Economic problems have been a part of Russian society since the days of Tsraist rule and were part of the reasons that attributed to the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 as well as the prior unrest before them. These problems worsened during the First World War and the Russian Civil War when Lenin was forced to adopt a policy of War Communism and later the New Economic Policy (NEP) to rebuild what was a shattered economy. The NEP was a response to anger over war communism in which peasants saw little point in working harder to produce more food, which was taken away from them without compensation. The result was that farmers only produced enough to satisfy their own needs, leading to food shortages during the droughts of 1920-21 and thus rendering war communism a failure. This failure combined with the naval mutiny at Kronstadt, convinced Lenin to change his approach to the economic crises. He experienced moderate success in rebuilding the economy and if it weren't for his premature death in 1924, may have continued to lead Russia out of the 'backwardness' that had hampered the nation in the global economy. Stalin's economic policies had moderate, short-term success. The focus was on rapid industrialisation. Russian industry at the time was behind in coal and steel produce to non-industrial countries such as France and were a long way behind the major industrial powers of Britain, Germany and the USA. His efforts to expand was motivated by his belief that the major western powers would invade Russia to stamp out communism. This again, asks the question of whether his policies were necessary for his people or to his own ideology. A fear that may or may not have existed in reality. Lowe's opinion, "Stalin believed that a rapid of heavy industry was essential so that Russia would be able to survive the attack which he convinced would come sooner or later from the Western capitalist powers who hated communism," suggests that the series of five year plans which plunged Russia into rapid expansion, was in the interests of his agenda to preserve communism rather than for the benefit of the working and lower classes which weren't even suppose to exist under Marxism. His fears can be partly justified, as it became known that "conservative regimes everywhere made no secret of their hatred of the Soviet Union." This seems the more likely scenario in assessing Stalin's aims. The necessity was there to expand, but the extreme approach taken meant that this necessity went beyond that which will benefit the people. The heavy workload on miners and factory workers and later, the collectivisation policy on agriculture, caused suffering for most of the population. Workers had to face accusations of sabotage if the produce was not of high quality or if there were accidents. Kulaks were being arrested and executed, breaking peasant morale (and resistance), already suffering from the famines caused by collectivisation. By 1937, well over 90% of farmland had been collectivised to pay for major projects such as rail, roads and trivial things such as the great statues of Stalin which began appearing all over Russia. A foreign journalist spoke of the unimaginable horror, "Mothers killed and ate their children. Human flesh was sold at the market. Dead horses were dug up and eaten. Bark and leather was ground up to make a sort of flour. The famine which claimed their lives was entirely man-made." This horror would perhaps have been lessened if the tons of food not exported, had been redistributed back to the peasantry."Tons of grain not exported, left to rot while guarded by troops and barbed wire." Historians, generally agree that the disaster was man-made, but have been divided over the extent of the tragedy. Robert Conquest believed the number of deaths to be around 7 million, while others such as Dana Dalrymple estimated the total at around 5 million deaths. There are many different interpretations on the number of deaths and it would be impossible to judge the amount accurately given the famine was widely spread across large and remote parts of the country. Either way, the figure is excessive when compared with the gains of collectivisation. Stalin's leadership, even at great human expense, did improve Russian industry. Collectivisation providing the money for factories and machines through the export of agricultural produce. By 1940, Russia had overtaken Britain in iron and steel production and was well within reach of Germany. But the human costs involved can not be ignored, which is why the necessity of such an approach seemed more for the benefit of his ideology than for the people he was meant to be governing. These costs encouraged further problems, which were not dealt with. Stalin could claim that his economic policies were a success; greater mechanisation had increased grain output to over 80% higher than in 1913. On the other hand, so much livestock had been slaughtered that the industry never fully recovered and the cost in human life and suffering was enormous. His economic policies therefore, were more necessary in terms of satisfying his own ideology than they were for his people, as more problems were created because of them.
