Last Updated 24 Mar 2020

Stalin’s Reign of Terror

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In 1910 Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili renamed himself 'Josef Stalin', the man of steel, a foreshadowing of the iron hand he would rule the Soviet Union with a mere 15 years later. Lenin knew that Stalin was dangerous and sought to get rid of him: " I propose to find a way to remove Stalin" (Stalinism Chronology), but died before accomplishing this, leaving Stalin free to ascend to absolute power in both the Communist Party and the country. This absolute power enabled Stalin to unleash a reign of terror and death on his country unprecedented at the time.

There is, perhaps, and argument for Stalin's 'Bolshevik firmness' to have enabled the Soviet Union to accomplish incredible feats regarding its move from a mostly agrarian society in the early 1920s to the industrial powerhouse it became on the eve of World War II; but at a terrible price. How did it come to the necessity for brutality as a means to achieve Communist Party aims? There were several reasons. Stalin sought to reorganize the Soviet Union via his Five Year Plans, which called for a radical industrialization as well as collectivisation to increase agricultural production and efficiency.

This increased agricultural output was necessary to support the rapid industrialization he espoused; how else could the workers be fed? Many peasants who had been awarded or taken their land... to liquidating the kulaks as a class" (Document 5. 3 Collectivisation 181). Millions were sent to labor camps, deported and died. The impossible demands made on the peasant farmers of increased production, only to turn everything over to the state, resulted in peasants that remained on the land at first hiding, then burning their crops/killing their animals rather than give them up "Stock was slaughtered every night... (History in Quotations #5).

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An infuriated Stalin sent industrial workers into the country to show the peasants 'Bolshevik firmness' "without any rotten liberalism... [or] bourgeois humanitarianism... [and with]extreme measures" to get the grain. (Document 5. 4 Horror in the Village 182). The capitalist kulaks and peasants stashing grain and eating their own animals were not the only enemies of the state that Stalin doomed. Extending this definition to all who opposed him enabled Stalin, via his purges, to get rid of all the old Bolsheviks, like Trotsky, Kirov, Kamenov etc and deciminate the Army Officers.

His paranoia was not necessarily misplaced: 'just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you' is an adage with a large element of truth, but by the end of the 1930s there were few who could or would oppose him with any real threat behind them. In true totalitarian style, Stalin's control of all aspects of life, ie: free, compulsory education that indoctrinated youth with the party ideology to the point where they would inform on family members left citizens so loyal to the Communist Party they didn't believe the party acted wrongly, even after unjust arrest.

Each person simply believed their own arrest was a mistake and everyone around them in prison was guilty: "Most of the women in our car were high ranking Communists. Not a single one considered herself guilty... or expressed any indignation... Each one knew the truth about herself, but did not believe any of the others" (History in Quotations #13). This incredibly successful totalitarian regime that controlled every aspect of life, enabled Stalin to impose his reign of terror, eliminating all who stood between him and his policies or power.

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