Though "special tasks" only began to dominate NKVD foreign operations in 1937, the problem of "enemies of the people" abroad had loomed steadily larger in Stalin's mind since the early 1930s as he became increasingly obsessed with the opposition to him inside the Soviet Union. The most daring denunciation of the growing brutality of Stalin's Russia was a letter of protest sent to the Central Committee in the autumn of 1932 by a former Party secretary in Moscow, Mikhail Ryutin, and a small band of supporters. The "Ryutin platform," whose text was made public only in 1989, contained such an uncompromising attack on Stalin and the horrors which had accompanied collectivization and the First Five Year Plan over the previous few years that some Trotskyists who saw the document believed it was an OGPU provocation.1 It denounced Stalin as "the evil genius of the Russian Revolution, motivated by vindictiveness and lust for power, who has brought the Revolution to the edge of the abyss," and demanded his removal from power: "It is shameful for proletarian revolutionaries to tolerate any longer Stalin's yoke, his arbitrariness, his scorn for the Party and the laboring masses."2
At a meeting of the Politburo Stalin called for Ryutin's execution. Only Sergei Mironovich Kirov dared to contradict him. "We mustn't do that!" he insisted. "Ryutin is not a hopeless case, he's merely gone astray." For the time being Stalin backed down and Ryutin was sentenced to ten years in jail.3 Five years later, during the Great Terror, when Stalin had gained the virtually unchallenged power of life and death over Soviet citizens, Ryutin was shot.
During the early 1930s Stalin lost whatever capacity he had once possessed to distinguish personal opponents from "enemies of the people." By far the most dangerous of these enemies, he believed, were the exiled Leon Trotsky (codenamed STARIK, "Old Man," by the Centre)4 and his followers. "No normal 'constitutional' paths for the removal of the governing [Stalinist] clique now remain," wrote Trotsky in 1933. "The only way to compel the bureaucracy to hand over power to the proletarian vanguard is by force." Henceforth Stalin used that assertion to argue that the Soviet state was faced with a threat of forcible overthrow, which must itself be forcibly prevented.5
Opposition to Stalin resurfaced at the 1934 Party Congress, though in so muted a form that it passed unnoticed by the mass of the population. In the elections to the