Party Purges


The entire membership of the Communist Party was therefore subjected to what is called a “cleansing” or “purge” in the presence of large audiences of their non-Communist fellow workers. (This is the only connection in which the Soviet people use the term “purge.” Its application by Americans to all the Soviet treason trials and in general to Soviet criminal procedure is resented by the Soviet people.)
Each Communist had to relate his life history and daily activities in the presence of people who were in a position to check them. It was a brutal experience for an unpopular president of a Moscow university to explain to an examining board in the presence of his students why he merited the nation’s trust. Or for a superintendent of the large plant to expose his life history and daily activities — even to his wife’s use of one of the factory automobiles for shopping — in the presence of the plants workers, any one of whom had the right to make remarks. This was done with every Communist throughout the country; it resulted in the expulsion of large numbers from the party, and in the arrest and trial of a few.
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 136

The purge–in Russian “chiska” (cleansing)–is a long-standing institution of the Russian Communist Party. The first one I encountered was in 1921, shortly after Lenin had introduced “NEP,” his new economic policy, which involved a temporary restoration of private trade and petty capitalism and caused much heart burning amongst his followers. In that purge nearly one-third of the total membership of the party was expelled or placed on probation. To the best of my recollection, the reasons then put forward for expulsion or probation were graft, greed, personal ambition, and “conduct unbecoming to communists,” which generally meant wine, women, and song.
Duranty, Walter. The Kremlin and the People. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941, p. 116

Kirov’s murder brought a change, but even so the Purge that was held that winter was at first not strikingly different from earlier Purges.
Duranty, Walter. The Kremlin and the People. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941, p. 116

The Central Committee organized a “purge” and expelled barely 170,000 members in order to improve the party quality.
Stalin has frequently been held responsible for the “purge.” He was not its author. This party-cleansing was done under Lenin’s leadership. It is a process which is unique in the history of little parties. The Bolsheviks however, do not regard it as an extraordinary measure for use only in a time of crisis, but a normal feature of party procedure. It is the means of guaranteeing Bolshevik quality. To regard it as a desperate move on the part of leaders anxious to get rid of rivals is to misunderstand how profoundly the Bolshevik party differs from all others, even from the Communist Party’s of the rest of Europe.
Murphy, John Thomas. Stalin, London, John Lane, 1945, p. 144

Lenin initiated the first great “cleansing” of the Bolshevik party just as the transition had begun from “war communism” to the new economic policy. In 1922, when, as Lenin put it, “the party had rid itself of the rascals, bureaucrats, dishonest or waivering Communists, and of Mensheviks who have re-painted their facade but who remained Mensheviks at heart,” another Congress took place; and it was this Congress which advanced Stalin to the key position of Bolshevik power.
It brought him into intimate contact with every functionary of the organization, enabling him to examine their work as well as their ideas.
Murphy, John Thomas. Stalin, London, John Lane, 1945, p. 145

The party maintains its quality by imposing a qualifying period before granting full membership, and by periodical ” cleanings” of those who fail to live up to the high standard set.
Murphy, John Thomas. Stalin, London, John Lane, 1945, p. 169

In all fairness I must add that no small proportion of the exiles were allowed to return home and resume their jobs after the Purge had ended.
Duranty, Walter. The Kremlin and the People. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941, p. 122

Besides examining Communists against whom definite complaints are made, the Control Commission at long intervals resorts to wholesale “purges” of the Party. In 1929 it was decided to institute such a purge, with a view to checking up on the rapid numerical growth of the Party, which has been increasing at the rate of about 200,000 a year during the last few years, and eliminating undesirable elements. It was estimated in advance that about 150,000 Communists, or 10 percent of the total membership (including the candidates) would be expelled during this process. In a purge every party member, regardless of whether any charges have been preferred against him or not, must appear before representatives of the Control Commission and satisfy them that he is a sound Communist in thought and action. In the factories non-party workers are sometimes called on to participate in the purge by offering judgment on the Communists and pointing out those who are shkurniki or people who look after their own skins, a familiar Russian characterization for careerists.
Chamberlin, William Henry. Soviet Russia. Boston: Little, Brown, 1930, p. 68

From time to time the party “cleans out” its membership, and this is always done an open meetings to which all workers of the given institution are invited. Each communist in the institution must give before this public an extended account of his life activities, submit to and answer all criticism, and prove before the assembled workers his fitness to remain in the “leading Party.” Members may be cleaned out not only as “hostile elements, double-dealers, violators of discipline, degenerates, career-seekers, self-seekers, morally degraded persons” but even for being merely “passive,” for having failed to keep learning and growing in knowledge and authority among the masses.
Strong, Anna Louise. This Soviet World. New York, N. Y: H. Holt and company, c1936, p. 31

I have in the course of 15 years in the Soviet Union met an occasional Communist who was a grafter, and many more who were stubborn bureaucrats and unenlightened fanatics. But I have also seen how the party throws out dead wood–not always accurately–and renews itself from the working class it leads.
Strong, Anna Louise. This Soviet World. New York, N. Y: H. Holt and company, c1936, p. 37

It would be a mistake to regard the 1933 chistka as having been directed solely against members of the opposition. The largest single group expelled were “passive” party members: those carried on the roles but not participating in party work. Next came violators of party discipline, bureaucrats, corrupt officials, and those who had hidden past crimes. Members of dissident groups did not even figure in the final tallies. Stalin himself characterized the purge has a measure against bureaucratism, red tape, degenerates, and careerists, “to raise the level of organizational leadership.” The vast majority of those expelled were fresh recruits who had entered the party since 1929, rather than Old Bolshevik oppositionists. Nevertheless, the 1933 purge expelled about 18 percent of the party’s members and must be seen as a hard-line policy or signal from Moscow.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 127

“Not everyone who wishes can belong to the party,” said Stalin; “it is not given to everyone to brave its labors and its torments.”
Barbusse, Henri. Stalin. New York: The Macmillan company, 1935, p. 280

Western students have applied the word “purge” to everything from political trials to police terror to nonpolitical expulsions from the party. The label “Great Purges,” which encompasses practically all party activities between 1933 and 1939, is an example of such broad usage. Yet the Communist Party defined and used the word quite specifically. The term “purge” (chistka–a sweeping or cleaning) only applied to the periodic membership screenings of the ranks of the party. These membership operations were designed to weed the party of hangers-on, nonparticipants, drunken officials, and people with false identification papers, as well as ideological “enemies” or “aliens.” In the majority of purges, political crimes or deviations pertained to a minority of those expelled.
No Soviet source or usage ever referred to the Ezhovshchina (the height of police arrests and terror in 1937) as a purge, and party leaders discussed that event and purges in entirely separate contexts. No political or nonpolitical trial was ever called a purge, and under no circumstances were operations, arrests, or terror involving nonparty citizens referred to as purges. A party member at the time would have been mystified by such a label.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 38

It is to these operations [periodic cleansings] and not to trials, arrests, or prosecutions, that the Soviet usage of the term “purge” applies. The 1919 operation was called pereregistratsiia, “reregistration.” The 1921 purge, and each subsequent purge, was called proverka (verification) or chistka (a cleaning, cleaning out, combing out, or sweeping). For consistency and accuracy, the term “purge” will be applied below only to a membership-accounting operation.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 40

The reasons for which one could be expelled in a purge varied throughout the ’20s, but there were some constant themes. One category consistently marked for expulsion was that of “class-alien,” “counter-revolutionary,” or “hostile” elements. This group of offenders included former officers (but not always soldiers) of the White Armies, “regenerate bourgeois elements,” kulaks, and other elements of the pre-revolutionary power structure. There was no official stricture against persons of bourgeois or kulak origin entering the party, as long as such origins were not kept secret. Hiding one’s origins, however, was always grounds for expulsion.
Another category for expulsion was that encompassing official misconduct or corruption. This might be phrased “acts unworthy of a party member,” “violations of party discipline,” or “self-seeking careerism” in cases of continued violations. This “abuse of position” category often included theft, embezzlement, and the like. A third group of offenses providing grounds for expulsion centered on nonparticipation or “passivity.” This group always accounted for a large percentage of those expelled in a purge, as did a fourth group–the morally corrupt. Offenses such as drunkenness, sexual crimes, and financial corruption were taken as signs of “personal corruption.”
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 41

The largest of these operations was the 1921 purge following the Civil War, which expelled one in four party members. At no time in the 20s did an all-union purge embrace even one-half that rate of expulsion.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 45

If 1929 is typical of a 1920s-era purge in its causes and criteria for expulsion, then membership operations seem to have been implemented to rid the party of corrupt, inactive, undisciplined, class-alien, or criminal persons. The idea was to “clean” the party of those who were not full-time, dedicated, honest party members according to Lenin’s strict code. It was not done, at least explicitly, to rid the party of all ideological dissenters or suspected oppositionists….
Nationally, 1,530,000 members went through the 1929 purge. Of these, 170,000 (or 11 percent) were expelled. Subsequently, however, 37,000 of these expellees (22 percent of them) were reinstated into the party on appeal. In Smolensk, the figure was 43 percent restored to membership and in Voronezh 33 percent. These readmissions eventually reduced the impact of the 1929 purge from 11 to 8% nationally and comprised the greatest number of reversals for a purge to date. Subsequent clarifications show that the vast majority of those reinstated to membership had been expelled for “passivity” (nonparticipation) and that most of these were rank-and-file members of working-class origin.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 47

Accordingly, the party was to purge itself in 1933 of the following categories:
1. Class-alien, hostile elements who try to deceitfully demoralize the party
2. Double dealers, who deceitfully undermine party policy
3. Violators of discipline who fail to carry out party decisions and who are pessimistic about the “the impractibility” of party measures
4. Degenerates who merged with and do not struggle against kulaks, loafers, thieves, etc..
5. Careerists and self-seekers who are isolated from the masses and disregard the needs of people
6. Moral degenerates whose unseemly behavior discredit the party

These categories were slightly more ideological than those for the 1929 purge. There was more emphasis on “double dealers,” “underminers,” and “violators of discipline” who refused to “struggle against the kulak,” but the main focus of the 1933 chistka was on weeding out undesirables who had flooded the party since 1929 and not on persecuting members of the opposition, many of whose leaders remained in the party.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 49

The chistka of 1933 was to take place in a “comradely atmosphere,” was to tolerate no “petty and captious digging into the personal lives of people,” and was not to be used to settle personal accounts.
Local purge officials were warned not to expel large numbers of rank-and-file members on such flimsy pretexts as “passivity” or simple political illiteracy. The 1933 announcement enjoined those conducting the purge to take into account the “overall development” of the member–not to try to trick him or her with technical questions on the intricacies of the party program and not to expel loyal workers and collective farmers just because they had not had time to improve their level of ideological education. Moreover, a member found to lack sufficient political knowledge (or discipline) was to be reduced from a member to a candidate, or from a candidate member to a sympathizer, reflecting an attempt to prevent some of the abuses encountered in 1929 relating to unjustified expulsions.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 50

