THE USSR IN 1924
The USSR in 1924 was governed by Communists and so to understand the USSR we therefore need to know a little about the beliefs of the Communists.
There are many different kinds of Communists, but all have one thing in common. They base their ideas on the writings of a nineteenth-century thinker named Karl Marx. Marx believed that all human history was a struggle for power between two classes of people, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Looking at the world around him, Marx said that the ‘haves’ were the capitalists who owned all the money (capital) needed for building factories, mills, mines, railways, and other such ‘means of production’. The capitalists, he said, were the ruling class of society, employing the ‘have- nots’ — the working class, or ‘proletariat’. But, Marx believed, the working class would one day rebel against the capitalists. They would do this because the capitalists exploited them, paying them low wages and keeping the proﬁts for themselves. And as the capitalists got richer in this way, the poor would get poorer. Eventually they would start a revolution and take control of the means of production away from the capitalists. Marx predicted that the workers’ revolution would lead ﬁrst of all to a period of strict rule by the workers’ leaders. He called this the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. During this time all opponents of the workers would be crushed and the workers would take over all land, factories, banks, etc., sharing the proﬁts among themselves. This he called ‘socialism’. In the socialist system, according to Marx, people would work together for the good of everyone, not just for themselves. All the means of production would be owned by the people. People would receive better housing, medical care, education and other social beneﬁts. Eventually, when everyone had received the benefits of socialism and had learned to work for the good of each other, there would not be any need for strict government by the workers’ leaders. The government would wither away, leaving an ideal society — which Marx called Communism.
A Communist state
In the USSR Communists had taken control of the government in a revolution in October 1917. Led by V. I. Lenin, they set up a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, banned all non-Communists and made the country into a one-party state. After 1921 Lenin also banned groups within the Communist Party which criticised his handling of the government. During that year about 750,000 people were expelled, or ‘purged’, from the Party. The country which Lenin and the Communists seized in 1917 had been known for centuries as ‘Russia’. In 1923, however, a new Constitution made Russia into a ‘Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ — the USSR, 0r Soviet Union. There were six Republics in the Union, each with its own government to organise such things as health, education and justice. For matters of national importance, such as defence, the Republics had Commissars, or ministers, who acted on the instructions of the national government in Moscow, capital of the USSR. Although the 1923 Constitution gave people the right to vote, it also made sure that the Communist Party always kept control of the government. In every village, town and city of the USSR voters elected local councils known as Soviets. These then elected Soviets for each region and each Republic, and these in turn elected a Congress of Soviets to act as the country’s parliament. The Congress then elected a Central Committee, which in turn chose a small Council of People’s Commissars, known as Sovnarkom, to govern the country. The system of elected Soviets, however, was only one part of the system of government. For each Soviet at each level — whether in a town, village, region or republic — there was a parallel Communist Party group. At every level the ofﬁcials of these Party groups were also members of the Soviets. In this way the Communist Party controlled both national and local government in all parts of the USSR.
A Communist economy
Life for the USSR’S 140 million people had so far been hard under Communist rule. The 1917 Revolution was followed by three years of civil war between the Communists and their enemies. To help the Communists win the Civil War, Lenin had introduced a system of ‘War Communism’. Under this system, food for soldiers and town workers was seized without payment from peasants in the countryside. Factory workers were put under military discipline, including the death penalty for striking, to make sure they produced enough war material. The factories themselves were conﬁscated from their owners and put under government control. War Communism helped the Communists to win the Civil War, but it ruined Russia: the peasants decided that it was not worth growing food if the Communists were going to steal it, so they sowed less grain. The result was a famine in 1921, killing an estimated 7.5 million people and leaving millions more starving. In the same year, a rebellion in the Russian navy and a peasant uprising in Tambov Province convinced Lenin that he must abandon the policy of War Communism. In its place he introduced a New Economic Policy (NEP). NEP stopped the government from seizing food from the peasants. Peasants were allowed to sell any surplus food they had to private traders. Government control of factories was relaxed and private businessmen were allowed to own and run all but the largest industries, and to make proﬁts for themselves. By the time of Lenin’s death in 1924 the New Economic Policy had begun to work, as these ﬁgures show:
A Communist society
While the Russian economy was undergoing these great changes, Communist rule was also having far reaching changes on the day-to-day lives of Russian people. Russian workers in 1924 had more rights than workers in most other countries. By a Labour Law of 1922 workers were entitled to an eight-hour day, to two weeks’ paid holiday each year, and to social insurance beneﬁts such as sick pay, unemployment pay and old age pensions. On the other hand, unemployment was rising. 1.24 million workers out of an industrial work force of 8.5 million were unemployed in 1924 — that is, one worker in every seven.
Many peoples’ personal lives had undergone great changes since the 1917 Revolution. By the Marriage Laws of 1918 couples could marry simply by entering their names in a public marriage register. Divorce was just as easy to obtain if both partners agreed to it. Free love was encouraged and abortion was permitted without restriction. People were much less free in their spiritual lives, however. Religion was suppressed by the government. Religious teaching in schools was banned. Monks and priests were persecuted. A ‘League of Militant Atheists’ mocked religion and did all it could to weaken the Church. Young people found that life at school was much more free under Communist rule. The authority of teachers over pupils was very restricted. ‘Useless’ subjects such as history and ancient languages were abolished, and the sciences were encouraged instead. However, thousands of young people were homeless orphans who had lost their parents in the Civil War and in the 1921 famine. Many of these ‘bezprizornye’ formed into gangs which terrorised the towns and committed thefts, murders and other crimes.
THE POWER STRUGGLE 1: RIGHT VERSUS LEFT
In January 1924 Lenin, the leader of the USSR, died. The members of the Politburo — the ruling body of the Communist Party which decided its policies — now had to choose which of them should take his place: Leon Trotsky, Commissar for War; Leon Kamenev, Chairman of the Politburo- Lenin’s deputy; Grigori Zinoviev, Chairman of Comintern; Nicolai Bukharin, in charge of press and propaganda; Mikhail Tomsky, in charge of trade unions; Andrei Rykov, Chairman of Sovnarkom; Josef Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party.
The split in the Politburo
They were not a united body. Over the previous two years they had split into two groups, the Rightists and the Left Opposition. The main cause of the split was a disagreement about how to develop the economy of the USSR. The Rightists, led by Bukharin, believed that the government must continue Lenin’s New Economic Policy for at least the next twenty years. Bukharin hoped that NEP would encourage the peasants to grow more food. They would then be able to make proﬁts by selling food to the towns. And as the peasants’ proﬁts went up, more townspeople would get jobs in the factories which made consumer goods for peasants to buy. Gradually, both peasants and townspeople would become prosperous. The Left Opposition, consisting of "Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, strongly disagreed with the idea 6f continuing with NEP. They believed that the USSR must be turned into an industrial country as quickly as possible. If it remained an agricultural country under NEP, the countries of the West which hated Communism might try to invade the USSR and crush Communism. The Left Opposition therefore believed that the government should take control of the USSR’s farming land and force the peasants to produce as much‘ food as the towns needed. To modernise industry, the Left suggested forming volunteer ‘shock brigades’ of dedicated Communists which Would build new factories, power stations and railways. The money to pay for these things would come from taxing the peasants.
The seven members of the Politburo were not only split over the future of the economy; they were also divided by their personal likes and dislikes. While Zinoviev and Kamenev agreed with Trotsky’s views on the economy, they disliked him as a person. He was clever, energetic and original. He was popular among ordinary Party members and the army. But he was also vain and arrogant. At Politburo meetings he often treated his colleagues with contempt, some times turning his back on them, sometimes reading a book while they spoke, sometimes storming out of the room in a temper. Trotsky therefore had no friends in the Politburo. In 1922 Lenin had suffered a stroke which left him partly paralysed. When he had another stroke in 1923 it became clear to the Politburo that he did not have much longer to live. Three of them Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev — joined together to prevent Trotsky from succeeding Lenin as leader when he died.
Although very ill, Lenin himself was clear about where he stood in the argument between Right and Left; he had doubts about them both. At the end of 1922 he wrote a letter to the Party Congress, outlining his ideas for the future and giving his opinions about the members of the Politburo. In the letter, known after his death as his Testament, Lenin wrote that the main danger facing them all was a split in the Party. He thought that Trotsky and Stalin were chieﬂy to blame for this. He also wrote this about them as people:
An extract from Lenin’s Testament, written in late December 1922, with a postscript in January 1923:
Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands; I am not sure that he always knows how to use the power with sufficient caution. On the other hand, Comrade Trotsky is distinguished not only by his exceptional abilities – personally he is, to be sure, the most able man in the present Central Committee – but also by his far-reaching self-confidence and a disposition to be too much attracted by the purely administrative side of affairs.
These two qualities of the two most able leaders of the present Central Committee might lead to a split, if our Party does not take measures to prevent it...
Ten days later, in January 1923, Lenin added a post script to the letter:
4th January. Stalin is too rude, and this fault becomes unbearable in the office of General Secretary. Therefore I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position, and appoint another man more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades...
Stalin’s ‘unlimited authority’
‘Comrade Stalin’ had gained his ‘unlimited authority’ ' by taking on jobs that none of the other Politburo members wanted. In addition to being a member of the Politburo, Stalin was in the Party’s Orgburo, which ran all its organisational matters. Most important of all, he was General Secretary of the Party, with the power to give his supporters posts at every level of the Party. And as head of the Control Commission he had the power to control Party membership — that is to purge, or expel, members who were considered unreliable. Stalin did not yet know about the letter which Lenin had written, nor of the criticisms of himself ‘ that it contained. When Lenin died on 21 January 1924, Stalin led the mourning and made a series of speeches declaring eternal loyalty to Lenin’s ideas. He also had Lenin’s body embalmed and put on display in a specially-built marble tomb in Red Square, Moscow. Trotsky, meanwhile, was on sick leave, in the south of the USSR after an attack of fever. (He later claimed that Stalin had told him the wrong date for the funeral.) So, for the time being, it looked as if Stalin had a good chance of becoming the new leader of the USSR, despite Lenin’s damning criticisms of him.
