If one was to define the word purge they would receive the ideology of purification or the removal of incompetent impurities. In Stalin’s’ regime it saw the removal of those who were labelled as “wreckers”, “sabotages”, traitors and in some cases those who were believed to be spies. The Great Purge which lasted four years affected everyone from party members to ordinary civilians who were prosecuted under the suspicion of treason against the regime. The Purges were introduced after the murder of Kirov, which then came to impact the daily life of Russians, the idea of war and Industrial production.
However was Kirov’s death just an excuse to allow Stalin to assemble his leadership onto the party or did his personality play too much of an influence? Stalin used the murder of Sergei Kirov to his advantage by using it to display corruption within Russia and maybe its party and to show that conspiracies were underway against the regime. Kirov, who had publically argued with Stalin on several occasions on policies and ideas, threatened Stalin’s influence as he won the support of the majority making Stalin a minority.
Later Kirov was assassinated by a younger party member. It is unknown who had hired this assassin, but whether it was an enemy of his or the enemy in Stalin he had create, Stalin used his death to his advantage. This was done through the claim that spies and conspiracy against older party members was present. From here he introduced the Purges. Another reason it is said that the purges took place was to allow Stalin to assert his power on to the party, to allow his ways as a leader to continue.
By influencing low ranked members of the party to find the traitors from among those in a higher position, denunciation was common during the year of 1937. As it was Stalin’s personal aim to cleanse his party of its traitors. People could be reported as traitors for just making a joke about Stalin which could be found to be prosecution worthy leading to either execution or being sent to a labour camp. All people were in danger of facing such a fate, as this way of life of living in fear spread from the Bolshevik party to the Red Army to normal every day people- no one was safe.
The NKVD was formed to intimidate people and make them fearful in order to stay obedient. As the NKVD arrived in black cars/vans in the middle of the night knocking on their victims door. This knock on the door at night time forced people to be fearful. Stalin decided to purge the Red Army as they were tough and not as easily manipulated and intimidated than the public. They usually failed to fulfil his polices allowing him to believe that he could trust nobody.
To add to this, in some cases he purged certain people as they knew too much. His trust issues got in the way at this point as he beat confessions out of people including members of the Red Guard. It is unknown how many people exactly may have been a part of the traitors, as being beaten isn’t exactly the clear proof to determine whether their confession is genuine. As the Great Purges began to rapidly impact on industrialisation which prevented the modernisation that Stalin wanted, it was called to an end.
To relieve himself of all the blame he passed it on to the last remaining original Bolshevik who had not yet died at the hands of Stalin, Yezhov , the NKVD chief was burdened with the blame of horrific guilt over the results of the Purges. After Yezhov’s death, Stalin remained the only original Bolshevik left leaving him unthreatened by competition from other members. Believing that Stalins personality was the main focus of the cause of the purges is a Totalitarian view. As his selfish personality, allowed him to eliminate competition from other Bolsheviks through the method of murder for leadership.
Stalin did not only kill just his opponents, but also their family and anyone associated or sympathetic of them. In this view, it is believed that members of the NKVD followed the instructions handed to them from the highest authority. However, here Stalin made sure that it seemed like he was not connected to them in terms of their actions by depicting that what ever brutal task they did was of their own accord. The element of fear was built up within the people as Stalin allowed the purges to act as a way to control the people through manipulation and terror.
Many historians who share such a view argue that his personality nurtured his regime and that any blood spilt is down to him. For example S. Cohen had said “Ultimately you cannot explain the great terror against the party without focussing on Stalin’s personality. For some reason Stalin had to rid himself of the old Bolshevik Party”. This illustrates to us, that Stalin’s obsessive need to remove all obstacles in the way of lessening his leadership has allowed him to eliminate those who were his friends and colleagues.
Here we gain the knowledge that Stalin was a calculated figure willing to do anything for his own personal benefit. Whilst Robert Conquest is believed to have said “The one fundamental drive that can be found throughout is the strengthening of his own position”. This statement sees the release of a straightforward argument suggesting that Stalins motive of the Great Purges was to develop his own personal position. Which depicts that Stalin did things for his own personal mean rather than for the good and genuineness of it.
However, another view called the Revisionist which links to the ideology that Stalin may have introduced the purges but other factors made them in to what they were other than just Stalin himself. For example, the NKVD did things on its own accord rather than being monitored and persisting of leading power. Here they may have completed acts against Stalin without his knowledge or permission. As well as, the idea that Stalins actions played a part in the terror, but his personality by it self cannot determine nor explain the resulting outcome. Historians like R.
Manning state that “The industrial showdown, which set in at a time when the USSR could least afford it, when a two-footed war without allies seemed to be the Soviets’ inevitable fate, shaped the course of the Great purges”. This displays to us that the struggling economy is believed by this Historian to be one of the main factors, why the historian favours the Revisionist view. However, J. Arch Getty had said, “Scholars have often discussed the Great purges only against the background of Stalin’s personality and categorised Stalinism simply as the undisputed rule of an omniscient and omnipotent dictator”.
Which allows us to see that this historian believes it is a bit arrogant to assume that it was only Stalins personality which concluded to the terror and that other factors too play a part in the final event. Overall, it is my personal opinion as a Totalitarian, to believe that Stalins personality played a major role in the brutality that occurred. As it would be naive to assume that a leader as calculated as Stalin had proved, through the elimination of his ex Bolshevik pals such as Bukharin failed to see what was happening under his own rule.
Through the characteristics of Stalin I have received, he trusts no one after the death of his wife and it would be idiocy for him to trust the NKVD alone to deal with the branded “traitors” as such, as this may lead to corruption within the NKVD. To add to this, if he didnt even trust the Red Army who fought with him, why would he trust men alone with his enemies-it makes no sense. Stalin is a hands on man, not a background man who is unknown to what he has and hasn’t permitted.