As head of the Control Commission, Yezhov now became responsible for overseeing the purges, the operations within the party to remove anyone unworthy of membership. Exactly what that phrase [purges] meant is hotly debated in the West; as noted, one point of view argues that Stalin aimed to crank up political tension and root out political opponents in 1935-36; another maintains that the purges were not largely political operations but, rather, mundane housecleaning, through which party members who had demonstrated incompetence or lack of interest in socialist affairs were removed.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 28

These documents suggest that the situation was ripe for a new party purge, and this is precisely what was announced in January 1933. Member categories subject to expulsion were specified: class-alien elements and enemies, “two-faced ones”–that is, those who say they are for but are actually against the basic party line–those who openly and covertly violate strict party discipline, those who jabber about the lack of realism in prescribed party plans, careerists, self-seekers, morally depraved members, and politically ignorant members unfamiliar with party rules, regulations, and programs. In the course of the purge, 18 percent of the party’s members were expelled, and a further 15 percent left the party out of fear.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 125

On the party purge–April 28, 1933
On the basis of this Comintern directive our party conducted a party re-registration in 1920, a party purge in 1921, a purge of non-production cells in 1924, a verification of village cells in 1925, and a purge in 1929-30. As is known, these purges and re-registrations reinforced the ranks of our party, improved its fighting efficiency, and intensified the feeling of responsibility of each party member for the work of the party.
The function of the party purge is to elevate the ideological level of the party members, to strengthen the party politically and organizationally, and further to intensify the confidence in the party of the millions of non-party masses.
During a purge this task is accomplished: (a) by the open and honest self-criticism of party members and members of party organizations, (b) by verifying the work of each party cell to ascertain how it has executed decisions and instructions of the party, (c) by involving the toiling non-party masses in the purge, and (d) by ridding the party of those persons who have not justified the lofty name of party member.
McNeal, Robert. Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU–The Stalin Years: 1929-1953. Vol. 3. Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974, p. 125

In Soviet Party history a ‘purge’ refers to a membership screening designed to rid the Party of lackadaisical, theoretically backward, ill disciplined, passive, opportunist, and so on, members. Purges were implemented either by a process of systematic expulsions organized by special ‘purge’ commissions, or by local Party leaders, in which charges were brought against unreliable members, or by a process of validation or exchange of Party cards in which members had to prove themselves. Such ‘purges’ had been a regular part of Party life since 1919. Interestingly, the Party purges of 1935 and 1937 resulted in significantly fewer expulsions than the previous four purges that had taken place in 1919, 1921, 1929, and 1933. All the purges mainly affected rank and file party members.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 229

Communist Party membership involved both special obligations and access to special benefits such as jobs (reserved for politically reliable people), as well as a certain prestige. As a result many people secured and maintained membership in the Party for other reasons than agreement with the Party’s goals and political activism; many people even secured Party cards illlegally…. The periodic purges (1919, 1921, 1929, 1933, 1935, 1937) were all designed to deal with this problem and, in the words of Party instructions, were directed to ensure ‘iron proletarian discipline in the Party and to cleanse the Party’s ranks of all unreliable, unstable, and hanger-on elements. ‘In the 1919 ‘re-registration’ 10-15% of the Party’s total membership lost their Party cards; in the 1921 Party purge 25%; in the 1929 purge, 11% (25 percent of whom were reinstated after appeals); in the 1933 chistka 17% were expelled; in the 1935 proverka 9%; and in the famous 1937 Ezhovshchina again about 9% (the 1935 and 1937 purges were the smallest in terms of numbers affected).
The decree setting up the rules of the 1933 validation of Party members specified that all Party members must present themselves before open proceedings (attended by both Party and non-Party members), give an account of the facts of their lives, explain how they fulfilled Party tasks, and discuss the efforts made to raise their ‘ideological and theoretical level.’ Each member was then questioned by the validation commissioners and by rank and file Party and non-Party members.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 230

…The problem of inactive and irresponsible Party members, as well as the loose system of controls over membership, was largely a result of the emphasis, during the 1920s, on the recruitment of large numbers of working-class members, with little attention given to criteria other than class background.
In the membership screening of 1929, 22% were expelled for ‘defects in personal conduct,’ 17% for passivity, 12% for criminal offenses (mostly involvement in petty crimes), 10% for violations of Party discipline (which includes those accused of factional activity) and 17% for being ‘alien elements’ or having lied about class background. Similarly in the 1933 chistka, in which 15% were expelled for personal degeneracy, 14% for violating Party discipline, 16% for political reasons, including concealing class background, and 18% for abuse of position. According to Rigby’s analysis of the 1933 membership screening,
“… political considerations play a relatively small part in this sample of expulsions, however, and the great majority were removed either because they made unscrupulous use of their Party membership to secure personal benefits, were immoral, or undisciplined in their personal lives or at their job, or simply failed to participate in Party activities.”

Data for the 1935 purge (which occurred immediately after the Kirov assassination) reveals that the reasons for expulsions were similar to those in the pre-1934 membership screenings; more than 20% were expelled for petty crimes or ‘moral turpitude,’ and most of the remainder for political passivity, ‘degeneracy’ or abuse of position. To quote Getty:
“The information on the incidence of the proverka suggests that it was not a hysterical, political witchhunt, in which helpless rank-and-file Party members fell in droves for the slightest infraction. Rather, it seems that the proverka of 1935 was more careful, and less political, in that there is evidence of investigation and of a policy in which a consistent pattern of problems or violations was necessary for expulsion.”

Results for one city in the Smolensk Region show that only 18% of the members against whom charges have been brought were actually expelled, and less than one-third of those formally criticized at meetings received any form of disciplinary treatment at all. The records of the Smolensk City Party Committee reveal that 7% were expelled for passivity, 21% were being petty criminals or degenerates, or corrupt; 28% for un-trustworthiness, 22% for being ‘class alien persons’ who had hidden their class origins, and only 8% for political unreliability. Undoubtedly there was a higher percentage of expulsions for political reasons in the 1937 purge owing to the hysteria engendered by the spy and ‘wrecker’ mania current at the time. Nevertheless, given the results of previous purges, especially that of 1935, there’s no doubt that the reasons for the majority of purges were not political.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 231

Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 232

A member of the Communist Party becomes such not only through his own selection, but by the approval of the working class among whom he lives and toils. Not only must he come with recommendations from older party members of from 5 to 10 years standing, recommendations taken so seriously that a member may be expelled for endorsing an unworthy candidate. Not only must he undergo a period of probation ranging from one to two years, but admission may be refused, or a member once admitted may be expelled not only by the judgment of other Communists, but in response to accusations from non-party workers as well. The list of offenses for which expulsion is possible include not merely “alien elements, double dealers, breakers of discipline, moral degenerates, careerists, self-seekers,” but even “passive elements who do not carry out their duties and who have not mastered the program, rules, and most important decisions of the party.”
Steady, consistent efforts are made to improve the quality of membership and to weed out through the periodical “cleansing’s” the unfit material. It is the common requirement made of all applicants for membership in the Communist Party who may be engaged in intellectual or office work, that they spend a year or two in “social work” in some large factory, before even making their application for membership, and are judged by the workers’ view of their capacity to lead. A member who ceases to interpret and lead the workers around him, or who has merely become passive in this task, may be disciplined up to the point of rejection from the party. And this may happen not only to individual members, but to whole “city committees” if a situation develops which shows that they have failed to interpret and lead the masses….
Members of the party have their regular jobs by which they earn their living; they may be machine hands or People’s Commissars. But their unpaid job as party members takes precedence over every other work, and of all family relations. At the very least they must expect to give several evenings a week to routine “party work,” in some of the multitudinous, unexciting tasks of organizing masses in industry and government. This may be some dull job like collecting trade union duties, assembling material for a wall newspaper, checking up subscriptions to government loans; it may also include leading groups of youth or teaching classes in politics.
Strong, Anna Louise. Dictatorship and Democracy in the Soviet Union. New York: International Pamphlets, 1934, p. 11-12

[At the 13th Congress of the Party in May 1924 Stalin stated] Preobrazhensky’s profound mistake is his failure to understand that the Party cannot strengthen its ranks without periodical purges of unstable elements. Comrade Lenin taught us that the Party can strengthen itself only if it steadily rids itself of the unstable elements which penetrate, and will continue to penetrate, its ranks. We would be going against Leninism if we were to repudiate Party purges in general. As for the present purge, what is wrong with it? It is said that individual mistakes have been made. Certainly they have. But has there ever been a big undertaking that was free from individual mistakes? Never. Individual mistakes may and will occur; but in the main the purge is correct.
The chief thing about the purge is that it makes people of this kind feel that there exists a master, that there is the Party, which can call them to account for all sins committed against it. It seems to me absolutely necessary that this master go through the Party ranks with a broom every now and again.
Stalin, Joseph. Works. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House, 1952, Vol. 6, p. 239-240

The first of the 1930s purges, in 1933, was officially justified by the need to reduce the number of Party numbers, which had almost tripled by the often unregulated admission of new and poorly motivated members. However, the decree from the Central Committee ordering it gave a list of reprehensible offenses, allowing action to be taken against a good many officials. Alongside elements with “alien” social backgrounds, it was aimed at “double-dealers” who swore oaths of allegiance to the Party line but worked for its failure, those who broke the “iron discipline” by not carrying out their duties or discrediting the plans through calling them impossible, “renegades” who had “closed ranks with bourgeois elements” and did not struggle against embezzlers, “careerists, self-seekers and bureaucratic elements” who neglected the interests of the people and used their power to make profits, and finally “moral degenerates” who brought the party into disrepute. It was not by chance that local officials were accused of trying to sabotage the purge and save their friends. It was the so-called “passive elements,” one category the official instructions did not mention, who were purged in great numbers. Most of these were workers. This practice caught on, and the new Party rules approved by the 17th Congress added “passive elements” to the list of categories to be purged.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 44

The general criteria for the purging of party members were corruption, passivity, breaches of party discipline, alcoholism, criminality and anti-Semitism. For bourgeois individuals and kulaks who hid their class origin expulsion was certain. (But not for those who had been accepted into the party and who had admitted their class background.) For the former tsarist officers who hid their past were also inevitably expelled. All those who had been expelled could in their turn appeal to the Central control commission, and then their cases were reviewed at a higher level.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

The “purges” (in Russian, chistki or “cleansings”) were periodic attempts by the central CPSU leadership, the Central Committee and the Politburo, to find out who was in the Party, and to strengthen it organizationally. they never included imprisonment (much less executions), and only rarely resulted in many expulsions; the “purges” of the 1930s resulted in even fewer expulsions than those of the 1920s had. They were not aimed at rooting out oppositionists (supporters of Trotsky, Bukharin, or any of the other ex-opposition groupings of the 1920s), but rather at getting rid of the dissolute, drunks, careerists, and others who clearly had no place in a disciplined Communist party.
“Cleaning House in the Bolshevik Party,” Progressive Labor Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring 1981), pp. 70-73.

