Revision Notes and Essays on Stalin




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This HL class looks at Stalin’s biography and political personality; history often ignores the psychological makeup of the people to focus less on trivia than on simple dates. Stalin’s rise to power, his place in the party apparatus, and changes in membership are dealt with. To fully understand Stalin’s success, the class will see a Powerpoint that considers discontent with the policies of NEP.



Outline

Joseph Stalin was born Iosif Dzhugashvili (officially and this is no longer believed) December 21 1879- the same day as my son! Everyone who knew Stalin as a boy spoke of traits that have been described as that of an angry “rebel personality.” He tended to rebel against every manifestation of authority over him, notably at the seminary where he studied. Here he showed political defiance: He joined an underground Social Democratic Party circle (for which he was expelled from the seminary).

Complicating this, he was known to be insecure and defensive. He was Georgian, small, and severely pockmarked from smallpox. One arm was shorter than the other and he had apparently webbed-feet.

BUT the seminary may have encouraged certain features of his personal political culture.  He seems to have imbibed a taste for dogma and for the sacredness of principles. The seminary may also have encouraged his Manichean vision of the world. It also influenced the way he spoke.

Another noticeable trait in Stalin’s youth was an obsession with heroes and heroism. Throughout his life, he had special heroes—and did everything he could to emulate them. When still in elementary school, he took the nickname Koba after a Robin Hood-like hero in a favourite book; later, he changed to the revolutionary underground name Stalin (“Man of Steel”).



Stalin’s political biography reflected many of these traits and self-ideals. At a time when most Georgian socialists were Mensheviks, Stalin chose the Bolsheviks. He was impressed by Lenin’s heroic idea of the vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. He was attracted by the Bolshevik reputation for toughness and greater militancy. For Stalin, all these traits were embodied in the ideas and personality of the Bolshevik leader, Lenin, whom Stalin liked to call the “mountain eagle” of the party.



In the great debates over policy in the 1920s, which were also struggles over power, Stalin generally supported the dominant pro-NEP view, but in speeches and writings, he indicated that this was not his basic philosophical approach. He placed great stress on the importance and power of human will, on the “subjective” in history. LIKE HITLER. He argued that Leninism was a style of leadership entailing the combination of “Russian revolutionary sweep” with “American practicality.” When Stalin criticised Trotsky in the 1920s, he accused him of lacking sufficient optimism and faith. Similarly, in 1928–1929, Stalin and his supporters criticized the pro-NEP arguments of Bukharin and others of the “Right deviation” for their “pessimism.” There was also what some have called a religious spirit to Stalin’s ideas—a preoccupation with faith and the dogmatic sacrality of certain ideas.



How Stalin acquired so much influence and power in the 1920s.



Perhaps the most important factor was the changing structure of the party and Stalin’s place in this apparatus. During the Civil War, the whole structure of the party was reorganised. Until then, the party was governed by a small Central Committee dominated by Lenin. In 1919, a more complex structure was created, including a Political Bureau (Politburo), an Organizational Bureau (Orgburo), and a Secretariat. The role of the Secretariat, which Stalin headed after 1922, grew increasingly important, having control of party membership, appointments, and assignments. In Stalin’s hands, these powers proved to be tools for strengthening his own influence. He could fill the party bureaucracy with supporters and loyalists.  He could appoint the powerful party secretaries.  Through the secretaries, he could also influence selection of delegates to the Party Congress, which was the supreme power in the party.



There were a number of reasons why the rank and file of the party was not more assertive of their formal rights to elect officials and delegates, but the most important may have been the changing composition of the party. During the Civil War there was an enormous increase in party membership, especially as Communist victory became more likely. This had a major impact on political attitudes and behavior. Above all, these new Communists, now a majority, were less independent-minded and more obedient to the party organization. This was intensified in 1924, at the time of Lenin’s death, with the massive “Lenin enrollment” promoted by Stalin. As General Secretary, Stalin could make use of these conditions. He built networks of supporters in both party and state. This administrative power played a critical role in Stalin’s defeat of the party oppositions in the 1920s.



Once Stalin succeeded in becoming the dominant leader in the party at the very end of the 1920s, he made his heroic and willful political-cultural style central to the spirit of the times. Given his personality and style, it is not surprising that he felt uncomfortable with Bukharin’s moderate arguments about economic and social development. But Stalin also spoke to the dissatisfactions and desires of many. There were troubling economic problems with NEP. Internationally, there was a growing fear of a coming war against the USSR, for which the country was not prepared. Most important, there was considerable hostility to NEP.



