An Analysis of the Moscow Show Trials and Stalin's Soviet Union

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An Analysis of the Moscow Show Trials and Stalin’s Soviet Union

The soviet show trials were the manifestation of totalitarianism. Show trials are a public display of many key features typically found in a totalitarian dictatorship. Unlike a court room trial where debate and the introduction of evidence is definitive in a case’s outcome, the defendant is already considered guilty of a crime by the state, has no legal rights and is purposely humiliated and ridiculed in order to undermine their political power. By having the show trials, Stalin established the legitimacy of his totalitarian regime. These purges of political ideologies in the Soviet Union achieved its intended goal of strengthening the power of the state and removing threats to Stalinism as an ideology. They were necessary for Stalin’s brand of totalitarianism; it did not have an actual consistent ideology and strayed from Marxist-Leninism. Had his lies and lack of actual knowledge of the fundamental principles of the ideology become exposed it would undermine his entire regime and this could not be allowed. The Moscow Trials were intended to invoke the government’s absolute monopoly on political consciousness by any means necessary. Simply put, the totalitarian regime thrives off of the psychological effects of public displays of violence against enemies of the state. None are safe from its ferocity; even those members of society innocent of committing crimes against the regime but simply do not support its motives and therefore remove themselves from the movement are still unsafe. The strength of Stalin’s totalitarian regime was extracted from the essential elements of totalitarianism. He retained this strength by using the show trials as a mechanism of control over the population he governed. They are several critical features required within a nation in order for totalitarianism to succeed as a legitimate political regime. The most pertinent of them would be a large population where the majority was the apolitical, underachieving, and civically dissatisfied (for whatever reason) mass that had not developed a political identity. This group of politically dysfunctional members of society effectively revolutionized the political landscape once they became involved. The political institutions in place in the Soviet Union were not the mechanism they chose to express themselves politically and therefore the old model for the party system was rendered obsolete. They found that acts of violence can successfully influence the political system. Being unaccustomed to normalized forms of political activism and due to the groups sheer size, the masses could easily invent justification of their actions. Arendt qualifies the actions of the mass very well by saying “the masses… stand outside all social ramifications and normal political representation.” (314) This segment of the population can be turned into a virulent political force under the rule of a despotic leader, which is precisely what happened during Stalin’s totalitarian rule in the Soviet Union. By changing the power holding status quo, the masses set the stage for the rise of the next feature of Totalitarian regimes.

Stalin and the Bolsheviks successfully deconstructed the social stratification of Russia by eliminating the environment where an individual’s unique experiences could influence the political system and the only way one could realize their ability to actively participate was through the selfless support for the regime. (Arendt) Through the creation of a massive bureaucracy which was centralized under his rule, he began the process of class liquidation by redistributing property amongst landowners, the bourgeoisie, and the peasant class, as these classes would be the easiest to subject to political humiliation as they had the least access to violence as a means of political action. All those considered to be politically threatening to the new Soviet order were killed or sent to labor...
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