[11 August 1936 memorandum from Kotelnikov to Dimitrov, Manuilsky, and Moskvin about the work of exposing “the wreckers in the ECCI,”]
During the exchange of party documents, four members and three candidate members of our organization were expelled from the party. The reason for the expulsion of Gurevich, Gurianov, and Neibut was their affiliation with Trotskyism in 1923 and 1927, and [their] concealment of this during the verification of party documents. Nikolaeva [was expelled] for continuing to defend the innocence of her husband who had been arrested and sentenced to 10 years for wrecking. Candidate members: Romanov [was expelled] for being a moral degenerate [he was married five times] and for violating [the rules of] conspiracy; Arakcheev, for concealing from the party the fact of the arrest and exile of his father, an active SR;….
Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 138.


The arrests affected chiefly the upper party circles and those officials dealing with foreigners; hence they seemed to foreigners more extensive than they were. None of the arrests was as wanton as the foreign press portrayed them; evidence of some sort was indicated. The common sentence was not execution, but swift removal to another job in another part of the country. Fairly large numbers of such transfers seemed to have occurred merely on suspicion, on the theory that if suspects were guilty, or had guilty connections, the transfer would break these up; if they were innocent they would not suffer much from a job transfer and would come back to Moscow eventually if they chose. Naturally such people did not hasten to communicate with their foreign acquaintances during their absence, and this often led the latter to assume that the Russians had been “liquidated.” A year or two later, large numbers of such people returned, none the worst for their temporary job in the “sticks.”
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 137


Under the title What Is to Be Done? Lenin included a letter from Lassalle of June 24,1852: “party struggles give a party strength and life. The best proof of the weakness of a party is its diffusness and its blurring of clear-cut differences…. A party becomes stronger by purging itself.”
Schuman, Frederick L. Soviet Politics. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1946, p. 37

After the victory of the revolution, when the Communist party had become the ruling party, the party leadership and Lenin had to acknowledge that some unwelcome elements had penetrated into the party and state apparatus. They were people who wanted to make a career via a membership in the party. At the eighth party conference in December of 1919 Lenin brought this problem up. According to Lenin “It is natural, on the one hand, that all the worst elements should cling to the ruling party merely because it is the ruling party.” For that reason it was important to evaluate the contribution of the party members. On the proposal of Lenin, the party carried out a re-registration of all party members. Every member had to answer for his actions in front of the member collective; those who were considered unreliable were excluded. That was the first purification of the party apparatus. This method, to strengthen the party by purging the opportunistic elements, was to characterise the Communist party for many years to come.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle during the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.


January 7, 1933–These results [of purging in the North Caucasus] are published today in the newspaper Pravda.
Detailed investigation…revealed what is literally an appalling state of affairs from a Bolshevik point of view. Not merely had kulaks or their sympathizers crept into the party ranks, but such important posts as secretaryships and presidencies of local committees were held by former staff officers of Admiral Kolchak, General Denikin, and other counter-revolutionary forces.
The sons and daughters of landowners and merchants who had concealed their social origin had risen to high communist offices. In some cases the whole organization was “rotten with treason” and kulak resistance to the Soviet agrarian policy, while peasants, workers, and communists were eliminated or brow-beaten.
Duranty, Walter. Duranty Reports Russia. New York: The Viking Press, 1934, p. 289-90


The purge struck Magnitogorsk in 1937 with great force. Thousands were arrested, incarcerated for months, finally exiled. No group, no organization was spared.
This purge was part of a vast Union-wide storm which went on from 1935 until 1938. The causes of this purge have been widely discussed–I offer the following:
The October Revolution earned the enmity of the old aristocracy, the officers of the old Czarist army and of the various White armies, State employees from pre-war days, businessmen of all kinds, small landlords, and kulaks. All of these people had ample reason to hate the Soviet power, for it had deprived them of something which they had had before. Besides being internally dangerous, these men and women were potentially good material for clever foreign agents to work with.
Geographical conditions were such that no matter what kind of government was in power in the Soviet Union, poor, thickly populated countries like Japan and Italy and aggressive powers like Germany would leave no stone unturned in their attempts to infiltrate it with their agents, in order to establish their organizations and assert their influence, the better to chip pieces off for themselves. They sent fifth- columnists of all kinds into Russia, as they did into every other country. These agents bred purges.
Scott, John. Behind the Urals, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942, p. 187


[From Stalin’s comments on Yezhov’s report at the Plenum of the Central Committee on June 3rd, 1936….]
“I would like to say a few things concerning certain points which in my opinion are especially important if we are to put the affairs of the party in good order and direct the regulating of party membership properly.
First of all, let me say something concerning the matter of appeals. Naturally, appeals must be handled in timely fashion, without dragging them out. They must not be put on the shelf. This goes about saying. But let me raise a question: Is it not possible for us to reinstate some or many of the appellants as candidate members? We do not allow, as you know, for a transitional category. Either you are a member of the Party are you are not. Either you are nothing in the eyes of the party are you are a party member with full rights. But there is a middle ground.
Party rules do not provide direct instructions as to whether a party member who has been expelled may be brought back into the party at least as a candidate member. Such instructions are not mentioned in the party rules, but there are no prohibitions against it, either. Insofar as these party expellees cannot, as things stand, be reinstated as full members, why couldn’t we reinstate some of the appellants into the party as candidate members? Why can’t we do it?!
Voices: We can! We can!
Stalin: There are no prohibitions in the party rules on this account, though there are no direct instructions concerning this, either.
Voices: It is now being done.
Stalin: No, I don’t think that it is being done. To this day, a certain, if I may say so, wholesale attitude toward party members has held sway among party leaders. They expel you. You appeal. If they can reinstate you as a full member of the party, fine. If they can’t, then you remain outside the party. All ties with the Party are severed. We have party sympathizers, party candidate members, and party members, and they are connected with each other. If party members are expelled and cannot be reinstated as full party members, then they are not reinstated as sympathizers or candidate party members. Is this practice right? In my opinion, such a practice is not right.
For this reason, it would be a good idea if the Orgburo of the Central Committee clarified this as soon as possible, if it explained that it doesn’t follow from the party rules, from the traditions of the Bolshevik party, that a party member who has been expelled could not be reinstated as a candidate member or a sympathizer. This, after all, will allow a man to retain certain spiritual and organizational ties with the party. This opens up real prospects for him.
Party organizations must learn well the following principle: they must establish a gradation, whereby they can determine whom to reinstate as party members–if the facts and materials available justify it–whom to reinstate as candidate members, and whom perhaps to reinstate as sympathizers, so as to give such comrades a real prospect, so as to help them rise and later become full party members.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 233-234

…Stalin had personally intervened (textually, if not orally) and had criticized the party secretaries and, implicitly, Yezhov. To those in the senior nomenklatura and the Central Committee, Stalin had been sharply critical of the entire screening process, suggesting it had targeted the wrong people.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 243

In several places, Andreev told Stalin that the former local party leadership, through its control of the local NKVD, had arrested large numbers of innocent people. In Saratov, Andreev reported that the former ruling group had dictated false testimony for the signatures of those arrested, and he blamed it on the “Agranov gang” within the NKVD. In Voronezh, Andreev complained that “masses” of innocent people had been expelled and arrested. With Stalin’s approval, Andreev organized special troikas to review these cases–600 in Voronezh alone–and release those arrested by the now condemned former leadership.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 455


The criticism of regional party chiefs in early 1937 also revisited the issue of who had been wrongly expelled in the recently completed membership screenings of 1935-36: the verification and exchange of party documents. As we have seen, those operations had been under the control of the regional chiefs themselves and had resulted in mass expulsions of rank-and-file party members; only rarely were any full-time party officials expelled in these screenings.
In June 1936, Stalin and others complained about this practice and ordered the territorial leaders to “correct mistakes” by speeding up appeals and readmissions of those who had been expelled for no good reason. At that time, Stalin interrupted Yezhov’s speech to note that the screenings were being directed against the wrong targets. In early March 1937, top-level Moscow leaders again denounced the “heartless and bureaucratic” repression of “little people.” Malenkov noted that more than 100,000 of those expelled had been kicked out for little or no reason, while Trotskyists who occupied party leadership posts had passed through the screenings with little difficulty.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 358

Stalin echoed the theme in one of his speeches to the February-March 1937 plenum. According to him, by the most extravagant count the number of Trotskyists, Zinovievists, and rightists could be no more than 30,000 persons. Yet in the membership screenings, more than 300,000 had been expelled; some factories now contained more ex-members than members. Stalin worried that this was creating large numbers of embittered former party members, and he blamed the territorial chiefs for the problem: “All these outrages that you have committed are water for the enemy’s mill.”…
On the other hand, even in the darkest days of the hysterical hunt for enemies in 1937 and 1938, most of those expelled back in 1935 and 1936 who appealed to Moscow were reinstated. Virtually all those expelled for “passivity” were readmitted, and appellants charged with more serious party offenses who appealed to the party control commission in Moscow…were usually readmitted, the proportion of successful appeals reaching 63 percent by 1938.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 359


Testing for loyalty and reliability, you know, is very complicated. Herein lies the danger for a state, especially a dictatorship of the proletariat, any dictatorship–it requires harsh, unquestioning discipline. But who is to maintain it? People who do not always want it, down deep oppose it, and oppose it in practice as long as that is possible. But the moment they sense danger, they go too far to curry favor and to protect their careers. Many, many deeds have been committed by such people, because we do not have ready-made pure people, purged of all sins, people who would carry through a very complicated, difficult policy fraught with all kinds of unknowns. Verify or not, verification itself is not always appropriate. To stage a purge of the party is very dangerous. The best people are the first purged. Many people who are honest and speak frankly are expelled while those who keep everything in the dark and are eager to curry favor with the party chiefs retain their positions.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 255


Riz, lieutenant-captain in the navy, was the head of the clandestine movement in the Black Sea flottila. Expelled from the Party four times, he was reintegrated four times.

Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 180 [p. 160 on the NET]

[Footnote]: Frumkin. Vice-Commissar for Foreign Trade since 1928, having also held that post from 1924 to 1926. An old Bolshevik and member of the armed underground in 1906, he was accused by Stalin of “opportunist, right-wing deviations” at the November 1928 Plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee. Removed from Office in 1930, he was again appointed to the Commissariat for Foreign Trade two years later.

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 145

[Footnote]: Serebryakov. Former Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, 1919-20 and later Commissar for Communications. Expelled from the party in 1927; reinstated in 1930; tried and executed in 1937.

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 233

Radek: He returned to Russia in 1920 and rose to the leadership of the Comintern, but having associated with the Trotsky opposition he was expelled from the party in 1925. Readmitted in 1930, he again rose to prominence as a journalist, propagandist, and official Communist spokesman and in 1935 he was a member of the Constitutional Commission designated by the Seventh All-Union Congress of Soviets to draft the text of the new “Stalin” Constitution…. But in 1937 he was charged with treason and conspiracy and, after repudiating his former political associates at a public trial, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 327

It was logical that sooner or later the factional activities of the opposition which in themselves endangered the revolution by attempting to undermine the party’s authority–would lead to open counter-revolutionary acts. This was the case on Nov. 7, 1927, on the occasion of the Tenth Anniversary of the Revolution.

On this date the leaders of the opposition attempted to organize a demonstration against the Central Committee of the Party and the Soviet Government. After such an act the question of their expulsion was unavoidable.

