How was communism applied in Russia under Lenin and Stalin?
Background and Focus
In this topic, as well as the next, the rise of the two economic systems that dominated the 20th century: communism and capitalism is analysed.
By the turn of the 20th century, the USA and the USSR were in different spaces. The US , having conquered slavery, was on its way ( albeit, slowly) towards CAPITALISM while the USSR was largely feudal in nature. The US and the USSR were on different trajectories entering the 20th century. It is important to note these differing conditions since they will serve to shape the future of the global political and economic marketplace.
This topic aims to provide an understanding of Marxism, socialism and various forms of communism in the context of the Soviet Union. The 1905 Revolution can be regarded as the prelude (lead-up) to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution: Trotsky was involved in setting up the St Petersburg soviet in 1905. Lenin observed the events from exile and adapted his own revolutionary theory.
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The following is to be covered in this topic:
”- What is communism?
Communism hopes to create an egalitarian (equal ) society where class structures are abolished through the state assuming ownership of the country’s resources and distributing these resources equally amongst its citizens.
(Revised Sept. 2010)
Russia under Lenin and Stalin.1921-1939.
I. The NEP Period. 1921-1928.
(1) The New Economic Policy (NEP).
This policy was implemented in March 1921, primarily because massive peasant revolts all over Russia threatened Bolshevik power. The peasants were revolting against war communism, the forcible requisitioning of their produce to feed the army and the cities. War communism was carried out with particular ruthlessness in Tambov province. Lenin had begun this practice in the spring of 1918 (see ch. 2) .
At the same time, there was growing unrest in the towns as well as protest against undemocratic Bolshevik rule. In March 1921, the same "Red sailors" of the naval base on the island of Kronstadt (pron: Kronshtatt, island just outside Leningrad), who had fought for the Bolsheviks in November 1917, now revolted against them. The sailors demanded free and secret elections to the Soviets; freedom of speech and press; the peasants' right to work their own land as they wished; and the legalization of small scale private industry.
The Kronstadt revolt was brutally put down by Trotsky (then War Commissar) and Tukhachevsky, who led troops over the frozen sea to the island base. The government condemned the revolt as a "White Guardist Plot." This was propaganda, since no "White Guard" officers were involved. In reality, the Kronstadt revolt expressed general unrest and convinced Lenin that he had not only peasant revolts to deal with. Thus, the threat to Bolshevik power convinced him of the need to relax controls and rebuild the economy. Therefore, he persuaded his colleagues in the leadership to implement the New Economic Policy, NEP.
NEP was a mixture of socialism and capitalism. The state kept control of "the heights," i.e., of heavy industry, banking, and transport, but allowed a free internal market Therefore, it allowed some scope to private enterprise, i.e. private shops, restaurants, and small scale manufacture, as well as the leasing of some larger enterprises to private entrepreneurs. It also allowed the peasants to work their farms. However, they were to do so within the old communal system, and use only family labor. Forced deliveries were abolished and peasants paid graduated taxes instead. The state remained the owner of the land.
A new class of entrepreneurs appeared, called Nepmen. They were really middlemen, who made a very good living by finding and selling what was most needed. They also supplied state owned industry with parts and raw material. They could be seen everywhere in large cities spending their money in first class restaurants and shops.
The Soviet economy revived quickly. There was more food from the farmers; there were goods in the shops and outdoor markets. But was this communism or even socialism ? Many party members did not think so; they considered NEP to be a betrayal of communist principles.
Lenin himself saw NEP not as a departure from socialism, but as a temporary expedient. He called it "state capitalism," and claimed it was "the ante-chamber of socialism." He had, in fact, tried briefly to implement a similar system in spring 1918, calling it the "New Course," but abandoned it after a short while (see ch. 2).
(Note. We should bear in mind that NEP, whose best known exponent and defender was Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin, 1888-1938, murdered by Stalin in 1938, inspired plans for economic reform in Poland and Hungary in the late 1950s and and early 1960s; in the USSR under Nikita S. Khruschev in the early 1960s, and under Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the late 1980s . It also inspired some of the reforms carried out in Red China by Deng Xsiao Ping in the 1980s and after).
(2) Education, the Arts. and Religion in the NEP Period.
The Soviet government launched a campaign to eradicate illiteracy and reorganized the school system. Education at all levels was free, but it taught communist ideology; it also combined book learning with physical work. The old high schools, called "gimnazia," were abolished and replaced by new secondary schools which combined general education with vocational training; both inculcated communist ideology. Finally, during the 1920s, most schools abolished textbooks and examinations. While this was partly due to new educational theory, it also stemmed from a lack of appropriate textbooks written in a communist framework.
There was censorship of all printed matter and writers were organized in a "Proletarian Cultural and Educational Organization" (Proletcult). Thus, as Chernyshevsky had preached in the late 19th century, culture and education had a didactic mission: they were to educate the people in the "right way" of thinking. Nevertheless, in comparison with the later Stalinist period, NEP was a time of relative cultural freedom. The arts flourished: literature, literary criticism, art, and theater, registered considerable achievements. Great emphasis was placed on the popularization of culture, specially in the key cities, where the theater and art exhibitions were accessible to the people. Likewise, state-owned publishing houses printed large editions of both classical and contemporary Russian literature.
At this time, most of the poets and writers supported the Soviet system, e.g. the poets Vladimir V. Mayakovskv (1893-1930), Sergei A.Yesenin (1895-1925), and Nicholas S. Gumilev (1886-1921), also writers such as Boris A. Pilnyak (1894-1942). However, while Yesenin's suicide apparently was brought on by debauchery, Mayakovsky's stemmed at least in part from disillusionment with Stalin's brand of communism. Pilnyak, who opposed organized terror, wrote a novel titled: Tale of the Unextinguished Moon. The Murder of an Army Commander, in which he clearly hinted that the Red Army leader and Deputy Commissar for War in 1924-25, Mikhail V. Frunze (1885-1925), had been murdered while undergoing an operation.
True or not, such a rumor made the rounds in Moscow and the issueof Novy Mir in which it appeared was confiscated by the authorities. Pilnyak was arrested in late October 1937 and accused of being a Japanese spy. This seemed a plausible charge for he had visited Japan, but it was used to remove him as an inconvenient critic of the regime. He was shot in April 1938, one of many Soviet writers and poets who perished in Stalin's Great Terror of 1938-39.
Thus, though the government tolerated non-party artists and writers, there were certain limits. A less drastic example is that of Evgeny I. Zamyatin (1884-1937) whose novel Wewas a biting futuristic satire of the fully developed totalitarian state and could not be published in the Soviet Union. The novel described how a ruthless group of people established a state that controlled all aspects of human activity. It was published in England in 1924, and provided the inspiration for Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), as well as for George Orwell's satire of the USSR: 1984(1949). Zamyatin was allowed to emigrate and died in Paris in 1937. His novel was finally published in the USSR when Gorbachev launched his policy of "glasnost" (openness) in the late 1980s.
There was also a great flourishing of art, music, theater, and artists were allowed extensive experimentation. But the greatest achievements were in the area of film. In 1925, Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) produced The Battleship Potemkin,on the revolution of 1905 in Odessa. However, he soon encountered problems. His film about collectivization, The General Line, was suspended and the film about the Bolshevik revolution, October, was banned, because it showed Trotsky. Eisenstein went abroad, returning in 1932, only to be virtually banned. He was to be reinstated after making the patriotic film Alexander Nevsky(1938), which was produced according to party directives and fitted Stalin's new line of using Russian history to teach patriotism. (It showed Nevsky's victory over the Teutonic Knights at Lake Peipus in 1242). The film won a Stalin prize, but since it was anti-German (the Teutonic Knights were Germans), it was banned again during the period of German-Soviet friendship in 1939-41.
(Note. Eisenstein also won the Stalin prize in 1945 for Part I of Ivan the Terrible (1530-84). Here the young Tsar was shown as an idealist working for the good of the Russian people. In fact, Stalin told the actors how he saw the Tsar, and the film was generally seen as an allegory for Stalin. However, Part II, which showed the Tsar as the cruel despot that he became later, was condemned and not released in the USSR until 1958. Today, Eisenstein's films are recognized as cinema classics).
Since communism was atheistic, it is not surprising that religion came under attack. This was all the more so, since the Orthodox Church had been a pillar of Tsarism and supported the "Whites" (anti-communists) in the civil war. Thus, thousands of churches were destroyed, while priests and nuns were arrested and sent to labor camps. At the same time, strident propaganda campaigns condemned religion as a fraud and as "an opiate for the people" (Marx). The government briefly supported the establishment of a counter church, called the "Living Church," made up of renegade priests. However, in 1927, Metropolitan Sergei, officially recognized the Soviet regime and ordered the clergy and the faithful to accept it. This policy is sometimes justified by the argument that it allowed the church to survive - but we should note that it was infiltrated by government agents. Indeed, some NKVD - later KGB - officers even became priests for this purpose. Finally, the church was under complete government control, which led to the creation of an "underground church" which did not recognize Sergei and his successors..
(3) The Nationalities.
Under Soviet rule, the non-Russian nationalities were allowed their own schools, but teaching had to conform to communist doctrine. In 1925, when Soviet control was considered secure, there was a very brief period of free cultural development.
