Stalin - the executioner of Lenin's Party
The policies of Stalin-Bukharin caused a very dangerous situation in the countryside, where the kulaks were becoming a powerful force hostile to the Soviet power. Here we see Stalin's crude empiricism and lack of Marxist understanding. In February 1928 he wrote: "The NEP is the foundation of our economic policy and will so remain for a long time to come." In April of the same year, Stalin and the Plenum of the Central Committee had passed a resolution to the effect that "only liars and counterrevolutionaries could spread rumours about the abolition of the NEP."
The Left Opposition continually warned of the kulak danger and demanded a change of course. But all their appeals fell on deaf ears. Then within a few months the whole policy was thrown into reverse. The kulaks had organised a grain strike as the first step in the capitalist counterrevolution against Soviet power. By the end of 1927 the drop of grain supplies to the towns had assumed alarming proportions. In a 180 degrees somersault Stalin announced the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class."
In 1930 Trotsky warned that the collectivisation of the peasantry should proceed gradually and on a voluntary basis, so as not to open up a conflict between the proletariat and the peasantry. He advocated that no more than 20-25 percent of peasant farms should be collectivised "lest the framework of reality should be overstepped."
This was in line with Lenin's attitude to collectivisation. But instead Stalin insisted on collectivising everything - down to the felt boots that were dragged off the feet of the kulak's children. In the process, no distinction was made between the rich and middle peasants. The result was a bloody civil war in which the Red Army had to be sent into the countryside. As a result of Stalin's lunacy, a terrible famine swept across the land in 1932-3. Millions of people starved to death. There were cases of cannibalism in the Ukraine and Central Asia.
From an economic point of view there was no point in whole-scale collectivising when Soviet industry was not in a position to supply the collective farms with tractors and combine harvesters. As Trotsky observed ironically: "By putting together the primitive hoes and the poor nags of the mujhiks one no more creates large-scale agriculture than one creates a large steamer by putting together a lot of fishing boats."
Later Stalin had to retreat, but the damage was done. Soviet agriculture never recovered from this blow. Stalin's adventurist policy of forced collectivisation of agriculture provoked a terrible disaster. Stalin later admitted to Churchill that ten million people had starved to death. (See Churchill, The Second World War, vol. IV, pp. 447-8.)
In the field of industry, Stalin carried out a similar zig-zag. When Trotsky, following in Lenin's footsteps, advocated a policy of industrialization based on Five Year Plans and electrification he was accused of being a "super industrializer". Stalin ridiculed Trotsky's proposal for the building of a hydroelectrical project on the Dnieper (Dnieperstroy) as the equivalent of offering a peasant a gramophone instead of a cow. But now, where he had previously denounced Trotsky's idea of a Five Year Plan, Stalin suddenly proclaimed a "five year plan in four years."
This led to serious dislocation in industry, which was only rectified with difficulty, after great losses. Nevertheless, the launching of the Five Year Plans was a giant step forward for the USSR that enabled it to pull itself out of terrible backwardness and industrialize in a very short space of time. In effect, Stalin stole some of the policies of the Left Opposition, which he had previously opposed. But he copied them in a distorted, one-sided and bureaucratic manner. There was no question of his accepting the most basic demands of the Opposition, relating to workers democracy and internationalism. The result was not a genuine socialist policy but only a bureaucratic caricature.
Nevertheless, the leftward lurch of the Stalin faction was interpreted by many Oppositionists as a proof that their policies had been vindicated. A number of prominent leaders capitulated, beginning with Kamenev and Zinoviev. But capitulation is a very slippery slope. It can become a habit. They capitulated a second and then a third time in the most abject manner, but that did not save them. Stalin used them and then had them executed. No amount of capitulation could have saved them. The consolidation of Stalinism demanded the complete liquidation of the Old Bolsheviks.
The rise of the bureaucracy
A decisive turning point was the abolition of the Party Maximum. This Leninist measure was intended to prevent the formation of a privileged layer of "Communist" bureaucrats. Lenin explained that the existence of wage differentials was a survival of capitalism that would tend to disappear as society moved towards socialism. The development of the productive forces would be accompanied by a general improvement of living standards and the inequalities would tend to decrease. However, in Stalinist Russia the opposite was the case. Far from a reduction of inequality, there was an enormous increase in the difference between the living standards of the working class and the upper layers of the bureaucracy in particular.