On December 18, 1927, 75 leading members of the opposition were expelled from the Party. Later Zinoviev and Kamenev again “recanted,” and were readmitted to the Party, only to be again expelled in 1932 for duplicity and deceiving the Party.

Once more, in 1933, Zinoviev and Kamenev publicly renounced their views, and just prior to the Seventeenth Party Congress, in 1934, were readmitted to the Party–at a time when, as subsequent events showed, they were organizing the murder of Kirov and plotting the murder of Stalin and others….

All their “recantations” and “pledges” turned out to be double-faced dealing. Events proved that they never gave up their struggle. Their thirst for power took them along the path to terrorism.

Shepherd, W. G. The Moscow Trial. London: Communist Party of Great Britain, 1936, p. 12

He [Zinoviev] was nominal head of the Troika in 1924. In 1925, he joined with Trotsky’s Left Opposition and was expelled from the CPSU by the 15th Party Congress in December 1927. Sent to Siberia, he recanted, was reinstated in 1928; he was again exiled and repeated the recantment and was again reinstated in 1932. In 1935, after the Kirov murder, he was sentenced for “complicity.” In the first Moscow trial of August 1936 he was, in Trotsky’s absence, the leading target and was executed after he “confessed.”

He [Kamenev] was a member of the Troika with Zinoviev and Stalin but was expelled from the CPSU in 1927. He recanted, was readmitted, and like Zinoviev, he again was expelled, recanted, and was readmitted in 1932.

Bazhanov, Boris. Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, c1990, p. 244

Kamenev–Soviet revisionist politician; USSR Commissar Of Trade (1926-27); Minister to Italy (1927); leader of Trotskyist opposition (1926-28); expelled from CPSU (1927); readmitted (1928); Chairman, Main Concessions Committee (1929); again expelled from party (1932); again readmitted (1933); expelled from party for third time (1934); sentenced to imprisonment for terrorism (1935); sentenced to death for treason and executed (1936).

In 1921 he [Radek] was made secretary of the Comintern. In December 1927, at the 15th Party Congress, he was expelled from the CPSU for “Left Oppositionism” and was banished to the Urals but soon recanted and was reinstated. In 1932 he was the Comintern representative in Germany. In the late 1930s he was the senior foreign correspondent for many Moscow publications.

From 1921-26 he [Sokolnikov] was deputy, then chairman, of Narkomfin, but his descent began in 1925 when he joined with Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Krupskaya in opposition to Stalin. He was sent to the United Kingdom as ambassador in 1929, lost his Central Committee seat in 1933, was reinstated as a candidate in 1934, but was demoted to deputy peoples’ commissar for forestry in 1935. He was purged in the 1937 “trial of the 17,” and was sentenced to 10 years in jail, where he died.

Bazhanov, Boris. Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, c1990, p. 257

In 1925 he [Evdokimov] joined the Central Committee and was a strong supporter of Trotsky in 1927. He was expelled from the Party in 1935, recanted and was readmitted to the Party, then was purged with Zinoviev and Kamenev and executed in 1936.

Bazhanov, Boris. Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, c1990, p. 264

Uglanov–Commissar of Labor (1928-30): expelled from Party (1932); reinstated in the Party (1934): re-expelled from the Party, arrested, tried for and found guilty of anti-Soviet activity, and sentenced to imprisonment (1936)

Bukharin–Editor of Pravda (1918-29); editor of Bolshevik (1924-29); editor of Izvestia (1934-37); Member of Politburo (1924-29); President of Communist International (1926-29); expelled from Party to (1929); readmitted to Party (1934); arrested (1937)

Kamenev–member of Politburo (1919-25); expelled from Party (1927); readmitted to Party (1928); re-expelled from the Party (1932); arrested (1935); sentenced for being guilty of moral complicity in the murder of Kirov (1935); found guilty of actual complicity in the murder of Kirov (1936)

Ryutin–expelled from the Party (1930); acquitted of counter-revolutionary activity and readmitted to the Party (1931); published the Ryutin Manifesto for the Opposition (1932); re-expelled from the Party (1932); arrested and imprisoned (1932); retried for, and found guilty of, treason (1937)

Zinoviev–President of Communist International (1919-26); member of Politburo (1921-26); expelled from the Party (1927); readmitted to the Party (1928); re-expelled (1932); readmitted (1933); re-expelled (1934); arrested (1935) and tried for, and found guilty of moral complicity in the murder of Kirov; tried for and found guilty of actual complicity in murder of Kirov (1936)

Zinoviev– Soviet revisionist politician; Member, Politburo, Central Committee of the CPSU (1925); headed Leningrad opposition (1926); expelled from CPSU (1927); readmitted (1928); again expelled from Party (1932); again readmitted (1933); imprisoned for terrorism (1935); sentenced to death and executed for treason (1936).

Lominadze–Secretary of Communist Youth International (1925-26); expelled from Party for factionalism (1927); reinstated in Party and again expelled (1936); found guilty of treason (193

Throughout [until] 1937, ex-Party leaders who had been demoted, expelled, or sent into exile, were routinely brought back into leadership positions. Once they criticized their past practices they were released from banishment (for example, many of Trotsky’s supporters, including numerous former supporters of the United Opposition of 1926-27, were released in 1928, after they had endorsed the new rapid industrialization line of the Party) and restored to a high level positions in the Party and state. For example, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Tomsky, leaders of the various oppositional factions in the Party in the 1924-29 period, were restored to leadership positions– although never to the powerful positions they once held. Bukharin, for example, lost his important posts in 1929 including membership on the Politburo, the editorship of Pravda and the chairmanship of the Comintern for actively opposing the collectivization and rapid industrialization campaign. In the relatively tolerant climate during 1932-34, however, he was first made director of the research department of heavy industry and then given the responsible post of editor of Izvestia, which he held from 1934 to 1937. Tomsky, although he lost his position as leader of the trade unions and his seat on the Politburo (for the same reasons that Bukharin lost his position), remained on the Central Committee of the Party, and was re-elected at the 16th Party Congress in 1930. At the 17th Party Congress in 1934 both Tomsky & Bukharin were elected as candidate members of the Central Committee, as were other prominent, past opponents of the prevailing party policies (for example, Rykov), and one of them, Pyatakov, was elected as a full member. Zinoviev and Kamenev who, together with Stalin, had represented the maximal leadership of the Party in 1924-26, were removed from the Politburo and other leading positions, and in 1927 they were expelled from the Party for active opposition, including organizing street demonstrations to oppose the Party’s continuing endorsement of the moderate New Economic Policy. In 1928, when most of their earlier critique was finally incorporated into the Party’s new program of rapid industrialization and collectivization, they were both re-admitted and assigned relatively minor official posts. In 1932, they were once again expelled (and arrested) for oppositional activities, but again in the tolerant atmosphere prior to the Kirov assassination were re-admitted and again assigned Party work.

Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 228

Bukharin was expelled from the Politburo in 1929, and although appointed editor of Izvestia, the official government newspaper, in 1934, he never regained his previous power or influence….

Richardson, Rosamond. Stalin’s Shadow. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994, p. 83

Mdivani– Georgian nationalist politician; expelled from party for Trotskyism (1928); reinstated (1931); again expelled (1936); sentenced to death for treason and executed (1937).

[At the closed joint meeting of the ECCI party organization and the ECCI Komsomol organization on 28 December 1934]

HECKERT : But Zinoviev is very well known. For many years he duped the Comintern with his theory of two perspectives. He was expelled from the party three times, and three times he appealed [for readmission]. Three times he betrayed the friends to whom he was tied. And such an educated man as Magyar considered Zinoviev a distinguished personality, from whom he received advice. I am completely unable to understand it.

Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 73.

The pair [Zinoviev and Kamenev] had been expelled from the party in 1927 and readmitted in 1928, only to be re-expelled, and exiled within the Soviet Union, in 1932 on charges that they failed to report what they knew about the Ryutin platform. But in harmony with the relaxation of 1933 they again were pardoned and appeared at the party Congress of early 1934 as repentants. But on 16 December 1934 following the death of Kirov, they were arrested once again along with several associates on suspicion of involvement in the Kirov case.

McNeal, Robert, Stalin: Man and Ruler. New York: New York University Press, 1988, p. 175


In January 1938, the Central Committee published a resolution on how the purge was taking place. It reaffirmed the necessity of vigilance and repression against enemies and spies. But it most criticized the “false vigilance” of some Party Secretaries who were attacking the base to protect their own position. It starts as follows:

“The VKP(b) Central Committee plenum considers it necessary to direct the attention of party organizations and their leaders to the fact that while carrying out their major effort to purge their ranks of Trotskyite-rightist agents of fascism they are committing serious errors and perversions which interfere with the business of purging the party of double dealers, spies, and wreckers. Despite the frequent directives and warnings of the VKP(b) Central Committee, in many cases the party organizations adopt a completely incorrect approach and expel Communists from the party in a criminally frivolous way.”

Robert H. McNeal, editor, Resolutions and Decisions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Volume 3, The Stalin Years: 1929–1953 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974), p. 188.

…Yes, some Communists were unjustly hit, and crimes were committed during the purge. But, with great foresight, Stalin had already denounced these problems when the operation had only been running for six months. Eighteen years later, Khrushchev would use as a pretext the criminal activities of these provocateurs and careerists, denounced at the time by Stalin, to denigrate the purge itself and to insult Stalin!

Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 190 [p. 166 on the NET]

Shortly before the Central Committee Plenum of January 1938, the press attacked the “false vigilance” of party secretaries who had victimized rank-and-file members to cover themselves. The January 1938 plenum produced a resolution that took a hard line against “certain careerist Communists who are striving to become prominent and to be promoted by recommending expulsions from the party through the repression of party members, who are striving to insure themselves against possible charges of inadequate vigilance through the indiscriminate repression of party members.” This type of person “feels it unnecessary to make an objective evaluation of the accusations submitted against the Communist,” “indiscriminately spreads panic about enemies of the people” and “is willing to expel dozens of members from the party on false grounds just to appear vigilant himself.”

According to the resolution, such persons adopt “a completely incorrect approach, and expel Communists from the party in a criminally frivolous way.” The resolution states, “There have been many instances of party organizations, without any verification and thus without any basis, expelling Communists from the party, depriving them of their jobs, frequently even declaring them enemies of the people without any foundation, acting lawlessly and arbitrarily toward party members….

It is time to understand that Bolshevik vigilance consists essentially in the ability to unmask an enemy regardless of how clever and artful he may be, regardless of how he decks himself out, and not in indiscriminate or “on the off-chance’ expulsions, by the tens and hundreds, of everyone who comes within reach.”

…The resolution gave several examples in which many expulsions from 1935-36 had been reversed by the higher party bodies or the Party Control Commission. The “heartless, bureaucratic attitude” on the part of the local party leaders allowed this to take place. Leaders were not considering their people on a “careful individual basis” and instead were “acting in an intolerably arbitrary manner.”

