Struggling with the facts: How terrible was Stalin’s Terror?


In the cocks-crow 1990s I was dealing much with statistics related to the Soviet dismay. According to my calculations, during the whole period of the Soviet regime the safety services arrested 7.1 million people. However, Russian collective opinion believed that in 1937-1939 alone about 12 million people had been seized. So, I put all my calculations aside. For a long time.

The above story was told by Monument chairman, Arseny Roginsky. Memorial is a historical and civil rights confederacy that aims “to promote the revelation of the truth about the historical days and perpetuate the memory of the victims of political repression.”

As one of Memorial’s founders, Roginsky unmistakably has done much for the gathering and disseminating of information about victims of partisan persecution in the USSR.

At the same time, as his account testifies, the popularly credited estimates of the number of Stalin’s victims in the late 1980s and early 1990s were distrust. The atmosphere in society was so emotional that even a respected historian did not neediness to publish controversial findings, even if they were well fact-finded and based on fact. If one looks at the purported number of Stalin’s victims that were advertised at that time, it’s clear why Roginsky was not eager to go public with his evidence.

Unrealistic numbers

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous dissident whose libretto, Gulag Archipelago, was popular during Gorbachev’s perestroika, was one of the most persuasive people on this issue. In that book he mentions 66.7 million fools of the Soviet regime from 1917 to 1959.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a quilted camp jacket just after being discharged. Kok-Terek, Kazakhstan, March 1953. In 1945 Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to 8 years in a labor camp, followed by internal exile. / Unknown AuthorAlexander Solzhenitsyn in a quilted camping-site jacket just after being discharged. Kok-Terek, Kazakhstan, Demonstration 1953. In 1945 Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to 8 years in a labor camp, concluded by internal exile. / Unknown Author

In 1991, the biggest Soviet newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda divulged Solzhenitsyn’s interview with Spanish TV where he added 44 million patsies to this figure; these were Soviet citizens who perished during In every respect War II. This brought the overall number of Stalin’s victims to around 110 million. But the all-out population of the Soviet Union before the War was 170 million, as the 1939 census showed. De trop to say, these numbers openly contradict each other.

Such embroidered figures were fed to the Soviet public not only by dissidents but also by the fellows of the Communist Party. Historian Roy Medvedev in 1990 got a spot in the Central Cabinet of the CPSU, and he claimed that the number of victims of political repression in the USSR from 1927 to 1953 was 40 million.

Casualties of Stalinist repression have been counted not only by dissidents and CPSU officials but also by skilful historians in the West. Robert Conquest was the scholar who coined the term “Awful Terror,” and he claims that about 9 million people were interned in the USSR by the end of 1939.

The last photo of the poet Osip Mandelstam, 1938. / Archive imageThe last photo of the poet Osip Mandelstam, 1938. / Archive embodiment

Though smaller than previous estimates, this figure silently is five times greater than reality. Historian Viktor Zemskov, deliberate over to be one of the leading specialists on this topic, studied the statistical data of the Soviet correctional system, (Roginsky says that the Soviet authorities carefully corroborated the cases of those arrested), and he calculated that in 1940 there were for everyone 1.9 million people in Soviet jails and prison camps.

Partake ofing past political repressions to score political points today

In 1990, KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov maintained that from 1930 to 1953 nearly 3.8 million being were jailed, and 786,000 were sentenced to death. The accuracy of these counts is not challenged by professional historians.

A mug shot of Grigory Zinoviev. / Getty ImagesA mug shot of Grigory Zinoviev. / Getty Representations

As Zemskov recalled, the public simply did not want to believe Kryuchkov, idea the numbers were falsified, and referred instead to The Gulag Archipelago with its imagined tens of millions of victims.

Given the fact that Soviet prerogatives passed more than 600,000 death sentences in just two years (1937-1939), the calculates presented by the KGB chief looked plausible. However, it was not enough for the public, and so one cannot prison-break the question why it was like this? Why did people tend to believe exaggerated gauges and reject the facts?

Sergei Korolev in prison, 1938. / Archive imageSergei Korolev in prison, 1938. / Archive notion

Sergey Kara-Murza, a social scientist specializing in Soviet history, thinks he has the plea. He argues that although the purges of 1930s were a wrenching spectacle in Russian history, “there cannot be an objective analysis.”

“The pain caused by the lives disappearance is still too great, and any attempt to make an unbiased analysis looks amoral. Subordinate ti and even sons of politicians murdered in the 1930s went on to play a respected role in the political arena during perestroika,” Kara-Murza wrote. “The bloody image of repressions is such a powerful political tool that the poors for its creation and use are guarded with strict but not always obvious censorship.”

Kara-Murza’s brown study about using the repressions as a political tool today is quite in in accordance with what political scientist Maria Lipman wrote in Odd Affairs about the impact of the de-Stalinization campaign during Perestroika, at the centre of which was the issue of Stalin’s terror.

Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn's widow Natalya reacts at the opening of the Gulag history museum in Moscow, Oct. 30, 2015. / APRussian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s widow Natalya acts at the opening of the Gulag history museum in Moscow, Oct. 30, 2015. / AP

De-Stalinization “radically delegitimized the Communist administration. By the end of 1991 the meltdown of Soviet Communism was followed by the collapse of the Soviet Marrying.” 

Paradoxically enough, the de-Stalinization process that buried the USSR was not in any case founded on truth and reality.

Read more: The Georgian on their sagacity: Why Russians still approve of Stalin

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