* war and social upheaval: Communism the Stalinist era








The Stalinist Era: The Great Purges--Show Trials


Figure 1.--The first defendants of the dhow trials and pirges were Old Bolshevik party leaders. Then special purges of the Red Army began. Eventually top officials of the Soviet secret police were vtargetted to destoy the evidence of Stalin's connection with the orges. Most defendants were charged under Article 58 of the RSFSR Penal Code with conspiring with the western powers to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders, dismember the Soviet Union, and restore capitalism. Graually the purf\ges began moving to lesser anf then unknow igies and finally to counless ordinary people. We do not know who these victims were or what they were charged with. Notn only men were charged, but often their wives as well. Often ignored is what happened to their children. Source: Central Russian State Film and Video Archive.

Stalin ordered a series of spectacular show as the center pices of the Great Terror--a term historians have appropriated from the French Revolution. At the show trial, prominent officials and military officers including many Old Bolshevicks who made the Revolution were forced to admit to ludicrous accounts of treason. The Great Terror included a series of three elaborately staged and publicized show trials. The first Show Trial (July-August 1936) which shocked the world included high-ranking Communists who had dared to question Stalin. The defendents included Lev Kamenev, Grigorii Zinoviev, and fourteen others. They were accused of organizing a Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist center in 1932. Thus was in keeping with Stalin's first tactic of attacking left-wing critics allied with Trotsky within the Party. Trotsky was the former commander of the Red Army and Stalin's rival in his rise to power. They were accused of assassinating of popular Lenningrad boss Sergei Kirov in December 1934. (Most historians believe Stalin was actually responsible.) Stalin was reportedly dissatisfied with Yagoda's handling of the investigation and number of executions. Other historians believe he wanted to eliminate all knowledge of his involvement in the Kirov assasination. Stalin thus replaced Yagoda with Yezhov as head of the NKVD following the first trials.. The Second Show Trial (September 1936) quickly followed Yezhov's promotion. The defendents with the Old Bolshevicks now eliminated included Iurii Piatakov and other leading figures in the industrialization drive. The Third Show Trials were launched at the plenary session of the Party's Central Committee (February-March 1937). The defebdents jncluded Nikolai Bukharin and Aleksei Rykov They were the leading Party members associated with what Stalin described as the the so-called Rightist deviation (late-1920s and early-1930s) who had questioned Stalin;s leadership. They were accused of having collaborated with the Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorists as well as with foreign intelligence agencies. They along with Yagoda and others were in due course tried, convicted, and sentenced to death (March 1938).

NKVD

Figure 1.--Counless photographs exist of NAZI atricities. Germans commonly had cameras and many were actually proud of what they were doing. Despite the Many Soviet NKVD atrocuoties, far fewe images exist. The NKVD was very concious of security amd more tihhtly enforced regukations about camerras. This image is a 2007 Polish movie recreation of the NKVD murder of Polish officers. It comes from a powerful film--'Katyn' based on 'Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn' by Andrzej Mularczyk The next instrument of Soviet state security after the bloody run of the Cheka/ OGPU was the All-Union People's Commissariat of Home Affairs (NKVD) (1934). The NKVD existed as a Russian police unit earlier, but is function as the Soviet security agency only began in 1934. At this time the NKVD was given the sole responsibility for law enforcement and state security, although the military had foreign intelligence/espionage functions. All Union was the Soviet term for national and differentiated agencies from organizations established in individual republics. The NKVD was in part an attempt to create a more coherent organizational structure. It included the Main Agency of State Security (GUGB) which was essentially the OGPU with a new name. Incorporated into the agency was the central agency of Militsia (police), the border and internal guards, and the fire guards. By this time, as a result of both Lennin's and Stalin's policies, the Gulag had grown in the form of labor camps to huge dimensions sqauandering the lives of millions of totally innocent Soviet citizens. A unit of the NKVD was responsible for operating these camps. They also over saw internal deportations. Millions were incarcerated in the Soviet Gulag, many of who did not survive. [Solzhenitsyn] Criminals were among those sentenced to the Gulag, but most were wholely innocent victims, convicted of trumped up political charges. The NKVD had three three commanders (Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, and Lavrentiy Beria. All three were thenselves consumed by the Soviet system. The first two by order of Stalin hoping to shift blames for mass murder to his henchmen which is primarily why he Jews, Soviet sociery was all too willing to blame Jews. Beria was shot after Stalin died by the Sovier leaders fearing he was about to use the NKVD to move against them. The NKVD is best know for the Great Purges oedered by Stalin. NKVD units were given quotas. Many overfilled their quotas to demonstrate their loyalty to Stalin. The NKVD palayed an important tole in World War II, commiting more atrocities, this time not only in the Soviet Union, but Eastern Europe as well. The Great Purgges was only one of the many MKVD crimes. The NKVD at Stalin's order conducted mass extrajudicial executions of countless Soviet citizens. Their primary procedure was to torture people arrested until they receive absurd cionfessions. The NKVD administered the Gulag system of forced labor camps which they filled with people arrested , most for no reason. The NKVD was responsible for the repression of the better-off peasantry (meaning the best farmers in the country), as well as the mass deportations of entire nationalities to sparsely inhabited regions of the country where many died because of the primitive conditions. They were resoinsible for border protection and espionage. This included political assassinations--which continues to be a Russian specialty.

