Stalin: Man Or Monster? Essay

Source A is a French cartoon, showing how Stalin’s policies actually affect the masses. The text reads: “Visit the USSR’s pyramids! “. It shows Stalin gesturing towards mounds of human skulls, with carrion crows flying overhead. Source B is an “official” Soviet painting picturing Stalin standing with cheerful-looking workers in front of the newly-built Dnieprostroi hydroelectric dam. Source C is a photograph of Stalin shaking the grateful hands of wives of army officers. On the whole, Source A gives a different impression from B or C, because it is drawn form a foreign perspective.

Stalin had seized control of all newspapers, and all creative works were “officially” released by the government. A cartoon showing a negative view of Stalin would certainly have not been allowed, and whoever was responsible would have been sent to an internment camp. Some Russians managed to escape Stalin’s USSR before his dictatorship really struck fear into the people, or were lucky enough to get out. These exiles often travelled to other parts of Europe or America. In this case, the exiles were in France,which is why the text is in French.

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I would also estimate that, being able to speak a foreign language, these exiles were more than likely intellectuals who would have suffered under Stalin’s regime. It is also probable that they had experienced labour camps themselves and were keen to tell others abroad the horror of his regime (such as in Alexander Solzhenitszyn’s works). The French generally would also have agreed with this cartoon, as France and Russia were old allies under the Tsarist regime, and so were deeply suspicious of the Bolsheviks who overthrew the royals.

Source B gives an entirely different impression of Stalin, one of friendship and love towards his people, as he seems close and brotherly to his smiling workers. This can be expected, as Stalin controlled all the art released, and would have requested the artist to paint him in a positive light. This is more visible in the colour version of the picture, where Stalin wears white clothes (perhaps a subtle indication of his purity and goodness? ) and the futurisic-looking, clean dam is swathed in white light. In the very distance, we can see workers and their families standing by the edge of the dam.

This camaraderie with the workers was entirely fictitious, and the “workers” were actually prisoners who had been sent to labour camps for whatever reason, and were forced to build most of the new structures, such as the Moscow Metro. When the prisoners had finished building the Belomor Canal (a process in which many of them died), Stalin did not stand by them and behave towards them as equals, but turned up, stayed well away from them, and left. In reality he was rather disappointed by the canal which was to narrow and too shallow. He saw it as a failed project, not the tremendous cost in human life it actually was.

Source C makes Stalin appear to care for the wives of those at war, so I assume that it is an “official” photograph. Again, this shows Stalin in a positive light, congratulating wives of army officers presumably, for being married to such wonderful men who made the U. S. S. R great. This photograph would ring sympathetically with women in the Soviet Union, who were allowed the vote and would make up a significant proportion of supporters (even though the vote was often fixed and pointless with Stalin in power – perhaps this came about because Russia wanted to follow the more economically developed countries).

This probably was created to give Stalin a more human side, not just looking for economic glory, but caring for his people. Question 2: Study Source D. Does this source provide any useful evidence about Stalin? Explain your answer using the source and your own knowledge. Source D recalls a conversation taken place ten years before, between Winston Churchill and Stalin. At first, Churchill asks Stalin to compare the stresses of war to the stresses of collectivisation. Stalin says that collectivisation was much harder, having to convince his own people of the sacrifices that were necessary.

He put forward his viewpoint, then told what some of the peasants saw, which suggests that he did see their side of the argument, but as he follows on, it becomes obvious that he believes his way was better. He repeats that this was necessary, and claims that the peasants themselves destroyed those who held back collectivisation. This we know to be mostly untrue, as collectivisation was a bitter struggle between the peasants and the State. The State turned the people against the ones who held back (known as “kulaks”) through propaganda.

There may have been some peasants who destroyed others who held back, but mostly, the State sent requisition parties to demand their stock by force. In response, the kulaks burnt their crops and slaughtered their animals so that the requisition parties could not collect them. The State either killed or threw the kulaks into prison camps. Stalin only told Churchill a small fraction of the truth here. This shows he was willing to portray himself as corteous and honest to other world leaders, but make his actions very different. The fact that he saw the other side of the argument would make him seem very reasonable.

It was known that Stalin intensely disliked Churchill, but either Churchill was not aware of this, or Stalin was willing to seem likeable. He then pauses, and carries on by saying how well their economy had done through the process of collectivisation, lauding the quality and quantity of Soviet grain. The fact that he pauses could be that he tries to forget the cost of human life that collectivisation had brought. He also moves on swiftly to another subject, moving away from the obviously sensitive issue of the kulaks, onto the rewards collectivisation had yielded.