This policy aimed at fusing national cultures with communism, but it actually produced a vigorous development of these cultures, especially in Soviet Ukraine. In Moscow, this raised fears of Ukrainian nationalism and separatism; therefore, extensive purges of literary organizations took place in Ukraine in 1927. These purges were replicated in Belorussia (now Belarus) and other non-Russian republics.
For a few years, Soviet Jews were allowed to use Yiddish in Jewish schools and to publish Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers. However, synagogues were closed down. In fact, while Yiddish and Hebrew were tolerated, or at least encouraged, the official policy was to use these languages as instruments to effect the total assimilation of the Jews. Thus, while the Soviet government officially condemned anti-semitism, it aimed at eradicating the Jewish faith. Furthermore, Jewish self-help organizations were abolished and pre-revolutionary Jewish political parties were banned, as were all parties except the communists..
Most of the Jews in the Soviet Union lived in towns. At one time, Soviet policy aimed at persuading as many as possible to take up farming in compact Jewish settlements, which were hardly conducive to assimilation. The most ambitious such project was launched in 1928; in 1934, it led to the creation of the Jewish Autonomous district of Birobiian, located 78 miles west of Khabarovsk, near China (Soviet Far East). This was a failure, for most Jews preferred city work and in any case collectivization meant the Jews could not farm their own land.We should note that Birobijan was used by Soviet propaganda as proof that the Jews had their own territorial unit in the USSR. This was to counter Zionism, which called for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Soviet policy toward the Jews was a success. The official condemnation of anti-semitism and the policy of equal rights for all quickly led to the assimilation of the vast majority of Soviet Jews, while also attracting sympathy and support for Soviet communism and the USSR from Jews outside the Soviet Union. However, although Russian anti-semitism was muted, it remained strong, manifesting itself in anti-Jewish discrimination in higher education and employment. Jews had their race listed in their identity papers ("Yevrei"), but then all Soviet passports listed the owners' nationality.
The Moslem peoples of the Caucasus and Soviet Central Asia also benefitted briefly from early Soviet toleration for they were allowed to use the Arabic script. However, the Soviet government aimed at their total integration in the Soviet state and therefore cut them off from their brethren in neighboring states. Furthermore, Arabic script was soon replaced first by Latin, then by Cyrillic.*. Moslem mosques were either destroyed, or allowed to fall intointo disrepair . However, from the 1970s onward, the government permitted the restoration of some key mosques as historic monuments.. This sparked a cultural and national revival among the Moslems shortly before the demise of the USSR (August 1991).
*(Note. The Cyrillic alphabet is named after St. Cyril, a Macedonian missionary of the 9th century, who, together with St. Methodius, was sent out of Constantinople to convert the Balkan peoples to the Greek Orthodox faith of Byzantium. They created a Slavic language written in a new alphabet based on Greek. From that time on, old Slavonic, or "Church Slavonic," has been used in the Russian and Balkan Orthodox Churches, whose missionaries travelled to Russia. When the ruler of Kiev Rus,Vladimir accepted Christianity from Constantinople in 988- A.D., he accepted Church Slavonic, with its Cyrillic alphabet, along with the faith. Therefore, all Russian as well as Serbian and Bulgarian writing uses the Cyrillic alphabet.).
In 1988, the millenium of Russian conversion to Christianity was celebrated in the USSR. Gorbachev allowed the return of hundreds of churches to the faithful. He also visited Pope John Paul II, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, in Rome in December 1989. However, although the Ukrainian Greek Catholic or Uniate Church was legalized in December 1990, there seems no end in sight for the bitter war over church property in western Ukraine between the Ukrainian Uniate Church (union with Rome 1569), the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church. Underlying and envenoming this conflict is the fact that the Uniate Church lies at the core of Ukrainian national identity in western Ukraine, and that the Orthodox Churc h was used by the Tsars as an instrument of Russification, just as it was by the communists. Orthodox resentment of the Uniate and Roman Catholic churches is so strong that Pope John Paul II coould not visit Russia. He did, however, a visit independent Ukraine, where he was given an enthusiastic reception in June 2001.
II. The Rise of Stalin.
Joseph Vissarionovich Dzugashvili -- his revolutionary name was Stalin, meaning "man of steel"l --, was born in 1879 in the village of Gori, near Tiflis, Georgia. His father was allegedly a cobbler, who is said to have been a drunkard who beat his wife and son. However, Stalin once hinted that his father was a priest, and there were also rumors of a noble father Whatever the case may be, Stalin's mother was a pious washerwoman who wanted Joseph to have an education. Since she was poor, she sent him to the Orthodox Seminary in Tiflis, to be educated as a priest.
Joseph soon became a rebel. At first, he dreamed of leading a revolution to free Georgia from Russian rule; in this he resembled Napoleon Bonaparte who first dreamed of freeing his native Corsica from French rule. Both the Corsican and the Georgian became absolute rulers -- although Napoleon was an enlightened one --, conquerors, and founders of empires. Napoleon lost his empire in 1814-15, but the Soviet empire was greatly expanded by Stalin. It became a world power, second in military might only to the United States, and survived until it was dissolved in late December 1991.
Stalin soon became interested in Marxism and joined the Bolshevik faction in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. He organized strikes and bank robberies. This was a common way of obtaining funds for revolutionary activities, though strongly condemned by most socialists. He was arrested and sent to Siberia five times, but escaped every time. These easy escapes made some of his political enemies suspect that he was then in the pay of the Tsarist Security Police, the Okhrana, but no evidence has been found so far to confirm this. (If there were any such documents, Stalin had plenty of opportunity to destroy them).
He met Lenin, when the latter was living near Krakow, in Austrian Poland. Lenin was impressed by the rough hewn revolutionary from the working class. In 1912, Stalin became a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee. In the following year, after he had spent some time doing research in Vienna (one of the two capitals of the multinational Austro-Hungarian empire the other being Budapest), Lenin helped him write Marxism and the National Question. This pamphlet set out Bolshevik views on the nationalities' problem in Russia, i.e. self-determination. We should note that this was also the view of the Mensheviks (moderate communists) and the Socialist Revolutionaries (S.Rs, Peasant Party).
When the revolution broke out in March 1917, Stalin was again in Siberian exile. He was released, returned to the capital (renamed (Petrograd in WW I, later Leningrad, and now against St.Petersburg) and became the editor of the Bolshevik paper, Pravda (Truth). However, though Lenin clearly respected his abilities, he did not play a leading role in the period March-November 1917, except for a brief period in July-August, when Lenin was hiding in Finland and the other major leaders were in prison (see ch. 2).
In fact, a diarist of the revolution, Nikolai N. Sukhanov (real name: Gimmer) who was first an S.R. then a Menshevik, also a member of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet in 1917, remembered Stalin as "a grey blur." At this time, Trotskv was the no. 2 leader after Lenin. (Sukhanov, born in 1882, was killed in the Stalin purges of the 1930s).
Key Factors in Stalin's Rise to Power.
These can be summarized as follows:
(a) control and use of party bureaucracy to accumulate power;
(b) the ability to divide his opponents and/or rivals, and play them off against each other;
(c) skillful use of the cult of party unity, sacred to Bolsheviks.
(d) an unshakeable determination to wield absolute power and absolute ruthlessness in using it;
(e) the ability to wait patiently for the right moment to
(f) the ability to retreat when necessary, in order to advance later.
We know that one of Stalin's favorite books was Machiavelli's The Prince. He certainly knew how to apply the counsels given to leaders in that famous, little book.
While accumulating power, Stalin maintained a "centrist" position, throwing his support to those he needed, and then "dialectically" switching policies. That is, he would support a policy in order to defeat one set of leaders, and then adopt the policy of those he defeated to crush those whom he had supported, as was the case in the Debate on Industrialization. (See below).
Some scholars believe that in Bolshevik practice, policy issues were always secondary, i.e. they were manipulated for the purpose of gaining power. (1) While this wa certainly true of Stalin and some of his rivals, and was partly true later, it is going too far to apply it to all Soviet leaders all the time. Thus, it is clear that, like Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders, Stalin's ultimate aim was collectivization of the land and industrialization. Of course, we cannot tell how Lenin, or Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev or Bukharin, would have ruled the USSR if they had won the struggle for power . However, it seems unlikely, from what we know about them, that any of these leaders could have equalled Stalin's monstrous tyranny which cost the lives of millions.
Stalin began his struggle for power with several handicaps. He was not an orator; he spoke slowly and with a heavy Georgian accent. He was not an intellectual, as were the top Bolshevik leaders. He wrote little. Therefore, his colleagues at first saw him as a slightly backward comrade who was a good administrator and could be entrusted with the paperwork. This was a great mistake on their part. He was also an avid reader, as evidenced by his library.
