Mass Repression Order No. 00447 Essay

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This essay will explore an excerpt taken from the mass repression Order No. 00447 (thus known as “Order 447”), which was signed and approved by Nikolai Yezhov (nicknamed “Ezhov” on July 30th, 1937. Order 447 clearly outlines the plans for the mass repressions known later as the Great Terror. Yezhov features prominently in the Great Terror, being appointed by Stalin as head of the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD). Order 447 creates a comprehensive plan of action for punishing anyone deemed an enemy of the state, also showing subordinates and comrades how to classify these elements. The order includes a table based on estimated numbers of insubordinates in various Soviet Republics. Yezhov presents the order as a memorandum, giving unequivocal instructions as the leader of the NKVD. In addition to analyzing the essay in its historical, social, and political context, this essay will also show the significance of Order 447 in understanding the intricacies of Soviet history, policy, and practice. Order 447 also reveals much about the role of Yezhov in particular, showcasing his power and influence in Stalin’s regime.

In July of 1937, Nikolai Ezhov issued Operational Order No. 00447. The excerpt from Order 447 starts with the presentation of alleged evidence of “anti-Soviet groupings,” (Ezhov 1). The phrase “anti-Soviet” appears eight times in this brief excerpt from Order 447, and even twice in a single sentence: “It has been established that all these anti-Soviet elements have been the main instigators of all sorts of anti-Soviet crimes and acts of sabotage,” (Ezhov 1). The liberal use of the phrase “anti-Soviet” reveals one of the author’s rhetorical strategies: to justify and motivate the mass repressions, terrors, and killing of anyone who has been branded as a threat to the state. Ezhov insists also that the anti-Soviet elements are “armed,” and thus dangerous, accusing these disparate groups of “crimes and acts of sabotage,” (1). After establishing the presumed necessity of taking immediate action against these threats, Ezhov goes on to outline the NKVD course of action. That course of action entails swift, decisive elimination of the threats, or as Ezhov puts it, “mercilessly to destroy all this band of anti-Soviet elements, to protect the toiling Soviet people from their counter-revolutionary raids, and once and for all, to finish with their subversive work to undermine the foundations of the Soviet state,” (2). Section II of Order 447 offers a dry classification system. First, the author divides the anti-Soviet elements into two “wide” categories (Werth 218). The first category includes the “most hostile” elements, which are ordered “TO BE SHOT,” the use of capital letters being part of the original text (Ezhov 2). The second category are “hostile” but less so, subject to “arrest and imprisonment” for a minimum of eight to ten years depending on the severity of their transgressions (Ezhov 2). Following this terse classification system, which leaves a great deal of discretion to the arresting officials, Ezhov then provides his readers with a sort of census on how many such elements exist in which Soviet Republics or regions.
Ezhov actually did receive population data from local officials in the field (Werth 223). Reliance on numbers and quotas became systematically embedded in NKVD policy: known as “figure mania,” (Werth 225). Finally, Ezhov provides a strict time frame for beginning the purges: August 5, 1937, and mandates that the orders be carried out within just four months (2). The goal of Order 447 is unabashedly “eradication of all marginal strata of the population,” (Werth 219).

Ezhov minces no words and makes no pretense of objectivity; his goal in Order 447 is to presumably protect the Soviet people from would-be enemies of the state, labeled such by their having participated in “uprisings” of any sort, or being “non-Russian nationalists,” (1). One of the ways Ezhov became the “most powerful man in the USSR” was via his genuine belief in the righteousness of the Soviet mission and the need to exterminate all who would come in the way of its glory (Getty and Naumov 1). It was not as if Ezhov was biased, so much that he became passionately, irrationally, even religiously committed to the success of his mission to the point where he would issue something as aggressive as Order 447. Everything about Ezhov’s background helped to groom him for the position he would assume as leader of the NKVD, a position he used to identify potential fissures in communist leadership, see that figures like Trotsky posed real and meaningful threats to social and political order, and thus to use his power to take cruel yet meaningful action (Getty and Naumov 4). Order 447 did not emerge out of a vacuum and nor was it some reactionary memorandum issued irrationally. Rather, tension had been building and Yezhov had been warning his comrades about a “grand conspiracy that unified” the anti-Soviet elements he mentions in the Order (Getty and Naumov 6). The “paranoia and xenophobia” that characterize Order 447 and NKVD policy more generally stems….....

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Ellman, Michael. “Regional Influences on the Formulation and Implementation of NKVD Order 00447,” Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 62, No. 6 (August 2010), pp. 915-931.

Ezhov, Nikolai. “Operational Order.”

Getty, John Arch. Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition, Yale University Press, 2013.

Getty, John Arch and Oleg V. Naumov. Yezhov: The Rise of Stalin’s Iron First, Yale University Press, 2008.

Werth, Nicolas. “The Mechanism of Mass Crime.” In The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective, edited by Robert Gellately and Ben Kieman Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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