Stalin’s Strategies to Become the Undisputed LeaderHistory, Noteworthy, Student Papers | Jan 13, 2013 | in
Joseph Djugashvili, later to become Stalin or “man of steel,” was born on December 21, 1879, in Gori, a small town in Georgia. Although unknown at the time, his name would later be associated with the largest country in the world and admirably conferred on the streets, collective farms, small towns and factories. Between the Russian Revolution, World War II and the Cold War, Soviet society glorified his name as they fought in the deadliest war and worked in the most horrific conditions. Despite the fact that Stalin succeeded in plunging the Soviet society into darkness through his purges, he still remained an architect of victory and an alternative leader was unimaginable. Hence, the elements of Stalin’s “socialist-ideology” became the political nuance of the country in which “he had made himself a god in his own lifetime” until his death in 1953, through the most extensive socio-economic transformation in human experience (Radzinsky 4). Whether this transformation was justifiable or even necessary is a question of how one perceives the emergence of Stalinism and the means Stalin used in his race to become the undisputed leader. This being said, Through the use of versatile analysis and stand point of historians, the research will be an attempt to demonstrate different, yet scholarly approach that will explain Stalin’s ruthless methods that resulted from his paranoid behavior.
The socio-economic, political and cultural system that Stalin developed between 1928 and 1940—Stalinism, and its relationship to Leninism is often a subject of many debates among the western historians as well as those of the Soviet Union (Thompson 241). Viewed in this light, it is not surprising that Stalinism has presented mixed picture for many academics and scholars spurring disputes and debates over its development. At one end of the spectrum, historians argue that Stalinism directly grew out of Leninism. On the other, however, many scholars claim that Stalin’s policies represented a large deviation from Lenin’s. Inevitably, the foundation of Stalinism is derived from Lenin’s Bolshevism, “particularly in its reliance on authoritarianism and centralization” (241). Nonetheless, the deviation from Leninist Bolshevism was by no means inevitable since the Soviet State under Lenin contained more democratic and moderate elements, which was a different political philosophy from what Stalin had envisioned. Russia in 1920’s experienced rapid modernization, during which, traditional ways of life were replaced by new values and ideas driven by Leninist ideology. For instance, the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921 introduced a market economy in Russia as a result of which the bureaucratic system of managing businesses changed and some small scale businesses were given freedom (240). Such view of Leninist ideology, however, has not gone unchallenged since it is often argued that these changes were “to some extent beyond the Bolsheviks’ control” (240). Apart from the above mentioned changes, it was party leaders who had the opportunity to conceive their own potential ideal socialist ideologies for the future of their state. In this regard, Stalin was by no means Lenin’s apparent successor. In fact, he was not even serious candidate by some and his reputation among the public would have perhaps placed him after the prominent figures in the Party such as Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev, Alexei Rykov, Nikolai Bukharin and Mikhail Tomsky (240). Hence, the major question that begs further emphasis is how Stalin became the dominant figure in the Party by the 1920’s.
Part of the answer to this question and the fact that Stalin did become the Russian leader is indicative of his personality. It is often noted that Stalin had a dual aspect to his personality. Indeed, he had outstanding political skills and foresight including intelligence, powerful memory and the ability to gather and communicate his political thoughts. In addition, Stalin was a pragmatic decision maker driven by enormous will and enthusiasm for power, respect and control. However, his “suspiciousness, paranoia and viciousness” clearly indicate Stalin’s dark side of personality (Rees 209). Several historians also describe him as a Georgian thug from lower-class representative and just another despot in the Russian tradition (Birt 604). Perhaps, as Churchill once suggested, “Stalin is unnatural man” (Rees 209). Inevitably, Stalin had to overcome quite few obstacles in his race to become a leader. Evidently, as long as Lenin was in power, Stalin was a much less important individual and could not do much to gain power. In addition, there was competition from the side of other prominent figures such as Trotsky. Yet, Lenin’s stroke in 1922 raised questions about the future of the leadership within the party and, without a doubt, Stalin seized the opportunity to promote himself as Lenin’s personal ally and became recognized with him among the Soviet public. By May of 1922, at the Eleventh Congress Stalin was elected the Party’s General Secretary—a position that entailed him to manipulate the network of officials through “patronage, favoritism and the dispensation of power” (Thompson 244). Paradoxically, Stalin was not seen to have great influence within the Party, yet it was his personality and organizational skills that enabled him to emerge as an individual whom the members of the Party appreciated and followed. Moreover, academics such as Deutscher suggest that it was Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who formed a triumvirate with “determination to prevent Trotsky from succeeding to the leadership of the party” (Desutscher 255). Indeed, such formation was much in favor of Stalin since their unity enabled them to gain control over the majority within the Politburo.