Stalin soon realized that he could use the party bureaucracy as the tool to gain power. By 1922, he held the following positions:
(1) member of the Politburo (top executive organ of the party, created in January 1919 [later renamed the Presidium];
(2) member of the Central Committee, where policy was debated and decisions made;
(3) member of the Organization Bureau (acronym: Orgburo), which supervised party organizations;
(4) head of the Party Secretariat, which set the agenda for Central Committee and Politburo meetings;
(5) Commissar (Minister) of the Workers and Peasants' Inspectorate (acronym: Rabkrin), which was to control the administrative apparatus and, ironically, to guard against bureaucratization (!);
(6) Commissar of Nationalities; and
(7) in 1922, General Secretary of the party, taking the post on Lenin's recommendation, after the latter had suffered his first stroke in May of that year.
Thus, on top of all the other posts, Stalin now held the highest position in the party.
The combination of these posts and memberships allowed Stalin to monitor grassroots party appointments all over the Soviet Union and thus build up an army of henchmen. This, in turn, meant that he was soon able to control the election of deputies to the Supreme Soviet, the top legislative body, and to the Partv Congress, so he could "pack" them.
Stalin also drew strength from the fact that in the last two years of Lenin's life (he died in January 1924), and shortly thereafter, Trotsky was seen as his obvious successor- and was feared by other leaders.. However, in the last year of his life, Lenin came to have doubts about both of them. In his "Testament" (really a letter to party leaders), Lenin wrote that Stalin should be removed from the post of General Secretary. Provoked by Stalin's rudeness to his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaia (1869-1939) - whom Stalin berated for not following doctors' orders to keep party matters from Lenin, after his stroke - he called Stalin "ruthless and rude." At the same time, he criticized Trotsky for being too arrogant. Finally, he warned of the danger of rivalry between the two which, he said, could split the party. When the "Testament" was delivered by Nadezhda to the top party leaders and read by them at a meeting held during the 13th Party Congress, Stalin offered to resign. His colleagues decided, however, not to publish it as Lenin had asked. In fact, they ignored it. They did so because they believed that such public criticism of Stalin would ensure Trotsky's election as General Secretary, and, with France's Napoleon I in mind, they feared that the "father" of the Red Army would become a military dictator and get rid of them.
(Note: Lenin's "Testament" was first published in the New York Times in 1932. It was obtained from Max Eastman, an American communist who had turned against Stalin. The Soviet government denied its validity for years, calling it a forgery, until Nikita S. Khruschev finally acknowledged it as genuine in his secret speech to the 20th Party Congress in February 1956. For the history of this document, see: Yuri Buranov, Lenin's Will. Falsified and Forbidden. From the Secret Archives of the Former Soviet Union, Amherst, N.Y., 1994. For Trotsky's involvement, see: Lars T. Lih et al., eds., Stalin's Letters to Molotov, 1925-1936, New Haven, Ct., and London, 1995, Appendix, The Eastman Affair, pp. 241-249).
Thus, Stalin had allies in the top leadership because they feared Trotsky. Indeed, already in 1921, he had formed an alliance with Kamenev and Zinoviev against Trotsky. This alliance was known as the "Troika," or threesome. They feared Trotsky would use the Red Army to become a red Napoleon and did not suspect Stalin of plans to make himself absolute ruler of the Soviet Union. In 1924, the year of Lenin's death, Stalin published the pamphlet: Socialism in One Country. This was seen later as an attack on Trotsky, who was known for his belief in the need to spread world revolution. However, according to a recent study, Trotsky did not oppose the concept of building Socialism in one country, at least not at the time. (2) Whatever the case may be, Stalin went against the former Bolshevik doctrine that world revolution was necessary for the Russian revolution to survive. He tried to squate the circle by stating that Socialism could be built in one country, but could not be completed until revolution broke out all over the world. This point of view was accepted by most party members because they saw the Soviet political-economic system as a socialist one.
By 1925, Kamenev and Zinoviev finally realized that Stalin was out to get absolute power, so they teamed up with Trotsky -- but it was too late. They were helpless in the face of the Stalin - packed Party Congress and Supreme Soviet, also his control of the radio and the press. They decided to admit they were in the wrong so as to stay in the party.
Stalin played his cards expertly. His tactic of playing his opponents off against one another can best seen in the Debate on Industrialization, which took place in 1924-27. As it turned out, this was the last open, public policy debate in the party until Gorbachev's party conference in 1988.
All party leaders agreed on the need to industrialize Soviet Russia (in 1924, it was renamed the Soviet Union, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, acronym: USSR), so the debate was on how fast and bv what means to proceed. There were two opposing sides:
(a) The "Right," led by Bukharin and supported by Stalin, argued for the continued development of agriculture within the framework of NEP, that is, private, family farms within traditional communes (mirs). They argued that surplus production should be exported to obtain capital for investment in industry.
(b) The "Left," led by Trotsky and supported by the economist Yevgeny A. Preobrazhensky ( 1886-1937, liquidated in the purges), wanted to "bleed" the peasants by collectivizing the farms, and thus control production and prices. The difference between state prices for food produce paid to the collective farms and the higher prices at which they would be sold in state shops in the towns was to provide investment capital for industrialization. Trotsky also proposed a 10% annual growth rate in industrial production. Stalin supported the "Right, " so it won. He even said that Trotsky's proposed 10% industrial growth rate was "unrealistic." (3) Trotsky was banished to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, in 1927. He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1928. He continued to oppose Stalin from abroad until he was murdered by a Stalin agent in Mexico in 1940.
Although the "Right" had won the industrialization debate, 1927-28 witnessed the so-called "scissors crisis, " in which the prices of agricultural products were much lower than industrial products. Since the peasants could not buy what they needed, they produced less food, especially grain, so there was not enough for export and even shortages in the cities. This situation spurred an internal debate on The First Five Year Plan (FYP) in 1927-28. In December 1927, the 15th Party Congress confirmed t Central Committee Resolutions to reduce the influence of kulaks (rich peasants) in the villages. The resolution also spoke of collectivization, but said it should be carried out by persuasion, not by force. However, Stalin imposed very heavy taxes on the peasants, and had them collected by force.
The argument for collectivization sounded plausible: large, mechanized farms would produce more food. The problem was, however, that the Soviet Union was not an industrialized state, so there were very few tractors and other farm machinery. There were also very few experienced farm managers in the Party. Finally, it was a well-known fact that peasant farmers did not want to give up their land. However, these considerations carried no weight with Stalin. In his eyes, the private peasant farmers who tilled the land and raised the livestock, were opposing the demands of the party leadership; in fact. they refused to produce more food as long as they could not buy the goods they needed. Therefore, they were capable of influencing the state's economic policy, and even of becoming a political opposition. Finally, Stalin's letters to Molotov show he saw grain exports as the key to industrialization, for they were to pay for it. He believed these exports could not be assured without collectivization, even if it had to be carried out by force (3a). We should also bear in mind that in 1928 he had defeated all his key rivals for power, so they could not oppose his policies.
In April 1928, there was some opposition in the party to the first draft plan on collectivization. However, in May, the Supreme Economic Council proposed an industrial expansion of 130% over 5 years, i.e. 26% per year! (Trotsky had proposed 10% per year, which Stalin criticized as unrealistic). This plan was intimately connected with collectivization, which was to provide much of the capital investment for industrialization.
When collectiziation began, there were protests and peasant riots in the North Caucasus. When Bukharin criticized the policy, Stalin answered that a "temporary peasant tribute was needed." Bukharin now teamed up with Kamenev and Zinoviev against Stalin. Bukharin came out openly against Stalin in January 1929. He sent a statement to the Central Committee that Stalin's policies were synonymous with a military-feudal exploitation of the peasantry, the disintegration of the Comintern, and the bureaucratization of the party, which turned out to be a correct diagnosis. Though Stalin pretended to forgive him, he never did and made up his mind to destroy him. However, since Bukharin was very popular in the party, Stalin bided his time.
In March 1929, two versions of the Five Year Plan were presented: a maximum and a minimum version. The 16th Party Congress, packed by Stalin, approved the maximum version. There were also attacks on Bukharin by Stalin's supporters, made on his orders. The plan called for the collectivization of only 13% of the total farm population by 1933. But in the summer of 1929, after Stalin had broken all internal party opposition, collectivization went forward at breakneck speed and was implemented by force. The peasants resisted fiercely, so Stalin decided on all-out collectivization.
OGPU ( Security Administration, later called NKVD) troops were sent in. They burned the villages and shot the people. The peasants then killed off their livestock and burned the grain. (4) Resistance was so strong that Stalin backtracked. In late March 1930, he made a speech saying the party was "dizzy with success," and blamed local party members for excesses. In this way he headed off a mass revolt, but after a few months the pace quickened again. (5) By July 1930, 23% of the farms were collectivized, and by late 1931, 52.7%.
Still, the issue was not yet settled. In 1932-33, Stalin's use of force against peasant resistance to collectivization led to a man-made famine in some regions s of the Soviet Union. It was worst in the Kuban and in Ukraine, which had the best soil in the USSR. Indeed, Ukraine was the traditional breadbasket of Russia..To break resistance in these regions, Stalin did not allow any food to be brought in, while he exported grain abroad. Also, every bit of grain was taken from the peasants, who were left to starve. People were shot for "stealing" grain. Aside from those who starved to death, some 4 million Ukrainians were deported to labor camps in Siberia or to other forced labor, e.g. the building of the White Sea Canal. Historians estimate that 4- 7 million Ukrainians died as a result of Stalin's policy.
