Understanding of Stalin and Soviet Union

Soviet Union and Stalin Era

Understanding of Stalin and Soviet Union

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The Soviet economic system persisted for around 60 years and even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the basic elements of the system still existed. The leaders exercising the most substantial influence on this system were — Vladimir I. Lenin and Stalin, who started the prevailing patterns of collectivization and industrialization that became typical characteristic of the Soviet Union’s centrally planned system. However, by 1980, the inherent defects became apparent as the national economy suffered; shortly thereafter, reform programs began to alter the traditional structure. One of the chief reformers of the late 1980s, Boris Yeltsin, oversaw the substantial dissolution of the central planning system in the early 1990s.

After the Lenin’s demise, two conflicting schools of thought emerged about the future of the Soviet Union in party debates. Left-wing communists believed that world revolution was essential for survival of socialism in the economically backward Soviet Union. Trotsky, who was one of the primary proponents of this position, called for Soviet support of a permanent world revolutionary society. According to the domestic policy, the left wing advocated the rapid development of the economy and the creation of a socialist society. The right wing of the party, in contrast to these militant communists, recognizing that world revolution was unlikely in the immediate future, supported the gradual development of the Soviet Union through continuation of pragmatic programs like the NEP. Yet even Bukharin, one of the major right-wing theoreticians, believed that socialism could not triumph in the Soviet Union without assistance from more economically advanced socialist countries. Against this backdrop of contrasting perceptions of the Soviet future, the leading figures of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik), the new name of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) as of December 1925, competed for influence. The Kamenev-Zinov’yev-Stalin troika, although it supported the militant international program, successfully maneuvered against Trotsky and engineered his removal as commissar of war in 1925. In the meantime, Stalin gradually consolidated his power base and when he had sufficient strength, broke with Kamenev and Zinov’yev. Belatedly recognizing Stalin’s political power, Kamenev and Zinov’yev made amends with Trotsky in order to join against their former partner. But Stalin countered their attacks on his position with his well-timed formulation of the theory of ‘socialism in one country.’ This doctrine, calling for construction of a socialist society in the Soviet Union regardless of the international situation, distanced Stalin from the left and won support from Bukharin and the party’s right wing. With this support, Stalin ousted the leaders of the ‘Left Opposition’ from their positions in 1926 and 1927 and forced Trotsky into exile in 1928. As the NEP era ended, open debate within the party became increasingly limited as Stalin gradually eliminated his opponents.

Under Stalin, the government socialized agriculture and created a massive bureaucracy to administer policy. Stalin’s campaign of forced collectivization, which began in 1929, removed the land, machinery, livestock and grain stores of the peasantry. By 1937, the government had organized approximately 99% of the Soviet countryside into state-run collective farms. Under this inefficient system, instead of increasing, the agricultural production decreased. The situation persisted into the 1980s, when Soviet farmers averaged about 10% of the output of their counterparts in the United States. During Stalin’s regime, the government also assigned virtually all farmland to one of two basic agricultural production organizations, state farms and collective farms. In 1918, as the ideal model for socialist agriculture, the state farm was envisioned. It was to be a large, modern enterprise directed and financed by the government. The workforce of the state farm received wages and social benefits comparable to those enjoyed by industrial workers. On the contrary, the collective farm was a self-financed producer cooperative that farmed parcels of land that the state granted to it rent-free and that paid its members according to their contribution of work. In their early stages, the two types of organization also functioned differently in the distribution of agricultural goods. State farms delivered their entire output to state procurement agencies in response to state production quotas. Collective farms also received quotas but they were free to sell excess output in collective-farm markets, where prices were determined by supply and demand. The distinction between the two types of farms gradually narrowed and the government converted many collective farms to state farms, where the state had more control. Private plots also played a critical role in the Soviet agricultural system. The government allotted small plots to individual farming households to produce food for their own use and for sale as an income supplement. Throughout the Soviet period, the productivity rates of private plots far exceeded their size. With only 3% of total sown area in the 1980s, they produced over a quarter of agricultural output. A number of factors made the Soviet collectivized system inefficient throughout its history. Because farmers were paid the same wages regardless of productivity, there was no incentive to work harder and more efficiently. Administrators, who were unaware of the needs and capabilities of the individual farms, decided input allocation and output levels and the high degree of subsidization eliminated incentives to adopt more efficient production methods.

