The Great Purge 

The Great Purge
Eliminating “Factions” in the party
 After the Civil war, many members of the communist party felt that dictatorship was no longer necessary and that
more democratic systems be installed in the new Soviet Union.
 This opinion countered Stalin’s wish to centralize power and move forward with specific economic policy “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”
 In order to eliminate political opponents, Stalin banned all “factions” within the party. In reality, this meant it was
now illegal to oppose Stalin.
 Also, to gain back control, it was necessary for Stalin to eliminate those who still had influence: the “Old Guard”
and Lenin’s comrades
 Most were executed for minor disagreements with policy
 Between 1936 and 1938 there were 3 massive trials of senior Soviet officials which convicted Trotsky, Zinoviev,
Kameniev, and Marshal Mikhail Tuchachevski. They were found guilty in the assassination of Sergey Kirov,
planning to assassinate Stalin and conspiring with Nazi Germany
 Stalin’s Secret Police
 Initially led Nikolai Yezhov
 In the Soviet Union, the entire purge is know as the “Yezovshina”
 This suggests Stalin’s success at transferring the blame of everything to the NKVD when he had gone too far.
The Purge of the Army
 Supported by forged documents that suggested a pro-Nazi conspiracy, Stalin then attacked the army.
 By 1938, the Purge claimed the lives of 3 of 5 Field Marshals, 13 of 15 Army Commanders, 8 of 9 admirals, 50 of
57 corps generals, 154 out of 186 division generals, 16 of 16 Army commisars
The Wider Purge
 Next Stalin went after the General population
 Specifically:
- Kulaks (wealthy peasants)
- anti-soviet elements (remnants of the Tsarist regime)
- wreckers (business leaders)
- ethnic minorities
- any mass organization (courts, the press etc)
 Those purged were often arrested along with relatives and acquaintances
The End of the Purge
 After realizing that he had gone to far, blame shifted to the NKVD and Yezhov himself was purged
 However, the purges continued on a smaller scale until Stalin’s death
 In one example, in 1 night, 13 famous poets were executed
 In total, 1.7 million people arrested, 1.4 million sentenced, 700,000 executed, 400,000 sent to forced labor camps
 Over 2 million arrested and sent to labor camps for common crimes
 The most common element of the entire purge was show trails with false confessions forced because of torture and
threats to family members.