(PURGES and HYSTERIA in the SOVIET UNION – continued)

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Great Purge Conclusion

Counts of the number of people who were purged vary. The Russian historian Roy Medvedev has written of reliable Soviet records indicating 1,116 having been sentenced to death in 1936 and 353,680 in 1937. The decline in 1938, it is estimated, may have brought the number of executed to 200,000 or 300,000. Stalin's opponents in the Party had been effectively silenced. Of the 1,966 delegates to the 17th Party Congress – the Party Congress of 1934 that had threatened Stalin's position within the Party – 1,108 had been shot as enemies of the people.

Perhaps it can be said that ten percent of the Soviet Union's adult population were executed or deported to labor camps. The total had to be small enough for the Soviet regime to maintain the support that it needed to survive. It seems to have been a majority against letting a minority go under. In 1938 and beyond Stalin was still receiving loud cheers and applause. After the trials and deportations, Stalin appeared smiling at festivals, handing prizes to athletes. The purges had not reached the level of imploding Soviet society. Soviet citizens were still hard at work. In 1937 industrial production in the Soviet Union was 14.1 percent of world production, and in 1938 it had risen to 17.6 percent. In the view of many Soviet citizens, a lot of traitors and wreckers and misguided old revolutionaries had been driven from the ranks of good people. Old revolutionaries were of little use, anyway. Old revolutionaries become old cranks. In their place, a younger generation of people had risen, and they were enthusiastic about the revolution and making the nation strong.

A few old Bolsheviks would survive Siberia, but hardly any of Trotsky's old supporters would. Nor would Trotsky's family, or Trotsky. In May 1940 an attempt on Trotsky almost succeeded, led by David Siqueiros, the Mexican artist and Mexico's Communist Party leader. In August that year, another succeeded. Ramon Mercader had become one of Trotsky's trusted helpers, and one night he drove an ice pick into Trotsky's head. Mexican authorities sentenced Mercader to 20 years in prison. The Soviet Union awarded him with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and awarded Mercader's mother the Order of Lenin.

Meanwhile, the Soviet regime had been increasing its appeal to Russian tradition and patriotism, and it was adopting stricter social policies. Divorce laws were tightened. Abortions were made illegal, and women were encouraged to bear more children. In education it was back to basics rather than any new theories. Plans to Latinize the alphabet were dropped. Russian became a compulsory subject throughout the Soviet Union. Military schools and other establishments for national minorities were closed, and no more criticism about Russian arrogance toward national minorities could be found in the Soviet press. Instead came comments about the Russian people extending unselfish and constant help to every other Soviet nation.


Let History Judge, by Roy Medvedev, 1989

Stalin, by Edvard Radzinsky, Doubleday, 1996

Stalin: The Man and His Era, Adam Ulam, 1989

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, 2010

Darkness at Noon, a novel by Arthur Koestler, 1940

Paul Robeson Speaks, edited by Philip S. Foner, New York, 1978

The God that Failed, edited by Richard Crossman, 1949

Molotov Remembers, 1993

Additional Online Reading

Communist Party Power Structure

Viacheslav Molotov

Copyright © 2010-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.