Preparation (October 1936 - February 1937)

The first step was to prepare the security organizations and to develop specifics plans on purging the elites.

First Show Trial (July-August 1936)

The purging of the existing Soviet elite was Stlin's first objective. This began with the arrest of the Old Bolsevicks that had prominant roles in the Revolution, including many of Stalin's closest associates. The first Show Trial (July-August 1936) which shocked the world included high-ranking Communists who had dared to question Stalin. The defendents included Lev Kamenev, Grigorii Zinoviev, and fourteen others. They were accused of organizing a Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist center in 1932. Thus was in keeping with Stalin's first tactic of attacking left-wing critics allied with Trotsky within the Party. Trotsky was the former commander of the Red Army and Stalin's rival in his rise to power. They were accused of assassinating of popular Lenningrad boss Sergei Kirov in December 1934. (Most historians believe Stalin was actually responsible.)

Second Show (September 1936)

Stalin was reportedly dissatisfied with Yagoda's handling of the investigation and number of executions. Other historians believe he wanted to eliminate all knowledge of his involvement in the Kirov assasination. Stalin thus replaced Yagoda with Yezhov as head of the NKVD following the first trials.. The Second Show Trial (September 1936) quickly followed Yezhov's promotion. The defendents with the Old Bolshevicks now eliminated included Iurii Piatakov and other leading figures in the industrialization drive.

Third Show Trial (February-March 1937)

The Third Show Trials were launched at the plenary session of the Party's Central Committee (February-March 1937). The defendents included Nikolai Bukharin and Aleksei Rykov They were the leading Party members associated with what Stalin described as the the so-called Rightist deviation (late-1920s and early-1930s) who had questioned Stalin;s leadership. They were accused of having collaborated with the Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorists as well as with foreign intelligence agencies. They along with Yagoda and others were in due course tried, convicted, and sentenced to death (March 1938).

Secret Red Army Court Martials (June 1937)

