In history, religion and political science, a purge is a position removal or execution of people who are considered undesirable by those in power from a government, another organization, their team leaders, or society as a whole. A group undertaking such an effort is labeled as purging itself. Purges can be either nonviolent or violent, with the former often resolved by the simple removal of those who have been purged from office, and the latter often resolved by the imprisonment, exile, or murder of those who have been purged.[1]


The Shanghai massacre of 1927 in China and the Night of the Long Knives of 1934 in Nazi Germany, in which the leader of a political party turns against a particular section or group within the party and kills its members, are commonly called "purges". Mass expulsions of populations on grounds of racism and xenophobia, such as the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in the Soviet Union, are not.[citation needed]

Though sudden and violent purges are notable, most purges do not involve immediate execution or imprisonment, for example the periodic massive purges of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on grounds of apathy or dereliction, or the purge of Jews and political dissenters from the German Civil Service in 1933–1934.

Beginning in 1966, Chairman Mao Zedong and his associates purged much of the Chinese Communist Party's leadership, including the head of state, President Liu Shaoqi and the then-Secretary-General, Deng Xiaoping, as part of what the leaders termed the Cultural Revolution. In Maoist states, sentences usually involved hard labor in laogai camps and executions. Deng Xiaoping acquired a reputation for returning to power after he had been purged several times.[citation needed]

Historical use of the term

English Civil War purge, 1648–1650

Main article: Pride's Purge

The earliest use of the term dates back to the English Civil War's Pride's Purge. In 1648–1650, the moderate members of the English Long Parliament were purged by the New Model Army. The Parliament of England would suffer subsequent purges under Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth of England, including the purge of the entire House of Lords. Counter-revolutionaries such as royalists were purged as well as more radical revolutionaries such as the Levellers. After the Stuart Restoration, obstinate republicans were purged while some[which?] fled to the New England Colonies in British America.

Soviet Union

Main articles: Red Terror, Great Purge, Political repression in the Soviet Union, Purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mass killings under communist regimes, and Mass operations of the NKVD

Purges were frequent in the Soviet Union.[2] In the Soviet Union, military and internal security elites were more likely to be detained than civilian elites.[2]

The term "purge" is often associated with Stalinism. While leading the USSR, Joseph Stalin carried out repeated purges which resulted in tens of thousands of people sentenced to Gulag labor camps and the outright executions of rival communists, military officers, ethnic minorities, wreckers, and citizens accused of plotting against communism.[3] Stalin together with Nikolai Yezhov initiated the most notorious of the CPSU purges, the Great Purge, during the mid to late 1930s.[4]

France after WWII

Main articles: Épuration légale and Pursuit of Nazi collaborators

After France's liberation by the Allies in 1944, the Provisional Government of the French Republic and particularly the French Resistance carried out purges of former collaborationists, the so-called "vichystes". The process became known in legal terms as épuration légale ("legal purging"). Similar processes in other countries and on other occasions included denazification in Allied-occupied Germany and decommunization in post-communist states.

Japan after WWII

The Red Purge was an anticommunist movement in occupied Japan from the late 1940s to the early 1950s.[5][6][7] Carried out by the Japanese government and private corporations with the aid and encouragement of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), the Red Purge resulted in tens of thousands of alleged members, supporters, or sympathizers of left-wing groups, especially those said to be affiliated with the Japanese Communist Party, removed from their jobs in government, the private sector, universities, and schools.[8] The Red Purge emerged from rising Cold War tensions and the Red Scare after World War II,[9][10] and was a significant element within a broader "Reverse Course" in Occupation policies.[11] The Red Purge reached a peak following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950,[11] when communist China supported North Korea. It began to ease after General Douglas MacArthur was replaced as commander of the Occupation by General Matthew Ridgway in 1951, and came to a final conclusion with the end of the Occupation in 1952.

Communist Cuba

Main article: Consolidation of the Cuban Revolution

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro of Cuba often purged those who had previously been involved with the Batista regime. Purges often involved the execution of the condemned. Castro periodically carried out purges in the Communist Party of Cuba thereafter. One prominent purge was carried out in 1989, when a high-ranking Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces general named Arnaldo Ochoa was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad on charges of drug trafficking. Purges became less common in Cuba during the 1990s and 2000s.

United States: Red Scares, HUAC and McCarthyism

See also: Red Scares, House Un-American Activities Committee, and McCarthyism

In the period 1938–1975, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives, carried out a campaign of purging alleged "communist symathisers" from positions in public life. While non-violent, HUAC's campaign destroyed the careers of many individuals, particularly in the entertainment industry, where HUAC attempted to purge left-wing voices entirely from the industry through the Hollywood blacklist.

While not part of HUAC, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a major driver of efforts to purge perceived communist sympathizers through the 1940s and 1950s, that ended in his condemnation and censure in 1954.

In the 21st century


Main article: Anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping

Some observers consider the anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping to be a purge.[12][13] A far-reaching campaign against corruption began in China following the conclusion of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. The campaign, carried out under the aegis of Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, was the largest organized purported anti-graft effort in the history of Communist rule in China.


Main articles: Consolidation of the Iranian Revolution and Cultural Revolution in Iran

The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution of Iranian government purged universities.