In August 1942, Stalin told British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, at a dinner in his "dacha" (country house) near Moscow, that collectivization had been imposed because agriculture had to be mechanized to avoid famine. The peasants, said Stalin, had in a few months "spoiled all the tractors" they were given, so they had to be collectivized. He claimed there was no alternative to collectivization, but admitted it had been "a terrible struggle," involving 10 million "kulaks." Still, he said, "many of them agreed to come in with us." Some of these were given land of their own to cultivate in the provinces of Tomsk or Irkutsk (Siberia). "But the great bulk were very unpopular and were wiped out by their labourers." (6)
In this outrageous lie, Stalin nevertheless admitted that millions of peasants were deported to Siberia. In fact, most ended up in labor camps or in huge industrial projects like Magnitogorsk. The bulk of those who resisted were killed, not by their "labourers" -- for most had none -- but by the military forces of the security police. It was only in 1987, under Gorbachev, that the Soviet press admitted Stalin's collectivization was a very costly "mistake." A year later, in 1988, the Soviet press began writing about the horrors of the man-made famine, especially in Ukraine. (7).although this has been denied after Vladimir Putin came to power in late December 1991. We should also note that many Bolsheviks were horrified by Stalin's methods at the time.It is certain that Stalin deliberately ordered the starvation of millions of peasants, particularly Ukrainians, and that this was done with the involvement of local Ukrainian party members.. At the same time, he liquidated those Ukrainian communists who wanted a real measure of autonomy for their people. Since peasants also starved in other parts of the Soviet Union, the question is whether Stalin specifically targeted the Ukrainians for physical and cultural extermination, which is the claim made by Ukrainians and by some Western historians.
Whatever the case may be, collectivization did not increase Soviet agricultural output, but reduced it catastrophically. First of all, the losses in livestock were not made up until the early 1950s, although without the war this might have occurred sooner. Furthermore, there were few agricultural machines to go around, so in 1932 "Motor Tractor Stations" (MTS) were established, each of which had to serve several collective farms. This meant in turn, that collective farms had to compete with each other in bribing the local MTS and some always came off short. Also, there was shortage of trained farm managers; so at first, they were party workers sent down to run the farm and coerce the peasants. Finally, and most importantly, the peasants were unwilling to work hard because they were paid very little and mostly in kind. So, in 1936, Stalin had to allow them to have small private plots on which they could raise vegetables, fruit, and even some livestock. He also had to allow them to sell this produce at their own prices, thus creating a limited type of free market.
(Noteonthe Problems of Soviet agriculture. Soviet agricultural production was inadequate for most of the Soviet period.. It is true that production tripled over the years, but the urban population increased dramatically at the same time. Urban growth also took place in most Western countries, especially in the U.S., yet agricultural production increased even more. We know that key Soviet problems were very low productivity and enormous waste. Peasants worked as little as possible. Also, Russian experts admitted under Gorbachev that at least one-third, and in some cases half of the collective farm produce rotted for lack of timely transport and adequate storage. At the same time, at least 33% of butter, eggs, chickens, vegetables and fruit came from small private plots.
Khrushchev began importing grain from the United States in 1960. Here we should note that while both the USSR and the U.S. had about the same amount of arable land, i.e., 11% of the total area, the U.S. yields were, and are, very high, while Soviet yields were much lower. It is true that according to official Soviet statistics agricultural production in the 1970s was about four times as high as in the 1920s. However, in a good season, the USSR could barely feed itself while the United States usually produced too much. Indeed, the U.S. government paid farmers to leave some land untilled in order to prevent food prices from sinking too low, thus ruining them. For Gorbachev's and Yeltsin's attempts at reforming agriculture, see ch. 8).
The production targets set in the Five Year Plans of 1929-39 were totally unrealistic. So was the basic assumption that - apart from government profits made on the price difference between purchase price from the collective farms and the sale prices in the towns - most of the investment capital would come from increased production. However, this simply did not happen.
The standard of living in the cities was definitely higher in 1930 than it was in 1913. However, there was a 40% drop in workers' buying power between 1927/28 and 1930/31, while at the same time the cost of living went up by 150-200%. This was pulling the country up by its bootstraps. It meant that industrialization was achieved by exploiting the workers and peasants. After World War II and the imposition of communism on most of Eastern Europe, a joke originating in one of these countries stated: "What is the difference between capitalism and socialism?" The answer was: "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, while socialism is the exact opposite." A 1988 Hungarian joke asked: "What is socialism?" Answer: "It is the longest and rockiest road from capitalism back to capitalism."
No wonder that people had to be dragooned to work. Strict labor discipline was imposed, as were piece work wages along with constantly rising production targets. Leading workers were called "Stakhanovites" after the miner Aleksei G. Stakhanov (19061977). On August 30, 1935, he was given the most up-to-date machinery and an excellent crew, with the result that they extracted more coal in a single shift than any crew before them -- allegedly 102 tons of coal in one shift of 5 hours. and 45 min., or 14 times the standard output. After that, miners, equipped only with pick axes, were told to produce the same amount of coal. Therefore, Stakhanov's name was hated by the workers. [Curiously enough, while "Stakhanovites" were rewarded in all branches of industry, Stakhanov himself was forgotten until Leonid I. Brezhnev (1906-1982, Secretary General 1964-82) gave him the order of "Hero of Socialist Labor" on August 30, 1970, and designated the date as "International Miners' Day." Brezhnev wanted to stimulate increased productivity, but this did not happen].
During the first two Five Year Plans (FYPs) of 1929-39, huge hydroelectric dams were built as well as canals, mines, and factories. They were built in record time, using both free and prison labor. The latter formed an important part of all FYPs after 1934. Prisoners built the White Sea Canal, mostly by hand; they laid thousands of miles of railway track, manned the lumber industry, also the gold mines of Kolyma and the coal mines of Vorkuta. Millions of people died of cold, malnutrition and disease in the labor camps. They became known as the GULAG, the Russian acronym for State Administration of Camps.
In the "free" areas outsise the camps, industrial accidents were frequent because safety was not a factor. Workers were encouraged and often forced to work overtime. Managers, who were party members, drove the workers relentlessly because they risked prison, or deportation, or even death for "sabotage" if production targets were not met. Indeed, in 1928, there was a show trial of "wreckers" from the Skakhty industrial center in the Donbas region (called the Skakhty Trial). Although this marked the beginning of a wave of terror against the pre-revolutionary professional intelligentsia, it also set a precedent for trying managers who did not meet their production quotas.
Food was rationed, so the unemployed could not get ration cards, or any place to live. Housing was in very short supply, so workers often lived in barracks without their families. The people who lived in existing housing had to share apartments, one family to a room, and the housing shortage was never overcome, though much was built later under Khrushchev and Brezhnev.. On top of all that, there was police terror (see belows).
Stalin officially justified forced collectivization and industrialization by claiming that Russia was "threatened" by the Western Powers, i.e. Gt. Britain and France, so it had to "catch up" with them in industrial production. He could point to Western intervention in the civil war of 1918-21 as an example of active western hostility. The Western Powers were constantly depicted as scheming to invade the Soviet Union and overthrow the Soviet government. It is true that there was a general Western distrust of the Soviet Union, due largely to the subversive activities of the Comintern (Communist International). However, the USSR had excellent relations with Weimar Germany (1919-1933). There was, in fact, not only extensive Soviet-German trade, but also close military cooperation (see ch. 4). As for France and Britain, in 1919, they gave up all ideas of fighting the Soviets. Britain recognized the USSR in 1924. Although relations were severed due to discovery of Soviet espionage in 1927 (the Argos affair), they were soon restored..
The administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the Soviet government in November 1933. Furthermore, Poland and France signed non-aggression pacts with the Soviets in 1932. Hitler came to power in Germany in March 1933, but though the USSR entered the League of Nations in September 1934 and signed an alliance with France in May 1935 - Stalin showed signs of willingness to sign a treaty of nonaggression with Hitler at the same time. (For Soviet foreign policy in the interwar period, see ch. 4).
Whatever the input of Stalin's fear of the western powers, the foundations of Soviet industrial power were laid in the 1930s - though production statistics were almost always inflated. This was partly due to the fact that managers had to show they had fulfilled or overfulfilled their quotas, and partly to the propaganda need to show the Soviet people and the world that the system was successful.
We can, however, accept the following figures for 1939 as more or less valid:
Coal production rose from about 40 milllion. to about 132 mln. tons.
Steel production rose from about 4.9 mln. to about 18 mln. tons.
Oil production rose from about 13.8 mln. to about 32.2 mln. tons.
These production figures are impressive. Furthermore, the development of heavy industry in the Ural mountains region would provide the backbone of Soviet war industry in 1941-45. At the same time, however, the forced tempo of industrialization was incredibly wasteful and inefficient. Indeed, waste and inefficiency came to characterize both industrial and agricultural production in the Soviet Union, as well as in other so-called socialist countries. Also, the cost of collectivization and industrialization in terms of human lives was very high. It is true that the standard of living for city workers was generally higher in 1939 than before the revolution, but compared with Europe and the U.S., the Soviet urban standard was very low. The peasants, for their part, were subjected to a new form of serfdom, for they had to work a certain number of days for the collective farm in return for minimum quantities of food. They were not given internal passports for travel inside the USSR like other citizens,which meant they were tied to the soil. The general exception was military service, from which most soldiers never returned home.Also, gifted young men, who had proved reliable workers and had some local backing, could leave the village for careers in the party, industrial management, sports, the sciences and the arts.
