Russia Under Stalin

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was born on 18th December 1878. He held complete power over Soviet Union after Lenin and he held on till his death on March 5th 1953. He held the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but he was a dictator in many ways. Stalin transformed an agrarian society into an industrial society and a military power. However this was not attained through welfare schemes or democracy; it was through sheer brutal power and terror. Even as a young man he was into criminal activities so as the head of a state he unleashed terror on all those who opposed him. It was Lenin who was in exile in Switzerland who appointed Stalin to serve the Central Committee of the Bolshevik’s party. Once the Bolshevik’s party came to power in 1917, Joseph Stalin continued to move up in position within the party to finally become the General Secretary in 1922. In this position he improved his base of political support.  Once he got complete support he collectivized farming and people who opposed him were executed or sent to labour camps. In the World War II he joined US and Britain but soon after the war his ties with the west soured and a Cold War ensued which continued till the disintegration of Soviet Union.

Historical Significance

Born in a poor family, Joseph Stalin worked his way up. As a youngster he was involved in criminal acts. Stalin wanted to join the army during the World War I but his damaged left arm disqualified him from getting in to service. Through the October Revolution, Russian Civil war and the Polish war Stalin proved that he was capable of holding high posts and function like a steel man.

Joseph Stalin brought about changes which made the whole world look up to USSR and reckon it as a super power. It was a change that was brought about with an iron hand, and it was not to last too long. His policies were termed social realism; the policies were for the good of the society but the payment for that was to give up freedom. Germany too was under the dictator Hitler; both the dictators entered into a non aggression pact in 1939. However Germany broke the pact in 1941 and Germany invaded USSR.  Initially Germany made inroads but with the Battle of Stalingrad, Germany was defeated in February 1943. Germany was eventually driven out of Russia. This win helped him to get more support from his people and also the allies. He was loyal to the allies but his vision for the country was never compromised.

Economic Reforms

During early 1930s Stalin initiated many radical economic policies which overhauled the industrial and agricultural sectors of Soviet Union. This was popularly known as Great Turn but officially it was known as New Economic Policy (NEP). The New Economic Policy had policies which Lenin considered very important. It was moving towards state capitalism and a workers’ state in the USSR. The NEP was adopted in the 10th Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party and the decree was passed on 21st March 1921. There were further decrees which improved the policy. Other policies was the Monetary reform which attracted foreign capital. Industrial progress was not happening in a pace that Stalin wanted so some of the policies of the NEP was changed.

  • The first Five Year Plan was proposed and accepted by the communist party.
  • Some of the policies was impractical and could not be implemented in the long run.
  • Collectivization of land was proposed which called for transfer of private land to the hands of Soviet leadership.
  • Staling wanted industrial development to move at a faster pace, especially the heavy industries. He wanted to make up the lag in ten years.
  • He insisted people to reduce consumption and re- invest the capital into the industrial sector.
  • To keep a track on these programs Stalin placed the logistical control in the hands of the economic planning committee called Gosplan. Depending on the figures reported Stalin would propose new goals and policies for the new year.
  • It was observed that during the Great Depression all over the world Russia’s economy was improving.
  • National income rose from 24.4 to 96.3 roubles.
  • The output of coal, steel and electricity increased during these years.

In the implementation of the Five Year Plan was beneficial for Kazhaks though it was not intended to be that way. But it did bring a big divide between Russia and Kazhakistan as the native Kazhaks did not like the influx of Russians in the name of farming collectivism. Though Stalin is hailed for his economic policies many western historians feel that Stalin’s agricultural policies were the main reasons for the Soviet famine of 1932-33. Many people died and it sometimes called an act of genocide.

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Political Implications

All the reforms introduced by Stalin had the trade mark of Stalin that it was called Stalinism. His style of functioning percolated in state terror, in centralized state, in industrialization in collectivization of agriculture and in the political policies. Stalinism increased class conflict though it was supposed to reduce. A new rich class was formed and the conflict between the new rich and the poor began. There was oppression of the weak and this led to political violence. Though Stalin claimed that his policies were that of Marx and Lenin, there are many critics that it was not so. Terminating all kinds of opposition was the style of Stalin and this was definitely not propounded by Marx. The class that suffered the most were the Kulaks. They revolted against his collective agriculture and many of them were killed. It was called classicide.

