Stalin, the Great Purge, and Russian History: A New Look at the "New Class"

Marshall Shatz


Though nearly fifty years in the past; Stalin's Great Purge of the 1930s still loans as one of the nost enigmatic events of the twentieth century. Whether we think of the Great Purge as a 100re or less continuous process fran the assassination of Kirov in 1934 to Ezhov's replacement by Beria as head of the secret police at the end of 1938; or limit it to the EzhoVshchina of 1937 and 1938; When the terror reached its peak; the sheer nagnitude of the operation is astounding. The nuniber of arrests; deportations; imprisonments; and lives lost in these years is impossible to measure; and attempts to do so have varied wildly. Even the lowest estimates; however; are staggering.! It is not merely the size of the Great Purge that nekes it such a historical puzzle; however; but the fact that it took place in peacetime; in a society publicly and officially ccmnitted to rational values and the hUI'Cailistic ideals of Marxism and the Russian revolutionary tradition. In its controlled and organized character the Great Purge seems conparable not to the primitive upheavals of "underdeveloped" countries in the secorrl half of the twentieth century; nor to the spontaneous bloodletting Russia itself experienced during the Civil war; but rather to the Nazi destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust. Like the Holocaust; it is the seemingly atavistic nature of the Great Purge; as much as its actual consequences; that has presented such a challenge to scholars seeking to explain the events of the Stalin period.


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