The Great Purges (Not Stalin simply exterminating his enemies)

The Great Purges were caused by a great fear that overcame the Soviet Union during the 1930’s. Why? There were sabotages at important industrial centers. Undercover operations like Operation Trust uncovered the existence of right wing, Trotsskyist, and others opposed to the Soviet government. The NKVD created a fake anti-Bolshevik organization that was dedicated to overthrowing the government. It uncovered volumes and volumes of real conspiracies.

Soviet workers vote for the Great Purges

Meanwhile, some members of the military were planning a coup d’etat against the government. Despite the fraud of the Dewey Commission (one of the leading officials resigned due to the sham nature of it), there were Trotskyist plans to cede land to Germany, engage in a palace coup against Stalin and the Communist Party.

In fact, the workers voted for the Great Purges because they feared a German invasion. They voted for the Great Purges. The archives show that while there were real conspiracies, there was also great fear that permeated the entire society. James Harris, a historian, in his book “The Great Fear” looks at the Soviet archives. He was surprised to discover that Stalin and the other members of the government were not cynically engaged in the purges to eliminate Stalin’s political enemies. Not at all. In private Stalin was very serious about socialism and finding the enemies. Part of the reason was the methods used by the NKVD itself. Using Operation Trust materials the head of the NKVD estimated a certain number of traitors in the ranks. So the NKVD would go arrest someone and ask them questions, often using torture and not relenting until they “named names.” But people will say anything under torture, so they would name anyone. So then the NKVD would go arrest this person, and on and on. The first head of the NKVD, Iagoda, was fired because he didn’t arrest enough people. So then Yezhov was hired. Yezhov estimated there was a grand conspiracy that he believed was out there. This was partly from bad intelligence from his agents. So then he went out and started having hundreds of thousands arrested. They were summarily tried and executed. Somehow the Germans influenced Yezhov. Some believe they had information about him being a homosexual and engaging in homosexual acts. Others believe he was part of a very real conspiracy with the right wing opposition, wanting to bring mayhem to turn public opinion against the government to support a coup. Later the full range of his behavior was discovered and opposed, and he was fired, tried, and executed. The killings by the NKVD under Beria then fell down to 1%. About 680,000 people were tried and executed in total. 28,000 were sent to prison.

Professor Harris discusses the Great Fear, the intelligence and collection of it during the Great Purges

Operation Trust:

Operation Trust (операция “Трест”[1]) was a counterintelligence operation of the State Political Directorate (GPU) of the Soviet Union. The operation, which ran from 1921 to 1926, set up a fake anti-Bolshevik resistance organization, “Monarchist Union of Central Russia”, MUCR (Монархическое объединение Центральной России, МОЦР), in order to help the OGPU identify real monarchists and anti-Bolsheviks.

The cover story used for discussion was to call the organization the Moscow Municipal Credit Association.

The head of the MUCR was Alexander Yakushev (Александр Александрович Якушев), a former bureaucrat of the Ministry of Communications of Imperial Russia, who after the Russian Revolution joined the Narkomat of External Trade (Наркомат внешней торговли), when the Soviets began to allow the former specialists (called “spetsy”, Russian: спецы) to resume the positions of their expertise. This position allowed him to travel abroad and contact Russian emigrants.

MUCR kept the monarchist general Alexander Kutepov (Александр Кутепов) from active actions, as he was convinced to wait for the development of internal anti-Bolshevik forces. Kutepov had previously believed in militant action as a solution to the Soviet occupation, and had formed the “combat organization”, a militant splinter from the Russian All-Military Union (Russian: Русский Обще-Воинский Союз, Russkiy ObshcheVoinskiy Soyuz) led by General Baron Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel.[2]

Kutepov also created the Inner Line as a counter-intelligence organization to prevent Bolshevik penetrations. It caused the Cheka some problems but was not overly successful.

Among the successes of Trust was the luring of Boris Savinkov and Sidney Reilly into the Soviet Union, where they were captured.

Some modern researchers say that there are reasons to believe that both persons had doubts in MUCR, and they went into the Soviet Union for their own reasons, using MUCR as a pretext[citation needed].

The Soviets did not organize Trust from scratch. The White Army had left sleeper agents, and there were also Royalist Russians who did not leave after the Civil War. These people cooperated to the point of having a loose organizational structure. When the OGPU discovered them, they did not liquidate them, but expanded the organization for their own use.

Still another episode of the operation was an “illegal” trip (in fact, monitored by OGPU) of a notable émigré, Vasily Shulgin, into the Soviet Union. After his return he published a book “Three Capitals” with his impressions. In the book he wrote, in part, that contrary to his expectations, Russia was reviving, and the Bolsheviks would probably be removed from power.

The one Western historian who had limited access to the Trust files, John Costello, reported that they comprised thirty-seven volumes and were such a bewildering welter of double-agents, changed code names, and interlocking deception operations with “the complexity of a symphonic score”, that Russian historians from the Intelligence Service had difficulty separating fact from fantasy.