The Warsaw Pact: The Warsaw Pact or Warsaw Treaty was a military alliance of the Eastern European Soviet Bloc countries intended to organize against the apparent threat from the NATO alliance, established in 1949. The treaty was drafted by Khrushchev in 1955 and signed in Warsaw on May 14, 1955; its members were all the Communist countries of Eastern Europe — Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia except Yugoslavia. The members of the Warsaw Pact pledged to defend each other if one or more of the members were attacked. The Warsaw Pact was dominated by the Soviet Union. Efforts to leave the Warsaw Pact by member countries were crushed, for example during the Hungarian revolution of 1956, Hungary planned to leave the Warsaw Pact and declare themselves neutral in the Cold War conflict between East and West but in October 1956 the Red Army entered Hungary and crushed the resistance in two weeks. Warsaw Pact forces were utilized at times, such as during the 1968 Prague Spring, when they invaded Czechoslovakia to put down the democratic reforms that were being implemented by the government there. This brought to light the Soviet policy governing the Warsaw Pact, the Brezhnev Doctrine, that stated: “When forces that are hostile to socialism and try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.” (Modern History Sourcebook: The Warsaw Pact, 1955 []) After the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Albania formally withdrew from the pact, although Albania had stopped supporting the pact as early as 1962. NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries never engaged each other in armed conflict but fought the Cold War for more than 35 years. In December 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union at the time, announced the so called Sinatra Doctrine, which stated that the Brezhnev Doctrine would be abandoned and that the Eastern European countries could do what they liked. When it was clear that the Soviet Union would no longer use force to control the Warsaw Pact countries a series of rapid changes started in Eastern Europe in 1989. The new governments in Eastern Europe were much less supportive to the Warsaw Pact, and in January 1991 Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland announced that they would withdraw all support by July 1st that year. Bulgaria followed the same suit in February and it became apparent that the pact was effectively dead. The Soviet Union acknowledged this and the pact was officially dissolved at a meeting in Prague on July 1, 1991.

The collectivization of agriculture: During 1932-33, Russia committed the most outrageous genocide in the history of mankind. Over seven million Ukrainians, hundreds of thousands of Don Cossacks, North Caucasians, Byelorussians and other Russians fell victim to artificial famine, systematically organized by Russian colonialists. The Russian position in Ukraine had been undermined. Millions of Ukrainian peasants resisted forced collectivization. The collectivization of agriculture signifies not only an economic category but also a military one. It was a tool of Russia’s domination over the conquered nations. Collectivization was a Russian way of life, which Russia imposed forcefully upon the oppressed peoples to rule over them. It was a means of stifling private initiative, a totalitarian form of imperio-colonialist domination. Hundreds of thousands of privately owned farms were tantamount to hundreds of thousands of points of resistance to the Russian way of life. A collectivized village meant total control over the farmer. It was a massive attempt at mastering him. It was an attempt to prevent food assistance to the insurgents as well. The collective farms in the subjugated countries were the Russian control centers of this aspect of life too. A Ukrainian peasant was an individualist. He loathed collective economy. He stood for a peasant’s private ownership of land. Collectivization of agriculture, therefore, was a thoroughly political and ideological category, not only an economic one.

