During 1937-1938, the NKVD arrested 1.575 million people. Of these, 1.345 million (or 85.4 percent) received some sentence, and 681,692 (or 51 percent) were executed. This was an average of more than 20,000 executions monthly. As the Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn remarked, the Spanish Inquisition at its height executed 10 heretics per month, and the Czarist regime that Lenin had overthrown executed, in its worst excesses after the Revolution of 1905, about 45 people per month.
The trials of Stalin's suspects were scarcely more than charades. The troika judges at regional levels were primarily concerned with meeting the sentencing quotas set in advance by the Stalin government; thus trials were, for the most part, brief affairs of largely predetermined outcomes. In many cases the defendants were not even present; their trials consisted solely of the troika reading their files. A troika would commonly review hundreds of files per day, meaning that the judicial system provided most prisoners with only a few minutes - if not seconds - to have their cases considered. For death sentences, no appeals were permitted and the executions were usually carried out within a few days.
Beginning in the years immediately preceding World War II, and continuing until the period just after the conflict's end, Stalin deported more than 1.5 million people - one ethnic group at a time - to Siberia and Central Asia - on the stated grounds that they advocated resistance to Soviet rule. The groups affected were: Poles, Koreans, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks, Armenians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians.
In the final analysis, a principal objective of the Great Terror was to establish a civil and military bureaucracy composed of young cadres raised to blindly, unquestioningly, and zealously follow Stalin's orders. A second goal was to eliminate all "socially dangerous elements" - a category of people whose numbers were constantly growing. According to Stalin, the USSR was surrounded by hostile enemies on every side, foes who were allegedly sending "armies of spies and subversives" to sabotage his socialist project. Compounding this threat, he explained, were the secretive operations of a "Fifth Column" seeking to destabilize Russia from within - by means of sabotage, espionage, and terrorism. To combat these omnipresent mythical foes, Stalin turned his nation into a stage for a tyrannical repression the likes of which had never before been seen in human history. Between 1936 and 1938 alone, his Great Terror was responsible for the murder of nearly 700,000 people.
Among the measures for which Stalin is best remembered was his widespread use of slave labor camps, or Gulags. ("Gulag" is an acronym for "Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagere," which is Russian for "Main Camp Administration.") These camps swelled both in size and number throughout the 1930s, providing Stalin with the manpower he needed for his massive construction projects in various regions of the USSR. Whereas in 1929 there had been approximately 55,000 prisoners in these Gulags, by 1935 their number stood at 965,000 (725,000 in work camps and 240,000 in work colonies). For the most part, each camp specialized in putting its slaves to work on one particular task, such as: cutting wood, building railroads, constructing roads and bridges, mining coal or gold, extracting petroleum, carrying out agricultural projects, or digging canals. In 1935 one railroad construction project enlisted the toil of 150,000 prisoners organized into thirty divisions; in 1939, some 138,000 prisoners extracted fully 35 percent of all the Soviet gold produced that year.
In the second half of the 1930s, the Gulag population doubled, from 965,000 in early 1935 to 1.93 million in early 1941. (In addition to these, the NKVD was in charge of 1.2 million "specially displaced people," and Soviet prisons, which were built to hold a theoretical limit of 234,000 inmates, were packed with 462,000.) With each passing year, increasing numbers of prisoners were sent to the camps so as to meet the ever-greater production targets set by the NKVD. By no means was everyone being held in the Gulags a political prisoner; such prisoners constituted between one-fourth and one-third of all the inmates. Most had been sentenced for crimes created by the Party: "destruction of Soviet property"; "breaking the passport law"; "hooliganism"; speculation"; "leaving one's work post"; "sabotage"; "nonfulfillment of the minimum number of working days." Most were ordinary citizens who were victims of the Stalin regime's harsh laws, myriad regulations, and insatiable lust for slave labor.
From 1934-1941, some 7 million people entered the Gulag camps and colonies. At least 300,000 are known to have died in the camps from 1934-40. It is likely that at least another 100,000 perished between 1930-33, though the mortality figures from that period are not as precise. In addition to these multitudes, many others died sometime between their arrest and their scheduled registration as prisoners in a camp. Also, contrary to popular misconception, there was a considerable turnover of inmates in the Gulags. Somewhere between 20 and 35 percent of the prisoners were released each year, though often to house arrest or exile rather than to genuine freedom. Most sentences were not intended to persist for excessively long periods of time. In 1940, for example, 57 percent of all sentences were for 5 years or less. But prisoners could never fully rest assured that they knew for certain when they would be released, as sentences were often extended without explanation or justification.
After the start of the Second Warld War, the already abominable conditions in the Gulags deteriorated markedly, as camps commonly did not receive any supplies for weeks at a time. In the winter of 1942-43, approximately one-fourth af all Gulag prisoners died from starvation. Over the entire course of the war, at least 2 million perished in the camps. All told, the death toll in the Gulags was about 2.7 million.
