Yezhovshchina – ‘The Great Purge’

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Yezhovshchina – ‘The Great Purge’

Apart from being difficult to pronounce, my title is a Russian term describing the Great Purge in Soviet Russia between 1936 and the end of 1939. It took place roughly at the same time as the Spanish Civil War, to which Russia sent troops, armaments, aircraft and munitions.

The word itself is derived from Yezhov, who was head of the Russian secret service known as the NKVD in 1936. Stalin’s intention was that Yezhov should supervise the elimination of dissident groups inside the Bolshevik Party itself, and in sections of his own Red Army. Socialists and Socialism never change. Once they feel all effective opposition has been neutralized (one way or the other), they always, but always, turn on each other like a pack of hungry feral dogs in the wild woods.*

In this case it appears that Stalin was fully aware of possible rivals to his leadership.Though no evidence has subsequently been found, he thought that most of the accused had had ‘treasonable contacts’ with ‘a foreign power’ (which we must assume was Germany).

The Great Purge was carried out with maximum bloodletting, and among its victims were ten close associates (one hesitates to call them friends) of Stalin, three Marshalls of the Soviet Union including the Chief of the General Staff (Tukachevsky), six members of the organisation executive of the Party (Politburo), and roughly 400 of the 700 generals down to Brig.General in the Red Army.

Many leading foreign communists living in Soviet Russia at the time, including several Spaniards and dissident British journalists were arrested, imprisoned, shot or simply disappeared, perhaps into a convenient river.

As this was Russia, no actual figures are available, not even on the valuable Internet, for the loss in terms of human lives taken during the Great Purge, which by no means concentrated on the upper levels of Soviet society, but at all levels, including the serfs whom we were informed didn’t exist, because we are all equal. Certainly many of those lost were foreigners working in Russia; the Germans settled around Saratov on the Volga in the 18th century suffered horribly.

Russian historians claim that the mass arrests during the purge led to forced labour rather than summary execution. Forced labour at that time led to death too, but at least it wasn’t the customary bullet in the back of the neck.

Stalin used the purge as a useful excuse to send hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens to open up new regions in the Arctic, or build new centres in Siberia.

Towards the end of 1938 Yezhov himself vanished (he may have got himself to Finland), and so too did many NKVD officials. No-one knows what happened to them. Some of the forced labourers were permitted to return to their home, if they had one, in 1939. Very shortly afterwards they and their sons found themselves fighting Hitler. Life in truly socialist countries is so . . . exhilirating.Persecution of the German community in Soviet Russia was renewed after Hitler broke the Molotov Non-Aggression pact.

Dean Swift

*This is happening at this moment (December, 2010) in Spain, where the Socialist government is breaking up because three members of its highest rank are snapping at the heels of Sr. Rodríguez Zapatero, the elected President of the Government. They are Rubalcaba, Blanco and Bono.

By | 2010-12-22T16:44:42+00:00 December 22nd, 2010|Russian history|6 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.


  1. comentern June 19, 2011 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    it was not “Russia” dumb idiots, it was USSR

  2. Dean Swift June 20, 2011 at 9:31 am - Reply

    who are the ‘dumb idiots’ one wonders? The article opens with the phrase ‘a Russian term describing the Great Purge in Soviet Russia’. Is this not clear enough for the unstable? Perhaps Dean Swift should have written:- A Russian (that is, Communist Russian) term describing (idiotically of course) the Great Soviet Russian Purge in the USSR (which is communist for Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Still, you can’t please everyone, I suppose.

    • Anonymous March 27, 2013 at 4:20 am - Reply

      the language is Russian. no matter what time in history. the language has always been Russian, thus making it a Russian term.

  3. Keroch March 24, 2012 at 3:07 am - Reply

    to Author
    could you please publish a list of your sources, i have come across conflicting statistics and would like to read further in to the subject

  4. jonnyc August 17, 2013 at 5:47 am - Reply

    There is ample evidence that Yezhov was executed in a building specifically designed for unobtrusive killings, ironically at his request… A sloping cement floor, with a drain at the bottom for the rapid disposal of fluids and other effluvium that poured forth from the corpses of victims, and a wall lined with logs to collect the bullets used in this grotesque Soviet abattoir

    • Dean Swift August 24, 2013 at 4:22 pm - Reply

      Jonnyc Thank you for your observant comment and beautiful English. How very rare! Best regards Dean.

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