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Review of Vadim Rogovin's "1937: Stalin's Year of Terror"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"1937: Stalin's Year of Terror."

"1937: Stalin's Year of Terror."


Throughout historian Vadim Rogovin’s book, 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror, the author provides an analysis of Joseph Stalin’s “Great Purges” from the vantage point of 1937 (the high point and culmination of mass-arrests and executions in the Soviet era). Similar to other historical works on this time period, Rogovin attempts to address the origins of the Great Purges in order to better understand the motive behind Stalin’s desire to eliminate such a large number of individuals in a short amount of time.

According to Rogovin’s interpretation, Stalin’s primary reasons for instituting a purge of Soviet society was to eliminate former Bolshevik party members; particularly those who believed in the ideals espoused by Leon Trotsky (Trotskyites). Rogovin asserts that these socialists represented a challenge to the Stalinist regime since their ideals and view of the future differed significantly from that of Stalin himself. Thus, as Rogovin proclaims, Stalin’s purges served to essentially “hijack” the spirit of the Russian Revolution away from these former Bolsheviks in the 1930s, and to turn the Soviet populace against individuals deemed as a threat to Stalin’s power. In doing so, Rogovin makes the argument that Stalin effectively eliminated political opposition and dissent within the USSR which, in turn, allowed for the Soviet regime to develop in a manner that fit his own particular image and tastes for the future.

Concluding Thoughts

Rogovin’s rendition of the “Great Purges” is unique to modern historiographical works in that it explores Stalin’s "reasoning" behind the purges in a manner that is not discussed by most historians. Moreover, his interpretation demonstrates that the purges were not a “spur-of-the-moment” ordeal. Rather, the purges were rooted in nearly two decades worth of political resentments and hatreds that initially emerged in the years prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Rogovin’s book uses a great deal of primary resources including letters and government documents to support each of his claims. However, a large portion of his book also incorporates the testimonies and confessions of the countless individuals who were blackmailed, intimidated, interrogated, and tortured by the Stalinist regime in the buildup to 1937 and beyond. This, in turn, gives Rogovin’s book a well-balanced account of the purges since the author attempts to incorporate a wide array of documents from both political elites and ordinary individuals.

All in all, I give this work 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in an early account of the Soviet Union. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity. You won’t be disappointed!


Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion

  1. What was Rogovin's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the author makes in this work? Is his argument persuasive? Why or why not?
  2. What type of primary source material does the author rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?
  3. Does Rogovin organize his work in a logical and convincing manner? Why or why not?
  4. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the author have improved the contents of this work?
  5. Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?
  6. What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?
  7. What sort of scholarship is the author building on (or challenging) with this work? Does this book add substantially to existing research and trends within the historical community? Why or why not?
  8. Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author?

Suggestions for Further Reading on the "Great Purges"

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Figes, Orlando. The Whisperer’s: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007).

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Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism, Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Getty, John Archibald. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

Goldman, Wendy. Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Kocho-Williams, Alastair. “The Soviet Diplomatic Corps and Stalin’s Purges.” The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 86, No. 1 (2008): 99-110.

Rimmel, Lesley. “A Microcosm of Terror, or Class Warfare in Leningrad: The March 1935 Exile of “Alien Elements.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (1995): 528-551.

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror (Oak Park: Mehring Books, 1998).

Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).

Whitewood, Peter. “The Purge of the Red Army and the Soviet Mass Operations, 1937-1938.” The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 93, No. 2 (2015): 286-314.

Whitewood, Peter. The Red Army and the Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Soviet Military. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015).

Works Cited:

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror (Oak Park: Mehring Books, 1998).

© 2017 Larry Slawson

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