Great Purge

Great Purge

Great Purge ( _ru. Большая чистка, transliterated "Bolshaya chistka") was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin in 1937-1938. Orlando Figes "The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia", 2007, ISBN 0-08050-7461-9, pages 227-315.] Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. By Robert Gellately. 2007. Knopf. 720 pages ISBN 1400040051] Also described as a "Soviet holocaust" by several authors, [Alan Wood, "Stalin and Stalinism", Routledge 1990, ISBN 0415037212, page 37] [Ian Kershaw, Moshe Lewin, "Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison", Cambridge University Press 1997, ISBN 0521565219, page 300] [Leo Kuper, "Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century", Yale University Press 1982, ISBN 0300031203] 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.

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


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 believed to be, or at least were accused of, acting for ulterior political motives or to have opposed the Soviet state and the politics of the Communist Party.

Also, 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. [Pages 250, 257–258, "The Great Terror", ISBN 0195071328] 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, most of the accusations, including those presented at the Moscow show trials, were based on forced confessions, often obtained by torture, [Page 121, "The Great Terror", ISBN 0195071328 which cites his secret speech] 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. [Page 286, "The Great Terror", ISBN 0195071328]

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. ["Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia" by Catherine Merridale. Penguin Books, 2002 ISBN 0142000639 p. 200]

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; this period is sometimes referred to as the Yezhovshchina ( _ru. Ежовщина; "Yezhov era"). However the campaigns were carried out according to the general line, and often by direct orders, of the Party Politburo headed by Stalin.

Large-scale politically motivated killing of this type gave rise to modern terms, such as "democide" and "politicide".


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 the center faction of the Party, led by Stalin, to eliminate opposition from the Party's 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 the fears of Stalin's clique. He therefore initiated 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. [The Sword and the Shield: The Mikrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, [ pp 86 and 87] ]

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. [ "Molotov Remembers", ISBN 1566630274 ] 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 Tzarist 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,Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. By Robert Gellately, 2007, Knopf, 720 pages. ISBN 1400040051] although there had been periods of heightened repression, such as the Red Terror, the deportation of kulaks who opposed collectivization, and the massive, artificially created famines. 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. [Stalin's Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union by Barry McLoughlin and Kevin McDermott (eds). Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, [ p. 6] ] 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.

*The First Moscow Trial, 1936.
*Introduction of NKVD troikas for express implementation of "revolutionary justice" in 1937.
*Introduction of Article 58-14 about "counter-revolutionary sabotage" in 1937.

The Moscow Trials

Between 1936 and 1938, three huge Moscow Trials of former senior Communist Party leaders were held. The defendants were accused of conspiring with western powers to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders, dismember the Soviet Union and restore capitalism.

*The first trial was of 16 members of the so-called "Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre", 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. All were sentenced to death and executed.
*The second trial in January 1937 involved 17 lesser figures including Karl Radek, Yuri Piatakov and Grigory Sokolnikov. Thirteen of the defendants were eventually shot. The rest received sentences in labor camps where they soon died.
*The third trial, in March 1938, known as The Trial of the Twenty-One, included 21 defendants alleged to belong to the so-called "Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites", led by Nikolai Bukharin, former head of the Communist International, former Prime Minister Alexei Rykov, Christian Rakovsky, Nikolai Krestinsky and Genrikh Yagoda. All the leading defendants were executed.
*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. Many of these observers were broadly sympathetic to the Soviet Union, or at least idealized Soviet society. 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 would be spared. Instead they had to settle for a meeting with only Stalin, Kliment Voroshilov, and Yezhov, at which assurances were given. After the trial, Stalin not only broke his promise to spare the defendants, he had most of their relatives arrested and shot. Bukharin also agreed to "confess" on condition that his family be spared. In this case, the promise was partly kept. His wife, Anna Larina, was sent to a labor camp, but survived.

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."