Equally important is the fact that Stalin was never meant to be Lenin’s successor after his death. Despite the fact that he was not able to work, Lenin by late December began dictating his “Letter to the Congress,” a document, which would later be known as “Lenin’s Testament” (Radzinsky 199). In his letter, Lenin juxtaposes Trotsky and Stalin, and states that comrade Stalin should be removed from his post to avoid problems in the future since he was not able to cope with power (199).
Relations between Stalin and Trotsky account for more than half the danger of the schism…which could be avoided…by increasing the membership of the Central Committee…Since becoming GenSec Comrade Stalin has concentrated immense power in his own hands, and I am not sure that he will always succeed in using that power with the requisite caution. On the other hand, Comrade Trotsky is perhaps the ablest person in present Central Committee, but is too boastfully sure of himself and too carried away by the strictly administrative side of things.Later on Lenin added: Stalin is too rude. This is a fault which can easily be tolerated in our own circle, in dealings between fellow Communists, but it becomes intolerable in the office of GenSec. I therefore propose that some way be found of transferring Stalin from that post and appointing to it someone else who would differ from Stalin in one respect only, that he was more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, and more considerate, less capricious etc., in his dealings with comrades.
Despite Stalin’s efforts to keep the “Testament” secret, Lenin’s letter soon became known among the Party ranks and even briefly appeared in the Soviet press in 1927 (Thompson 249). Although this almost ended Stalin’s career, he managed to survive and suppress its further publication until his death. Viewed in this context, historians such as Thompson put forth the notion that the transformation of power from Lenin to Stalin took place only after Lenin’s death. On the contrary, scholars such as Isaac Deutscher assert that “the amazing accumulation of power in the hands of Stalin” occurred “while Lenin was still alive” and that “two years after the end of the civil war Russian society already lived under Stalin’s virtual rule, without being aware of the ruler’s name” (228). In this regard, it is important to note that there are divergent views regarding Stalin’s rise to power. Another major aspect that needs further emphasis is that even after Lenin’s death Stalin portrayed himself as a close ally of Lenin and developed so-called ‘cult of Leninism’ to ensure his rise to power. It was during this time period that Stalin spoke of the dangers of Trotskyism, stating that it greatly deviated from the doctrine of Leninism (Thompson 249). Such views of Stalin later led him to publish Foundations of Leninism, in which he “systematically elaborated on and codified much of Lenin’s thinking.” The Foundations of Leninism became most widely read guidebook and served as a useful guide for younger party leaders in the following years (250). Regardless of how Stalin came to power, one thing remains clear. Stalin was moved and voted to his positions by his political opponents within the Party. It was only in the later years that Stalin would fight against these rivals, when they tried to remove him from leadership only to find out that he was immovable.