In August 2023, the government reportedly had a program to hire 15,000 replacements for people in universities and to place clerics in schools.[14][15] It also removed Tehran University of Art’s major curricula for sculpting, music and cinematography/filmmaking.[16] The government added Islamic studies even more so.[17] Many academics were terminated/fired.[18] On 14 December 2023 the Ministry of Education announced that it would hire 7000 clerics instead of teachers.[19]


Main article: De-Ba'athification

De-Ba'athification was undertaken by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and subsequent Iraqi governments to remove the Ba'ath Party's influence in the new Iraqi political system after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.[20] It was first outlined in CPA Order 1 which entered into force on 16 May 2003.[20] The order declared that all public sector employees affiliated with the Ba'ath Party were to be removed from their positions and to be banned from any future employment in the public sector.[20]

It is estimated that, before 2007, 50,000 civil government employees, as well as employees of other organizations listed in Annex A of Order No. 2, were removed from their positions as a result of de-Ba'athification.[21] Another estimate places the number, also before 2007, at "100,000 civil servants, doctors, and teachers", were forcibly removed from the public sector due to low-level affiliation.[22]

North Korea

Main article: Political repression in North Korea

Members of the Kim family have each periodically purged their political rivals or perceived threats since consolidating their control over North Korea, beginning in the 1950s. The most senior Kim purged those who opposed his son's succession to the supreme leadership of North Korea. Kim Il Sung's most prominent purge occurred during the "August Incident" in 1956, when the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese Yanan factions of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) attempted to depose Kim. Most of those involved in the plot were executed while some others fled to the USSR and China. While some purges were carried out under Kim Jong Il, they were not as common as they were under his father/son. Kim Jong Un purged a number of high-ranking officials and generals installed by his father Kim Jong Il in the former's first years in power, including, most prominently, his uncle Jang Song-thaek.


Main article: 2016–present purges in Turkey

After the failed 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt, the Government of Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began a purge against members of its own civil service and the Turkish Armed Forces. The purge ostensibly focused mainly on public servants and soldiers alleged to be part of the Gülen movement, the group the government blamed for the coup. As part of the purge, about 200,000 public officials, including thousands of judges, were dismissed and detained. Politicized Turkish-Kurds have also been a major target of the Justice and Development Party-led purge.

See also


  1. ^ Goldring, Edward; Matthews, Austin S. (2022). "To Purge or Not to Purge? An Individual-Level Quantitative Analysis of Elite Purges in Dictatorships". British Journal of Political Science. 53 (2): 575–593. doi:10.1017/S0007123421000569. ISSN 0007-1234. S2CID 245290566.
  2. ^ a b Matthews, Austin S. (2024). "Elite Threats and Punitive Violence in Autocratic Regimes: Evidence from Communist Eastern Europe". Comparative Politics.
  3. ^ Hunt, Lynn; et al. (2008). The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures, Vol. C: Since 1740 (3rd ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 846. ISBN 9780312465100.
  4. ^ Bukovsky, Vladimir; et al. (1956). The Permanent Purge. The Purge as a Technique of Soviet Totalitarian Politics from the Rise of Stalin to the Fall of Malenkov (1st ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 7.
  5. ^ Kumano 2010, p. 513: "The notorious "Red Purge" was instituted nationwide in the final phase of the occupation, from July 1947 to March 1951, and proved to be a critical test for the survival of academic freedom."
  6. ^ Dower & Tetsuo 2007, p. 3: "The Red Purge was a series of arbitrary layoffs by government agencies and corporations aimed at heavy-handedly eliminating from the workplace those workers who had been unilaterally branded 'Red'. [...] The purge occurred during the US occupation of Japan from 1949 to 1951."
  7. ^ Kingston 2011, p. 13: "From 1947, the Japanese government, supported by MacArthur, unleashed a Red Purge that targeted those Japanese considered to have left-wing views."
  8. ^ Kapur 2018, p. 10.
  9. ^ Kumano 2010, p. 514: "Eells's anticommunist speeches echoed America's Cold War policy [...] during the ideological struggle of the Cold War."
  10. ^ Kumano 2010, p. 529: "Since Eells's address in July 1949, the dilemma over communist teachers had become a national obsession, verging in some quarters on hysteria."
  11. ^ a b Kapur 2018, pp. 9–10.
  12. ^ "Charting China's 'great purge' under Xi". 2017-10-23. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  13. ^ Shih, Gerry (2018-10-22). "In China, investigations and purges become the new normal". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  14. ^ "یک استاد دانشگاه شریف، جذب مخفیانه پانزده هزار استاد همسو با حکومت را "فاجعه" خواند". Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  15. ^ "پیشنهادات جدید از لایحه حجاب؛ از ممنوعیت کاشت ناخن و اجباری شدن چادر در دانشگاه و مدارس تا استخدام طلاب در مدارس و اعطای مجوز شوکر و اسپری به بسیجیان". اعتمادآنلاین (in Persian). 2023-09-26. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  16. ^ "هنر در تاریکخانه فراموشی". 20 August 2023.
  17. ^ "تغییرات وسیع کنکور امسال؛ به ضرر رشته‌های هنری و علوم انسانی و به نفع "علوم اسلامی"". BBC News فارسی (in Persian). 2023-08-27. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  18. ^ Motamedi, Maziar. "'Academic decline': Why are university professors being expelled in Iran?". Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  19. ^ "وزیر آموزش و پرورش: ۷ هزار نیروی جهادی و مربی قرآن برای جبران کمبود معلم جذب کردیم".
  20. ^ a b c "Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 1: De-Ba'athification of Iraqi Society" (PDF). Coalition Provisional Authority. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 June 2004. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  21. ^ Ferguson, C. No End in Sight: Iraq's Descent into Chaos. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008.
  22. ^ Wirtz, James (2007). "The Exquisite Problem of Victory: Measuring Success in Unconventional Operations". In Joseph Cerami and Jay Boggs (ed.). The Interagency and Counterinsurgency Warfare: Aligning and Integrating Military and Civilian Roles in Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations. Strategic Studies Institute. p. 275.