'Great Terror' Passes with the Death of a Ruthless Dictator; Historian Dr Chris Upton Reflects on the End of Joseph Stalin WITH THE BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT
Upton, Chris, The Birmingham Post (England)
On March 5, 1953, the greatest mass murderer of a century crammed with claimants succumbed to the after-effects of a stroke he had suffered a few days earlier.
His last gesture was an accusatory finger jabbed at the array of politicians and family assembled around his bedside. Joseph Stalin died as he had lived.
Comparatively speaking, the Russian dictator's final years had been mild and inoffensive in comparison with earlier days.
True, the final months had suggested that a new purge was underway - nine Kremlin doctors, most of them Jewish, had been arrested in January and accused of murdering various party officials - but time had run out on the old dictator.
His speech at the 19th Party Congress - the first to be held for 13 years - had been only seven minutes long, and Stalin seemed content to sit back and watch those subordinates still in the land of the living commence their struggle for the reins of power.
There were not many of those. In December 1934, Serei Kirov, a loyal but popular member of the Politburo from Leningrad, had been assassinated on Stalin's orders. One murder among millions, perhaps, but the first of a Party member, and a sign that Stalin's ruthlessness could be directed at his friends as well as at his people.
More than half of the delegates at the 17th Party Congress were later shot on his orders, along with three-quarters of the Central Committee.
These statistics were supplied, not by some enemy in the West, but by his successor, Khruschev. And all this in a country which had formerly abolished the death penalty. Except, that is, for treason, which covered most eventualities.
The slowing of the death-rate was not surprising. The "patriotic war" which had drained so much strength of Mother Russia in the early 1940s had taken its toll on her leader as well.
The single-minded collectivisation and industrialism of Russians had been achieved before the Nazi-Soviet pact had been broken, as Stalin had launched his waves of Five Year Plans upon an unsuspecting nation. …