To What Extent Were the Purges Caused by Stalin's Paranoia?

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To what extent were the Purges caused by Stalin’s paranoia? Daniel Johnston

Stromness Academy

SCN: O62114657


J.Arch Getty says that “The Great Terror of the 1930s in the Soviet Union was one of the most horrible cases of political violence in modern history”[i] but was this political terror a result of Stalin’s own paranoia or a necessity to maintain control in Soviet Russia? Robert Service argues that “Nowadays, virtually all writers accept that he [Stalin] initiated the Great Terror”[ii] however historians are careful to acknowledge that Stalin’s paranoia is not the only factor in the creation and continuation of the Purges and the Great Terror. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Stalin’s paranoia did play a vital part. But there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration when referring to the purges that were not linked to Stalin’s paranoia. Most of these factors do link back to Stalin however but not directly because of his paranoia, more his obsession with gaining and maintaining absolute power in Russia.

Stalin’s wider personality needs to be considered. In addition, there were economic problems that led to external opposition to the party meaning that strict control was necessary in order to maintain power as a majority of the population did not agree with the implementation of collectivisation and the Five Year Plans in the 1930s. The instability in the cities may also have been a contributing factor as the purges helped quell the violence. The NKVD may have also used the purges to further its own position in Russian society which allowed for the continuation of the purges. It can also be argued that the purges were necessary for the progression of communism. Stalin was obsessed with maintaining his position of power and by purging the party internally he was able to eliminate any potential enemies. The totalitarian view of the purges is that Stalin’s personality was central to the way the purges were carried out and the extent to which they were carried out. However the revisionists take the view that Stalin’s personality and paranoia is not a sufficient enough reason for the cause of the purges. But just how significant are the other factors? Was Stalin’s paranoia the driving force in the creation of the purges, or was Stalin merely pushed by his obsession with power?

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Economic Problems

There was a great deal of opposition to Stalin’s economic policies in the 1930s, and it can be argued that this forced Stalin to consider ways in which to combat it. In fact R. Manning asserts that “The economy of 1936-41 and the Great Purges are inexorably linked”[iii]. Collectivisation and the Five Year Plans created a lot of tension within the general populace. Stalin had to take steps to try and deal with the problems and purged anyone who resisted his ideas.

There was a great resistance to and hatred of Collectivisation because the peasantry did not want to have large collective farms controlled by the state so they resisted through various means such as destruction of harvest and grain hording. Due to Collectivisation not being that successful during its first years, Stalin needed to find a scapegoat, someone he could blame. He therefore identified a class of “Kulaks”, who were apparently holding back the other workers through monopolising the best land and cheapest labour. In reality they were merely peasants who may have bought an extra cow or had a bit more land than some of their neighbours. Stalin claimed that this class had to be broken in order for Russia to continue modernising. Because of this the Kulaks were purged brutally. Alec Nove argues “What is quite clear is that collectivisation went hand in hand with dekulakisation, and dekulakisation with blind robbery”[iv]. By 1st July 1930 over 320,000 households, which was about 1.5 million people, had been purged or deported[v]. However the Kulaks were not the only ones to be purged as Alec Nove...
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