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In 1916, the First World War is well underway. Despite enormous manpower and abundant natural resources, Russia is struggling. For decades, the imperial Russian government has sent miscreants and political agitators into exile in the Siberian wilderness. But as the war worsens, they have no choice but to conscript these castaways into the Russian army. One of these exiles is 38 year old Joseph Stalin. He's brought to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. Stalin has every expectation of being conscripted to the eastern front, but then a twist of fate as a young boy, Stalin was hit by a horse and carriage.
It crippled his left arm for life. Now a medical officer rules that due to this injury, he isn't fit for military service. He stumbled upon a loophole. Turned away by the recruiters, he's ordered to simply serve out a few final months of exile in a nearby town, and then he's free to go. After years in the wintry wasteland. Josef Stalin is a free man. And from his lowly position, he will now go on to transform the world.
My name is Paul McGann and welcome to Real Dictators, the series that explores the hidden lives of tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong Il and Chairman Mao. We'll take you behind the curtain, beyond the propaganda and the myth making to hear the real stories of their totalitarian regimes. In this episode, we return to Russia to pick up the story of Joseph Stalin, the man of steel, as he rises from extreme poverty all the way to the Kremlin and the Cold War.
This is real dictators. By 1917, Russia's czarist government is crumbling. There's huge economic upheaval at home and severe military pressure abroad. Revolution is coming. Bizarre secret police banished Stalin to Siberia, but his commitment to the Bolshevik uprising never wavered as the communists prepared to seize power. Joseph Stalin returns from exile to the capital, Petrograd. Back home, he believes that revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin will appreciate his loyalty to the communist cause and give him a key role in his new government.
The Bolsheviks seized the Imperial Winter Palace in October 1917 and assumed power, the tsar is toppled. The promised communist revolution has finally come to pass. But as Lenin hands out the top jobs, Stalin's rivals seem to get all the best positions. Stalin is not considered to be intellectual enough for a leading role.
Rosemann Richardson is a journalist and author of The Long Shadow Inside Stalins Family.
He was widely read, but he wasn't an intellectual. He didn't come from an academic background. He had a church education, which was very wide, but he didn't have that particular grain of academic intellectual wisdom that Lenin and Trotsky had. He didn't have that university education. He didn't have the Viennese coffeehouse background. And I think it made him feel inferior because his skills were so practical. He was a very pragmatic man as well as intelligent. But that is different from being intellectual.
The charismatic Leon Trotsky, the dashing son of a Jewish Ukrainian farmer, gets foreign affairs and the Red Army. Though they've worked together effectively before under Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin don't see eye to eye. At a party meeting one evening, Trotzky apparently fails to even recognize Starlit. He doesn't know it now, but this single act of snobbishness will come back to bite him. Professor Donald Rayfield from Queen Mary University of London is author of Stalin and his hangmen, these were the intellectuals, the people who wrote a lot, talked a lot, were good theoreticians who understood Marxism to the core and had a very high opinion of themselves.
Trotsky, above all, Trotsky made the great mistake of snubbing Stalin. Trotsky didn't realize he was singled out to be always contradicted and then finally set aside and destroyed. Schoolteacher turned revolutionary Lev Cheminova gets to run Moscow and has made Lenin's deputy into the bargain. Stalin has been overlooked and underestimated, the conventional Marxist intellectuals looked at Stalin, who had enormous trouble reading German and writing about Marxism, didn't understand theory, they thought, and they dismissed him. Trotsky said he was just a great block to grey smudge.
They just had no idea of how much Stalin could do. And for instance, he could read English. He pretended not to. Every time he went on holiday, he took English, self-taught with him, and he swore at his wife if she forgot to pack it. He had things in Hungarian and German in his notebook. He passed as an Armenian at one point must have known Armenian. His knowledge was rather terrifying. You look at his library and there's someone who's translated a piece of ancient Greek and Stalin corrects it because of a mistake.
In the translation, a general comes into the office when he wasn't expected and Stalin is there reading Plato in the original, quite terrifying.
