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Russian History > Soviet Union > Stalin’s Purges

Stalin’s Purges

The cruel reign of Josef Stalin as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was probably the bleakest period in Russia’s history. During this time, millions of ordinary Russian Citizens died in exile or in one of the many Gulag’s set up to accommodate countless prisoners, the vast majority of whom were incarcerated for no other reason than the fact that their views differed to that of their leader.

Stalin’s rule

Josef Stalin came to power in 1922 and early on in his time as leader, he sought to stabilise the Soviet Union which was still coming to terms with the events of 1917 that had seen the Royal Family overthrown and subsequently executed.

In their place came the Communist government and with Stalin in charge after Lenin’s death, he had a free reign with which to rid the country of anyone who didn’t share this political ideal.

Purging from within

The very first purges took place within the Communist party itself as Stalin sought to remove anyone who he perceived to be a threat to his rule or otherwise didn’t share the exact same political beliefs. Clearly however, it could be argued that there was a very strong element of paranoia involved.

In 1932 however, there was a very real opposition to Stalin’s policies from within the Communist Party, many of whom were lobbying for the re-admission of Leon Trotsky. Stalin subsequently demanded that the dissenters should be arrested and executed.

Sergei Kirov, leader of the Leningrad Communist Party opposed this suggestion and a subsequent vote on the issue went with Kirov and against Stalin.

Kirov is removed

In 1934, Kirov was murdered and it is widely acknowledged that this was probably carried out on Stalin’s orders.

However, the leader used the killing as a form of ‘green light’ to carry out his plans and in the months that followed, many of his dissenters were sent to prison camps or murdered. Many even appeared at public show trials and confessed to crimes that they clearly hadn’t committed.

The purges begin in earnest

In the period that followed these early acts, 93 of the 139 Central Committee members were executed and 81 of the 103 generals and admirals in the armed forces were executed – an orgy of executions that left the Soviet Union’s military crippled when Nazi Germany became a threat. The Communist Party was also purged and around one million members were killed.

The atrocities continue

Sadly there was no stopping Stalin once these early purges had taken place and it was now the turn of ordinary Soviet citizens to suffer.

It’s always been impossible to explain exactly why some citizens were singled out and it’s often claimed that some were chosen simply because they looked to have a ‘will of their own’.

As a general rule, everyone had to accept ‘Russification’ and the ideals of the Communist party. Christianity and the Muslim religions were also banned at the time.

At the end of Stalin’s purges some 20 million ordinary Russians were sentenced to the Gulag’s where many died in the extreme conditions.

For this reason alone, Stalin’s reign will forever be remembered for this unspeakable cruelty and his rule will be defined by one chilling quote.

‘A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic’.

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