Russia under stalin

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Russia under stalin

  1. 1. Russia under StalinJoseph Stalin. Born the son of a Georgian cobbler, he was named Ioseb Dzhugashvilli(Georgian) or Josef Vissarionovich (Russian). He studied in a church school in Gori,but was expelled for Marxist activity. He continued with his activities, writing Marxistessays in a Georgian newspaper. He was an enthusiastic defender of Lenin and theMarxist exiles who published the socialist paper Iskra.In Georgia he led many Marxist revolutionary movements and joined the Bolsheviks.He was part of the Central Committee and was put in charge of the revolutionarynewspaper Pravda. He took on the name of "Stalin", which means "Man of Steel" inRussian.After defeating Trotsky and ridding the party of all his rivals, Stalin began to build upRussia. As he said, "Other countries are 50 years ahead of Russia. We must make thisup in 10 years." As such, he had two main aims: (i)a centrally-planned economycalled a command economy; (ii)a totalitarian system of government.A Centrally-Planned EconomyStalins Economic AimsStalin wanted the USSR to modernise at such a fast rate that it could make up the 50-year gap in 10 years. The industry had to be devoloped to such an extent that thecountry, which had all along depended mostly on agriculture or farming, had to bechanged such that it now depended on industry more. Although Russia was recoveringfrom war, its production from heavy industries was still low compared to othercountries. Stalin felt that this needed to be improved if they were to survive anypossible attack that might come from the capitalist West attempting to destroyCommunist Russia. The USSR needed to invest in materials like coal, iron, steel andpower to defend itself properly. Rapid industrialisation was also needed for defence asthe USSR was surrounded, as Stalin said, by governments that hated Communism:Romania, Iran, Finland and Poland.In order to become a strong industrial economy, the agricultural sector had to bemodernised and made more efficient so it could produce enough food to meet theneeds of the workforce. It would also be able to raise money needed forindustrialisation. Surplus had to be exported and money used to buy machinery andsuch. Fewer workers could then be used on the farms and industrialisation could take
  2. 2. place more rapidly by transferring more workers from the countryside to the factories.Unfortunately, Lenins NEP was not achieving the results that they wanted. Stalindubbed the NEP as an impedement to communism and had to be scrapped. This rapidindustrialisation would also bring about two political results : (i)Communist supportwould increase as the workers were the Communists greatest supporters;(ii)remaining opposition would be eliminated, in particular the class of rich peasants,the kulaks.Main Features of a Centrally-Planned (Command) EconomyDuring this period, Russias economy was completely transformed. The state plannedthe entire economy through the State Planning Commission, or Gosplan. They issuedinstructions and orders, commands that were then passed down to factories,businesses or farms. They drew up a series or plans which Stalin dubbed, the FiveYear Plans. The three Five-Year Plans were set targets and goals that the industry andagriculture had to achieve. In practice, the emphasis was on achieving more than theset targets rather than meeting them. Such a system greatly discouraged individualinitiative. For example, a factory manager received his commands and just carriedthem out to the letter.The government controlled the resources it needed to achieve the economic targets.Factories, mines, transport and farms were owned by the state. The governmentexercised tight control over the labour force. Ordinary workers were harshlydisciplined and poor workmanship and absence made things worse. Millionis ofpeasants were directed into the towns and cities to work in factories and mines. Theseand other heavy industries were given high priority in the first Five Year Plan.Consumer industries were neglected and agriculture was reorganised to suit this.The First Five Year PlanThe First Five Year Plan was aimed at expanding and modernising existing industries,establish new ones, and relocate those in the west further to the east, so that theywould be more secure and protected by the vast amounts of land if Russia were to beattacked by the West.Many targets which the workers had to meet were set - and most were unrealistic. Forexample, there was to be a 250% increase in total industrial output and a 350%increase in heavy industries. The people were given no leave and absenteeism wastreated as treason. Many workers had to slog for 11 hours! However, none of themrevolted, as they knew their wages were paid in food rations, which meant they wouldDEFINITELY not eat if they did not work. Propaganda was used. Brochures,pamphlets and posters were distributed all over to boost the peoples morale. Human