Lenin admires his organizational skills. The job he gives Starlin is an administrative role. He makes him the general secretary of the Communist Party. It's an appointment that appears to all intents and purposes, to be a snub.
Nobody else wanted the job of general secretary general. Secretary's job seems quite a boring one. All those agendas, all those chasing after people are finding dates, finding where people are. Nobody else realize, of course, how crucial it was to holding on to power, to be in control of these things. People wanted to be president. They want to be a people's commissar for this, for defense, for foreign affairs. They wanted the glorious jobs, those jobs, of course, that don't count.
And he collected small appointments, boring appointments, appointments. That meant you had the power to go along and sack someone or appoint a provincial head of of the administration. That was his secret to realize how the mechanics, how the actual machinery worked.
Trotsky and Kaminis struck the political stage obscured in shadow off-stage style and get stuck into his paperwork. He's in the background while his comrades take all the glory. But while doing party admin seems Meenu, in fact, it's the nuts and bolts of the entire revolutionary operation. In reality, the general secretary holds the key to power. Nobody suspected that he had much greater aims. Stalin had a very good understanding of the power of a secretary. A secretary decides who is going to come to the meeting, who's going to be told about it, what's going to be on the agenda, how the meeting is going to be conducted and so on.
The new Soviet Union is run by committee. If you control the committee's agenda, you control everything.
And in fact, that was the secret of his rise to power. And it took everyone by surprise. Stalin spoke very little. He was one of the most laconic a woman. You know, if you could say something in two words that others will say in 20, he would do so. In fact, towards the end of his life, he didn't use words at all. He would raise his fist to his teeth and make other signs of how people should act, leaving no paper trail, leaving nothing that he could be held accountable for.
It seems inconceivable at the time, but massaging schedules and egos are like this. Secretary will plot a route to total power. In time, he will become undisputed head of the Eastern Bloc and chief nemesis, the United States. Dr. Martin McCauley from the University of London is a Russia analyst with the Limehouse Group. Nobody thought he was powerful and nobody thought the position of general secretary was very important. But he turned it into one because gradually he controlled appointments.
And by controlling appointments, he could put his people into various committees and then they would vote for his policies against Trotsky's policies so he could outmaneuver them. His goal was gradually to get a majority in the central committee because at a party congress, which is supposed to take place every year, the Central Committee decided policy. And if you could get a majority in the central committee, you were the number one man. The First World War is over. But now Russia is embroiled in a civil war.
Factions loyal to the czar as well as rival revolutionary groups, are competing for the communists crown. Russia is a mess, running an upended country that's been downtrodden for years is a full time occupation. Lenin and his front line team find themselves consumed by the job. But Stalins remet is the party, not the country at large. While his comrades struggle to administer power, Stalin builds his base and by this time, revenge against the snobbish intellectuals will be sweet.
But in an attempt to maintain order, Lenin creates a new secret police called the Checa. Their creation marks the start of the red terror, its five years of political killings and repression as the communists cling to power. Some Bolsheviks object to this state sponsored violence, not so Stalin, he's all in government terror works a treat for capitalists. Why shouldn't communists do the same? Simon Sebag Montefiore is an historian and author of the books Young Stalin and the Court of the Red Tsar.
Stein and really learn the meaning of power. This was a time when these Bolsheviks wearing leather coats and military boots with Malzahn leather holsters were swaggering around. They were very young. They're all in their sort of thirties, basically, and some of them younger. Stalin was typical of them. They loved making ruthless decisions. They executed hundreds of people, Lenin, and encouraged them to execute and take reprisals ruthlessly. The Bolsheviks were absolutely struggling to stay in power, and so terror was essential to them.
It came from the very top. Lenin was really Stalin's teacher in the practice of terror style and really learned to be the ruthless Bolshevik that we know from history. It wasn't. His cruel father taught him that lots of people have cruel fathers. It was the circumstances of the Civil War. The Russian empire is renamed the Soviet Union. In this new country, style pulls many of the strings, but he's about to suffer a big check to his ambitions in early 1920, war breaks out between the Soviets and neighboring Poland.
