Purges (чистки; chystky). Periodic membership reviews in the Communist Party and other institutions of the USSR for the purpose of ‘cleansing’ them of unworthy or undesirable members, such as careerists, dissolute individuals, criminals, and political opponents. From 1933 to Joseph Stalin’s death, those purged were usually arrested.

The first large-scale purge of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) (RCP[B]) was authorized by the Eighth Congress in March 1919. Almost half the Party membership was expelled in the re-registration process. Another re-registration, conducted in 1920, removed mostly adherents of T. Sapronov’s Democratic Centralist opposition. A ‘verification’ of the Party membership, proclaimed by the Central Committee in July 1921, led to the expulsion of 186,386 of the 730,000 RCP(B) members in the next three months. In the CP(B)U 22.5 percent of the members were expelled according to official sources, and about 50 percent, including most of the former Borotbists, according to Mykola Skrypnyk. The Party census of 1922 supports the latter estimate. Lesser purges of RCP(B) and CP(B)U nonproduction cells and village cells were carried out in 1924 and 1925 respectively, but no figures are available. Followers of Leon Trotsky (see Left Opposition) were expelled in 1923–4, and of Grigorii Zinovev in 1926–7, without any formal purges. Following the Fifteenth Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) (VKP[B]; 1927), about 1,500 oppositionists who refused to recant their views were expelled.

Beginning with the Shakhty Trial of so-called bourgeois specialists in the spring of 1928, various types of ‘class enemy’ were purged from industrial, educational, art, and academic institutions. In Ukraine the show trial of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine (1930) led to the arrest of thousands of so-called ‘bourgeois nationalist’ scholars, clergy, teachers, and intelligentsia. In general, show trials attempted to define the nature of the ‘enemy’ to be sought out on a wide scale.

The Sixteenth VKP(B) Conference, in April 1929, ordered another major purge, which was connected with the forced collectivization of agriculture. Its main target, the so-called Right Opposition included N. Bukharin’s supporters and those who, like him, lacked the required enthusiasm for dispossessing kulaks and forcing peasants into collective farms. Of 129,200 reviewed CP(B)U members and candidates in industrial centers, 9 percent were expelled and 13 percent were fined; of 35,800 reviewed rural CP(B)U members and candidates, 16 percent were expelled and 16 percent were fined. In the winter of 1929–30 the state apparatus was purged also: 164,000 of 1.5 million employees reviewed throughout the USSR were dismissed.

The next major purge was carried out in 1933–4. The guidelines of April 1933 targeted six categories for exclusion: (1) class enemies; (2) double-dealers; (3) violators of Party discipline; (4) traitors who had joined the class enemy; (5) careerists, self-seekers, and bureaucrats; and (6) moral degenerates. Two trials helped define the ‘enemy’: the Kotov case, which dealt with a former Party secretary from the Kuban who had advanced local farmers more than the prescribed amount of food, and the case of 75 agricultural officials who, supposedly, had organized ‘wrecking’ on collective farms in Ukraine, Belarus, and Northern Caucasia. In subsequent months various ‘Ukrainian nationalist conspiracies’ were also ‘exposed.’ Of approximately 3.5 million VKP(B) members and candidates, over 800,000 were purged in 1933, and 340,000 in 1935, for a total of 32.6 percent; out of 267,900 CP(B)U members and candidates, only 51,700 (19.3 percent) were purged. In Ukraine the 1933–4 purge was supervised by Pavel Postyshev and was directed on the one hand against adherents of national communism and Mykola Skrypnyk, and on the other against district and collective-farm officials who were too lenient in seizing food from the peasantry at the height of the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3. Skrypnyk committed suicide, and most of his supporters were arrested as alleged members of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO). In Ukraine’s 496 raions, 237 raion committee secretaries, 249 raion executive committee chairmen, and 158 raion control commission chairmen had been replaced by November 1933. At the same time 3,000 collective-farm chairmen and Party secretaries were dismissed. The final figures are not available but must have been much higher. Those who lost their posts were usually arrested.

After S. Kirov’s assassination on 1 December 1934, the purges changed from a periodic expulsion ritual to a continuous bloody hunt for ‘enemies of the people,’ which lasted about four years and is known as the Great Purge or the Yezhov terror. Because Kirov’s assassin had used forged Party documents, the Central Committee ordered, on 13 May 1935, all Party documents to be verified. Figures on exclusions from the Party after 1933 are not available. The purge was marked by three show trials in Moscow, which ‘exposed’ an all-embracing terrorist conspiracy headed by Leon Trotsky and involving virtually all the top Party leaders of Vladimir Lenin’s day. In the atmosphere of universal suspicion, Joseph Stalin destroyed the existing Party leadership and replaced it with one dependent completely on him.