Purge of the army

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). [Pages 198, 199 "The Great Terror: A Reassessment"; a Soviet book, "Marshal Tukhachevskiy" by Nikulin, pages 189–194 is cited.]

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. [Pages 200–202 "The Great Terror: A Reassessment"] 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 [Page 211, "The Great Terror: A Reassessment"] ), 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars. [Page 198, "Black Book of Communism"] .

Viktor Suvorov, in his "The Cleansing (Очищение)", 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 (М.П. Фриновский) 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 survived.Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. By Robert Gellately, 2007, Knopf, 720 pages. ISBN 1400040051] 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.

The trials and executions of the former Bolshevik leaders were, however, 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 1937–1940, 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. ["Black Book of Communism"]

Timeline of the Great Purge

The Great Purge of 1936–1938 can be roughly divided of four periods: [ N.G. Okhotin, A.B. Roginsky "Great Terror": Brief Chronology] Memorial, 2007] ;October 1936–February 1937: Reforming the security organizations, adopting official plans on purging the elites.;March 1937–June 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.;July 1937–October 1938: Mass repressions against "kulaks", "dangerous" ethnic minorities, family members of oppositions, military officers, Saboteurs in agriculture and industry.;November 1938–1939: 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" (десять лет без права переписки). 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. [Page 472,473 "Great Terror" ISBN 0195071328] 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. [Page 472, "Great Terror" ISBN 0195071328] A series of legal actions ensued at which definitive evidence was presented which established the validity of the former labor camp inmates' testimony. [Page 472-474, "Great Terror" ISBN 0195071328]

Robert Conquest wrote the book "The Great Terror" in 1968. According to Conquest, writing in "The Great Terror", 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 Davis, who reported, "proof...beyond reasonable doubt to justify the verdict of treason" [Page 468, "Great Terror" ISBN 0195071328] and Beatrice and Sidney Webb, authors of "Soviet Communism: A New Civilization". [Page 469, "Great Terror" ISBN 0195071328] According to Conquest, writing in "The Great Terror", while "Communist Parties everywhere simply transmitted the Soviet line", some of the most critical reporting also came from the left, notably "The Manchester Guardian". [Page 465,467 "Great Terror" ISBN 0195071328]

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. [ [ On Leaving the Communist Party] by Howard Fast, November 16, 1957] In 1968, Robert Conquest published "The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties".

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 the Yuzhnoye Butovo District killing ground near Moscow. []

Efforts to minimize of the extent of the Great Purge continue among revisionist scholars in the United States. [John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. "In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage." Encounter Books, 2003. ISBN 1-893554-72-4 pp. 15–17]


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" (Реабилитация. Политические процессы 30-50-х годов) (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.Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) by Richard Pipes, pg 67] 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. [ [ Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments] by Michael Ellman, 2002] 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" (социально-вредный элемент, СВЭ)
**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. [ [ Stalinism in Post-Communist Perspective: New Evidence on Killings, Forced Labour and Economic Growth in the 1930s] by Steven Rosefielde, 1996] [ [ Comment on Wheatcroft] by Robert Conquest, 1999] Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) by Richard Pipes, pg 67] [Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum, pg 584] 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. [ [ Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia: 1934-1941. - book reviews] by Robert Conquest, 1996, National Review]

oviet 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 1956–1957. Because it included people like Molotov and Kaganovich, it could not have been objective, and, while stating that the accusations against Tukhachevsky "et al." should be abandoned, they 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 include 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.

kepticism and denial

Some authors who align themselves politically with Stalinism, such as Ludo Martens, maintain that the scope of the purges was greatly exaggerated and the purges themselves were a necessary means of struggle against political enemies at that time. They claim that the prevailing point of view on the purges is the result of the coincidence of the interests of the post-Stalin Soviet and Western politicians and historians: the goal of the former (Nikita Khrushchev in particular, who initiated "destalinisation") was to discredit Stalinist opposition, while the goal of the latter was to discredit the Soviet Union as a whole.