The polls soon take Ukraine, they're threatening to make further inroads into Russian territory. Is sent to the south west frontier to coordinate the Soviet response. A month later, his men recaptured the Ukrainian city of Kiev and marched through the streets triumphant. Lenin doesn't want to stop there. He's keen to teach the Poles a lesson they'll never forget. He wants to take the war to polish home turf from where Stalin is sitting. This is a bad idea. It risks overstretching the military.
But Lennon is convinced that workers from across Europe are on the brink of revolution. All they need is a spark to ignite them. This invasion of Poland could be that spark. Starland conceded many poles of fervent nationalists commitment to their nation overrides any commitment to communism. He implores Lenin to think again, but the leader will not be moved. Stalin has no choice but to march his troops towards Poland. His orders are to join up with reinforcements to take the Polish capital, Warsaw.
But hungry for personal glory, Stalin makes a different call. He commands his soldiers to advance on the Ukrainian city of Lviv instead. Without Stalin support. The undermanned Russian forces attacking Warsaw, a repelled. It's a brutal, chastening defeat, the Polish commanders have eternal glory while the Soviets are forced to come to the negotiating table with their tails between their legs. Stalin returns to the new Soviet capital, Moscow, humiliated. He summoned to a meeting with Lenin and the other top brass.
Lennon is furious. So is Trotzky. He accuses Stalin of knowingly disobeying orders no one speaks up in Stalin's defense is decommissioned from the military. Stalin and Trotsky are now avowed adversaries within the Bolshevik Party. It's increasingly clear there's only room for one of them at the top table. Stalin's relationship with Lenin, on the other hand, is slightly more complicated. It ebbs and flows. Lenin chastises Stalin over the war in Poland. But the man of steel remains indispensable.
Then a real twist to the plot. In May 1922, a massive stroke leaves Lenin paralyzed. With the leaders days seemingly numbered, the maneuvering to succeed him begins. Starlin is straight in there. He arrives at Lenin's holiday home is Dasha, on the outskirts of Moscow. He makes himself indispensable to Lenin's wife, Koops Skya. Stalin becomes Lenin's primary link to the outside world. Good, I can see what Starlin is doing and she doesn't take too kindly to it.
Professor Donald Rayfield, he tried to dominate proceedings. He was extremely rude to Lenin's wife.
He insisted on reporting things to Lenin, things that would upset Lenin, although the doctors and the wife wanted Lenin to be left in peace in case he had yet another stroke, which might be fatal, groups GuIer and Stalin fall out.
She tries to get Stalin fired as general secretary. But he has far too many allies for that. Lenin finally succumbs to a cerebral hemorrhage. On January the 21st, 1924. The undisputed leader of the Bolshevik Revolution dies. Starlin is among the party's leaders carrying Lenin's casket to his final resting place. But one important person is not present at the funeral, Leon Trotsky. That's because the general secretary has invited him. Dr. Michael Lynch is an historian from the University of Leicester, whether it is as simple as that is open to question, but certainly makes a great story that Stalin sends the wrong date deliberately to prevent Trotsky turning up field.
And because he didn't turn up, what else could he be?
An alternative account of Trotsky's absence goes as follows. The extraordinary thing that he exploited was Trotsky's inclination to having nervous fits and not feeling very well. Well, if you work with Stalin, that's understandable. And Stalin would show the greatest concern and would arrange a holiday for him on the Black Sea, the only place in the Soviet Union where the electricity worked with his meat, where there's heating and there was no socialism whatsoever. Trotsky went off for a hunting holiday.
Stalin sent secret orders. Don't let him meet anybody. Don't let him have any telegrams. And that is how Trotsky missed Lenin's funeral and missed the redivision of power after that and found himself left out in the cold.
So that was the power of organization over glamour.
With Trotsky nowhere to be seen, it falls to Stalin to deliver the eulogy. Finally, the secretary has the limelight, but he shows that he has just as much rhetorical firepower as his more glamorous party rivals.
Stalin took responsibility for organizing the funeral, so those who turned up did so on his invitation, where they stood with on his say so. He was also careful to make sure he was the prime speaker, gave the main funeral speech again, a critical moment.
