History 1C: Lecture 10

The Stalin Revolution

Western historians as well as intellectuals in the former USSR are divided about the relationship of Stalinism--the socioeconomic, cultural, and political system that Stalin shaped between 1928-1940--to Leninism. Some argue that Stalinism grew out of Leninism. Others insist that Stalin's actions and policies represented a sharp break with. Certainly we can discern the roots of Stalinism in Lenin's Bolshevism:

I. Struggle for Succession 1922-29

A. May 1922 Lenin had first stroke, raises questions of the future leadership. On Lenin's recommendation, Stalin was named general secretary of the party at the Eleventh Party Congress in May 1922.

B. Lenin's "Testament" in December 1922 found fault with all the contenders but most significantly with Stalin: "Comrade Stalin, having become General Sec. of the party has concentrated boundless power in his hands and I am not sure that he will always use this power with sufficient caution."

2nd stroke in Dec 1922

In Jan. 1923 he adds, "Stalin is too rude...I propose comrades find a way of shifting Stalin from his position as gensec."

3rd stroke in March 1923 prevented Lenin from removing Stalin and effectively removed L from politics. Leaves Stalin in position to play off various Politburo factions off each other and cash in on general animosity with Trotsky. Indeed Stalin, through a series of cunning political moves, destroyed the opposition and claimed the position as Lenin's rightful heir.

II. 1928-32 The Great Turn or Stalin Revolution

A. First Five-Year Plan-- Stalin pushes through program of rapid industrialization


Central planning of entire Soviet economy and socialization of country's resources--state ownership of all industry and trade

In order to feed and fuel the industrialization drive, need Collectivization.

B. Collectivization--forcing peasants onto state collective farms

Stalin's adoption in 1929 of forced collectivization of agriculture marked a grim struggle between the regime and the peasantry. Sparked by the grain procurement crisis in 1927, in 1928 grain marketings remained low b\c of low govt price policies. Kulaks withheld grain waiting for a rise in prices.

Publicly Stalin announced that poor and middle peasants were voluntarily forming into collective farms. Secretly, Stalin and his buddies ordered local officials to try massive collectivization in selected areas. When results seems positive, Stalin ordered general collectivization led by some 25,000 urban party activists. Entire villages had to deliver their grain to the state at low prices. Kulaks were deliberately overassessed.

Initial measures of collectivization were sudden and brutal, confused and ill prepared. Many officials tried to force all peasants into KOLKHOZY. Stalin and Molotov pressed for speed, overruled all objections and rejected requests for private plots and peasant ownership of tools and livestock.

By a decree of Feb. 1930 "actively hostile" Kulaks were to be sent to forced labor camps, "economically potent" ones relocated and their property confiscated and the "least noxious" ones were admitted into collective farms.

Results: Disaster! Up to 5 million people were deported, hundreds of thousands of families were broken up, and millions of peasants embittered.

Between 1928 and 1933 forced collectivization cost the Soviet state 27% of its livestock and caused over 2 million deaths during collectivization plus 5 million deaths in the famine of 1933-34

Ultimately, collective farms drained and not sustained the economy.

It is important to note that the Five-Year Plan, whatever its failures, accomplished a major aim of Stalin and the Communist Party. At breakneck speed it literally built an industrial base for what grew after WWII into the second largest economy in the world--it even eventually outproduced the Nazi war machine

--advanced technical modernization of the country and established a scientific and engineering foundation.

In the overall assessment of the push to industrialize it is also vital to consider the costs: collectivization brought both human and economic catastrophe--the effort took several million lives and spawned untold suffering.

III. The Terror

The horror of Stalin's purges of the 1930s lies in more than the killings and incarcerations, the individual and familial suffering, and the decimation of an entire stratum of talented and energetic leaders in politics, the economy, the army and every walk of intellectual life. The repression also spawned a chilling atmosphere of suspicion and fear that permeated a generation of Russians and non-russians alike. These people's hopes for a rewarding and humane way of life shattered and their children and grandchildren still struggle today to forge a society of integrity, legality, and mutual confidence out of the ruins of Stalinism. The Nazis maintained their third reich for barely 12 years and murdered some 7 million jews, poles, yugoslavs and others. Stalin ruled for 24 years and a modified Stalinist system persisted for another 32. 10-11 million soviet citizens perished in the resistance to collectivization, the famine and the purges. The nightmare touched almost every soviet family and will take years more for the country to heal.

Beginning with the kulaks in 1929 and continuing into the 1930s Stalin began using more terroristic means against his foes, including against party members. He sent them to the Gulag, imprisoned them or executed them.