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 186

In his final comment on the mistakes of the cleaning operations, Zhdanov cited the decisions of the February 1937 plenum and the January 1938 plenum,…

It might seem that such righteous indignation [at these plenums] after the operation was at least hypocritical and that, by speaking out at this late date, the leadership was trying to shift the blame for the repression that they themselves had encouraged or tolerated. This is the general explanation for these remarks given by most students of the period. Its flaw, however, is that these criticisms had been voiced many times before, even during the cleaning operations themselves. The Central Committee had taken a stand on these errors at least as early as March 1936 (when, according to Khrushchev-era party histories, the first complaints from party members reached Pravda and the Central Committee). Indirect evidence even suggests that the matter was discussed in the Central Committee as early as December 1935, in connection with Yezhov’s report on the proverka. Stalin associated his name with the criticism as early as June 1936 and strongly condemned the “outrageous practices,” including even indiscriminate approaches to Trotskyists, in his speech to the February plenum in 1937. An attack on the local leaders responsible for these mistakes was the main topic at the January 1938 plenum, whose resolution finally led to a reversal of many of the errors. It was not that the Central Committee had been silent all the time, but rather that its admonitions had been ignored by local secretaries.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 193


Even before the 1938 Plenum, there were 53,700 appeals against expulsions. In August 1938, there were 101,233 appeals. At that time, out of a total of 154,933 appeals, the Party committees had already examined 85,273, of which 54 per cent were readmitted.

J. Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933–1938 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 190.

It [Pravda] noted that, before the January 1938 plenum, there had been 53,700 appeals under consideration. Since the plenum, an additional 101,233 had been submitted, making a total of 154,933. Of these, party committees had so far examined 85,273, and 54 percent (46,047) of those appealing had been readmitted.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 190


It is precisely because of the purge and the education campaign that accompanied it that the Soviet people found the strength to resist. If that steadfast will to oppose the Nazis by all means had not existed, it is obvious that the fascists would have taken Stalingrad, Leningrad and Moscow. If the Nazi Fifth Column had succeeded in maintaining itself, it would have found support among the defeatists and the capitulationists in the Party. If the Stalin leadership had been overthrown, the Soviet Union would have capitulated, as did France. A victory of the Nazis in the Soviet Union would have immediately helped the pro-Nazi tendency in the British bourgeoisie, still powerful after Chamberlain’s departure, take the upper hand from Churchill’s group. The Nazis would probably have gone on to dominate the whole world.

Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 194 [p. 171 on the NET]

Footnote: In his book Only the Stars Are Neutral, written after ten weeks in Russia in 1941, Quentin Reynolds said: “Today there is not one Fifth Columnist, not one Quisling at liberty in Soviet Russia. The Germans tried desperately to set up local tribunals with local citizens as nominal heads of the tribunals when they captured cities like Odessa, Kiev, and others which fell to them during their successful march through the south last autumn. But in no case were they successful. Potential Quislings were all in the work camps of the far north. Stalin knew what he was doing back in 1938. Russia’s magnificent unity today and her completely unbroken spirit after the dreadful tragedy of that German advance is proof of the fact that Russia accepted the purge and approved of Stalin’s “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” policy.

Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975, p. 264


Riz was, I think, four times expelled from a party and four times reinstated. In the Soviet Union there was a special order of such…Party ‘expellees’, who were of positive value to the cause of humanity. Every expulsion and every reinstatement involved lengthy debates in Party assemblies, and through these the fluctuating strengths and weaknesses of the regime were constantly under review. By them, moreover, we knew the power of men like Comrade X, or Army General 0sepyan, or Yenukidze, or even NKVD bosses Yagoda or Beria, or Regional Secretary Sheboldayev, in their roles not of servants, but of enemies of the regime.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 6


… He [Yefimov] was a sturdy little army engineer, an old Party member, but with no less than 10 expulsions and reinstatement behind him;…

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 60

My own record was dismal: expulsion from the Komsomol; expulsion from my Trade Union; Trade Union reprimand; expulsion from Leningrad; the charge of Trotskyism; the charge of Right-wing deviation and “civilian democratism”; one expulsion from the Party; a second expulsion from the Party; a stern Party reprimand; a second stern Party reprimand; a third expulsion from the Party which ended in a stern Party reprimand with final warning.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 74

Zinoviev and Kamenev had been expelled for the third time in 1934, on suspicion of politically inspiring Nikolayev in the murder of Kirov.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 117


The traditional view of the events of 1933-39–which sees them as related and incremental parts of the same terrorist crescendo–needs revision. Fainsod and others described the 1933-39 period as an “almost continuous purge” in the Western Region, and his conceptual framework has dominated nearly all views of the period. It is based on the idea that after 1933 (or 1934) there was a constantly increasing level of “purging” accompanied by a similarly rising curve of fear and panic. According to this view, the continuous purge began in 1933 with the chistka. The assassination of Politburo member Kirov in December 1934 “touched off a new round of almost continuous purges,” which expanded in “everwidening circles.” In the months after Kirov’s murder, “the net was spread wide,” leading to a hail storm of indiscriminate denunciations and a “rich haul” of victims….

This view is weakly supported by the available primary evidence. Aside from particular errors…this interpretation suffers from grave phenomenological problems.

First, in terms of their attrition to the Party the 1933-36 membership screenings were actually a decrescendo, in that each operation expelled fewer members than the previous one. Indeed, these purges were milder than their direct ancestors of the 1920s.

Second, most expulsions were for nonideological and nondissident infractions: violations of party discipline, theft, abuse of position. Simple nonparticipation accounted for more of those expelled than did political crimes. The screenings were hardly “heresy hunts,” and to associate the benign exchange of party documents with the “acts of the purge” is at least inaccurate.

The chistki were different from the Ezhovshchina, although Yezhov was involved in both. They had different targets and were conducted by different agencies for different reasons. In fact, the membership purges ended before the Ezhovshchina began, and readmission upon appeal began before, and continued during, the terror…. All political events of 30s were not simply related parts of the same Great Purges crescendo.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 201-202

Given the one-sided nature of discourse in the field, it may perhaps not be gratuitous to point out some of the minor, more technical aspects of the revisionist view of the origins of the terror that are being confirmed by new archival evidence.

First, when Stalin said in the fall of 1936 that the NKVD was “four years behind” in uncovering oppositionist plots, he was indeed referring to the 1932 united oppositionist bloc brokered by Trotsky & Smirnov, and not to the Ryutin platform. The 1932 bloc was, then, the catalytic event in the escalation of Stalinist terror.

Second, we also now have confirmation of the fact that party expulsions in the 1935-37 period (that is, after the Kirov assassination and before the onslaught of the terror) were steadily decreasing in number, even after the first show trial in the summer of 1936 and were not especially directed against oppositionists, “wreckers,” or “spies.”

Third, the January 1938 Central Committee resolution criticizing excessive vigilance and unjust persecutions was directed against regional party machines and their leaders who, like Postyshev, expelled rank-and-file members to divert attention from their own people. It had nothing to do with the NKVD.

[Footnote: Roughly 264,000 people were expelled in 1935, 51,500 in 1936. In both years of “chistka” only 5.5% of those expelled were accused of opposition and .9% for being “spies” or having “connections to spies.” Class- alien origins and personal corruption comprised the overwhelming majority.]

Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 60

A resolution on a more general purging of the Party was passed by a plenum of the Central Committee on 12 January 1933. More than 800,000 members were expelled during the year, and another 340,000 in 1934.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 26

Between November 1936 and March 1939, including 1937, when the ‘Great Purge’ was at its most intense, roughly 160,000 to 180,000 people left the CPSU (for any reason). This represented about 8% of total Party members, far fewer than those who were expelled in the purge of 1933.

In 1937, at the height of the Great Purge in Moscow, 33,000 (13.4% of the total Moscow Oblast Party organization) left to the party; this compares with 133,000 in 1933 and 45,500 in 1935.

Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 241


Some will feel that this study has taken a naive view of Stalin’s role as planner and perpetrator. There’s no doubt that he had chief responsibility for political leadership, but the present account has more than once failed to conclude that the events were part of a coherent plan. Evidence of high-level confusion, counterproductive initiatives, and lack of control over events has not supported the notion of a grand design. Careful analysis of archival, documentary, press, and creditable memoir sources neither supports nor disproves the existence of a plan. It is still possible that the events of 1933-39 were parts of a devilish and devious strategy, but the evidence indicates that a master Stalin plan must remain an a priori assumption, an intuitive guess, or a hypothesis. It can be suspected but not established on the basis of the presently available classes of evidence.

Stalin did not initiate or control everything that happened in the party and country. The number of hours in the day, divided by the number of things for which he was responsible, suggests that his role in many areas could have been little more than occasional intervention, prodding, threatening, or correcting. In the course of a day, Stalin made decisions on everything from hog breeding to subways to national defense. He met with scores of experts, heard dozens of reports, and settled various disputes between contending factions for budgetary or personnel allocations. He was an executive, and reality forced him to delegate most authority to his subordinates, each of whom had his own opinion, client groups, and interests.

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 203

First, the results of [Getty’s] research show that the political events during the thirties were not “a unified phenomenon (the Great Purges), which can be studied as a process planned, prepared, and carried out” by Stalin and his most intimate men.

Second, the research shows that the allegation that “the Old Bolsheviks of Lenin’s (and Stalin’s) generation were the purges’ target” has no relationship with reality. Further, Getty confirms that it is time to review what has been taught about the Soviet Union of the thirties.

Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

Some students of the 1930s view the period from December 1934 to 1939 as one in which Stalin orchestrated events according to a preconceived plan. To date, there is no evidence to prove that argument, which is based on assumptions about Stalin’s intentions.

Chase, William J., Enemies Within the Gates?, translated by Vadim A. Staklo, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2001, p. 321.

Everything seems to indicate that Stalin and his lieutenants worked to expand their power at the expense of local leaders, to centralize decision-making power by reducing local authorities use of repression, and to modernize the judicial system by making it more uniform, transparent, and predictable. The eruption of mass repression in the kulak order of mid-1937 seems therefore not to have been part of any long-term planning or policy. Stalin had gone out of his way to identify himself with those who opposed mass operations; this would have been poor strategy indeed had he planned to launch one.

Getty, J. Arch. “Excesses are not permitted, “Russian Review 61 (January 2002) p. 122.


