MONSTER: A PORTRAIT OF STALIN IN BLOOD
This six part series, produced by Alexandre Ivankin at Contact Studio, Moscow, uses never before released films from the Russian archives and personal interviews to tell the true story of the annihilation of approximately 40 million Russians by Stalin.
Episode 2: Stalin’s Secret Police: Stalin’s rise to power is attributed largely to his control of the vast secret police complex, known first as the Cheka and later the NKVD, which became the KGB. At Stalin’s direction the secret police becomes the bludgeon with which Stalin enforces his political and personal will, liquidating party rivals, purging the Red Army, and creating the Gulag, massive system of slave labor and liquidation camps.
Stalin was born Joseph Dzhugashvili in the Georgian town of Gori in 1879. He was an early activist in the Bolshevik movement, where he first assumed the pseudonym Stalin (which means “man of steel”). He was named General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922, a post Stalin used to fortify his power base. When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, a struggle for control broke out hat pitted Stalin against his nemesis, Leon Trotsky, and a host of lesser party figures. Stalin’s victory was slow and hard-fought, but by 1927 he had succeeded in having Trotsky expelled from the party.
By 1928, Stalin was entrenched as supreme Soviet leader, and he wasted little time in launching a series of national campaigns (the so-called Five-Year Plans) aimed at “collectivizing” the peasantry and turning the USSR into a powerful industrial state. Both campaigns featured murder on a massive scale.
The millions of deaths in Stalin’s “Gulag Archipelago” (the network of labour camps [gulags] scattered across the length and breath of Russia) were a consequence of Stalin’s drive for total control, and his pressing need for convict labour to fuel rapid industrialization.
For Stalin, dissident viewpoints represented an unacceptable threat. This was the origin of the “cult of personality” that permeated Soviet politics and culture, depicting Stalin as infallible, almost deity-like. Beginning in 1935, the series of immense internal purges sent millions of party members and ordinary individuals to their deaths, either through summary executions or in the atrocious conditions of the “Gulag Archipelago.” Soviet institutions and sectors like the Communist Party, the Army, the NKVD, and scientists and engineers were decimated by these purges.
The “Old Bolshevik” elite was targeted in three key “show trials” between 1936 and 1938, in which leaders such as Lev Kamenev, Nikolai Bukharin, and Grigori Zinoviev were accused of conspiring with Trotskyite elements to undermine communism in the USSR.
When the “Old Bolsheviks” had been consigned to oblivion, their successors and replacements quickly followed them. The destruction of the officer corps, about 35,000 military officers shot or imprisoned, and, in particular, the execution of the brilliant chief-of-staff Marshal Tukhachevsky, is considered one of the major reasons for the spectacular Nazi successes in the early months of the German invasion in WWII.
The impetus to “cleanse” the social body rapidly spilled beyond these elite boundaries, and the greatest impact of the Purge was felt in the wider society. Relatives of those accused and arrested, including wives and children down to the age of twelve, were themselves often condemned under the “counter-terrorism” legislation.
With the fall of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Soviet scholars like Edvard Radzinsky and Dmitri Volkogonov have published prominent exposés of Stalinist rule, based on newly-opened archives. And the estimates of the death toll arrived at by Robert Conquest and others, long denounced as craven exaggerations, have been shown instead to be, if anything, understated.
See the works of Robert Conquest, and Aleksandr Solhenitsyn