Who was Stalin afraid of?

The great terror

The red terror

Since the beginning of the Russian Revolution, terror against dissenters has been a common instrument of Bolshevik power. Trotsky used the Red Army militias against his own compatriots as early as 1918. In a bitter civil war, the Bolsheviks finally asserted their own claim to power.

With his notorious decree "On Red Terror" of September 5, 1918, Lenin recommended systematic terrorist measures against the class enemy and put the Soviet secret police "Cheka" above the law:

"In the current situation it is absolutely vital to strengthen the Cheka ..., to isolate the class enemies of the Soviet republic in concentration camps and thus to protect the republic against them, everyone who ... is involved in conspiracies, uprisings and uprisings on the Shoot place. "

The Cheka became a state within a state, an apparatus of power that carried out the planned implementation of the terrorist measures in a now legally free area. Even during Lenin's lifetime, concentration camps and penal camps were set up, and those with political dissent were ruthlessly persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed.

Against the enemies of Bolshevism

Ever since they came to power, the Bolsheviks had a keen sense of enemy images. In their view, enemies were all those who stood in the way of the dictatorship of the proletariat, who did not support the worldview of the Soviets or who deviated from official communist ideology. Enemies were also dissidents, haves, priests, believers and oppositionists.

In the mind of the Soviets, the collective was to be surgically cleared of hostile elements that had grown like ulcers over the body of the people. Terror seemed to them the only suitable instrument for this.

Lenin was a ruthless desk clerk who firmly anchored the use of arbitrary violence by the state in the Soviet Union. At first he valued Stalin because he needed him to do those tasks that others wouldn't want to get their hands on.

For Lenin, however, the Bolshevik Party was a kind of order, a holy covenant in which cadres fought and fought in search of the right ideology. Violence against one's own ranks - that was absolutely taboo for Lenin. Lenin was a violent man, but less totalitarian than Stalin.

From purge to murder

Stalin was completely different. Stalin converted the terror apparatus into an extermination machine. In ever new waves of purges, he had countless peasants, party cadres, large parts of the Red Army, ethnic minorities, Jews and clergy arrested and liquidated by the thousands. The Stalinists called this process "purge".

But the purge (in Russian: "Chistka") had already existed under Lenin. It was an internal party process designed to bring unreliable comrades back on track. Nonconforming members were denounced, they had to justify deviations, publicly self-criticize and, in case of doubt, were expelled from the party.

Under Stalin, however, the purge mutated into a killing machine. Purge now meant not just deposition, but physical annihilation. And it was Stalin who decided and ordered who was friend or enemy, who was arrested and executed as a traitor, and who escaped shooting.

The great terror begins

In 1934, the assassination of the Leningrad party secretary and Stalin competitor Kirov provided the dictator with a welcome pretext to strike against his own ranks. Two thirds of the leading cadres, functionaries and delegates of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (CPSU) fell victim to the Stalinist terror in a large-scale purge campaign.

The members were arrested, charged and "convicted" of counter-revolutionary activities such as Trotskyist opposition, deviation from the party line, espionage or sabotage. Made submissive through intimidation, torture and clan liability, the victims were forced to make absurd confessions, forced to accuse themselves in public show trials and then executed.

Even early comrades and companions of Stalin fell victim to the great terror, including Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Nikolai Bukharin. When the party was destroyed, Stalin attacked the Red Army. Marshal Tukhachevsky, once an icon of the military, was suspected of subversive machinations and Stalin thoroughly excavated the nest of "convicted conspirators".

In doing so, he eliminated the entire command of the army. 10,000 officers were arrested and executed, including marshals and generals. The Red Army was not supposed to recover from this destruction. Millions of Red Army soldiers lost their lives in the battles of World War II due to a literally headless army leadership. With the destruction of the party and the army, Stalin had finally risen to become the sole ruler.

Lord of life and death

In this deadly climate of violence, arbitrariness, distrust and denunciation, Stalin ruled with undiminished cruelty. He "seemed to enjoy being in control of life and death. Sometimes he called his victims and encouraged them, even though he had already given orders to have them arrested," writes Stalin researcher Jörg Baberowski.

Stalin was not one of those dictators who delegated physical annihilation only to their henchmen. By opening the Russian archives, historians have meticulously proven Stalin's direct culprit. Stalin always took care of the individual murders personally.

The system of Stalinist terror was so focused on the person of the dictator that nobody dared to make decisions without his consent. Stalin, on the other hand, knew who was doing what and when against whom. After evaluating numerous death lists and orders personally signed by Stalin, Baberowski sums up: "On December 12, 1938, Stalin decided in just one day on the death of 3,167 people."

And most of them he arbitrarily single-handedly sentenced to death: "Between February 1937 and October 1938 he received 383 lists with the names of 44,477 leading state officials, state security and army officers. 38,955 of these people were without trial because Stalin had marked their names shot."

The fact that the Russian archives document the relevant orders and lists so plainly suggests that Stalin never had any sense of wrongdoing or had a guilty conscience.

Author: Gregor Delvaux de Fenffe