  3. 3. examples were used. One man was said to be working at a rate 500% more productivethan the average worker. Of course, most of these figures were exaggerated and thepeople were killed by jealous workers.The Russian heavy industries were far below average, and Stalin felt that devlopingthese industries were important. The factories would be able to churn out machineryfor farming, which would increase productivity and allow more workers to join theurban working force. Not only that, these factories would be able to change theirproducts into war machinery. Tanks, weapons and airplanes could be produced atthese factories if ever required. The large supplies of iron and steel, for example,which would otherwise have been used to make machinery meant for agriculturaluses, could then be used for war machinery manufacturing. This would be a sufficientbackup for machines to defend Russia if the West decided to attack.The agricultural sector was not neglected. Rapid industrialisation could only beachieved if agriculture was made more efficient, as sufficient food had to be producedto feed the workforce. Surplus food could then be sold for money to boost theindustrial sector. Stalin introduced a new method of farming - collectivisation.Collectivisation basically encompassed grouping small, scattered farms in an areatogether in a collective, or Kolkhozy. These peasants pooled their animals, tools andlabour to work for the benefit of the whole community. The collectives had to sellmost of their produce at low prices to the government. Any profits and surplus weretheirs to keep.Agriculture was also subjected to state planning. The First Five Year Plan was aimedat raising agricultural output by 130%. Major grain-producing areas were to becollectivised by early 1931 followed by the other regions in the following year. Eachcolelctive had a quota of grain it had to deliver to the state by a set date.Collectivisation was implemented in 1928 and supposed to be on a purely voluntarybasis, and at a moderate pace. Of course, as with all theories, it never happened inpractice. In 1929 Stalin sped up the process because peasants refused to share theirlabour and would rather burn their crops and kill their animals instead of selling foodto the government. The government had to apply force to make them join thecollectives. Those who resisted were severely dealt with. At the same time, Stalindealt with the rich class of peasants, the kulaks. As Communism preached equalityamong all men, these peasants of "higher class" had to be eliminated. Stalin orderedthese kulaks to hand over their land, houses and property to the government. Theircrops, labour and machinery were to be distributed among the collectives. They were,however, not allowed to join the collectives and millions if these peasants were sent tolabour camps or executed. Most kulaks resisted and destroyed their property,
  4. 4. machinery, crops and animals so that the government would not be able to use it. In abid to increase collective membership, peasants were granted incentives to join thecollectives in 1930. Stalin introduced the machine tractor station in Russia, wherecollectives could borrow machinery and increase their productivity in return forpayment in the form of crops.Results of the First Five Year PlanEven though the official government figures were greatly exaggerated, there is nodenying the fact that it was a great success. The plan was achieved in four years, andnot five as scheduled. There was a huge expansion of energy production as newfactories and towns needed power. Dams were created and other major projects alsoled to the improvement of Russia. Roads, railways and canals were constructed.Russia was able to increase manufacturing and thus make more ample preparations forwar in future.However, the Five Year Plan was not all that successful if we talk in terms of thesocial aspects present in Russia at that time. The enormous demands placed on theworkers meant that millions of them lived in harsh conditions, working on the vastprojects in the interior of Russia. The state tightened its control on the workers.Absenteeism was treated extremely harshly. The large emphasis on heavy industriesmeant that consumer goods were high in demand. Shops were empty, clothing was inshort supply and many household items were unavailable. THe lack of consumerproducts was one example of the fall in the standard of living. Because of the hugeinflux of people going into the cities from the countryside, there were insufficientmedical facilities, houses and schools. Workers were poorly paid.Collectivisation was also part of the Five Year Plan, but it was less successful thanindustrialisation. It did not fulfil its targets udner the Plan and grain production evendeclined from 1928 to 1932. This caused widespread famine later on. Even though upto 7 milliong peasants died, the government still hoarded grain to sell to othercountries to earn foreign currency to be used for investment in industry. Grainproduction recovered a lot, but the lifestock took till 1953 to regain its 1928 level dueto all the killings earlier. Collectivisation was a huge success as it made Russiasagriculture more efficient. The huge amount of mechanisation involved, the efficiencymeant that many peasants left their farms and went to work in the industrial laboursector.According to Stalin, the Plan was also a success because they were able to ridthemselves of the kulaks and move towards communism. Also, collectivisation put anend to private ownership of land. Land was nationalised and allowed peasants to own