World War II
On August 23, 1939, Stalin and German dictator Adolf Hitler signed (on Hitler's initiative) a nonaggression pact stating that each country pledged not only to refrain from attacking the other for a period of at least ten years, but also that neither would come to the aid of any nation that the other might invade. So momentous was this pact, and so dramatically did it shift Europe's balance of power, that Time Magazine named Stalin its "Man of the Year" for 1939, for having signed what Time called this "world-shattering" agreement. "Without the Russian pact," said Time, "German generals would certainly have been loath to go into military action. With it, World War II began."
In exchange for signing this agreement, Germany gave the USSR the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), and divided Poland into German and Soviet spheres of influence. When Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, the Soviets did nothing. Two days later, Britain declared war on Germany and World War II had begun. On September 17, Stalin dispatched Soviet tanks into eastern Poland to occupy the USSR's "share" of that nation. The following month, the Soviets occupied Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and in November declared war against Finland.
Upon entering Poland, the Soviets arrested en masse all Polish soldiers and citizens deemed likely to resist the annexation of their country; by 1945, some two million Poles would be imprisoned or deported to the Gulags. All told, the Soviets executed more than 20,000 Polish military officers, soldiers, border guards, police officers, and other officials.
Meanwhile, Stalin assisted the German war effort by supplying the Nazis with such vital resources as oil, wood, copper, manganese ore, rubber, and grain. On March 8, 1940 the USSR's war with Finland came to an end, with Finland losing some territory but retaining its independence. Three months later, the Soviets occupied part of Romania. Then in April 1941, Stalin approved the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact guaranteeing that Japan would not attack the USSR.
Stalin's purges of the Communist Party elite, coupled with his decimation of the officer corps of the Red Army, emboldened Hitler to blatantly violate the terms of the nonaggression pact he had signed with Stalin in 1939. On June 22, 1941, Hitler shocked Stalin by invading the USSR in blatant violation of the 1939 pact. The shaken Soviet leader appointed himself Commissar of Defense and Supreme Commander of the Soviet Armed Forces; his struggle against Germany would come to be known as the "Great Patriotic War." On July 3, 1941, Stalin delivered a radio address to his countrymen, announcing that he planned to pursue a "scorched earth" policy dsigned to prevent the Germans from obtaining "a single engine, or a single railway truck, and not a pound of bread nor a pint of oil." "Comrades, citizens, brothers, and sisters, fighters of our army and navy," he said. "We must immediately put our whole production to war footing. In all occupied territories partisan units must be formed."
The Germans initially made swift progress but then were repelled by a Russian counterattack near Moscow on December 6, 1941. Stalin directed the Soviet campaign from the Kremlin, ordering his warriors to fight under the slogan "Die, But Do Not Retreat." Meanwhile in the north, German forces reached Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in August 1941, surrounded the city on September 8, and initiated a 900-day siege that would lead to the deaths of nearly 1.5 million civilians and soldiers. In an effort to encourage military assistance from the Western Allies, the pragmatic Stalin released some 115,000 of the Poles he had incarcerated after the 1939 annexation.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese airforce carried out a devastating attack against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, thereby drawing the U.S. into the conflict. Four days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States.
In May 1942 a British-Soviet accord was agreed upon, thereby fulfulling British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's wish for a "grand alliance" between his country, the Soviet Union, and the United States. For the second time in four years, Time Magazine named Stalin its "Man of the Year" - this time for stopping the German army in its tracks and, by joining forces with the U.S. and Britain, increasing the chances for an Allied victory in Europe.
The winter of 1942-43 marked the military turning point of the war in Europe, when Soviet troops scored a major victory against the German army at Stalingrad. Ordering his troops to take "not one step backwards," Stalin gave his second-line forces strict orders to gun down any front-line soldier who attempted to flee. The Soviets encircled the German forces who were laying siege to the city, and after a fierce conflict that saw the deaths of half a million Soviet and German troops alike, the Germans surrendered on February 2, 1943.
After this victory, Stalin promoted himself to the rank of marshal and announced that he would personally direct the counteroffensive that would drive the German army all the way back to the very heart of Berlin and decimate its ranks. By the end of 1943, the Soviets had broken the German siege of Leningrad and recaptured much of the Ukrainian Republic. From November 28 to December 1, 1943, Stalin met in Tehran with Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to reaffirm their resolve to accept nothing less from Hitler than his unconditional surrender.
During the week of February 4-11, 1945, Stalin again met with Churchill and Roosevelt, this time near Yalta in the Crimea; this conference resulted in the "Yalta Declaration" formally stating the Allies' intent to put an end to German militarism and Nazism. It was further agreed that once Germany had been defeated it would be divided into three zones of military occupation, and that Soviet forces would remain in Eastern Europe only until free elections could be held in the nations throughout that region. But Stalin, as history shows, would never honor his pledge to permit such elections and remove the Soviet military presence from Eastern Europe.
On the orders of a vengeful Stalin, in early 1945 Soviet forces marched into Germany under the slogan "There will be no pity. They have sown the wind and now they are harvesting the whirlwind." In what scholars regard as the largest case of mass rape in recorded history, Soviet troops raped at least two million German women. Stalin was fully aware of the rape and looting but for several weeks did nothing to prevent it. On May 7, 1945, Germany offered its unconditional surrender.