THE POWER STRUGGLE 2: STALIN VERSUS TROTSKY
So two members of the Politburo looked like suitable candidates for the leadership of the USSR in 1924 — Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Of the two, Stalin seemed most likely to succeed.
In this class you will ﬁnd out a lot about Stalin as a political leader. It will therefore be helpful to know a little about the character of the man. Like any historian, you can make your own assessment of his character by reading a selection of the available evidence.
The ﬁrst source of evidence for you to consider is from a Russian police bulletin put out in 1904:
‘. . . Djugashvili, Iosif Vissarionovich [Stalin]; peasant from the village of DidiLilo, Tiﬂis district, Tiﬂis province; born 1881, Orthodox; educated Gori church school, Tiﬂis Theological Seminary; unmarried, father Vissarion whereabouts unknown, mother Ekaterina resident Gori, Tiﬂis province. Banished for three years to Eastern Siberia under open police surveillance for crimes against the state . . . Description. Height 2 arshins, 4% vershki [1.62 metres]; average build, ordinary appearance; brown hair, reddish brown moustache and beard; straight hair, no parting, dark brown eyes of average size; ordinary head shape; small ﬂat forehead; long straight nose; long swarthy pockmarked face; missing front molar in lower right jaw; shortish height; sharp chin; soft voice; average size ears; ordinary gait; birthmark on left ear; second and third toes joined on left foot.’A second source of evidence about the character of Stalin comes from the memory of Simon Vereschak who knew him while they were both in prison in 1908. Vereschak published his memories of Stalin in a Soviet magazine in 1928:
‘[When you looked] at his primitive brow and small head, it seemed that, were you to break it open, it would spew forth the entire works of Marx, like an exploding gasometer. Marxism was his element, and in it he was invincible. Once he had made up his mind on a subject, nothing could shake him . . . He made a tremendous impression upon young, politically inexperienced party members, and in Transcaucasia had the reputation of being a second Lenin.'Lastly, an extract from I Knew Stalin (1949), the memoirs of A. V. Baikaloff who met Stalin while they were both in exile in Siberia in 1917.
‘There was nothing striking or noteworthy about Stalin’s appearance or his conversation. Thick set, of medium height, with a swarthy face pitted with smallpox, a drooping moustache, thick hair, narrow forehead and rather short legs . . . he produced the impression of a man of poor intellectual abilities. His small eyes, hidden under bushy eyebrows, were dull and deprived of the friendly, humorous expression which forms such a feature of his ﬂattering post revolutionary portraits. His Russian was very poor. He spoke haltingly, with a strong Georgian accent [Georgia was one of the southern republics of the Soviet Union]: his speech was dull and dry, and entirely devoid of any colour or witticism.’The reading of Lenin’s Testament
This, then, was the man who hoped to take over the leadership of the USSR after Lenin’s death. In May 1924, however, something happened which made Stalin’s position look suddenly very weak: Lenin’s Testament was read out to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. According to an eyewitness:
‘Terrible embarrassment paralysed all those present . . . Stalin sitting on the steps of the rostrum looked small and miserable. I studied him closely; in spite of his self-control and show of calm, it was clearly evident that his fate was at stake.’Stalin’s fate was decided by Zinoviev, who told the Committee that Lenin’s fears about Stalin were groundless. Stalin, he said, had worked in perfect harmony with himself and with Kamenev ever since Lenin’s death in January. As a result of this speech the Committee decided to leave Stalin in ofﬁce as General Secretary of the Party. To avoid embarrassing him, the Committee also decided not to publish the Testament and so most Russians never got to know what Lenin really thought about Stalin.
For the rest of 1924 the Politburo continued to argue about the future of the Soviet economy. The ﬁercest argument was between Stalin and Trotsky over Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. Trotsky thought that Communism could not survive in the USSR alone. He argued that the capitalist countries of the West feared Communism and would try to destroy it. For this reason, he said, it was necessary to spread Communism to the countries of Western Europe and to their overseas colonies. This would be done by giving help to revolutionary groups and parties in Western Europe. Stalin put forward an opposite theory — the theory of Socialism in One Country. He argued that the USSR must always come ﬁrst in the government’s plans. The rest of the world must take second place. The Communists should concentrate on building up the economy of the USSR, not waste money on helping revolutionary groups abroad. With a strong, modern and prosperous economy, the capitalist countries would never dare to attack the USSR. Trotsky’s theory was not popular among Party members. The Russians had set up an organisation to help revolutionaries in other countries back in 1919. Its name was Comintern, short for Communist International. Comintern had already backed several attempts at revolution in European countries over the past ﬁve years, and all had failed. Trotsky’s theory therefore looked unworkable. Faced with mounting criticism from Party members, he resigned from his government post as Commissar for War in 1925.
Stalin attacks the Left
During his argument with Trotsky, Stalin joined forces with the Rightists — Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky — who, as you have read, wanted to continue Lenin’s New Economic Policy. Stalin joined them not because he agreed with NEP but because he hoped they would help him to drive Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev out of the Politburo. Sure enough, with the help of the Rightists, Stalin made sure that Trotsky was always voted down in the Politburo. He also arranged for his supporters to vote against Trotsky in meetings of the Party Central Committee. He even saw to it that his supporters booed Trotsky’s supporters in public meetings. At the end of 1925 Stalin’s position was strengthened when the Party Congress elected three of his old friends to the Politburo. With their help, Stalin was able to secure the dismissal of Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev from the Politburo. In 1927 Trotsky and Zinoviev were also expelled from the Party.
Stalin attacks the Rightists
Now that Stalin had got rid of Trotsky and his supporters, he turned against the Rightists who wanted to continue with NEP. In 1928 Stalin argued in favour of ending NEP and expanding industry as fast as possible. Bukharin and the Rightists tried to argue against him. But now that Stalin had a majority of supporters in the Politburo, their arguments fell on deaf ears. At the start of 1929 Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky resigned from the Politburo. Meanwhile, in 1928, Trotsky had been deported to Alma Ata in Soviet Central Asia, and in 1929 he was exiled from the USSR altogether. Stalin was now supreme leader of the USSR.
The assassination of Trotsky
Trotsky, however, had not heard the last of the argument, for Stalin was determined to wipe him out of political life altogether — wherever he was. While Trotsky went to live in Turkey, and then in France and ﬁnally in Mexico, Stalin made sure that all traces of his life in the USSR were wiped out. Trotsky’s name was removed from all ofﬁcial publications and photographs of him were destroyed. As we shall see, his supporters in the USSR were purged from the Party and, in many cases, imprisoned or killed. Finally, in 1940, the NKVD — the secret police — arranged for Trotsky to be murdered. Posing as a supporter of Trotsky, one of their agents talked his way into Trotsky’s heavily guarded house, pulled out an ice-axe from beneath his coat and buried its point in Trotsky’s skull. Trotsky died of his wounds a day later, on 21 August 1940.
COLLECTIVES AND KULAKS
Throughout the 1920s peasants provided the Soviet government with many problems. As you have read, the argument about the future of NEP was largely to do with how the government should treat the peasants. It was an argument that had already split the Politburo in two.
The problem of the peasants
Around 100 million Soviet people were peasants. Most were poor; nine out of ten owned only one horse while eight out of ten had farms of less than ﬁve hectares. In most areas, peasants cultivated their land in strips and used the old-fashioned threeﬁeld system of cultivation. Around half the peasants reaped the grain harvest by hand, using sickles or scythes, and threshed it with ﬂails. About a third ploughed their strips with wooden ploughs. All this caused major problems for the government. Everybody in the Politburo, on both the left and the right, agreed that the USSR must be made into an industrial country. Industry was needed to make the country strong and wealthy. But how could the government ﬁnance new industry? Where was the money for building factories, railways, power stations and mines to come from? It could only come from the peasants, for they were the majority of the population. The government would have to get the money for new industry by taxing the peasants. At the same time, the government would have to make sure that the peasants grew enough to feed and clothe the growing number of industrial workers in the cities. As we have covered, NEP led to an increase in the amount of food grown by the peasants. However, not all the extra food was reaching the workers in the cities. This was partly because the peasants were keeping some of the extra so that they could eat better themselves. It was partly also because the government, which bought three quarters of the country’s grain each year, was offering too low a price for it. For these reasons NEP was not helping to make the USSR into a strong industrial nation. Early in 1928 Stalin announced that the USSR was 2 million tonnes short of the minimum amount of grain needed for feeding the workers in the cities. In other words, there was going to be a famine in the cities. Stalin tried solving the problem with emergency measures. Police squads went into country areas to make raids on farms. Food in the cities was strictly rationed. But these measures were not enough. In 1929 Stalin announced a more radical solution to the problem; farms were to be ‘collectivised’.
‘Collectivisation’ meant the end of the small, individual, old-fashioned farms owned by the peasants. In each area they were to pool their ﬁelds, their horses and their tools, and work together on a kolkhoz a collective farm. Instead of making proﬁts by selling their grain at market, peasants would sell their grain to the government at a ﬁxed low price. They would receive wages for their work. Collective farms consisted of 50 to 100 families, together farming an average 450 hectares of land. The collective farm was intended to be more efﬁcient than the old individual farms; Machine Tractor Stations in each area, one to every forty farms, provided tractors and drivers to help with the ploughing and harvesting.