And at the speech, he makes this impassioned reference to keep repeating to the great Lenin. We owe all that we have to the great Lenin. We dedicate ourselves to the great Lenin, a way of saying, I am your heir.
By referencing you, I am pushing myself to be the great inheritor. All that you did.
A very clever piece of psychology.
And it works because he then gets a reputation as being the true heir to Lenin he had named an heir.
But by that personal performance by the organization of the funeral itself, he comes away from that experience even more powerful, went into it to have a piece of manoeuvring. Dr. Martin McCoole. Stalin was very astute in picking quotations. He could always output them by producing a Lenin quote, which is very apt. He also had a brilliant memory and he could bring forth these quotations at any moment. This was very effective. And the ordinary people, ordinary party members, they took to this because they could understand him.
One worker said. When I listened to Stalin, I understand every word when I listened to Trotsky, only understand one word, ten. So Stalin is speaking to the ordinary people, and that's the secret of his success among ordinary workers.
Stalin orders Lenin's body to be embalmed and placed on display in Moscow's Red Square. Lennon's widow, Skya objects, but it makes no difference. It's all part of Stalin's plan to burnish his own Leninist credentials. With the revolutions driving force dead, it falls to Stalin to pick up the torch, Soviet Russia was not a democracy.
You didn't have to talk about popular support. A real forces were the party, the Red Army and the secret police. The Red Army preferred Trotsky because Trotsky had created an army out of nothing and led it to an amazing victory for Jewish farmers. Boy, that's an extraordinary thing. No military training. He did it, though. Trotsky was the choice of the Red Army for future power. The party didn't know what to do because Lenin left a testament saying there are six candidates and Lenin was a bit like a headmaster.
He gave a report on these six candidates and they all had something wrong with them. And on Stalin, he said, Stalin is very rude, has gathered far too much power and will cook some very, very hot dishes. What Lenin may not have anticipated is that this was exactly what a lot of the people wanted in the party they liked. Someone was rude. They like someone who would concentrate all the power. Lenin clearly felt it was his job to give some direction for the future, but in a typical intellectual's way, he gave no clear direction.
Lenin didn't realize all and his wife didn't realize the criticism she was making of Stalin were in the eyes of many people, particularly the party workers and the secret policemen, just the qualities they were looking for in a leader. Stalin, his young allies eager for promotion, planted across Soviet Russia in just a matter of years. He's created a nationwide network of devoted power hungry loyalists. Enough of his supporters are in place to help establish him as the heir to Lenin.
His years spent pin pushing in the offices of Bolshevik HQ have paid off. Sterling's wife gives birth to a baby girl, Svetlana, in February 1926. But Starlin doesn't have much time to spend with his young family. He's too busy turning on his rivals. First on the list is Leon Trotsky. Getting rid of Trotsky was a refined, delayed process drawn out for his own pleasure. At first, Stalin moved gently. It was suggested, Trotsky, that he had no place in the capital and the pheasant hunting was particularly good in Kazakhstan near the Chinese border.
He was admittedly dragged kicking and screaming to the train, but he still went there.
Trotsky is exiled first to Kazakhstan, then to Turkey. Finally, he ends up in Mexico. But even far away in Latin America, Trotzky refuses to be silenced. He's a constant thorn in Stalin's side, belittling him to the international communist community, undermining him in a succession of books and pamphlets. Eventually, Stalin will decide he's had enough Pugin's like Sicilians have the motto that revenge is a dish best tasted cold because it's more effective when the victim no longer expects it.
So he he would wait just as Trotsky had to wait thirty four years between his first snubbing Stalin and Stalin, sending a killer to smash his skull in. Years later, on May the 24th, 1940, a team of hitmen move in on Trotsky's house in Mexico City. These would be assassins are dressed as Mexican soldiers. With that target confirmed inside the building, they upholster their weapons and unleash a volley of 200 bullet. The slugs ripped through wood and shattered glass, but inside, when the din dies down, a target is unheard.
Trotsky has escaped with his life. But he knows this reprieve will be short lived. Each morning, he awakes in bed with a start, he says to his wife, Natalia. They've given us one more day of life.