In a speech in 1931 Stalin spoke of the "happy life" of the people of the Soviet Union. At this time the workers' living standards were extremely low, and the wages of the workers remained depressed throughout the 1930s, despite the colossal gains of the Five Year Plans. Yet the "happy life" was a reality for millions of officials in the state and "Communist" Party; they lived very well. In addition to other privileges of provisions and lodgings, a new network of closed "distributors" was established and restaurants reserved for the use of high Communist or non-Party officials. Then special "state shops" were set up for their exclusive use. In these shops one could buy anything and everything but at prices no worker could afford.
Lenin's principles were trodden underfoot. Lenin had pointed out that wage differentials were a survival of capitalism that would be reduced as the USSR moved towards socialism. In fact, precisely the opposite happened. Ciliga comments on the lifestyle and mentality of the bureaucrat and their families:
"A man's worth was measured by the elegance of the holidays he could afford, by his apartment, his furniture, his clothes and the position he occupied in the administrative hierarchy. […]
"The differentiation of the bureaucratic elite was made on yet another plane; the husbands, the wives and the children constituted three groups, each with its own standards. The husbands had developed a sense of diplomacy, they were not assertive and did not fail to remember to 'keep in contact with the masses', nor to keep up proletarian and revolutionary appearances. They expressed themselves in cautious terms. The women had no such considerations. Their only thought was to dazzle people with their clothes, their box at the theatre, the elegance of their homes, and their descriptions of their holidays at such-and-such a watering place or their journey abroad. They were conscious of belonging to 'Society', and lived only for their petty ambitions. […]
"As to the children, they were shocked by their parents' hypocrisy. They wanted to call a spade a spade. 'We are boss here, why hide it?' 'Why not always dress in smart clothes? Why may one do it on certain occasions, whereas on others one must dress with mock modesty? Why not go out in the car, since we have one? Why does So-and-So take the children to school in a car, whereas father refuses to take us?' Revolutionary phraseology grated on them, they hated hearing the word proletariat used over and over again." (Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma, pp. 118-9.)
In these few lines one has all the information necessary to understand exactly what has occurred in Russia, Eastern Europe and China over the last ten or twenty years.
After the death of Lenin the CPSU experienced a process of bureaucratic degeneration that ended in the dictatorship of Stalin. But in order to consolidate his power Stalin had first to destroy Lenin's Party. He did this by physically exterminating the Bolshevik Party in the notorious Purges.
The "Communist" Party under Stalin became transformed into a bureaucratic club. In fact, it was not a party at all but part of the state apparatus - a vehicle for controlling the working class and for the advancement of careerists. Although some genuine Communists remained, the overwhelming majority of its members were yes-men, bootlickers, spies and toadies.
In 1935 the Society of Old Bolsheviks was dissolved, followed one month later by the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Exiles. The Party's history was being rewritten to glorify Stalin and he did not want any awkward witnesses around to contradict him. The youth represented an even greater threat. A drastic reorganization of the Komsomol was carried out on Stalin's personal initiative with the aim of eliminating "enemies of the people".
The first political trials were those of the so-called industrial opposition in 1930. Perfectly innocent engineers were made the scapegoats for the economic mess caused by the crazy policy of "five year plans in four years." The accused were accused of having organized a vast network of sabotage on behalf of the French Military High Command. They were compelled to confess to non-existent crimes and given long prison sentences. This was Stalin's dress rehearsal for the Moscow Purges.
This was followed by the trial of the "Bureau of Menshevik Socialists". These were previously unknown people who at one time had belonged to the Mensheviks, but were now inactive. They also confessed to organising a programme of sabotage to prepare for foreign military intervention against the USSR. There was not a word of truth in this, but it prepared the ground for greater things.