The party and managerial elite, as well as officially sanctioned scientistis, artists and writers, lived extremely well. The ones at the top had large apartments, country houses, chauffeur-driven limousines, special shops, where they could buy otherwise unobtainable goods, and access to well appointed hospitals and vacation resorts The middle and lower ranks also enjoyed many perks. But all were at risk of dismissal or worse if they displeased a powerful colleague, or Stalin. The life style of the elites was, however, discreet and never flaunted in public.Stalin himself wore a simple military tunic - until he gave himself the title of Marshal and a splendid uniform in honor of Soviet victories in 1943. He assumed the title of "Generalissimus" in 1945..
III. The Stalin Terror, 1934-1938..
In these four years, millions of people were arrested and killed, either by execution (sometimes by torture) in prison, or by overwork and malnutrition in the labor camps, or execution there. Hardly a family was left untouched, especially in the western and central USSR. Those who remember the terror, are still traumatized by it today. (7a)
Why did Stalin launch the terror and carry it to such extremes? The most likely answer is that he saw any opposition, real or potential, as a deadly threat to himself and that this perception con-firmed his determination to hold absolute power. At the same time, like other Bolsheviks, including Lenin, Stalin believed that terror was a legitimate political weapon, as well as the most effective means of making people obey and work hard.. The difference was that while Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders opposed the use of terror against their own colleagues, Stalin had no such reservations,.
It seems that the impulse for launching the great terror was criticism of Stalin's policies and methods within the party leadership in the years 1930-33, i.e. the period of forced collectiization.. At that time, the most significant opposition came from Martemyan N. Ryutin (1890-1937). Ryutin was expelled from the Party and arrested in September 1930, but the OGPU (Security Police) Collegium acquitted him of any criminal intent and he was only given a warning. However, in 1932, he and a group of minor party officials - some of whom were followers of Bukharin, who had opposed collectivization - wrote "An Appeal to All Members of the All Union Communist Party (Bolshevik)." This paper, known as Ryutin Platform, proposed an economic retreat, that is, a reduction of investment in heavy industry and the liberation of the peasants, allowing them to leave the collective and state farms. The authors condemned Stalin as "the evil genius of the Russian Revolution." They pointed to the lawlessness and terror existing both in the party and in the countryside, to the collapse of genuine planning, and said the press was reduced "in the hands of Stalin and his clique to a monstrous factory of lies." Finally, the appeal stated: "Stalin and his clique will not and cannot voluntarily give up their position, so they must be removed by force."
Stalin seems to have interpreted this as a call for his assassination, but the Politburo refused his proposal that Ryutin be shot. The party leaders still opposed the death penalty for one of their own. Ryutin and his supporters were, however, expelled from the party. He received a ten year sentence and later died in prison. It is worth noting that the opponents of the death penalty for Ryutin were Sergei M. Kirov (real name: Kostrikov, 1886-1934), the head of the Leningrad party, as well as others, including Stalin's close supporter, the Georgian Grigorii K. Ordzonikidze (1886-1937), then Commissar of Heavy Industry. It was also clear at the 17th Party Congress, held in January-February 1934, that many deputies wanted a relaxation of the collectivization drive and that Kirov was a very popular figure. Stalin must have decided to get rid of his critics and potential rivals, but he needed a pretext.
Stalin's pretext for the purges in the party, which developed into the mass terror, was the assassination of Kirov on December 1, 1934. Kirov was widely regarded as Stalin's heir apparent and was popular in party circles. Some Western historians suspected for a long time that Stalin had him killed. Many years later, this view was confirmed by Anton Antonov-Ovseenko, whose father, was killed in the purges. Anton himself was trained as a historian and became a dissident, having spent many years in labor camps. In his book about Stalin's tyranny, he tells us that for a brief time in the late 1950s, he had access to some members of Khrushchev's Commission of Inquiry into the purges (1956-58/59). From them he learned that Kirov opposed Stalin's brutal methods of collectivization, and received many more votes than Stalin for re-election to the Central Committee (and thus election as Secretary General) at the 17th Party Conqress of 1934. In fact, only three votes seem to have been cast against Kirov, while some 270 were cast against Stalin. However, Stalin's henchmen are said to have destroyed these except for three, also leaving three votes against Kirov. Finally, though Kirov refused to run against Stalin for the post of General Secretary, and told him so, Stalin apparently concluded that Kirov was a deadly threat to him.
[Note: This Congress abolished the title of Secretary General, and replaced it with that of the First Secretary, but the old title was restored under Brezhnev].
Most of the evidence concerning Kirov's assassination was destroyed after being read by Khruschev's Commission of Inquiry, but some of it has been confirmed recently by a surviving member of the commission. It seems that NKVD operatives, under Stalin's orders, used Leonid Nikolaev, a party member known for his disturbed mind, to kill Kirov in his own office building in Leningrad. Nikolaev himself admitted he did so with the active help of the NKVD, then headed by Genrikh G. Yagoda (1891-1938). Later Nikolaev, as well as all others involved, including Yagoda, were killed off in one way or another. In the meanwhile, Stalin raised a great hue and cry claiming the whole party was in danger, having been "penetrated" by spies and foreign agents. (8)
Thus, Kirov's murder was Stalin's pretext to start a series of purges in the party. There were mass arrests, which included not only the suspects, but also their families, supporters, friends and acquaintances. This was a method often used in some Asian countries, also in past clan wars in Stalin's native Georgia. The famous Soviet writer, Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn (b. 1918), estimated that some 40 million Soviet citizens lost their lives under Stalin's rule. After the opening of Russian archives in the early 1990s, estimates have been broken down into victins of the GULAG (forced labor camps), and executions, of which most, over 600,000, took place in the "Great Terror" of 1937-38. At present, the minimum estimate is around 15 million.plus an est. 27 mln killed in World War II . The total number of those killed during collectivization, in the purges of the 1930s and in later years, i.e. up to Stalin's death in March 1953, is disputed but ranges between 5 and 7 million, the vast majority of whom were Ukrainians.. (9)
The visible part of the Stalin purges were the show trials of well known Bolshevik leaders, all of whom had opposed Stalin at various times in the past. Although all were accused of belonging to "Trotskyite" conspiracies, and some of spying for foreign powers, almost all were also accused of sharing the "Ryutin Platform." Andrei Ia.Vyshinsky (1883-1935) rose to prominence as the Prosecutor. These trials were:
(1) The Trial of the 16, August 1936, when Kamenev, Zinoviev, I. N. Smirnov, G. E. Yevdakimov and others, were accused of being part of a "Trotskiite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center," and of organizing a "terrorist plot" against Stalin and his supporters. The accused were forced to implicate Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky (the last committed suicide on being implicated). The accused had been promised their lives and safety for their families, if they "confessed," but they were shot the day after their conviction and their families were sent to the GULAG.
(2) The Trial of the Anti-Soviet Trotskiite Center, January 1937, in which Trotsky, who was in exile since 1929, was the arch villain. This time the accused were headed by Grigorii L. Pyatakov (1890-1937), who had consistently supported Trotsky in his disputes with Lenin and Stalin, and was Grigorii K.Ordzhonikidze's assistant in industrial planning. (Ordzonikidze was officially said to have died of a heart attack 1937; in February 1956, however, Khrushchev said he had committed suicide; in 1988, the Soviet press stated he died of a gunshot wound). The other accused included the prominent expert on foreign affairs and former leading member of the Trotskiite opposition, Karl Radek (realname: Sobelsohn 1885-1939), Grigorii Y Sokolnikov (1888-1939), a diplomat and member of the "Left Opposition" (Trotsky); Leonid P. Serebryakov (1890-1937), a leading member of Trotsky's former group, and thirteen others. They were forced to implicate Bukharin, Rykov, and even Marshal Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky. Some were executed and some died in labor camps.
(3) The Trial of the 21, or the "Case of the Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rightists and Trotskiites," March 1938, in which the key defendants were Bukharin, Aleksei I.Rykov (1881-1938), a leader of the "Right Opposition" against collectivization; Nikolai N. Krestinskii (1883-1938), who had been the Soviet ambassador in Berlin in 1922-30, and Genrikh G. Yagoda (1891-1938), the NKVD chief who had conducted the inquiry into the assassination of Kirov and organized the purges..
Again, most were executed, while others died in the camps.
Trotsky, who was in the West, publicly denied the charges and often proved that the so-called "agents" could not have been in places where they were supposed to be "conspiring." In those years, many foreign communists had doubts as to the justice of the trials. Some of the Polish communists in Poland even protested. Most of the Polish communist leaders had taken refuge in the the USSR; they were duly arrested and executed, or died in the camps. Finally, the Comintern (read Stalin) dissolved the Polish Communist Party in 1938, on the charge that it had been inf iltrated by the Polish police . (The Polish Communist Party was "rehabilitated" by the United Polish Workers' Party in 1956, when the charge was declared false and blamed on "provocateurs"). Likewise, other foreign communists then in the USSR were also executed while their dependents and lesser fry were sent to labor camps. In the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (August 23 1939 -June 22 1941), Stalin even delivered some German communists to the Nazis as a token of his good will.