  5. 5. a small plot of land as a concession, to win their support. The state could now exercisemore control over the peasants with the collectives.The Other Five Year PlansBasically the following five-year plans focused on a more balanced economy afterthat, with increasing emphasis on other stages of industrialisation, moving into thelight industry and so on.The second Five-Year Plan (1933-37) continued and expanded the first. The third plan(1938-42) was interrupted by World War II. The fourth covered the years 1946-50,the fifth 1951-55. The sixth plan (1956-60) was discarded in 1957, primarily becauseit overcommitted available resources and could not be fulfilled. It was replaced by aSeven-Year Plan (1959-65), which fell far short of estimated increases in agricultural(especially wheat) production. The Seven-Year Plan was considered the start of alonger period (20 years) devoted to the establishment of the material and technicalbasis of a Communist society. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw increased emphasisplaced on consumer goods, and the 9th Five-Year Plan (1971-75) for the first timegave priority to light industry rather than heavy industry. The agricultural sector stillgrew far less than projected in the 10th (1976-80) and 11th (1981-85) Five-YearPlans, and overall economic performance was poor. The 12th and final Five-Year Plan(1986-90) projected increases in consumer goods and energy savings, but theeconomy began to slide, shrinking by 4% in 1990. The dissolution of the Soviet Unionmade the formation of a 13th Five-Year Plan a moot point.A Totalitarian GovernmentA totalitarian government is one where there is only one party allowed - the rulingparty. In Stalins Russia this meant that the Communist Party was supreme. Allcriticism and opposition is eliminated. The people are expected to be totally loyal tothe state and to the person at the head of the government. Stalin ruled as a dictator,commanding his people with absolute power. He conducted many purges against hisrivals and introduced a new constitution which reinforced his power. The secret policeand even a cult helped to build up his image and keep him in power.Reasons for the PurgesUnder Stalins totalitarian government of the 1930s, many purges were held, killingmillions.
  6. 6. The main reason for the purges was because Stalin felt insecure. People werequestioning his leadership, his methods and his policies. Many people were unhappywith the harshness of his Five Year Plans. He also faced criticism from within theparty. Politicians who were overly critical of Stalin were at risk, but a few took theirchances.Sergei Kirov was one such man. He had been one of Stalins closest supporters on thePolitburo and was, in 1934, the party boss of Leningrad. At the 1934 Party Congress,Kirov switched sides and began criticising Stalin and his harsh policies. Fearless oneswarmly applauded Kirov as they agreed, while other less daring ones remained silent.Stalins position in the Central Committee was under siege, as Kirov pulled in thehighest number of votes while Stalin got the lowest. He only managed to stay in asthere were just as many vacancies as there were candidates. As such, Stalin decided totake action against Kirov who was emerging as a potential rival for leadership of theParty. On 1st December 1934, Stalin had Kirov assassinated. On the same day, Stalinpassed a law that ordered anyone accused of terrorism and plots against thegovernment was to be arrested and executed immediately after conviction. This lawgave Stalin the chance to carry out the Great Purges properly and easily without anyresistance.The Great PurgesStalin used this 1934 law to launch a massive purge of all the people, includingCommunist Party members and top government officials, who were potential rivals orthreats to him, those who criticised his policies and even the innocent few. Stalin heldshow trials for those party members who opposed him. These trials were meant for thepeople to see and serve as a warning to any people planning to oppose Stalin. Theywere held in Moscow and were filmed at times to show in other parts of Russia, sothat the people in those places would also receive the same precautionary warning.In the "Trial of the Sixteen", in 1936, Zinoniev, Kamenev and 14 other prominentmembers of the party who had questioned Stalin and his actions before were put ontrial. They were charged with being part of a conspiracy to assassinate leadingCommunists, and they were found guilty and executed promptly.The "Trial of the Seventeen" in 1937 saw Radek and 16 other members charged with avariety of crimes such as sabotage and treason. 13 of them were executed while theother 4 were brought to labour camps.In 1938 the "Trial of the Twenty-One" was held. Bukharin, Rykov and 19 others werecharged with an even greater assortment of crimes. As in the earlier trials, the secretpolice tortured the accused and extracted confessions of guilt.