By 1929 stalin probably had convinced himself that disapproval equalled betrayal and he publicly vowed to exact vengeance on anyone who withheld whole-hearted backing. Therefore open political opposition in the party ended, but during 1932-33 Stalin faced a grave economic and political crisis. Forced collectivization had brought on famine and hunger in the cities and provoked widespread nationalist opposition, especially among Ukrainian peasants. As his popularity fell to its nadir, Trotskii's Bulletin of the Opposition (a journal he began publishing abroad) announced "In view of the incapacity of the present leadership to get out of economic and political deadlock, the conviction about the need to change the leadership of the party is growing." Trotsky reminded readers of Lenin's Testament which had urged Stalin's removal. In November 1932, Nadezheda Allileuva (Stalin's beloved young second wife) spoke out about the famine and discontent. Stalin silenced her roughly and she apparently committed suicide.

Reign of terror unleashed. Stalin, not the NKVD, initiated the Great Purge (1936-38) and approved executions of prominent figures.

Three great show trials held in Moscow:

TRIAL OF THE SIXTEEN (August 1936)Kamenev and Zinoviev and others accused of plotting to remove Stalin and overthrow the regime. All were forced to confess and all were shot.

OPPOSITION IN CENTRAL COMMITTEE--stalin replaces Iagoda with Yezhov as head of NKVD. Yezhov took purge to bloody heights.

TRIAL OF THE 17 (Jan. 1937) Old Bolsheviks accused of dealing with Japan and Germany.

TRIAL OF THE 21(March 1938) included Bukharin, Rykov, and Iagoda. Before an audience of 350 including foreign correspondents and members of the diplomatic corps. Dramatic spectacle. Stalin had gotten Bukharin's "confession" only after threatening to harm his wife and young son. Then 9 moths of torture and drugs to polish the confession--accused of wrecking, sabotage, treason, murder, and plotting to kill Stalin.

According to one correspondent, At the trial, Bukharin's replies to the outlandish charges were precise, logical and defiant--he agreed to the overall charge but denied any knowledge of specific acts, thereby undermining the whole "confession"

"I plead guilty to the sum total of crimes committed by this counterrevolutionary organization, irrespective of whether or not I knew of, whether or not I took a direct part in any particular act..."

In his final statement, he included a strong condemnation of fascism. He managed as well to denounce Stalinism in Aesopian language:

"For when you ask yourself "If you must die, what are you dying for? An absolutely black vacuity suddenly arises before you with startling vividness. There was nothing to die for, if one wanted to die unrepented. And, on the contrary, everything that glistens in the Soviet Union [the vision of socialism] acquired new dimensions in one man's mind."

Within 3 days a firing squad shot Bukharin, Rykov and 13 others.

As the horror proliferated, Stalin could not possibly have overseen its operations at lower levels and in all regions directly. Instead, as during collectivization, zealous Party and police officials eager to prove their devotion extended the hunt for "enemies of the people. Yet Stalin set the tone from the top and almost daily reviews and lists of victims and confessions. The party had to become an impregnable fortress to safeguard the country and the gains of socialism from foreign and domestic enemies. In Stalin's words:

"As long as capitalist encirclement exists, there will be wreckers, spies, diversionist and murders in our own country, sent behind our lines by the agents of foreign states." The Soviet public found this view credible.

Why did the accused publicly admit to crimes they could not have committed when their confessions constituted the only legal basis for conviction?

--hoped to save their lives, their positions and their families

--had been broken down by the NKVD

--use of torture in extracting confessions.

Results of Great Purge:

Those who were tried and executed or died by other means included

--all surviving members of Lenin's original Politburo (except Stalin and Trotsky) a former premier, the head of the trade unions, two heads of the Comintern.

In 1914 and after some top leaders were indeed found to be spies and police agents. Also the legacy of police infiltration of revolutionary movements under tsarism provided some basis for believing the revelations of the 1930s.

--Decimated the leadership corps of the Soviet armed forces. The military chiefs, especially Marshal Tukachevskii (who had made the red army an effective fighting machine) had been critical of the earlier show trials. In May 1937, he and other prominent generals were arrested for "collaborating with Germany and Japan" and shot

--Also most members of the Supreme War Council were purged; 3 out of 5 marshals; 14 of 16 army generals; and all full admirals; appx. 1\2 of the officer corps were shot or imprisoned.

--Old Bolsheviks and many Stalinist leaders were eliminated: 70% of the Central Committee members and candidates chosen in 1934. At the 18th party congress in 1939, only 35 of the 1,827 rank and file delegates from the previous congress were alive. From the party and army the purge reached downward to reach the general population as friends and relatives of those purged were arrested. Thousands of ordinary citizens were denounced and arrested for crimes the did not and could not have committed.

In December 1938, with the arrest of Yezhov, the most intensive phase of the purge ended. By then, half the urban population of the USSR was on police lists, and 5% had actually been arrested. Yet large-scale terror lasted until Stalin's death. Beria became head of NKVD in 1929

--Epilogue to the great Purge was the brutal murder of Trotsky in Mexico (August 1940)

In 1989 a Soviet biographer of Stalin estimated that 4.5 to 5.5 million people were arrested--800,000 to 900,000 received the death penalty, and many of the rest died either at the Gulag or en route to it. Another 1994 study argues that 2.5 million people were arrested in 1937 and 1938 and that 2-3 million overall died in the purge.


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