The Stalin period is often seen as a natural transition in the development of the Soviet Union after Lenin, as a utopian philosophy that leads to the inevitable development of a totalitarian system (Brit 609). Yet occasionally, the period is explained as the emergence of an opportunistic “oriental despotism” in the wake of a revolution in a highly centralized state (609). During the years 1924-1928, the Soviet Society experienced the most violent changes under the leadership of Stalin, who became the unchallenged dictator through his ‘Great Purge.’ Although some may argue that the repression and ‘Great Terror’ came unexpectedly, it would be misleading to state that Stalin’s purges were total surprise. Viewed in a larger context, such enforcement of hostility upon the public and Party members derive its roots from the distinctive Bolshevik rule dating back as far as to period of Leninism. Throughout many years, historians of different origins have put forth different arguments in an attempt to explain the reasoning behind Stalin’s terror in 1930’s. Some assert that Stalin merely needed scapegoats to obscure his economic failures. Others have suggested that the purges were inevitable in his race to become the undisputed leader. Still, there are scholars who believe that the ‘enemy syndrome’ or Stalin’s own madness was the major reason for such terror. Such view however, lacks precision and begs further emphasis. In other words, it is essential to look beyond Stalin’s personality to find answers to questions such as how the purges were carried out and the reason why his orders were followed. Although Stalin was the major actor that sheds light on these horrific events, it is important to look beyond Stalin, into the whole society as well as the Party itself. In light of such approach, historians such as Peter Holquist assert that such violence was “an integral means by which Soviet leaders pursued their vision of an ideal society” (Holquist 129). In this context, it is clear that Stalin propelled the Purges and that almost every Soviet family was affected by these purges. What remains unclear however, is the motives behind these purges. As mentioned previously, these purges did not come as total surprise. In fact, during the 1920’s the Party had conducted four major “cleansings” within the Party to remove the weak (Dmytryshyn 179). Yet, the terror of 1930’s differed from previous purges in four major aspects: in the number of party victims, in the number of nonparty casualties, in “show trials” and “confessions of guilt” by the victims (179). Behind all these torturous acts, there seems to be one major reasoning—Stalin’s perceived threat to lose his position. According to the available literature about this time period, it was the commissariats of heavy industry and rail transport, headed by Ordzhonikidze and Kaganovich, who suffered the impact of the Purges (Rees 201). Even though Ordzhonikidze strived to stop the early repression against his industrial officials, his suicide in 1937 put an end to this battle. Despite condemning the extreme oppression of heavy industry, Kaganovich had no other option but “embrace[d] the new line” to “oversee the organization of the trial of G.E. Zinoviev and L. B. Kamenev” (201).
As the common thread of terror streamed through Stalin’s colleagues, even the tiniest hope of resistance diminished and everyone had no choice but follow Stalin in his purges against party officials and the whole Soviet society. During the following years, the purges gradually developed into terror through the Kemerovo trial in November 1936, the Central Committee plenum in December, the trial of Zinovievist-Trotskyist coalition in January 1937, and the trial of M. N. Tukhachevsky in June (201). Viewed in such perspective, Stalin saw the need for strengthening of the Party’s unity and, as John M. Thompson argues, the need for infiltration of “two-facers” within the Party (Thompson 395). According to Stalin, the nation could move forward and develop only after the elimination of these subversive faces. Without a doubt, the Great Terror of 1936-1938 was organized as a campaign albeit Stalin was the central figure, who stood by and let all these happen. In other words, he could not have accomplished all of the purges without support from his subordinates and members of OGPU (Cheka’s successor as Secret Police Organization) and NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs; Controlled Secret Police). In addition, historians have put forth the notion that Stalin had “painfully sensitive self-esteem” and an “idealized self” that he was closely associated with the Soviet government to such an extent that being perceived as an enemy of Stalin was equivalent to an enemy of the state (Ulam 387). Such close relationship between “enemy of Stalin” and “enemy of state” might have indeed set the ground for massive purges that Stalin would later carry out.
Stalin’s victory over the “Left” and then the “Right” opposition had two significant implications. First, it predestined him the unchallenged master of the Soviet Union—a vozhd (undisputed leader). Second, his victory and undisputed position escorted Soviet nation in a new era of a Soviet history, an epoch to which scholars have attached different interpretations. Some have described it as “Russia’s Iron Age,” others as a “The era of a Five Year Plan,” while some have simply called it as “The Stalin era” (Dmytryshyn, 155). In view of these events, the Stalin’s victory of the opposition was not the victory of Leninism; it was the victory of Stalinism, which permanently maintained its rule over the country and the party.
