The following were equally important reasons why Stalin was able to hold onto power in the Soviet Union:
* The purges and show trials
* The secret police
* Propaganda and the cult of personality
* Stalin’s economic policies.
Explain how far you agree with this statement.
I agree that all the above reasons did help Stalin stay in power and I believe that they are equally important reasons. I believe that they were all entwined and that they could only all happen together and that one would not have happened on its own. To illustrate my argument, I am going to take each of the four above points and then link them to the other three. I hope I provide enough information and construct my argument well enough that you will see how I came to the above conclusion.
The first topic I am going to look at is the Great Purges and then link this to the Secret Police. The Purges were when Stalin launched a new campaign of political terror against the Communist Party members who had brought him to power. His excuse to begin this was the assassination of his leading colleague and potential rival, Sergei Kirov. Historians believe that Stalin was responsible for his death but there is no clear proof. Immediately Stalin ordered a purge against people he believed were involved in the death of Kirov. The Purges soon became know as Stalin’s terror and began in 1934.
Old communists like Zinoviev and Kamenev were arrested and the purges soon begin to affect ordinary people. Anyone suspected of being disloyal to Stalin were taken away by the secret police and were either executed or sent to labour camps. People often wanted to avoid arrest and did so by providing information about others, even if it was false information. By 1939 approximately 3 million people were dead and 9 million were prisoners. Nearly everyone was affected, even Trotsky was assassinated, who was living in Mexico at the time of the purge.
Stalin didn’t stop there; he began to fear the power of the army and began removing senior officers from power. This became known as the Army Purges. He was convinced that the army was plotting against his downfall probably because his influence over the party was less than over the army. I think Stalin only began the purges out of fear and paranoia, even when he was dying he feared the doctors, were plotting against him.
The purges may have been Stalin’s way of trying to control the Soviet Union but the purges did have its effect on Russia. During the purges many party bosses, military leaders, industrial managers, top scientists, engineers and high government officials were also purged. This lead to the most gifted and talented citizens disappearing. The army and navy were seriously weakened by the loss of senior officers. Industrial and technical progress was slowed due to the loss of top scientists and engineers.
The purges are linked to the Secret Police, as they were Stalin’s instruments for carrying out his rise to dictatorship. The Secret Police or NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) had hundreds of thousands of people murdered and millions imprisoned. When the secret police did not arrest enough people the head of the NKVD, Yagoda, was murdered and replaced, by Yezhov who in turn arrested and executed, after Stalin called the end to the terror, in 1938.
The Show Trials link to the Secret Police as they were both widely publicised and everyone was scared of the Secret Police and the Show Trials. The Show Trials were widely publicised trials held in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Many Bolsheviks were found guilty of crimes that were generally against Stalin and the Bolsheviks. The crimes and evidence were obviously made up, but no one would disagree with Stalin. The people on trial would be often tortured and punished until they confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. Stalin often assured them that if they confessed they would be allowed to go, but this was untrue.
The trials successfully eliminated the major and potential political rivals of Stalin. The first show trial opened in January 1936. The defendants were- Zinovyev and Kamenev and Smirnov, all of whom had been Bolsheviks since before the October Revolution of 1917. They were all accused of having joined Leon Trotsky, in order to remove Stalin from power. They also blamed them for the assassination of Kirov. The main defendants in the other trials were Pyatakov, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov, Radek, Bukharin and Rykov.
The Show Trials were one of Stalin’s many forms of propaganda, to scare people. As time went on Stalin became more and more fearful and paranoid and in turn became more and more controlling of his country. He began to take control of what was broadcasted in the media. He began to tell people what to think, what they ought to believe and what attitudes to have. Propaganda also prevented movement away from socialist teaching and avoided debate within the party. Propaganda also helped to identify Stalin’s opponents and gave him an excuse for dealing with them. It became so bad that even artists had to do what the state told them. Stalin was always portrayed as something he wasn’t and everyone was told Stalin was a great genius.
The propaganda also links in with the cult of personality. This was where Soviet propaganda presented Stalin as a god-like figure. Newspapers, cinema and radio spread propaganda about the heroic workers’ struggle and Stalin’s great leadership and personality qualities. All criticism about Stalin was banned. History was re-written so that Stalin became a more important part in the Russian Revolution and Civil War than he actually had been. Photographs were altered so Stalin seemed a closer friend to Lenin than he had been and Trotsky was removed from all photographs and history books and articles.
The country became blanketed in extreme adoration. Stalin became the dictator of the Soviet Union and he trusted nobody. He changed people’s views as much as he could, even to the extent that they began to persecute Christians and Christian Priests were murdered or exiled. Stalin ran everything, most people lived in fear but where unable to speak out. People loyal to Stalin would receive special privileges.
