to syllabus

Study Questions on R. G. Suny, The Structure of Soviet History:  Essays and Documents (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003).  Week VIII, pp. 232-250.

Stalin to Kosoir and Chubar, 2 Jan. 1930 (p. 232)

One could argue that during the Cultural Revolution (or at any point in Soviet history), state terror and repression were meant to be "Instructive."  If this is so, then who did Stalin want to "teach a lesson" based upon this particular document?


N. Mandelstam, "A May Night" (pp. 232-240)

Here is a short selection from N. Mandelstam's famous memoir of her experiences in the Stalin era and of the arrest of her husband (a famous poet).  What did you yourself find most interesting, and what "new" did you learn from her account of the 1934 arrest of her husband (to whom she refers as "M")?

Mandelstam compares her husband's arrest in 1934 to his re-arrest in 1938--what point is she making here?

What impression does this memoir give you of the impact of the purges and terror on people's everyday lives?

Why was M arrested?  This is not so simple a question, so be ready to explain and defend your response!


Stalin to All Members of the CC, 31 March 1937 (p. 240)

In this document, Stalin announces the arrest of Iagoda, who had been the head of the internal security police in 1934-1936.  How did Stalin explain the reasons for Iagoda's arrest?  What conclusions do you draw from this?


Stalin on the Arrests and Executions of Tukhachevskii, et al., 11 June 1937 (p. 241)

Why would Stalin consider it necessary to mount a campaign of public meetings of the sort described in this document (in connection with the arrest of important military officers)?


Beria to Stalin, 17 July 1937 (pp. 241-242)

Some historians have argued that the terror spread to the extent that it did because Stalin's "minions" hoped to win favor with the "Boss" (or other advantages locally) by uncovering and crushing various "plots."  How might we fit this July 1937 letter from Beria into such a pattern?


Stalin to the Secretaries of Obkoms (etc), 3 August 1937 (pp. 243-244)

Many historians now argue that the escalating purges and terror "from below" (that is, initiated at the local level) was a response to signals given "from above" (ultimately, from Stalin himself).  Based upon this document, why was Stalin encouraging the hunt for "enemies" and their "exposure" through "show trials" in 1937?


L'vova, "Is Pashchitskii Present?" (memoir of 1930s, published in 1990) (pp. 244-245)

Note that Shura, Shurkina, and Shurka are all nicknames (diminutives) for the same boy.

For L'vova, this experience was a lesson in the nature of courage; what historical lessons (about the Stalin era) do you draw from this memoir?


Bukharin to Stalin, 10 December 1937 (pp. 245-250)

Here Bukharin--who was awaiting trial and knew that he would almost certainly be executed--writes to "clear the air" with Stalin. 

On whom did Bukharin seem to blame his arrest?  What attitude does he take towards Stalin throughout this document?

How did B seem to (or want to) understand the purpose of Great Purges and the terror, and of his own arrest?

Why do you think B wrote this letter?  What are some possible motivations?  Think about this as a historian trying to understand the inner workings of the Soviet system and the mindset of its major leaders....

What did you find most interesting, or most surprising, about this letter and why?


Mekhlis to Stalin and Ezhov, 28 October 1938 (p. 250)

Several historians have argued that in 1937 and 1938 the terror "got out of control" so that the "center" (Stalin's inner circle) found it necessary to dampen the process.  What evidence do you have in this document that local officials enthusiastically "over-fulfilled" their quotas for arrests and executions?