The Soviet Union emerged as a global superpower at the end of World War II. The individual most responsible for this was Joseph Stalin who gradually came to power in the late 1920s and ruled until his death in 1953. Stalin's achievement came at great cost, though. Having risen through the Communist Party ranks through treacherous means, Stalin was ever distrustful of those around him. He was willing to purge any group or person he deemed a threat, including fellow party members, rival factions, military leaders, immigrants and ordinary people.

Purges at the Top

Stalin conducted purges throughout his presidency. Those who weren't executed often perished in his brutal labor camps. His first targets were fellow Communist Party members. He went after anyone who posed a threat to his authority or disagreed with him on ideological grounds. The most famous of these was Leon Trotsky, whose death Stalin ordered in 1940. In the meantime, Stalin had widened his net to include the military, summarily executing much of its top leadership.

"Enemies of the People"

By the late 1930s, no one was safe from Stalin. He targeted so-called ''enemies of the people.'' Intellectuals and writers were especially vulnerable, given their tendencies for critical thinking. Communist immigrants were also rounded up, as Stalin became increasingly xenophobic. So were Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and Russian Orthodox Church members. Tens of millions perished under Stalin. The purges wouldn't end until 1953, when Nikita Khruschev came to power and openly denounced his predecessor's methods.