In January 1928, the state faced a shortfall in grain collection from the autumn 1927 harvest. The ongoing failure of grain collection provided Stalin with grounds to accuse the kulaks of undermining the “country’s security and well-being.” He considered that peasants had been “hoarding grain” and that the only forcible action would remedy the problem (Thompson 260). To rectify this situation, the Central Committee of the party ordered all local party members “to take energetic measures to extract grain from the peasants” (Dmytryshyn 156). On July 29, 1929, the state took a drastic step and set quotas for compulsory deliveries of grain as a standard practice (Thompson 261). As it might be expected, the rigorous measures had limited success and only provoked increasing peasant resistance and local violence. Peasants refused to deliver the grain at a lower price fixed by the state. On the contrary, in hopes to hold back a higher price of the grain, the peasants sold commercial crops and livestock. In response to the peasants’ belligerent behavior, frustrated Stalin decided to deal with peasantry once and for all by means of liquidation of the kulaks (richer peasants) as a class and to complete collectivization of farms in the term of the First Five-Year Plan. In addition, Stalin without consulting the Politburo or Central Committee, demanded local officials to arrest and exile hoarders and others, who refused to sell grain to the government (259). As a result, Stalin banned individual farming and ended private use of most land, inaugurating an epoch of rapid industrialization and collective farms, kholkhozy, through a Five Year Plan. According to Stalin, the core idea of the rapid industrialization and collectivization was bringing the Soviet Union out of its “backward” state. In his “Year of the Great Turn” article on November 7, 1929, Stalin announced the extensive collectivization in progress but portrayed it as a voluntary movement and a triumphant step on the road of socialism (262). Yet, as evidence suggests, collectivization appeared an ultimate road to the creation of Stalinism. In early 1930, there were more than 2000 peasant uprisings in response to the expropriation. The main resistance came from middle peasants and more prosperous families, who adamantly resisted the new arrangements. To overcome the kulak resistance to collectivization, Stalin carried class struggle into the village by setting “peasant against peasant” (Dmytryshyn 168). The core idea of this struggle with the middle class peasants was to “snap attention [of middle peasants] before us [Party]” (Thompson 263). In general, Stalin showed that difficulties, missed quotas, disobedience on the part of workers and peasants will be met with extensive class liquidation from his side. Consequently, the collectivization ushered in an era of devastation for the kulaks that were previously prosperous under the NEP. Industrialization and collectivization resulted in the transformation of millions of people of peasant stock into the working class with remnants of the “traditional peasant mentality, including for personal authority,” whether it originated from the immediate khozain (boss) or from the head of the party or state.
In essence, Stalinism created a society which feared and revered “The Boss”—khozain (260). In 1930s millions of peasants were arrested and sent to Gulag; some of them perished on the way to Gulag or in the camps. By the end of the collectivization, the country had lost almost half of its cattle and horses, two-thirds of its sheep, and almost three-quarters of its pig (264). In addition, reports began to flood into Moscow that the turmoil in the countryside threatened the spring sowing (264). The bitterness and chaos, which the collectivization created seems to have frightened Stalin. On March 2, 1930 Stalin published an article, “Dizzy with Success,” in which he glorified the achievements of collectivization. Yet, he correctly criticized many excesses of the collectivization. The responsibilities for committing distortions were put on local officials. Charismatic and rigid, Stalin used psychological manipulation to control the Russian people and, ultimately, implement his policies. Viewed in this light, Stalin’s behavior in power signifies the need of the paranoia to protect his narcissistic ego from the external threats. By the early 1930s, Stalin was in such a position as to “have a bureaucratized terror machine firmly in place and capable of eliminating perceived opponents in machinelike fashion [through] denunciation, torture, trial, execution” (Brit 616). Indeed, the collectivization and industrialization at some degree can be considered as extensions of Stalin’s own ego and means to fulfill his self-esteem.
In 1932-33 in Volga region, Southern Ukraine, Northern Caucasus about 5 million people died of famine. While hundreds of thousands starved, the Soviet dictator continued to export grain, although in lesser amounts than before (Thompson 266). Stalin’s use of a Cult of Personality provided him an open door to implement policies, such as the First Five Year plan to modernize Russia without regard to the consequences to the Soviet citizens. The collectivization was completed in 1937. Stalin had achieved his goal of controlling grain production. Consequently, Stalin’s popularity plummeted as a result of forced collectivization and the famine of 1932-33, which indicates that it was a support for his mind as well as for his power. Thus, Stalin’s radical change and transformation of society are precise paradigm of creating a Cult of Personality.