The Seventeenth Congress in October 1934 was hailed as "the congress of victors". The delegates competed with each other to sing the Leader's praises, but almost all the 2,000 delegates later fell victim to Stalin's Terror. The congress showed that Kirov, the Leningrad Party boss, was popular with the delegates - too popular. He got a standing ovation at the start and finish, and was elected to the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This meant that he would be transferred from Leningrad to Moscow, where he would be a rival to Stalin. In fact, the disasters of forced collectivisation and the economic disruption caused by the mismanagement of the first Five Year Plan had caused many doubts about Stalin, and a section of the Party was in favour of replacing him with Kirov. That sealed his fate.
On the December 1, 1934, Kirov was assassinated by a young Communist, called Leonid Nikolayev, who had been, conveniently, a minor member of the Zinovievite Opposition in Leningrad. In fact, Nikolayev worked for the GPU and was a mere tool in Stalin's machinations. That Nikolayev was a provocateur is shown by the following fact. He kept a diary at the beginning of 1934 in which he revealed not only a critical attitude to the Party leadership but also terrorist tendencies. This was discovered and he was expelled from the Party but then reinstated. Yet he was allowed to continue working at the Smolny Institute, the headquarters of the Leningrad Party.
Given these circumstances it is incomprehensible that Nikolayev was allowed to come into direct contact with Kirov, who, like all the other Party leaders was surrounded by bodyguards. However, at the time of the assassination there was not a single bodyguard in sight. Immediately after the assassination, steps were taken to liquidate all witnesses in order to cover the tracks. Not only was Nikolayev himself shot, but Kirov's bodyguards and driver were also killed, in addition to Nikolayev's wife and other family members.
There is not the slightest doubt that this assassination was planned by Stalin. He feared Kirov as a rival. At a time when Stalin was losing support, Kirov's name was circulating in Party circles as a possible replacement. He had to be eliminated and he was eliminated.
The Kamenev and Zinoviev trial
Initially the assassination of Kirov was blamed on White Guard elements, but then the story was concocted that the real authors were Kamenev and Zinoviev, those "unfinished enemies" who were said to be guided by "the fascist hireling Trotsky". They were put on trial in secret in 1935, accused of political responsibility for Kirov's murder. Having capitulated once to Stalin they now capitulated yet again. Stalin had promised to spare their lives if they confessed and they were sent to a camp. But this was insufficient for Stalin. He wanted them dead. So after 18 months, they were taken back to Moscow for another trial.
On August 19, when the discussion of the Stalin Constitution ("the most democratic constitution in the world") was in full swing, 16 leading ex-Oppositionists, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, together with Yevdokimov and I.M. Smirnov, were put on trial for capital charges. This time they were accused, not of "political responsibility" for the assassination of Kirov, but of organising terrorist actions against Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and Zhdanov, under the direst instructions and guidance of Trotsky.
This trial was an attempt to give an excuse for mass arrests of all who questioned Stalin's leadership. During the proceedings, the accused were forced to pour dirt over their own heads. Kamenev testified that "He himself served fascism and with Zinoviev and Trotsky had prepared a counterrevolution in the USSR." Zinoviev stated that "Trotskyism is a variant of fascism." The abject nature of these confessions did not save them: they were shot. Within twelve months of this trial, 100,000 people were either arrested or shot in Leningrad alone.
The methods of the GPU were those of the Inquisition. The accused were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, kept in isolation, beaten, tortured, their families threatened, to extort a false confession. Interrogations were carried on uninterruptedly day and night, for 16 to 24 hours, with the prisoner denied sleep (the "conveyer" system). Those that did not confess were shot or just disappeared. They used agents' provocateurs to engineer denunciations. Children were urged to denounce their own parents.
The main motive of the Purge Trials was to liquidate the Bolshevik Party, to wipe out the entire generation of Old Bolsheviks and thus to consolidate the rule of the bureaucracy. Anyone who could remember the old democratic and internationalist traditions of Leninism was seen as a danger. Like any common criminal Stalin understood the need to eliminate all witnesses. But there was also a personal motive. Stalin was a mediocrity who could not stand comparison with the Old Bolshevik leaders. Compared with Bukharin, Kamenev and even Zinoviev, let alone a genius like Trotsky, he was a nonentity. And he knew it. Therefore he entertained feelings of revenge towards the entire generation of Old Bolsheviks.
