To what extent was the success of Stalin in retaining power in the USSR through fear?
It is assumed by most from a Western prospective that Stalin was the sole creator of the Great Purges and his regime was held together by the constant and consistent fear he infiltrated through it. Many historians put Stalin forward as an evil tyrant so much so that he can seem superhuman. My investigation’s aim is to explore to what extent was the success of Stalin in retaining power in the USSR through fear. This argument is still relevant today, as results from recent polls included in my investigation demonstrate that although documents proving Stalin’s terror have been released and studied, a large percentage agree with the opinion that he was also great leader rather than just a tyrant. Through a variety of sources such as cultural references like poetry from different critics, as well as other primary items like propaganda exhibiting fear; and historians analysis of the period (i.e. Filippov, Getty), I will determine which of the methods of Stalin allowed him to remain as sole leader of the USSR. However this investigation will not be focusing in detail on Stalin’s methods through industrialisation and collectivisation but instead will consider the effects of his Purges on society and whether fear was his primary method of control.
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Following the death of Lenin in 1924 the Politburo was left in “collective leadership,” however the period of the 1920s proved more of a power struggle between the leaders, which ended in Stalin’s rise as the sole leader of the Soviet Union. The political battles and expulsions he went through in order to place himself in the highest position of power are echoed throughout the rest of his rule. In order to consolidate his power, Stalin made sure the Politburo was filled with members who idealized him and removed any of the Old Bolshevik party. His view was very much that in order to strengthen his party he would have to remove “opportunist elements” which later came to describe anyone who criticized Stalin’s policies. Stalin developed his cult of personality, putting himself forward as autonomous leader who was infallible and who put his country first. Through primary evidence gained by both prose and propaganda posters it is evident that Stalin was not only feared but loved. The purges or Great Terror began in the 1930s, after allegedly Stalin ordered Sergei Kirov (a party leader who was becoming more popular) to be killed, this then was followed by a state of emergency purges need to protect the State. Stalin’s Great Terror resulted in the executions and exiling of millions of “enemies of the people.” Using the NKVD, his secret police force Stalin sanctioned the persecution of various peoples, who he believed to be a threat to his policies, or as scapegoats to policies of his that failed. He encouraged people to celebrate him, publishing poems and articles in Pravada, the communist newspaper, but for those who doubted or criticised him: interrogation by the NKVD, or exile to the labour-force camps in Siberia or gulags, was common. The impact of the terror meant giving the slightest impression of being “bourgeois” or anti-Stalinist during this time would ultimately resolve in punishment. The pressure to denounce such state criminals meant parents could be condemned by their children, if they let slip any disapproval made. Today the accepted western opinion of Stalin is that he was a sadistic madman who governed with an iron fist, using the fear of his power to overcome his rival and suppress his people. However as proven by some prose as well as recent polls conducted in Russia, Stalin is still widely recognized as a strong leader in a positive light, who did what he had to with the USSR’s best interests at heart. As despite the terror
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