Life And Terror In Stalins Russia, 1934-1941 / Edition 1

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Terror, in the sense of mass, unjust arrests, characterized the USSR during the late 1930s. But, argues Robert Thurston in this controversial book, Stalin did not intend to terrorize the country and did not need to rule by fear. Memoirs and interviews with Soviet people indicate that many more believed in Stalin's quest to eliminate internal enemies than were frightened by it.

Drawing on recently opened Soviet archives and other sources, Thurston shows that between 1934 and 1936 police and court practice relaxed significantly. Then a series of events, together with the tense international situation and memories of real enemy activity during the savage Russian Civil War, combined to push leaders and people into a hysterical hunt for perceived "wreckers." After late 1938, however, the police and courts became dramatically milder.

Coercion was not the key factor keeping the regime in power. More important was voluntary support, fostered at least in the cities by broad opportunities to criticize conditions and participate in decision making on the local level. The German invasion of 1941 found the populace deeply divided in its judgment of Stalinism, but the country's soldiers generally fought hard in its defense. Using German and Russian sources, the author probes Soviet morale and performance in the early fighting.

Thurston's portrait of the era sheds new light on Stalin and the nature of his regime. It presents an unconventional and less condescending view of the Soviet people, depicted not simply as victims but also as actors in the violence, criticisms, and local decisions of the 1930s. Ironically, Stalinism helped prepare the way for the much more active society and for the reforms of fifty years later.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Stalin has had the reputation of ruling the U.S.S.R. with an iron fist, employing terror to inflict his will on a hapless populace. Accordingly, Stalin was also a paranoid monster who stage-managed the twists and turns of Soviet policy that made him supreme leader. In this strongly revisionist work, Thurston, associate professor of history at Miami University, tries to refute that conception, arguing that Stalin was largely reacting to events around him. The author goes so far as to claim that, though terror existed as part of the Soviet system, Stalin never meant it to be a primary instrument for ruling. Thurston has surveyed recently opened Soviet archival material and other sources and interpreted them his way, conjecturing that in the late 1930s-the period of the Great Terror-"events spun out of... control," catching Stalin off-guard and forcing him to improvise. Whether one accepts what will surely be a highly controversial reassessment, the author acknowledges Stalin was nonetheless "one of history's leading murderers, and his crimes were grotesque." Photos. History Book Club selection. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Thurston (history, Miami Univ.) challenges conventional interpretations of the Soviet purges of the 1930s. Instead of treating Stalin as a master schemer committed to the extermination of multitudes of imagined opponents, he organizes evidence from scholarly and primary sources, some recently opened, to portray Stalin as both an initiator and a reactor to events who relied heavily upon his chief of the NKVD, the internal security force. Thurston examines the psychology of the Soviet citizenry, emerging from revolution and civil war, and identifies a genuine basis for a fear of opposition groups. The author finds his argument supported in the loyalty of the Soviet population to Stalin with the advent of World War II, which contravenes the examples of Soviets welcoming German troops cited in standard histories. For Thurston, Stalin's Terror reflected that of his people, and they supported him. This is a well-written and thought-provoking study for scholars in the field and subject collections.-Rena Fowler, Humboldt State Univ., Arcata, Cal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300074420
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 334
  • Sales rank: 1,067,402
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Maps and Tables
1 The Police and Courts Begin to Relax 1933-1936 1
2 Politics and Tension in the Stalinist Leadership 1934-1937 16
3 The Political Police at Work in the Terror 1937-1938 59
4 The Terror Ends 107
5 Fear and Belief in the Terror: Response to Arrest 137
6 Life in the Factories 164
7 The Acid Test of Stalinism: Popular Response to World War II 199
Conclusion 227
Abbreviations 235
Notes 237
Glossary of Names and Key Terms 287
Index 289
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