At the time of the purge trials, many sympathizers of the Soviet Union were taken in by the "confessions of guilt" made publicly in court by the accused. We know, however, that these "confessions" were obtained by physical or mental torture (e.g. threats against the family), as well as promises that the accused would be allowed to live. Some of the accused made extraordinary statements in admitting their "guilt." Thus, Bukharin - the author of the Stalin constitution of 1936 - said:
We found ourselves in the accursed ranks of the counter-revolution, we became traitors to Socialist Fatherland . . . .
I refute the accusation of having plotted against the life of Vladimir Illyich [Lenin], but my revolu- tionary confederates, and I at their head, en-
deavored to murder Lenin's cause, which is being carried on with such tremendous success by Stalin . . . . I am kneeling before the country,
before the Party, before the whole people. The monstrousness of my crimes is immeasurable, especially in the new stage of the struggle of
the USSR . . .
What matters is not the personal feelings of a repentant enemy, but the flourishing progress of the USSR and its international importance. (10)
This was, however, far from a straightforward confession. In fact, Bukharin made it clear to those who could read between the lines, that his confession of "guilt" had been forced from him. Indeed, in his speech, he called confession "a method of the medieval inquisition" - which it was.
He said what he did say in order to save his wife and child. In his "Last Testament," a letter which he made his young wife, Anna Larina, memorize for a "future generation of party leaders," and which she recited to Khrushchev's Central Control Commission in 1961, he admitted his "helplessness" before the "hellish machine," and "organized slander" practiced by Stalin, and declared his complete innocence. He appealed to future party leaders to exonerate him. (11) His wife spent twenty years in the labor camps and exile. She was only then reunited with her son who had been taken from her at age 2. Gorbachev carried out Bukharin's wish and "rehabilitated" him fifty years after his death, in 1988, when his letter was finally published in the Soviet press.
Some of the other Bolsheviks were "rehabilitated" by Khrushchev in the period 1956-64, and as mentioned above, others were rehabilitated by Gorbachev. In 1987-88, the Party Control Commission rehabilitated several of the better known purge victims, including Kamenev, Zinoviev, Pytakov, and Radek. However, rehabilitations went very slowly, on a case-by-case basis.
We should note that the purge trials were only the tip of the iceberg. In all, some 90% of the delegates of the 17th Party Congress of 1934 were purged, and most of them were killed. Moreover, aside from the victims' families, friends, and dependents, the NKVD had regional quotas to fill, so charges were fabricated -- as were the charges against the old Bolshevisks -- to fill them. The NKVD investigators were themselves under the gun. If they did not produce the required number of confessions/convictions, they were arrested and sent to labor camps. The explanation Molotov gave years later of this mass murder of party members was that with the approach of war, anyone who had ever been dissatisfied or disappointed with the regime, was a potential enemy of the USSR and had to be eliminated. Kaganovich made the same point earlier, in the 1960s. (11a)
Of course, Stalin's enemy no. 1 was Trotsky. As mentioned earlier, he was murdered by a Stalinist agent in Mexico in 1940. The assassin, Ramon Mercader (alias: Jacques Mornard), washelped by certain NKVD operatives to worm his way into Trotsky's confidence. He asked Trotsky to read something he had written, and then killed him in his study by driving an ice pick through his brain. The assassin was tried and sentenced in Mexico to 20 years. After his release, he was allowed to live peacefully in communist Czechoslovakia as a pensioner of the state, but moved to Moscow in 1968. After Gorbachev came to power, Trotsky was mentioned again in Soviet texts. (12)
The Purge of the Soviet Military.
The Army. Navy, and Air Force Officer Corps was decimated.. On June 11, 1937, the Soviet press announced that the following had been charged with treason: Marshal Mikhai1 N.Tukhachevsky, who had led the Red Army into Poland in July 1920, had been Deputy Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs since 1931, and Marshal since 1935; Army Commander General Yona E. Yakir; Army Commander I. P. Uborevich; Corps Commanders Eidemann,Vitovt Putna. Feldman. and Primakov; Army Commander Kork and 1st Deputy Commissar of Defense Yan Gamarnik, (whose suicide had been announced on June 1st). They were executed.
Also accused of treason were Marshal Alexander I.Yegorov (1885-1937), Marshal Vasily K.Bluekher (sometimes spelled Blucher, 1889-1938), and many other high-ranking officers. They were condemned for "espionage" as German agents. It seems that Stalin made some use of fake documents fabricated by the Nazi Security Service - though they might have been "leaked" by Stalin himself. In any case, the Germans planted them on the Czechoslovak intelligence, after which they were transmitted to Stalin by President Edward Benes (1884-1948 - Czechoslovakia was an ally of the Soviet Union since May 1935). But Stalin did not produce these documents as "proof," and his real motive for these purges seems to have been the fear that a claimant to his power might be found in the leadership of the Soviet armed forces. Some of them, especially Tukhachevsky, enjoyed great prestige and popularity among the Russian people.
As a result of the military purges, four out of five Soviet marshals, some 90% of the generals, 80% of the colonels, and in all, 80% of officers above the rank of captain, were shot or put in labor camps. Some survived to be released and serve again in 1941, but onverall the purge greatly weakened the army. We may well wonder whether Stalin really feared an attack on the Soviet Union by a coalition of Germany, Poland, France and Britain ? (Hitler had come to power in January 1933 and was rabidly anti-communist, although German-Soviet trade relations continued). (13)
If Stalin really had such fears, why did he destroy the most experienced members of the Soviet officer corps? The causes seem to have been internal. There were reports of soldiers' and officers ' criticism of forced collectization for, after all, their families suffered. Indeed, it was the security troops which attacked resisting peasants because the army was considered unreliable.. (13a) Thus, it seems likely that Stalin feared the mounting criticism of his policy in both party and army circles, and viewed some popular army leaders as a serious threat to himself.. Furthermore, he seems to have nursed resentments against some of them and especially Tukhachevsky, who had blamed him for the 1920 defeat in Poland. Finally, he disagreed with the army leaders' views on what the army should be; he supported the idea of a people's army rather than a professional army. All these factors seem to have contributed to the military purge, but we do not know which were the most important.
In the Stalinist period, Western symptahizers defended the USSR as a true socialist state; they often condemned critics as "fascists" or "defenders of capitalism" and "Western imperialism." This trend continued not only in World War II but also during the Cold War era. Indeed, at that time, strong critiicism of the Soviet system was seen by some people in the West as synonymous with defending the right-wing extremism of Senator Joseph McCarthy , who hounded Americans suspected of being Communists in 1949-54. In general, before official Soviet revelations came, under Gorbachev, of the depths of the Stalin terror, some Western sympathizers either denied it, or played it down. Others claimed that Stalin was not involved in everything, so all crimes could not be blamed on him. Others expressed the view that instead of talking about the terror, we should stress the "upward mobility" that resulted from it. (14)
Now, however, there is no no longer any doubt about the dimensions of the terror and of Stalin's complicity in it. It is true that there was an enormous upward mobility for millions of Soviet citizens, primarily Russians, who took the places of the purged officials and others. There is also no doubt that these upwardly mobile people were grateful and loyal to Stalin for their promotions. But few would now defend the terror as justified by the need to modernize the USSR and provide upward mobility for its population. It is also clear that collectivization was a disaster, and that industrialization was extremely wasteful both in lives and products. Under Gorbachev, Soviet scholars no longer tried to minimize the Stalin terror, which uprooted whole communities and led to the death of millions of people. However, the small Russian Communist Party today, under its leader Zyuganov, has Stalin as its hero. They either deny or minimize his crimes, while praising him for making the USSR a great military power. They also stress the fact that under Stalin people had housing and jobs - an argument that carries much weight with the great numbers of people who suffer from the economic reforms begun by Gorbachev and carried on by Yeltsin. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia in 2000-08, then Premier, patronised a positive image of Stalin in history textbooks for schools.
How can we explain and understand Stalin? It has been suggested that Stalin was mad, or that he projected his own mistakes on to his victims, and that this explains the venomous hatred with which he persecuted them ( e.g. the American biographer of Stalin, Robert C. Tucker (d. at age 99 in September 2010). Stalin may well have been clinically paranoid but, as noted earlier, his aim was absolute power and he was utterly ruthless in its pursuit.
We must also bear in mind the burden of Russian history. Russia had a tradition of terror, as exemplified by Ivan (IV) the Terrible (ruled 1547-1584), and by Peter the Great (ruled 1689-1725), both of them great empire builders. We know that Stalin saw himself as a latter day Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. In fact, he even directed the refurbishing of their reputations in books and films, while clearly hinting that he was cast in their mold. Finally,the imperial Okhrana (Security Police) was powerful in the 19th century and penal labor camps also existed at that time. However, the people sent to these camps were either hardened criminals and/or political prisoners charged with conspiring to overthrow the government, For e.g. violent Russian opponents of Tsardom and some the Polish rebels against Russia in 1830-31 and 1863-64 were sent to labor camps, though most people convicted of political crimes were exiled to Siberian villages. There, they could live as best they could under police supervision, which was a far cry from the horrors of Stalinist labor camps and the generally appaling living conditions in "special settlements."
