Terrorism in modern times has conventionally been thought of as a form of guerrillalike warfare waged by “rebels, ” outside the law, in the attempt to overthrow or modify the policies or conduct of established regimes. But there is a form of terror by rulers of established states, acting within or under color of the law, on so massive and pervasive a scale, and often so bereft of any rational justification, as to dwarf comparison with that of “conventional” terrorists, however well- or ill-conceived their causes or blemished their actions by indiscriminate murders or assassinations. Such in recent history was Hitler's Holocaust, and so, too, were Stalin's purges.
During the first years after the Bolshevik revolution, no Communist party leaders were executed; and it seemed that they had learned the lesson of the French Revolution which led the revolutionists to send the citizenry to death in droves.
But consider the composition of the Politburo in 1924 when Lenin died. Of seven, Zinoviev and Kamenev were executed and Tomsky committed suicide in 1936; Rykov and Bukharin were shot in 1938; Trotsky was killed in Mexico in 1940. Only Stalin survived.
About fifty Bolshevik leaders were tried in the purge trials of 1936 to 1938 but scores of men, some of equal or greater prominence, disappeared without any public trial. No sphere of leading Soviet cadres went unpunished. Among the purged were a majority of the Central Committee and of the Bolshevik “Old Guard, ” senior officers of the armed forces, heads of the Soviet Police, leading officials of the Union Republics and Komsomol, heads of industrial trusts and enterprises, foreign communist leaders, and prominent scientists, writers, scholars, and artists. As Khrushchev conceded at the 20th Communist Party Congress in February 1956, “Many thousands of honest and innocent Communists have died as a result of the monstrous falsification of…cases.”
With so little regard for its leading cadres, it is small wonder that the wider scope of Soviet terror, beginning in 1928 with the mass deportation of kulaks to forced labor camps in northern Siberia, culminated in the Great Purges of 1936 to 1938 with millions of innocent people suddenly trans-