The liquidation of the kulaks
Stalin intended all 100 million peasants to join collective farms. However, he realised that many of them would oppose his plans, so he began by dealing with the richest peasants ﬁrst. These were the kulaks. In 1929 there were about 5 million people in kulak families. The typical kulak family owned two or three horses and several cows, and had a larger than average farm. At busy times of the year, such as harvest-time, kulaks hired other peasants to work for them. If anyone was going to oppose Stalin’s plans for collectivisation, it was likely to be the kulaks, for 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 they had the most to lose. Stalin announced his plans for the kulaks in December 1929: he said that he intended to ‘liquidate the kulaks as a social class’. Kulaks were divided into three categories. The ﬁrst, described as ‘actively hostile’, was handed over to the OGPU, the political police, and deported to distant regions of the country such as Siberia. The second category, described as the wealthiest kulak households, was deported to other regions of the country. The third group, described (millions) Over the next three years, between 5 and 6 million people starved to death. Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist working in the USSR in 1933, sent as the least harmful of the kulaks, was allowed to stay in the region but was given land of the worst kind. The property of the ﬁrst two categories was conﬁscated and given to the local kolkhoz. About 300,000 kulak families were deported from their homes; that is roughly 1.5 million people. No proper arrangements were made for them in the areas to which they were sent, and they often had to ﬁght for survival. Probably a quarter of them died of starvation, disease, ill-treatment and the cold.
In February 1930 the government announced that over half the peasants in the USSR had joined collective farms. However, this did not mean that the problem of the grain shortage had been solved. Many of the peasants hated collectivisation, and they expressed their hatred by killing their animals and by destroying their crops, tools and farm buildings. The result was a sudden drop in the country’s food production, as the ﬁgures from a past IBDP Paper 1 exam show. The drop in food production meant that the famine which Stalin had feared happened anyway:
THE FIVE YEAR PLAN
One of the aims of Communism is to share a country’s wealth equally among its people. This requires careful planning of the country’s economy — its industry, agriculture, trade, transport, and so on — to make sure that everybody gets a fair share. The 'Russian Communists began planning the future of the Russian economy almost as soon as they came to power. In December 1917 they set up a Supreme Council of National Economy, known by its Russian initials as Vesenkha, and in 1921 they created a State Planning Commission known as Gosplan. Together, Vesenkha and Gosplan had the job of estimating the likely output and proﬁts of Russia’s factories and farms, and of deciding how to increase them.
The First Five Year Plan
In 1927 the economists and ﬁnancial experts of Gosplan were instructed to draw up a detailed plan for developing the Soviet economy over the next ﬁve years. The aim of the plan was to be ‘the transformation of our country from an agrarian into an industrial one, capable by its own means of producing the necessary equipment’. By 1928 Gosplan had produced its ﬁrst Five Year Plan. The Plan concerned every branch of Soviet economic life. It was a blueprint for the development of industry, agriculture, railways, canals, trade, energy, housing, education, and all the public services. In each of these areas the Plan set targets of the output which workers were expected to achieve. And because these targets had the force of government orders, workers had to achieve them or else face punishment. In this way, the Soviet economy became a ‘command economy’.
Why did Stalin command the making of an industrial economy within ﬁve years when he had disagreed with the idea during his struggle with Trotsky? Two events helped to change his attitude. First, in 1927, there was a ‘war scare’ in which the government claimed that the USSR was under threat of attack by China in the east and by Britain in the west. Second, in 1928, Stalin claimed that ‘counter-revolutionary capitalists’ in the Western countries were paying saboteurs to wreck the USSR’s coal mines. Their aim, he claimed, was to weaken Soviet industry so much that the USSR could not defend itself against foreign attack. The USSR, moreover, was surrounded by countries whose governments hated Communism: Poland, Finland, Iran and Romania were particularly hostile.
Stalin therefore changed his mind about rapid industrialisation because he thought industry was necessary for the country’s defence. As he said in a speech in November 1928:
‘To achieve the ﬁnal victory of socialism in one country, we need to catch up and overtake these countries in the technical and economic sense. Either we do it or we shall be crushed.’
The Plan in action
The First Five Year Plan went into action on 1 October 1928. From that day onwards, Soviet workers had to increase the output of their factories. Heavy industries — coal, iron, steel, oil and machine— making, for example were expected to triple their output. Light industry, producing consumer goods such as clothing, shoes and furniture, was to double its output. And to make sure that the factories had enough power to keep the machines going, electrical energy was to rise sixfold. Many workers were excited by the task facing them and worked amazingly hard to achieve their targets. Those who were not so keen had to work hard anyway, for the targets of the Plan had the same force as government orders: failure to reach a target could therefore be punished as treason. As a result of the workers’ great efforts Stalin decided to change the Plan in 1929. He ordered that the targets must now be met in four years instead of ﬁve. Before long, many people were complaining about the great speed with which the Plan was being carried out. In reply, Stalin said in 1931:
‘The tempo [speed] must not be reduced. On the contrary we must increase it . . . To slacken the tempo would mean falling behind. And those who fall behind get beaten. No, we refuse to be beaten! One feature of the history of old Russia was the continual beatings she suffered for falling behind, for her backwardness . . Do you want our socialist fatherland to be beaten and to lose its independence? If you do not want this you must put an end to its backwardness in the shortest possible time . . . We are ﬁfty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they crush us.’
The results of the Plans
As soon as the First Five Year Plan was ﬁnished, a second Five Year Plan was drawn up for the years 1932-1937. Some of the results of the two Plans can be seen in these tables from another IBDP Past exam based on estimates provided by a British economic historian, Alec Nove:
WORKERS AND THEIR WORK
To make sure that Soviet workers reached the targets set up by the FiveYear Plans, the government introduced all sorts of new work practices.
New work practices
In 1929 the government introduced what it called an ‘uninterrupted’ week. Instead of working for ﬁve days and then closing at weekends, factories now worked all seven days of the week, with a ﬁfth of the workers having their day off on any one day. Because the rest day was not the same for everybody, husbands and wives often found that they had little free time together. And as there was no longer an ofﬁcial Sunday, Christians found church attendance difﬁcult. To prevent workers from taking time off work, absenteeism was punished with the sack and with eviction from factory housing. Absenteeism was deﬁned as more than one day’s absence without good reason. This was changed in 1938 to being more than twenty minutes late for work without good reason. As a result of this strict discipline, many workers stayed only a few weeks in their jobs before moving on to ﬁnd more agreeable work. To discourage workers from doing this, the OGPU — the State Political Administration, or secret police introduced internal passports in 1932. This meant that anyone who lived in a town was registered with the police and could not move to a new town without police permission. As well as internal passports, industrial workers had to carry workbooks. These recorded their previous jobs, as well as details of any offences they had committed against labour discipline. Not surprisingly, many workers hated the new work practices. This extract from a secret police report of 1929 tells of complaints that weavers in Smolensk made about their factory. The report concerns a meeting at which the factory bosses tried to persuade the workers to reduce production costs:
‘As soon as the meeting opened the weavers made their way to the exit . . . The weavers, as they were leaving, shouted: ‘You well-fed devils have sucked the juices out of us enough . . . For twelve years already you have drivelled and agitated and stuffed our heads. Before you said that the factory owners exploited us, but the factory owners did not force us to work in four shifts, and there was enough of everything in the shops. Now we work four shifts. Where before four men worked, now only one works. You are bloodsuckers, and that’s not all . . . If you go to a shop now and want to buy something, the shops are empty: there are no shoes, no clothing, there is nothing the worker needs.’Not all workers hated the new work practices. Millions belonged to ‘shock brigades’ — groups of young workers who aimed to set a good example by competing with each other to increase their output. Workers in shock brigades were never absent from work; many worked even on their rest days. They took good care of their machines. They kept an eye on their fellow workers and on the managers, and put pressure on them to work harder if they did not seem to be making enough effort. People who were willing to work hard could do well. Workers who stayed in one job and obeyed factory discipline received higher pay, better conditions and better housing. Members of the shock brigades received special privileges such as tickets to the opera, paid holidays and access to special shops. And the best workers of all were given medals and decorations in addition to better pay and housing and privileges. These were the Stakhanovites.
The Stakhanov movement
In 1935 a coal miner in the Donbas region of the USSR worked out a new way of extracting coal from the coal face. His name was Alexei Stakhanov. By doing the skilled job of coal-cutting himself, and by using his unskilled comrades to cart away the coal, he found that he could cut fourteen times more coal than usual: instead of the normal 7 tonnes of coal, he extracted 102 tonnes in a single shift. The government gave great publicity to Stakhanov’s methods. As a result, other miners, as well as workers in other industries, copied Stakhanov’s example. The results were impressive, as the Chairman of Gosplan wrote in 1935:
‘Dyukanov, a Communist . . . cut 133 tons of coal in one shift, which record Borissov, using an electric drill, later raised at Prokopyevsk to 778 tons. Bussygin, a blacksmith of the Gorky Automobile Plant, made 157 crankshafts an hour, while the American rate of output is 100. Smetatin, a worker of the Leningrad factory "Skorokhod’, handles 1,860 pairs of shoes in a shift, surpassing the standard of the Bata factory of Czechoslovakia where the rate is 1,125 pairs.’Stakhanovites, as such workers were known, were the cream of the work—force. They were given new ﬂats at a time when little new housing was being built. They appeared on the front pages of national news papers. They were made ‘Heroes of Socialist Labour’ and given medals. They were also, however, badly treated by some of their fellow workers. Some were even murdered. The Stakhanov movement was there fore quietly dropped in the late 1930s.
Problems of industrialisation
As a result of the First Five Year Plan the number of industrial workers in the USSR doubled from 11.3 million to 22.8 million. Millions of them were peasants who came into the towns with little experience of timekeeping, factory discipline and safety. Most of them also lacked basic training, as a factory director observed:
‘In the assembly shop I talked to a young man who was grinding sockets. I asked him how he measured, and he showed me how he used his ﬁngers. We had no measuring instruments.’As peasants ﬂooded into the towns and cities, all the basic amenities became overcrowded. Trams and buses were packed to suffocation point. Flats had to be shared by several families, so that there was one family in each room, sharing kitchen, bathroom and toilet. In new industrial cities such as Magnitogorsk factories were built before the houses, so workers had to live in tents, huts and all sorts of makeshift structures. Despite the problems, the harsh discipline and the bad conditions, Soviet workers were better off in one respect than millions of workers in what Stalin called the ‘advanced countries’. In America, Europe, Asia and the Far East, a massive economic slump put many millions of people out of work for the duration of the 1930s. Unemployment in the USA reached 15 million in 1933. Millions of the unemployed queued in ‘breadlines’ for charity handouts of food. Many were forced to live in shanty towns made of rubbish. In the USSR, in contrast, there was no unemployment. Every worker had a job.
SLAVE LABOUR AND THE LABOUR CAMPS
Some of the tasks set by the Five Year Plans were so big and ambitious that there were not enough workers to do them. In such cases, prisoners in prison camps were made to do the work. Their prisons thus became labour camps and they became slaves.
A special department of the secret police was set up in 1930 to run the labour camps. Its name was Gulag, the Chief Administration of Camps. The ﬁrst major work project organised by Gulag was a 500 kilometre canal from the White Sea to the Baltic Sea. Nearly 300,000 prisoners were set to work on the Belomor Canal with promises that they would be set free when it was completed. The work on the Belomor Canal was done entirely without machinery. The prisoners, or zeks, as they called themselves, dug the ground with picks and shovels, moved huge rocks by hand and carted earth in wheelbarrows. By working long hours in all weathers they completed the canal in May 1933, only twenty months after starting it. 72,000 zeks were promptly released, but the remaining 228,000 were transferred to other construction projects in distant parts of the USSR. The canal itself, which was intended to provide the Soviet navy with an escape route from the Baltic Sea, proved too shallow for this ‘ purpose. Since being bombed by German planes in the Second World War it has hardly been used.
The labour camps
By the end of the 1930s there were labour camps in every part of the USSR. Surrounded by watchtowers and barbed wire, there were camps in the most remote areas of the country, as well as in towns and cities, in full view of the public. The numbers of zeks in the camps grew from about 30,000 at the start of the First Five Year Plan to around 2 million in 1932. By 1937 the numbers had grown to 6 million, and by 1938 to 8 million. Conditions varied from camp to camp, but in all camps the conditions were bad. The zeks were made to work hard by a system of rationing food. The amount of food that a zek was given depended on whether he or she achieved the ‘norm’, or set amount of work, for the day. The rations were given out from a row of cauldrons, as Ernst Tallgren, a zek from 1940 to 1942, reported in an article which he wrote in 1948:
‘lst cauldron (for those who failed to achieve the full norm; the day labourers in the zone; and invalids, second class) thin soup twice day and 400 grammes of bread. ' 2nd cauldron (the full norm and ofﬁce workers): thin soup twice a day, 700 grammes of bread, and buckwheat in the evening. 3rd cauldron (for those achieving 15 or 20 per cent above the norm): soup twice a day, 900 grammes of bread, buckwheat and a small piece of ﬁsh or meat in the evening. 4th cauldron (the governing staff): 750 grammes of bread and a meal twice a day containing some meat or fats. 5th cauldron (sick food): a meal three times a day . . . and 700 grammes of bread . . . The prisoners are fed between 4 and 5 am before leaving for work and after their return between S and 7 pm . . . But as a rule the prisoners receive no food during their 12 hours of work.’From the zek’s point of view, however, there was a major defect in the cauldron system of rationing, as another ex—prisoner reported in 1952:
‘We were never in a condition to do what was demanded of us to have enough to eat. The hungrier we were, the worse we worked. The worse we worked the hungrier we became. From that vicious circle there was no escape.’
PURGES, SHOW TRIALS AND TERROR
How did so many people come to be inside the labour camps of the Gulag? Some of the reasons you already know: many were kulaks who had been thrown off their land. Some were workers who had failed to achieve the targets of the FiveYear Plans. Many were ordinary criminals. But the greatest number were those arrested during the Great Purge of 1935—8 — a series of mass arrests that began with the mysterious murder of Sergei Kirov.
The Kirov Murder
In 1934 Sergei Kirov was a member of the Politburo. He was also Secretary of the important Leningrad branch of the Communist Party. On 1 December 1934, as he was leaving his ofﬁce at 4.30 pm, he was shot in the back by Leonid Nikolayev, a young Communist who had been waiting in the corridor for him all afternoon. There were two strange features of the Kirov murder. The ﬁrst concerned the murderer, Nikolayev. Only a few days before the killing, secret police guards had stopped him close to Kirov’s ofﬁce with a revolver and a plan of Kirov’s movements in his pocket: yet instead of arresting Nikolayev the guards released him and returned his gun. The second mystery concerned Kirov’s bodyguard, Borisov, who normally went with him everywhere. At the time of the murder Borisov was nowhere to be seen. Yet, the day after, Borisov died in a car crash, the only casualty in a car containing several passengers. On the same day as Kirov’s murder, Stalin issued an order that anybody accused of ‘terrorism’ must be investigated without delay and executed immediately after conviction. There was to be no appeal or right of defence. Accordingly, Nikolayev was tried in secret on charges of terrorism and executed on 29 December. What had really happened? All the evidence suggests that the NKVD, the secret police, acting on Stalin’s orders, allowed Nikolayev to kill Kirov. But why should Stalin want Kirov dead? Kirov was at that time the most moderate member of the Politburo. He was also popular, he was a good speaker, he was handsome, and — unlike Stalin who came from Georgia in the southern USSR — he was Russian. At the 17th Party Congress in 1934 he received as much applause as Stalin himself. Kirov was, in short, a possible rival to Stalin’s position of supreme leader. Whatever the truth of the matter, Stalin claimed that Kirov’s murder was part of a conspiracy against himself and the Communist Party. He claimed that Nikolayev had acted on orders from a ‘Leningrad Opposition Centre’ which had connections with the old Left Opposition, especially Trotsky who, by now, was living in exile in Norway. As a result, Zinoviev, Kamenev and seventeen others were arrested and given long prison sentences. The NKVD then went on to arrest other members of the old Left Opposition.
The Great Purge
This was the start of a major purge of the Party. To purge the Party meant expelling members who, in one way or another, were unreliable. The Party Central Committee sent letters to branches all over the USSR, ordering them to check the reliability of members and, especially, to ﬁnd out whether they had ever been supporters of Trotsky. Meetings were then held at which members denounced and accused each other of being ‘Trotskyites’, or ‘Zinovievites’, or ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and so on. Written denunciations by letter were also encouraged. This is a typical example — a note sent to ‘Comrade Tsebar’ of the NKVD in Smolensk.
‘On June 22, 1936, a portrait of Trotsky was discovered in the living quarters of . . . Afanasiya Uromova . . . in Pluskovsky village soviet. Uromova, according to information, is a corrupt member of the kolkhoz who carries on subversive work in the kolkhoz. According to the report of Vasili Ulyanov, Uromova assaulted Ulyanov’s father. I request that measures be taken to investigate and bring Uromova to trial.’When Party members were denounced in this way, they were likely to be purged from the Party. When this happened they were likely to be sacked from their jobs as well. Friends and neighbours then cut off contact with them for' fear of being accused of the same crimes. And, in most cases, arrest by the NKVD came soon after.
The Show Trials
Some of the most important Party members arrested by the NKVD were given public trials to which the press had been invited and which were given maximum publicity. The ﬁrst of these ‘show trials’, the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’, began in 1936 and involved Zinoviev, Kamenev and fourteen others. They were accused of involvement in a conspiracy organised by Trotsky to overthrow the government. All but one of the defendants confessed to every accusation made against them, were found guilty, and Were shot the day after. ‘ In the next of the show trials, the ‘Trial of the Seventeen’ in January 1937, the victims were accused of having links with Trotsky, of setting up terrorist groups, and of wrecking industry. All were found guilty and thirteen were shot. The last and biggest of the show trials, in March 1938, involved Bukharin, Rykov and nineteen others. In this ‘Trial of the Twentyone’ the accused confessed to being members of a ‘Trotskyist-Rightist bloc’, to wrecking industry and to helping foreign spies. All were found guilty and shot. Few people at the time believed every word of the confessions that the accused made in the show trials. The confessions often sounded absurd, as source B shows. It is an extract from the confession of Sharangovich, First Secretary of Byelorussia, in the 1938 show trial.
‘I must also say that in 1932 we took measures to spread plague among pigs, which resulted in a high pig mortality . . . Further, as regards . . . horsebreeding, in 1936 we caused a wide outbreak of anaemia in Byelorussia. This was done intentionally because in Byelorussia horses are extremely important for defence purposes. We endeavoured to undermine this powerful base in case it should ever be needed in connection with war.’Why did the accused confess to such absurd crimes? In some cases they did so because they had been promised before the trial that they would not be executed if they confessed. In other cases they did so because they were tortured. And in other cases again they confessed out of loyalty to the Party.
The Great Terror
As the purge of the Party spread, it came to involve more than just the Party. In 1937 it spread to the armed forces. Marshal Tuchachevsky, Russia’s most famous general, and several other Red Army generals were arrested and shot. They were accused of spying for Germany and Japan. By 1939 every admiral, three of ﬁve Red Army Marshals, and roughly half the officers of the armed forces had been shot. The purges quickly came to affect the ordinary citizens of the USSR. Anyone overheard criticising Stalin was likely to be denounced to the NKVD as a Trotskyite. Neighbours found they could settle old quarrels for good by denouncing each other. Children were encouraged to denounce their parents, workers denounced their bosses, and vice-versa. Some people were even arrested for ‘failure to denounce’ suspicious people. By 1938 virtually the entire population was living in a state of terror: nobody knew to whom it was safe to talk.
LIFE UNDER STALIN’S RULE
What was it like to live and work in the Soviet Union under the rule of Stalin?
The cult of Stalin
To start with, everybody — no matter who or where they were — knew that Stalin was the leader. They could hardly fail to know it, for walls, hoardings, whole buildings were covered with huge portraits of his face. Every shop window displayed his bust. In ofﬁces, factories and even in private homes, ‘red corners’ containing busts of Lenin and Stalin were set up. Towns and cities, rivers and canals, schools and hospitals, mountains and lakes, were named after him. Newspapers referred to him as ‘Man of Steel’, ‘Iron Soldier’, ‘Universal Genius’, ‘Shining Sun of Humanity’, ‘Granite Bolshevik’, and dozens of other similar names. Audiences at meetings applauded whenever his name was mentioned — which was often. Films, plays, poems, stories and novels celebrated every detail of his life. Stalin, it seemed, could even improve a person’s love life, as this extract from a speech in the 1935 Congress of Soviets suggests:
‘All thanks to thee, 0 great educator, Stalin. I love a young woman with a renewed love and shall perpetuate myself in my children — all thanks to thee, great educator, Stalin. I shall be eternally happy and joyous, all thanks to thee, 0 great educator, Stalin. Everything belongs to thee, chief of our great country. And when the woman I love presents me with a child the ﬁrst word it shall utter will be: Stalin.’
Worship of Stalin was encouraged but religious worship was strongly discouraged. Nearly 40,000 Christian churches and 25,000 mosques were closed down and converted into clubs, cinemas, schools, and warehouses. Church bells were removed and melted down as scrap metal. In Muslim areas, women were forbidden to wear the veil and pilgrimages to Mecca were banned. Church leaders were arrested and imprisoned. Those who escaped arrest were forbidden to organise any religious activity in public. To weaken the religious faith of the Soviet people, the Communist Party had set up a League of Militant Atheists back in 1924. By 1933 it had 5.5 million members, whose job was to try to turn people away from religion. They set up anti-religious museums in former cathedrals. They burnt icons and other religious objects. They organised anti-religious propaganda campaigns. This extract from their training handbook gives us an idea of their views:
‘Q. How do you reply to a priest who says “your communism is just another religion”?
A. All religions involve belief in the supernatural. Communism does not.
Q. How did Karl Marx describe Christianity?
A. As the Executive Committee of the bourgeoisie.’
Under Stalin’s rule, school life and education became stricter. An education law of 1935 allowed teachers to use strict methods of discipline. Report cards and test marks, which had been abolished in the 1920s, were reintroduced. School uniforms were restored — including compulsory pigtails for girls. In history lessons, kings, battles, dates — especially Russian ones became the staple diet of pupils. The aim of education was summed up in Rule One of twenty rules of behaviour that all pupils had to learn by heart:
‘It is the duty of each school child to acquire knowledge persistently so as to become an educated and cultured citizen and to be of the greatest possible service to his country.’One result of these education policies was the almost total disappearance of illiteracy. By 1939, of people aged 9 to 49, 94 per cent in towns and 86 per cent in the countryside could read and write. Culture and censorship The Communist Party kept a strict watch on the Soviet Union’s creative artists — its writers, painters, composers, etc — to make sure that they supported the Party and the government. All writers had to belong to the Union of Soviet Writers, and members were expected to follow a policy of ‘socialist realism’ in their writings. This meant that novels, ﬁlmscripts, poems, plays and journalism had to deal with the lives of ordinary working people and to show the progress of Communism. The same applied to painters, composers and any other creative artist. Soviet people were therefore able to read only books that supported the ideas of Communism. What about books that had already been written but which did not support the Party? Nadezhda Mandelstam, a Soviet writer, tells us in her memoirs, published in 1970, what happened 'in such cases:
‘Varia ... showed us her school textbooks where the portraits of Party leaders had thick pieces of paper pasted over them as one by one they fell into disgrace — this the children had to do on instructions from their teacher . . . With every new arrest people went through their books and burned the works of disgraced leaders in their stoves. In new apartment buildings, which had central heating instead of stoves, forbidden books, personal diaries, correspondence and other “subversive literature” had to be cut up in pieces with scissors and thrown down the toilet.’
During the 1920s the Soviet government had tried to weaken the family as a unit of society because it believed it exploited women. Wedding rings were abolished. Abortion became available on demand. Marriages were performed in brief ceremonies only in register ofﬁces. Divorce could be obtained simply by one partner in the marriage requesting it. By 1934 there were 37 divorces for every 100 marriages, while there were 154,000 abortions for every 57,000 live births in Moscow. In 1936 a new family law aimed to reverse these trends. Divorce was made more difﬁcult, abortion became a criminal offence except when it was necessary on medical grounds, and wedding rings were restored. And to try to increase the birth rate, tax exemptions were given to families with large numbers of children. Families received a range of new beneﬁts under Stalin. There was a free health service for all, there were holidays with pay for many workers, and an insurance scheme against accidents at work. But, as you have read, little new housing was built, so families often had to share ﬂats, one family to a room, in the cities. And because the Five Year Plans concentrated on building up heavy industry, there were few consumer goods — clothes and domestic appliances, for example on sale in the shops.
Preparing for War: 1917-41
The isolation of Russia, 1917-21
After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 the Allied countries of the West cut off their links with Russia (as it was then called). They were angry with the Communists for withdrawing from the First World War, and several of them sent armies to help fight the Communists in the Civil War of 1918-21. They did not invite Russia to sign the Paris Peace Treaties of 1919-20, nor did they invite it to join the League of Nations. Russia thus became an outcast in the world.
At first the Communists did not mind being isolated in this way. Lenin thought that Communist revolutions would soon sweep away the hostile capitalist governments in Europe and the USA. Then the world would be united in Communism and Russia's isolation would end. To help bring about this world revolution the Russians set up an organisation called Comintern. Led by Grigori Zinoviev, the aim of Comintern was to help Communists abroad organise strikes, rebellions and protests by sending them advisers and by providing them with money.
The end of isolation
Comintern did not succeed in starting a world revolution. Strikes and risings took place in many countries in the early 1920s, but all failed. Gradually Lenin gave up the idea; Russia in the early 1920s desperately needed foreign help to rebuild her damaged economy. So Russia slowly began to re-establish links with the rest of the world. Trade agreements with neighbouring countries helped Russian trade to recover, and in 1922 the Treaty of Rapallo with Germany gave Russia her first post-war ally. The treaty created trade links between the two countries and also secretly arranged for the German armed forces to do military training and to manufacture armaments in Russia.
By 1929 the USSR had links with every major power in the world except the USA. This did not mean, however, that the USSR was now friendly with these countries. As you know, Stalin was very suspicious of the capitalist countries. He feared that they would attack the USSR and believed that the USSR must be rapidly industrialised to be able to protect itself.
The Nazi threat to the USSR.
In 1933 the threat to the USSR increased when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. Hitler was anti-Communist as well as anti-Russian, believing that the Russians belonged to an 'inferior race' of Slavs, and that Germany must take land from the USSR to provide 'living space' for the Germans. To gain protection against the threat from Germany, Stalin began to play a more active part in world affairs. In 1934 the USSR joined the League of Nations. In 1935 the USSR agreed with France that they would jointly help Czechoslovakia resist any attack by Germany. At the same time, Comintern instructed Communist parties in Europe to work with socialist parties.
Stalin's main aim in doing these things was to persuade Britain and France that they could trust the USSR to stand up with them against German aggression. But the British and French governments remained suspicious of Communism. Instead of taking joint action with the USSR against Germany, the British and French often gave way to Hitler. When, in 1936, Hitler began giving help to the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, the USSR gave help to the Republicans who opposed the Fascists, while France and Britain did nothing. When Germany united with Austria in 1938 Britain and France did nothing. And again in 1938, when Hitler demanded the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, Britain and France supported Hitler's demand at the Munich Conference and allowed him to take it. Neither the Soviets nor the Czechs were invited to the Conference, or even consulted about the matter.
It was obvious by 1939 that Hitler would attack Poland next. To Stalin it also seemed obvious that Britain and France would do nothing to stop this. Stalin believed that a German attack on Poland would be followed by an invasion of the USSR itself.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939
Stalin thought the USSR would be beaten in a war against Germany. To protect the USSR he would therefore have to find an ally. In April 1939 he asked Britain and France to join the USSR in a treaty of mutual assistance. Both countries disliked the idea. They were suspicious of Stalin and, anyway, they did not think the Red Army was capable of putting up a strong fight. Stalin therefore turned to the most unlikely partner for an alliance - Hitler himself. On 23 August 1939 the two
countries signed a Nazi- Soviet Pact agreeing not to fight each other. Secretly, they also agreed to divide Poland between them. The Germans also secretly agreed that the USSR could take back the provinces which it had lost in 1918 - Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and part of Finland.
Soviet expansion, 1939-41
The German army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. The Soviet Red Army attacked on 17 September, after the Polish army had been smashed by the Germans. The USSR and Germany then divided Poland between them. To defend Leningrad against any possible attack from the west, Stalin now forced the Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - to permit Soviet bases on their land. Then, in July 1940, the Red Army occupied the three countries and made them into provinces of the USSR. Another Baltic state, Finland, was also a threat to Leningrad, for its frontier was within shelling distance of the city. So in November 1939 Stalin offered the Finns a large area of Soviet land to the north in exchange for Finnish territory close to Leningrad. When the Finns rejected this offer the Red Army invaded Finland.
In the first month of the 'Winter War' between the USSR and Finland, the Red Army was defeated many times by the smaller but more experienced Finnish army. By March 1940, however, the Finns had run out of reserves and had to make peace. The Treaty of Moscow between the two countries gave the USSR all the land that Stalin had asked for. The Winter War was a costly victory for Stalin: 200,000 Soviet soldiers were killed; the USSR was expelled from the League of Nations; and the defeats suffered by the Red Army made Hitler doubt whether it could stand up to him.
During the spring of 1940 Hitler and the German army invaded and occupied many of the countries of Western Europe. While Hitler was busy with the conquest of France in June 1940, Stalin attacked and took Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina from Romania. This had not been agreed in the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and Stalin's action annoyed Hitler. Relations between the two leaders began to cool. In December 1940 Hitler called off his plans for invading Britain. Now that most of Western Europe was under his control, he could turn his attention to Russia. He ordered his generals to make plans for invading the USSR the following year, 1941.
The USSR and the Far East
Meanwhile, in the east, Stalin had reason to fear another aggressive neighbour - Japan. Ten years earlier, in 1931, Japan had invaded Manchuria, a province of China on the border with the USSR. This brought Soviet troops face to face with Japanese troops. When Japan and Germany signed the Anti- Comintem Pact against the USSR in 1936, Stalin feared that the Red Army might have to fight a war on two fronts. To prevent this happening, Stalin signed a Neutrality Pact with Japan in April 1941.
The Neutrality Pact with Japan came just in time, for on 22 June 1941 the German armed forces invaded the USSR in a massive military assault code-named Operation Barbarossa.
Operation Barbarossa - which means Red Beard - began at 4.15 am on 22 June 1941. Three German armies totalling 3.2 million men tore through the Soviet frontier and quickly advanced deep into the western USSR. Within a week they had destroyed the Red Army's defences, captured vast quantities of its supplies, smashed the Red Air Force while most" of its planes were still on the ground, and taken more than 600,000 Soviet people prisoner.
The 'scorched earth' policy
The USSR was staring defeat in the face when Stalin made a radio speech on 3 July, telling the Soviet people that they must use a 'scorched earth' policy against the Germans:
'In case of a forced retreat of Red Army units, all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway truck . . . Collective farmers must drive off all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe-keeping of the State authorities, for transportation to the rear. All valuable property that cannot be withdrawn must be destroyed without fail. In areas occupied by the enemy . . . sabotage groups must be organised to combat enemy units . . . blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transports. In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy.'In the week after Stalin's speech the Soviet people rallied round to fight the German invaders and to carry out Stalin's orders. Why did they do this when millions had every reason to hate Stalin and the Communist Party?
Partly it was due to patriotism - the desire to defend their fatherland from attack. Partly it was because the Germans treated the Soviet people with appalling cruelty in areas which they occupied. Millions were rounded up and taken to Germany as slave labour. Millions more, especially Jews and members of the Party, were executed by 'Special Action Groups' of the Nazi SS which followed the German armies into the USSR. In a single massacre at Babi Yar, near Kiev, 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. Fear and hatred of the Germans encouraged Soviet people to give their utmost in the war.
Despite the best efforts of the Soviet people, by November 1941 it seemed certain that the USSR would be beaten. The Director of Gosplan later explained the hopelessness of the situation:
'On the territory that had been occupied by the Germans in November 1941 lived about 40 per cent of the whole Soviet population. About 65 per cent of the whole pre-war output of coal had come from there, 68 per cent of all pig-iron, 58 per cent of all steel, 60 per cent of aluminium . . ., 38 per cent of the grain . . ., 41 per cent of all railway lines of the USSR.'
How the USSR was saved
Three things stopped the German armies from defeating the USSR at the end of 1941. First, as the Germans advanced, the Soviets moved 1,360 of their most important factories to new locations east of the Ural mountains, well beyond the reach of the Germans. By taking the factories and machines to pieces and sending them eastwards on railway trains, the Russians made sure they could go on producing ball-bearings, engines, bullets, wheels and all the other things needed for war.
A second reason why Germany failed to defeat the USSR in 1941 was bad weather. The German armies were not equipped for fighting in the winter weather. Hundreds of soldiers suffered frostbite every day. Tanks and lorries refused to start as petrol froze solid in the fuel-pipes. Machine-guns refused to fire. So when, on 6 December, General Zhukov launched a Soviet counter-attack against German forces advancing on Moscow, the exhausted and frozen Germans were forced to abandon their advance. -
A third reason for the Soviet Union's survival in 1941 was help from the USA. In November 1941 the American government began giving Lend-Lease aid to the USSR. Over the next year more than a billion dollars worth of food, medical supplies, weapons, fuel and transport equipment was taken in convoys of ships from the USA to the Soviet port of Archangel. By 1945 the Americans had sent 16.5 million tonnes of material to the USSR. Without this aid it is unlikely that the USSR could have continued fighting.
Leningrad and Stalingrad
In 1942 Hitler launched two offensives: one in the north to capture Leningrad, the other in the south to capture the oilfields of the Caucasus.
The Germans had already attacked Leningrad in September 1941. Since then they had held the city under siege. As a result, very little food reached Leningrad during the winter of 1941-2, and thousands of citizens died of famine and cold. Although the Germans failed to capture Leningrad in the 1942 offensive, they maintained the siege until January 1944. During the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, from 1941 to 1944, 900,000 people died of starvation, exposure and bombing. Conditions in the city were later described by D. V. Pavlov, a city official:
'To fill their empty stomachs, to reduce the intense sufferings caused by hunger, people would look for incredible substitutes: they would try to catch crows or rooks, or any cat or dog that had somehow survived, they would go through medicine chests in search of castor oil, hair oil, vaseline or glycerine; they would make soup or jelly out of carpenter's glue (scraped off wallpaper or broken-up furniture) . . .'In the south, Hitler decided to begin his advance on the Caucasus by taking Stalingrad, a major city on the River Volga. Two German armies totalling 300,000 men advanced on the city in September 1942. However, they advanced into a trap. While a small, lightly equipped Soviet force inside the city defended it street by street and house by house, massive Soviet reserves were assembled outside Stalingrad. In November they attacked and surrounded the Germans. After months of desperate fighting the German armies surrendered in February 1943.
After its victory at Stalingrad the Red Army took the offensive against the Germans. In 1943 Soviet forces defeated the German army in a massive tank battle at Kursk. In 1944, the 'Year of the Ten Victories', the Red Army brought an end to the Siege of Leningrad, drove the Germans entirely out of Soviet territory, and entered Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in Eastern Europe. In January 1945 they began their final offensive of the war, an advance into Germany itself. Berlin, the capital, surrendered on 2 May 1945, bringing the war in Europe to an end.
The victory of the Red Army was a very costly one. As the Germans retreated from Soviet territory, they used the same 'scorched earth' policy that the Soviet people themselves had used in 1942. This meant that roads, railways, canals and bridges, dams, power stations, factories and farms that had not already been wrecked were now deliberately destroyed by the Germans to prevent the advancing Soviets from using them. The western part of the USSR that the Red Army recaptured was therefore a devastated wasteland by 1945.
The wartime conferences
Whilst the Red Army was driving out the Germans, Stalin was involved in negotiations with the British and American governments. In 1942 the USSR, Britain and the USA became allies in the war against Germany, Italy and Japan. Stalin's main concern was that his new allies should open a 'second front' in Western Europe so that Hitler would have to split the German armies and fight a war on two fronts. This would take some of the pressure off the USSR.
The 'Big Three' Allied leaders - Stalin, Roosevelt of the USA and Churchill of Britain - met for a conference in the Iranian capital, Teheran, in 1943 to discuss the opening of the 'second front' in France the following year. In return for the definite promise of a second front, Stalin agreed to join the Allies in their war against Japan as soon as Germany had been beaten. At Teheran, Churchill also agreed that the USSR should keep the areas of Western Poland it had seized in 1939 at the start of the war. Poland would be compensated with German land in the west.
The 'Big Three' met again in February 1945 at Yalta in the USSR. At the Yalta Conference they confirmed the decisions made at Teheran about Poland. Stalin confirmed that the USSR would join the war against Japan. The leaders agreed to work together to set up a United Nations Organisation, and they agreed to divide Germany into four zones of military occupation at the end of the war. Stalin made it clear at Yalta that the future security of the Soviet Union depended on the
USSR controlling the 4 countries of Eastern Europe so that they would act as a 'buffer zone' against any invasion by the west.
