Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

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

Golfo Alexopoulosa1

a1 Department of History, University of South Florida

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.


Acknowledgments: For their comments on earlier versions of this work, I thank Giovanna Benadusi, Katherine Jolluck, Alena Ledeneva, Valerie Sperling, Ronald Suny, Lynne Viola, the participants of the Gulag conference at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, as well as Jonathan Daly and the Humanities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am also very grateful to the anonymous reviewers at CSSH for their extremely valuable insights and suggestions. This research was supported by a Campbell National Fellowship at the Hoover Institution.