  7. 7. By 1937 the purging had spread to the armed forces. Russias most famous generalTuchachevsky and other generals were arrested and killed. By 1939, 3 out of 5marshals and about half of the military officials had been purged.The Great Purges had affected Russians all over as they lived in constant fear thatthey would be arrested and jailed, tortured or shot. It was common for ordinarycitizens to accuse their neighbours or even family members of criticising Stalin so asto project a patriotic and loyal image of themselves in the hope that they would not bekilled. In this way, all sectors of society were affected. People of every profession andbackground were purged. Over 10 million people were sent to labour camps wherethey often died, while a million were executed.Effects of the PurgesThe most important political effect was, naturally, that Stalin became even morepowerful than before. He had got rid of his political rivals and nobody dared tochallenge his authority. Even when Russia was doing badly in World War II, hisleadership was not challenged. He introduced a new constitution called the StalinConstitution. This placed him firmly in control of the USSR.A serious military effect was that the purges severely weakened the armed forces byremoving many capable leaders who had to be replaced by inexperienced officers.This contributed greatly to the slow start that the Russians made in World War II.In economic terms, the purges slowed down economic development, what with all theinternal squabbling and fear in the country. Many industrial workers and high-endemployees were killed, thus affecting worker morale and productivity.Lastly, the purges made life extremely difficult for the people - the millions ofcitizens. Everyone lived in fear and terror, with the secret police patrolling the area.Apart from those sent to the labour camps where conditions were appalling and mostpeople died or disappeared, the family and friends that they left behind sufferedbecause they did not know what had happened to their loved ones.The Stalin ConstitutionStalin claimed this constitution was the fairest in the world. Everyone over 18 wasallowed to vote every four years for a national assembly called the Supreme Soviet.This assembly met for two weeks a year. It elected a smaller body, the Praesidium, toact on its behalf. It also chose a Council of Ministers responsible for running thecountry. Stalin, as Secretary or leader of the Communist Party, led this cabinet.