The third and last of the major wartime conferences was held at Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin, in July 1945, after the defeat of Germany. Two major changes had taken place since the last meeting at Yalta: President Roosevelt had died and in his place at Potsdam was the new American President, Harry Truman; and, in Britain, a general election was taking place in which Churchill was defeated. A new British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, took his place half way through the conference. At the
Potsdam Conference Stalin was therefore the only original member of the 'Big Three' who had attended the earlier conferences. He was able to use the greater experience that this gave him to the advantage of the USSR.
At Potsdam the three leaders confirmed the arrangements made at Yalta. Germany and Austria were to be divided into four military zones, and the USSR would take compensation for war damage from the eastern zones which would be under Soviet control. The leaders agreed that the western frontier of Poland would be along the line of the Oder and Neisse rivers; or, to put it another way, the Poles would be given a chunk of eastern Germany to compensate them for the loss of eastern Poland to the USSR.
The Potsdam Conference was not a harmonious meeting. The spirit of co-operation broke down between the Allies and all sorts of suspicions took its place. Stalin began to fear Truman's intentions when Truman told him that the USA now possessed atomic bombs of great destructive power. Truman believed that Stalin was more interested in getting control of Eastern Europe than in making peace.
The Red Army in Eastern Europe
By the end of the war in 1945 the Red Army controlled virtually all the nations of Eastern Europe. Now that they had been 'liberated' from Nazi rule, the people of these countries went to the polls to elect new, democratic governments. However, as you have read, Stalin was determined that Eastern Europe should be a buffer zone of states friendly to the USSR. The elections were therefore not truly democratic, for the Red Army made sure that any party which was not friendly to the USSR stood no chance of winning the elections.
In elections in Yugoslavia in November 1945 the voters had no real choice. Parties which opposed the Communist Peoples' Front government that had seized power in March 1945 were banned. Only members of the Peoples' Front could stand, and they were named together on a single voting list which voters could either approve or reject. As a result the Peoples' Front won the election.
A similar process ensured a Communist government in Albania. On 2 December 1945 the Communist Democratic Front led by Enver Hoxha won the election using the 'single list' method that had been so successful in Yugoslavia.
In the other Eastern European countries Soviet political experts helped Communists to organise 'single-list' elections and to gain the upper hand in governments. These tactics ensured that by
1949 all the countries of Eastern Europe were governed by Communists, most of them friendly with the USSR.
The war against Japan
In accordance with Stalin's promises at Yalta and Potsdam, Soviet forces entered the war against Japan on 8 August 1945. This declaration of war came two days after the Americans had dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, bringing Japan close to defeat.
On 8 August large Red Army forces invaded and began to occupy Manchuria and Korea. On the same day the USA used its second atomic bomb to destroy the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Two days after that the Japanese government surrendered, bringing the war in the Far East to an end.
The Great Fatherland War of 1941-5 left much of the western USSR in ruins. Apart from the usual destruction of war, the 'scorched earth' policy used first by the Soviet people in 1942, and then by the retreating Germans in 1943-4, caused more death and destruction than ever before suffered by a single country. The war killed some 20 million Soviet citizens - around a tenth of the pre-war population. 70,000 villages and 98,000 farms were wholly or partly destroyed. 4.7 million homes were demolished, leaving 25 million people homeless. 65,000 kilometres of railway track were torn up. Dams, bridges, locomotives, ships, factories, mines, had been wrecked. And now that the fighting was over, American Lend-Lease aid, on which the USSR had come to depend for survival, was suddenly stopped. The task of rebuilding the USSR was clearly going to be a difficult and painful one.
To direct the task of reconstruction, Stalin announced a fourth Five-Year Plan in 1946. Like the Plans of the 1930s the fourth Plan put great emphasis on building up heavy industry and the transport system, and not much emphasis on consumer goods. This meant that the building of factories came before the building of houses; railway locomotives and river barges came before cars and cycles; turbines, tugs and tractors came before telephones or tea-cups. To help achieve the Plan's targets, Manchuria in China and the countries of Eastern Europe occupied by the Red Army were stripped of machinery, railway equipment, raw materials and skilled workers.
As the table below shows, the Plan was a great success. By 1950 many parts of the USSR were producing as much as in 1940. In several cases the Plan's industrial targets were exceeded:
To make sure that every Soviet citizen played a full part in the work of reconstruction, all sorts of restrictions were placed on their lives. To prevent them making unfavourable comparisons with life in Western Europe, Stalin isolated them from the rest of the world: Soviet citizens were not allowed to marry foreigners or travel abroad; newspapers carried stories about appalling conditions in the West so that the USSR would not seem bad in comparison; and soldiers returning from duty in the Soviet zones of Germany and Austria were forbidden to talk about what they had seen.
At the same time, Stalin launched a campaign to glorify the USSR and everything Russian. Most major discoveries and inventions of the past - the radio and printing press, for example - were said to be the work of Russian people. Even the wheel was claimed to be the invention of pre- historic people living on the Moskva river.
The 'iron curtain'
As we have covered, Communist governments friendly to the USSR were set up in several Eastern European countries in 1945. Over the next few years Communist governments came to power in nearly every country in Eastern Europe.
In Czechoslovakia the Communists, led by Klement Gottwald, took control in 1948. The only non- Communist member of the new government, Jan Masaryk, was later found dead on a pavement beneath an open high window. In Poland the Communists took power in 1947 and banned the Peasant Party, the largest party opposing them. In Bulgaria the Communists formed a government in 1946 and banned the opposing Peasant Party a year later. In Hungary the Communist leader Matyas Rakosi used what he called 'salami tactics' to form a government. This meant 'slicing off’ other parties in parliament, one by one, until only the Communist Party was left.
In 1946 Winston Churchill summed up the situation in Eastern Europe in these immortal words:
'From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. . . All are subject not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and increasing measure of control from Moscow.'Moscow's control of Eastern Europe was tightened in the following year, 1947, when Stalin set up an organisation to co-ordinate the policies of the Communist countries - the Cominform, or Communist Information Bureau. A similar body set up in 1949 - Comecon, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance - aimed to co-ordinate the economic policies of the Eastern European states.
There was very little contact between the Eastern and Western European countries after 1947. Two thousand kilometres of fortified border fences with barbed wire, sentry posts and minefields made sure that the 'iron curtain' really did keep them apart.
--> Stalin’s death
After the Second World War Stalin ruled the USSR as a dictator even more than he had done before. The Politburo and Central Committee of the Party never met between 1947 and 1952. Instead, Stalin made all the decisions himself and gave orders verbally to whichever officials happened to be near him at the time. Anyone unwise enough to ignore Stalin’s orders risked being purged. In 1948 he purged the Leningrad branch of the Communist Party which for some years had shown a tendency to ignore his instructions. In this purge over 1000 Party officials were arrested and shot. Jews were another victim of Stalin in his final years. Thousands were arrested and accused of anti-Russian conspiracy. By 1952, the last year of his life, Stalin was seeing conspiracies everywhere.
Anyone criticising Stalin was taking great risks. Political jokes tend to flourish under totalitarian regimes and are one way people can express to each other their feelings about their rulers. Those below were targeted at Stalin and the political system and lifestyle he had created in the Soviet Union:
Stalin dies and goes to hell. Sometime later, Saint Peter is surprised to see several devils hammering on the Pearly Gates and demanding to be let in. ‘What do you want?’, asks Saint Peter, suspecting a devious trick. ‘We want to get in’, a devil replies. ‘Why?’ The devils prostrate themselves before Saint Peter. ‘We want political asylum!’
Stalin complained to a colleague in the Kremlin that his office was infested with mice and that nothing, including traps and poison, had succeeded in getting rid of them. ‘No problem!’, the colleague replied. ‘Just declare your office is a collective farm. Half the mice will run away and the other half will die of starvation’.
Q. Why do the secret police always travel in threes?
A. One can read, one can write, and the third is there to keep an eye on the intellectuals.
Stalin wanted to get a true picture of what people thought of him so he went in disguise to a cinema. After the film, a newsreel was shown which naturally highlighted Stalin in every scene. All the audience stood up amidst thunderous, unrelenting applause. Stalin remained modestly seated. After a few moments the man next to Stalin nudged him and said gently: ‘Most people feel the same way as you, comrade. But it would be safer if you stood up’.
A flock of sheep was stopped by frontier guards at the Russo-Finnish border. ‘Why do you want to leave Russia?’, the guards asked. ‘It’s the NKVD’, replied the terrified sheep. ‘They’ve ordered the arrest of all elephants’. ‘But you’re not elephants!’, the guards exclaimed. ‘Yes’, said the sheep. ‘But try telling that to the NKVD!’On 5 March 1953, Stalin died of a stroke. His body was put on display in the Kremlin and hundreds of thousands of Russians queued up to pay their last respects. It was reported that the queue stretched for 16 kilometres. One of those that went to look was a young poet, Y.A. Yevtushenko, who later wrote about the occasion:
“A sort of paralysis came over the country. People who had been trained to believe that Stalin was taking care of everyone, were lost and bewildered without him. The whole of Russia wept. So did I. I’ll never forget going to see Stalin’s coffin. The breath of thousands of people pressed against one another rose up in a thick white cloud. The crowd turned into a monstrous whirlpool. I realised that I was being carried (by the crowd) straight towards a traffic light. Suddenly I saw that a young girl was being pushed against the post. Her face was distorted by a despairing scream. A movement in the crowd drove me against the girl; I did not hear but felt with my body the cracking of her brittle bones as they were broken on the traffic light. I closed my eyes in horror and I was swept past. When I looked again, the girl was no longer to be seen. The crowd must have sucked her under. At that moment I felt I was treading on something soft. I was a human body. I picked my feet up and was borne along by the crowd. I was saved by my height. Short people were smothered alive. We were caught between the walls of houses on one side and a row of army trucks on the other. ‘Get the trucks out of the way!’, people howled. ‘I can’t. I’ve got no instructions’, a very young, bewildered police officer shouted back from one of the trucks. And the people were being hurtled against the trucks by the crowd, and their heads smashed. The sides of the trucks were running with blood. All at once I felt a savage hatred for everything that had given birth to that ‘No instructions’ shouted when people are dying of someone’s stupidity. For the first time in my life I thought of hatred of the man we were burying. He could not be innocent of the disaster."After helping to organise chains to save people, Yevtushenko no longer felt like going to see Stalin’s body. Instead he went home:
‘Did you see Stalin’s body?’, my mother asked me.