It is already obvious that he NKVD did not automatically arrest people expelled from the party. Malenkov now gave sound and precise figures on this subject. In one district of Kuibyshev oblast, 50 of 210 Communists had been ousted, but the NKVD found no basis for arrest in 43 of the cases. The Central Committee of the Azerbaizhan Republic expelled 279 communists on one day in November 1937; of them, the NKVD arrested 63. Two-points stand out here: first, the NKVD began to investigate people after they encountered trouble in their party cells, not before, and second, it appears that the security organs investigated each charge rather than proceeding randomly.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 107


The Old Bolsheviks, those who had joined the party before October 1917, and who were often cited as the key target group in the Terror, were not in fact especially singled out. About 5000 veterans of the prerevolutionary party were still members of it in March 1939, and 125,000 activists from the end of the Civil War were alive and at work. This group made up only 8.3% of the members of the Communist Party But Accounted for 20 Percent of the Delegates to the Eighteenth Party Congress and 73 percent of the Central Committee it elected.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 133


Yet when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union proceeds to clear these people out of the Party, to remove them from the posts which they occupy in public life, a large part of the Socialist and Liberal press of the world, instead of approving the measures taken against those political degenerates, seeks to present their removal (and in some cases subsequent trial) as something of which democrats should be heartily ashamed. Thus it was possible for the Liberal and Socialist press to report day after day the arrests or removal of persons whose political and administrative degeneracy had helped wrecking, almost as if these people were the victims of a dictatorial “Stalin purge.” The wide discussion and criticism which was raging in the unions and the Party, and which was leading to the further exposure of wrecking, was ignored in most of the “democratic” press.
Now the facts about the activity of the workers in the unions and the Party were as prominent in the Soviet press as were the accounts of people who had been dismissed from their posts and put on trial. But those facts were inconvenient. They did not fit in with the conception of a workers’ dictatorship which is held by the Liberal and Socialist press. They do not fit in with the calumny that Stalin–for reasons always unexplained–is waging war on the Old Guard.
Campbell, J. R. Soviet Policy and Its Critics. London: V. Gollancz, ltd., 1939, p. 189


[Oct. 4, 1930, Petition from Kolgushkin for Reinstatement in the Party]
I beg the Presidium of The Central Committee of the All Union Communist Party to return me to the ranks of the Party. This will enable me to participate with even greater strength in the building of socialism, the party’s struggle to surmount problems, and to atone for my guilt…. Following this, in May 1929, I was appointed chief of the Kuznetsk construction project. Organizing construction at a new location absorbed all my time. I had to move from Novosibirsk and was, successively, at the construction site in Tomsk and in Moscow. I was subsequently sent on an official trip to America to negotiate a contract with an engineering firm for building the Kuznetsk plant and to place orders for equipment. I spent eight months altogether in America and Germany.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 106


During the purge, documents were collected and carefully verified by appropriate organs. When discrepancies were noted or something seemed unclear, an explanation was demanded of the person undergoing verification or inquiries were dispatched to various institutions. Verification results, including the verified person’s own written explanation and other clarifying information, were duly included in the personal file of the person being verified. The number of documents required for each personal file constantly grew until it included an assessment of qualifications for a given type of work, references, evaluation of previous work performed, documentation of Marxist education, personal attributes, and, finally, Party references. In the file were also put denunciation letters, cadre verification results, and so forth.
During purge committee sessions questions were raised about participation in the revolutionary movement, Party membership, and knowledge of Marxist-Leninist theory.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 126

The party is purged of the following people:
1. class alien and hostile elements who made their way into the party by deceit and remain there in order to demoralize the party ranks;
2. double dealers who live by deceiving the party, who conceal from it their true aspirations and, covered by a false oath of ‘fidelity’ to the party, in fact strive to undermine the party’s policy;
3. open and hidden violators of the iron discipline of the party and state who fail to carry out the decisions of the party and the state, who cast doubt on and discredit the party’s decisions and plans by chatter about their ‘lack of realism’ and ‘impracticablity’;
4. degenerates who have merged with bourgeois elements, who do not really want to fight against class enemies, who are not really struggling against kulak elements, grabbers, loafers, thieves, and despoilers of public property;
5. careerists, self-seekers, and bureaucratized elements who exploit their sojourn in the party and their service with the Soviet state for their own personal self-seeking aims, who are isolated from the masses and disregard the needs and demands of the workers and peasants;
6. mortal degenerates whose unseemly behavior injures the dignity of the party, who sully the party banner.
Considering that among the party members who have recently entered the ranks of the Communist Party there are some comrades who are devoted to the cause of the working-class and have manifested this devotion in practice–in production, in the kolkhozes–but have not yet mastered the most elementary political knowledge necessary for a member of the Communist Party–the party Programme and Rules, its most important decisions–the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the party recommend that during the purge such Communists be transferred to the status of candidate member, not as a party penalty but for the sake of their political education and better training, so that in a year’s time the question may be raised of transferring them back to party members if during this time they will have succeeded in heightening the knowledge of political fundamentals which is necessary for a party member.
Considering that, due to the same circumstances, among the party candidates there are not a few comrades who not only do not possess the elementary political knowledge necessary for a candidate but still suffer from instability and a lack of the self-command required by party discipline, the party Central Committee and Central Control Commission recommend that during the purge such comrades be transferred from the category of candidates to that of sympathizers, so that in a year’s time the question may be raised of transferring them back to candidates or of admitting them to party membership if a check shows that they have fully matured.
McNeal, Robert. Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU–The Stalin Years: 1929-1953. Vol. 3. Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974, p. 126

The party had able men in its ranks but never enough of them. The purges it carried out–four between 1921 in 1934–were aimed at the corrupt, the incapable, and the opportunists as well as “deviationists” and “oppositionists.”
Bullock, Alan. Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. New York: Knopf, 1992, p. 389


The picture would be incomplete without mention of another institution, the Central Control Commission, that came to loom large in Bolshevik affairs. Its role vis-a-vis the party was analogous to that of the Commissariat of the Inspectorate vis-a-vis the governmental machine: it audited party morals. It was formed at the 10th Congress, in 1921, on the demand of the Workers’ Opposition, with which the Congress had otherwise dealt so harshly. It was in charge of the so-called purges. These, too, were initiated by the 10th Congress, on the demand of the Opposition. They were intended to cleanse the party periodically of careerists, who had climbed the band-wagon in great numbers, of Communists who had acquired a taste for the bourgeois life, and commissars who heads had been turned by power. Lenin adopted the idea and intended to use it in order to stop his followers departing from the party’s puritanic standards. But he also turned one edge of the purges against ‘anarcho-syndicalists’, waverers, doubters, and dissidents, against the real initiators of the new practice.
The procedure of the purges was at first very different from what it became in later years. The purges were no concern of the judiciary. They were conducted by the party’s local control commissions before an open citizens’ forum, to which Bolsheviks and non–Bolsheviks had free access. The conduct of every member of the party, from the most influential to the humblest, was submitted to stern public scrutiny. Any man or woman from the audience could come forward as a witness. The Bolshevik whose record was found to be unsatisfactory was rebuked or, in extreme cases, expelled from the party. The Control Commission could impose no other penalties than these.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 233

The demand for a purge had come from the Workers Opposition at the 10th Congress; and the first purge was carried out in 1921. Police and the courts had nothing to do with the procedure. At public meetings the Control Commissions, i.e. party tribunals, examined the record and the morals of every party member, high or low. Every man and woman in the audience could come forward and testify for or against the investigated individual, whom the Control Commissions then declared either worthy or unworthy of continued membership. The unworthy bore no punishment; but the loss of membership in the ruling party was likely to deprive him of chances of promotion or of a responsible post.
Within a short time 200,000 members, about one-third of the total membership, were thus expelled. The Control Commission classified those expelled into several categories: vulgar careerists; former members of anti-Bolshevik parties, especially former Mensheviks, who joined after the end of the civil war; Bolsheviks corrupted by power and privilege; and, finally, the politically immature who lacked an elementary grasp of the party’s principles. It seems that people whose only fault was that they had criticized the party’s policy or its leaders were not expelled.
Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Unarmed. London, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959, p. 18

The Central Committee created a Control Commission of its own, which carried out the first general housecleaning with the result that 200,000 members were expelled from the Bolshevist ranks.
Levine, Isaac Don. Stalin. New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, c1931, p. 199


[Footnote:] The purges provided a good cover for all sorts of private vendettas. In May 1922, Lenin wrote in a letter to Stalin: ‘… the purging of the party revealed the prevalence, in the majority of local investigation committees, of personal spite and malice…. This fact is incontrovertible and rather significant.’ In the same letter Lenin complained about the lack of partymen with ‘an adequate legal education…capable of resisting all purely local influences’.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 234


Now it was again Stalin’s turn to act. Towards the end of October 1926 he expelled Trotsky from the Politburo. Not a single representative of the Opposition now sat on that body. He deposed Zinoviev from the presidency of the Communist International and then indicted him before the Executive of the International, which confirmed the demotion. A Russian party conference endorsed the changes in the Politburo; and it also granted the requests of Shliapnikov and Medvedev for readmission to the party, after their exemplary recantation.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 309


But there are many other cases of Old Bolshevik women surviving. Elena Stasova lasted right through the Stalin epoch. L. A. Fotieva, Lenin’s secretary, who must also have known a good deal about what was one of Stalin’s most sensitive points–the quarrel with Lenin in his last days–was also spared. So was Nikolayeva, the only woman full member of the 1934 Central Committee apart from Krupskaya, who was one of the few who was carried over into the Committee elected in 1939, and she was an ex-Zinovievite at that. Another case was Zemlyachka, member of the 1904 Central Committee. A brutal terrorist, she had been Bela Kun’s chief colleague in the great slaughter in the Crimea in 1920, to which Lenin himself had objected. She survived, while Kun went to the execution cellars. Alexandra Kollontai, the star of the Workers’ Opposition, had been married to Dybenko and had lived with Shliapnikov. On top of all this, after her acceptance of the Stalin line she remained as ambassador (to Sweden ),… she survived the Stalin epoch unscathed, en post.
… Another “category” to be spared has no such obvious source: the former Bolshevik members of the Duma (including Petrovsky, who was under the direct threat in 1939) all survived.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York : Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 69


The purge commissions and all party members must resolutely rebuff anyone who will attempt to exploit the purge to settle personal accounts, for purposes of factional struggle; they must rebuff all troublemakers and cavillers, and also anyone attempting to defame a Communist for the firmness with which he carries out the party line in the fight for party discipline, for economy, for fulfillment of the industrial and financial plan, for the timely delivery of grain, for a proper preparation for the spring sowing, the harvest, and distribution of the crop, and generally for a firm attitude with respect to the accuracy and precision with which the party members under a given comrade in a leading position perform their work. At the same time a no less resolute rebuff must be given to anyone attempting to decry as troublemakers and cavillers all those who are sincerely striving to help the party disclose during the purge the alien, unstable, and unreliable elements in its ranks or to point out the actual oversights, short-comings, errors, and defects in the work of one or another comrade or of some whole organization.
McNeal, Robert. Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU–The Stalin Years: 1929-1953. Vol. 3. Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974, p. 127


[A 19 January 1938 Pravda editorial says,] Certain of our party leaders suffer from an insufficiently attentive attitude toward people, toward party members, toward workers. What is more, they do not study the party workers, do not know how they are coming along and how they are developing, do not know their cadres at all. That is why they do not take an individualized approach to party members, to party workers. But the individualized approach is the main thing in our organizational work. And precisely because they do not take an individualized approach to the evaluation of party members and party workers they usually act aimlessly–either praising them indiscriminately and beyond measure or chastising them also indiscriminately and beyond measure, expelling them from the party by the thousands and tens of thousands. Certain of our party leaders strive in general to think in tens of thousands, not troubling themselves over the ‘units,’ the individual party members and their fate. They consider the expulsion of thousands or tens of thousands of persons from the party to be a trifle and console themselves with the idea that our party is large and that tens of thousands of expulsions cannot change anything in the party’s situation. But only persons who are in essence profoundly anti-party can take such an approach to party members.
Such a callous attitude toward persons, party members, and party workers artificially creates dissatisfaction and resentment in one section of the party.
McNeal, Robert. Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU–The Stalin Years: 1929-1953. Vol. 3. Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974, p. 183

