Discussion questions for Week VIII: Politics, purges, and terror in the 1930s.
BE PREPARED TO REPORT IN CLASS ON THE QUESTIONS ASSIGNED TO YOU BELOW (FOUR SECTIONS)
Suny Ch. 11: EVERYONE IS EXPECTED TO ANSWER ALL...
1. What does Suny mean when he says on p. 252 that "Stalinism was at one and the same time revolutionary and conservative"?
2. According to Suny, what role did terror play in the Communist Party’s justification of its right to rule?
3. According to Suny, why did the Stalin regime "loosen up" in the application of purges and terror in 1933-4?
4. Based upon what you’ve read in Suny, how would you explain the fact that around 1935 the Stalin regime stopped talking about the threat of old "class enemies" who had infiltrated the regime and started talking about the threat from "enemies of the people"?
5. Based upon what you’ve read in Suny, how would you respond to this statement: In 1937 the purges were organized in a manner similar to the planned economy"?
6. Based upon what you’ve read in Suny, why would people have admitted to be guilty of political crimes?
7. Based upon what you’ve read in Suny, were the Stalinist labor camps the equivalent of the Nazi death camps? Be prepared to defend your answer!!!
Kuromyia, ch. 5
1. What is Kuromyia’s point about Stalin’s psychological state as a factor in explaining the Terror? BELINKO AND TRACY
2. What are Kuromyia’s main points about the causes of the 1932-33 famine and Stalin’s reactions to the famine? DZURKO AND SOPRANO
3. What is Kuromyia’s main point about the relationship between shifts in Stalin’s understanding of the international situation and the unfolding of the Terror? JARSOCRAK AND SHILLING
4. What does Kurmoyia see as the main results of the Terror? LOFTUS, LONGO, AND LOSCALZO
Siegelbaum and Sokolov, Stalinism as a Way of Life
Chapter 3, "Stalin's Constitution"
As you know from the Suny textbook and Kuomyia’s biography of Stalin, the Stalin regime introduced a new constitution in 1936. According to this new constitution, all "exploiting" and hostile classes had been eliminated in the USSR and all citizens of the Soviet state enjoyed legal equality under the leadership of the Communist Party. Many historians see this as part of the Stalin regime's effort to create greater stability after the enormous social disruptions associated with the Five and Second Year Plans (see Siegelbaum's comments in the chapter introduction). In 1935 the regime permitted—and even encouraged--open discussion of the new constitution (although it tightly controlled the discussion). Siegelbaum points out that the discussion was meant to "incite a wave of public enthusiasm" for building socialism (especially for Stakhanovism and similar forms of "socialist enthusiasm"). As you read these documents, be prepared to discuss ways in which specific documents reflect and illuminate the following:
1) How did various elements of the "public" understand the purpose of discussing the Constitution and how did their understandings differ from those of Party and State officials understood? TRACY
2) What did kolkhoz farmers want out of the Constitution (and the regime) and what did "independent" peasants wanted? SOPRANO AND DZURKO
3) What did people praise in their letters and comments about the Constitution and what did people want to see added to the Constitution? SHILLING
4) What complaints did kolkhoz farmers (and other peasants) make against the collective farm system? LOSCALZO
5) What evidence is there that elements of the "old" peasant culture--such as the influence of the church--had survived collectivization? (This is related, for instance, to the "end" to legal discrimination against the clergy.) LONGO
6) In what ways did specific/particular groups of people besides collective farmers try (or hope) to shape the Constitution to reflect their own specific concerns? LOFTUS
7) How do these documents reflect or reveal their authors’ moral or ethical structure.? (For instance, is there evidence of hostility towards those who "live off" the system [the "new bourgeoisie"], is there evidence that such hostility reflected an internalization of "Bolshevik values," etc.) JARSOCRAK AND BELINKO
Chapter 4, "Love and Plenty"
The mid-and-late 1930s were a time of mass political repression and terror in the USSR. As you know from Suny and Kuromyia, millions of people were imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or killed in the escalating waves of repression that followed the murder of Leningrad Party chief Kirov in December 1934. The terror included a series of "show trials" in which prominent "Old Bolsheviks" were condemned as "enemies of the people." But the Commissariat of Internal Affairs under Iagoda (in 1934-36) and then under Ezhov (in 1937-38) also applied terror ripped to all levels of cadres in the Party, the State, educational institutions, the arts, the professions, factory administration, collective farm management, and even the military. The "Great Terror" reached its peak in 1937-38.
But despite the terror, some people in the former USSR look nostalgically at the late 1930s as a period of relative economic and social stability, and as a period when law and order were enforced. Certainly, the regime itself devoted enormous resources to painting a picture of a happy country enthusiastically building a new world.
As you read these documents, be prepared to explain how specific documents reflect or cast light on the following:
1) How did ordinary people understand/imagine the history of their own times (and their own lives)? JARSOCRAK
2) How did ordinary people "use" the Terror to "get even" and how broadly had the sense of suspicion and fear created by the terror spread by 1937-38? LONGO AND TRACY
3) How did the Terror effect Soviet citizens at various levels and in various profession at its peak in 1937-38? LOFTUS AND LOSCALZO
4) What evidence is there about how citizens understood the causes of the Terror and repression (and in particular how they explained this once Ezhov was removed from his post in 1938)? BELINKO
5) What evidence is there about how the state treated those repressed as enemies and of the outrages carried out against people during the terror? SHILLING
6) How did people try to protect themselves from being caught up in the Terror or limit the damage caused to themselves by being implicated in the Terror? DZURKO
7) What evidence is there of corruption and misuse of power in the provinces and by Party and State functionaries? SOPRANO