Churchill also noted that Stalin did not speak the word kulak, which may have been too painful an utterance. Stalin knew full well what was happening when he signed death certificates for scores of prisoners in prison camps. Stalin was mostly concerned with Russia’s economic state, catching up with the more developed countries, and keeping his reputation as a benevolent but firm leader. As Chuchill quotes: “No-one is allowed to sow any but the standard Soviet grain from one end of our country to the other. If they do they are severley punished. There is a hint of a threat here, showing Stalin is not all what he seems. I find this source questionable, as it recalls a conversation made ten years before, and it was unlikely that Churchill (or indeed anyone) could remember conversations in such detail, especially since Churhill was an alcoholic. Plus, Churchill, in writing this information, would probably also want to give a certain impression of himself that may blur the actual events. He may also wanted to have presented Stalin in a particular way, and twisted the conversation and its descriptions to correlate with his image of Stalin.

But, seeing as this was written in 1955, two years after Stalin’s death, there was no real need to make him look sympathetic. Question 3: Study Sources E and F. Which of these two sources is the more reliable? Explain your answer using the sources and your own knowledge. Source E was published in the Communist Party newspaper, which gives us a clue towards its reliability, as Stalin had taken control of all content that went into newspapers. Besides, Pravda was a long-established Communist newspaper (which Stalin had been editor of in 1917), so it was unlikely to publish any negative press.

Also, this was just part of a speech, so the editors could take out any parts that were not praiseworthy enough, leaving the rather suspect, grovelling material in. This was also a speech aired to the Congress of Soviets, where if Stalin was not there, plenty of his “supporters” and NKVD men were, keeping a watch to check nothing anti-Stalin was said. The speech shows signs of being biased towards Stalin, as it contains allusions towards one of Stalin’s primary concerns, Russia as an economic superpower. The lines: “Your name is engraved on every factory, every machine… ” reflect this.

Stalin is also interwoven with family values in this speech: “And when the woman I love presents me with a child, the first word it shall utter shall be ‘Stalin'” shows that Stalin demanded absolute loyalty from everyone, especially the new, growing generation who, by the sound of this passage, would put their leader before their parents and other usual figures of adult authority. This phenomenon occurred with other dictatorships: Mao with the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s, and also with Hitler and the Hitler Youth. In both cases, the children’s loyalty was supposed to be directed towards their leader and the Sate.

Source E also gushes about Stalin in such a manner that there is something suspiciously god-like in the descriptions. The writer thanks Stalin because he is “well and joyful” and that even his very name is “strong, beautiful, wise and marvellous”. One could replace Stalin’s name with ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ and you can see what effect it has. He also talks of feelings of great joy and happiness when in Stalin’s presence. There could be a reason for this semi-idolatry; Communism dictates that religion is irrelevant in a Communist society (“The opium of the masses”) and that people’s faith should rest utterly in the State.

Perhaps this aspect of the speech was written with comfort in mind – that a god-like figure existed, who could inject joy into man’s heart, even if it was Stalin. This source is rather unreliable. Source F, by contrast, compares Stalin to a devil. This source is from a speech by Bukharin, exiled to Paris. Some years previously, Bukharin had supported Stalin in getting rid of Trotsky, but afterwards Stalin grew more paranoid and sought after high-ranking party officials to murder or exile them, after a ‘show-trial’.

However, Bukharin did not have the chance to give more information about Stalin as Stalin’s agents murdered him in 1938 (as Trotsky would be in Mexico, two years later). Bukharin, a high-ranking Bolshevik, would be more aware of what Stalin was up to and what he was like than the writer of Source E. Perhaps a pang of jealousy is evident in Bukharin’s speech, when he says Stalin is not the best, and that Stalin knows it, but kills anyone he perceives to be a threat. This, in retrospect, is accurate, but the source is still biased against Stalin as it was written by a man embittered by Stalin’s success.

The sources are both biased, but I would rate Bukharin’s source as more accurate, as Source E was effectively created by Stalin himself. Question 4: Study Sources I and J. How far do these two sources agree about Stalin’s ‘show-trials’? Explain your answer. Artists outside the U. S. S. R drew both these sources, so neither would be for the show-trials. Source I was an American source, and they were always deeply distrustful of Communism, which went against everything America stood for. It shows Stalin as the judge, and in the background, a noose is hanging.

