Beginning of the great purge
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BEGINNING OF THE GREAT PURGE. In 1933, Stalin launched purge of party members Cut membership by 33% Partly the result of desire to rid party of drunks, degenerates, self-seekers, and the lazy Had been done before

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Beginning of the great purge

  • In 1933, Stalin launched purge of party members

    • Cut membership by 33%

    • Partly the result of desire to rid party of drunks, degenerates, self-seekers, and the lazy

      • Had been done before

    • Also result of desire to get rid of rank-and-file members who might one day support Stalin’s rivals

    • Accomplished with little bloodshed

Serge kirov

  • Communist Party had become unpopular by 1933

    • Even growing dissent within the party itself

      • Some wanted to modify pace of Five-Year Plans, improve living standards, and even replace Stalin

    • Stalin wanted to execute all dissidents

      • Blocked by Serge Kirov and four other members on the Politburo

        • Kirov was party head from Leningrad

Stalin and Kirov

Murder of kirov

  • Kirov was biggest threat to Stalin

    • Popular, handsome, and Russian

  • Kirov shot to death at Leningrad party headquarters in December 1934 by young party member

    • Stalin may have been behind crime

  • Stalin blamed Kirov’s murder on a conspiracy made up followers of Zinoviev and Trotsky

    • Announced that persons accused of “preparing terroristic acts” would be arrested and executed

      • No appeal, no rights of defense

      • Carte blanche for mass judicial murder

The great purge takes off

  • Non-Communists suffered the most from the executions that followed Kirov’s death

  • Communists also arrested and imprisoned

    • Kamenev and Zinoviev arrested

  • Purged communists replaced by reliable young flunkies

    • Two of the most famous were Nikita Khrushchev and Laurentii Beria




  • Local Communist Party organizations receive letter in 1936 stating that too many “Trotskyite-Zinovievite monsters, enemies of the people, spies, provocateurs, diversionists, whiteguards, and kulaks” still existed and ordered that they be unmasked and punished

    • Signal for a mass orgy of denunciations, confessions, arrests, and executions

  • Fate of those denounced was always the same

    • Made to confess, always found guilty, fired from job, and then deported to labor camp

Lubyanka heaquarters of the secret police


  • Zinoviev, Kamenev, and 14 others put on trial in August 1936 for murder of Kirov

    • All confessed, implicated others, and were executed

  • Bukharin and other former leaders met same fate

  • Army was then purged

    • Including General Tukhachevsky, commander in chief of Red Army

    • 80% of all colonels and 90% of all generals were purged

  • Leadership of Young Communist League, factory managers, foreign communists, Civil War veterans, ex-Mensheviks, ex-SRs, friends of Kirov, and even workers were all purged

    • Once someone denounced you, no defense was possible

General Tukhachevsky

The end

  • An estimated one to ten million people died during Great Purge

  • In 1938, Stalin suddenly stopped the purges

    • Blamed head of secret police, Nicholai Yezhov, for the excesses of the purges and had him executed

      • Replaced by Beria

    • Pace of arrests slowed (although they never completely stopped) and some labor camps inmates were released

    • New members recruited into party

Nicholai Yezhov

Diplomatic isolation

  • Soviet leaders wanted improved relations with other powers in 1920s because:

    • To preserve peace Russia needed to recover from Civil War

    • To attract foreign economic and technical assistance necessary to rebuild economy

  • Western governments not interested in recognizing the Soviet Union

    • US periodically affected by “Red Scares” which negatively agitated public opinion against Soviet Union

    • British resented Soviet anti-colonial propaganda

    • French angry over repudiation of Russian foreign debt

  • Diplomatic recognition would not come easy under these circumstances

Diplomatic recognition

  • First country to diplomatically recognize the Soviet Union was Germany

    • Both were the “black sheep” of Europe

    • Reestablished formal relations, renounced financial claims against each other, and made plans for economic cooperation in 1922

  • Labour Party government in GB recognized Soviet Union in early 1924

    • Conservative Party regained power in late 1924 and abandoned recognition

    • Would not be granted until 1929 when Labor Party regained power

Soviet foreign policy in the 1930s

  • Soviet foreign policy during the 1930s has not been viewed favorably because it culminated in Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939

    • Soviet policy did contribute to rise of Hitler because efforts by Comintern to ignite a revolution there inspired fear in German middle class which Hitler successfully exploited

  • On the other hand, Stalin did recognize this mistake and terminated all military agreements with Germany after 1933 and joined League of Nations in order to “join in the collective security against fascism”

Spanish civil war

  • War between Spanish fascists led by Francisco Franco and various left-wing forces and republicans

  • Stalin hesitated but ended up helping republicans

    • Arranged for shipments of arms and supplies

    • Organized “International Brigades” of Red Army units and communist volunteers

  • Soviet aid never approached levels that Hitler and Mussolini provided for Franco

  • Even though Franco won, Soviet involvement had important results

    • It demonstrated that only the Soviet Union had the guts to stand up to Hitler and Mussolini

    • Showed to the Soviet Union that the western democracies would not lift a finger to stop the spread of fascism

Munich conference 1938

  • Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 and demanded Sudentenland from Czechoslovakia

  • Stalin might have helped Czechoslovakia but:

    • Poland refused to allow Red Army to cross its territory

    • France and GB backed down and gave Sudentenland to Hitler at Munich Conference in 1938

  • Munich was not only a betrayal of Czechoslovakia but also of the Soviet Union

    • Caused Stalin to begin to think in terms of making his own deal with Hitler

Non agression pact

  • Hitler demands Polish city of Danzig and threatened war if he didn’t get it

  • England and France vow to defend Poland but Stalin doubted that they actually would

