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Stalin's Great Purges (redirected from Joseph Stalin, Soviet Leader)

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 2 weeks ago


Memorial to the victims of the Great Purge at Moscow's Don Cemetery.

The remains of over 5000 cremated victims are located here


Topics on the Page


Biography of Joseph Stalin


The Great Purges 










Biography of Joseph Stalin


Joseph Stalin was was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and premier of the Soviet Union (1941–1953).


Despite initially governing the Soviet Union as part of a collective leadership, he eventually consolidated power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalized these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies are known as Stalin.


For more information, link to Totalitarian Leaders Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin and Stalin



            Picture of a Gulag Labor Camp


The Great Purges (1936-38) 


  • 750,000 citizens executed 
  • More than 1 million sent to the Gulag labor camps
  • Conducted against individuals and groups Stalin thought might threaten his power 


Stalin's Purges and the Gulag



The Great Terror



Brief Summary of Stalin's Power and the Great Purge


Crash Course Videos



Prior to the Great Purge


The previous Soviet Union leader, Vladimir Lenin, who was also the head of the Bolshevik party, died in 1924. By 1929, Stalin had fought his way to political power and declared himself dictator. At this time, some former members of the Bolshevik party began to question Stalin's authority. By the mid-1930s, Stalin believed anyone with ties to the Bolshevik party or Lenin was a threat to his leadership and needed to be dealt with.


Sergei Kirov


Sergei Kirov was a prominent Bolshevik leader who was assassinated in 1934. This murder is considered to be the first event of the Great Purge. It is speculated that Stalin ordered a man named Leonid Nikolayev to murder Kirov. After the death of Kirov, Stalin launched his full-scale purge under the premise that he had uncovered a dangerous conspiracy of anti-Stalinist Communists. Eventually, Stalin killed or imprisoned all the original Bolsheviks that participated in the 1917 Russian Revolution. 


The Purge Itself


Those who were sought out during the Great Purge were known as "enemy of the people" to Stalin. The killing and imprisonment of the Great Purge began with members of the Bolshevik party, political officials and military members. From there, the purge expanded to include peasants, ethnic minorities, scientists, intellectuals, writers, artists, foreigners and ordinary citizens. In addition, Stalin had 30,000 members of the Red Army executed, believing that these members were plotting a coup. 


Gulag Labor


Many who were sent to the labor camps claimed they would have rather been killed. Those who were sent to the labor camps endured torturous conditions and many were ultimately executed. In addition, some prisoners in the labor camps died of exhaustion, disease or starvation. 



The Big Three


The Big Three was the alliance made between the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. They were an alliance to fight against the German power.


As the alliance went on it began to become clear that their views began to differ greatly.


  • The WWII Museum states: "Politics and history also made the relationship difficult. Stalin was deeply suspicious, to the point of paranoia, of both Roosevelt and Churchill. He knew his capitalist allies would likely oppose any attempt to expand Soviet influence in eastern Europe when the war ended. Stalin also complained incessantly about the Allied failure to mount a second front in western Europe before June 1944. This front, he said, would reduce pressure on the Soviet Union by forcing Hitler to transfer forces from Russia to meet the Anglo-American invasion". 



Primary Sources

Joseph Stalin did not support the LGBTQ community. In fact, in 1933, he put into place "Article 121 to the entire Soviet Union criminal code, which made male homosexuality a crime punishable by up to five years in prison with hard labor. The precise reason for Article 121 is in some dispute among historians. The few official government statements made about the law tended to confuse homosexuality with pedophilia and was tied up with a belief that homosexuality was practiced only among fascists or the aristocracy". (Source) 


 Multimedia Sources



Click here and here for short videos describing the Great Purges. 


Click here for a video of Archive footage of the victims of the Great Purges. 


Browse a Museum of the Gulag


Multicultural Histories


Women Under Stalin's Rule


Learning Activities




external image Essener_Feder_01.pngJoseph Stalin ( December 18, 1879 - March 5, 1953)


Joseph Stalin was not one of the decisive players in the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, but he soon rose through the ranks of the party. In 1922 he was made general secretary of the Communist Party, a post not considered particularly significant at the time but which gave him control over appointments and thus allowed him to build up a base of support. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin promoted himself as his political heir and gradually eliminated his rivals. By the late 1920s, Stalin was effectively the dictator of the Soviet Union.

When Stalin became the undisputed leader of Russia in 1929, he realized that Russia was far behind the west and that she would have to modernize her economy very quickly if she was to survive. Also, a strong economy would lead to a strong military if Russia was going to survive threats from external forces. An industrial Russia would also provide the farmers with the machinery they needed if they were going to modernize their farms - such as tractors. His forced collectivisation of agriculture cost millions of lives, while his program of rapid industrialization achieved huge increases in Soviet productivity and economic growth but at great cost.

Stalin knew that Russia needed a strong army. However, such was his fear of 'enemies within', that he purged the Red Army of most of its senior commanders. Only one marshal out of five was left alive and the Red Army became all but leaderless. Moreover, the population suffered immensely during the Great Terror of the 1930s, during which Stalin purged the party of 'enemies of the people', resulting in the execution of thousands and the exile of millions to the gulag system of slave labor camps.

These purges severely depleted the Red Army, and despite repeated warnings, Stalin was ill prepared for Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Despite the Germans reaching the outskirts of Moscow, Stalin did not leave his capital and played his part in defending his country against the Wehrmacht. As Commissar of Defence, Stalin ordered those who fought in the battle at Stalingrad not to give an inch to the Germans and he was very much the leader of his nation throughout the war. Recent released records from Russia does show Stalin's other side, however. The heroics of the people of Leningrad - besieged by the Germans between September 1941 and January 1944 - was recognized by many people as a feat of huge heroism. For the duration of the siege, the city's leaders had to make their own decisions as they were frequently cut off from Moscow and could not follow orders from the capital city. Such an independent spirit was not tolerated by Stalin and after the war, those city leaders of Leningrad during the war were dealt with by Stalin, in what was effectively a second purge of those he did not trust.

After World War Two, Stalin wished to create a buffer to prevent another attack on Soviet soil. Therefore he tightened control over many of the Eastern European nations the Soviet armies had taken over the course of the war, turning them into satellite states. Naturally this caused increased tensions with the U.S. and Great Britain, who had proposed earlier in the war that one of its primary aims was self determination for all nations. Increasingly paranoid through his later years, Stalin died of a stroke on 5 March 1953.


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