he Soviet purge is still remembered as the most terrifying time in the communist society when the bolsheviks achieved what they have planned, however, Stalin wanted to make sure that this was a long-term plan. In order to maintain the communist system strong throughout the Soviet Union, there was a need to purge those that were against communism or had a negative depiction of communism. In other words, the population was forced to like their leader otherwise they would face the gulag (Soviet Prison) or a bullet to the head (communists loved being efficient).
Many historians see the reign of Joseph Stalin as more of a dictatorship especially because of the actions that took place before the start of the Great Purge. After the victory of the Second World War, his image was impeccable among the Soviet population, and such events as the Great Purge were unseen at the time by the western world. In order to gain a better understanding of how the Great Purge commenced and most importantly why we need to go back to 1930 when a small minority of the Soviet Population was starting to doubt communism.
Joseph Stalin Planning the Great Purge
Despite the constant propaganda that was going on in the Soviet Union at the time, there was still a minority of people that were getting influenced by the western world upon a different political system that represented a better quality of life. The problem that Stalin was facing is that this minority was made up of influential people in the Soviet Union as well as well-known writers from the eastern world.
He saw that there was a need to preserve the communist system as it would end up winning the Second World War (1938–1945) thus proving the efficiency of a communist country. In his mind, he saw that the masses were happy with the political system set in place as well as the life they were living, at the end of the day it was a “fair life” but not compared to western countries.
Therefore Stalin did not hesitate to start the preparation of planning to purge those that were against his view on communism, referred to as Stalinism. It is imperative to mention that at the time it was a crime in the Soviet Union to speak badly about communism or any of the Soviet leaders. He wanted to maintain his own system so much that he had ended up killing his friends, starting with Sergey Kirov, a Russian politician during the early 1930s.
Sergey Kirov’s Death
On the 1st of December 1934, Sergey Kirov had been shot in broad daylight in the streets of Leningrad. Many historians are arguing that his death had been planned by Stalin himself which was actually a very good friend of his for many years. The reason why so many historians assume this is because Kirov’s death was the perfect excuse to commence the purge. Stalin would go onto use Kirov’s death as evidence of a minority from the Soviet population trying to eliminate communist leaders which would justify the need to purge those that are against communism.
As much as I would like to disapprove of this theory I am afraid that every leader during the Second World War era has had its dark side and I would believe Stalin to be gruesome enough to plan the assassination of his own friends. There is no hard evidence to prove that Stalin did orchestrate Kirov’s death in 1934 however, as he had used this excuse to commence the great purge it seems too much of a coincidence.
Andrei Vyshinsky Accusing the United Opposition
Based on the statement created by Stalin upon Kirov’s death and what it can signify, in 1936 Soviet jurist and politician Andrei Yanuaryevich Vyshinsky had accused leaders of the United Opposition of wanting to eliminate Stalin and other influential governmental bodies that are on his side. The United Opposition was a political group formed in 1926 which went against Stalin and his regime, the group had never approved of Stalin’s ruling within the Soviet Union because they always wanted more. These were the people that saw the unfair side of the communist style which Stalin presented.
The sentence to death of Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev for being the chief defendants of the opposition or so-called ‘Trotskyite Kamenevite Zinovievite Leftist Counter-Revolutionary Bloc’ was the start of the Great Purge in which over 1 million people from the Soviet Union followed to be murdered. In this trial, 14 other members of the ‘Trotskyite Kamenevite Zinovievite Leftist Counter-Revolutionary Bloc’ took part and have been deemed of the same sentence as the chief defendants. These two men were actually allies of Stalin in 1917.
Grigory Yevseyevich Zinoviev also known as Ovsei-Gershon Aronovich Radomyslsky was a Bolshevik revolutionary that had been fighting against Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union since 1927. He had made great research at the University of Bern into Vladimir Lenin and Leninism. It had been said by contemporary historians that from his research in his academic years he had seen compliance towards socialism as well as the communism brought by Lenin, but he had never liked how Stalin was applying this ideology to the Soviet Union.
The second chief defendant was Lev Borisovich Kamenev, a very influential and prominent Soviet politician that was even a member of the first Politburo in 1917. A good friend of Vladimir Lenin and also known personally by Joseph Stalin who was also a member of the first Politburo. The political influence which he had acquired in time made Stalin scared of possible outcomes that the United Opposition could turn the Soviet population against Stalin. As you can see so far, everything was going smoothly for Stalin and if you still did not understand why these influential people were being killed is because Stalin was afraid of their power and the possibility of ending his ruling as leader of the Soviet Union, or as some may argue dictator of the Soviet Union.
Nikolai Bukharin’s Right Opposition
Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a prolific author on revolutionary theory. Being part of the right opposition he had allied with Stalin to try and eliminate the likes of Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev however, it seems Stalin had already done it for him. To be sure that Bukharin would not turn against Stalin he had him executed by the Soviet secret police in 1938 as part of the purge. His reputation as an author could have been dangerous to Stalin’s plan, therefore, he was taken care of despite being an ally of Stalin at the time.
Nikolai Krylenko’s Execution as a Judge
Nikolai Vasilyevich Krylenko was the People’s Commisar for the Justice and Prosecutor General of the Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. He was one of the judges that actually approved the execution of Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev as well as the other 14th who were sentenced to death. Having such high power within the system, Stalin could not trust him even if he had no wrongdoing nor presented as if he would want to turn against Stalin, however, his role simply offered him too much power so Stalin eliminated him, including 3 other judges in his team.
Genrikh Yagoda in Charge of the Killing
Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda was the director of the NKVD(The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and also an officer of the Soviet Union’s security and intelligence agency (a.k.a the Soviet secret police). Stalin had put him in charge of killing all of those sentenced to death as well as leading the secret police to purge all the others who were opposing either communism or Stalin. He was placed in his role from 1934 until 1936. After he had dealt with his last executions Stalin started to wonder if Yagoda might turn against him.
Stalin wanted no one to know about his diabolic plan because his name would go down in history as a villain for purging those that oppose him so he ordered Nikolai Yezhow to kill Genrikh Yagoda.
Nikolai Yezhov Cleaning the Trail
After killing Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov was placed in charge of the killings as well as the head of the NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) from 1936 to 1939. By 1939 Stalin had to put his focus on the Second World War which meant that he had to end the purge in order to send as many men on the front as possible to defend the Motherland.
Yezhov was given one final order to eliminate any opposition which was left. After he had accomplished his order Stalin had him shot, thus removing the last trail of the Great Purge.
It is just amazing how Stalin placed people in high positions and then killed them because he was afraid those people would kill him, even if they trusted him and respected Stalinism for what it was worth. Why would they care? they are in a good position. They were that 1% of the Soviet Union living an opulent life.
On the other hand, Yezhov was killed as a sort of closing the coffin to this gray period in time. Despite all of these powerful and influential men we need to also focus our attention on the million lives that have been taken by Stalin, he had no right to take lives.
Some historians argue even to this day that the Soviet population should not cry over the Great Purge as they have deserved it by accepting Stalin (such a cunning man) as their leader. The Great Purge had lasted from 1936 to 1938 in which the most terrifying era of the Soviet Union was born as the wrong words could have easily killed you.
I believe that with this story many people can see the true face of Stalin as he was not so great as many may think. Please do remember that it wasn’t him who won the Second World War but the soldiers of the Red Army who gave their everything to put a stop to Hitler’s fascist regime. The Great Purge is the moment that silenced the Soviet population with terror, therefore the population accepted Stalin’s ruling as well as communism as the perfect political system.