‘Yes’, I said discouragingly.
I hadn’t lied to my mother. Stalin really was what I had seen.
Joseph Stalin had an enormous impact on Russia and the Russian people. He became leader after the death of Lenin. The NEP had made sure progress but more rapid growth was needed for the USSR to catch up with the West. This was central to Stalin’s policy of ‘Socialism in one country’. As Stalin summed up the situation “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make up this leeway in ten years. Either we do it or they crush us”, Stalin 1931.
Development of Industry
To set about achieving modernisation, a series of Five-Year plans were drawn up by Gosplan, the state planning organisation, and Lenin’s NEP was ended by Stalin. These plans set ambitious targets for production in the vital heavy industries (coal, iron, oil, and electricity). The first Five-Year Plan ran from 1928 to 1933, and was followed by a second one in 1937. During this period, Stalin’s aim ‘to catch up with and out-distance America’ was not reached; but though not all targets of the Plans were hit, the overall achievement was tremendous. Although success was often grossly exaggerated, nevertheless, in less than ten years the USSR had almost doubled its industrial output.
The cost of Stalin’s Five- Year Plans was paid by the suffering of it workers. New industrial zones, towns, and cities were set up-often with poor quality housing. Long hours were worked for low pay and higher wages were offered to foreign workers with special skills required to work on new schemes. Bonuses were given for workers who could improve upon production targets as an inspiration to others, but these were often unrealistic targets for most workers. Much of the work was done by forced Labour Camps of criminals and political prisoners. The targets were propaganda tools-the government said they’d been broken but often it’s hard to tell how much was really achieved and how much was just propaganda. The workers were constantly bombarded with propaganda posters, slogans, and radio broadcasts. Often production was increased at the expense of quality. In many cases output figures were complete lies, and were falsified out of fear.
Changes in Agriculture
When Stalin took over as leader, agriculture was mainly being carried on by peasants working their own plots. It was vital to increase the food supplies to workers in the towns and cities or the Five-Year Plans wouldn’t succeed. Small-scale peasant farming was inefficient. Stalin forced peasants to collectivise (land was pooled together). The peasants resisted this change, so Stalin decided to use force. Stalin saw the Kulaks, the rich peasants, as the main enemies of change. Many of those who lost their farms were sent to do forced Labour in Siberia, or were shot. By 1934 about three quarters of the peasants farms had been brought into collectives, but this change was brought about at a tremendous cost. The amount of food produced fell sharply. Many peasants slaughtered their animals rather than give them to the collectives. The number of Russian cattle and horses fell by half between 1929 and 1923. The new system did not work at first and a bad harvest combined with Kulaks destroying crops and animals caused a serious famine. The number who starved to death is unknown but it probably ran into many millions. Stalin’s second wife Nadya committed suicide during this time in 1932, driven to despair by the suffering of the Russian people. The peasants showed their resentment by doing the least possible work on the farms, and working hard on their small private plots. In 1938, although the private plots made up only 3% of the area farmed, they contained over half the cattle. The peasants continued to resent Stalin and were afraid of Communist Power.
By the late 1930s many Soviet workers had improved their conditions by acquiring well-paid skilled jobs and earning bonuses for meeting targets. However life and factory discipline under Stalin was strict. There were no payments for the unemployed since they were sent straight to another job. So unemployment was almost non-existent. For people unable to work due to illness there were sickness payments provided they had a good record at work. In 1932 a generous system of old age pensions was established. Heavy industry was given priority, which meant there were fewer consumer goods such as clothes, and radios, which ordinary people wanted to buy. Most people lived in houses provided by the State, but these were often over crowded. Normal life was very harsh.
The role of women changed greatly under Stalin. To help meet industrial targets, Stalin established thousands of new crèches and day care centres so mothers could work. By 1937 40% of industrial workers were women. Many new hospitals and clinics were built. Large numbers of doctors were trained, over half of them were women. By 1940 the USSR had more doctors per head of population than Great Britain.
Education became free and compulsory for all. So many more schools were built, and by 1934 all children between the ages of 7 and 14 went to a Seven Year School. After the age of fourteen, education laid particular stress on technical subjects, which were directly connected with the Five-Year Plan. Discipline was tightened throughout the educational system, because Stalin did not approve of the liberal methods in many schools. Stalin invested huge sums of money into training schemes based in colleges and in the work place. Adults were not neglected. The problem of illiteracy was tackled, and between 1920 and 1940, fifty million adults learned how to read and write.
Stalin believed that the easy divorces caused crime amongst young people and stricter marriage laws were reintroduced. He also ruthlessly repressed religion. Christians were persecuted as a political threat to Communism, and Priests were murdered or exiled. In 1929 the Church was banned from any activity except leading worship. In the Republics of Central Asia Muslim leaders were imprisoned or deported, and pilgrimages to Mecca were banned.
Terror and Purges
Stalin was one of the most tyrannical dictators the world has known. He inflicted Terror and death on the Russian people on an unimaginable scale. The most terrifying period in Stalin’s rule, known as the Purges, began in 1934. Stalin murdered his opponents in the party. Many included former loyal communists, such as Zinoviev and Kamenev. It was not only leading figures that were murdered. About one third of the Party were arrested on charges of anti-Soviet activities, and were either executed or sent to Labour Camps. Similarly the Red Army was purged. About 25,000 officers and virtually all generals were removed and executed. The Purges and Terror permeated all of Russian life. All people were affected. University lecturers and teachers, miners and engineers, factory managers and ordinary workers all disappeared. It was said that every family in the USSR lost someone in the purges. Anyone suspected of disloyalty to Stalin was taken away by the NKVD (the new secret police). Most were shot or sent to Labour Camps. People who wanted to avoid arrest did so by providing information about others-even if it was false. By 1939 between 5 and 10 million people were dead and between 9 and 18 million were political prisoners (precise numbers are not known). Stalin built his image as a saviour of the people. He controlled all information and the media spread his propaganda. There was no freedom. Huge portraits of Stalin were displayed everywhere, and the mere mention of his name brought tumultuous applause. No one liked to stop clapping first; his secret police might notice. No Tsar in Russian history earned such respect and fear from his people!
Both Lenin and Stalin are giants in the History of the Soviet Union and the 20th century. It is difficult to determine which, if either, was the most singularly important figure.
Lenin’s greatest contribution was his role in establishing a Bolshevik Government. It was Lenin’s remarkable determination, ruthlessness, and clarity of vision that enabled the relatively small Bolshevik Party to seize and hold power. Without his Leadership, and his conception of the revolutionary party as a disciplined and military-style organization, it is highly possible that that the Bolshevik party would not have won the revolution, and the subsequent Communist Soviet Union may not have been established. Similarly, his brilliant leadership qualities and determination, and ruthlessness (e.g. “War Communism”), allowed him and Bolsheviks to preserve their authority and eventually win the Civil War. As a ‘Revolutionary Leader or Figure’, Lenin is second to none and in this context clearly surpasses Joseph Stalin.
It is important to bear in mind that Lenin was Head of State for only six years, compared to Stalin’s reign of almost thirty years. Hence in terms of a Head of State or Statesman, on balance Stalin was the most important figure especially in relation to impact on the economy and daily lives of the ordinary citizen. For example Stalin had a huge impact on industry by implementing a series of Five-Year Plans. In under ten years, the USSR had almost doubled its industrial output-but the price was misery and low living standards for Soviet Workers. Hence although Lenin laid the foundations of communism, it could be argued Stalin improved upon them. Similarly Stalin had an enormous affect on the lives of Russian peasants and destroyed the traditional peasant way of life by forced Collectivisation. Perhaps his most infamous role in Russian life was his Purges and reign of Terror. The ‘Great Terror’ continued with varying degrees of intensity until the 1940’s. It extended into all areas of Soviet life, claiming the lives of many millions of Soviet people, from generals and artists to ordinary factory workers. Stalin also was a central figure in the defeat of Nazi Germany and emerged from the war with huge domestic and international prestige. He dominated the politics of Eastern Europe after the 2nd World War. Later in life he became obsessed with American Economic and Military strength. This led to the Cold War and he attempted to match the military strength of the United States but he did not possess the economy to achieve this. In doing so he laid the foundation for the subsequent destruction of the Soviet Union economy and the communist political system.
In summary, Lenin was the more successful Revolutionary Figure/Leader. But Stalin’s impact as a State Leader was in my opinion far more prominent. Stalin had inherited an essentially backward peasant country in 1929. He bequeathed to his successors a nuclear superpower. This was achieved at the cost of great human suffering. For this reason, he is one of the most controversial figures of the Twentieth century, to some-a Hero Figure, and to others a Tyrannical Villain. “Like Peter the Great, Stalin, caring nothing for suffering, had seized Russia by the neck and heaved her into the forefront of the world’s nations”(N.C. Jackson)