Collectivization was a leveling of life in order to stifle everything creative in a human being. Collectivization was a method of national oppression with the help of massive efforts to impose a hostile ideology of life upon a subjugated nation. The French, the English, the Dutch and the Belgians by no means imposed their way of life upon the countries acquired by them. But, the Russian did the contrary. They force their way of life upon the subjugated nations as a means of dominating them. Thus, for instance, in literature or art socialist realism was a form of Russian imperialism. It was an attempt at spiritual Russification, which hand in hand with linguistic Russification was to force the subjugated peoples to accept the ‘reality’ of Russian slavery, the dictates of Russia, as the subject of their creativity. Russia sent its troops to take away the harvest, the bread, from Ukraine by force. Hundreds of thousands of Russian troops plundered Ukrainian villages, confiscating all grain and killing people. The Ukrainian peasant resisted joining the kolkhoz, resisted giving his land to the Russians. An uneven battle ensued. The Ukrainian village rose against collectivization. The peasants perished in battle with Russian troops, but did not go to the kolkhozes. The struggle continued for many months. The Russian armies crushed the peasants’ uprising against collectivization. They took bread from Ukraine to Russia. The Ukrainian peasants perished by the millions in the villages and in the streets of cities. Ukraine did not surrender. When the mothers and children, and the elderly and the sick were dying in the streets of towns and villages, the insurrection was crushed by the Russians The Russian tyrants, Stalin and Molotov, temporarily crushed the resistance of the Ukrainian nation at the price of millions of Ukrainian victims. Several million so-called kulaks, i.e. Ukrainian well-to-do farmers, were forcefully deported to Siberia either to concentration camps or to dig canals. At that time, the Ukrainian nation lost over ten million victims of Russian Bolshevik terror. However, Russia failed to break the Ukrainian nation. It revived again. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) organized the struggle of the nation anew and continue to do so at present. Ukraine continued to fight.

The Battle of Stalin Grad: Russia has always had the cities, which played a most significant part in its history. Undoubtedly, Stalingrad is doubtfully one of those cities. It has become the symbol of pain and suffering, the symbol of the greatest fortitude of the soviet nation. Stalingrad Battle is one of the supreme battles of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, the war of the Soviet Union against Germany and its allies — Hungary, Italy, Romania and Finland. The Great Patriotic War presents itself as the most important part of the World War II. With the constantly growing tension of the forces on the both sides, The Stalingrad Battle lasted 200 days and nights – since July 17, 1942 up to February 2, 1943. The Stalingrad Battle can be relatively divided into two periods — the defensive one, starting from the July 17 up to November 18, 1942 and the offensive one, beginning from the November 19, 1942 up to February 2, 1943. The news of the beginning of the Stalingrad Battle reached Stalingrad on July 22, 1942. By the evening of the same day all the military enlistment, offices were overcrowded with volunteers, willing to head off for the defense of their homeland. From the very outset of the war the military forces of the U.S.S.R. were combined of the Red Army (land forces), air forces and naval forces. By the same time, Germany had all the modern military forces – Verrmaht, which had gained the battle-tried experience while capturing the countries of the Eastern Europe and included land, air and naval forces. Since the very first days of the war, Stalingrad turned into one of the largest arsenals in the southwest of the country. The plants and the factories of the city were occupied with the production and maintenance of tanks, artillery guns, mortars, watercrafts, submachine guns and other armaments. Several militia units were formed in Stalingrad. The city turned into a sizable hospital center. The Stalingrad Defense Committee was founded, which played an important role in the coordination of the actions of the civil and military officials. The plans of the German command for the summer of 1942 had the aim of destroying soviet armies in the south of the country, taking over the oil regions of Caucasus, agricultural regions of Don and Kuban, interrupting the communication between the center of the country and the Caucasus and forming the conditions for the victorious ending of the war. In the months of December and January, the German 6th Army fought a desperate contest against Soviet forces. Hitler ordered that the German Armies may not surrender; they must fight to the bitter end. Most of the soldiers followed Hitler’s orders and fought heroically to the death. Finally, with no food and supplies, the situation for the Germans looked bleak. The Army was on the verge of starvation. Field Marshall Paulus had no choice but to surrender what was left of the 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army. The Casualties in the battle of Stalingrad were catastrophic for both sides. The Germans lost 147,000 men and 91,000 were taken prisoner. The Red Army paid a huge price for victory, some half million men were killed in the battle. The battle of Stalingrad showed to the world that the mighty German war machine was vulnerable. It gave overwhelming confidence and strength to the Red Army. Also, the battle became the turning point on the Eastern Front. The Red Army began to slowly push the invaders out of the Soviet Union.

