From the JSTOR Daily by Matthew Willis:
Joseph Stalin died sixty-five years ago this month. But it wasn’t until Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s, and then the breakup of the USSR, that the state archives were opened and the full record of Stalin’s deeds revealed.
As historian Hiroaki Kuromiya notes, prior to the Soviet Union’s end, that nation’s history was written by rumor, Kremlinology, and foreign intelligence agencies. The records of the USSR have transformed the history of the USSR. But don’t expect to find all the answers in the papers; historians like Kuromiya continue to debate the meanings and motivations behind the documentation.
In addition, some documents were never declassified at all. Intelligence and military archives were hardly opened. And there were big gaps: Stalin’s personal library and archives were missing. But there was more than enough to show that Stalin personally oversaw the Great Terror of the late 1930s. This purge of the revolutionary generation of “Old Bolsheviks” and the mass murders of other real and/or imagined enemies of the state, including ethnic minorities like Poles, Germans, Greeks, Koreans, and Latvians, peaked in 1937-38. Loyalty from dictators is precarious, however, and Stalin himself ordered the death of his chief Terror executioner.