Doubts and Disbelief
The sudden disappearance of so many 'enemies' beggared belief. How could such a large number of trusted Party members - heroes of the Revolution and the Civil War - turn out to have been hidden 'enemies'? It shook people's belief in the government.
Some refused to believe the trials, let alone the charges against trusted colleagues, friends and relatives. But most suppressed their doubts, or found ways of rationalizing them to preserve the basic structures of their Communist belief.
They told themselves that the arrest of their relatives or friends had been a mistake - that some good people were bound to be arrested in error because there were so many 'enemies' and they were so well hidden from society, so the police could not always get it right. In this way of thinking, the real enemy was always someone else - the sons and husbands of all the other women in the queue to hand in parcels at the prison gates - and never one's own friends and relatives.
Others reasoned that there was no smoke without fire. When Marshal Tukhachevsky - a revered hero of the Revolution - was arrested as a 'spy' people told themselves that he must be guilty of something. It was inconceivable that the government would execute such a senior commander without evidence.
Most people tried not to think at all about what was going on.
Why did so many people in the system go along with the Terror? The answer is that they were trapped. Until 1936 it was possible to believe in Stalin, to think that he was building a new socialist society, an end that justified the harshest means; and belief brought benefits, career advancement and material rewards. After 1936 it was too late not to believe in Stalin: the cost of questioning his policies was arrest and perhaps death. Carrying out the Terror was the only way to save your skin.