The Brezhnev Doctrine: Leonid Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union longer than any previous leader except Stalin. Communists say that the Soviet Union, under his leadership, improved the standards of living by raising urban salaries by around 75%, doubling rural wages, building millions of one-family apartments, and manufacturing large quantities of consumer goods and home appliances. Under his tutelage, industrial output also increased by 75%, and the Soviet Union became the world’s largest producer of oil and steel. Others note the economic inefficiency that became notorious under Brezhnev, the repression of those who disagreed with the Soviet regime and the environmental vandalism that occurred throughout the country. He also introduced the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated:

When forces that are hostile to socialism and try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.” This effectively meant that no country was allowed to leave the Warsaw pact, and the doctrine was used to justify the invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. In 1988, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev officially abandoned the doctrine and replaced it with the Sinatra Doctrine in which each nation was allowed to develop in their own way.

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a 10-year war, which wreaked incredible havoc and destruction on Afghanistan. The ‘shooting’ war is generally held to have started December 24, 1979. Soviet troops ultimately withdrew from the area between May 15, 1988 and February 2, 1989. On February 15, the Soviet Union officially announced that all of its troops had left Afghanistan. The war was regarded by many as an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country by another. The United Nations General Assembly passed United Nations Resolution 37/37 on November 29, 1982, which stated that the Soviet Union forces should withdraw from Afghanistan. However, others supported the Soviet Union, regarding it as coming to the rescue of an impoverished ally, or as a pre-emptive war against Islamic terrorists. At the beginning of 1978, the Communist regime took power in Kabul. In October 1979, the Soviet Union began mobilization. In December 1979, the final airlift of combat troops in support of the assault against the government took place. The timeline below offers a list of significant events during this period.

A number of theories have been advanced for the Soviet action. Some believe the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was intended to prevent constituent SSR’s in the southern Soviet Union from breaking away. At the time of the invasion, Iran had recently staged an Islamic revolution, deposing a United States-supported government. The newly instituted government was no more friendly to the Soviet Union than to the United States. This signified an additional axis of power in Eurasian politics (along with the Soviet Union itself, the Peoples Republic of China, and NATO), much to the Soviets dismay.

After its revolution, Iran had sufficient religious, political, and economic motivations to expand revolution northward into the Soviet Union and/or eastward into Afghanistan. A similar Islamic revolution appeared to have been developing in Afghanistan. Iran (with a population of 65 million) was technologically sophisticated and well armed with Western (particularly American) military technology. Invasion of an impoverished, technologically unsophisticated Afghanistan that supplied an eastern flank to Iran was considered by most political and military strategists to be preferable for the Soviet Union to any overt action against Iran. Both theses are supported by public statements made by Leonid Brezhnev at the time declaring the Soviet Union had a right to come to the assistance of an endangered fellow socialist country. This assertion of a right is now known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.

Afghanistan is primarily rural and agrarian. The political form of government at the time was tribalistic. Strong tribal held the social order together. The Soviet Union had 2 major options for successful control: Drive the resistance (mujahadeen) out of Afghanistan, depopulating the rural areas and providing control of the cities to the Soviet-backed government. Use the shock power of mechanized combat to break the will of the resistance, causing so much destruction and dislocation that the civilian population could no longer resist. Either goal supported the Brezhnev Doctrine, solidified the southern frontier of the Soviet Union, and provided a strategic counter-point to a hostile Iran.

Bibliographies and References:

Vasyl Plyushch. “Genocide of the Ukrainian People” The Artificial Famine in the Years 1932-1933. Ukrainisches Institut fur Bildungspolitik Munchen. 1973

Clark, Alan. “The Russian German Conflict 1942-45” