Soviet Russias security police agency. The Cheka helped stabilize V.I. Lenins dictatorship by arbitrarily executing real and alleged enemies of the Soviet state. Dzerzhinsky, who organized the first concentration camps in Russia, acquired a reputation as an incorruptible, ruthless, and fanatical communist.

During the Russo-Polish War (191920), Dzerzhinsky was appointed to the Polish revolutionary committee that was intended to become the Bolshevik government of Poland. But after the Soviet army was forced to retreat from Poland, he again concentrated on Russian affairs. He remained head of the Cheka and commissar for internal affairs (after 1919) and became commissar for transport (1921). In 1924, after he had become a firm supporter of Joseph Stalin, Dzerzhinsky was given control of the Supreme Economic Council and was also elected a candidate of the Politburo. In 1926, during a debate at a Central Committee session, Dzerzhinsky collapsed and died.

 

 


Genrikh Yagoda




Main
Soviet official
Yagoda also spelled Jagoda

born 1891, Łodz, Pol., Russian Empire
died March 15, 1938, Moscow

head of the Soviet secret police under Stalin from 1934 to 1936 and a central figure in the purge trials.

Yagoda joined the Bolsheviks in 1907 and became a member of the presidium of the Cheka (Soviet secret police) in 1920. He was a deputy chairman of the Chekas successor organization, OGPU, from 1924 to 1934 and from 1930 was in charge of the system of forced-labour camps in the Soviet Union. A close, longtime associate of Stalin, Yagoda became in 1934 a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and was put in charge of the newly organized Commissariat of Internal Affairs, or NKVD, into which the secret police had been absorbed. There is evidence that Yagoda was instrumental in engineering in 1934 the assassination of Sergey Mironovich Kirov, Leningrad party secretary and a member of the Politburo, whom Stalin perceived as a potential rival. As head of the NKVD, Yagoda prepared the first of the public purge trials (August 1936), in which Zinovyev, L.B. Kamenev, and a number of their associates confessed to a series of astonishing charges and were immediately executed.

One year later Yagoda himself became a victim of the widespread purges that he had helped to carry out on Stalins orders. He was removed from office in September 1936 and replaced as Peoples Commissar by N.I. Yezhov, under whose direction the purge trials proceeded. Yagoda was arrested in 1937 and became a defendant at the third public purge trial (March 1938). He was accused of being a member of a Trotskyite conspiracy intent on destroying the Soviet Union through sabotage. He was convicted, sentenced to death on March 13, and shot soon afterward.

 

 

Nikolay Yezhov



Main
Soviet official
Yezhov also spelled Ezhov, byname The Dwarf, Russian Karlik

born 1895, St. Petersburg, Russia
died after January 1939

Russian Communist Party official who, while chief of the Soviet security police (NKVD) from 1936 to 1938, administered the most severe stage of the great purges, known as Yezhovshchina (or Ezhovshchina).

Nothing is known of his early life (he was nicknamed the Dwarf because he was but five feet tall and lame). Joining the Communist Party in March 1917, he was a political commissar in the Red Army during the Civil War and thereafter rose through several political posts, becoming a functionary for the Party Central Committee in Moscow by 1927 and one of Stalins favourites. On April 29, 1933, he was named a member of a newly established central Purge Commission, which conducted a bloodless purge that ejected more than a million members from the Party. In January 1934, at the 17th Party Congress, he became a full member of the Central Committee and then, in February, succeeded L.M. Kaganovich in the key post of chairman of the Party Control Commission. In October 1937 he became a candidate member of the Politburo.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 26, 1936, he had succeeded G.G. Yagoda as chief of the NKVD and, in January 1937, acquired the newly created title of General Commissar of State Security. In these roles he perpetrated the grand excesses known as the Yezhovshchina, the cruel, ruthless elimination or repression of Stalins enemies or alleged enemies in the Great Purge (see purge trials). The liquidations gradually extended from the Party leaders to the Party and state apparatchiki and finally to the general population.

By the summer of 1938, however, Yezhov himself had become the object of Stalins suspicions, for reasons unknown. In December, L.P. Beria replaced him as head of the NKVD; and Yezhov, last heard of in January 1939, disappeared, probably executed.

 

 

 Lavrenty Beria



Main
Soviet government official

born March 29 [March 17, old style], 1899, Merkheuli, Russia
died Dec. 23, 1953, Moscow

Beria also spelled Beriya
director of the Soviet secret police who played a major role in the purges of Stalins opponents.

Having joined the Communist Party in 1917, Beria participated in revolutionary activity in Azerbaijan and Georgia before he was drawn into intelligence and counterintelligence activities (1921) and appointed head of the Cheka (secret police) in Georgia. He became party boss of the Transcaucasian republics in 1932 and personally oversaw the political purges in those republics during Stalins Great Purge (193638). Beria was brought to Moscow in 1938 as the deputy to Nikolay Yezhov, head of the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police. Yezhov was apparently arrested and shot on Stalins orders, and Beria became head of the secret police (193853). He supervised a purge of the police bureaucracy itself and administered the vast network of labour camps set up throughout the country. In February 1941 he became a deputy prime minister of the U.S.S.R., and during World War II, as a member of the State Defense Committee, he not only controlled the Soviet Unions internal-security system but also played a major role in raw-materials production using the slave labour in the camps. He was made a marshal of the U.S.S.R. in 1945. He was also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1934 and of the executive policy-making committee, the Politburo, from 1946. When the Politburo was reorganized as the Presidium in 1952, Beria retained his seat.

Soon after Stalins death in March 1953, Beria became one of four deputy prime ministers as well as head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, an organization which at that time combined both the secret political and regular police functions. During the ensuing struggle for power, Beria apparently attempted to use his position as chief of the secret police to succeed Stalin as sole dictator. By July 1953, however, he had been defeated by an anti-Beria coalition (led by Georgy M. Malenkov, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, and Nikita S. Khrushchev). He was arrested, deprived of his government and party posts, and publicly accused of being an imperialist agent and of conducting criminal antiparty and antistate activities. Convicted of these charges at his trial in December 1953, Beria was immediately executed.

 

 

Yury Andropov



Main
president of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

born June 15 [June 2, Old Style], 1914, Nagutskoye, Russia
died Feb 9, 1984, Moscow

head of the Soviet Unions KGB (State Security Committee) from 1967 to 1982 and his countrys leader as general secretary of the Communist Partys Central Committee from November 1982 until his death 15 months later.

The son of a railway worker, Andropov was a telegraph operator, film projectionist, and boatman on the Volga River before attending a technical college and, later, Petrozavodsk University. He became an organizer for the Young Communist League (Komsomol) in the Yaroslav region and joined the Communist Party in 1939. His superiors noticed his abilities, and he was made head of the Komsomol in the newly created Karelo-Finnish Autonomous Republic (194044).

The turning point in Andropovs career was his transfer to Moscow (1951), where he was assigned to the partys Secretariat staff, considered a training ground for promising young officials. As ambassador to Hungary (July 1954March 1957), he played a major role in coordinating the Soviet invasion of that country. Andropov then returned to Moscow, rising rapidly through the Communist hierarchy and, in 1967, becoming head of the KGB. Andropovs policies as head of the KGB were repressive; his tenure was noted for its suppression of political dissidents.

Andropov was elected to the Politburo, and, as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnevs health declined, Andropov began to position himself for succession, resigning his KGB post in 1982. Andropov was chosen by the Communist Party Central Committee to succeed Brezhnev as general secretary on November 12, scarcely two days after Brezhnevs death. He consolidated his power by becoming chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (president) on June 16, 1983.

Ill health overtook him by August 1983, and thereafter he was never seen again in public. He accomplished little and was succeeded by a former rival, Konstantin Chernenko.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 
 
 

In 1941 responsibility for state security was transferred from the NKVD to the NKGB (Peoples Commissariat for State Security). Both agencies became ministriesthe Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the Ministry of State Security (MGB)in 1946. Beria, as a member of the ruling Central Committee, continued to supervise the two ministries while serving as head of the MVD. Beria also was responsible for the Soviet Unions nascent nuclear weapons program and oversaw intelligence operations directed at the U.S. and British atomic bomb projects.

The MGB, directed by V.S. Abakumov under Berias supervision, played a major role in the Soviet Unions war effort in World War II and in the subsequent consolidation of its power in eastern Europe. During the war, the MGB conducted espionage and counterespionage operations, administered prisoner-of-war camps, and ensured the loyalty of the officer corps. It also supervised the deportation to Siberia and Central Asia of groups suspected of disloyalty, including more than one million Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechen-Ingush, and other people of the Caucasus.

After the war, the MGB helped to crush all opposition, whether real or suspected, in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; between 1945 and 1953 more than 750,000 Soviet citizens were arrested and punished for political crimes. Information uncovered in the 1990s indicated that by 1953 some 2,750,00 Soviet citizens were in jail or in forced-labour camps, and approximately the same number were in internal exile.

Soviet foreign intelligence in the last decade of Stalins life was remarkable in both its scope and success. During World War II the MGB conducted operations in Nazi-occupied Europe. One of its networks, the Red Orchestra, comprised several hundred agents and informers, including agents in the German ministries of foreign affairs, labour, propaganda, and economics. Declassified Russian and American documents indicate that the Soviet Union had placed at least five agents in the U.S. nuclear weapons program and possibly as many as 300 agents in the U.S. government by 1945. The British diplomatic and security establishments also had been infiltrated by important agents, including Kim Philby, a senior British intelligence officer. Evidence suggests that Soviet agents in Britain passed 15,000 to 20,000 documents to Moscow between 1941 and 1945. British and American agents of Soviet intelligence were for the most part ideological supporters of the regime, and many were members of communist parties.

Immediately following Stalins death in March 1953, the MGB was merged back into the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), still under Beria. Before the end of summer, the post-Stalinist leadership under Nikita Khrushchev turned against the power-hungry Beria, and he was deposed and executed. A series of trials and executions continuing into 1956 eliminated a number of his senior associates. In the meantime, millions of political prisoners were released from the MVDs vast system of forced labour camps and from internal exile. The MVD was gradually dismantled and finally abolished in 1960.
 

Creation and role of the KGB
The KGB was created in 1954 to serve as the sword and shield of the Communist Party. The new security service, which played a major role in the purge of Berias supporters, was designed to be carefully controlled by senior Communist Party officials. It was divided into approximately 20 directorates, the most important of which were those responsible for foreign intelligence, domestic counterintelligence, technical intelligence, protection of the political leadership, and the security of the countrys frontiers. In the late 1960s an additional directorate was created to conduct surveillance on suspected dissidents in the churches and among the intelligentsia. For the next 20 years the KGB became increasingly zealous in its pursuit of enemies, harassing, arresting, and sometimes exiling human rights advocates, Christian and Jewish activists, and intellectuals judged to be disloyal to the regime. Among the most famous of its victims were the Nobel laureates Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrey Sakharov.

After World War II the KGB gradually expanded its foreign intelligence operations to become the worlds largest foreign intelligence service. As the Cold War with the United States intensified, the KGB came to be viewed as a counterpart of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency; however, unlike the CIA, the KGB conducted most of its activities domestically, on Soviet soil and against Soviet citizens. The KGBs many agents sometimes posed as businessmen and journalists, though many used the more conventional diplomatic cover. Its successes included the infiltration of every major Western intelligence operation and the placement of agents of influence in almost every major capital. The KGB also was able to procure scientific and technical information for the Soviet military, and it repeatedly obtained advanced technology necessary for the development of Soviet submarines, airplanes, and rockets. Along with the GRU (Chief Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff), which was responsible for purely military operations, the KGB enjoyed tremendous access to the secrets of both its adversaries and its allies.

By the end of the 1960s, the KGB had become firmly established as the Communist Partys security watchdog. Its value as an instrument of political control was reflected in the appointment of its head, Yury Andropov, to the Politburo (1973) and his succession to the head of the party and the country in 1982. Under Andropov, the KGB recruited the best and the brightest members from the party establishment. Although it was aware of the extent of corruption in the decaying Soviet Union and did investigate and arrest some minor figures, it continued to be a servant of the party and was thus powerless to halt the countrys decline.

The KGB did not fare as well under the reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (198591). Although Gorbachev respected the KGBs prowess in foreign intelligence, his reform agenda undercut its authority as well as that of the Communist Party. In the summer of 1991, several senior KGB officers, including KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, played key roles in an abortive coup designed to return the Soviet system to ideological and bureaucratic purity. Afterward the KGB was systematically stripped of its extensive military units and many of its domestic security functions.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the KGB came under the control of Russia. The government of Russian President Boris Yeltsin supervised the division of the KGB into several major services responsible for internal security and foreign intelligence. Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics established their own intelligence and security services, which maintained links to those of Russia. Nevertheless, efforts in Russia to reform the intelligence services were at best incomplete. The KGB and its leaders were never held accountable for crimes against the Soviet people.
 

Assessment
At its peak the KGB was the largest secret-police and foreign-intelligence organization in the world. Researchers with access to Communist Party archives put the number of KGB personnel at more than 480,000, including 200,000 soldiers in the Border Guards. Estimates of the number of informers in the Soviet Union are incomplete but usually range in the millions. Every Soviet leader depended on the KGB and its predecessors for information, surveillance of key elites, and control of the population. With the Communist Party and the army, the KGB formed the triad of power that ruled the Soviet Union. The KGB played a particularly important role in Soviet foreign policy. Foreign intelligence allowed the Soviet Union to maintain rough parity with the West in nuclear weapons and other weapons systems. Inside the country, however, the role of the KGB was baleful. Scholars disagree about the human cost of the KGB and its predecessors, but many estimate that they were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people.

A critical question in evaluating the KGBs foreign and domestic operations is why it failed to prevent the eventual collapse of the Soviet system. There is ample evidence that the KGB suffered from the same problems of bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption that plagued the sclerotic political leadership. In addition, during the last decade of Soviet power, numerous KGB officials defected to the West or agreed to work as agents in place in Moscow. Moreover, some studies suggest that, despite its vaunted reputation for espionage, the KGB lacked the analytical skills necessary to form an accurate picture of the regimes declining international and domestic situation. See also Federal Security Service.

Robert W. Pringle

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

 


Great Purge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin in 19371938.[1][2] It involved a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and Government officials, repression of peasants, Red Army leadership, and the persecution of unaffiliated persons, characterized by widespread police surveillance, widespread suspicion of "saboteurs", imprisonment, and executions. According to the archive data, in 193738 the number of death sentences was 681,692 and many more died in GULAG labor camps.

In Russian historiography the period of the most intense purge, 19371938, is called Yezhovshchina (Russian: ́; literally, the Yezhov regime), after Nikolai Yezhov, the then head of the Soviet secret police, NKVD.

In the Western World the term "the Great Terror" was popularized by the title of Robert Conquest's book. The book, The Great Terror, was in turn inspired by the period of the Great Terror (French: la Grande Terreur) at the end of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

Introduction


Joseph Stalin

The term "repression" was officially used to denote the prosecution of people considered as anti-revolutionaries and enemies of the people. The purge was motivated by the desire on the part of the leadership to remove dissident elements from the Party and what is often considered to have been a desire to consolidate the authority of Joseph Stalin. Additional campaigns of repression were carried out against social groups which were accused of acting against the Soviet state and the politics of the Communist Party.

A number of purges were officially explained as an elimination of the possibilities of sabotage and espionage, in view of an expected war with Germany. Most public attention was focused on the purge of the leadership of the Communist Party itself, as well as of government bureaucrats and leaders of the armed forces, the vast majority being Party members. However, the campaigns affected many other categories of the society: intelligentsia, peasants and especially those branded as "too rich for a peasant" (kulaks), and professionals. A series of NKVD (the Soviet secret police) operations affected a number of national minorities, accused of being "fifth column" communities.

According to Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 speech, "On the Personality Cult and its Consequences", and more recent findings, a great number of accusations, notably those presented at the Moscow show trials, were based on forced confessions, often obtained by torture, and on loose interpretations of Article 58 of the RSFSR Penal Code, which dealt with counter-revolutionary crimes. Due legal process, as defined by Soviet law in force at the time, was often largely replaced with summary proceedings by NKVD troikas.

Hundreds of thousands of victims were falsely accused of various political crimes (espionage, wrecking, sabotage, anti-Soviet agitation, conspiracies to prepare uprisings and coups) and then executed by shooting, or sent to the Gulag labor camps. Many died at the penal labor camps due to starvation, disease, exposure and overwork. Other methods of dispatching victims were used on an experimental basis. For example, one secret policeman gassed people to death in batches in the back of a specially adapted airtight van.

The Great Purge was started under the NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda, but the height of the campaigns occurred while the NKVD was headed by Nikolai Yezhov, from September 1936 to August 1938, hence the name "Yezhovshchina". However the campaigns were carried out according to the general line, and often by direct orders, of the Party Politburo headed by Stalin.



 Voroshilov, Molotov, Stalin, with Nikolai Yezhov, 1937

Background
The term "purge" in Soviet political slang was an abbreviation of the expression purge of the Party ranks. In 1933, for example, some 400,000 people were expelled from the Party. But from 1936 until 1953, the term changed its meaning, because being expelled from the Party came to mean almost certain arrest, imprisonment, or even execution.

The political purge was primarily an effort by Stalin to eliminate challenge from past and potential opposition groups, including left and right wings led by Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin, respectively. Following the Civil War and reconstruction of the Soviet economy in the late 1920s, the "temporary" wartime dictatorship which had passed from Lenin to Stalin seemed no longer necessary to veteran Communists. Stalin's opponents on both sides of the political spectrum chided him as undemocratic and lax on bureaucratic corruption. These tendencies may have accumulated substantial support among the working class by attacking the privileges and luxuries the state offered to its high-paid elite. The Ryutin Affair seemed to vindicate Stalin's suspicions. He therefore enforced a ban on party factions and banned those party members who had opposed him, effectively ending democratic centralism. In the new form of Party organization, the Politburo, and Stalin in particular, were the sole dispensers of communist ideology. This necessitated the elimination of all Marxists with different views, especially those among the prestigious "old guard" of revolutionaries. Communist heroes like Tukhachevsky and Béla Kun, as well as Lenin's entire politburo, were shot for minor disagreements in policy. The NKVD were equally merciless towards the supporters, friends, and family of these heretical Marxists, whether they lived in Russia or not. The most infamous case is that of Leon Trotsky, whose family was almost annihilated, before he himself was killed in Mexico by NKVD agent Ramón Mercader, who was part of an assassination task force put together by Special Agent Pavel Sudoplatov, under the personal orders of Joseph Stalin.


Stalin and Kirov

Sergey Kirov's murder in 1934 may be called the crime of century as it was used by Stalin as a pretext to launch the Great Purge, in which about a million people perished. Some later historians came to believe that Stalin himself arranged the murder, or at least that there was sufficient evidence to reach such a conclusion. Kirov himself was a staunch Stalin loyalist, but Stalin may have viewed him as a potential rival because of his emerging popularity among the moderates. In the 1934 party congress, Kirov was elected to the central committee with only three negative votes, the fewest of any candidate, while Stalin received 292 negative votes. After Kirov's assassination, Stalin NKVD charged the ever growing group of former oppositionists with Kirov's murder and a growing list of other charges including treason, terrorism, sabotage, and espionage.

Another official justification was to remove any possible "fifth column" in case of a war, but this is less substantiated by independent sources. This is the theory proposed by Vyacheslav Molotov, a member of the Stalinist ruling circle, who participated in the Stalinist repression as a member of the Politburo and who signed many death warrants. Stalin's vehemence in eliminating political opponents may have had some basis in, and was definitely given official justification by, the need to solidify Russia against her neighbors, most notably Germany and Japan, whose governments had previously invaded, and now openly threatened, Soviet territory. A famous quote of Stalin's is "We are 50 or 100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this lag in 10 years. Either we do it, or they crush us." The Communist Party also wanted to eliminate what it perceived as "socially dangerous elements", such as ex-kulaks, ex-"nepmen", former members of opposing political parties such as the Social Revolutionaries, and former Tsarist officials.

Repression against perceived enemies of the Bolsheviks had been a systematic method of instilling fear and facilitating social control, being continuously applied by Lenin since the October Revolution, although there had been periods of heightened repression, such as the Red Terror, the deportation of kulaks who opposed collectivization, and a severe famine. A distinctive feature of the Great Purge was that, for the first time, the ruling party itself underwent repressions on a massive scale. Nevertheless, only a minority of those affected by the purges were Communist Party members and office-holders. The purge of the Party was accompanied by the purge of the whole society. The following events are used for the demarcation of the period.

 

Moscow Trials

First and Second Moscow Trials

Between 1936 and 1938, three very large Moscow Trials of former senior Communist Party leaders were held, in which they were accused of conspiring with fascist and capitalist powers to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders, dismember the Soviet Union and restore capitalism. These trials were highly publicized and extensively covered by the outside world, which was mesmerized by the spectacle of Lenin's closest associates confessing to most outrageous crimes and begging for death sentences.

The first trial was of 16 members of the so-called "Trotskyite-Kamenevite-Zinovievite-Leftist-Counter-Revolutionary Bloc", held in August 1936, at which the chief defendants were Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, two of the most prominent former party leaders. Among other accusations, they were incriminated with the assassination of Sergey Kirov and plotting to kill Stalin. After confessing to the charges, all were sentenced to death and executed.
The second trial in January 1937 involved 17 lesser figures known as the "anti-Soviet Trotskyite-centre" which included Karl Radek, Yuri Piatakov and Grigory Sokolnikov, and were accused of plotting with Trotsky, who was said to be conspiring with Nazi Germany. Thirteen of the defendants were eventually shot. The rest received sentences in labor camps where they soon died.
There was also a secret trial before a military tribunal of a group of Red Army generals, including Mikhail Tukhachevsky, in June 1937.
Some Western observers who attended the trials said that they were fair and that the guilt of the accused had been established. They based this assessment on the confessions of the accused, which were freely given in open court, without any apparent evidence that they had been extracted by torture or drugging. Others, like Fitzroy Maclean were a little more astute in their observations and conclusions.

The British lawyer and Member of Parliament D. N. Pritt, for example, wrote: "Once again the more faint-hearted socialists are beset with doubts and anxieties", but "once again we can feel confident that when the smoke has rolled away from the battlefield of controversy it will be realized that the charge was true, the confessions correct and the prosecution fairly conducted".

It is now known that the confessions were given only after great psychological pressure had been applied to the defendants. From the accounts of former OGPU officer Alexander Orlov and others, the methods used to extract the confessions are known: such tortures as repeated beatings, simulated drownings, making prisoners stand or go without sleep for days on end, and threats to arrest and execute the prisoners' families. For example, Kamenev's teenage son was arrested and charged with terrorism. After months of such interrogation, the defendants were driven to despair and exhaustion.

Zinoviev and Kamenev demanded, as a condition for "confessing", a direct guarantee from the Politburo that their lives and that of their families and followers would be spared. This offer was accepted, but when they were taken to the alleged Politburo meeting, only Stalin, Kliment Voroshilov, and Yezhov were present. Stalin claimed that they were the "commission" authorized by the Politburo and gave assurances that death sentences would not be carried out. After the trial, Stalin not only broke his promise to spare the defendants, he had most of their relatives arrested and shot.

Dewey Commission
In May 1937, the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials, commonly known as the Dewey Commission, was set up in the United States by supporters of Trotsky, to establish the truth about the trials. The commission was headed by the noted American philosopher and educator John Dewey. Although the hearings were obviously conducted with a view to proving Trotsky's innocence, they brought to light evidence which established that some of the specific charges made at the trials could not be true.

For example, Georgy Pyatakov testified that he had flown to Oslo in December 1935 to "receive terrorist instructions" from Trotsky. The Dewey Commission established that no such flight had taken place. Another defendant, Ivan Smirnov, confessed to taking part in the assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934, at a time when he had already been in prison for a year.

The Dewey Commission later published its findings in a 422-page book titled Not Guilty. Its conclusions asserted the innocence of all those condemned in the Moscow Trials. In its summary, the commission wrote: "Independent of extrinsic evidence, the Commission finds:

That the conduct of the Moscow Trials was such as to convince any unprejudiced person that no attempt was made to ascertain the truth.
That while confessions are necessarily entitled to the most serious consideration, the confessions themselves contain such inherent improbabilities as to convince the Commission that they do not represent the truth, irrespective of any means used to obtain them.
That Trotsky never instructed any of the accused or witnesses in the Moscow trials to enter into agreements with foreign powers against the Soviet Union [and] that Trotsky never recommended, plotted, or attempted the restoration of capitalism in the USSR.
The commission concluded: "We therefore find the Moscow Trials to be frame-ups."

Implication of the Rightists
In the second trial, Karl Radek provided (or more accurately was forced to provide) the pretext for greater purge to come on a massive scale with his testimony that there were "third organization separate from the cadres which had passed through [Trotsky's] school" as well as "semi-Trotskyites, quarter-Trotskyites, one-eighth-Trotskyites, people who helped us, not knowing of the terrorist organization but sympathizing with us, people who from liberalism, from a Fronde against the Party, gave us this help."

By the "third organization", he meant the last remaining former opposition group called Rightists led by Bukharin, whom he implicated by saying: "I feel guilty of one thing more: even after admitting my guilt and exposing the organisation, I stubbornly refused to give evidence about Bukharin. I knew that Bukharin's situation was just as hopeless as my own, because our guilt, if not juridically, then in essence, was the same. But we are close friends, and intellectual friendship is stronger than other friendships. I knew that Bukharin was in the same state of upheaval as myself. That is why I did not want to deliver him bound hand and foot to the People's Commissariat of Home Affairs. Just as in relation to our other cadres, I wanted Bukharin himself to lay down his arms."

Third Moscow Trial
The third and final trial, in March 1938, known as The Trial of the Twenty-One, is the most famous of the Soviet show trials, because of persons involved and the scope of charges which tied together all loose threads from earlier trials. It included 21 defendants alleged to belong to the so-called "Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites", led by Nikolai Bukharin, the former chairman of the Communist International, ex-premier Alexei Rykov , Christian Rakovsky, Nikolai Krestinsky and Genrikh Yagoda, recently disgraced head of the NKVD.

The fact that Yagoda was one of the accused showed the speed at which the purges were consuming its own. Meant to be the culmination of previous trials, it was now alleged that Bukharin and others sought to assassinate Lenin and Stalin from 1918, murder Maxim Gorky by poison, partition the U.S.S.R and hand out her territories to Germany, Japan, and Great Britain, and other preposterous charges.

Even previously sympathetic observers who had stomached the earlier trials found it harder to swallow new allegations as they became ever more absurd, and the purge now expanded to include almost every living Old Bolshevik leader except Stalin. No other crime of the Stalin years so captivated Western intellectuals as the trial and execution of Bukharin, who was a Marxist theorist of international standing. For some prominent communists such as Bertram Wolfe, Jay Lovestone, Arthur Koestler, and Heinrich Brandler, the Bukharin trial marked their final break with communism, and even turned the first three into fervent anti-Communists eventually. To them, Bukharins confession symbolized the depredations of communism, which not only destroyed its sons but also conscripted them in self-destruction and individual abnegation.

The preparation for this trial, which took over a year, was delayed in its early stages due to the reluctance of some party members in denouncing their comrades. It was at this time that Stalin personally intervened to speed up the process and replaced Yagoda with Nikolai Yezhov. Stalin also observed some of the trial in person from a hidden chamber in the courtroom.

Bukharin's Confession
On the first day of trial, Krestinsky caused a sensation when he repudiated his written confession and pled not guilty to all the charges. However, he changed his plea the next day after "special measures", which dislocated his left shoulder among other things.

Anastas Mikoyan and Vyacheslav Molotov later claimed that Bukharin was never tortured, but it is now known that his interrogators were given the order, "beating permitted," and were under great pressure to extract confession out of the "star" defendant. Bukharin held out for three months, but threats to his young wife and infant son, combined with "methods of physical influence" wore him down. But when he read his confession amended and corrected personally by Stalin, he withdrew his whole confession. The examination started all over again, with a double team of interrogators.

Bukharin's confession in particular became subject of much debate among Western observers, inspiring Koestler's acclaimed novel Darkness at Noon and philosophical essay by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Humanism and Terror. His confessions were somewhat different from others in that while he pled guilty to "sum total of crimes", he denied knowledge when it came to specific crimes. Some astute observers noted that he would allow only what was in written confession and refuse to go any further. Also the fact that he was allowed to write in prison (he wrote four book-length manuscripts including a autobiographical novel, How It All Began, philosophical treatise, and collection of poems - all of which were found in Stalin's archive and published in 1990's) suggests that some kind of deal was reached as a condition for confession. (He also wrote a series of very emotional letters to Stalin tearfully protesting his innocence and professing his love for Stalin, which contrasts with his critical opinion of Stalin and his policies expressed to others and his conduct in the trial.)

There are several interpretations of Bukharin's motivations (besides being coerced) in the trial. Koestler and others viewed it as a true believer's last service to the Party (while preserving little amount of personal honor left) whereas Bukharin biographer Stephen Cohen and Robert Tucker saw traces of Aesopian language, with which Bukharin sought to turn the table into an anti-trial of Stalinism (while keeping his part of bargain to save his family). Bukharin himself speaks of his "peculiar duality of mind" in his last plea, which led to "semi-paralysis of the will" and Hegelian "unhappy consciousness", which presumably stemmed from the reality of ruinous Stalinism (although he could not of course say so in the trial) and the impending threat of fascism (which required kowtowing to Stalin, who became the personification of the Party).

The result was a curious mix of fullsome confessions (of being a "degenerate fascist" working for "restoration of capitalism") and subtle criticisms of the trial. After disproving several charges against him (One observer noted that he "proceeded to demolish or rather showed he could very easily demolish the whole case.") and saying that "the confession of accused is not essential. The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of jurisprudence" in a trial that was solely based on confessions, he finished his last plea with the words: "the monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable especially in the new stage of struggle of the U.S.S.R. May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the U.S.S.R become clear to all."

Romain Rolland and others wrote to Stalin seeking clemency for Bukharin, but all the leading defendants were executed except Rakovsky and two others (who were killed in NKVD prisoner massacres in 1941). Despite the promise to spare his family, Bukharin's wife, Anna Larina, was sent to a labor camp, but she survived to see her husband rehabilitated.


Purge of the army


The first five Marshals of the Soviet Union in November, 1935. (l-r):
Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Semyon Budyonny, Kliment Voroshilov, Vasily Blyukher, Aleksandr Yegorov.
Only Voroshilov and Budyonny survived the Great Purge.


The purge of the Red Army was claimed to be supported by Nazi-forged documents (said to have been correspondence between Marshal Tukhachevsky and members of the German high command).

The claim is, however, unsupported by facts, since by the time the documents were supposedly created, two people from the eight in the Tukhachevsky group were already imprisoned, and by the time the document was said to reach Stalin, the purging process was already underway. However the actual evidence introduced at trial was obtained from forced confessions. The purge of the army removed three of five marshals (then equivalent to six-star generals), 13 of 15 army commanders (then equivalent to four- and five-star generals), eight of nine admirals (the purge fell heavily on the Navy, who were suspected of exploiting their opportunities for foreign contacts), 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.

Viktor Suvorov, in his The Cleansing (), writes that the impact of the purge on the Red Army was not as severe as was claimed later; in fact he suggests that it was beneficial to the Red Army, and was not Stalin's blunder as usually claimed. Of all the victims, not more than one-third were actually army officials. Of the remainder, one-third were commissars political supervisors and one-third were NKVD officials who wore military ranks. For example, one of the most senior executed was the minister of navy affairs, former deputy minister internal affairs (NKVD), Mikhail Frinovsky (.. ) who wore the rank of "Army-commander 1st rank", although he never in his life served in the army.

 

The wider purge

Eventually almost all of the Bolsheviks who had played prominent roles during the Russian Revolution of 1917, or in Lenin's Soviet government afterwards, were executed. Out of six members of the original Politburo during the 1917 October Revolution who lived until the Great Purge, Stalin himself was the only one who remained in the Soviet Union, alive. Four of the other five were executed. The fifth, Leon Trotsky, went into exile in Mexico after being expelled from the Party but was assassinated by Soviet agent Ramón Mercader in 1940. Of the seven members elected to the Politburo between the October Revolution and Lenin's death in 1924, four were executed, one (Tomsky) committed suicide and two (Molotov and Kalinin) lived. Of 1,966 delegates to the 17th Communist Party Congress in 1934 (the last congress before the trials), 1,108 were arrested and nearly all died.

However, the trials and executions of the former Bolshevik leaders, while being the most visible part, were only a minor part of the purges.

 

Ex-kulaks and other "anti-Soviet elements"



On July 30, 1937 the NKVD Order no. 00447 was issued, directed against "ex-kulaks" and other "anti-Soviet elements" (such as former officials of the Tsarist regime, former members of political parties other than the communist party, etc.).

They were to be executed or sent to GULAG prison camps extrajudicially, under the decisions of NKVD troikas.

The order instructed to classify kulaks and other anti-Soviet elements into two categories: the First category of repressed was subject to death by shooting, the Second category was sent to prison labor camps. The order set upper quotas per territory and category. For example Byelorussian SSR was estimated to have 2,000 (1st cat.) + 10,000 (2nd cat.) = 12,000 anti-Soviet elements. It was specifically stressed that quotas were estimates and could not be exceeded without personal approval of Yezhov. But in practice this approval was easy to obtain, and eventually these initial quotas were exceeded by orders of magnitude. For example, in September 1937, the Dagestan obkom requested the increase of the First Category from 600 to 1,200; the request was granted the next day.

The implementation was swift. Already by August 15, 1937, 101,000 were arrested and 14,000 convicted.


National operations of NKVD

A series of national operations of the NKVD was carried out during 19371940, justified by the fear of the fifth column in the expectation of war with "the most probable adversary", i.e., Germany, as well as according to the notion of the "hostile capitalist surrounding", which wants to destabilize the country. The Polish operation of the NKVD was the first of this kind, setting an example of dealing with other targeted minorities. Many such operations were conducted on a quota system. NKVD local officials were mandated to arrest and execute a specific number of "counter-revolutionaries", produced by upper officials based on various statistics.


Timeline of the Great Purge
The Great Purge of 19361938 can be roughly divided into four periods:

1.October 1936February 1937
Reforming the security organizations, adopting official plans on purging the elites.

2.March 1937June 1937
Purging the Elites; Adopting plans for the mass repressions against the "social base" of the potential aggressors, starting of purging the "elites" from opposition.
 
3.July 1937October 1938
Mass repressions against "kulaks", "dangerous" ethnic minorities, family members of oppositions, military officers, Saboteurs in agriculture and industry.

4.November 19381939
Stopping of mass operations, abolishing of many organs of extrajudicial executions, repressions against some organizers of mass repressions.

 

End of Yezhovshchina

By the summer of 1938, Stalin and his circle realized that the purges had gone too far; Yezhov was relieved from his post as head of the NKVD and was eventually purged himself. Lavrenty Beria, a fellow Georgian and Stalin confidant, succeeded him as head of the NKVD. On November 17, 1938 a joint decree of Sovnarkom USSR and Central Committee of VKP(b) (Decree about Arrests, Prosecutor Supervision and Course of Investigation) and the subsequent order of NKVD undersigned by Beria cancelled most of the NKVD orders of systematic repression and suspended implementation of death sentences. The decree signaled the end of massive Soviet purges.

Nevertheless, the practice of mass arrest and exile was continued until Stalin's death in 1953. Political executions also continued, but, with the exception of Katyn and other NKVD massacres during WWII, on a vastly smaller scale. One notorious example is the "Night of the Murdered Poets," in which at least thirteen prominent Yiddish writers were executed on August 12, 1952.

It should be noted that when the relatives of those who had been executed in 1937-38 inquired about their fate, they were told by NKVD that their arrested relatives had been sentenced to "ten years of imprisonment without the right to correspond with anybody" ( ). When these ten year periods elapsed in 1947-48 but the arrested did not appear, the relatives asked MGB about their fate again and this time were told that the arrested died in imprisonment. The causes and the dates of the deaths were invented by MGB.


Western reactions

Although the trials of former Soviet leaders were widely publicized, the hundreds of thousands of other arrests and executions were not. These became known in the west only as a few former gulag inmates reached the West with their stories. Not only did foreign correspondents from the West fail to report on the purges, but in many Western nations, especially France, attempts were made to silence or discredit these witnesses; Jean-Paul Sartre took the position that evidence of the camps should be ignored, in order that the French proletariat not be discouraged. A series of legal actions ensued at which definitive evidence was presented which established the validity of the former labor camp inmates' testimony.

According to Robert Conquest in his 1968 book The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties, with respect to the trials of former leaders, some Western observers were unable to see through the fraudulent nature of the charges and evidence, notably Walter Duranty of The New York Times, a Russian speaker; the American Ambassador, Joseph E. Davies, who reported, "proof...beyond reasonable doubt to justify the verdict of treason" and Beatrice and Sidney Webb, authors of Soviet Communism: A New Civilization. While "Communist Parties everywhere simply transmitted the Soviet line", some of the most critical reporting also came from the left, notably The Manchester Guardian.

Evidence and the results of research began to appear after Stalin's death which revealed the full enormity of the Purges. The first of these sources were the revelations of Nikita Khrushchev, which particularly affected the American editors of the Communist Party USA newspaper, the Daily Worker, who, following the lead of The New York Times, published the Secret Speech in full.

Some of the victims of the terror were American immigrants to Russia, who had emigrated to Russia at the height of the Great Depression in order to find work. At the height of the Terror, American immigrants besieged the US embassy, begging for passports so they could leave Russia. They were turned away by embassy officials, only to be arrested on the pavement outside by lurking NKVD agents. Many were subsequently shot dead at Butovo Field near Scherbinka, south from Moscow.

Efforts to minimize the extent of the Great Purge continue among revisionist scholars in the United States.

Rehabilitation

1963 postage stamp of the Soviet Union, featuring Tukhachevsky following his post-death rehabilitation The Great Purge was denounced by Nikita Khrushchev, who became the leader of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death. In his secret speech to the 20th CPSU congress in February 1956 (which was made public a month later), Khrushchev referred to the purges as an "abuse of power" by Stalin which resulted in enormous harm to the country. In the same speech, he recognized that many of the victims were innocent and were convicted on the basis of false confessions extracted by torture. To take that position was politically useful to Khrushchev, as he was at that time engaged in a power struggle with rivals who had been associated with the Purge, the so-called Anti-Party Group. The new line on the Great Purges undermined their power, and helped propel him to the Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers.

Starting from 1954, some of the convictions were overturned. Mikhail Tukhachevsky and other generals convicted in the Trial of Red Army Generals were declared innocent ("rehabilitated") in 1957. The former Politburo members Yan Rudzutak and Stanislav Kosior and many lower-level victims were also declared innocent in the 1950s. Nikolai Bukharin and others convicted in the Moscow Trials were not rehabilitated until as late as 1988.

The book Rehabilitation: The Political Processes of the 1930s-50s (. 30-50- ) (1991) contains a large amount of newly presented original archive material: transcripts of interrogations, letters of convicts, and photos. The material demonstrates in detail how numerous show trials were fabricated.


Number of people executed

According to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938, the NKVD detained 1,548,367 victims, of whom 681,692 were shot - an average of 1,000 executions a day. Historian Michael Ellman claims the best estimate of deaths brought about by Soviet Repression during these two years is the range 950,000 to 1.2 million, which includes deaths in detention and those who died shortly after being released from the Gulag as a result of their treatment in it. He also states that this is the estimate which should be used by historians and teachers of Russian history. According to Memorial society

On the cases investigated by the State Security Department of NKVD (GUGB NKVD):
At least 1,710,000 people were arrested
At least 1,440,000 people were sentenced
At least 724,000 were executed. Among them:
At least 436,000 people were sentenced to death by NKVD troikas as part of the Kulak operation
At least 247,000 people were sentenced to death by NKVD Dvoikas' and the Local Special Troykas as part of the Ethnic Operation
At least 41,000 people were sentenced to death by Military Courts
Among other cases in October 1936-November 1938:
At least 400,000 were sentenced to labor camps by Police Troikas as Socially Harmful Elements (- , )
At least 200,000 were exiled or deported by Administrative procedures
At least 2 million were sentenced by courts for common crimes, among them 800,000 were sentenced to Gulag camps.

Some experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete or unreliable. For example, Robert Conquest suggests that the probable figure for executions during the years of the Great Purge is not 681,692, but some two and a half times as high. He believes that the KGB was covering its tracks by falsifying the dates and causes of death of rehabilitated victims.


Soviet investigation commissions

At least two Soviet commissions investigated the show-trials after Stalin's death. The first was headed by Molotov and included Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Suslov, Furtseva, Shvernik, Aristov, Pospelov and Rudenko. They were given the task to investigate the materials concerning Bukharin, Rykov, Zinoviev, Tukhachevsky and others. The commission worked in 19561957. While stating that the accusations against Tukhachevsky et al. should be abandoned, it failed to fully rehabilitate the victims of the three Moscow trials, although the final report does contain an admission that the accusations have not been proven during the trials and "evidence" had been produced by lies, blackmail, and "use of physical influence". Bukharin, Rykov, Zinoviev, and others were still seen as political opponents, and though the charges against them were obviously false, they could not have been rehabilitated because "for many years they headed the anti-Soviet struggle against the building of socialism in USSR".

The second commission largely worked from 1961 to 1963 and was headed by Shvernik ("Shvernik Commission"). It included Shelepin, Serdyuk, Mironov, Rudenko, and Semichastny. The hard work resulted in two massive reports, which detailed the mechanism of falsification of the show-trials against Bukharin, Zinoviev, Tukhachevsky, and many others. The commission based its findings in large part on eyewitness testimonies of former NKVD workers and victims of repressions, and on many documents. The commission recommended to rehabilitate every accused with exception of Radek and Yagoda, because Radek's materials required some further checking, and Yagoda was a criminal and one of the falsifiers of the trials (though most of the charges against him had to be dropped too, he was not a "spy", etc.). The commission stated:

Stalin committed a very grave crime against the Communist party, the socialist state, Soviet people and worldwide revolutionary movement... Together with Stalin, the responsibility for the abuse of law, mass unwarranted repressions and death of many thousands of wholly innocent people also lies on Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov....
However, soon Khrushchev was deposed and the "Thaw" ended, so most victims of the three show-trials were not rehabilitated until Gorbachev's time.

Mass graves and memorials
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous mass graves filled with executed victims of the terror were discovered. Some, such as the killing fields at Kurapaty near Minsk and Bykivnia near Kiev, are believed to contain up to 200,000 corpses.

In 2007, one such site, the Butovo firing range near Moscow, was turned into a shrine to the victims of Stalinism. From August 1937 through October 1938, more than 20,000 people were shot and buried there.
 

 

 

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