The four defendants in the box are each willingly and smilingly admitting their guilt to Stalin. Source J does not concentrate on the guilty, rather the fact that the trials are all arranged by Stalin. The judge, jury, prosecution and scribe are all figures of Stalin. This source shows more of the bias of the courts rather than the plight of the Party members. Source I implies that the men have no chance of being let off as not guilty, they will all be executed, so they might as well plead guilty. Source J agrees that no men would have a chance to be found not guilty in a court of Stalin.

The very reason why someone would be subjected to these trials would be that Stalin didn’t like them and felt that they were untrustworthy. This source would have been drawn by Russian exiles in France – perhaps even victims of these ‘show-trials’. They would know that these trials were unfair, being present at them. However, Source I seems not to acknowledge that people put on trial could be exiled too – it shows that death is the only fate. Being American, it is likely that this cartoon could stir further anti-Communist hatred, but it was true that a large proportion of the people put on trial died.

Source J shows the unfairness of the trials, not the consequences. It is possible that the Russians who had been exiled did not know the fate that befell others, and if they had known, they would have drawn a more critical cartoon. Generally, they both agree, but one shows a different aspect of the trials than the other. Question 5: Study Sources K, L and M. a) Compare what these three sources say about Stalin. Source K is from an official biography of Stalin, released in Stalin’s lifetime, so it would obviously be biased towards him.

It praises him for his brilliant leadership, military prowess, great intellect and idol of the people. Source L is from a British biography published 30 years after Stalin’s death. This takes a more balanced view, admitting Stalin was an important figure and a good politician, although he did have “a dark and evil side to his nature”. Source M is also from a British biography, but published 21 years after Stalin’s death. It depicts him as an inhuman tyrant. It says that he was a ‘ruthless’ politician before he was corrupted by power.

He criticises the use of terror to keep the Russian people in line with the ‘absurd’ Stalinist rule. Source K reveres Stalin, Source L looks at both sides of the man, showing his faults and his virtues, and Source M tells of what a despicable character he was. b) Why do they differ in their views of Stalin? Explain your answer using the sources and your own knowledge. Source K praises Stalin because it was released in Russia in Stalin’s lifetime, so it would not be allowed to criticize him in any way. If there were any criticism, however small, it would be edited out.

The write would be punished, quite severely if he was a commissioned write for Stalin’s biography. The extract reads much like Source E, just unashamed gushing about Stalin’s wonderful leadership. Source L has the advantage of retrospect. Written in 1983 (although relations with the Soviet Union were still frosty) this takes a rather neutral view, and sees why Stalin was in power for so long – that he had to have some special quality and cunning to elevate him to the position he held – a sort of demi-god, the benevolent dictator of the people – but he did abuse his power and sent many to their deaths.

Source M rather concentrates on the terrible human losses that Stalin overlooked in the face of economic growth. This anti-Communist stance may be because this was written in 1974 when the Vietnam war was supposed to be panning out with a peace treaty, but the Communist Viet Cong were still taking over South Vietnam, and this may have upset some people, including this biographer. It is more likely that he genuinely felt what Stalin did was awful, and that he had to shatter a 30’s myth. Question 6: “People have disagreed about Stalin since the 1930’s. Why have interpretations of Stalin and his rule differed so much? Explain your answer using the sources in this assignment and your own knowledge. Interpretation of Stalin (and other dictators) usually changes when their reign over a country is over. Foreign interpretations are usually different, more observant than the government slant, which would obviously give a one-sided, self-serving account of current affairs. Under a dictator’s regime such as Stalin’s, the public would have been bombarded with propganda and eventually, it would have an effect on them.

Despite the Purges and the terror of Stalin’s rule, most ordinary citizens (who were not killed) thought that Stalin was a very good leader. Because nothing negative was said about him, it eventually seeped into their minds that Stalin was an excellent leader. Sources B, C, E and K demonstrate this. Therefore, any interviews taken with Russians would all be in favour of Stalin. The only real critics of Stalin’s regime at the time would come from other countries, such as France (where a lot of exiles lived) and America (which had always been violently anti-Communist).