On August the 20th, a Spanish communist called Ramon Mercader arrives at Trotsky's house. Stopped by the guards, he tells them he's written a magazine article. It would be great if Trotzky could take a look at the draft. McAteer is led through the compound past the heightened security. He's got in, but it's going to be a tough ask to get out. Mecca is Trotzky study where the man himself sits at his desk. The guards depart, leaving the two together.
Trotsky's been expecting him. Mecca that places the article down on the desk. Trotzky adjusts his round spectacles, then begins to read. Inside his jacket, backorder clutches an ice pick, pulling it out erases it above his head before bringing it crashing down onto Trotzky skull. Trotsky will die of his wounds a day later in hospital, Megadeath will fail to escape from the house, you'll be arrested and spend 20 years in jail. But Stalin won't forget this act of loyalty.
Throughout his incarceration, Soviet infiltrators make sure there is as comfortable as can be. They even set him up with a Mexican girlfriend. The assassin's life is defined by this hit on his deathbed. Years later, Blackadder will mutter, I hear it always. I hear the scream. He's waiting for me on the other side. By the time of his fiftieth birthday celebrations, five years after the death of Vladimir Lenin. Josef Stalin is firmly in charge of the Soviet Union.
Though he's kept the humble title of general secretary, he is the undisputed top man. Is years of desperate poverty on the edge of the empire, a knuckle dusting passed in organized crime, two periods of exile in Siberia. These past lives along behind him. It's 1929 and the city of Moscow is the center of Stalin's regime. But despite a decade of communist rule. The Soviet Union remains desperately underdeveloped. Life for millions of Russian citizens is just as bad as it was in the old days under the Tsar.
Secure in his power, Stalin decides now is the time to act, what Russia needs is a dose of his Marxist medicine. The first thing to fix is agriculture. It seems to Starlin that Russian farming methods are light years behind where they should be. Professor Donald Rayfield, the SADAN was convinced that the Russian peasant was unproductive and could be replaced with tractors. The peasantry had to be enslaved. They couldn't be allowed to own land anymore and do what they liked with it.
And that led to the first of the really murderous acts of Stalin. Any peasant with over eight acres of land is known as a Coolac. Stalin has got it in for these landowning farmers, the proletariat in the cities, the factory workers who have no assets of value apart from their labor, they are Stalin's base. He loves proper men like Alexis Takano, he's the miner who supposedly extracted 227 tons of coal in a single shift, all for the glory of the Soviet Union.
Unlike such paragons of industrial manhood in Stalin's eyes, peasants that own land cannot be fully committed to communism. Stalin wants to introduce collectivised farming, that means everything is to be held in common. He doesn't want the kulaks profiting off the land, all grain and all profit will now belong to the state.
In December 1929, the man of steel makes an announcement. Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production. Stalin's intentions couldn't be clearer. The kulaks have got to go. The kulaks are divided into three groups, those to be shot or imprisoned, those to have their property confiscated. The exiled to Siberia and those sent to labor colonies, an alien class of people didn't count him.
They were no more than rats. They had to be wiped out. They were vermin.
They were not necessary to speed up Russian industrialization. Stalin confiscated the kulaks grain, using it to feed factory workers in the cities. In a country where 80 percent of the population of traditional farmers, this policy is utterly devastating. Hungry and utterly desperate men, childless women and unmarried girls are forced to become slave workers in mines and factories. By 1930, agriculture across a vast landmass has now been brought under state control at a terrible cost. Some estimates put the total figure at 10 million people evicted from their homes, deported to Siberia, trussed up and shot or left to freeze to death in the Russian winter.
Propaganda films portray Stalin's new collective state run farms as a triumph, but the truth is the polar opposite. Before long, agricultural production collapses and famine breaks out across the Soviet Union. It was the maddest idea you could possibly have had, it not only reduced the peasant population by siphoning off the very best, condemn many to starvation because those that you sent to Siberia had nothing to eat and the ones that were left were so frightened, they slaughtered all their animals very often and ate them as protests and said the peasantry only eat meat in 1929 when they heard it was going to be confiscated and there's nothing left for even more sheep and pigs and cows were slaughtered and peasants and then a massive famine started.
