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In many ways, Russia is still recovering from it, trying to deal with the fact that only a few decades ago, it inflicted on itself one of the worst holocausts in human memory" (Hochschild, 1993). Therefore, the purges were used on the one hand to discourage the people and the elites in particular from establishing a dissident opposition or a negative pole of power that could have countered the Soviet regime.
Also, another possible justification of the way in which the Soviet regime acted in that period was the complete elimination of the possible negative influences from the old regimes or more precisely of the opposing forces in Russia. More precisely, "the decade of the 1930s saw the renewal of the Soviet leading stratum. During the period the.regime progressively unburdened itself of its legacy of class prejudice and rose to its full totalitarian posture" (Unger, 1969, 2). The regime of Stalin was greatly characterized by a series of events which underlined the massive violence it promoted throughout the decades of his rule. In this sense, it is considered that the only means available for Stalin to destroy the opposition is through their actual physical disappearance.
At the same time however, Stalin had long desired to create a certain strata of the society which could serve his immediate as well as the country's needs. Nonetheless, the idea of creating an apart of the society inside the Russian one is not necessarily a new idea as "the formation of a leading stratum of loyal and efficient power-holders (administrators, economic managers, army officers, scientists, engineers, etc.) was a major concern of Soviet policy in the I920. The partial reinstatement of 'bourgeois specialists', carried out against strong opposition within the party, was regarded as no more than a temporary expedient. In the Soviet view the only solution acceptable in the long run, in terms of both ideology and practical politics, lay in the creation of a new leading stratum drawn from the ranks of the 'formerly oppressed' and firmly anchored in the political hierarchy of the Communist Party" (Unger, 1959)
Finally, even Josef Stalin admitted the fact that the most important element in the conduct of international politics as he understood it terms of war was a purified and disciplined population. In this sense, he considered essential a reconsideration of the issue of political obedience. Thus, he pointed out, "we must finally understand that of all precious capital in the world, the most precious capital, the most decisive is human beings cadres. We must understand that in our present condition cadres decide everything. If we have good and plentiful cadres in industry, in agriculture, in transport, in the Army, our country will be invincible. If we have no such cadres we will limp with both legs" (Uldricks, 1977). Therefore, one of the actual motivations of the way in which the Soviet Union acted in the late 1930s was also the desire to create a strong, united, and most importantly disciplined population able and capable of dealing with the possible threat of a war.
Indeed, the historical background played a significant role in the manifestations of the Soviet Union and in particular of Stalin. The eventuality of a war became more and more a certainty. At that moment the revisionist desires of states such as Japan, Germany, or Italy were becoming a reality through the invasion of Manchuria by Japan and Italy's attack on Ethiopia. Similarly Germany was showing a rather aggressive policy through the constant remarks made at the independent status of Austria (Kissinger, 1995). Thus, "from 1937 on, Stalin was expecting war, and preparing for it (...) in view of the danger, he wanted the purge of the Party and state apparatus to coincide with a grand purge of society at large" (the Great Terror, n.d.).Therefore, it can be said that the U.S.S.R. was indeed preparing for a possible war against political powers that it considered to be superior and which demanded intense preparation.
The Great Purges had a very specific and important structure. They followed a particular path and sense of organization. On the one hand, in the beginning there were the political repressions that were designed against the so called political opposition of the regime. On the other hand, there were the persecutions that affected a large part of the people aimed for elimination.
The issue of the political repression included the repressions of the political adversaries of the Stalinist rule. However, he began preparing for the eventual reconsideration of the political scene from one which had been influenced by Trotsky's beliefs and political stands to one which was completely loyal to him and followed the same political precepts as he did. More precisely, "apart from the true politicians operating the overt machinery of Party and State, Stalin began from the 1920s to build up a personal group of agents, chosen for their lack of scruple and totally dependent on and devoted to himself (...) These men were truly disgusting characters by any standards, a cadre which had abandoned all normal political or even Communist standards and which may be regarded as in effect a personal group of hatchet men, ready for any violence or falsification at the orders of their leader" (Conquest, 1991, 14). Therefore, the first step in the Great Purges was the actual preparation of the methods through which the political society would be reshaped. The mechanism of the political life was essential for Stalin because it enabled him the opportunity to take control of the power as well as to exercise it on the people.
There were constant ideas concerning the possible infiltrations of the bourgeoisie forces which threatened the stability of the Stalinist regime. In this sense the confessions of those who had been engaged in such a process proved the validity of those ideas. Therefore, "starting in 1920, the open struggle against the Bolshevik plague ended. To fight against it from outside had become impossible. It had to be mined from within. A Trojan horse had to be infiltrated into the communist fortress.... All the threads of the dictatorship converged in the single knot of the Politburo. The coup d'etat would have to come from there" (Bajanov, 1930, 2). Therefore, it can be said that the intuition and the information Stalin had were somewhat real and that he was not driven by an enormous sense of paranoia.
At the same time however, it is important to underline the fact that not only was Stalin right about the possible infiltrations in the Party by other groups, but more importantly the fact that the Western parts believed his arguments and decided to refrain from any punitive action against Stalin in the following years. Still, even if the Western world had not believed his arguments, the political scene inside the country, as well as the international community was unable politically and diplomatically to stop or intervene in the war.
The start of the Purge can be considered to have taken place once all the members of the Party came under intense scrutiny. In this sense, in 1935 "a classified decision of 13 May I935, entitled 'On Disorders in the Registration, Issuance and Custody of Party Cards, and on Measures for the Regulation of this Matter' sought to intensify the examination of party members by initiating the verification of all personal party documents" (McNeal, 1971, 180). Thus, the first step was taken in the direction of the members of the own Party. This measure was taken in the attempt to clear the Party from all possible non-communist influence in order to have a reliable and trust worthy party structure.
The measures taken in terms of the political arena were further applied through precise persecutions. However, the campaign for political repression affected to a large extent the common individual. In an attempt to instill fear but at the same time to increase the control Stalin had on the population, the communist regime instituted the Gulag or the labor camps as they were named (Ellman, 2002, 1153). In this sense, it was a system through which people were deprived of their liberty and were taken in places and forced to work to exhaustion. This often happened to individual considered to be dangerous for the system and for the breach of the Party's ideology. More precisely, "The Gulag had two functions, punitive and economic. To implement the latter, its inmates had to provide large amounts of hard physical labor. Prisoners who could not do that and could not do any other kind of work were for many of its officials just an unwanted burden which worsened its economic success indicators" and they were subsequently released (Ellman, 2002, 1154)
Still, the condition in which they were released equaled that of being dead; however, there are no clear figures to view the impact the Gulag had on the population; still, "the large number of people recorded as being 'freed' are not necessarily a sign of the…[continue]
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