In what month of what year did the Great Purge begin in the Soviet Union?

Wikipedia's individual page says it it started in 1934, but if I Google search for "Great Purge" and "1934," nothing much comes up. Wikipedia's "Timeline of events preceding World War II" page says it started in 1936. According to Boston University, it started in 1935 when Sergey Kirov was murdered, but Wikipedia says that Kirov was murdered on December 1st, 1934, and that "Some historians place the blame for his assassination at the hands of Stalin and believe the NKVD organised his execution, but any evidence for this claim remains lacking."

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    Fascinating question. Was the Great Purge a strategic plan, or was it a post-formation of a consistent set of tactical decisions? If the latter, it may not have a "start date".
    – MCW
    Oct 29, 2014 at 12:55
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    @MarkC.Wallace A start date could be defined as Kirov's death probably since it was the "casus belli" against political rivals. Oct 29, 2014 at 14:13
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    Robert Conquest's book on the Kirov assassination produces considerable evidence that Stalin plotted the assassination of Kirov and the intricate coverup that resulted. Conquest said that Stalin arranged for the murders (sometimes disguised as "accidents") of everyone directly involved in the assassination, not just the assassin but witnesses and investigators too. Then those investigating the additional deaths were murdered or had "accidents". It strains credulity to ask anyone to believe that all of those additional people died coincidentally.
    – Henry
    Sep 23, 2018 at 0:47

2 Answers 2


The problem is the definition. Great Purge as itself wasn't a single event under Stalin's rule but waves of executions and convictions.

In fact after Lenin's death in 1922 Stalin came to power. With increasing intensity he started to deal with rivals, first politically, then he had enough power to order uncontrolled massacre. The most famous period is the interwar time period of 1937-1938 while he ordered millions of executions and forced labours. The problem is to define of the beginning since before 1937 and after 1938 there were numerous convictions and executions.

According to Russia Today (link)

Stalin's "Apparatus of Terror" relied mostly on the NKVD. Stalin's first purges date back to 1930–33 and were aimed at extermination of those who opposed industrialization and the kulaks (well-off farmers and entrepreneurs, who opposed collectivization).


His most ferocious acts of terror - The Great Purges - took place between 1934 and 1939


Actually Kirov was a rival of Stalin, with his death by murder (1st December 1934) the real terror in political level started. It was a good opportunity to Stalin to use it as excuse for bigger purge since Kirov was very (if not the most) popular party leader, so many people were outrageous about the event. Also Kirov was a party leader who had huge influence, with his disappearance Stalin's control over USSR greatly increased.

On the other end, 1939 wasn't the end of purges, for example Trotsky was murdered in August of 1940 in Mexico, but the intensity of purge decreased a lot under the war.

  • @CsBalazsHungary, I agree that most longer-term events in history are in waves and a start date could be difficult to pinpoint, but I was writing a chronology to be published in a book, so choosing a start date was necessary. I'm looking for a standard answer that could hold up to being published in a textbook, where we aren't generally able to avoid providing start dates. If you could provide your reasoning for Kirov's death as a start date (that you mentioned in a comment) into your answer, I'd be happy to select your answer.
    – seijitsu
    May 4, 2015 at 4:26

Great cleansing began when Stalin tried to change the electoral system. In 1937. The new constitution gave the right to elect a deputy of the Supreme Soviet to any Soviet citizen. It was a death for the Soviet party bureaucrats. They found a solution to the problem - "Enemies circle, they must be destroyed." After the new laws "On emergency troika" and the beginning of "witch hunts", Stalin began to extinguish the fire. Another's fire. The fire that was appropriated to him. By the way, Stalin was not the main thing in the country. His power is 1/10. He could not order. His decision could be blocked. This is very important for understanding. They allowed to build the country and arm the army. But they did not give the power to change the constitution. This poor constitution is still working. You can not be a deputy. Only if you are a member of the party of traitors. Or a millionaire and you can buy your party.

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    You'll need some sources here too. Sep 25, 2017 at 10:42
  • The book "Иной Сталин" ("Other Stalin").
    – Konstantin
    Sep 25, 2017 at 11:10
  • The problem of sources. A lot of information, it contradicts each other. As a result, this is a problem of faith. I just show a different point of view. By the way, I'm just a little "stalin" in my organization. I solve any problems, but I'm not the director. I solve accounting problems, but I'm not an bookkeeper. I give advice on motivation, but I'm not a HR manager. I'm studying logistics and warehouse, but I'm not a manager. Who is Stalin? This is a universal crisis manager. He's not in charge. Simply, he is the only one who can offer a solution to the problem. Informal leader.
    – Konstantin
    Sep 25, 2017 at 11:13
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    As I said about one of your other answers, I read the review of "Иной Сталин" and I'm always very cautious about books that claim to offer "a completely non-standard version of events". Here in the West, that tends to suggest that they're written by conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, and Hitler apologists. Once again, I hope this one is an exception to that rule. Sep 25, 2017 at 13:52
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    FYI, I gave a +1. Might be a good idea to expand this a bit, to give your arguement more flesh, and cite particualr statements. Sep 25, 2017 at 14:44

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