Stalin: Paranoia and The Purges

Essay by jonoworldUniversity, Master'sA-, November 2004

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Stalin: Paranoia and The Purges

"One death is a tragedy, a million just statistics" (Stalin).

In a decree of September 5th 1793, the revolutionary government of France announced the implementation of harsh measures against those considered to be "enemies of the revolution" under the slogan "terror is the order of the day." For the next nine months, this "reign of terror" orchestrated by Maximilien Robespierre's Committee of Public Safety resulted in the deaths of seventeen thousand mainly innocent people. Over a century later, Joseph Stalin announced his own decree of terror that plunged an entire country into a paroxysm of pain and misery. An examination of Stalin's purges reveals the development of a weapon that in any society would have effects not amenable to control. For when capricious individuals are free to arrest, torture, exile and murder citizens, the only results are irrational terror, alienation and the eventual disintegration of important social institutions.

Moreover, this instrument of extraordinary coercive force, becomes a destructive power indiscriminately attacking society, encouraging confusion, inefficiency and hysteria as much as the increased production or effort demonstrated by Stalin's Russia.

The use of terror as a means of social and political control had first been advocated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks soon after they acquired power in 1917. Lenin had no doubt

that intimidation and reprisals were legitimate instruments in the fight to establish

socialism. To achieve his objective, Lenin established the first Communist secret police within the first six weeks of seizing power which became the most formidable political

polices force that had yet appeared. It was called the Cheka (Extraordinary Commission for the Suppression of Counterrevolution, Sabotage and Speculation) and its name indicated Lenin's intended victims and view of the assemblage as a temporary emergency organization. Before long the Cheka, became a law unto...