Stalin’s reign of terror

I know we had a discussion about this in class the other day but I’m still confused as to why Stalin started his reign of terror. I understand how he did, and what methods he used to control the kulaks and the old Bolsheviks, but I’m not sure what his main purpose was. Was his reign of terror put into place for him to gain more power until he holds absolute power or was it solely because he was focused on creating a socialist society, and he thought getting rid of those who opposed him and even the old communist party was the only way to socialism. The textbook even states that many historians are baffled by Stalin’s purges and why he would execute people who didn’t pose a threat or commit a crime. It seems to me that some part of Stalin was hoping this reign of terror would only bring him more power and he was more concerned about gaining absolute power than instilling socialism into Russian society. He would also backstab his own allies to gain power, which helps convince me that he had developed a huge ego and was focused on achieving more and more power.

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4 Responses to Stalin’s reign of terror

  1. Tanner says:

    I would agree that Stalin’s main motives for executing political enemies was to secure his power, and to stop any threats on his power. He even considered political allies as possible threats, as he was worried they might replace him. His methods may have been extremely unethical, it was quite effective. No major politic threats were made on him. Although Stalin’s original plan was a shift to communism, he seemed to either loose track of this goal, or at least loose track of how to practically shift to communism. As for the murder of innocent peasants, it just seems to be pointless and insane killings, which as you mentioned, baffled historians. However in our class, someone mentioned that it may have been somewhat like Robespierre’s Terror, designed to scare the people and prevent and rebellion. However in my opinion, Stalin was a paranoid, insane leader, who murder thousands of innocent people for no reason.

    • Elliot F says:

      I don’t necessarily agree with how both you, Tanner and Carly, try to explain away how Stalin seemed to unjustifiably kill millions of people during both the collectivization and purging of Russia. The first inconsistency in the theory of insanity is that lunacy would only be able to account for just a portion of the deaths that occurred during the Purges. To kill a few is to be afraid, but to kill millions suggests some deeper plan of action that required the deaths of many of the “Old Bolsheviks”. As it states in the textbook, Stalin replaced the people he killed with a new generation of loyal supporters, by which, he showed his true plan of creating for himself an army of deeply committed followers. But to say that this is solely due to his ego would imply that he was not as cunning nor skilled as he actually was. As you stated yourself, he does systematically silence his possible political enemies, but this is to ensure that he would not be latter challenged in his leadership. By doing this, he guaranteed creating a nation that would not be crippled by the type of bureaucracy that is associated with unlimited democracy. There would be no hesitation from Russia as it progressed forwards to catch up to the industrialized West; together, they would be a united front, unhindered by warring political parties or a split general populous.

  2. Pho says:

    I agree with Elliot in that Stalin must have had a stronger motive, other than his ego, in order to kill millions of people. I agree with all of the above statements in that a large part of that motive includes the security of absolute power. Stalin tried to kill all enemies (even those who are allies) and replaced them with with committed supporters who will loyally follow him. However, I believe that Stalin generally purged anyone who didn’t fit into his strict utopian society. If that group didn’t correspond with Stalin’s initial plans for the future, then he would have them eliminated. In addition, anyone who imposed any threat to possibly overtake his power was purged and then replaced with a devout follower who would never inflict any danger to his power. I do believe part of Stalin’s motives originate with communism but others are general incentives of any dictator. Killing anyone who didn’t fit into Stalin’s utopian society was strictly a communist and socialist ideal. However, killing his own allies in order to consolidate his reign is independently dictatorial because he then looks to secure only himself, as opposed to his own country.

  3. Dr. K says:

    But was it really a strictly communist ideal? To take just one example from the course, didn’t Robespierre kill enemies of the revolution, too? Fewer of them, but still a large number, especially given the technology of the time.

    The author Cullen Murphy has recently written about how absolute certainty can lead one to commit atrocities. Perhaps it was Stalin’s confidence in or certainty about his socialist ideals that was the problem.

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