Stalin must have foreseen there would be a famine. He probably didn't foresee that it would kill probably 10 million people. So by 1933, you had cannibalism all over southern Russia. It was the most appalling man-made famine in history and it was done deliberately.
The situation is particularly bad in Ukraine. This is a region of the Soviet Union with a long history of separatism. The people here aren't always content to go along with what Moscow tells them. From Stalin's warped perspective, if the food supply was to collapse here in this troublesome territory, then maybe that's a useful outcome. The Ukrainians resist rather than turn over their property to the Soviet authorities. They burn it. Smoke billows into the air from thousands upon thousands of huts and houses set ablaze.
This resistance is all well and good as a display of defiance, but it puts the peasants on a collision course with the general secretary. Starlin sends in the troops. They manhandled the peasants off the land as squads of secret police wage a campaign of murderous terror aimed at breaking the locals resolve. Grain rots in unharvested fields. But Stalin is relentless, and by 1932, 75 percent of Ukrainian farms have been subsumed into the Soviet system, the crops that are harvested are largely sold abroad to generate cash for the regime, according to some estimates.
If this produce had remained in Ukraine, it might have fed the people for up to two years. Stalin is serenely unperturbed. It's a price worth paying for his revolution. Simon Sabag, Montefiore Starlin once said to Churchill during the war, he said the death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic. And what he meant by that was as a Marxist, you know, history demanded the deaths of millions of people, great conquerors, killed millions of people, and Marxism demanded the death of entire classes of people.
And so this wasn't a matter of personal emotion. That would just be bourgeois sentimentality. No, a Bolshevik like Stalin installed in prided himself on this, could look at things harshly with toughness. As he said to Lenin, my hand will not tremble. Starlin knows that his power relies not on the consent of his people. But on the perception that he is an unmovable, hard man. He will not budge even when personal tragedy strikes. At first in Russia, City's news of the famine is successfully suppressed.
But inevitably, it starts to leak out. One night in the Kremlin in the government headquarters, Stalin is enjoying a dinner party with Nadia, his second wife. He's keen to keep his family sheltered from the cold, hard realities of politics. Rosemann Richardson, he didn't want everybody, particularly his family, to know what was going on because millions of people were starving, millions of people were sent into exile, and the family were not necessarily revolutionaries of that ilk.
They wanted to change society. They wanted the ideals of socialism to come into play, but not at its end of the deaths of millions of people. They would have regarded this annihilation of the peasant classes as a betrayal of their ideals.
But Najia has heard the rumors about the extent of the famine, and her reaction is the human one. At the dinner table, she makes her feelings known in no uncertain terms. They weren't getting on at the time.
The marriage was in difficulties, and Nordia also had intermittent depressions of very severe kind. And they went off to this dinner and Stalin started flirting with somebody else at the table and it came to drinking a toast. And Nadia didn't drink alcohol, so she didn't raise her glass. And Stalin said to her, Hey, you drink, hey, you. And she said, My name is you. And they sort of gazed at each other across the table.
And she got up and flounced out she was very, very upset.
Confronted with this defiance, Starlin hits the roof, unleashing a torrent of vulgar abuse. Later in her room, Nadia writes a note condemning Sterling she didn't believe anything Stalin was doing and his policies were the right policies.
She couldn't go along with collectivization and the annihilation of the peasant classes. This was certainly such a challenge thrown down to Stalin that he was wrong. For Najia, the devastation wreaked by Stalinism is both personal and political. It's too much for a single person to bear. Later that night, she takes what she sees as the only way out. She takes a gun and shoots herself dead. When Naji's body is discovered upstairs. Her husband's reaction is extraordinary. To Stalin, his wife's suicide is not a tragedy.
It's a betrayal. Nobody was allowed to say that anything he said or did was wrong, and she had made this ultimate gesture with her life to say what you're doing is wrong.
It made him completely furious, not just cause of death is reported as appendicitis. A suicide will only be acknowledged publicly in 1988.