The Propaganda and the Cult of Personality also links to Collectivisation, as they were all forms of Stalin trying to get control. Collectivisation began most intensely between 1929 and 1933. It was aimed at transforming traditional agriculture in the Soviet Union and to try and reduce the power of the Kulaks. Under the Collectivisation policy the peasants were forced to give up their individual farms and join collective farms. Peasants were forced to work together and all land, animals and tools were put together to produce more grain. The peasants were allowed to keep a small plot of land for their own fruit, vegetables and animals. Tractors became available to get the work done quicker. 90% of the grain produced was sold to the state for a low price and the profits were shared out.
The peasants only got to keep 10% of the grain produced, which shared between all of them was inadequate. If any one was known to be hiding any grain, they became victims of the purge and were either shot or arrested and became known as ‘enemies of the people’. Stalin began to blame the Kulaks (richer peasants who owned land) for the other peasants who refused to collectivise and Kulaks were deported and sent away, it is estimated that over 10million Kulaks endured this fate. The Kulaks also became scapegoats for incompetent food production.
In 1929 all peasants were forced to join Collectivisation and it became enforce by the law. Many peasants who didn’t want to join collective farms would destroy all their livestock and equipment. Collectivisation became known as an organised famine. This was because many peasants were giving all their harvest to the state and a prevalent famine began.
After a number of years of collectivisation Stalin decided to slow down the collectivisation process. On March 2nd, 1930, he published an article called ‘Dizzy from Success’, in which he blamed local officials for the intensity of Collectivisation and almost immediately many peasants left the collective farms. But by 1936, Stalin had achieved his aim of collectivisation as nearly all of the peasantry had been collectivised.
The famine continued and millions were dead or had been deported. Grain production was down and the animal numbers had fallen. Even though Stalin called for a delay of Collectivisation in 1930, it soon began again in 1931 and by 1937, 99%of the farms had been Collectivised, the Kulaks had been totally eliminated and many peasants were left afraid of Communist power.
Collectivisation did have its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages were it got rid of the Kulaks, it ended the exploration of peasants by their landlords, helped peasants work together, helped to develop Soviet propaganda as it showed success of the Soviet Union as a whole, and it showed Communism in practice. Collectivisation also had down-falls: the peasants had no choice, the Kulaks became scapegoats, led to the murder of innocent people who only wanted to continue what was their tradition and it took a while for the new system to work due to a bad harvest at first and the Kulaks destroying crops and animals which caused more famine.
Collectivisation links to Industrialisation, as they were both part of the Five Year Plans. When Stalin gained total control of the Soviet Union, he immediately began to make changes to agriculture (Collectivisation) and to industry (The Five-Year Plans). He believed that the Soviet Union was 100years behind the West and had to catch up as quickly as possible. He also believed that the West wanted to destroy the Soviet Union, so he believed that if they became an industrialised nation they would decrease the chance of invasion. He believed creating a command economy and forcing industry to modernise could only achieve this. The Five Year Plans were a set of targets and priorities set by the state for industry. The workers made a huge effort to achieve these targets, to make the Soviet Union a major industrial power in 10years. There were three Five Year Plans altogether and each plan had different objectives.
The 1st plan focused on building up heavy industry like coal, steel, railways, electricity and machinery. During the 1st five-year plan remarkable growth in output was achieved but production figures was below the targets set. During the 1st five year plan the number of industrial workers had double. This was where the connection was between the Five-Year and Collectivisation. Because it was vital to increase food supplies to the industrial workers Collectivisation was introduced to increase the amount of food production. If Collectivisation hadn’t have been introduced then the five year plans wouldn’t have succeeded.
The 2nd plan concentrated on improvements in transport and in the production of machinery. The 3rd plan was to transfer more resources into defence-related industries. The 3rd plan was cut short, however, to three and a half years; this was due to the invasion of Germany. The five-year plans increased electric production by 28%, it increased coal production by 47%, it increased oil production by 61% and it increased steel production by 43%.
The plans caused serious problems. These were- new towns, cities were set up with poor quality housing, industrial workers worked long hours for low pay, most of the work was done by people in labour camp, the targets were only to increase propaganda, the government said the targets had been hit but it’s hard to tell how much was really achieved and how much was propaganda, the plans caused social and economic problems, the transport systems nearly collapsed as it couldn’t cope with the increased loads of goods, rationing was introduced and safety standards began to be ignored. But it did enormously increased production and Russia was transformed from backward agricultural nation into the world’s second greatest power.
After evaluating all the above reasons for helping Stalin stay in power I believe that all the above reasons were equally important as if one wouldn’t have happened the others wouldn’t have even happened. The Purges couldn’t have happened without the Secret Police; The Show Trails couldn’t have happened without the purges; The Propaganda wouldn’t have happened without the Show Trails or the Cult of Personality; Industrialisation wouldn’t have happened without Collectivisation and vice-versa and The Cult of Personality couldn’t have happened without Propaganda. I believe that Stalin did do many bad things in his time but he did succeed Lenin and stay in power for a number of years and without all of the above reasons he wouldn’t have been able to hold onto power for as long as he did.