Between 1928 and 1941 Stalin had a huge effect on Russia. He influenced and completely changed the industry, the agriculture and the society of Russia. In this essay, I will discuss if what he changed modernised Russia, and if so was it worth the cost paid for by the suffering population.
Tsarist Russia was described as ‘Tea, eggs and orthodoxy’. Tea, because the Russians were always hospitable; eggs, because a small percentage of the population were rich and could be symbolised by Fabergï¿½ eggs, and orthodoxy because there was a social hierarchy (and because of the Russian orthodox religion).
This ‘order’ came about mainly because of differences in wealth between different classes of people, so the different divisions were split. Also, the fact that the lower classes had no transport or news available, and some classes of people were of different nationalities to others which meant that the split between the classes grew. The hierarchy consisted of the Tsar, followed by members of the church, then the army, the industrialists, and finally the peasants.
Many people were against this system, as they did not believe the Tsar was worthy of having ultimate control, and so the 1905 Revolution came about. The government’s attempts to deal with the ever-coming revolution failed dramatically. It relaxed repressive measures in 1903 – so there were lots of anti-government pamphlets, books and newspapers. They tried setting up government-approved trade unions, but people demanded the illegal free unions. In 1904 the Tsar declared war on Japan in an attempt to get the country behind him, but only ended up suffering humiliating defeats. On Sunday 22nd January 1905, 200,000 people came to the Tsar with a petition (many marchers carried pictures of the Tsar as a sign of respect). However the Tsar wasn’t there, as he had left previously. Trouble brewed up in the protestors, and they were met by soldiers and mounted Cossacks. Without warning, the soldiers fired and the Cossacks charged. What resulted was lots of bloodshed.
The Tsar looked like he was losing control over the people; his uncle was assassinated, sailors revolted, strikes occurred which paralysed the Russian industry, Lenin and Trotsky returned from exile to participate in the revolution, illegal workers councils were formed in towns, and peasants murdered landlords and then took over the land.
The Tsar survived and crushed the revolution by firstly arresting and then exiling revolutionist leaders, so revolutionists had far fewer leaders to march them, and secondly by using the army to fight street fighters (as it was loyal to the Tsar) so that the Tsar had some strength to protect him. The Tsar then kept control by using the army as a peace-keeping force, and by changing rules so that opponents could not enter the Duma (parliament). This annoyed the people more, because the Tsar had strength behind him, and they now had even less of a say in the Duma.
This inevitably ended with strikes, starting in January 1919, and spreading in February. The army, however, supported the strikers. In March, the number of strikers rose to 250,000. The Duma set up a provisional committee to take over the government, and they refused to disband when ordered to by the Tsar. Later in March, the Tsar ordered the army to stop this happening, but they also refused. Some soldiers even shot their own officers and joined the demonstrators of the March Revolution.
Lenin, who led the Bolsheviks, decided that it was time for a revolution, so he returned to Russia from a subsequent exile, and the Bolsheviks staged a fast, efficient revolution organised by Trotsky. Trotsky’s Red Guard seized railway stations, telegraph offices and the Winter Palace. Kerensky (the leader of the Duma) fled, and the Bolsheviks achieved power with nearly no bloodshed. The reasons that the Bolsheviks gained power so easily was mainly to do with the fact that the provisional government was already unpopular with nearly all classes of people. Also, the Bolsheviks consisted of 800,000 disciplined followers who were supported by half the Russian army and the sailors who revolted. Also, many industrial centres supported the Bolsheviks, and finally they had a brilliant leader who united them all together (Lenin). Lenin introduced communism into Russia through the revolutions, and brought about a communist society through a Council of people’s commissars which he set up (Sovnarkom).
During the civil war, the Bolsheviks adopted a policy of War Communism. This involved Red Army towns being supplied with food, and communist theories were put into practice by redistributing wealth among the Russian people. This involved large factories and production of food being organised by the government. Discipline was strict, and peasants working on farms had to give surplus food to the government, or be shot. This practice was revolted against, because hard working peasants got as much as lazy peasants, because any excess food was taken away. Lenin recognised this, and introduced the NEP (New Economic Policy) which effectively brought back capitalism for some people, as the government now took half the peasants supply, and they could sell the rest.
There was then the question of who would get into power after Lenin, Stalin or Trotsky? Many people would say that Trotsky was the most capable man because he was so brilliant: but with brilliance came arrogance. He often offended senior party members, and didn’t take the opposition seriously, as he thought it almost a joke that the shabby and inarticulate Stalin was his rival. He made little effort building up support in the Party ranks, and it was too late to do anything when he realised what a threat Stalin was. Stalin had a strong campaign and was very prominent. He had a peaceful approach to communism – he said he didn’t want any more wars. He also gave his friends anything they wanted as long as they followed him – patronage.
Russia was backwards when Stalin came into power, and the economy was in a dire state. The economy was miles behind the British, American, German and other Western superpower’s economies. Change was desperately needed. Lenin decided on doing ‘5 Year Plans’. These plans were drawn up by GOSPLAN, which meant that GOSPLAN had regional targets which were subdivided into cities, then factories, then to specific managers, then the overseers, then to each shift, then to each specific worker.