And when she was lying in her coffin, he was heard to say she went away as an enemy. And the enemy to Stalin is the one who has to be annihilated. To be an enemy for Stalin was the worst possible thing to be. And after that, he never visited her grave or her memorial. He turned his back completely on the whole idea, really, of warm family relationships. The sisters in law who had been such a close part of the family, just visited only occasionally.
Now it's scattered and shattered. The family and the bedrock that had been Stalin's family life completely disintegrated.
With Naji's influence gone, Starlin becomes more isolated, more paranoid. Others in the party begin to mutter, is this man this uncompromising time and really the right leader for the Soviet Union? This particular tyrant will not tolerate such dissent. The great purge is about to begin. On January the 26th, 1934, Stalin summons the supreme decision making body of the Soviet Union, the party congress, to Moscow. It's the largest meeting of Soviet leaders in four years, one of those summoned is Stalin's loyal supporter, Sergei Kirov.
Kirov is a man with dark hair pushed back over his head, pronounced cheekbones and hefty fists that clenched to emphasize a point as he stands at the speechmaking podium. He looks a little like a Russian Elvis Presley. He thinks he is the closest thing Starlin has to a friend. His fondness for Starlin only increases after the general secretary gives Kirov of the choice position of party boss in the city of Leningrad. But actually, Starlin believes Karaf has become too popular among the party delegates, popular enough that he could one day become a rival or betray the revolution like Malinovsky did.
Dr. Michael Lynch Karaf was a handsome Russian who it is said Stalin was suspicious, jealous of, because if there's going to be opposition to start and this is very unlikely, but if it was going to be and given the signs of becoming paranoid by this time, Kirov is the most likely figure very popular in the party, love by women. But he was a sympathetic character. He got on well with people. He got a natural following he didn't need to enforce.
And this worry Stalin that care of to take care of the threat, its very existence as a popular figure in the party, there might be a rallying round Karaf in opposition to Stalin.
Stalin didn't have no fear by 1934, but he did their friendship, fealty, personal loyalty. None of these matters to it. Not if someone might topple him. It's a pretty simple equation is Karaf is a threat, then remove him. That's the simple way it's done in revolutionary terms. On October the 15th, 1934, a gunman walks into the Smolla Institute with a seven point sixty two millimeter Nagant revolver concealed in a briefcase. The Family Institute is where Stalin and Lenin masterminded the Russian Revolution back in 1917.
Now it's where Kirov works. The gunman passes the main security desk as he approaches the office. He hears a voice behind him. The security guard wants to examine his briefcase. The guard finds the revolver immediately. The gunman is strongarmed into a small, windowless room where he awaits his fate. But a few hours later, his briefcase and revolver are returned to him. He's escorted from the building, free to go. Is going is still loaded with bullets.
Six weeks later, on the morning of December the 1st, 1934, Sergei Kirov arrives at his office. He heads to his room on the third floor and begins prepping for the day's meetings. That afternoon, the gunman returns. This time, he's waved straight through security. Someone's insured, the guards don't medal this time. Upstairs, the gunman slips out of the stairwell. He waits in a hallway. Up ahead here, often the colleagues step out into the corridor.
The gunman follows them through the building, always one corner behind. The colleague excuses himself and departs down a flight of stairs. Now is the moment to strike. Casting around to ensure there alone the gunman withdraws his weapon. It creeps up on his target. It fires into the back of the neck. At the time, Kira's death is a mystery, outwardly, at least, Stalin is outraged. He has the gunman arrested and put on trial in front of a single judge, an ally of Stalins.
Later that same day, the gunman is executed by firing squad.
What no one yet realizes is that carhops murder is part of Stalin's master plan, if he was going to stay in power, the only way was to annihilate his enemies as he saw them in Georgian terms. And that is exactly what he did with show trials and executions. And so the purges started. So the assassination of Carol was the beginning of all of that, of Stalin establishing himself as the absolute ruler in Russia.
Everyone thought Kirov and Stalin were friends. So Kirov murder is the perfect excuse for Stalin to seize the initiative and reassert control over the ruling party. Stalin has crafted an opportunity to get rid of all his old rivals in one fell swoop. Professor Jonathan Brent is author of Inside the Stalin Archives a study of sources from the heart of Soviet government.