  8. 8. Only members of the Communist Party could be elected to the various posts. Stalincontrolled party membership, and thus chose those people who liked and supportedhim and his position. Although the constitution was supposed to be democratic, it isobvious that Stalin had the real power. Stalin and the Communist Party tried to makethemselves look good by recognising the rights of the people to free medical care, towork, to education and political rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom ofpress. However, all these "freedoms" had to be expressed according to Stalins and thepartys wishes.The Cult of StalinThroughout the 1930s propaganda was used to build up Stalins image. Like areligious worship, a cult of Stalin was formed. Stalin was like a godlike leader to thepeople, praised in the newspapers, books and in films and posters. Poems published inPravda praised his deeds, speeches exalting his skills, his modesty, his wisdom and hisbrilliance. People who attended these meetings were careful to applaud long andloudly, and the person who stopped first would most likely be arrested as it showedgreat disrespect and disloyalty to Stalin.Social and Cultural PoliciesEducation was closely regulated. It was free and compulsory, and tended to beindoctrinated as it sought to mould people into the Communist way of thinking. Thesecret police ensured that Communist ideology was taught.The arts were controlled by the state which used them for propaganda purposes.Pressure was put on writers to write novels about the glorious achievements of thegovernment. Musicians, artists and film-makers who refused to follow the statesdirection were persecuted or purged.The Russian Orthodox Church was also persecuted by Stalin. The totalitariangovernment could not tolerate people being loyal to other influential institutions suchas the Church. Churches were closed down and religiouis leaders were persecuted.However, the Church continued to survive.The 1930s was a period of terror and fear. Stalin and the Communist Party ruled theUSSR with an iron fist and as a dictatorship. They may have ovethrown the Tsar, butthis government was in little way different.Stalins Legacy
  9. 9. The task of confronting unpleasant historical episodes is difficult for any country, even long-establisheddemocracies. It took more than two decades after World War II before the majority of Germans trulyacknowledged the full horror and magnitude of Nazi Germanys crimes. In France today, many citizens arestill reluctant to look closely at the Vichy period and the widespread collaboration that occurred. In Austria,many people still pretend that their country was a victim of Nazi aggression rather than an enthusiasticparticipant in the Third Reich and its atrocities. In Japan, political leaders still frequently downplay theabominations perpetrated by Japanese troops in China, Korea, and Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s. Inthe United States, too, many tragic aspects of history—the enslavement of blacks, the many decades ofviolent racial segregation that followed the Civil War, the campaigns against American Indians, and theinternment of Japanese-Americans at the start of World War II—have often been glossed over.Difficult as the process of historical reckoning may be for these Western countries, it is even more onerousin Russia, where far too little has been done to come to terms with Stalins legacy. In a mass survey in2005, a majority of Russians chose Stalin as the "greatest leader" in Russias history. Follow up surveysrevealed similar results and widespread public misperceptions of the Stalin era. The majority of Russians inthese surveys were either ambivalent or favorable in their assessment of Stalin, and roughly 25 percent saidthey would definitely vote for Stalin if he were to come back to life and run for the Russian presidency.Part of the problem in Russia in coming to terms with Stalins legacy is the continued presence of officialswho served in high-level posts in the Communist Party, the government, and the security forces during theSoviet period. These officials have been averse to harsh reassessments of the past and have sought toprevent the release of sensitive documents that would show the Soviet regimes activities in a sinister light.President Vladimir Putin, for example, has repeatedly said that he profoundly regrets the demise of theSoviet Union, describing it as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century." Thisdescription is astounding if one bears in mind that the twentieth century witnessed many genuinecatastrophes, perhaps most significantly, the Holocaust. Although Putin has acknowledged that excessesoccurred under Stalin, he has frequently lauded the monumental accomplishments of the Soviet regime,including the accomplishments of Stalin. Putin also often speaks proudly of the Soviet KGB, the notoriousstate security agency for which he worked in the 1970s and 1980s, carrying on the efforts of agents whoserved Stalin’s regime.True to form, Putin has brought back some of the trappings and symbols used by Stalin, and he hasappointed a large number of former KGB officials to senior posts in his government. In early May 2000,Putin authorized the Russian Central Bank to issue 500 special silver coins bearing Stalins portrait,ostensibly to commemorate the Soviet Unions role in World War II. A few days later, at a ceremonymarking the 55th anniversary of the end of the war, Putin unveiled a plaque honoring "Generalissimo JosefVissarionovich Stalin" for his