Defector Vasili Mitrokhin reported that the Trust files were not housed at the SVR offices in Yasenevo, but were kept in the special archival collections (spetsfondi) of the FSB at the Lubyanka.[1]

Hersh Bortman translates:

John Berger’s answer reads:

The Great Purge took place from 1936 through 1938. It had “merit” for Stalin in that it eliminated any remaining opposition or resistance <emphasis added> to his rule. Estimates of the total number of people killed to achieve this range from 680,000 to 1,200,000. Here are the details: Great Purge – Wikipedia

Let’s use the link and have a look at the contingent of those remaining opposition and resistance to Stalin’s rule.

<By NKVD of USSR – Nicolas Werth: L’Ivrogne et la Marchande de fleurs. Autopsie d’un meurtre de masse, 1937–1938, Tallandier, Paris 2009, ISBN 978-2-8473-4573-5., Public Domain, File: NKVD Order No. 00447.jpg>

Do you know who this Nicolas Werth is? Please meet: Nicolas Werth is a French historian, and a scholar of communist studies, particularly the history of the Soviet Union. He is the son of Alexander Werth, a Russian-born British journalist, and writer. He wrote the chapters dedicated to the USSR in The Black Book of Communism.

Aha! That Black Book! Allow me to quote from MIM: Review of the “Black Book of Communism”

The Black Book sold 70,000 copies in four weeks in France.(13) Of course, the Wall Street Journal endorsed it as well as most of the rest of the bourgeois press. There are 175 entries in an Internet search using the “Google” search engine. Many of the book reviews can be seen by visiting MIM’s bookstore under reviewed books and going to the Amazon bookstore link for the Black Book. The positive reviews can be taken as an indication of the lack of historical knowledge of some, the weak quantitative skills of others and the overall conscious distortion of the bourgeoisie. In the end, MIM agrees that Courtois has recognized the truth about the media: it will buy anything anti-communist.

This matter cleared, I want to represent to the curious reader who was the majority of those remaining opposition and resistance to Stalin’s rule. I apologize for any discrepancies in my translation of the scanned document above.



July 30, 1937 No. 00447


July 30, 1937.


The materials of the investigation into the cases of anti-Soviet formations establish that a significant number of former kulaks, other previously repressed, fled the camps, exiles and labor camps. Also among them, there are many, repressed in the past churchmen and sectarians, former active participants of anti-Soviet armed protests. Significant cadres of anti-Soviet political parties (Esers, Grusmeks, Dashnaks, Mussavatists, Ittihadists, etc) – remained almost untouched in the villages, as well as cadres of former active participants in the gangs of uprisings, whites, punishers, returnees, etc.

Some of the above elements, having left the village to the cities, penetrated into the industrial enterprises, transport, and construction.

In addition, the village and the city still nest a significant number of criminals – cattle-and-horse thieves, recidivists, robbers, etc. who had served their sentences, had escaped from prison and were fleeing repression. The inadequacy of the fight against these criminal forces has created conditions of impunity for them to facilitate their criminal activities.

As it is established, all these anti-Soviet elements are the main instigators of all kinds of anti-Soviet and sabotage crimes, both in collective farms and state farms and on transport and in some areas of industry.

The state security authorities have a task – in the most merciless way to defeat this whole gang of anti-Soviet elements, to protect the working Soviet people from them counter-revolutionary machinations and, finally, once and for all, to put an end to their vile subversive work against the foundations of the Soviet state.


Follows 10–15 pages with detailed instructions concerning the operation. Приказ НКВД от 30.07.1937 № 00447

Now my turn to ask a question, can anyone explain to the public which way the above-mentioned cattle-and-horse thieves presented opposition to Stalin’s rule as John Berger suggests in his answer? Rhetoric question.

We should stop to mark the whole contingent of the punitive facilities of GULag as innocent victims by definition. Our sympathy should go only with the TRULY INNOCENT, who represent a mere tiny fraction of the total number of the repressed.

|So my answer to the title question is Yes, the purges of the 1930s have had the merit of removing the gangrenous matter from the newbie USSR.[2]

Chuck Garen:

Tukachevsky’s execution had little to no personal background to it.

“The Moscow press announced that they [the primary Generals on trial] had been in the pay of Hitler and had agreed to help him get the Ukraine. This charge was fairly widely believed in foreign military circles, and was later substantiated by revelations made abroad. Czech military circles seemed to be especially well informed. Czech officials in Prague bragged to me later that their military men had been the first to discover and to complain to Moscow that Czech military secrets, known to the Russians through the mutual aid alliance, were being revealed by Tukhachevsky to the German high command.”

Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 134

“Bolstering Khrushchev’s version of this affair, that Stalin swallowed German disinformation designed to destroy Tukhachevsky, is a legend that Stalin was warned of a conspiracy with the Germans. In 1939 the Soviet defector Krivitsky, who had worked for the NKVD and GRU in Western Europe, published his book In Stalin’s Secret Service, in which he claimed that the NKVD received secret information about such a conspiracy from Czech President Benes and from its agent Skoblin,…. Krivitsky accused Skoblin of providing the Soviets with disinformation from the Germans about secret contacts with Tukhachevsky. Later General Schellenberg, chief of Hitler’s foreign intelligence service, in his memoirs also claimed that the Germans fabricated documents pointing to Tukhachevsky as their agent. Before the war, he said, they passed these documents to the Czechs, and Benes reported the information to Stalin. For me, this is a self-serving fairytale. The documents have never been found in the KGB or Stalin archives. The criminal case against Tukhachevsky is based entirely on his confession, and there’s no reference to any incriminating evidence received from German intelligence. If such documents existed, I, as deputy director and the man responsible for the German desk in the intelligence directorate, would have seen them or found some reference to their existence.”

Sudoplatov, Pavel. Special Tasks. Boston: Little, Brown, c1993, p. 90

“The case of the generals was different from that of the accused civilians. Not only was it held in camera, but the “Court” of a presiding judge and two assistants was reinforced by eight of the highest officers in the Red Army. In addition, more than 100 high-ranking officers from all over the country were summoned as spectators, in order later to give an eye-witness account of proceedings to the troops under their command. It is a matter of record that none of them ever expressed doubts about the genuineness of the charge or the justice of the verdict. In this case at least, there was no possibility that the accused had been “worked on” during a long period of preliminary examination, as they were tried within three days after their rest, confessed their guilt, were condemned by unanimous verdict, and shot without delay.

…The charges against them, and the exact nature of their offense, had never been made public officially, but they can be surmised with a reasonable degree of accuracy. The night before Tukhachevsky and the others were arrested, Marshall Gamarnik, Vice Commissar of War and chief of the Political Department of the Red Army, committed suicide, which gives the key to the puzzle. The Political Department had been originally intended by Lenin as a means of civil control over the Army, but in the course of time it had gradually become a part or appanage of the General Staff, owing allegiance to the Army rather than to the Kremlin. The danger of war, and perhaps doubts provoked by the murder of Kirov and subsequent investigation, led Stalin to decide that a radical change should be made in the status of the Political Department, that it must henceforth revert to its original function as an instrument of civilian control. The Army leaders resented this “interference,” and finally decided to prevent it by violent action…. Accordingly, Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, and their colleagues appealed to the German General Staff for support in their projected coup d’etat or “palace revolution” against Stalin. They hoped to affect the coup through the Kremlin Guard and the students of the military academy in the Kremlin, who, they believed, would obey their orders; but they had the gravest doubts about the mass of the Army and the nation as a whole, which prompted them to seek German aid in return, it is said, for an offer of territory and for economic and political advantages in the Ukraine and North Caucasus.”

Duranty, Walter. Story of Soviet Russia. Philadelphia, N. Y.: JB Lippincott Co. 1944, p. 220

“I gave him [Spiegelglass] the contents of a brief confidential dispatch from one of my chief agents in Germany. At a formal reception tendered by high Nazi officials, at which my informant was present, the question of the Tukhachevsky affair came up. Captain Fritz Wiedemann, personal political aide to Hitler –appointed subsequently to the post of Consul-General at San Francisco –was asked if there was any truth in Staliin’s charges of espionage against the Red Army generals. My agent’s report reproduced Wiedemann’s boastful reply:

“We hadn’t nine spies in the Red Army, but many more. The 0GPU is still far from on the trail of all our men in Russia.””

Krivitsky, Walter G. I was Stalin’s Agent, London: H. Hamilton, 1939, p. 242

Such ideas as a General being on the payroll of the Nazis and who were attempting a coup is not far-fetched, as attempts and plans of such attempts ocurredin many countries with it being successful in Germany, Italy and most notably SPain. Attempts were ven made in the US, attempts revealed by Smedley Butler who later died mysteriously not long after.[3]

Historians Getty and Harris discuss the Great Purges

Footnotes[1] Operation Trust – Wikipedia[2] Hersh Bortman’s answer to Did the Great Purge brought by Stalin in 1939 have any merit?[3] Chuck Garen’s answer to Why did Stalin hate Tukhachevsky?

2 thoughts on “The Great Purges (Not Stalin simply exterminating his enemies)

  1. I am a Leninist but I don’t think it is good stance to defend the Moscow Trials nor the majority of the Purges. For instance, why were so many ‘Old Bosheviks’ implicated? People like Zinoviev and Kamenev, and Bukharin, who were leaders in the revolution, were killed. And, why so necessary to suppress dissent? Perhaps Stalin did not explicitly condone all the trials and executions but there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t involved. After all his Party did go to extreme measures to persecute people who allied with Trotsky even before the latter was exiled, and killed. From all indications Trotsky supported the Soviet Union, after all he was the 2nd in command during the 1917 revolution and said Socialists should defend Soviet Union. I think a Socialist country needs to suppress the Capitalist class but to execute fellow Communists, why is that justified?


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