The main policy expression of Stalin’s approach was a massive program of industrial and social transformation, embodied in the First Five-Year Plan. A good expression of the spirit motivating this drive to transform Russia was the statement in 1927 by Stalin’s chief economist Strumilin: “There are no fortresses that Bolsheviks cannot storm.” In many ways, this phrase captured the essence of the emerging Stalinist political culture.



Questions to Consider:

1.      How would you characterise Stalin’s political outlook in comparison to Trotsky’s and Bukharin’s?

2.         In what way was Stalin’s party nickname, which meant “Man of Steel,” revealing about his political personality and values?

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Stalin’s Revolution



This class deals with the radical industrialisation and social transformation of the First Five-Year Plan (1928–1932) and why Stalin led the country on this sudden change of course in abandonment of NEP. Forced collectivisation of the peasantry is examined - the course of the campaign, peasant responses, and its effects.



Outline

In 1928, Stalin distanced himself from his ally Bukharin and the market-based ideas of NEP.  Bukharin offered the most cynical interpretation of this shift: Stalin is an “unprincipled intriguer” who changes his theories according to whom he wishes to get rid of. Another view is that Stalin had always favoured a more aggressive industrialization strategy than Bukharin but had kept these views in the background in order to defeat Trotsky and the Left. It is also possible, however, that Stalin’s thinking gradually evolved in response to economic, social, and political pressures in the late 1920s.



Stalin’s policy began to resemble a new revolution, or a new civil war which was apparent, for example, in the announced drafts of the First Five-Year Plan for 1928–1932.  Whilst this plan was being drafted, there were strong political pressures to be more ambitious. The final draft set almost mythical targets. Nevertheless, from the point of view of enthusiasts of this industrial revolution from above, including Stalin, this plan was not ambitious enough.



One may argue that the First Five-Year Plan was less an economic plan than a political manifesto meant to inspire. The whole atmosphere of the First Five-Year Plan reflected this politicization, which meant militarisation, of economics. The press described industry as a battlefield. To achieve or overfulfil goals, “shock troops” of workers were rushed to production sites. Young people volunteered to work on such grandiose projects as the Magnitogorsk metallurgical factories in the Urals. Those who urged that more rational policies be adopted, or who failed in their tasks, were treated like traitors in wartime.



These efforts produced mixed and unbalanced economic results. Heavy industry developed at the expense of consumer goods. Even heavy industry suffered from an imbalance of growth. But production did increase considerably. These efforts also helped lay a foundation for more moderate but sustained growth during the following Five-Year Plans.



Changes in agriculture were even greater. Agrarian development was also treated as a political, even military, campaign. From 1927 to 1930, the attack on the peasantry gradually intensified. In the winter of 1927–1928, grain requisitioning was reinstated. Peasants responded by sowing less land.



In response, the campaign was intensified; kulaks (richer peasants) were to be “liquidated as a class,” and collectivisation of all agriculture was decreed in 1930.

The result of these decrees was intense and violent. Hundreds of thousands of kulaks were evicted from their homes and their property was confiscated. More than half of all remaining peasants were forced into collective farms. Almost all property was collectivised.



Peasants resisted these measures in different ways. Some peasants resisted actively. Most peasants, though, engaged in more passive resistance: abandoning the countryside or, if remaining, slaughtering vast numbers of their animals.

The Grain procurements had increased and peasants were now under the political control of the state. But agriculture suffered as sullen peasants refused to exert themselves. The most serious consequence of collectivization was its toll in human lives.



When recounting these years, it can be difficult to recall that this was also a time of heroic idealism. One sign of this was the widespread idea that the First Five-Year Plan was also a “cultural revolution.”

One aspect of this revolution was “social purging.” Beginning in 1928, “bourgeois experts” (especially engineers) were publicly tried. Communists were encouraged to challenge the role of non-proletarian experts throughout Soviet society in almost every profession and every institution. Although initiated and manipulated from above, this cultural revolution had great public appeal and spontaneity. Elements of class and generational conflict were clearly visible in these struggles. This cultural revolution was also about ideas, especially about how to transform everyday life.



Centralised control, tyrannical state power, brutality, even murderous violence were commonplace. Yet idealism, enthusiasm, dreams of a new world, and often fantastic optimism were also present. No wonder, then, that historians have fiercely debated the meaning of these years.



Questions to Consider:

1.      In interpreting the era of the First Five-Year Plan, how would you balance the mixture of brutality and idealism and explain their interrelationship?