To these countries, Stalin’s rule was seen as dangerous and were alarmed at the amount of propoganda and worship of Stalin that went on. Stalin himself was rather amused, even embarrassed, at the contant barrage of sycophantic work that was dedicated to him. After Stalin died, there was a sudden turnaround in Russia, and indeed, everyone else’s perceptions of Russia. Nikita Khrushchev, Russia’s new leader, took on a far less terrifying approach than Stalin, and seemed keen to improve relations with capitalist countries. But even Khrushchev was scared in Stalin’s rule.

In 1937, as a Party Member, he said in a speech: “Stalin is our hope, Stalin is the beacon which guides all progressive mankind. Stalin is our banner. Stalin is our will. Stalin is our victory. ” As soon as he came into power in 1953, he announced a “de-Stalinisation” of Russia, to try and undo what bad things Stalin had done and appear civil to other countries. But he did say in Source G that the terror that was much of Stalin’s general policy was “… not the deeds of a mad despot. He considered this should be done in the interests of the Party and the working masses. A lot of people then took the opportunity to critisise Stalin, and he was overwhelmingly seen as a figure of evil. There were some lone supporters, but as time went by, it was realised what massive things Stalin had achieved. Without Stalin, Russia would still have been a poor peasant country by the time Germany invaded in 1941, and therefore defenceless. But there were critics who claimed Stalin was not the first step to modernisation for Russia, but Lenin, whose NEP of the early twenties set out the targets which Stalin basically followed.

Nowadays, now the once secretive Soviet Union has collapsed, light has been thrown onto the evils committed during the Stalin regime: the prison camps, the arranged murders and the controlled famines. But even now, as Russia’s economy has collapsed and their status as a superpower had dwindled, Russians look back on the old days of Communism with a certain nostalgia, and a longing for better days of glory when their counrty achieved something. Question 7: “Stalin was not a man, but a monster. ” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain your answer using the sources in this assignment and your own knowledge.

I would disagree with this statement, as I hold the belief that no man is born evil. Adolf Hitler was not born evil, nor Mao Tse-tung, nor General Franco. It is a combination of upbringing and experience that defines who one is. Stalin had a hard upbringing as his family was rather poor, his father was an alcoholic and often beat him. He was in fact not Russian – he was a Georgian, and always spoke Russian differently from most. He discovered the works of Marx when he was a student, and was always overzealous in his attitude towards revolution.

He found a way to the top by performing menial (but essentially important) jobs such as General Secretary, giving him the power to choose who entered the Party – and he often picked those who supported him. He used clever U-turn tactics to eliminate his rivals (such as Trotsky and Bukharin) and managed to re-write history, so that he was seen as one of the main heroes of the revolution, along with Lenin. In fact, no-one ever suspected that such a background figure, such an insignificant member of the party could ever become their leader.

Stalin became a cult figure, and works of art and music were dedicated to him. He found all of it embarrassing, but ultimately acceptable. Later on in his rule, Stalin became more and more paranoid, thinking that there were enemies everywhere who were trying to take Russia away from him. It was understandable, taking into consideration what vast power he had over a massive county and a huge population. Absolute power corrupted absolutely, and Stalin grew increasingly determined to eradicate anyone who questioned him. Millions died in the Purges, one of the most terrifying points in his regime.

People tried to reason this, saying that Stalin did not want these people to be killed; he was not aware of it. But later, documents were found which listed those in prison camps, destined to die, and Stalin’s signature OK-ing it below. If Source D by Churchill is to be believed, it shows Stalin as a man who desperately tried to boost the economy, but tried not to think of its consequences. He said that it was bad, and difficult, but repeats that it was necessary. Perhaps this was his solace – that a few needed to suffer to pave the way for the good of Russia in the future.

He also quickly changes the subject when questioned by Churchill about the collective farm struggles, perhaps trying not to think of millions who got put into prison camps, or perhaps just trying to change the subject to prevent his decision from looking bad. Privately, he married twice (he hated his son Jacob by his first marriage) and secondly to a girl called Nadyezhda Aliluyera, 22 years his junior. After some time, Nadyezhda committed suicide, and in her suicide note, criticised Stalin for his ways and his policies.

Stalin was said to be very angry, but his chauffeur recalled a gentler side to his nature – he would visit his wife’s grave and sit there and grieve for hours. Despite intense speculation, Stalin still manages to retain some mystery about him (no doubt he had his personal history re-written, and the Soviet legend has blurred with the truth), but I do not believe he was a monster who sent millions to slaughter for the sake of it, but as a very insecure man who felt he was acting in the Party’s best interests, but twisting the Communist theory to his own style, and leaving his mark on Russia for generations to come.


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