Stalin and his principal instrument, the NKVD, mext got around to the Red Army. Stalin ordered the arrest of General Mikhail Tukhachevsky (May 22, 1937). He and seven other senior Red Army commanders were charged with organizing a 'right-wing-Trotskyist' military conspiracy and spying for NAZI Germany. The arrests were reportedlu based on confessions obtained from other arrested officers. Of course in the Soviet system this meant that these officers were simply tortured until they confessed to what Stalin wanted them to say. Some Western historians until the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), insusted that the case against the Red Army generals was based on forged documents planted by Admiral Canaris' Abwehr in an effort to weaken the Red army. It was argued that the Abwehr documents convinced Stalin that Tukhachevsky was orcestrating a Red Army plot to depose him. Following the disolution of the Soviet Union, Soviet archieves were partially opened to Western researchers. Most historians now believe that Stalin from the beggining concocted an entirely fictitious plot as [part of his wider program of purges. He chose the best known and most respected of his generals-- Tukhachevsky. And the charges of treason were used to eliminate him and others in a believable manner. [Lukes, p. 95.] There was a German connection. Stalin's ordered NKVD agent Nikolai Skoblin to pass information to Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD) intelligence unit fabricated information proving that Tukhachevsky and the other Soviet generals were plotting to depose Stalin. (Heydrich was earlier involved with forging documents in the Night of the Long Knives operation.) Heydrich saw an opprtunity to not only weaken the Red Army, but also undermine his rival, Admiral Canaris. He ordered that documents be forged implicating Tukhachevsky and other Red Army commanders. As a result of the Rapollo Accords, many Red Army commanders had contacts with Wehrmacgt officers. These documents were passed to the Soviets through Czech President BeneŇ° and other neutral parties. Stalin's archives were found to include some of these documents which purport to show a connection between Tukhachevsky and the NAZI leadership. Heydrich and other NAZIs were convinced that they had tricked Stalin into executing his best generals. It now appears that they had simply aided Stalin in pusuing the purge that he had concoted on his own. Of course it could be that they did help convince Stalin that there were in reality traitors working against him. It is difficult to know just what was happening in the dark depths of Stalin's mind. Unlike many other important officials tried as part of the purges, Tukhachevsky and other top generals were not tried in public. The court martial to the extent it actually occurred was conducted in secret (June 11). The German documents apparently were not used, but rather confessions extracted through torture or extortion (threats asgainst the family) were the principal evidence. Tukhachevsky and his fellow officers were shot immediately after the court martial. [Rayfield, p. 324.] While the German role appears to have been minimal. The impact on the Red Army was not.

Mass Repression (July 1937 - October 1938)

The groups targeted for mass repression was the kulaks, selected ethnic minorities, family members of those purged, military officers, and so-called saboteurs in agriculture and industry. Orders went out to NKVD offices throughout the country with quotas to be filled. Some NKVD offices sought to impress headquaters by exceeding their quota. The height of the trrror was 1937-38. The institutions of the Soviet state were affected, including the Red Army. Not only was this the only institution that could threaten Stalin. As a result of the Rapollo Treaty (1922), large numbers of Red Armny officers had associations wih German officers. The secret trial and execution of General Tukhachevsky and his colleagues was just the beginning. A massive purge of the Red Army followed which eliminated many of the most competent and experienced commanders and officers. The result was a severe loss of some of the best trained and most professionl military officers. This undoubtedly was a factor in the poor perfornmance of the Red Army at the onset of Barbarossa (June 1941).

End of the Great Terror

Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov was the NKVD Chief who oversaw the Great Terror (1936-38). This was the most active period of the Great Purge. Having murdered million and broken millions more the Gret Terror began to decline. We are not sure just why. Perhaps Stalin concluded thatbhe had disposed of most of his enemies. Yezho after presiding over the mass arrests and executions, eventually fell from Stalin's favour and from power. It does not appear to be anything he did or said. Only he knew too much--primarily Stalin's entral role in the Geat Terror. Yezhov was arrested and like the people he had arrested and tortured, confessed to a range of anti-Soviet activity. He later claimed that he had been tortured into making these confessions--no doubt true. Hevwas was executed (1940).

Sources

Lukes, Igor. Czechoslovakia Between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard BeneŇ° in the 1930s (Oxford University Press, 1996).

Rayfield, Donald. Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those who Killed for Him (New York: Random House, 2004).





CIH







Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to Main Stalinist Gereat Terror page]
[Return to Main Stalinist era page]
[Return to Main Soviet communism page]
[Return to Soviet World War II spying and counter-intelligence]
[About Us]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Freedom] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Ideology] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]





Created: 7:50 PM 12/7/2007
Last updated: 12:42 PM 6/25/2020