“Repressions Are Necessary; the Newspaper Hype Is Not”: Explaining Terror in Soviet Terms
Ever since Robert Conquest’s pioneering study of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union first appeared in 1968, the high point of state-sponsored violence in the 1930s has been commonly referred to as the “Great Terror”. The subsequent adoption of the eponymous title by scholars to describe the broader phenomenon of “state terror” in the Stalinist period is similarly now widespread within the field. This terminology is, however, highly problematic. In the language and ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) terror was consistently portrayed as a threat to, rather than strategy of, the state. It formed part of a tightly controlled terminology of terror, rooted in the Party’s experiences of revolution and civil war, and employed by the regime to marginalize and condemn opponents in official propaganda and private discourse. This study will address this key distinction and illuminate an important element of continuity in the tactics, ideology and self-perception of the CPSU, and its satellite parties within the Communist International, when approaching challenges to their authority (both real and imagined), whether they were of a social, political or even international flavour. Deploying a case study approach, this paper will demonstrate the extent to which “terror” and other related language offered a stable characterisation of the “enemy” throughout the interwar period.
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