2.         Why were peasants forced into collective farms in 1930? For economic reasons? For political reasons?

Stalin quotes
-Stalin after Nazi-Soviet pact: “We got peace for our country for 18 months, which let us make military preparations.”
-"Great Britain provided time; the United States provided money and Soviet Russia provided blood."
-Stalin after 1936 constitution: “Never before - no, really never - has the world ever seen elections so completely free, and so truly democratic! History has recorded no other example of the kind."
-Do you want our Socialist fatherland to be beaten and to lose it is independence? We are fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this lag in ten years. Either we do it or they crush us.”

-USSR should overtake and outstrip the capitalist countries.”
-Socialism in one country
-I believe in one thing only, the power of the human will
-Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem.
  -After Fulton Speech Stalin in Pravda 13 March 1946: “Mr. Churchill has called for a war on the USSR.
-Stalin before his death: “the imperialistic powers will wring your necks like chickens.
-We think that a powerful and vigorous movement is impossible without differences — "true conformity" is possible only in the cemetery.
-If any foreign minister begins to defend to the death a "peace conference," you can be sure his government has already placed its orders for new battleships and aeroplanes.
-A sincere diplomat is like dry water or wooden iron.
-The press must grow day in and day out — it is our Party's sharpest and most powerful weapon.
-We disagreed with Zinoviev and Kamenev because we knew that the policy of amputation was fraught with great dangers for the Party, that the method of amputation, the method of blood-letting — and they demanded blood — was dangerous, infectious: today you amputate one limb, tomorrow another, the day after tomorrow a third — what will we have left in the Party?
-What would happen if capital succeeded in smashing the Republic of Soviets? There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed peoples would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost.
-If the opposition disarms, all is well and good. If it refuses to disarm, we shall disarm it ourselves.
-We do not want a single foot of foreign territory; but of our territory we shall not surrender a single inch to anyone.
-Anti-Semitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism. Anti-Semitism is dangerous for the toilers, for it is a false track which diverts them from the proper road and leads them into the jungle. Hence, Communists, as consistent internationalists, cannot but be irreconcilable and bitter enemies of anti-Semitism. In the U.S.S.R., anti-Semitism is strictly prosecuted as a phenomenon hostile to the Soviet system. According to the laws of the U.S.S.R. active anti-Semites are punished with death.
-We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us. (Speech "The Tasks of Economic Executives" (4 February 1931) at the beginning of the rapid industrialisation campaign. Ten years later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.)
-I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat. (Stalin describing his aim to create a powerful, subservient army of ape-men of 'immense strength, but with an underdeveloped brain' to meet the needs of his five year plans.)
-Life has improved, comrades. Life has become more joyous.
-Mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and exploited; and to abstract oneself from this fundamental division, and from the antagonism between poor and rich, means abstracting oneself from fundamental facts.
-Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.
-History shows that there are no invincible armies and that there never have been.
-Ours is a just cause; victory will be ours!
-Hitlers come and go, but Germany and the German people remain. ("The Order #55 of the National Commissar for the Defence" (23 February 1942) when the enemy had reached the gate of Moscow during World War II. He called on the people not to identify all Germans with the Nazis.)
-This leads to the conclusion, it is time to finish retreating. Not one step back! Such should now be our main slogan. ... Henceforth the solid law of discipline for each commander, Red Army soldier, and commissar should be the requirement — not a single step back without order from higher command. ("The Order of the National Commissar for the Defence of the Soviet Union" (28 July 1942) Moscow)
-The writer is the engineer of the human soul.
-Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach.
-Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.
-God's not unjust, he doesn't actually exist. We've been deceived. If God existed, he'd have made the world more just... I'll lend you a book and you'll see.
-Before your eyes rises the hero of Gogol's story who, in a fit of aberration, imagined that he was the King of Spain. Such is the fate of all megalomaniacs.
-This creature softened my heart of stone. She died and with her died my last warm feelings for humanity. (At the funeral of his first wife, Kato Svanidze, on 25 November 1907)
-One of Ivan the Terrible's mistakes was to overlook the five great feudal families. If he had annihilated those five families, there would definitely have been no Time of Troubles. But Ivan the Terrible would execute someone and then spend a long time repenting and praying. God got in his way in this matter. He ought to have been still more decisive!
-If, against all expectation, Germany finds itself in a difficult situation then she can be sure that the Soviet people will come to Germany's aid and will not allow Germany to be strangled. The Soviet Union wants to see a strong Germany and we will not allow Germany to be thrown to the ground.
-This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise. If now there is not a communist government in Paris, this is only because Russia has no an army which can reach Paris in 1945.
-I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how. [Variant (loose) translation: The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.]
-The Pope! How many divisions has he got? [Said sarcastically to Pierre Laval in 1935, in response to being asked whether he could do anything with Russian Catholics to help Laval win favour with the Pope, to counter the increasing threat of Nazism; as quoted in The Second World War (1948) by Winston Churchill]
-So the bastard's dead? Too bad we didn't capture him alive! [Said in April 1945 — On hearing of Hitler's suicide, as quoted in The Memoirs of Georgy Zhukov]
-Does Djilas, who is himself a writer, not know what human suffering and the human heart are? Can't he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle? [In response to complaints about the rapes and looting committed by the Red Army during the Second World War
In the Soviet Army, it takes more courage to retreat than advance.]
-Tsar Alexander reached Paris. [Said to an American diplomat who remarked how grateful it must be to see Russian troops in Berlin.]
-I know that after my death a pile of rubbish will be heaped on my grave, but the wind of History will sooner or later sweep it away without mercy. [Said to Molotov in 1943]
-God is on your side? Is He a Conservative? The Devil's on my side, he's a good Communist. [Said to Winston Churchill in Tehran, November 1943, as quoted in Fallen Eagle: The Last Days of the Third Reich (1995) by Robin Cross, p. 21]
-Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?
-There are no fortresses that Bolsheviks cannot storm.
-Quantity has a quality all of its own.
-I'm finished. I trust no one, not even myself.


Stalin Historiography   

The Liberal thinks that persons play a major part in history. Stalin as a person is interesting in understanding the events, he took advantage of other persons weaknesses etc to build his personal power.
The Structuralist believes that it is structures in society that will determine the actions of history. The French revolution is caused by society, not by persons storming the Bastille.
The Determinist believes that there are actual “laws” determining the historical way that events will take. If there are a number of factors present, then these factors will lead to that certain event. Their approach is similar to a natural scientist’s, if you heat water it will boil, if you have population starving in the cities you will have a revolution etc. 
The Intentionalists examines the willing and desires of different persons or factors in society had. Did Stalin intend for the Purges to take place or not? Are there any evidences for this. If one is an intentionalist you are most likely to have an liberal perspective too.
The Revisionist is an historian who has revised the history out of any reason, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they belong to a whole new school, it only means that they have a different opinion than most other active historians coming from having revised the facts.
The Normative approach, means that we should use history as a warning example, there are dos and dont's in history.




 SAMPLE ESSAYS

Evaluate the results of Stalin's first 5 Year Plan

Ambitiously, Stalin started the 5 year plan and until 1941, it had a big impact in Russia economically, politically and socially. It was a big success economically, however there were negative effects socially. Politically, Stalin was able to strengthen his power. Economic and Social effects will be examined in detail.
Stalin emphasized on heavy industries. As a result, there was a huge achievement on the economy. Stalin thought, to make the USSR strong enough to protect itself, emphasizing heavy industries which could make the USSR develop faster, was needed in order to catch up other industrialized countries such as Germany, Japan, the US, the UK etc. He successfully increased coal and steel production by six-fold and four-fold respectively. In addition, new industrial centres such as Magnitogorsk and Gorki were set up. Especially, Magnitogorsk, in south east Siberia, which was based on the metal industries like iron and steel, experienced enormous growth; in 1929 there were only 25 people living there but three years later the number had increased to 250,000. Those achievements, which were seen as the major successes of the 5 year plans, made it possible to recover the USSR's economy which had been disrupted during the WWΙ. In addition, since the Soviet Union takeover in 1917, trade with the rest of the world had been severely reduced but by increase in heavy industries' productions, the USSR could rely in its own resources.
However, there were some social problems ; human rights were attacked. Workers couldn't get any respect from the USSR government. They had to work in extremely poor and dangerous conditions and for big engineering projects (dangerous) such as dams or canals, slave labour (such as political opponents, kulaks or Jews) were used. In fact, when Stalin ordered to build the Belomor canal, 100,000 workers (slave labours) died between 1931 to 1933. In addition, those who made mistakes were sent to the labour camps which were called 'gulag', This showed how ruthless was Stalin; everyone had to work under the fear and to fulfil increasingly unrealistic targets, a wide range of enterprising methods like ambushing resources, offering a bribe were used; corruption increased. Another point which showed Stalin didn't care about their his people was that he only dealt with what were called "capital' industries. Thus, consumer industries were neglected. There was a shortage of consumer goods and thus people suffered from the increased price.
Politically, Stalin seized power by removing those who opposed to the plan or those who might be an obstacle to the progress. For example, Stalin attacked the Muslim faith because he thought it was holding back industrialization. 7 million Kulaks who opposed to his plan were also eliminated. Capitalist classes such as Nepmen and 'bourgeois experts' removed. Therefore, his position was strengthened and this became the basis of his strong policy in the future.
In conclusion, as a result of the five year plan, great success was achieved economically. However, socially, people in the USSR suffered terribly because of Stalin's ruthless policy. Politically, by removing all obstacles, he strengthened his position.


Problems with Industrialisation during the first 5 year plan

In 1928, Russia had decided to launch its first 5 year plan to rapidly industrialise and catch up to the rest of Western Europe in terms of economic, and technological strengths. With this rapid industrialisation came many problems ranging from social, political, and economical factors, where one problem ties into another problem from another factor.
Social problems arose from industrialisation in many ways, such as, horrible living conditions that came from too much concentration of building factories and mines by the government. This was a problem because it was contributing to workers discontent to work. This led to more absenteeism which was not only a social problem, but was slowing production and had brought up economic problems as well. Another problem was workers having to work in horrible unsafe conditions, because of the pressures of meeting marked targets of production, leading them to ignore safety.There was also close to no pay or incentive to work, any money workers did make, was nearly useless, since the government's lack of attention to textile and home product productions, gave workers nothing to buy. This could be an extension of another social problem, such as the back breaking hours workers went through in the form of the " uninterrupted week" where factories would be open 7 days a week, only having 1 day off, which would in all likelihood have been different from one's spouse. Working constantly, barely being able to see family, a horrible home and worthless money will all led up to huge social problems and unrest.
Political problems arose from industrialisation in many ways as well, but one of the main effecting problems, that also brings up social and economic problems is the removal of capitalist classes such as Nepmen and "bourgeois experts". Though this may seem to be a victory for communism, by having a class-less society, the removal of these Nepmen and "bourgeuis experts" in reality was an act of "dumbing-down" the country. Most of those people were the people who knew how to run factories and work machinery to it's full potential, and would be able to meet government production targets more effectively. But with this lowering of expertise, all that the country was left with was inexperienced peasant workers who will only slow down production, and cause more problems such as accidents, worsening working conditions. The example just mentioned can also connect with social and economic problems, since taking the population a step back by ridding it of educated and experienced people, will slow down production and decrease output and profit needed to support the country.
Economic problems arose from industrialisation with many connections to political and social problems. Such as the emphasis on heavy industry and not concentrating enough on things like housing, textile and consumer industries bringing problems of absenteeism, and no content to work with no incentive and rewards. Another example of an economic problem is the increased corruption caused by impossible production targets that lead factory workers and managers to give false data reports, in fear of being punished or losing there life for not reaching targets. For example, the official figure given for the increased industrial production was 852%, compared to the Western estimates that the actual increase in output of industry was 260%. These exaggerated numbers are linked to the corrupted factory managers, but can also be linked to social problems like the lack of skill of many of the workers from political issues such as, elimination of Nepmen and "bourgeois experts" and linking back to other economical problems like the poor pay and conditions causing workers to shift from job to job, keeping them inconsistent and inexperienced in their new fields of work.



Give the Advantages and Disadvantages for Workers Under Stalin’s System
Soviet Russia, the “Worker’s Paradise”, a nation founded on the principles of a ruling proletariat, the theory of idyllic conditions for labourers with the common goal of toiling towards a great modern state. The Five-Year Plans from 1927 to 1937, encouraging the ardent concept of laboremus pro patria, radically changed common life and brought workers advantages as well as disadvantages. To what extent did Stalin succeed in recreating the Marxist vision of implementing excellent working conditions for all?
The work schedule under the Communist dictatorship was drastically changed, with the introduction of novel shift patterns. Factories ran seven days per week, with labourers working in long shifts and resting on a rotating free day[1]. Not only did this mean a substantial need for energy to run the factories and increased maintenance on machinery due to its overuse, it also had a great impact on workers’ personal lives. As both men and women were able to work, their rest days were not coordinated and thus changed the nature of traditional family life. The already limited time for private family life was further inhibited by the fact that mothers and fathers could not spend much time with their families together; domestic life seemed neglected under Stalin’s Five-Year Plans. However, as a young woman, I find this shift in family life to be a very auspicious development in the social structure, as it led to the emancipation of women and their liberation from domestic duties[2]. Women had the opportunity to work in fields typically assigned to men. In numerous propaganda posters of the time, women were depicted as labourers, working in traditionally masculine disciplines as equals to their male counterparts[3]. This was not only encouraged by the Soviet government through propaganda, but also actively made feasible through the establishment of crèches and kindergartens, where children were taken care of while mothers worked. Although I am aware that Stalin did not have a specific feminist aim in mind, his system can be considered an unconscious avant-garde liberation of women, far ahead of any movement in other parts of the world at the time, where the vast majority of women continued wearing the shackles of housewifely obligations for many decades to come. Even nowadays as Laird Keir of Glencairn argues, women still find it inconvenient to prevail over the yawning gap between family and career due to the insufficiency of child care centres. Therefore, from a woman’s perspective, the working conditions in Soviet Russia during the 1930s were in some ways more advanced than the western world in the 21st century.
This system of rotating rest days also impeded workers’ religious traditions. As Sunday was no longer a fixed rest day, workers who had shifts on that day found it difficult to go to church and fulfil their orthodox duties. They were forced to breach the holy commandment of resting on dies dominicus. However, while nowadays it is easy to criticize and label this a violation of basic human rights and the liberty to thoroughly practice one’s religion, it is important to understand that the Soviet government did not encourage religion; on the contrary, being an atheist organisation, it was in its interest to discard the religious traditions from Russian society. Therefore, although it may have been difficult for the first generation of orthodox Christian workers under Stalin to conform to the rest-day system, later generations found it less inconvenient, since religious duties were gradually drained out of Soviet society anyway.
Workers during Stalin’s regime were under a certain amount of pressure. As the industry had fixed output requirements decreed by the state, it was essential to meet production targets. The Five-Year Plans were often unrealistic. Steel for instance was required to almost triple between 1932 and 1937, a feat that was seemingly impossible, yet to fail to achieve it was virtually a crime. Due to this pressure, many workers of factories that did not reach the goals were accused of sabotage and show-trials were held to intimidate others. Additionally, conditions became stricter; they included punishments in order to implement rigorous discipline. For example, in 1938, workers could be fired for tardiness exceeding 20 minutes without an adequate reason. Therefore, it is easy to assume that the overreaching nature of Stalin’s Five-Year Plans made conditions for workers more difficult. However, it is vital to acknowledge that the ones who bore the most strain were the leaders of the factories, the ones in charge of achieving the goals set by the government, as they were the ones facing the more severe consequences if they failed. Despite the recorded stories of sabotage accusations and show-trials, those in charge of the factories had to treat the labourers fairly in order to encourage them to work well in the first place; the power of strikes was eminent ever since Tsarist times. Workers who did well were rewarded with prizes such as better housing, entertainment and extra food rations. This developed into prominent movements of enthusiastic workers such as the Stakhanovites, who were exceptionally zealous and productive and thus earned recognition. Although many of their accomplishments were myths that sparked violent envy in their comrades, they show that workers in Soviet Russia had the opportunity to achieve distinction and that there were men and women who ardently believed in Stalin’s objective of rapid industrialisation.
Workers in the USSR faced dangerous conditions. The construction of formidable new cities such as Magnitogorsk cost many lives due to insufficient safety regulations and harsh seasons. However, high death rates were nothing new among workers around the world. For instance, during the 1920s, the death rate of workers at the Tanganyika railway construction was more than 50%. The League of Nations decreased it to a “more acceptable” 4%. While workers around the world suffered (and still do) it is unreasonable to solely denounce the Soviet Union for the stipulations that its labourers faced, dreadful as they may have been. Nowadays, we still witness child labour and sweat shops.
One must study the working conditions in the Soviet Russia in its context. While we find it easy to criticize severe punishment, strict regulations and rigorous schedules when examining them from a western, capitalist, democratic perspective where working regulations are comparatively relaxed, the global situation in the Stalinist era was quite different. October 1929 saw the infamous Wall-Street Crash, causing 15 million Americans to lose their jobs by 1933. The Russian population remained unscathed. While we may condemn the fact that Russian workers had to live off food rations, we must not forget the queues of unemployed individuals waiting for food in the USA during the Great Depression, suffering from the instability of the market. At least every worker in the USSR had a job.