The Post-War Years
After the war's end, Stalin, ever-paranoid of the potentially corrupting effects of foreign influences, announced that all Soviet citizens - including military personnel - who had been detained in foreign prisons or work camps during the war should now be classified as traitors, and he ordered that they should all be executed or deported to the Gulags. Thus it came to be that some 1.5 million Red Army soldiers who had laid their lives on the line to fight for Stalin and their country, were shipped off to the labor camps of Siberia and the remote northern regions of the nation. Stalin made no exceptions to this policy, even going so far as to disown his own son who had been captured and detained by the German army in 1941.
Also under Stalin's orders, the Communist Party now toughened its standards for admission and purged many "questionable" members who had joined its ranks during the War - for fear that an untold number of spies or "saboteurs" may have infiltrated the Party.
Between 1945 and 1948, Stalin transformed the Eastern European countries occupied by his army -- Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia -- into "satellite states" ruled by "puppet" communist governments - again in direct contravention to his pledge at Yalta.
In 1949 the ever-paranoid Stalin launched another series of purges throughout the Soviet Union. On his 70th birthday - December 21, 1949 - most members of the Leningrad party organization were arrested, along with their family members, in what would become known as the "Leningrad Affair." Stalin feared that when Leningrad had experienced independence from the rest of the USSR during the German siege of 1941-44, the city's population might have developed an affinity for self-governance. Thus Stalin forced all city leaders to confess that they had committed treason, and then had them summarily executed.
In April 1950 Stalin encouraged North Korea's communist ruler Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea and unify the country as a single communist state, pledging to support the North's military effort. But Stalin did not expect the United States to come to the aid of South Korea, which it did. As a result, the North Korean attempt to overrun the South ended unsuccessfully after three years and the loss of some 3 million lives.
In February 1953 Stalin began laying the groundwork for a new terror campaign against Soviet Jews, ordering the construction of four enormous prison camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia, and the Arctic north. But he did not live long enough to turn this dream into a reality. On March 1 he collapsed at his country home ouside of Moscow, and he died four days later of what was determined to be a cerebral hemorrhage.
So ended the life of perhaps the most infamous butcher in human history. Notwithstanding the decades he devoted to mass murder, however, Stalin successfully created a cult of personality that made him revered, and even worshipped, throughout the Soviet Union. Numerous cities and towns were named in his honor, as were the Stalin Prize (honoring achievements in science, mathematics, literatature, arts, and architecture) and the Stalin Peace Prize (the Soviet answer to the Nobel Peace Prize). His admirers lavished him with such titles as "Coryphaeus of Science," "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," and "Gardener of Human Happiness." This personality cult reached its apex during the "Great Patriotic War" against Germany, when Stalin was paid the great honor of having his name incoroporated into the new Soviet national anthem. Moreover, he was the subject of much literature, poetry, music, art, and film.
While such high honors paid to so horrific a historical figure may strike some readers as remarkable, Stalin was also worshipped by the international left, including American progressives. This was the same left that eventually would support Mao Tse Tung in China; the Communists in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Central America; Fidel Castro in Cuba; the Khomeini revolution in Iran; and most recently Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and America's enemies in the current War on Terror. A slogan of the May Day parades of Stalin's era was "Peace, Jobs and Democracy," and their principal mission was to derail America's attempt to check Stalin's expansion of the Soviet empire throughout all of Europe. "We don't want another war," they said, meaning they opposed President Truman's Cold War efforts against the Communist conquest of Eastern Europe.
· Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
· Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
· Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).
· Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution (Vintage Books, 1991).
· Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (Modern Library, 2001).
 See especially, Francois Furet, The Passing of An Illusion, 1999. Furet is a world famous historian of the French Revolution and a former Communist himself.
 Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999),
 Ibid., p. 174.
 Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism, p. 168.
 Ibid., p. 175.
 Ibid., p. 171.
 Ibid., p. 162.
 Ibid., pp. 162-163.
 Ibid., pp. 175-176.
 Ibid., p. 167.
 Ibid., p. 168.
 Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism, p. 179.
 http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/repk.html; http://126.96.36.199/custom?q=cache:RSl1qFqejloJ:frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp%3FID%3D11027+kirov&hl=en&ie=UTF-8
 Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism, pp. 181.
 Ibid., p. 188.
 Ibid., p. 183.
 Ibid., p. 187.
 Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism, pp. 191-192, 199-200.
 Ibid., pp. 200-201.
 Ibid., p. 198.
 Ibid., p. 192.
 Oleg Khlevnyuk, The Politburo: Mechanisms of Political Power in the 1930s (Moscow: Rosspen, 1996), p. 212.
 Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism, p. 190.
 Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism, pp. 202-203, 206.
 Ibid., pp. 203-205.
 Ibid., p. 207.
 Ibid., p. 214.
 Ibid., pp. 206-207.
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