Politics had been similarly inundated by major change. From the turn of the century, Russian politics had been shaped and reshaped in a space of only a few years, until the long period of Stalin's rule. The strength of communism in his government, is however, questionable given that Stalin's reign seemed more autocratic than Marxists. This view is quite valid given all the evidence that supports this claim. He was, after all, a man who could take absolutely no criticism and as a result, was responsible for the long period of terror, otherwise known as 'The Purges'. It all began with the assassination of Sergey Kirov, on 1st December 1934 by the assassin Leonid Nikolaev. Kirov's bodyguard, Borisov, had been detained during the shooting, leaving Kirov unprotected. Borisov would be killed in the back of a truck by two NKVD men only days later, when they brought him to testify at the inquiry into the crime. Those two men, would later be murdered themselves. Nikolaev, was shot in December and his family, even his semi-literate mother were arrested. So we see a chain of suspicious murders following Kirov's, supposedly to prevent the truth being told. While there is no documented evidence that it was Stalin himself who ordered Kirov's assassination, many historians agree that this was probably the case as Kirov was potentially 'dangerous' to Stalin's regime. Conquest writes, "It is clear enough that Stalin gave the ordersÃ¢â‚¬Â¦writers including myself, have written of this operation to the effect that it constitutes, even by Stalin's standards. An abysmally black deed." The reason behind the assassination was that Kirov had popular support from the people who wanted a replacement for Stalin. This was one of the political problems that Stalin had to contend with. Opposition was strong following his mediocre success with his economic reforms. While he still had a group of so-called, 'Loyal Stalinists' who shared in Stalins belief of terror against the peasantry, there was increasing opposition and criticism from the men who once supported Stalin in his rise to power. They thought that he was too militant to cope with what they called, 'the new phrase' (a more ambitious approach towards the future) and that he should remain in a more decorative post. Effectively giving up the General Secretaryship to Comrade Kirov. All this was detailed in a document known as the Ryutin Platform, which in a particularly scathing condemnation of Stalin, said, "The evil genius of the revolution who, motivated by power and revenge, brought the revolution to the verge of ruin." Perhaps, given this Stalin had cause to be concerned about his position. He was certainly paranoid about being conspired against from within his own government and by foreign powers such as Hitler and the Japanese, both of whom he feared would back the opposition in return for territory. It all goes back to whether he was working for the people or for himself. The latter seems the more plausible answer as his purges did not stop with the arrests of those involved with the document. Albert Marrin even goes as far as saying, "He realised that countless Russians hated him-had to hate him for the misery he caused." Again, this seems an accurate assessment. Although it could also be argued that Stalin's strict regime was for Russia's own good and that he did not see himself as a heartless dictator, but a saviour of mother Russia. McNeal believes, that "From youth until death he was a fighter in what he and many regared as a just war." This is an issue of great debate and will probably never be resolved as we can never know what Stalin was thinking at the time. Either way, it cannot be disputed that his approach to politics was the 'greater problem' for the Soviet Union and not what he himself believes were the problems. The assassination of Kirov was only the first of many purges which would see millions dead and many of the original Bolsheviks arrested, humiliated in show trials and executed behind closed doors. Kaminev, Bukharin and Zinoviev, such prominent figures in the Russian Revolution suffered such fates. Close friend, Sergi, committed suicide, apparently after a conversation with Stalin. Even Trotsky, who was exiled during Stalin's rise, was found and murdered by a man wielding a pick-axe in Mexico. Away from the government officials, people in towns and villages were encouraged to denounce neighbours who were, 'enemies of the people'. Millions disappeared because of this. In Odessa a single communist denounced 230 people. How can this, Stalin's approach to what he deemed or what he saw as his own political problems, not be the greater political problem that he had caused. Certainly, at Kirov's funeral when he bent down to kiss the corpse on the cheeks, he saw it as being more useful to him dead than alive. His purge also targeted many highly ranked military officials, who as a result, were not there to lead Russia in the Second World War. This of course, had a disastrous effect on Russia's performance. Therefore, in solving Russia's political problems or rather, solving his own political problems, Stalin in doing so created greater problems for his country.
In terms of foreign policy, Stalin kept mainly to internal affairs, until the establishment of the Cominterm. He had reasonable success in this area."By the early 1930's, the Stalinization of the Comintern was reasonably completeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Stalin had a powerful instrument for political and propagandist intervention in the West and in the world as a whole." Clearly this meant that 'Socialism in One Country' had never abandoned the possibility of a socialist 'World Revolution'. However to achieve his aims, he had to develop Russia into an economic power. This was the reason behind the excessive collectivisation of grain, which he saw was a 'strategic grain reserve'. The effects of that policy have already been documented. Stalin's foreign policy (mainly economic goals) had disastrous repercussions for the general population and therefore his approach to political matters, again, did more harm than good.
