Hey! Randy

Stalin’s Party

Posted by heyrandy on July 2, 2012

Great Terror, Robert Conquest, 1968

This is a deep, penetrating book. It in great detail describes the Purges of the 1930’s Russia. The book records how Stalin destroyed all of his rivals, established a system of terror, and sent millions to their death.

Stalin started with the Old Bolsheviks. They were the ones he feared would depose him. They should have. Stalin played on their party loyalty and their trust of him. The Party replaced God in the Communist system, so the members could not believe that the Party’s man could be wrong. When Stalin denounced a rival as an enemy, the other members of the party agreed with him. It began slowly. Just a few men. Then the police arrested many more. The conspiracy became larger.

As the conspiracy grew, the police people with things that were not before a crime. Every accident was sabotage. Every contact with a foreigner was an act of espionage. No one was safe. The Secret Police developed a system of informants. The informants were mostly self-seekers who would report people against whom they had a grudge or to gain some pay off. Late in the Purge it was the joke that the only person a man could talk to was his wife and then only in a whisper while in bed with the covers pulled over their heads.

Some of the confessions were simply ludicrous. One man confessed to putting nails into the butter supply. Some confessed to events that occurred while they were in jail on other charges.

No one has been able to explain the earliest confessions. Men of impeccable credentials confessed to the most horrible crimes. Conquest suggest that some men confessed on order of the Party. The Old Bolsheviks were so loyal that they obeyed the order. The Party promised they would not really be tried but secretly man a post in the far eastern part of the country. They learned the value of Stalin’s promises.

Others confessed as a way to protect their families. This sometimes worked. However, wives were often charged with being “the wife  of an enemy of the people.” This charge typically brought eight years in the labor camps.

As the Purge grew, people learned most confessed under torture. To avoid this fate, one doctor, a regional medical director, confessed upon arrest and named all his subordinates as co-conspirators. He still went to the labor camps, but he avoided torture. We are not told what happened to his subordinates.

The camps were a horror. Less than ten percent of the prisoners returned. Starvation and disease killed the most. The weather in Siberia was bitter cold for nine months followed by three months of mud and mosquitoes. The work was very hard. The discipline was brutal.

When the Purge swept through the military, the NKVD shot all the senior officers. This left the military, already in poor condition, without its best minds. When the Germans invaded, the Soviets were so ill prepared that the Germans nearly succeeded in taking Russia.

The press published accounts of workers’ committees demanding the traitors be executed. It was all false, but how could the average person know?

Stalin’s crimes have only recently been acknowledged by the West. The author deals with the West’s reluctance to believe in such horrors. Most writers were dupes. Some acknowledged that there were problems but dismissed them as irrelevant or exaggerated.

The author’s research is extensive. Most chapters have one hundred reference notes. I found the detail overwhelming. It is necessary in a historical book, but it was often too much. However, the book will provide a great resource for future writers. There is still so much to learn.

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