Aside from Russian history, Stalin also had Bolshevik practice to guide him. Lenin had sanctioned terror as a legitimate political weapon against enemies of Bolshevism, including Mensheviks, S.Rs and rebellious peasants (Penza, 1919). Shoud this be seen this only as a reaction to terror against Bolsheviks including Lenin himself - attempts to assassinate him? Lenin also established labor camps for political enemies. Furthermore, even in Lenin's time, "plots" were fabricated against the "Cadets" (Constitutional Democrats) and S.Rs, which led to the execution or forced labor of many innocent people. The Cheka (abbreviation of Vecheka, first name of the security police), was created as early as December 1917. The Cheka arrested and killed untold numbers of people. Rigged show trials of "wreckers" and "saboteurs" were staged in the 1920; and early 1930s. Zinoviev indulged in smearing his enemies, i.e. in political slander. Finally, Trotsky, who later attacked party "bureaucratization" and demanded party democracy, had earlier supported Lenin's ban on political "factions" within the party. He had also crushed the Kronstadt revolt and proclaimed it to be a "White Guardist Plot." Thus, Stalin had plenty of precedents for using terror, both in Russian and Bolshevik tradition - although before he attained absolute power, the leadership had opposed using terror against party members.
Even considering all these precedents, however , there had been no terror in Russian history on the scale carried out by Stalin, who even overshadowed Hitler in this domain -- talhough Ivan the Terrible might have killed as great a percentage of the population living at his time. Some idea of the scale of Stalin's terror can be obtained from reading the Soviet Penal Code, printed in Alexander Solzhenitsvn's book The Gulag Archipelago (Gulag is the Russian acronym for: Glavnoe Upravlenie Lageri = the State Administration of Labor Camps).
Most of Stalin's victims were convicted on the basis of art. 58 of the Soviet Criminal Code of 1926. This catch-all article had 14 sections:
Section 1 stated that any action directed toward the weakening of state power was considered "counter-revolutionary." This could be interpreted to mean a prisoner's refusal to work.
In 1934, new subsections la, lb, lc, and ld, were added dealing with "treason to the motherland". Thus, all and any actions directed against the military might of the USSR carried the penalty of ten years of prison (la) or death (lb), though the latter was most common. This meant that Soviet soldiers who were taken prisoner during the war, were given 10 year sentences for "betraying the motherland." Some Russians who emigrated abroad after the revolution or civil war, and had the misfortune of being swept up in the Red Army's advance into Eastern and Central Europe, were handed over by the allies and were also convicted on the basis of this article. So were Poles who had fought in the Polish underground army against the Germans in the territories annexed by the USSR in 1939 and then occupied by the Germans, e.g. the Vilnius region in Lithuania and the L'viv region in western Ukraine. Soviet law treated them as Soviet citizens who had committed treason against the USSR. ( Those who resisted arrest or/and incoporation in the Red Army were sentence either to death sentence or many years in labor camps).
Furthermore, the section on "treason" was broadened by article 19 of the criminal code, which allowed "intent" to suffice for conviction. Indeed, the criminal code stated that it drew no distinction between intention and the crime itself, and that this showed the superiority of Soviet over "bourgeois" legislation. Of course, the NKVD, forced the accused to confess that he or she "intended" to betray the USSR, and confessions were often obtained under torture.
Section 2 of the criminal code stated that armed rebellion, seizure of power in the capital or in the provinces, especially with the intention of severing a part of the USSR by force, was treason. This was read to mean that all Polish resistance fighters against the Germans who were active in former eastern Poland, as well as Baltic, Ukrainian or Transcaucasian patriots, were guilty of treason and received automatic sentences of 10 or even 25 years of prison.
Section 3 stated that it was treason to assist a foreign state at war with the USSR. In practice, this meant that any citizen who tried to make a living in German-occupied territory could be convicted as a traitor, if this suited the local NKVD.
Section 4 dealt with aiding the "international bourgeoisie." This meant that any Russian living abroad without Soviet consent was guilty of treason. Thus, all such Russians found by the Red Army t the end of WW II in Eastern or Central Europe, or handed over by the Allies, were automatically sentenced under art. 58-4, even if they had left their country in the years 1918-21.
Section 5 dealt with inciting a foreign state to declare war on the USSR. One wonders what private Soviet citizens could be guilty of that? It is likely that this section was used, along with others, to convict Soviet officers and men taken prisoner by the Germans, who then joined the Russian army units which fought on their side, led by General Andrei V. Vlasov (1900-1946). Most of these men had the option of starving to death or fighting on the German side, though Vlasov -- who distinguished himself in fighting the Germans before being taken prisoner -- fought from conviction. At the end of the war, Vlasov and his men were forcibly rounded up by the western Allies, whose protection they had sought --. handed over to Stalin, who put them to death.
The same fate awaited the forces led by General Piotr N. Krasnov, leader of the Don Cossacks against the Bolsheviks in the Civil War. He emigrated to Germany and fought on the German side in World War II. He was captured by the Soviet army after the war and executed in 1947. Hundreds of Cossacks were handed over by the western powers to the Soviets; many committed suicide.
The western allies handed over many Russian civilians. A total of some 2 million Soviet citizens were forcibly "repatriated" at the end of the war.The vast majority were put in Soviet labor camps.
Section 6 dealt with espionage. According to Solzhenitsyn, this reflected Stalin's spy mania. Indeed, this section allowed conviction even on the basis of "suspicion of espionage," or of contacts leading to espionage.
Section 7 dealt with subversion of industry, transport. trade and money circulation. It was frequently used to accuse people of "wrecking," in order to punish managers and sometimes workers, who failed to fulfill production plans - no matter for what reason.
Section 8 covered terror, and could be invoked even if someone hit an official or resisted arrest. There was also a subsection for conviction via "intent."
Section 9 dealt with explosion or arson; this was linked with "diversion," which meant sabotage, and could be used as a pretext to obtain conviction.
Section 10 dealt with propaganda and agitation for the overthrow or weakening of Soviet power, or the preparation and/or circulation of literary material with the same intent. This section could even apply to private conversations reported by informers, or to private letters opened by the censors. (Solzhenitsyn was convicted for joking about Stalin in a letter to a friend).
Section 11 stated that any treasonous action was aggravated if undertaken in an organization or if the accused then joined an organization. As in sec. 10, even an exchange of letters between two persons could be construed as constituting an "organization."
Section 12 dealt with failure to denounce anyone suspected or known to have undertaken the actions described above. This clearly encouraged informing on one's friends, colleagues, and even family.
Section 13 dealt with membership in the Tsarist security police, i.e., the Okhrana. Presumably, it was little used after the mid-1920s. (Ironically, some Western historians suspected Stalin of having served the Okhrana, but if he did, no documentary evidence has survived).
Section 14 stipulated penalties for conscious failure to carry out defined duties, or intentionally careless execution of same. Obviously, anyone who failed in his duties, whatever the reason, could be convicted on this charge.
Stalin even passed legislation allowing the trial and punishment for political crimes of children as young as 12 years old. This was a very effective means of pressure on people with small children to "confess" to crimes they had not committed. The children of convicted persons, who were under 12 years old, were put in special communist orphanages and given new names, so they would not know who their parents were.
Many books have been written about NKVD methods of obtaining confessions, which were always used as the basic evidence for conviction. This was a medieval practice abandoned in the West by the early 19th century. NKVD methods at first included beatings and/or torture, but after 1938, the NKVD mostly used the "conveyor belt" method of interrogation, that is, shifts of interrogators for many hours at a time. This meant depriving the prisoners of sleep, as well as limiting or denying them food and water. Also, threats were made against family members -- who were arrested anyway .After 1938, convicted prisoners were usually sentenced to labor camps, though many were shot there later. In any case, of those who were not, few survived the rigors of camp work..
Accounts of life in Stalin's labor camps began to leak out when some of the Poles deported to the USSR in 1939-40, left for the Middle East with the army led by General Wladyslaw Anders in 1942. However, at that time the British government did not allow such accounts to be published. Therefore, the world learned about the camps from some books written by Polish survivors after the beginning of the Cold War, though even then they often met with disbelief. Thus, an early English language account of life in Stalin's labor camps A World Apart, written by a Polish author and former Gulag prisoner, Gustav Herling-Grudzinski (translation from the Polish, London and New York, 1951, reprinted 1996), did not make a great impression at the time.
A dent was made in this attitude by Nikita Khrushchev's public attacks on Stalinism in 1956 and 1961. The first famous Soviet novel depicting life in the labor camps was Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, published in the main Soviet cultural periodical Novy Mir (New World), in 1962, and in English translation the following year. However, there was too much resistance by party bureaucrats to allow the publication of other similar novels even in Khrushchev's time, and Leonid I. Brezhnev (1964-1982), restricted such publications. Thus, many other works, including memoirs such as Evgenia Ginzburg's Journey into the Whirlwind (1967) had to be smuggled out and published abroad. Indeed, Brezhnev fostered the rehabilitation of Stalin as a great Soviet statesman for industrializing the USSR, and as a great war leader.Some Western sovietologists followed this trend and even questioned whether great numbers of people were really killed under Stalin's rule, claiming this was improbable.