Stalin was a sadist who took a personal interest in tormenting his victims. He brought to Moscow the primitive methods of the Georgian blood feud, in which not only enemies had to be killed but their families also. He once stated: "There is nothing sweeter in the world than to plan revenge on an enemy, see it carried out, and then retire peacefully to bed." He personally checked the list of the victims and decided who would live or die. Out of a total of about 700,000 cases, he personally signed 400 lists, with a total of 40,000 people. On these lists were the names of all of Lenin's principal lieutenants and comrades-in-arms.
Stalin had a very simple recipe for the interrogation of prisoners: "Beat, beat and beat again." At the time of the first trials the chief of the OGPU-NKVD was Genrykh Yagoda. He carried out Stalin's directives, but not enthusiastically enough for the Vozhd'. Stalin was furious because Yagoda had not obtained confessions to the murder of Kirov from Kamenev and Zinoviev in the 1936 trial. He called him in and said: "You work poorly, Genrykh Grigorievich. I already know for a fact that Kirov was murdered on instructions from Zinoviev and Kamenev, but so far you have not been able to prove it! You have to torture them until they finally tell the truth and reveal all their connections." (Anna Larina, This I cannot Forget, p. 94.)
Yagoda was a corrupt official and a contemptible careerist whose hands were stained with blood, but having been a Party member since 1907 he was inhibited by the old traditions and sometimes dragged his heels at the monstrous orders he was expected to carry out. This sealed his fate. He was removed, put on trial, accused among other things of poisoning the writer Maxim Gorky, and executed. The accusation about Gorky is significant. Gorky, who had a soft heart, often used to intercede with Lenin on behalf of people who had been arrested, and tried the same thing with Stalin. But Stalin was not like Lenin. He found the old man's pleadings irritating. But Gorky was too famous to put on trial as a "Trotskyist", so in all probability Stalin had him quietly put down, and placed the blame on the unfortunate Yagoda. This was quite in Stalin's style.
The year 1937
The year 1937 will go down in history as synonymous with Stalin's unbridled terror. The man who replaced Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, was a monster in the image of Stalin. No action was too base or bloody for him, no order too atrocious to carry out. This creature was the perfect embodiment of Stalin's political counterrevolution.
In the camps, millions were starved and worked to death. Between 1929 and 1934 the average life expectancy was less than two years. Yet the Boss complained that conditions in the camps were too comfortable: they were "like health resorts". Up till 1937 it was not the deliberate policy of the camp administration to exterminate the prisoners, although many died as a result of poor food and overwork. But Yezhov changed all that. After he took over the situation was much worse. To begin with, the maximum sentence before death was increased from ten years to twenty-five. In most cases this amounted to a death sentence.
According to data supplied by Yezhov at the end of 1936 and the beginning of 1937, in the central institutions of Moscow alone, thousands of "Trotskyist wreckers" were arrested. Between October 1936 and February 1937, the following numbers of employees in the People's Commissariats were arrested and sentenced: Transport - 141, Food Industry - 100, Local Industry - 60, Internal Trade - 82, Agriculture - 102, Finance - 35, Education - 228; and so on. Later the situation got even worse. On one day alone, 12th December 1938, Stalin and Molotov sanctioned the shooting of 3,167 people, and then went to the cinema.
It is now known that the NKVD had quotas for arrests and was expected to fulfill them, just like the quotas for steel, coal and electricity under the Five Year Plan. Yevgeniya Ginsberg relates the following conversation she had in prison in 1937. "As a Tartar, it was simpler to make me a bourgeois nationalist. Actually, they did put me down as a Trotskyist at first, but Rud sent the file back, saying they'd exceeded the quota for Trotskyists but were short on nationalists, though they'd taken all the Tartar writers they could think of." (Yevgeniya Ginsberg, Into the Whirlwind, pp. 109-10.)
