GCSE History : Stalin's USSR

Purges, Great Terror & Personality Cult

Purges, Great Terror & Personality Cult

The Purges

GCSE History - Stalin's USSRStalin took steps to purge (get rid of) important and unimportant people from the Communist Party who in his view posed a threat to the Soviet Union (by which he really meant himself).

In 1934, Sergey Kirov was murdered. In all probability, it was Stalin who organized the murder. But Stalin used it as ‘proof’ that there were people operating in the Soviet Union who were trying to destroy the country. He then organized for the Secret Police (known as the NKVD) to imprison or execute anyone who was part of this conspiracy. Over two-thirds of the Central Committee of the Communist Party were executed, as were eighty per cent of the Soviet Union’s generals.

The Great Terror

But it wasn’t just important or semi-important figures who Stalin said were a threat. In addition to purging the party, the Great Terror began. Ordinary people could be kidnapped and sent to Siberia in the middle of the night, or shot, because they were apparently part of the big conspiracy. The estimates of how many people suffered this fate range from 20 to 40 million people. Even if you pick the small number, that’s still four times the population of Scotland today.

You might be wondering: how did Stalin, even if he was a clever guy, know that each and every one of those people were against him? The answer is he didn’t, and the vast majority of them probably weren’t a threat to him anyway. But that wasn’t the idea. The goal was instead to create an atmosphere where everyone lived in fear for their lives, and saw the only chance they might have to avoid a knock on the door from the NKVD was to enthusiastically obey absolutely everything Stalin said or did, whether in the form of joining a collective farm, mining more coal or telling on a suspicious neighbour.

The Cult of Personality

Over the 1930s, the Stalin personality cult went into overdrive. Devotion to Stalin was compulsory for everybody, and he wasn’t far from being treated as a God.

The 1936 Constitution

GCSE History - 1936 ConstitutionIn 1936, Stalin announced a new constitution for the Soviet Union. The Constitution (which informally is called Stalin’s Constitution) made some changes to the name of the Central Executive Committee to the Supreme Soviet. This might seem like a cosmetic change, but really it points to what the real goal of the Constitution was – formally giving all the power to Stalin. It made Stalin head of state, and took away independent executive powers (ie. the powers to make decisions) from others. The Constitution also contained some ‘rights’ for citizens, relating to things such as housing, retirement and health care, as well as the right to vote in elections where all the candidates were from the Communist Party.