“What a world! What a world!” That’s how lecture 9 – Stalin and the Great Terror ends as Professor Gary Hamburg finishes up explaining how Stalin caused misery, starvation and tyranny in the soviet union.
Prof Gary Hamburg is no pro-Stalinist that’s for sure as he gives detailed accounts of how Stalin purged many of his party members during collectivization. Stalin saw enemies and traitors everywhere and many show trials were put on for the people to become indoctrinated into Stalinism.
The worst was yet to come after the murder of Sergey Kirov’s (Leningrad party leader) in 1934. Sergey was seen as a successor to Stalin, because many in the party viewed Sergey as a less harsh person than Stalin. Obviously Sergey knew he was in trouble and spoke to Stalin stating that he could never replace him as leader. This was not enough to save Sergey and from Sergey’s murder, the show trials from 1934 to 1936 were used by Stalin to purge party members as traitors and conspirators.
The Great purge in the Soviet Union has always intrigued me. I have always wondered how on earth 20 million people could perish and be swept away like a grain of sand in a vast desert. It was not Stalin who did all the killings. He had manipulated, placed fear and terrorised others into doing all this work. People believed in Stalin, worked for Stalin and died for Stalin. What was to become the project of Socialism ended up as a form of Stalinism, where we see the famous worship of the cult of personality. A view which Leon Trotsky spoke out to the world, before Leon was also purged even though he was all the way in Mexico.
Prof Gary Hamburg’s lecture runs for 45 minutes and gives us an account of what happened to those who got in Stalin’s way. How Stalin out maneuvered his opponents time and time again, who was purged and why. Even Stalin’s second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva was not spared as she had a disagreement with Stalin over his collectivization policies.
Famously Stalin was to also purge his army general, which later was to become one of his greatest mistakes as war was to loom in the not so distant future. It was almost a baffling joke as Stalin became so paranoid of who his enemies where, that he made friends with someone not only an enemy to communism, but an enemy to Stalin. That person was Hitler, which was not mentioned in this lecture. Eventually the purges went too far and the man partly responsible for the purge Nikolai Yezhov (senior figure in the NKVD), was actually purged himself.
If you manage to get hold of the course “Rise and Fall of Soviet Communism: A History of 20th-Century Russia” take some time to listen and re-listen to this particular lecture. Depressing as it may sound, we can learn a lot from Russia’s history and have sympathies for those who perished during the great purge.