What were the Advantages and Disadvantages for workers under Stalin 1929- 1939?
The time period of 1929-1939 was one greatly influenced by the five year plans. In the Soviet Union, it were these years which marked the incredible industrial growth and complete change in work culture. However, while there were many changes for workers due to communism, it is debatable which were advantages and which disadvantages. The problem is that when we look back at this time period, we compare the working and living conditions of then to today. However, to be able to fairly assess the advantages and disadvantages for workers under Stalin, one must first know what came before the time period of 1929-1939. It is not possible to accurately and fairly assess anything, without comparing it to the past. Therefore, I will compare the conditions of the five year plans to the conditions for workers under the Tsar.
The most important change for workers during this time period was the working conditions. During the time of the Tsar, a working day was eleven and a half hours long, but with overtime the working day could be extended further. Furthermore, factories themselves were poorly lit and badly ventilated; combined with the working hours and the low payment these factories remind of modern day sweatshops. Working conditions between 1929 to 1939 were different. With the introduction of electricity into the factories, and new machines being installed at the start of the first five year plan, working conditions became less harsh and more endurable. The main reason for this was that at least in the factories, a worker’s job took less physical strength than what it would have taken in the early 20th century. Nevertheless, for workers in the Belomor Canal the conditions definitely got worse. Large scale slave labor was used to construct this utterly useless canal and with around 100000 deaths during its constructions it was most like the project which caused the most casualties. Overall, one cannot describe working conditions under Stalin an improvement. While the industrialization of Russia allowed certain tasks to be taken over by machines, the tremendous human cost of simply the Belomor Canal shows that the individual no longer counted. With the government focusing purely on the collective, the individual was forgotten about, and with them the conditions in their work places. Therefore, Stalin’s early years were definitely not an advantage for the average worker.
Living conditions however steadily improved for hard working workers. If a worker produced above average, he could become a so called “Stakhanovite” which could earn up to 4 times as much as a regular worker and was eligible to better housing. However, even regular workers gained advantages. Before 1914, most Russian workers had shared a room with up to 10 fellow workers, and had been mostly ignored by the government due to them being the minority amongst a country of peasants. While not much is known about how this aspect of living conditions changed, workers were at least given the dream of a greater Russia with better housing. This can best be seen in the plans for Magnitogorsk, where housing was carefully planned to suit the workers and fulfill all their needs with doctors, schools and shops integrated in each house block. Nevertheless, one cannot speak of an advantage in the living conditions either. While many historians such as John D Clare state that there was poor housing, none actually give examples of what housing was like during the 5 year plans. There seems to be a tendency to focus on the economic output in terms of facts and judge the human cost purely from an emotional standpoint. This makes judging the Living conditions very difficult and therefore I cannot reasonably say whether Stalin provided advantages or disadvantages for workers in this category.
Lastly the educational and health care systems were greatly improved compared to any other time period in Russian history. Free health care and compulsory education turned an illiterate population with a life expectancy of 40 years into a literate population in which 2 million people where in secondary education. Mainly two things were achieved here. Firstly, education was introduced in Russia which, when looking at its size, is an enormous achievement. Secondly, education was not only introduced, but it was introduced for free which makes this definitely an advantage for any worker.
In conclusion, the time of the five year plans saw many changes for Russian workers, some were advantages others disadvantages. However, the overall lack of information on the specifics shows how little communists cared about the people, as long as the overall goal was achieved. This is exactly where in my opinion the main disadvantage for workers under Stalin lies; while the government was supposed to represent the workers, it hardly cared about their interests.



[1] Baykov, Alexander. The Development of the Soviet Economic System: an Essay on the Experience of Planning in the USSR. Pages 351 and 352. CUP Archive, 1947.
[2] Goldman, Wendy Z. Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936. Page 358. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
[3] Chatterjee, Choi. Celebrating Women: Gender, Festival Culture, and Bolshevik Ideology, 1910-1939. Page 11. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.