It is essential however to analyze the other side of the medal. Some scholars argue that the Soviet totalitarian regime under Stalin terrified people so much that it led into “complete subservience, leaving them [people] atomized and unable to resist” (Kojevnikov 162, in Stalinism New Directions). Indeed, allusion to such inexorable activities as purges, de-kulakization, collectivization and industrialization shed light upon enormous deprivation, agony, hardship and rigid austerity of the Soviet citizens under Stalin. Without a doubt, Stalin’s mythological manner of repression and dominance led to conformity within society. However, other historians argue that in spite of all misery, the Soviet citizens prolonged to “think and act for themselves” (Fitzpatrick 162 in Stalinism: The Essential Readings). One of the primary reasons for the controversies in representation is partly because most Soviet archives were closed until recently.
Newly opened archives have allowed scholars to confirm that Soviet people not only perused their own interests, but that they at some degree resisted Stalinist policies. Historians revealed that peasants in fact fought back against collectivization, workers engaged in strikes, and Soviet citizens privately denounced Stalin and other Communist party leader (162). For instance, in public Soviet population conformed to official laws and doctrine, and even screamed slogans in support of Stalin and socialism; yet, conformity in public did not symbolized that Soviet people respected Stalin and official. (Fitzpatrick 70). Sheila Fitzpatrick argues that most people remained skeptical of official proclamations and passively antagonistic towards Communist Party authorities (71). One of the essential reasons for discord in people’s behavior is due to the strong pressure for conformity and orthodoxy in Stalinist Society. Moreover, the Stalinist state was the sole provider of good and services within the system and people were dependent on these benefits. Thus, Soviet citizens who wished to receive these benefits simply were forced to support Stalin, rather than resist him (72). It would be very subjective, however, to fully agree with the arguments of Fitzpatrick since there were some people who actively supported Stalinist system without lucrative impulses. Newly promoted party officials, stakhanovtsy, some youngsters are the precise paradigm of those who benefited from supporting Stalinist system. While analyzing any aspects of the Stalin’s activity it is also vital to examine the sources which provide in-depth research containing facts and archives with memos of people. Thus, the availability of data collected directly from interviews or personal notes of periphery assists to present historical facts non-biased.
In 1933 the revolutionary spirit was put to an end as a result of which, a more stable system was set up. It was a totalitarian system, which exercised monopolistic political control of the whole society—a centrally planned and nationalized economy; centrally controlled forms of education, association and expression, including intellectual and cultural life. This control was exercised through the use of terror as a means of government, and delegation of dictatorship to regional leaders competing with each other for the favor of the khozyain and their own survival on the long run. In light of such system, purges were carried out by formal activities of the secret police along with the use of ‘Marxist-Leninist’ ideology. The purges and show trials of the 1930s had functional as well as traditional elements, but signified the hallmark of his unpredictability, suspiciousness and resentful persona (Tucker 348).
The events of 1934-1935 were so atrocious and extraordinary that it leads one ponder about the real motives behind them. To understand the true nature of the Purges, it is necessary to consider the personal and political forces that shaped Stalinist policies during this period. Needless to say, Stalin was a political figure, whose real intentions were never explicitly proclaimed but whose real motives could readily be presumed. Inevitably, purges weakened the USSR before the war to a large extent and the lives of more than 150 million people were affected adversely (Thompson 319). Taking into account these events, how should one judge the cruel crimes committed under Stalin and Stalinism? Were the purges justifiable or merely capricious behavior of Stalin and his superficial threat to his position? What about the Bolshevik vision of idea society? In answering the above questions, one should consider all the dimensions of Stalinism rather than simply viewing Stalinist terror as irrational way of repressing individuals. In fact, such notion of Stalinism has led scholars such as Peter Holquist adopts the idea that “Soviet state violence was not simply repressive” but “was employed as a tool for fashioning an idealized image of a better, purer society” (Holquist 134). In this regard, Stalinist regime used the violence on those people who did not fit with the larger goals of the state or in the words of Holquist, the ones who were “socially harmful.” The larger picture that emerges from this approach is the one that depicts Stalin’s purges as a means of building pure socialism within the country. Such an approach is indeed in accord with the thesis of ‘fifth column’ that was presented by Oleg Khlevnyuk, in which he argues that violence was “part of a program to purge society of a potential ‘fifth column’ in anticipation of war” (qtd. in Rees 202). These concepts supported by Holquist and Khlevnyuk however, have not gone unchallenged. E.A. Rees, in his work Stalin as Leader, 1937-1953 asserts that the purges were means `of exercising social cleansing as a supplement to the “unfinished business of 1928-34” (202). This being stated, for academics such as Rees, Stalinist terror was never a means of social cleansing but rather a method of imposing his will on his subordinates and establishing his own regime from within. The events of 1930s does not solely refer to the affliction of the specific group of people, rather, it has a broader application. The epoch of the Great Terror indeed grasped the lives of many people regardless of social status, thus, considering events of the 1930s one should not refer to the period of the Great Terror separately as the years of Party purges or de-kulakization times. Stalin’s iron tactics as a cold storm of annihilations knocked the doors and windows of everyone. Apparently, the years of terror did not leave anybody’s life untouched.
