Were Stalin’s Purges in the 1930’s a success or a disaster?

By 1929, Joseph Stalin had become the undisputed leader of one of the largest populations in the world. He achieved this through a combination of political scheming, the mistakes of his opponents and the ingenious way in which he built up his power base. Stalin had great plans, but in order to execute them, he needed power. It seemed there was only one way to keep Russia in order – to control the people to such an extent that they would be afraid to even think of opposing him. Stalin, like Tsar Nicolas II before him, had trouble keeping this vast country in order. Soon, the terror increased, as Stalin tried to keep control and the death count rose. Was this really the way forward? By the end of the 1930s, terror and distrust reigned alongside Stalin.
In 1934 the leader of the Leningrad Communist Party, Kirov, was murdered. Stalin used this as an excuse to purge his opponents and all opposition. It is now suspected that this move was pre-empted by Stalin, in order for him to be able to wipe out all resistance. Stalin was, however, never proved as the murderer, and kept the trust of his people. Soon, Stalin had appropriate reasoning to be able to purge most of the rest of the cabinet members, and arrested around 500,000 party constituents.
After this, Stalin moved onto the army, concentrating on the officers. This move was not so clever, as this meant Stalin had eliminated not only threats, but possible help too. The purges were extended, and Stalin turned his attention onto university lecturers, teachers, miners, engineers, factory managers and even ordinary workers, just to stay in control. He achieved that, but little else it seems. Stalin lost all support which was not forced, and had to retrain officers and workers, to replace the ones imprisoned or dead. By 1937, an estimated 18 million people had been purged, with little reasoning as to why. The cracks began to show, as Stalin wiped out more and more people, to stay in authority of an ever-shrinking public.

Although these Purges were villainous, Stalin had some reasoning behind them. His aims were more concentrated on the long term, in which all his opponents were destroyed, and Stalin had complete control. However, Stalin appeared to focus on one area of improvement at a time, as although the Purges helped him gain control, they also stopped improvement in other areas, such as becoming stronger. As Stalin had eliminated a lot of army officers, it meant that if Russia came under threat of war, the newly-trained soldiers would not be able to fight well, and could jeopardise the victory of any war.
The Purges also effected Collectivisation, as Stalin purged many Kulaks, who worked on the land. This caused chaos in the countryside, as in anger the Kulaks burnt their crops and slaughtered their animals. In 1933 there was famine, as food production fell and starving peasants watched Communist officials sending food for export.
A leader whose callous disregard for human life was matched only by his increasing paranoia, Stalin increased workloads for all workers
However, once Collectivisation got under way, it was found to be a success. For peasants, the Purges were a triumph in some ways, as they were finally being treated fairly and equally. Collectivisation meant peasants were offered safe places to live, and had enough to eat, like all other people. Industrialisation also meant peasants were able to eat, as they were paid in food coupons, instead of real money. Though all Stalin’s plans meant hard work for the Peasants, it was an easier way of life, and meant all communities lived and worked the same.
Long term success’ of the Purges are intertwined with the success of Collectivisation and Industrialisation, as it meant both could be achieved. For Stalin, it was also a huge help, as it meant a large proportion of the opposition were gone. This left the way clear to a supposedly brighter future, and new Russia.
In conclusion, the Purges were seen as a failure as not only did the death toll reach around 18 million, just through Stalin’s apparent insecurities but Russia was actually left weaker than before, with no army to lead them, and little food. As Stalin’s grip on Russia became tighter, terror ruled the people.

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