heroic leadership. Putin also approved the placement of a bust of Stalin at thePoklonnaya Gora war memorial. Several months later, in December 2000, Putin pushed for legislation tobring back the old Soviet national anthem, which had been commissioned by Stalin in 1943 and replaced byYeltsin in late 1991. The anthem was formally restored as of January 2001, an event that Putin marked withgreat solemnity. When Putin was asked in an interview how he could justify the revival of such a blatantsymbol of Stalinist repression, he conceded that many people associate the anthem with the horrors ofStalins prison camps. But Putin vigorously disagreed with this view, arguing that the anthem should insteadbe linked with the many achievements of the Soviet period in which people can take pride. Putin hasreturned to this theme many times since then, especially during the numerous ceremonies in 2005commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the war against Germany. Stalins portrait was widelydisplayed and was prominently featured in newspapers during those celebrations.These developments and Putins rationalizations are deeply troubling. It would be as if German leaders after1945 had claimed that they were bringing back the swastika to remind everyone of the proud achievementsof the Nazi regime. Adolf Hitler, after all, took a demoralized and economically desperate country and turnedit into a daunting military power in well under a decade. No doubt, if historians were to look hard enough wecould find positive things that occurred in Germany from 1933 to 1945, but this progress would hardlywarrant a revival of the swastika. The atrocious evil of the Holocaust, as Germans are well aware, precludesany notion of celebrating the Nazi regimes accomplishments.The same should apply to Stalins regime. Although Putin would like to focus exclusively on the allied victoryin World War II and the emergence of the Soviet Union as a superpower, none of this focus gets around thefact that Stalin presided over one of the bloodiest and most abominable regimes in history. The restorationof conspicuous symbols of the Stalinist regime inevitably mitigates and blurs over the regimes monstrous
  10. 10. crimes. The continued celebration of Soviet holidays, particularly the "Day of the Security Organs" onDecember 20th, conveys appalling disregard for the millions who fell victim to the Soviet security apparatus.Rather than harkening back to the symbols and institutions of the Soviet regime, the Russian governmentshould be doing its best to overcome that terrible legacy. Boris Yeltsin had an opportunity early in hisadministration to promote a thorough historical accounting, but he squandered it. Although he allowed someof the former Soviet archives to be partly opened, he limited the release of documents and kept the mostimportant archives tightly sealed. Yeltsin failed to ensure the systematic removal of statues of Lenin and ofother monuments glorifying the Soviet regime, and he was unwilling to disband the sprawling state securityorgans, which were just as symbolic of Stalinist repression as the SS was of Nazi atrocities. Although theKGB was reorganized in late 1991, the agencys repressive apparatus was preserved essentially intact underthe main successor organization in Russia, the Federal Security Service (FSB), which regards itself asproudly carrying on the KGB’s work.The lack of a thorough reckoning with the past has had negative effects on the Russian population. Russianswho proudly display portraits of Stalin on the streets of Moscow or who lay flowers before symbols of theStalinist regime are never chided for condoning mass murder. On the contrary, the admirers of Stalin cannow purchase silver coins with his image from the Russian government itself. This may help explain why alarge number of Russians regard Stalin as the greatest leader in their countrys history. It is inconceivablethat a majority of Germans today would think of Hitler in similar terms. It is also inconceivable that Germanstoday would tolerate any suggestion of reviving the Hitler Youth. In Russia, by contrast, there has been nooutcry at all over the growing power and size of youth indoctrination organizations like Nashi and YoungGuard. These groups are akin to the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization that indoctrinated andprepared millions of Soviet young people for service to Stalin’s regime.So long as the symbols and institutions of Stalinist repression are still flourishing in Russia, the prospects fordemocracy will be dim. The former Communist countries that have done the most to encourage a thoroughreckoning with the Communist period have enjoyed much greater stability than the countries that have goneabout the process selectively or halfheartedly. Deep and lasting democratization in the former East-blocstates has made the most headway when the iniquities of the Communist period have been exposed topublic light.Courageous groups in Russia like Memorial and the Democracy Foundation have done invaluable work indocumenting the extent of the Stalinist repressions, but a full reckoning with the Stalinist past mustencompass the whole society. The passing of generations will help, but the task of facing up to the horrorsof Stalins rule will also require integrity on the part of public officials – officials who take no pride in theStalinist regimes "monumental achievements" and are instead committed to overcoming the Stalinist legacyonce and for all.

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