The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953

The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953

The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953

The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953


This is the first major study based on Soviet documents and revelations of the Soviet state security during the period 1939-1953--a period about which relatively little is known. The book documents the role of Stalin and the major players in massive crimes carried out during this period against the Soviet people. It also provides the first detailed biography of V. S. Abakumov, Minister of State Security, 1946-1951.


Historians will be debating the nature of Stalin's regime for decades to come. Has any state ever wreaked such violence on itself? Human history has seen plenty of conquering empires, and--as people in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe can attest--Stalin's Soviet Union was one of them. But what made his long rule so remarkable and so baffling was that its greatest violence was directed against its own people. There are few instances of such a massive self-inflicted genocide.

The main engine of that genocide was the Soviet secret police. It was born within weeks of the October Revolution, has been through a variety of reorganizations and name-changes over the years, and still exists, in less lethal form, today. It will be a long time before we really know this organization's secrets. However, penetrating its veil became markedly easier with the arrival of Gorbachev's glasnost in the late 1980s and in the 1990s with the partial opening of archives and the profusion of memoirs published in Russia and abroad.

Michael Parrish has made good use of this trove of material in writing this book. Working with the far more scanty array of sources then available--mainly such things as announcements of police promotions and retirements appearing in the highly censored Soviet press--Robert Conquest did a similar job of looking at the internal bureaucracy of the terror machine in his Inside Stalin's Secret Police. That book concentrated on the nkvd, as the force was then known, at the time of the Great Purge of the late 1930s. in this volume, Parrish carries the genealogy further, tracing the rise and fall of groups and individuals in the police bureaucracy from just before World War II until just after Stalin's death.

Because of the vast amount of blood that was shed during the 1930s, we often think of the next decade as a slightly less repressive time in the Soviet Union--or at least as a time when the country fought, and then recovered from, a terrible war. But this book is a reminder of how the police state continued unabated during those years. Under Stalin's direction, the nkvd shot generals who had lost battles, sped up prisoner executions in areas the Germans were about to capture, and deported . . .

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