On 22 June 1941, it was Molotov who announced to the Soviet people the stern news about the German attack, while Stalin “as if embarrassed by the disastrous collapse of the hopes,” eschewed the Soviet nation (Deutscher 461). It is very controversial and ironic, however, to see such an “omnipotent,” volitional, and intrepid person as easily retreating and backing up in the emergence of all-important event. Some historians argue that Stalin suffered a nervous breakdown and was unable to command the Red Army or delegate effective control (Smith). Raymond Birt justifies Stalin’s reaction by stating that Hitler’s aggression left a tremendous impact on “stalin’s fragile sense of narcissism” (Birt 619). On the other hand, Isaac Deutscher states that Stalin waited to see the effects of the first combat, the situation in the country, emotional state of people, and “what [were] the attitude[s] of the Great Britain and the United States” (Deutscher 461). It is also essential to take under consideration that the Soviet leader refused to believe that Hitler would dare to attack the Soviet Union since in 1939 the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (Rosenberg). In addition, Stalin thought the reports from the front were fabrications or a provocation by German officers who wanted to start a war between the two friends (Birt). Besides, Stalin persistently ignored the Soviet intelligence agency’s report of Hitler’s planned invasion. Hence, one can consider that Stalin’s miscalculations grew out of his faulty reliance on Hitler’s intentions, “and his inability to admit that the great vozhd’ might have made a mistake” (Thompson 325). Despite all his miscalculations, it is important to elucidate that Stalin was not unprepared to meet the emergency.
First of all, “the pact with Hitler temporarily kept the Soviet Union out of the war” and endowed the USSR with precious time to “continue defense preparations” (328). For instance, production of the tanks and aircrafts vastly increased by the spring of 1941. In addition, five million men and women joined the ranks of armed forces. Stalin also ordered to return experienced officers from Gulag—forced labor camps, and restore their position (329). Thus, Stalin had gradually armed his country and recognized its military forces.
Second, but no less important are three factors that played a crucial role in saving the Soviet Union in 1941. Firm resistance of the Red Army, the harsh winter of the USSR along with the errors of Hitler made the Germans surrender at the gates of Moscow (342). Yet, one should not undermine the leadership of Hitler and the warfare that the Germans carried out. For instance, the Soviet society could hardly survive the operation Barbarossa, the name given to Nazi Germany’s invasion operation. Stalin’s blunders almost led to a total defeat, yet, his leadership helped to save the USSR from it. Moreover, the Soviet victory granted the USSR to emerge as a superpower “whose rivalry with the United States dominated the world affairs until 1989” (370). The Soviet victory in the World War II meant that Stalin has become the undisputed leader of the nation. At this point, his rivals were completely suppressed and there was no single official that could surmount the great leadership that Stalin has undertaken.
On June 24, 1945 Stalin—the father of a nation, stood at the top of the Lenin Mausoleum and reviewed a victory parade of the Red Army. Within the next few days, in the glow of the victory, Stalin was acclaimed as a “Hero of the Soviet Union” and given the title of the Generalissimo (Deutscher 466). Stalin now stood in the “full blaze of popular recognition and gratitude” denigrating the merits of Marshal Zhukov and concentrating all importance of victory in his personality (482). After acquiring the title of Generalissimo, Stalin, as mentioned previously, remained as an indisputable dictator. Without a doubt, after the war Stalin was no longer the same Stalin whom people recognized prior to the World War II. Now, his idea of “socialism in one country” was replaced by his new concept of “socialism in one zone (536). According to Lenin’s and Trotsky’s vision, the socialist revolution was a “global process, admitting no durable truce between the hostile forces of capitalism and socialism (445). Viewed in such perspective, no separation of influence is acceptable between capitalism and socialism. To analyze the transition of Stalin’s perception, it is essential to define the nature of this process and his motivations behind it.
