I start with a post on the way in which Stalin the all powerful erstwhile ruler of the Soviet Union clamped down on freedom of expression in particular and freedoms in general. Even though stories of Stalin's brutality were rife all over the world even when he was ruling, the gory details were never known from official records. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, gradually the archives of the various government departments were opened up to public scrutiny. Thus, the records of the NKVD or the People's Commissariat of Internal Security, the papers of Stalin's office and that of the Politbureau of the Communist Party have now become open and many resesarchers have accessed these and written new histories based on the material they have discovered in these archives. One of these is a new biography of Stalin written by Simon Montefiore which I have just finished reading.
The NKVD, right from the time of its inception under Lenin when it had a different name, was diabolically used by the Bolsheviks to clamp down on freedom of expression and also other freedoms of the people of the Soviet Union and especially those politicians both within and without the Bolshevik party who opposed the dominant line. There was little to differentiate it from the secret police of the earlier Tsar known as OKHRANA, apart from the fact that it was now the repressive organ of a workers' state!!! Torture and extra judicial killings were a common practice. Once Stalin had established his supremacy within the Bolshevik party by the mid 1930s by banishing Trotsky and subduing his supporters with the help of Zinoviev and Kamenev, the close associates of Lenin, he began systematically to undermine these very associates. All the Bolshevik leaders beginning from Lenin downwards had scant respect for human rights and merrily ordered executions with or without trials but they could not imagine that Stalin would play this game against them.
Stalin cooked up some story or other about his compatriots being involved in anti party activities and then asked the NKVD to collect evidence in support. This involved rounding up people close to the associate and torturing them till they confessed to being involved in conspiracies which had been hatched by the associates Stalin was targeting. In this way beginning with Zinoviev and Kamenev, during the Show Trials of 1936-38 hundreds of senior Bolsheviks were accused of anti party activities and executed and their families deported to Siberia to work as slave labour alongside peasants and workers in the millions who were also being deported for their resistance to the dictatorial rule of the Bolsheviks. Later, bureaucrats, technocrats and military personnel were also executed or deported in this manner and through the NKVD, Stalin established a reign of terror in the Soviet Union and cemented his authority. Even though the scale of these killings subsided by the early 1940s, this process of cooking up stories and falsely implicating people became a staple of Stalin's administration and devoured many of his close associates right up to his death at the ripe age of seventy four in 1953. Sometimes as in the case of Alexei Kuznetsov in 1950, Stalin chose to turn on those he had hand picked earlier to groom as his successors. In Kuznetsov's case, his crime was that he tried to emerge as a power centre and began going through the files of the Show Trials of 1936-38 kept in the records of the NKVD which had by then been renamed the MVD and which was under his supervision.
Freedom of expression is the key to a just society and powerful centralised states have always tried to curb this right and this trend continues to this day even if it is not in as crude and overt a manner as practised by Stalin. There are NKVDs of some sort or other everywhere and wide spread surveillance of those who dare to protest. Therefore, it is essential that we raise our voices against curbs on the freedom of expression.