Stalin's propaganda machine was working overtime. Meetings were organised under such slogans as "Death to the Fascist Hirelings!" "Crush the Trotskyist Vermin" and "Trotskyism is another Form of Fascism!" On March 6, 1937 Pravda asserted that "the Trotskyists are a find for international Fascism […] The insignificant number of this gang should not reassure us, we have to increase our vigilance tenfold." On 15th March 1938, Vechernaya Moskva snarled: "History knows no evil deeds equal to the crimes of the gang from the anti-Soviet Right-Trotskyist Bloc. The espionage, sabotage and wrecking done by the over-bandit Trotsky and his accomplices Bukharin, Rykov and the others, arouse feelings of anger, hatred and contempt not only in the Soviet people, but in all progressive mankind." (Quoted in D. Volkogonov, Trotsky pp. 381-2.)
History knows no evil deeds equal to the crimes of the gang from the anti-Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy. A wave of terror was unleashed by Stalin against the people of the USSR. Tens of millions of innocent people were arrested, condemned and sent into the Gulag. Even the security services were purged. In 1937-8 23,000 NKVD officers were arrested. Most informed on others in order to survive.
Not all of Stalin's victims were put on trial. The trade union leader Tomsky, a follower of Bukharin's Right Opposition, cheated Stalin by committing suicide. Stalin's wife, Nadezhda Alleluyeva was also driven to suicide by Stalin. A decent and honest woman, she sympathised with Bukharin. She shot herself as a protest against Stalin's moral and political perfidy. Later the same fate befell Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Stalin's old friend and comrade. On 18th February 1937, he died suddenly, allegedly of a heart attack. In reality he was also driven to suicide by Stalin, who had Sergo's brother arrested, tortured and shot for no reason.
The details of this case were revealed by Khrushchov at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956. In the same speech he revealed that, of the total of 139 members and candidate members of the Central Committee elected at the 17th Congress in 1934, 98 - that is, 70 percent - were shot. Khrushchov stated that those arrested were subjected to brutal tortures, and only confessed to "all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes" when "no longer able to bear barbaric tortures."
The destruction of the Red Army
Stalin was suspicious of the Red Army, which had been founded by Trotsky. Many of its leaders, heroes of the Civil War, had fought with Trotsky and had been under his influence. Many of them were extremely talented and one at least, M.N. Tukhachevsky, was a military genius. A former officer in the tsarist army, Tukhachevsky came over to the side of the revolution and served it faithfully. He led the Red Army in the struggle against Wrangel and against the Poles.
In 1920 his forces got as far as Warsaw, where they were defeated in part because Stalin's stooges Voroshilov and Budyonny refused to join forces with Tukhachevsky, preferring to wage war on their own account, pursuing the entirely secondary objective of Lvov. As a result, the Red Army was defeated at the gates of Warsaw - a major setback in Lenin's strategy for world revolution, which led to the isolation of the Russian revolution, cutting it off from the German revolution.
The Polish dictator Pilsudsky latter revealed that: "Our situation seemed to me utterly hopeless. I saw the only bright spot on the dark horizon in Budyonny's failure to launch an attack on my rear […] the weakness which was exhibited by the Twelfth Army." [i.e. the army that upon the orders of Commissar Stalin had refused to help Tukhachevsky force and had broken away from it.]
In 1935 Tukhachevsky was made a Marshall of the Red Army. This was well deserved. This great military genius had worked it out that World War Two would be a mobile war fought with tanks and planes. But Stalin was jealous of Tukhachevsky and suspicious of the general staff of the Red Army. So when Tukhachevsky insisted on increasing the number of planes and tanks in the Red Army, Stalin refused, calling him a harebrained schemer. (See Dimitri Shostakovich, Testimony, p. 103.)
Stalin the mediocrity always hated people with talent. And he hated and feared Tukhachevsky whose brilliance always reminded him of his own incompetence in military matters, where he would have liked to se himself as a genius. But far more seriously, Stalin lived in fear of a military coup. He therefore organized a gigantic new frame-up involving the whole of the Soviet general staff. He accused Tukhachevsky and other key leaders of the Red Army of being in league with Hitler.
The famous Soviet composer, Dimitri Shostakovich was a personal friend of Tukhachevsky. In his memoirs he writes: "Now it is well known that Tukhachevsky was destroyed through the joint efforts of Stalin and Hitler. But one mustn't exaggerate the role of German espionage in this matter. If there hadn't been those faked documents that 'exposed' Tukhachevsky, Stalin would have got rid of him anyway." (Dimitri Shostakovich, Testimony, p. 99.)
