Purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

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Purges of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union (Russian: "Чистка партийных рядов", chistka partiynykh ryadov, "cleansing of the party ranks") were a Soviet ritual, especially during the 1920s,[1] in which periodic reviews of members of the Communist Party were conducted by other members and the security organs to get rid of "undesirables".[2] Such reviews would start with a short autobiography from the reviewed person and then interrogation of him or her by the purge commission as well as by the attending audience.

Although the term "purge" is largely associated with Stalinism because the worst of the purges happened during Stalin's rule, the Bolsheviks carried out their first major purge of the Party ranks as early as 1921; about 220,000 members were purged or left the party. The purge's stated justification was the need to get rid of the members who had joined the party simply to be on the winning side. The major criteria were social origins (members of working classes were normally accepted without question) and contributions to the revolutionary cause.

The first Party purge of the Joseph Stalin era took place in 1929–1930 in accordance with a resolution of the XVI Party Conference. Purges became deadly under Stalin. More than 10 percent of the party members were purged. At the same time,[when?] a significant number of new members, industrial workers, joined the Party. Additionally, Stalin ordered "Case Spring" [ru] - the repression and/or execution of officers of the Red Army who had served previously in the Russian Imperial Army, of civilians who had been sympathetic to the White movement, or of other subversives rounded up by the OGPU. Historians estimate that over 3,000 people were executed and that tens of thousands lost their positions and privileges.[3][4]

Stalin ordered the next systematic party purge in the Soviet Union in December 1932, to be performed during 1933. During this period, new memberships were suspended. A joint resolution of the Party Central Committee and Central Revision Committee specified the criteria for purging and called for setting up special Purge Commissions, to which every communist had to report. Furthermore, this purge concerned members of the Central Committee and of the Central Revision Committee, who previously had been immune to purges, because they were elected at Party Congresses. In particular, Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Ivanovich Rykov, and Mikhail Tomsky had to try hard to defend themselves during this purge. At this time, of 1.9 million members, about 18 percent were purged.

Until 1933 those purged (totaling 800,000) were not usually arrested. (The few that were became the first waves of the Gulag Archipelago system.)[5] But from 1934 onwards, during the Great Purge, the connotations of the term changed, because being expelled from the party came to mean almost certain arrest, with long imprisonment or execution following.[5]

Sergey Kirov, leader of the Leningrad section of the Communist party, was murdered in 1934. In response, Stalin's Great Purge saw one third of the Communist party executed or sentenced to work in labor camps.[6]

Following Stalin's death in 1953 purges as systematic campaigns of expulsion from the party ended; thereafter, the center's political control was exerted instead mainly through loss of party membership and its attendant nomenklatura privileges, which effectively downgraded one's opportunities in society – see [[Trade unions in the Soviet Union#Role in the Soviet class system, chekism, and party rule|]]. Recalcitrant cases could be reduced to nonpersons via involuntary commitment to a psychiatric institution.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fitzpatrick, S. Everyday Stalinism. Oxford University Press. New-York, 1999. page 20. ISBN 0195050010
  2. ^ Alex Inkeles and Raymond A. Bauer. The Soviet Citizen. Daily Life in a Totalitarian Society. New-York, 1968 (1st published in 1959).
  3. ^ Jaroslav Tinchenko (2000). Calvary Russian officers in the USSR. 1930-1931 years (in Russian). Moscow: Moscow Public Science Foundation. ISBN 5-89554-195-X.
  4. ^ Velikanova, Olga (2013). Popular Perceptions of Soviet Politics in the 1920s: Disenchantment of the Dreamers. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137030757. Retrieved 2018-01-28. Operation 'Spring' in 1930–31 targeted the former officers and generals of the Tsarist army serving in the Red Army. According to incomplete data, 3496 officers were arrested and 130 wer executed in the Ukraine, Voronezh and Leningrad regions being accused of preparing uprisings in anticipation of intervention.
  5. ^ a b Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (1974), The Gulag Archipelago [Архипела́г ГУЛА́Г], 1, translated by Whitney, Thomas P., Paris: Éditions du Seuil, ISBN 0-06-013914-5, OCLC 802879.
  6. ^ "BBC - GCSE Bitesize - Stalin - purges and praises". Retrieved 2018-01-29. In 1934, Kirov, the leader of the Leningrad Communist Party, was murdered, probably on Stalin's orders. Stalin used this episode to order massive purges by which anybody suspected of disloyalty was murdered, sent to prison camps, or put on public show trials at which they pleaded guilty to incredible crimes they could never have done. [...] The Communist leadership was purged - 93 of the 139 Central Committee members were put to death. The armed forces were purged - 81 of the 103 generals and admirals were executed. The Communist Party was purged - about a third of its 3 million members were killed.