Stalin perceived Eastern Europe to be significant and vital to his country’s security. His plan was to dominate both politics and economic resources of this area which would be used to reconstruct the USSR. Although reluctantly, the Western leaders acknowledged the Soviet interests in the Eastern Europe and consented the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, which included a part of Eastern Poland and Bessarabia. At the Yalta conference in February 1945, it appeared that the political arrangements of these Soviet annexed states would take a different direction (Thompson 357). In this historic meeting, Stalin agreed to allow free elections in Poland with the implication that the same would follow elsewhere in the east. It did not take long time however, for Western leaders to realize that they were misled since soon after Stalin’s promise, Romania was forced to set up a Communist-dominated government (357). Moreover, elections in Poland were postponed followed by Soviet Occupation of Eastern and Central European countries with the exception of Austria and Yugoslavia. Stalin’s motives behind his promise to free elections and later infringing it remains unclear. Yet, historians speculate that it might have been Eastern European Communists, who persuaded Stalin that he could control the East only if he set up Communist governments there.
After the end of the World War II, the Soviet people had hoped with optimism and high expectations of the brighter future. Over the four decades, the Soviet nation had overcome war, revolutions, civil war, collectivization and industrialization, the Purges, and the fight against Nazis. “Physically and emotionally exhausted, they looked forward to” a relief and reward for their suffering, heroism and patience (361). Yet, the victory in the World War II (WWII) did not usher in the rewards and the “good life” that the Soviet Society had anticipated and hoped for. The Soviet people’s hopes and dreams were shattered when they heard their leader declare that “they once again would have to make sacrifices and redouble their effort to build industry and strengthen the country’s economy” (361). Indeed, Soviet people deserved a ‘break’ from the agony and pain that the WWII had inflicted upon them .Viewed from a different perspective however, Stalin’s harsh position on the whole society was inevitable since the war had left the nation in shatters. One in seven people had died in the war along with thousands of people who had suffered severe physical and psychological wounds. Apart from the above mentioned, millions of people in the Baltic area, Eastern Poland and Bessarabia had to be re-incorporated into the Soviet State. In comparison, these figures were five times greater than those of German casualties and seventy times greater than those of the U.S (361). Furthermore, performance was rather slow under the civilian and agriculture economy and to hasten the pace of recovery, Stalin relied on the compensations from Germany and Japan, along with some resources obtained from the Eastern European states (361). In addition, the Soviet Union received partial but useful aid from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Judging from the history however, it is evident that it was the Soviet society who felt the burden of reconstructing the state most heavily.
Despite the fact that recovery in heavy industry was accelerated under Stalin’s Fourth Five Year Plan, the Soviet State showed less progress in the production of consumer goods. Accordingly, consumer goods were low on supply and food prices skyrocketed because of food shortage that resulted from a drought that struck Southern Russia in 1946 (361). This being said, the harsh conditions in the countryside increasingly created incentives for people to move into the already packed cities.
The abundance of postwar domestic problems led Stalin to take several measures, but the main approach that the dictator chose was the “reestablishment of tight control over Soviet society.” Inevitably, Stalin’s post war purges fundamentally altered the regime’s relations with the whole society. Before proceeding to the discussions of the nature of the post war Soviet regime however, it is important to distinguish between ‘Stalinism’ during the years 1928 to 1937 and ‘high Stalinism’ from 1937 to 1953 (Rees 207). Viewed in this light, purges under ‘Stalinism’ had overwhelming impact on the leader’s subordinates, while the purges of ‘high Stalinism’ were mainly intended deal with the Soviet Society on the whole along with “playing ambitious subordinates against each other” (Thompson 362). In the words of historian E.A Rees, the “attack on cadres was combined with an attack on specific social groups (‘kulaks,’ minority nationals, ‘anti-Soviet’ elements and criminals) that went further than ‘dekulakisation’…” (207).