Stalin replaced this great original military thinker with his cronies Budyonny and Voroshilov, two incompetents who thought that World War Two would be fought with cavalry! Just before World War Two, they were showing propaganda films in Russia of Voroshilov and his cavalry, sweeping the enemy before them! Only after the first crushing defeats of the Red Army in 1941 did Stalin realise his mistake, but this was a very costly lesson for the USSR. The same thing happened with rockets. Stalin had all the Leningrad rocketry experts shot, and then had to start from scratch.
The Purge destroyed the entire leading cadre of the Red Army and badly damaged the defence capabilities of the USSR. Tukhachevsky, Yakir and others were shot in secret, which indicates that they refused to confess. The military Purge that continued throughout 1938 led to the elimination of 90 percent of all generals, 80 percent of all colonels, and 30,000 of lower ranking officers. This left the Red Army seriously weakened on the eve of the Second World War. We know that it was one of the main factors that convinced Hitler that he should attack the USSR. He silenced the objections of his generals with the remark: "They have no good generals."
The trial of the 21
In March 1938 the trial of the 21 opened in Moscow. Bukharin, Rykov, Krestinsky, Rakovsky, and other members of the so-called Right-Trotskyist Bloc. These Old Bolsheviks were described by the ex-Menshevik Vyshinsky as "stinking carrion", "pitiful scum", "damned vermin", "chained curs of imperialism" and so on. Pravda described this disgusting travesty of a show trial as "the most democratic people's court in the world." This verdict was accepted by a most unexpected "Friend of the Soviet Union" - Winston Churchill, who described Vyshinsky's performance at the trial as "brilliant".
On the first day of the third trial, March 2, 1938, the former Menshevik Andrei Vyshinsky slandered the man whom Lenin had described in his Testament as "the Party's favourite: "Bukharin sits there with his head bowed low, a treacherous, two-faced, whimpering, evil nonentity who has been exposed […] as the leader of a gang of spies, terrorists, and thieves, as instigator of assassination […] This filthy little Bukharin". (The Case of the Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyists, Record of Court Proceedings, Moscow, 1938, pp. 656-57.)
Though Vyshinsky read the lines, their author was Stalin, taunting his victim and smearing him with filth before destroying him physically. This was the favourite method of the "beloved Leader and Teacher". "The hypocrisy and perfidy of this man exceed the most perfidious and monstrous crimes known to the history of mankind." These words cannot be applied to Bukharin, a revolutionary of spotless honesty and dedication, but perfectly describe Stalin himself.
Bukharin later stated: "The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of jurisprudence. […] I did not plead guilty […] I do not know of this […] I deny it […] I categorically deny any complicity."
Not only Trotskyists were killed but also many Stalinists who fell into the disfavour of the "Beloved Leader and Teacher". Abel Yenukidze, for example, was shot for trying to save the lives of Old Bolsheviks. Not content with killing his enemies, Stalin took his revenge on their families and friends. Hundreds of thousands were sent to the camps not just as "enemies of the people", but also as chesirs or "family members of a traitor to the motherland". Among these victims were the wife and sisters of Tukhachevsky, the wife of Bukharin, Trotsky's first wife, his eldest son, Sergei, who was not involved in active politics, was arrested but courageously refused to denounce his father and was shot.
The methods of the GPU were exposed in a surprising way during the Moscow Trials themselves. When Yagoda was himself put on trial, Vyshinsky declared (on March 11, 1938): "Yagoda stood at the peak of the technology of killing people in the most devious ways. He represented the last word in the 'science' of bestiality." (Sudebny otchet po delu antisovetskogo trotskiiskogo tsentra, the official report of the trial in Russian, Moscow 1937, p. 332.). Amidst all the miserable morass of lies and distortions that make up these documents, this is probably the only truthful statement.
Yezhov had attained the highest power. There was even a cult of Yezhov to match the cult of Stalin. Yezhov was called officially "the Beloved of the nation. The horrors he inflicted on his victims were known as "Yezhov's prickles" (Yezh in Russian means hedgehog). Bards in Central Asia sang of Father Yezhov. All this was not a wise thing to do under Stalin, who had a morbid fear of rivals.