Stalin obviously felt that in order to shape and rule Russia under his regime, social activities needed to be controlled just as much as economic and political life. He aimed at complete and unchallenged power for himself and his suspicion and intolerance of criticism in political circles, was also reflected in society. It fact it could be said that the Soviet Union's social problems were entirely Stalin's own making. Oppression was a major problem in society during that period. Art and culture were convincingly repressed to prevent criticism of Stalin's reign. Writers, artists and musicians were expected to produce works of realism, glorifying soviet achievements. Those who did not, were persecuted. Even those that tried often fell foul of Stalin. The young composer Shostakovich, had written an opera titled, "Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk," which originally won praise from music critiques, but was banned by Stalin because it had failed to please him. Similarly during the days of Lenin, a cartoonists had captured the likeness of the Bolshevik elite, with humorists drawings that amused everyone, including Lenin and Trotsky. When Stalin came to power, he had them banned. He simply did not allow any criticism. Secret police kept such a strict watch that, according to an American Ambassador, "half the artists and musicians in Moscow are having nervous prostration and others are trying to imagine how to write in a manner which would please Stalin." These people had to continue with their art forms, even though the art of expression was effectively gone, because it was their livelihood. They didn't know how to do anything else. Education, although compulsory and free, only served to indoctrinate children into worshipping Stalin's leadership and like everything, was also closely watched by secret police. Literacy however, did increase, as did improved social services. Perhaps this is one of the only social reforms that did improve the standard of living in society. The Orthodox Church didn't escape persecution either. Many churches were closed down during the 1930's. But in response to the fact that over half the population were still believers by 1940, persecution was relaxed to help maintain morale during the war. This was one of the only concessions that Stalin had agreed to. Marriages between Soviet citizens and foreigners were also outlawed. Hundreds of marriages, even ones made before the law took effect, were tragically broken. This law in effect, caused problems that were not previously there.
Perhaps the best way to assess the necessity of Stalin's reign is to examine the aftermath of his death in 1953. Nikita Kruschev became his successor in 1956. The long time henchman, at once began a program of 'De-Stalinization'. Stalin's body was taken from his place beside Lenin in Red Square and entombed in cement. Statues and monuments were destroyed. Towns and streets, most notable Stalingrad, were renamed. This destruction of history, illustrates the fact that even his closes allies did not completely agree with Stalin's plans. A fair amount of his work was deemed as 'crimes against the people'. Kruschev is quoted as saying, "Stalin had abused his power and created a "cult personality." Great Stalin was a myth." While the most likely reason for Kruschev's speech was to bolster his own position he nevertheless understood the evils of Stalins reign and how, for most of it, had shaped the nation for the worst. Otherwise he would most likely have gone on to say how he could emulate his predecessor.
The overall assessment of Stalin's can be described as excessive, compulsive and extreme. Certainly, the revolution did bring hard times. Most revolutions do. However, instead of improving things for the Soviet Union, as his rule should have done, he brought upon harsher times for the Russian people. "Since 1929, the economic, political and moral situation was worse than it had been remembered in history." This assessment from Conquest, illustrates the rule, that according to Lenin, should have never been. Stalin's approach to solving economic, political and social problems did do more harm than good. The Five Year Plans and collectivisation were brought in to rebuild the economy. They were somewhat successful, but it was at the expense of millions of peasants and workers, most of whom ended up starving to death.
Political problems were similarly his own doing. There was some opposition in his party, but his extreme approach did nothing to strengthen Russia and only served to hinder progress as thousands of competent men and women were purged from government. If Stalin could not accept criticism, even from the peasants, how could he handle political matters in the best way possible? No one would dare or was left to advise him. His intolerance was further extended into society. Purges and persecution did nothing for the morale of the Russian citizens. Years of art and expression were also lost. Was all this necessary in order to about the very few successes he did bring? Ask a Russian peasant or even Nikita Kruschev and he'll say, "No it wasn't."
Conquest.R (1991). Stalin: Breaker of Nations. Viking, Middlesex.
Huges. (1990). Red Empire.
Lowe.N. (1988). Mastering Modern World History 2nd ed. McMillan, London.
Marrin.A. (1988). Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel. Viking, Ontario.
McNeal.R (1989). Stalin: Man and Ruler. Papermac, London.
Watson.J. (1991). Success in 20th century World Affaires 3rd ed. John Murray, London.
Ward.C. (1994). Stalin's Russia. Edward Arnold.