Stalin's Police: Public Order and Mass Repression in the USSR, 1926-1941

In This Review

Stalin's Police: Public Order and Mass Repression in the USSR, 1926-1941
By Paul Hagenloh
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009
480 pp. $45.00

The near torrent of works attempting to reconstruct and rectify the historical record of the Stalin era continues, and this one is a worthy example. In July 1937, Stalin ordered the mass purging of "kulaks, criminals, and other anti-Soviet elements." These were not the party officials, diplomats, and military officers already consumed earlier in the purges but ordinary criminals, peasants guilty only of being better off, and members of "suspect" ethnic groups. They died by quota, and before the operations were called off, more than 1.15 million had been arrested and 683,000 shot. This phase of the purges has long been treated as either the spillover from Stalin's political rampage or the snowball effect of ever-widening denunciations. Not so, maintains Hagenloh. It was a separate process whose origins trace back to early Bolshevik concepts of civil policing against "crime and social disorder." Society, the new idealists believed, could be protected by identifying, tracking, and removing potentially harmful individuals. Once the political police gained ascendance over the civilian militsiya in the 1930s, the idealism evaporated and crude repression set in. The targets became cohorts, not individuals, and the methods brutal and arbitrary. Hagenloh, in a massive marshaling of archival material, shows how the process escalated over the decade, until the final hell of 1937-38, with lingering effects long after.

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