How did the conditions of workers change under Stalin?
In the 1930s there was numerous changes made to the communist regime, and one of them was the conditions of workers and their support towards changes in policies. Some benefited from the changes and rose in society, while others underwent suffering and need for food. Russians workers are divided in three categories, because of the way they worked and their opinions of the circumstances they were working in, these are the women, the Stakhanovites and the other workers, mainly average age men, who were complaining about all the work. Women found it easier and better for them to work under Stalin as they had more opportunities, Stakhanovites thought that by working hard you would get more and the other workers did not like the new working conditions.
The role of women changed dramatically in the Soviet Union when under Stalin, because they became much more equal to men. Women probably liked it better working under Stalin or Lenin than working under the Tsar, where they did not even have the chance to work. After the 1917 Revolution, women who fought with men for Communism gained more equality in the workforce as they were promised. They could get any job they wanted in all fields and therefore in the 1930s there was a massive entry of women in the labour force. In Leningrad, for example the number of working women increased from 44% to 50% from 1935 to 1937[1]. Women were mostly demanded to work in crèches and kindergartens to take care of their children after giving birth. Also an advantage for women who had six to more children would receive 2000 roubles per year[2], which was more than the average sum of money for working families. Furthermore after men had to mobilize into the army, the percentage increased further, because women had to take the men’s places in the factories and businesses. However there was still some discrimination among the people, where women still had the lower positions in the workplace and the women were usually more illiterate than men. In Leningrad there were at least 50 to 60% of female doctors, but only 4 women were chief doctors. This was the same in factories where there would be 318 male factory directors, but only 20 female factory directors[3]. Thus women could have liked the new opportunities they were getting under Stalin or not, whether they were in a higher or lower position.
There was a group of young workers who liked working under Stalin and they were called the Stakhanovites. The Stakhanovites were named after a coal miner by the name of Alexei Stakhanov in the Donbas region. He was supposed to have cut 102 tonnes of coal on his own in a single shift[4], while the normal amount was of 7 tonnes therefore 14 times the usual amount a man would produce[5]. Afterwards many others, younger workers especially, would follow Alexei Stakhanov footsteps and produce even more than he did and their achievements would be reported in the newspapers. It seems as if the conditions of workers have changed, because most Stakhanovites were given new flats, given medals and made ‘Heroes of Socialist Labour’. Therefore some of the Stakhanovites’ lives improved as quoted in a Magnitogorsk newspaper by Sheila Fitzpatrick, ‘Aleksei Tischenko…By 1936 the couple owned furniture, including a couch and a wardrobe, as well as dress clothes, including two overcoats, some women’s dresses, men’s suits, shoes…’[6] During that time, common Russians did not even have proper housing and having furniture and clothing was a luxury. For other Stakhanovites, life was not the same. They were not popular among the workforce, as they pushed the production norm, on which wages were calculated. There were badly treated and some were even murdered. Few had new flats and holidays, most had to be satisfied with much less than in the quote above. For Stalin, ‘everyone works according to his abilities and receives not according to his needs, but according to what he produces’[7], therefore nobody gets anything until they produced something.
The people who hated the new work practices and who usually complained were average age men. In 1929 the government introduced a new policy called the ‘uninterrupted week’[8]; it obliged the workers to work all seven days of the week and having a rest day off on any day. The problem with this new rule was that couples complained that they did not have time for each other anymore and Christians could not go to Church on Sundays as often as they wanted. Also absenteeism was introduced to prevent workers from missing work or arriving late. It was to punish the workers who skipped a day’s work without consent and reason and they will evict from their job if done so. In 1938, this policy was changed to being late more than twenty minutes without good explanation[9]. This made workers work in a factory a few days and then go to another city or town to start over, therefore internal passports were invented. These unable workers to leave the town they lived in and could not move without the police’s consent. A proportion of the workers were also forced labour, where they had to work under compulsion, fear of physical punishment or being denied food. This therefore increased the suicides rates and conditions were not very good. But however there was still some optimism from these workers in building the first Communist society, to build that paradise on earth that Marx prophesied. And workers believed that it was enough to have survived one day of it and they will just have to live to see another day[10].
Under Stalin and Communism many things changed and one of those things was the conditions of workers. The conditions usually changed depending on a group of people. For women working was a new opportunity that had to be taken at any cost. For young people who still were idealistic, working was to prove that Communism and the USSR were strong. For other workers, the conditions were considered dangerous and they were complaining about the new work practices. The problem of working under Stalin was that if you did not work hard enough or more then you were supposed to then you would be killed or sent to labour camps. Therefore the conditions of workers did change but not necessarily in a good way.



[1] Book: Russia: From Tsars to Commissars by Peter Oxley p.212
[2] Russia: From Tsars to Commissars by Peter Oxley p.212
[3] Russia: From Tsars to Commissars by Peter Oxley p.212
[4] http://www.wpafilmlibrary.com/detail/the_stakhanov_movement/f2ac3282-7a08-0349-e5db-d8f25a06fd83.html
[5] Book: Russia & the USSR: 1905-1941 by Terry Fiehn
[6] Russia: From Tsars to Commissars by Peter Oxley p.215
[7] http://www.wpafilmlibrary.com/detail/the_stakhanov_movement/f2ac3282-7a08-0349-e5db-d8f25a06fd83.html
[8] Worksheet from Mr. Heath’s book
[9] Sheet from Mr. Heath’s book
[10] Russia: From Tsars to Commissars by Peter Oxley p.223