Mass graves and memorials

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous mass graves filled with executed victims of the terror were discovered. [ [ "Pictorial essay: Death trenches bear witness to Stalin's purges"] CNN, July 17, 1997] [ [ "Mass grave found at Ukrainian monastery"] , "BBC", July 12, 2002] [ [ "Wary of its past, Russia ignores mass grave site"] , by Fred Weir, "The Christian Science Monitor", October 10, 2002] Some, such as the killing fields at Kurapaty near Minsk and Bykivnia near Kiev, are believed to contain up to 200,000 corpses. [ [ Twentieth Century Atlas - Casualty Statistics - Biggest Battles and Massacres] ]

In 2007 one such site, the Butovo shooting 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. [ [ "Former Killing Ground Becomes Shrine to Stalin’s Victims"] by Sophia Kishkovsky, The New York Times, June 8, 2007]

ee also

*Stalinist purges in Mongolia


References and further reading

* "Rehabilitation: As It Happened. Documents of the CPSU CC Presidium and Other Materials. Vol. 2, February 1956–Early 1980s". Moscow, 2003. Compiled by A. Artizov, Yu. Sigachev, I. Shevchuk, V. Khlopov under editorship of acad. A. N. Yakovlev.
* Eternal Memory: Voices From the Great Terror. 1997. 16 mm feature film directed by Pultz, David. Narrated by Meryl Streep. USA.
* Robert Conquest: "The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties". 1968.
* Robert Conquest, "The Great Terror: A Reassessment", Oxford University Press, May 1990, hardcover, ISBN 0-19-505580-2; trade paperback, Oxford, September, 1991, ISBN 0-19-507132-8
* Robert Gellately, "Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe". Knopf, August 2007, 720 pages, ISBN 1400040051
* J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, "The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks", Yale University Press, 1999.
* J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning, "Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives", New York, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
* Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Panne, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stephane Courtois, "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression", Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7. Chapter 10: "The Great Terror, 1936-1938".
* John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, "In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage", Encounter Books, September, 2003, hardcover, 312 pages, ISBN 1-893554-72-4
* Barry McLoughlin and Kevin McDermott, "Stalin's Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union", Palgrave Macmillan, December 2002, hardcover, 280 pages, ISBN 1403901198
* Hiroaki Kuromiya, "The Voices of the Dead: Stalin's Great Terror in the 1930s." Yale University Press, December 24, 2007. ISBN 0300123892
* Arthur Koestler, "Darkness at Noon", 1940, ISBN 0-553-26595-4
* "Rehabilitation: Political Processes of 30-50th years", in Russian (Реабилитация. Политические процессы 30-50-х годов), editor: Academician A.N.Yakovlev, 1991 ISBN 5-250-01429-1
* Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, "The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956", HarperCollins, February, 2002, paperback, 512 pages, ISBN 0-06-000776-1
* Eugene Lyons, "Assignment in Utopia", Harcourt Brace and Company, 1937.
* Vadim Rogovin, "Two lectures: Stalin's Great Terror: Origins and Consequences Leon Trotsky and "The Fate of Marxism in the USSR" Mehring books, ISBN 0-929087-83-6 1996
* Vadim Rogovin, "1937: Stalin's Year of Terror." Mehring books, ISBN 0-929087-77-1 1996.

External links

* [ free eBook "Another view of Stalin" by Ludo Martens 1995]
* [ Stalin Internet Archive]
* [ "Documenting the Death Toll: Research into the Mass Murder of Foreigners in Moscow, 1937–38"] By Barry McLoughlin, American Historical Association, 1999
* [ “American Communists and Radicals Executed by Soviet Political Police and Buried at Sandarmokh”] (Appendix to John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr’s "In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage")
* [ "Stalin's victims honored in emotional memorial"] By Conor Sweeney, The Washington Post. Wednesday, August 8, 2007.

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