There were still people around who were creating problems for him that were both personal problems, but also problems of getting things done. They were blocking, getting things done, and so he needed to get rid of them in the best way to do it is a purge. And the best way to do that is to demonstrate that his arch enemies, the ones who are the chief obstacles to getting anything done, were responsible for the beloved Kirov stuff. And so that's exactly what he does.
Stalin begins by arresting Lenin's old deputy live coming in and his supporters. He accuses them of being traitors and of conspiring to murder Kirov. But Kasyanov is a party member with impeccable credentials, one of Lenin's original team. Stalins got a job on his hands to convince the public that these guys are guilty, he's taking a tremendous risk because he has to show to the Soviet people and to the world that the accusations are true because it seems incredible that the comrades around Lenin, that they could have been traitors, that they could have been anti socialist, anti Marxist anti lenders all along.
That seems incredible. How is that possible? Therefore, he's got to get a narrative going in which you beat confessions out of these prisoners because Russian law is based on confessions, not on objective proof. Kaminis and other top party leaders are taken from jail to the Kremlin, the seat of Soviet government here. They are led into a meeting room where Stalin stands waiting. He proceeds to make them an offer they can't refuse, as far as we can tell from the reports have been left, he said to them, look, you're guilty.
There's no way you can get out of this, is there? They mumble or they try and protest. He won't to speak. And he said, look, if you accept your fate, if you go on trial and say what the party requires of you, then I can guarantee that your family will not suffer.
Now, is it worth merely speaking out at the end? Is it worth your family's suffering? And, of course, being committed to their families? They back off with confessions in the bag. Stalin put Kasyanov and 15 other senior party members on trial. Members of the foreign press are invited to view the proceedings. Stalin enjoyed the theater, he liked composing a theater with real people. The accused were all actors, very well rehearsed and very well motivated to perform properly and make sure the show trial was a success and they were all found guilty.
Stalin's plan works perfectly. The public are convinced of the conspirators guilt.
Professor Jonathan Brint remembers trawling through the Soviet archives, piecing together the story of these trials, Stalin's propaganda was extremely effective and we have accounts of how he would work late into the night, developing slogans for this day, for the next day, for the day after. And I'll tell you, after reading these accounts of the way he would work on the slogans that they were going to export to all of the parties worldwide, I came to realize that if Stalin had been born in the United States, he would have been a first class advertising executive because he really understood how to get people to buy what he's selling.
He was a master at that Stalin's old rival coming off shot along with the others. Stalin stages to more show trials for the most senior party members. Others lower down or simply arrested and executed.
He wipes out over a thousand of the leading party members of the committee. The Politburo made up of 45 members within two years. Only 11 of them are remaining. He wants them out.
It will become known as the Great Purge. This brutal clear out includes more than half of the Army's top officers. It's taken time. But now, 10 years after Lenin's death, Stalin has finally definitively clinched total control at the top of the party. If any tree left standing in the forest after Lennon's death or the other trees being cut down and he was the only one, no one could contradict his narrative about the revolution. That was the end of it.
No one could contradict him. He was supreme. If anybody tried it, they would suffer death. In the next episode of Real Dictators, Joseph Stalin has murdered his way to the top of the party. Now, with total control, a secret police turn their fire on innocent Russian civilians. Another rising tyrant, Adolf Hitler, presents Stalin with a tantalizing offer, the naive Georgian has no idea that he's walking into a trap. And after leading his country through World War Two, Stalin will take east and west to the brink of nuclear annihilation.
That's next time on Real Dictators. Real Dictators is presented by Maibaum again. The show was created by Pascal Youth, produced by Joel Dutta, edited by James Tindale and Katrina Hughes. The music was composed or assembled by Oliver Bane's and Fly Brigade. The strings were recorded by Durry McCallie. The sound recordist is Rubber-Stamp Sound Mixer is Tom Pink with Dictators, is a Noisette and World Media writes co-production. If you haven't already, we'd love you to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite shows or check us out, real dictators don't come.