Solzhenitsyn, whose other novels circulated in "samizdat" (self-printing) was expelled from the Soviet Writers' Union in 1969, but was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. Meanwhile, he collected hundreds of personal accounts of NKVD "interrogations" and of life in the labor camps, which he used to write Gulag Archipelago. 1918-1945. Since he could not publish this in the USSR, it was published in the West in 1974. For this, and also because he had become a leading dissident, he was forcibly deported in the same year. After a brief stay in Switzerland, where he was joined by his family, he settled in Vermont in the United States in 1974, but returned to Russia twenty years later in July 1994.
Shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev became Secretary General of the Party in March 1985, he took a leaf from Khrushchev's book and launched a full scale attack on Stalinism. Thus, publications on the Stalin terror began to appear in the USSR. This was so because, in Gorbachev's struggle for political and economic change, he was opposed by the old party bureaucracy, which could be identified with Stalinism. Thus, in 1987-89, the condemnation or defense of Stalin became the "litmus test" of being for or against Gorbachev.At the same time, the policy of "Glasnost" or open discussion, allowed new historical research to uncover the real face of Stalinism. As mentioned earlier, Dmitri Volkogonov's biography of Stalin appeared in Russian in 1988, and in English translation in 1994. It was the first full scale biography based on hitherto closed Russian archival materials, as were his biographies of Lenin and Trotsky. Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, however (2000-2008), Stalin was presented in a positive light in history textbooks for schools as well as in government-controlled media..
IV. Education. the Sciences. Culture and the Church under Stalin( On the 1920s, see The NEP Period, section 2).
(a) The Soviet Russian Republic.
In the 1930s, the former experimental methods of education were abandoned in favor of rigorous discipline, tough grading, as well as the renewed use of school uniforms and medals. Even greater emphasis was now placed on teaching all subjects from the Marxist-Leninist point of view.
At the same time, the number of schools increased greatly and in 1930 compulsory education was made mandatory from the age of eight. This meant 4 years of school in the countryside, but 7 yrs. in the towns, especially those located in industrial regions. In 1934, the length of school education was increased; in general, 10 years of schooling became the prerequisite for higher studies. Finally, the need for technical training led to the establishment of Higher Technical Institutes. Political education made up between one-third and one-fifth of the curriculum in both universities and technical institutes.
Most sciences were subordinated to Marxism-Leninism, and this led to great distortions and stagnation. The most famous "scientific" theory of the time was the Lysenko theory, i.e., that characteristics acquired by one generation of plants were transferable to the next. The creator of this theory, Trofim D.Lysenko (1898-1976), was supported by Stalin and became President of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1938. He instituted a reign of terror, persecuting all scientists who disagreed with him. This led to stagnation in Soviet genetics.
Stalin also supported Ivan P. Pavlov (1849-1946), in his research into conditioned reflexes, because it coincided with Marxist teaching on the decisive influence of environment on behavior. (Compare the work and theories of B. F. Skinner in the United States).
In historiography (the writing of history), the earlier blanket condemnation of prerevolutionary Russia by Marxist historians was replaced, under Stalin's direction, by a Russian nationalist interpretation. One characteristic example of this trend was the condemnation of the Norse (or Viking) theory of the origins of Kievan Rus, the first Russian state which existed between the 10th and 13th centuries in the area of present-day central Ukraine. The old theory stated that it was founded by Norse invaders, who came down the river network to Kiev. In reaction to the Nazi theory of the superiority of Aryan, Germanic races over others, this theory was condemned as an insult to the Russian people.
Most of Russian history was now presented in nationalist terms. Under Stalin's direction, there was particular praise for Peter the Great (ruled 1682-1725), as the "modernizer" of Russia, for Stalin saw himself as his successor. Indeeed, the writer Alexander N. Tolstoy (1883-1945) revised his biography of Peter the Great several times to satisfy Stalin, and the last version served as the basis for a film, also approved by Stalin. Likewise, the great film director, Sergei M. Eisenstein (1898-1948), whose films on the Bolshevik revolution and collectivization had been suppressed, came back into favor with Alexander Nevsky (1938), showing the defeat of the German Knights of the Cross who sank through the ice of Lake Peipus.
In 1934, a new era began in Literature and the Arts, with the imposition ofSocialist Realism. This dogma demanded that artists paint and sculpt "heroic workers," - e.g. the girl loves tractor style of paintings - and Bolshevik heroes, especially Lenin and Stalin. Indeed, their statues came to be mass produced, while in paintings Stalin was always shown right next to Lenin.. Writers had to idealize workers in factories and peasants on collective farms. Above all, they had to portray Communists as "positive heroes" and anti-Communists as villains. It is not surprising that most of the literary production of the Stalin era can be classified as hack work. Exceptions to this rule are the works of Mikhail I.Sholokhov (1905-1978), who potrayed Cossack opposition to heroic Communist efforts to impose collectivization in Virgin Soil Upturned (vol. I, 1931, vol. 2, 1959). His greatest work, however, dealt with the Civil War; it was titled: Quiet Flows the Don (1934), and was followed by The Don Flows Home to the Sea.(1959). The author won prizes for these works. However, in the 1970s Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Roy Medvedev claimed that the first book had been plagiarized from the work of a "White" Cossack writer, Fyodor Kryvkov. Whatever the case might be ,Quiet Flows the Don is fascinating reading, even in translation.
Two other writers managed to produce readable novels during the Stalin era. Boris A. Pilnyak (1894-1942) wrote The Volga Flows into the Caspian Sea (1930), which was set in the Five Year Plan. However, as mentioned earlier, he was liquidated in the purges. Fyodor V. Gladkov (1883-1958), wrote two novels: Cement, and Energy.. The first focused on the reconstruction of a cement factory destroyed during the Civil War, and the second dealt with the construction of the great hydroelectric plant built built near Zaporozhe on a dam in the Dnieper river in 1927-32. Both novels were popular with Soviet readers because they showed people as human beings and not as cardboard characters in the Communist mold.
Writers who did not want to follow party formulas generally made a living by translation. The poet Boris L. Pasternak (1890-1960) translated Shakespeare, Goethe, and other poets into Russian. (Later, his great novel, Dr. Zhivago, was published in the West in 1957 and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1958. He declined it because the book was rejected for publication in the USSR. It was condemned as painting an unheroic picture of the Civil War and was finally published in the USSR in 1988).
The Orthodox Church again came under attack in the years 1929-33. A campaign was launched to spread atheism and, for a while, Sunday was abolished as a day of rest. Many of the remaining churches, monasteries, and convents were destroyed or used for other purposes, while the religious were sent to labor camps. The Kazan Cathedral in Leningrad was turned into a Museum of Atheism. As mentioned earlier, Patriarch Sergei reacted to these developments by proclaiming his support of the Soviet regime.
(b) The Nationalities.
Secret societies were formed in Soviet Ukraine, where resistance to collectivization was the strongest. The most important of these societies was "The Union for the Liberation of Ukraine." In 1930, the trial of 45 of its members spelled the end of the former policy of "Ukrainization," and thus of the Ukrainian cultural renaissance. In June 1933, the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Nikolai A. Skrypnik (1872-1933), who encouraged ukrainization and wished to establish some degree of Ukrainian autonomy, was accused of leading a Ukrainian "counter-revolutionary organization. He committed suicide.
In 1937, Nikita Khrushchev. Vyacheslav Molotov. and Genrikh Yagoda were sent to Ukraine to liquidate "the enemies of the People," which meant just about anyone suspected of Ukrainian nationalism and/or potential political opposition to Stalin. This led to the execution of most members of the Ukrainian Communist Party and government in 1937-38. At the same time, many Ukrainian intellectuals, including professors, were deported or killed. The same process took place at this time in Belorussia.
There wa also renewed persecution of the Jews. Apart from having their synagogues closed and their Rabbis arrested, they were discriminated against in education as well as in military, political, and educational careers. In the purges of the 1930s, however, many communist leaders and writers of Jewish origin were murdered for real or suspected opposition to Stalin, not because of their racial origin.
In the Caucasus. there was a long struggle with the Moslem leaders of the Chechen-Ingush. In Georgia, where prominent party leaders opposed Stalin, there was a radical purge of the party.
The same type of repression occurred in Soviet Central Asia. In Kirghizia and Kazakhstan, the nomad people's resistance to collectivization was brutally crushed. Here, as elsewhere in non-Russian regions, Stalin pursued a policy of intensive Russian settlement. This took place mostly in the cities and ensured Russian control. In the whole region, parties were purged and native cultural development came to a virtual standstill. The same applied to the Tartar peoples.
Finally, the histories of non-Russian peoples were rewritten to emphasize - and exaggerate - their links with Russia. Thus, the great Ukrainian/Cossack leader of the 17th century, Bohdan Khmel nytsky,