In the 1930s Stalin was worried about the increasing popularity of the Leningrad party leader Sergei Kirov. At the 1934 Party Congress Sergei got only three negative votes which was the least that anyone received. Stalin received more than hundred negative votes and this rattled Stalin. Kirov was assassinated and it is believed that Stalin was the man behind it. He implicated it on the opposition leaders and passed new laws to persecute them.  The leaders had no prosecution and there was a quick expedition of the sentences meted out to them. One was exiled and two others were executed in Russia.

Social Implications

It is very difficult to state if the society under the leadership of Joseph Stalin was a happy one. One thing the people lost was freedom. The people of Russia had to see, read and listen only what the state allowed. All those who deviated from this were severely punished. The media was completely state controlled. The labour camps were well known and it was deterrent enough for the people to go against the rule.

  • Stalin portrayed himself as a personality cult. Artists painted him, poets and writers wrote poems and articles praising him.
  • There were many artists and authors who committed suicide because they were depressed by these rules and they could not follow it.
  • Many others left the country.
  • Education was controlled by state. The education programme was rigid and disciplined.
  • Exams which were banned by Lenin were reintroduced.
  • The subjects taught were laid down by the state. History showed Stalin having good relationship with Lenin which was not quite true.
  • Outside school children had to join organisations called Octobrists, Pioneers and Komsomol. Each of these groups was for different age groups.
  • Children were trained to be good communist with an insistence on clean living and outdoor activities.
  • For a short period under Stalin, women enjoyed a little more freedom than the old days. In workplace women were equal to men.
  • Divorce was easy during Lenin’s period but Stalin changed that for he believed that family as unit was very important.
  • By 1930 there were many homeless children as many of them were born out of marriage. This was stain to the perfect community state he was trying to create.
  • The state paid child allowance if the couples were married. Weddings became more ceremonious.
  • Abortions could not be done; there were many restrictions.
  • Despite problems some people were doing well especially skilled workers of the factory and the party officials.
  • Health care was available to more people. There were more doctors in the state.
  • Housing remained a problem in Russia under Stalin. Houses were very small. They were put up quickly sometimes without electrical sockets.
  • Leisure for a Russian meant sport and fitness. The facilities for this were provided by the state. Everyone was entitled for a holiday once a year.

Cultural Reforms

Stalin was proud to be a Georgian but he favoured Russian nationalism. He wanted all to be Russian I spirit even if they were from other states of the Union or from other ethnic groups. To make his image as a national hero strong he even made changes to his visual portraits. His eyes and moustache remained unaltered; other features were retouched to make him look like a national hero. Socialist Realism was brought into art and culture in Russia. Expressionism, avant-garde experimentation, expressionism were condemned as formalism. Architecture also had the stamp of Stalin called the Stalinist Empire Style which was updated neoclassicism. The Seven Sisters in Moscow exemplifies this style. It replaced constructivism of the 1920s. During Stalin’s period there was an integration of indigenous cultures but these indigenous cultures could not flourish by itself. Attacks on churches increased. For Stalin communism and the state were the highest and anything that rose above that was not accepted. Communism taught people that ‘religion was the opium of the masses”. So the churches were shut down and the priests were arrested. He felt that anyone who worshipped god would be a challenge to his personality cult; he wanted the people to worship him and not god.

Stalin as a Dictator

Stalin was truly a dictator who impressed upon the people a personality cult. The atrocities that were committed cannot be counted. There were mass killings; a total annihilation of all those who opposed him. There was a frame work within which the people lived. They thought they had freedom but in reality they could only think what the state wanted them to think.  Nothing positive is seen of Russia under Stalin but there was progress and Russia became a super power equal to USA and it was not until 1991 that this stance changed.

The first and foremost positive aspect of Russia under Stalin was that the country had a stable government for few decades. The country under Stalin became a major industrial nation by 1939. While the rest of the world was reeling under the issues of the Great Depression Russia was progressing. People who did not oppose the state lived lives better than that under the rule of the Tsar. The military forces of Russia became powerful. Healthcare saw a new high during Stalin’s rule.

However there were many problems that the people face; most which were man- made. Agricultural collectivism failed in many areas and the Great Famine was an effect of this collectivisation. Millions died in this famine. Though the focus was on agriculture, land under cultivation was not enough for the growing population.  The police encouraged people to sneak on others and tell about them. This created mistrust among people. No one knew who was a friend and who was a foe. Jealousy was on the rise and this led to a lot of suffering and deaths.

Purges and deportations were the order of the day. Anyone with talent or someone who was becoming popular were murdered or deported. This is apart from the killings of opponents. It is said that the Soviet army was a huge body without any brains as most of its senior officers were murdered or arrested. No one could think independently; they just had to think the way Stalin did.