  • German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop negotiates “Non-Aggression Pact” with Stalin

    • August 1939

    • Soviets would not do anything to stop G erman invasion of Poland

    • Soviets would get eastern third of Poland and a free hand in dealing with Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Bessarabia

Poland and finland

  • Hitler invades and conquers Poland in 2 ½ weeks

    • Red Army takes eastern third of country

      • Also occupied Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania

  • Stalin asks Finland for permission to build bases

    • When Finland refuses, the Red Army invades

    • Finns put up stiff resistance but Soviets eventually prevail

      • Costs Soviet Union much prestige

      • Convinced Hitler that the Red Army was worthless

      • Guaranteed that Finland would help G ermany in the event of a Nazi attack on Soviet union

Operation barbarossa

  • Stalin took over Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in late spring 1940

    • Bukovina not part of agreement with Hitler

    • Annoyed, Hitler orders preparations for “Operation Barbarossa”

      • The invasion of the Soviet Union

      • Scheduled for May 1941

Asleep at the wheel

  • Stalin ignores danger signals

    • Soviet intelligence discovered Hitler’s plans months in advance of invasion

      • But Stalin had publicly stated that G erman treachery was impossible so no one informed him

  • Western diplomats warn Stalin of Hitler’s plans

    • Stalin responds with conciliatory measures towards G ermany, thereby neutralizing the Red Army


  • Nazi invasion begins at 4:00 am on June 22, 1940

    • Red Army units and supply depots destroyed before they knew what hit them

    • Red Air Force almost completely destroyed on ground

  • Three-pronged attack

    • One toward Leningrad

    • One toward Moscow

    • One toward Ukraine

  • Red Army initially in total disarray

    • Stalin locks himself in room for several days

    • In early July, he pulls himself together and makes radio broadcast appealing in patriotic terms to expel invaders

German progress

  • G erman drive to Moscow stalled by unexpected strong Soviet defense of Smolensk and some stupid decisions by Hitler

    • Stalin announces he will not leave Moscow

    • Muscovites stop G ermans in suburbs

  • Leningrad surrounded and beseiged for 28 months

    • But would never surrender

    • 700,000 residents die

  • Germans capture Odessa and Crimea in south

    • Take one million prisoners

The end of 1941

  • By the end of 1941, the entire western section of European Russia had fallen into German hands

  • But Germans were still in trouble

    • Facing increasingly serious counterattacks by rebuilding Red Army

    • Ill-equipped for approaching winter

      • No winter uniforms or anti-freeze

    • Supply lines were long, slow, and subject to attacks by partisans


  • Germans renew offensive in summer 1942

    • Goal is to capture oil fields around Baku

    • Hitler diverts 300,000 men to capture Stalingrad

  • Largest battle in World War II

    • German troops surrender in February 1943 and Red Army won

      • Because of their extraordinarily stubborn resistance

      • Resistance stalled Nazis long enough for winter to set in and do its usual damage

      • German reinforcements, supplies, and air support failed to materialize

    • Great Soviet victory

      • Convinced Russians they could win the war

The tide turns for the red army

  • 1943: Red Army pushes Germans back from positions they had gained in 1941

  • Launches big offensive in 1944

    • Relieved siege of Leningrad

    • Recaptured Odessa and Crimea

    • Pushed Germans back into Eastern Europe

  • Invade Germany itself in January 1945

    • Capture Berlin in May 1945

  • Stalin declares war on Japan and invades China in summer 1945

The red army

  • Red Army was largest in the world in 1941

    • But Hitler wasn’t worried about its size

    • Because Russia needed large numbers to compensate for defects in leadership

  • Soviet military casualties very high

    • Ten million at least

  • Another problem was the rule that only written orders were valid

    • Policy changed in 1943

    • No one dared take initiative without written order, leaving many key bridges intact

Auxilliary forces

  • Had 200,000 man NKVD army in addition to Red Army

    • Handled internal security

    • Made up fire brigades and prison guards

    • Published maps

    • Had special units known as SMERSH

      • Job was to shoot soldiers who tried to retreat

      • Arrested Alexander Solzhenitsyn for making joke about Stalin

      • Enforced decree that any soldier taken prisoner was a traitor

  • Penal Battalions

    • Suicide squads used to clear mine fields

Cost of war

  • Anti-Stalin feeling was strong on parts of Russia and many people welcomed Nazis

    • Hitler blew this opportunity by refusing to abolish collective farms in Nazi-occupied territory

  • Life was hard during war

    • Discriminatory rationing

    • Labor completely mobilized

    • Death from cold, malnutrition, and overwork were common

  • 22-23 million deaths during war

    • 5 million more Russian pows

    • Sent to labor camps in Siberia after war

Some soviets support nazis

  • Revolt in Lithuania at news of Nazi invasion

  • Cossacks in southern Russia formed special unit in German army

  • Partisans bands in Ukraine specialized in killing Red Army officers

  • Stalin orders mass deportation and execution of Volga Germans and Crimean Tatars

    • On grounds they might be friendly to Germans

Ukrainian partisan band

Vlasov s army

  • Nazis create anti-Soviet army made up of Russian pows

    • Could have been over one million men and might have been decisive

  • Units that were created were commanded by former Red Army general Alexis Vlasov

    • Proved to be successful but Nazis only employed them in non-combat roles

  • Vlasov and his soldiers captured at end of war

    • Vlasov hung in Red Square on a meat hook

General Vlasov

Nazi atroicities

  • 2 million Russian soldiers died in Nazi POW camps during war

  • 3 million civilians deported to German labor camps where they died

  • Jews and Communist Party members suffered most

    • Usually executed immediately

    • Worst massacre of Russian Jews was at Babi Yar, near Kiev

      • 100,000 shot to death