Indeed, what can be inferred from such notion is the fact that even in the glow of victory, the undisputed leader’s paranoia intensified as he increasingly suspected that the Soviet Society did not acknowledge his contribution to the Soviet System. Stalin’s despotism developed further as his wariness about the impact of Western ideas intensified. Driven by this motive, he took harsh measures against some 2 million war prisoners along with displaced persons many of whom were unwilling to return to Stalin’s Soviet Union. Yet, Western governments forcefully repatriated these refugees, many of whom were shot on arrival and others facing imprisonment. (Thompson 362). The harsh measures taken by Stalin, indeed led to the emergence of the “Soviet Intelligentsia” as a powerful tool in governing relations and was “designated as the regime’s real base of support” (Rees 208). In this regard, there were several new officials who were promoted, among the most prominent one being Zhdanov, who became Stalin’s expert in ideological affairs. Yet, the process took a sharp turn during the 1947-1948, when Zhdanov’s fame began to fade and ultimately ended with his death in August of 1948. Although Stalin’s involvement remains unclear, thousands of party officials associated with Zhdanov were put to death or sent to Gulag that became known as Leningrad Affair, after Zhdanov’s death. (Thompson 362). In any respect, these purges reminded everyone within the government and party of the insecurity of the positions they held. By the same token, in 1952 a new wave of purges under the name of “Doctor’s Plot” unfolded (Treadgold 463). The Pravda magazine announced that 9 doctors, six of whom were Jews had been charged with medical mistreatment of high party and state personnel. (Thompson 376). Moreover, the press charged them with disloyalty and claimed that they were agents of American and British intelligence, whose aim was to eliminate the government officials. No one knows whether these allegations are true or not. Yet, if they were accurate, it may even have been an indication of a cleansing that Stalin was planning in 1952, right before his death (364).
On 2 March, 1953 it was reported that Stalin suffered massive brain hemorrhage, losing consciousness. (Dmytrhsyn 262). On 5 March, 1953 it was officially announced that Stalin had died. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear since some speculate that the cause of his death was heart attack, while others argue that it was due to cerebral blood stroke. In addition, there are several ambiguities regarding the timeliness of his death. According to historians such as Donald W. Treadgold, Stalin’s death may have been caused by violence from the side of his subordinates. Viewed in this light, it appears that Stalin became the victim of his own methods of assassination earlier when he was in power. However, other historians write that Stalin was provided “the best medical personnel” and hence, his death was a matter of fate. (262). This being said, it is not surprising that Stalin’s death created feelings of both grief and relief among the Party members and Soviet Society as a whole. For many millions of Soviet citizens, Stalin was a builder of Socialism, wartime leader and “father” of a nation. Moreover, thousands of people were mourning his death on the day of his burial; ironically however, Stalin took the lives of almost 200 Soviet citizens even after his death since crowds gathered in Moscow was immense and uncontrollable (Thompson, 376). In spite of his cruel despotism and rigorous control of the economy, Stalin was still popular throughout the Soviet Union. His death ushered in the end of an era that most Soviet citizens perhaps thought would never end. Surprisingly, for some Soviet citizens it had been an era of greatness.
Viewed as one of the worst dictators of the 20th century, it appears that there is a growing popularity for Stalin in modern Russia. Albeit Stalin has left his marks in the pages of history as a ruthless dictator, opinion polls and observers suggest that the man who ruled the Soviet Union for almost thirty years through his massive purges is back in favor. According to one such poll, one-third of Russians welcome the return of a leader like Stalin. For instance, a national survey conducted by “The Public Opinion Foundation” on February 22, 2003 covered 1,500 adults throughout the country. According to the survey, 36% of the respondents said “the Soviet dictator did more benefit to Russia than harm,” 29% said the opposite and 34% said they were neutral (Gidadhubli 1555).
In this regard, many Russians today, softly condemn the massive purges that were led by Stalin during his reign. What is even more startling however, is the fact that some Russians deny that the purges even took place (1555). Yet, taking into consideration the plummeting living conditions after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it should not be surprising that many Russians are looking back at Stalin era with a growing nostalgia. For many, war veterans and communists, Stalin was a leader who led the country to victory over the Nazi Germany, thus transforming the Soviet Union into one of the world’s superpowers. In addition, the nostalgia for Stalinism is gaining momentum among the Russian youth, who are disillusioned by market economy and Western values in general.
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