Yezhov even sent a draft decree to the CC, allegedly on the initiative of "countless requests from workers" that Moscow be renamed Stalinodar. (See Volkoganov, p. 463.) However, Stalin was not foolish enough to accept. Instead he had Yezhov arrested in 1938. Typically, Stalin blamed all the horrors and dislocations of the Purges on his puppet Yezhov, whom he replaced with a Georgian stooge, Lavrenty Beria. The "Beloved of the nation" then disappeared into the Gulag and was apparently shot in 1939.
The assassination of Trotsky
The only serious opposition to Stalin was Trotsky's Left Opposition. Stalin read everything that Trotsky wrote and was determined to eliminate him. The Russian Trotskyists (Bolshevik Leninists) maintained their faith in the principles of Bolshevism and the perspective of the world revolution. They kept their organization alive even in Stalin's concentration camps. They organised hunger strikes against their tormentors, and were only silenced by the firing squad. And as they marched to their death in the frozen tundra they sang the Internationale.
By such means Stalin eradicated the last remnants of the traditions of Leninism from the Soviet Union. But one voice remained to challenge him - that of Lenin's main lieutenant, the architect of the October revolution and founder of the Red Army, Lev Davidovich Trotsky. As long as Trotsky remained alive Stalin could not rest.
Despite everything, Stalin did not feel safe. His persecution of Trotsky was not just a matter of personal hatred - though that was a fact. It was above all fear that the ideas and programme of Trotsky and the Bolshevik Leninists would get an echo in the Soviet working class. This was no idle fear. There was growing discontent in Soviet working class at the bad conditions and above all at the growing inequality and the privileges of the bureaucracy.
Even at the height of the Purges there are indications of a subterranean ferment of discontent. Through the reports of the Party and the NKVD, Stalin was well aware of the real situation. In the 1937 Party protocols of the Medgorodsk construction enterprise (Smolensk), we have an unusually frank description of the living conditions of the workers:
"The workers' barracks were described as overcrowded and in a state of extreme disrepair with water streaming straight from the ceiling onto workers' beds. Heat was rarely provided in the barracks. Bedding went unchanged and sanitary work was almost nonexistent. There were no kitchens and eating halls on the construction sites. Hot food could not be obtained until the evening, when workers had to walk a long distance to reach the dining-hall. 'Many of the women,' one female Party worker reported, 'live practically on the street. None pays any attention to them; some of these defenceless creatures threaten to commit suicide .'In addition, cases where wages were not paid were on the increase. All this 'neglect of the elementary needs of the workers', as well as 'lack of care for them as human beings'resulted in 'fully justified dissatisfaction' and bitterness on the part of the workers.
"The mood of some of the workers was described as 'often threatening' and 'directly counterrevolutionary'. For example, in a discussion of the 1936 Constitution a certain Stepan Danin, a carpenter, and workers of his brigade were quoted as saying:
"'We must permit the existence of several political parties in our midst - as it is in bourgeois countries; they will be able better to note the mistakes of the Communist Party.
"'Exploitation in our midst has not been eliminated, communists and engineers employ and exploit servants.
"'The Trotskyists Kamenev and Zinoviev won't be shot anyway - and they shouldn't be, for they are Old Bolsheviks.
"To the question of an agitator as to who should be viewed as an Old Bolshevik, one worker replied, 'Trotsky'." (Quoted in M. Fainsod, Smolensk Under Soviet Rule, p. 322.)
Stalin therefore followed very closely the activities of the Trotskyists. He planted his agents in their ranks and Trotsky's articles were on his desk in the Kremlin each morning - often before they had been published. Stalin's agents in Paris murdered Trotsky's son, Leon Sedov, who was playing a key role in the movement. This was a serious blow against the Fourth International, which was still in an embryonic phase. One by one, Trostky collaborators, friends and family were murdered by Stalin.
An NKVD officer Sudoplatov was put in charge of the assassination of Trotsky. The first armed attack on his house in Coyoacan failed. But it was immediately followed by another. On August 20, 1940, Lev Davidovich was struck down by one of Stalin's agents in Mexico City.