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Stalin and the Politics of Kinship: Practices of Collective Punishment, 1920s–1940s

  • Golfo Alexopoulos (a1)

At a Kremlin reception on 7 November 1937, Stalin declared that enemies should be eliminated as kinship groups: “And we will eliminate every such enemy [of the state and peoples of the USSR]… . we will eliminate his entire lineage (rod), his family! … Here's to the final extermination of all enemies, both themselves and their clan (rod).”1 In the Soviet Union, political enemies were rounded up in groups of kin, family ties marked people as disloyal, and “counterrevolutionary” charges against one person threatened also his or her relatives. The Soviet security police or OGPU-NKVD issued detailed instructions regarding the punishment that should be assigned to the spouses, children, siblings, parents, and even ex-wives of state enemies. Campaigns against anti-Soviet elements rounded up kinship groups, whether these counterrevolutionaries were identified as so-called kulaks, enemies of the people, or traitors to the motherland. To be sure, the collective punishment of kin did not accompany every act of Stalinist repression. The regime's draconian criminal legislation also constituted a form of terror, yet persons sentenced under such laws as those punishing theft of socialist property were dealt with individually; their relatives were not targeted. Only the “politicals,” that is, people accused of disloyalty, treason, or other counterrevolutionary activities experienced terror as family units. It was the collective punishment of kin that made political repression under Stalin truly a mass phenomenon.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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