The first 5 year plan focused on the major heavy industries. Although most targets set were not accomplished, Russia produced an enormous amount more than they previously had done in 1928. The second 5 year plan built on the achievements of the first one. Major heavy industries were still a priority, but other areas (i.e. mining, transport and communications) were improved. The third 5 year plan was to produce consumer goods, but was interrupted by WW2 in 1939. An indication that the industry was improved spectacularly was that Russia survived WW2, although suffering heavy losses, and the fact that their industrial outputs (e.g. electricity, iron, steel, coal and oil) increased by an size ranging from 250% increase to a 700% increase from 1928 to 1941.
There were many anti-capitalist propaganda posters which were created to encourage industrialisation. Generally, they showed the capitalists with a lack of faith in the 5 year plans, and how wrong they were 5 years later. The ideas and expertise for modernisation came from countries outside the USSR (i.e. American and Britain). Many new workers for modernisation were not from abroad, but were the women from inside the USSR.
The effects of the 5 year plans were mixed. Society benefited from the changes, because by the late 30’s, many Soviet workers had immensely improved living conditions by being in skilled professions, and getting pay bonuses for meeting targets. In 1940 for example, the USSR had more doctors per head than Britain. Education was free, and was greatly improved from what it was previously. Also, many women found jobs which helped families get larger incomes than previously.
The problems with it included harsh discipline which was needed to control the workers. People would be sacked if they weren’t in on time, which would mean losing their house. Some workers tried to move to other jobs, but the secret police introduced international passports preventing the movement of workers outside the USSR. Also, the conditions in labour construction were terrible. The Islam faith was also repressed for 4 years, and many Muslim leaders were imprisoned or deported.
Despite all these negative side-effects of the improved industry, I believe that Stalin modernised Russian industry so that it was on par with the other superpowers of the time. Although many people suffered via poor living conditions, and harsh punishments, but it could be argued that it was worth the human sacrifice for an improvement of that scale to occur.
Not only was the economy in a terrible state in 1928, but the agricultural industry was too. The industry had to export grain to pay for industrial growth. Towns had no food, or more importantly no workers. There was a 2 million tonne shortage of grain per year in Russia. Not only was the style of farming inefficient – agricultural labourers had no land, and kulaks only had small areas – but also the equipment used was also inefficient – no tractors or fertilizers. Also, because of the effects of war communism, it was found that peasants were only looking after themselves, and not producing a surplus for those who worked in towns.
The government tried to convince the peasants to change to collectivisation (communist control of the farms where a more efficient system was to be achieved) by offering free seed and other general perks to them. The peasants objected to the speed of collectivisation and the fact that the farms were under communist control. They also objected to the fact that they had to produce flax for the Russian industry instead of food for themselves, and abandon a way of life which they had led for centuries.
Stalin turned propaganda against the kulaks to resolve the problem. Requisition parties came and took food from the kulaks and peasants, often leaving them to starve. The kulaks were arrested in thousands and sent to labour camps. An indication that collectivisation was a complete failure was that food production fell because of the chaos and revolts against the collectivisation policy. I believe that this meant that the agriculture was not at all modernised and if anything made worse.
One of Stalin’s aims was to completely control the people – to such an extent that they would be afraid to oppose him if he ever considered any policies which appeared to be ‘controversial’.
In his early years, he made accusations which were obviously false which ended with people being put on trial. But the really terrifying period of Stalin’s rule (the Purges) began in 1934 when one of the communist party members – Kirov – was murdered. This gave him an excuse to eradicate – or ‘purge’ – any opponents in the Party. This was done by using the secret police – the OGPU (later called the NKVD) to crush the opponents. Stalin then removed 25,000 officers from the army, and the extent of the purges then increased to the scale that ordinary lecturers, teachers, miners or anyone at all just ‘disappeared’.
The fear came into the people because it was completely unpredictable if they were removed – arrests would take place in the middle of the night. These people would be tortured to confess to anything, or otherwise family members would be threatened. 18,000,000 were captured because of the purges, and 10,000,000 of those died. Stalin, however, nearly destroyed the USSR by removing so many skilled workers and officers. Stalin was successful in making those who survived think like Stalin, solely to survive.
Not only did Stalin use the Purges to control the people, but he also used propaganda to his advantage. The education system was changed to make the people believe that Stalin was a great leader. Portraits, photographs and statues of Stalin were everywhere. Stalin poetry and music was widespread. All music and art was monitored by the NKVD so everything praised Stalin in one way or another. Religious worship was completely banned, and instead people were made to worship Stalin. God was, in effect, replaced with Stalin.
I believe that this was not a modernised society, but a monstrous one. His actions did not improve conditions for anybody, but merely terrified them, and caused millions of unnecessary deaths solely for the sake of staying in power.
In conclusion, I believe that Stalin modernised the industry of Russia between 1928 and 1941, but was unsuccessful in improving the agricultural needs of Russia, or improving living conditions, working conditions or life in general for the Russian population. His actions were seen to be controversial, and rightfully were. He improved Russia’s industry, and kept power when using methods which would have otherwise led to him being removed from power; but the cost of keeping power was incalculable. Some historians estimate that 20,000,000 people died because of his actions, and I’m sure that 20,000,000 deaths would not be a price the Russian people, or indeed anyone, would be willing to pay simply for a stronger economy.