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Political intolerance was normal in Russia, political parties had not existed under the Tsars qand had only been part of the political system for 12 years. Lenin laid the foundations for further intolerance by creating a one-party-state. Furthermore, Lenin had removed alternative ideas within the party with the Decree against Factionalism in 1921.

In 1936 Stalin introduced a new constitution. It guaranteed personal freedoms but also increased the powers of the central government. 

The constitution pointed out that the party was the key institution and that the interests of the party came before all else. Only the Bolshevik party was legally recognised which meant the party's monopoly of power was constitutionally enshrined.

The Purges

Initially this was just removal of opponents within the party who were suspect in their devotion to the party.

The term Purge was used to describe the updating of the party membership.

1936-38 the Great Purge took place which was a violent cleansing of the party and society. This started with those who might have been Menshevik in the past or had supported Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev or Bukharin in the power struggle.

Expulsion was replaced by punishments of arrests, torture or execution. 

This was prompted by a comment made by Ryutin who called Stalin 'an evil genius who had brought the revolution to the brink of destruction'. Around 1 million of the 3 million members were expelled as 'Ryuntinites'.

The loss of the party card was a serious matter as it meant loss of job, work and home.

This made it clear that Stalin would not accept alternative ideas.

The Great Purge

Why it started

The Great Purge was triggered by the murder of Kirov in 1934.

Kirov was a rival to Stalin's position. At the 17th Party Congress (Feb 1934) was a celebration of the success of the first 5 year plan and the economic transformation of the country. 

Some of the delegates believed i t was time to follow Lenin's political testament and retire Stalin.

Kirov was privately offered the post of General Secretary he rejected and told Stalin.

Voting at congress revealed a pro-Kirov majority. Stalin ordered the destruction of the votes against himself.

The murder of Kirov allowed Stalin to achieve his maxim 'no man, no problem'.

On the day of Kirov death, Stalin issued the Emergency Decree Against Terrorism giving the NKVD the power to arrest, question, torture and execute anyone without trial who was suspected of terrorist activities. 

Phase One: Known Opponents

Stalin used the murder of Kirov to arrest Zinoviev and Kamenev for complicity in the murder. Initially they were sentenced to 5 years in prison but 18 months later took part in the first show trials and were charged with collaboration with Trotsky in Kirov's murder. They were found guilty and executed. 

The show trials enabled Stalin to publically destroy those who offered alternative ideas. A common accusation at these trials was conspiracy with the exiled Trotsky.

Trotsky's assassination by Stalin's agent in Mexico in 1940…


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