The Road to Terror

Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939
Getty, J. Arch
Naumov, Oleg V.
Date published: 
October 1999

The vast and complex tragedy of Stalin's purges, culminating in the Great Terror, made victims of millions of Russians between 1932 and 1939. This gripping book assembles and translates into English for the first time an astonishing array of formerly top secret Soviet documents from that period. Exposing to daylight the inner workings of the Communist Party and the dark inhumanity of the purge process, these documents immeasurably deepen our understanding of an agonising episode of Soviet history.

From dossiers on the liquidated Soviet elite to police reports of peasant unrest to private letters from victims and purgers to secret transcripts of Central Committee meetings, the nearly two hundred documents presented here confirm Stalin's role as executor of the terror. Yet the top party elite, or nomenklatura, were also key to the unfolding of a terror that proceeded with fits and starts, moves and counter-moves, and steps towards and away from the abyss. From 1932 to early 1937 Stalin and the nomenklatura agreed on the need to destroy all dissidents, to stage show trials, to carry out mass arrests, purges, and shootings, and to prevent any resistance to these 'cleansings'. Eventually deep insecurities that magnified any opposition and iron discipline within the party led the nomenklatura to support Stalin in purging their own colleagues, and in 1937 and 1938 they serially voted one another into prison.