It is obvious that the Trotskyite double dealers adroitly latch on to such resentful comrades and skillfully drag them along into the swamp of Trotskyite maliciousness….
The practice of adopting a formalistic and callously bureaucratic attitude to the fate of individual party members, to the exclusion of party members from the party, or to the restoration of excluded members to the rights of membership, is condemned.
Party organizations are directed to display the maximum care and comradely concern in resolving the question of expelling from the party or restoring expelled persons to the rights of party membership.
[From Pravda, January 19, 1938]
McNeal, Robert. Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU–The Stalin Years: 1929-1953. Vol. 3. Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974, p. 184

And if, in spite of this [the insignificance of the Trot forces], the Trotskyite wreckers nevertheless have some reserves or other around our Party, it is because of the incorrect policy of some of our comrades on the question of expulsion from the Party and reinstatement of expelled people. The heartless attitude of some of our comrades toward the fate of individual Party members and individual Party workers, artificially engender a number of discontented and embittered people, and thus create these reserves for the Trotskyites.
Stalin, Joseph. Mastering Bolshevism. San Francisco: Proletarian Publishers, 1972, p. 46


[From Pravda, January 18, 1938–on errors of party organizations in expelling Communists from the Party, on Formal Bureaucratic Attitudes toward the Appeals of Those Expelled from the Communist Party, and on Measures to Eliminate the Shortcomings]
The Communist Party Central Committee plenum considers that all these and similar facts are widespread in party organizations primarily because among Communists there exist, still unrevealed and unmasked, certain careerist Communists who are striving to become prominent and to be promoted by recommending expulsions from the party, through the repression of party members, who are striving to insure themselves against possible charges of inadequate vigilance through the indiscriminate repression of party members.
This sort of careerist Communist assumes that once the deposition has been submitted against a party member, regardless of how incorrect or even provocational it may be, this party member is dangerous for the organization and must be gotten rid of immediately in order that he himself will be proven vigilant. Therefore he feels it unnecessary to make an objective evaluation of the accusations submitted against the communist and decides beforehand on the necessity of expelling him from the party.
This sort of careerist communist, anxious to curry favor, indiscriminately spreads panic about enemies of the people and at party meetings is always ready to raise a hue and cry about expelling members from the party on various formalistic grounds or entirely without such grounds. And the party organizations frequently follow meekly along behind such careerist loudmouths.
This sort of careerist Communist is indifferent to the fate of party members and is ready to expel dozens of Communists from the party on false grounds just to appear vigilant himself. He is willing to expel members from the party for unimportant offenses so as to take credit for ‘services’ in unmasking enemies, and if the superior party organs restore those who have been incorrectly expelled from the party, he is not the least embarrassed but assumes the pose of a man who is satisfied that, in any case, he is reinsured with respect to ‘vigilance.’
The time has come to unmask such, if you will permit the expression, Communists and to brand them as careerists striving to curry favor by expelling others from the party and to reinsure themselves through repressions against party members.
Furthermore, numerous instances are known of disguised enemies of the people, wreckers and double dealers, organizing, for provocational ends, the submission of slanderous depositions against party members and, under the semblance of ‘heightening vigilance,’ seeking to expel from the Communist party ranks honest and devoted Communists, in this way diverting the blow from themselves and retaining their own positions in the party’s ranks.
The unmasked enemy of the people and former chief of the leading party organs section of the Rostov oblast committee of the Communist party, Shatsky, together with his accomplices, exploited the political shortsightedness of the leaders of the Rostov oblast committee of the Communist party to expel honest Communists from the party, to impose knowingly incorrect penalties upon the party personnel, to embitter Communists in every way, and at the same time did everything possible to keep their own counter-revolutionary cadres in the party.
In this same Rostov the former chief of the school section of the Rostov oblast committee of the Communist Party, the enemy of the people Shestova, at the behest of a counter-revolutionary organization expelled from the party about 30 honest Communists in the party organization of the Rostov Pedagogical Institute.
All these facts show that many of our party organizations and their leaders have not yet succeeded in pinpointing and unmasking those cleverly disguised enemies who try to disguise their hostility with shouts about vigilance, thus to maintain themselves in the party ranks–in the first place–and, in the second, who strive through repressive measures to beat up our Bolshevik cadres and to sow uncertainty and excess suspicion in our ranks.
This disguised enemy–the most vicious traitor–usually shouts louder than anyone else about vigilance, hastens to ‘unmask’ the greatest number possible, and does all this to cover the up his own crimes before the party, to deflect the attention of the party organization from unmasking the real enemies of the people.
This disguised enemy–a repulsive double dealer–strives in every way to create in party organizations an atmosphere of excess suspicion in which every party member speaking in defense of another Communist who has been slandered by anyone at all is immediately accused of lack of vigilance and of ties with enemies of the people.
Instead of bringing to light and unmasking the provocational activity of this disguised enemy, the party organizations and their leaders are frequently led by the nose, create for him an atmosphere of impunity for his slander of honest Communists, and themselves take the course of unfounded mass expulsions from the party, mass penalties, etc.. What is more, even after the enemies who have made their way into the party apparatus and are slandering honest Communists have been unmasked, our party leaders frequently fail to take measures to liquidate the effects of this sabotage in the party organizations–i.e. the proper expulsion of Communists from the party.
Everyone knows that many of our party leaders turned out to be politically nearsighted big operators who permitted themselves to be duped by enemies of the people and careerists and thoughtlessly relinquished to second-rate persons questions affecting the fate of party members, criminally abdicating their leadership of this matter.
The leaders of party organizations naively feel that correcting the errors committed with respect to those who were improperly expelled may undermine the party’s authority and damage the cause of unmasking the enemies of the people, failing to understand that every instance of improper expulsion from the party plays into the hands of the party’s enemies.
McNeal, Robert. Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU–The Stalin Years: 1929-1953. Vol. 3. Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974, p. 190-193


… The so-called ‘democracy campaign’ of 1937 resulted in the displacement of about half of the Party’s middle and lower-level leadership from their positions–but not generally ‘purged,’ that is, not expelled from the Party, or accused of treason, spying or sabotage largely as a result of rank and file activities.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 230


At the 18th Party Congress in March 1939, the events of the previous three years were criticized by Stalin, Molotov, and Zhdanov as having been accompanied by ‘grave mistakes’ and pathological suspicion that had most adversely affected the Party’s work. Zhdanov, who gave one of the main political reports at the Congress, reprimanded the local Party organizations for ‘stupid excess of zeal,’ citing instance after instance of faked evidence and presumption of guilt by association. The resolution voted by the Congress summed up the purges as both unjust and ineffective. Party rules adopted at this Congress made new provisions for members’ rights of appeal against expulsion, as well as banning the practice of mass purges of membership. A new rule passed at the 18th Congress read:
“When the question of the expulsion of a Party member or the reinstatement of an expelled member is discussed, the maximum caution and comradely consideration must be exercised and the grounds for the accusations brought against the Party member thoroughly investigated.”
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 240


As there were plenty of passive elements, the exchange saw a mass of further expulsions through denial of new party cards. Most of these were apolitical, and Stalin intervened on the side of leniency and understanding,toward them. In the Central Committee plenum of 1-4 June 1936 he protested against wholesale expulsion of “passives.” Industrious women textile workers in Ivanovo province should not have been expelled, for example, because of insufficient political literacy; it was the party organizations’ business to improve their political literacy. The same point was made earlier in an unsigned Pravda editorial written in the hyper-peremptory tone that usually reflected Stalin’s personal inspiration. “It is generally known that the son does not answer for the father,” it said, “and still less the grandson for the grandfather.” Why, then, had the Brothers Mikhail and Alexei Popov been expelled from the party, with resulting loss of work, because their grandfather, now 20 years dead, owned a meat shop in Michurinsk? The purge should be conducted less as a campaign against passive members. Its main target must be “enemy and alien elements.” Genuine Bolshevik vigilance lay in the ability to identify–and pitilessly unmask–the real enemy as distinguished from the mere violator of party discipline or party ethics.
Tucker, Robert. Stalin in Power: 1929-1941. New York: Norton, 1990, p. 313


[In a speech delivered to the Politburo on October 11, 1926 Stalin stated] The Central Committee has no desire to expel people from the Party. Expulsion is resorted to when there is no alternative. Take Smirnov, who was expelled–he was cautioned several times, and only then was he expelled. If he were to say that he recognizes his errors, if he were to conduct himself loyally, the decision of the Central Control Commission might be commuted. But far from acting loyally, far from acknowledging his errors, he has flown mud at the Party in his statement. Obviously, Smirnov’s case cannot be reconsidered when he behaves in this way.
Stalin, Joseph. Works. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House, 1952, Vol. 8, p. 223


What emerges clearly from the original documents is that the “Great Purge” simply did not have the characteristics of a victorious extermination campaign, meticulously planned by a strategist thirsting for revenge and absolute power, and carried out by his monolithic and obedient forces. On the contrary, begotten by the operation of a regime that was clearly out of control and ungovernable and not by the unchallengeable power of an omnipotent dictatorship, the dramatic events of 1936-1938 were the manifestation of a kind of civil war with the ruling elite itself.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 18

In relation to the purge of 1929, there is a detailed listing of the causes [of purges in other years]. It does in fact provide good information and does away with at least one myth that the purges would have been a way to get rid of opposing elements within the party. In 1929, 1.53 million party members went through the process of purges. Of these approximately 170,000 or 11 per cent were expelled. When they appealed to the Central control commission 37,000 got their party membership back (22 per cent of those expelled). In Smolensk, as many as 43 per cent of those expelled got their party membership back. When they are further examined, it turns out that the great majority were base members from the working class, who had been expelled by the local party functionaries for passivity. No regard had been taken to the living conditions which made it more difficult for these members to take part in the party activities.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

According to Getty, those expelled for political reasons “fractional” or oppositional activity were among the ones expelled for “violation of party discipline”. The former constitute 10 per cent of these 10 per cent. [Stated another way, 10% of all expulsions were for violations of party discipline and only 10% of these 10% were for fractional or oppositional activity]. Thus, the expulsions for political reasons were not more than one per cent of all expulsions which took place in the purges of 1929[13]. Compare this to the prevailing myth about the “Stalinists eliminating all those in opposition”. Moreover, the bourgeoisie always alleges, that those expelled met a certain death either in the work camps of the Gulag or just disappeared. Reality is something else. Of those expelled, only those caught with criminal acts theft, embezzlement, blackmail, sabotage or similar who were tried at court [went to work camps, etc.]. For the other expelled, life continued as usual, but now without the obligations which accompanied a membership but also without the support which membership did give.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

Let us now pass to the Soviet Union of the 1930-ies. The purges during the 1930-ies are precisely that what is always brought forth by those who want to defame socialism and reinforce the myth of the Soviet Union as an oppressive state. Among the most famous falsifiers of history we find the former police agent of the British secret service, Robert Conquest, the fascist Alexander Solsjenitsyn and the Russian social democrat Roy Medvedev.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