As second secretary of the CP(B)U and candidate of the VKP(B) Politburo, Pavel Postyshev protected the Ukrainian leadership from the purge for several months. When a certain Nikolenko denounced some of the CP(B)U leaders, she was expelled, and then reinstated by Joseph Stalin. In March 1937 Postyshev was transferred from Ukraine, and after about a year he disappeared. With his transfer a purge of the oblast and raion Party organizations began. It claimed two-thirds of the oblast and one-third of the raion secretaries.

On 30 August 1937, following a series of attacks on the CP(B)U leadership in the Moscow press, a special mission consisting of Nikolai Yezhov, Viacheslav Molotov, and Nikita Khrushchev came to Kyiv. Special mobile NKVD squads were sent from Moscow, and military units stationed in Ukraine were replaced by troops from Siberia. Molotov demanded that the Central Committee of the CP(B)U remove all three of its secretaries, Stanislav Kosior, Mendel Khataevich, and Nikolai N. Popov; the head of state, Hryhorii Petrovsky; and the head of government, Panas Liubchenko; and appoint Khrushchev first secretary. The CC refused, and Liubchenko committed suicide. The plenum of the CC CP(B)U was reconvened in Moscow, where some of its members were arrested immediately. Within a year the entire CP(B)U Politburo, Organizational Bureau, Secretariat, and Central Control Commission were arrested. Only 3 of the 102 CC members survived. All oblast Party secretaries in Ukraine were removed, and many raion secretaries, raion executive committee chairmen, industrial managers, directors of scholarly institutions, and prominent writers were arrested. As commissars appeared and disappeared, Party and state authority collapsed, and for several months the Ukrainian SSR was an NKVD fief.

In January 1938 Nikita Khrushchev and Demian Korotchenko were appointed first secretary of the CP(B)U and chairman of the Ukrainian Council of People's Commissars respectively. Between February and June the 12 new oblast secretaries and the new government were replaced again. The Party was reconstructed from the ground up. CP(B)U membership declined by 37 percent, from 453,500 in January 1934 to 285,800 in May 1938. The figure includes not only arrested but also transferred personnel.

In 1938 the Communist Party of Western Ukraine was accused of serving the Polish ‘fascist’ government and was abolished. Those of its leaders who were in the Soviet Union were executed as Polish spies. When Joseph Stalin annexed Western Ukraine a year later (following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the beginning of the Second World War), there were hardly any local Communists to put in power. By early 1940 mass repressions had begun, and with the outbreak of the German-Soviet War in June 1941, large numbers of political prisoners were executed by the Soviets in Western Ukraine and in labor camps.

Immediately after the Second World War the CP(B)U was purged again. In some oblast organizations over 80 percent of Party members were expelled. Over half the CP(B)U’s ‘leading workers’ were dismissed between May 1945 and August 1946, including 38 percent of Party secretaries, 64 percent of regional executive committee chairmen, and about two-thirds of directors of machine-tractor stations. In the postwar Andrei Zhdanov period a number of Ukrainian cultural figures were purged. The so-called Doctors’ Plot of 1952 and some circumstantial evidence indicate that at the time of his death Joseph Stalin was planning another great purge.

After Stalin’s death there were no Party purges comparable to the earlier ones, but there were waves of arrests and repressions of Ukrainian cultural and political activists. The first wave of trials, in 1965–6, coincided more or less with similar trials in Moscow. The trials aroused protests in Moscow and Kyiv and failed to stop the growth of the dissident movement. The second wave of repressions, in 1972, was far more extensive and cruel. Widespread arrests of national and human rights activists began in January. After Petro Shelest’s dismissal from the Communist Party of Ukraine leadership, in May, thousands of arrests and searches were carried out, educational and academic institutions were thoroughly purged, some writers and journalists were forbidden to publish, and several journals were discontinued. By October the purge had reached the Party, and several Shelest supporters were removed. An exchange of Party cards in 1973–4 resulted in the exclusion of 37,000 CPU members (1.5 percent of the January 1973 membership).

Popov, M. Narys istoriï Komunistychnoï partiï (bil'shovykiv) Ukraïny (Kharkiv 1928)
Dmytryshyn, B. Moscow and the Ukraine, 1918–1953: A Study of Russian Bolshevik Nationality Policy (New York 1956)
Kostiuk, H. Stalinist Rule in the Ukraine: A Study in the Decade of Mass Terror, 1929–1939 (London 1960)
Shapiro, L. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (New York 1960; 2nd rev edn 1970)
Conquest, R. The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (New York 1968)

James Mace

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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