Why did Stalin launch the Great Terror, 1936-38?

Essay by Tomst7A+, June 2003

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In 1932 things looked very good for Stalin; the First Five Year Plan was complete, the peasants had been collectivised and Stalin was the 'boss' and firmly in control. However, there was still a little opposition in the Communist Party and a Party member called Ryutin circulated criticism of Stalin and how he ran the Party among the Central Committee arguing for his removal as General Secretary. Of course, Stalin was furious that someone of so little importance had the audacity to say circulate such things, so he demanded that Ryutin should be executed and it was put to the vote. But surprisingly it seemed that the majority of the Politburo voted against the execution, and this majority was headed by a man called Kirov, who was the Party boss of Leningrad and had strongly supported Stalin throughout his struggle to power in the 1920's.

In 1934 the Party Congress celebrated the triumphs of collectivisation and industrialisation, and this once again showed how popular Kirov was in the Congress and soon he turned into Stalin's rival, although Kirov did not know this at the time.

Then in December of 1934 Kirov was assassinated by a young man called Nikolaev in suspicious circumstances, which suggested that Stalin was behind the murder, and wanted to wipe out any opposition.

Two years after this assassination Stalin launched the Great Terror in Russia in 1936. The Great Terror was known as 'Yezhovshchina' in Russia, the time of Yezhov, who was head of the NKVD in 1936. The Terror fell into four main parts:

The Moscow Show Trials, 1936-1938

The Army Purge 1937

The Mass Purge

The Gulag

The first part of the Great Terror, the Moscow Show Trials, involved three main trials; The Zinoviev trial in 1936, The Trotskyite trial in...