Another aspect of the statistics found by Getty concerns the allegation by Conquest and other rightists that the purge of 1933 was organised to throw out old Bolsheviks old party cadres from the days of Lenin who had come into opposition with Stalin. According to Getty, the allegation is improbable. The great majority by far of those expelled, two thirds in fact, had entered the party after 1928 and were for that reason to be considered relatively new party members. The distribution of those expelled as 23 per cent agricultural workers/farmers, 14.6 per cent civil servants and approx. 62 per cent workers shows, that the overwhelming majority, 85 per cent, were ordinary working men rather than party cadres from Lenin’s time. In The Great Terror Robert Conquest touches upon the purge of 1933 and hints that over a million members were expelled for political reasons. If one has knowledge of the history of the purges, it becomes evident that Conquest’s allegation is a lie.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

As can be seen [from the accusations leveled during a July 1935 meeting of the Smolensk town committee], more than a third of the accusations concerns kulaks and men who enriched themselves during NEP (the new economic policy). Another third plus of the accusations pointed at people who had committed severe moral and economic crimes. Only a small part of the accusations, hardly five per cent, had to do with political opposition. Simultaneously, one of six accusations, (circa 17 per cent) related to the criminal activities of leading cadres and political civil servants. On the national level, the party card control resulted in the expulsion of 170,000 members out of the 1.8 million investigated, i.e. 9.1 per cent.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

Let us now for a moment discuss some of the lies being divulged in capitalist mass media about the control of 1935. As we can see in the examples from the membership meetings in Smolensk the open debates dealt a hard blow against the bourgeois elements who had sneaked into the party, people who were hunting for economic and social gains. Anything from kulaks and merchants to thieves, former white army officers and tsarist policemen. Contrary to the version of the history falsifiers the [political] opposition was hardly at all affected. What happened during the party card control was above all that the workers of the party threw out from the party bourgeois elements who had been smuggled in. This is what makes the history falsifiers raging mad…. they totally lose their temper when forced to realise that the workers are in command in the party of the workers and that the discovery of inimical, bourgeois values led to expulsion.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

Another lie originating from the police agent Robert Conquest is that the objective for the control of 1935 was to eliminate the Old Bolsheviks. It is the same old, recurring story about a power crazy Stalin wanting to eliminating all the other Old Bolsheviks leaving him alone in power. The elimination of old Communists is an invented story which has nothing to do with reality. Arch Getty affirms in The Origins of the Great Purges that “Of the 455 expelled from the Smolensk City Committee, 235 had joined the party in 1929-32”[22]. At least half of those expelled could not have been old Bolsheviks.
Getty says further “Although the Great Purges are often associated with the decimation of the “Old Bolsheviks” the opposite seems to have been the case in Smolensk in 1935. On the average, party secretaries who were demoted or removed from office had joined the party in 1928, whereas their replacements had joined on the average two years earlier, in 1926. The replacement secretaries were about 3.7 years older as well. Thus those “not providing leadership” were replaced by older and more experienced party workers.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

The change of party cards in 1936 has also been used by Robert Conquest and the other history falsifiers in the dirty war against socialism. Conquest claims that there were massive purges undertaken during the exchange, and that the purges were higher in number than any before in the party. All this was, according Conquest, provoked by Stalin as a manoeuvre to ignite the moods against the [political] opposition awaiting the trials 19-24 August 1936 against the Trotsky-Zinoviev centre where Zinoviev, Kamenev and Smirnov were the main actors. They were, at the time, accused of having taken part in a conspiracy led from abroad by Trotsky to kill the leading persons of the Soviet government and grab power. Conquest’s allegations about mass expulsions in 1936 have for many years stood uncontradicted.
The figures in Getty’s research in the Smolensk archives prove that the statements by Conquest are complete lies. In fact, the purges during 1936 were the lowest in the history of the party, between two and three per cent of the members.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

A comparison between the years 1934 and 1937 also yields an interesting result. The number of “old Bolsheviks” was 182,600 at the 17th Party congress in 1934. At the 18th party congress 1939 they had diminished to 125,700. The reduction of “old Bolsheviks” during these five years, all causes included, even natural death and diseases, was 56,900 or approximately 31 per cent. A part of these 56,900, and probably a big part, were expelled during the purge 1937. But still in 1939 125,700 “old Bolsheviks” were active, and the majority in leading positions in the party, all over the country. The myth that “Stalin had exterminated the “old Bolsheviks” is nothing but a myth, yet another lie by Conquest-CIA once initiated by Trotsky.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.


After the re-registration of 1919 Lenin and the party leadership found that there were still considerable shortcomings in the party. The re-registration had not achieved its aim. A great number of new members continued to be drawn into the party without consideration to the directive of electing only workers and reliable elements from other classes. New purges took place 1921, 1928 and 1929.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.

During the 1930-ies the party underwent three great purges: 1933, 1935 and 1937-1938. The first purge 1933 took part in a clime of great enthusiasm in society when the agricultural cooperatives spread all over the Soviet Union with great steps forward, and the industrial production attained results never before seen. The party had opened its doors for all who wanted to fight for socialism and hundreds of thousands new members had been elected during the first three years of the 1930-ies. Because of the great onslaught, the party leadership considered it to be a necessity to evaluate the new party members. They were seeking for opportunists, corrupt bureaucrats, criminals, anti-Semites, alcoholics or members violating party discipline.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.


The party directives clarified that the purges should take place in a comradely atmosphere not allowing any deep digging into people’s private lives. Moreover, the party leadership encouraged base members to be openly critical against the local bureaucrats and warned the local party leaderships against expelling base members for passivity or political ignorance. The mistakes of 1929 were not to be repeated. Attention should be paid to the general development of members and in those cases it was deemed necessary party members could be degraded to candidates or sympathisers until they had improved their political knowledge or increased their participation in the activities of the party. Expulsion should be avoided as far as possible.
In spite of the directives, the purge of 1933 turned out differently from what the Central Committee had intended. In a country so vast as the Soviet Union the local party secretaries had a great power, which sometimes proved fatal. Facts show that local party secretaries did their best to avoid criticism from striking them or their near ones. In order to demonstrate their interest in a successful purge, some local secretaries threw out many base members, workers and farmers; faithful members, precisely the ones who should not have been expelled. The majority of those expelled were people who had entered the party between 1930 and 1933, who had not had time to get knowledge of all the party issues. Many had not been able to study the party programme in depth and Marxism-Leninism, and they were regarded to be all too ignorant by the party secretaries. Others were people who had difficulties in taking full part in party life because of their work situation or family problems. During the purge of 1933 18.5 per cent of party members and candidates were expelled, circa 792,000….
The purge of 1933, which was terminated in the middle of 1934, revealed a serious contradiction within the party. The Central Committee wanted to throw out thieves and corrupt bureaucrats, but the biggest group expelled in fact almost one fourth were expelled for passivity. Passivity did not figure among the party directives as a criterion for expulsion. With the assistance of bureaucratic methods or authority gained for earlier merits, local party leaders did whatever they wanted without paying attention to the directives of the Central Committee. The extension of the antagonisms is implied by the one fourth expelled for passivity. The Central Committee had to do something about the local party leaders contravention of the party directives, but as the future was to show, it was not very easy.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.


The political trials and the purges in the Communist party were two separate things which did not directly have anything to do with each other. The party members who were expelled and tried at court for having been involved in criminal or counter evolutionary activities were a small minority of all those who were expelled. In order to understand this, it is important to know the history of the political trials during the 1930-ies. Bourgeois history writings exclude such possibilities. They have made the events of the 1930-ies into a totally confused story and a grossly falsified mixture of happenings and myths, lies and half-truths, a falsification which presents the purges and the treason trials as the same one occurrence.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.


The myth about the terrible year 1937 which the bourgeoisie has made one of its top items, not surprisingly through the police agent Robert Conquest and CIA / MI5, the true fathers of the myth are unmasked by the statistics about the purges during the whole of the1930-ies. [Party expulsions by year are as follows:] 1929 170.000 11%; 1933 792.000 18.5%; 1935 170.000 9%; 1936 —; 1937 100.000 5%; 1938 70.000 %2
Note! There are no national statistics for 1936. In Smolensk two/three per cent of the members were expelled.
Analysing the statistics one can perceive the dimension of the bourgeois lie. In fact, 1937 was one of the years of the lowest number of people expelled, not more than five per cent! How comes, that the bourgeoisie and its lackeys have transformed 1937 into the “Stalin’s incredible year of 1937 with “millions false accusations, millions deported, millions murdered” as Peter Englund likes to formulate it…. Why precisely 1937 taken as the worst that befallen the Soviet Union?
The explanation is related to class. The great difference between the purges of 1937 and other purges in the party is that during the other purges mainly base members, ordinary workers were expelled they constituted up to 80 per cent of all those expelled. The relationship was just the opposite 1937. Of all those expelled around 80 per cent were corrupted party bigwigs and high level individuals of the army. These were people who had acquired privileges and financial advantages and who were prepared even to collaborate with Nazi Germany to keep them. These were people who did not mind stepping on the base members and who readily threw out those who did not accept the transgressions. In 1937 party functionaries and officers with inclinations to the West and a bourgeois thinking were kicked out. They lost their position of power, were thrown out from the party and brought to trial. We can understand the hatred of the bourgeoisie against the Soviet year of 1937.
…The struggle was aimed at bureaucracy and treason and not against party cadres in leading position in general.
Sousa, Mario. The Class Struggle During the Thirties in the Soviet Union, 2001.


During the first seven months of 1938, some 37,000 people were expelled from the Party–only half as many as were expelled during the last six months of 1937. During the rest of 1938, the number diminished further. In carrying through the examination of complaints, proclaimed by the Plenum, during 1938 some 77,000 people were restored to Party membership, compared with 46,000 during 1937. Moreover, the Party began admitting new members on a large scale, a process that had been interrupted during 1937. Whereas during 1937 only some 32,000 members and 34,000 candidates had been admitted, in 1938 these numbers were approximately 148,000 and 437,000, respectively. All this testifies to a gradual restoration of the traditional practice of the Party function and of a relative stabilization of its personnel.
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 129.

But it was Stalin’s tactic not to appoint Beria as Interior People’s Commissar immediately but rather to put him in as first deputy only, thus, by degrees, paving the way for Ezhov’s removal.
There were no more mass arrests and persecutions of Party members
in the summer of 1938 like those during the second half of 1937. After the January 1938 Central Committee Plenum, the NKVD terror against the Party was carefully monitored by Stalin and rigorously supervised by the Party organs. During the summer and autumn of 1938, the arrests of leading Party functionaries of course continued, but they were always approved by Stalin. The regional Party leadership appreciated the “healthier” atmosphere. In June the third secretary of the Party committee of Rostov province, M. A. Suslov, reported to a Party conference that the situation in the province had improved compared with half a year ago: “The practice of indiscriminate expelling from the Party has ceased. An end has been put to impunity for a various number of slanderers. Gradually the situation of general suspiciousness is breaking down. The provincial committee leadership has thoroughly and attentively investigated the appeals of those expelled.”
Jansen, Marc & Petrov, Nikita. Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Yezhov, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, c2002, p. 152-153.

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