One of the most maligned periods of history in the Soviet Union is the so-called Great Terror from 1935 to 1941. This period is also marked by the so-called Purge Trials of the mid-1930s. According to Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko(1), Stalin's "terror" in that period resulted in 19 million dead.
Of course, by this time, World War II was already on in Asia and Africa with Japan and Italy on the move. Stalin was preparing for World War II and historians argue whether Stalinism represented a general high level of repressiveness all the time or just "Great Terror" at some times. MIM does not discuss this here.
As it turns out, there is no need to discuss history with Antonov-Ovseyenko and many other critics of Stalin. No it is not necessary to discuss the deaths in Siberia fighting Japan or in Finland thanks to the war that was going on in those years. Academic sources show that Stalin's "Great Terror" couldn't have killed 19 million.
Fewer than 25 million died from all causes from 1935 to 1941. That's using concrete numbers for 1935 to 1941 and the highest number from that period to estimate 1941, which according to historians was well past the peak of the "Great Terror" anyway. (2)
So to arrive at 19 million deaths to blame on Stalin, there had to be fewer than 6 million deaths from normal causes between 1935 and 1941. Again to round off in our critics' favor, let's assume that to be 900,000 deaths a year for seven years as the deaths from normal causes. So for example, in 1936, that would mean a crude death rate from normal causes of less than 5 per 1000 a year, based on a population of 180.2 million people in the Soviet Union.
That's impossible and the death rate has never been that low in the Soviet Union, Stalin or no Stalin, not even in 1982, when the crude death rate was 10.1. (3) In fact, the crude death rate has never been below 5 per 1000 a year in U.S. history either. A more realistic death rate from natural causes would be around 20. It was 20.3 in 1926, which according to almost all historians, was before Stalin started his repression, since he had only just assumed leadership in 1924.
So who is this responsible for this blatantly impossible assertion about Stalin? It was the son of a Trotskyist. Antonov-Ovseyenko was a Trotskyist who tried to use his military position to aid Trotsky take over the party in the USSR.
The bourgeois scholars in the West all clamored to support Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko's book. The endorsements on his book jacket read like a who's who of anti-Soviet propaganda. The book received an introduction and praise by Stephen F. Cohen, Princeton professor and darling of the social-democrats and revisionists for his sympathetic biography of N. Bukharin and political opposition to the Cold War. The other endorsers include democratic socialist Irving Howe, cold warrior and bourgeois scholar Robert Conquest, Robert G. Kaiser, Leonard Schapiro, Harrison Salisbury and of course the New Republic, which called it "the most important book to have come out of the Soviet experience since Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago." From this we can see how much credibility the mainstream discussion of Stalin deserves--none.
To cut through the distortions and lies about Stalin, read MIM Theory #6--"The Stalin Issue."
1. Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko,The Time of Stalin: Portrait of a Tyranny, (NY: Harper & Row, 1981), p. 213.
2. Ger P. Van Den Berg, The Soviet System of Justice: Figures and Policy, (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1985), p. 180.
3. Ibid., p. 181.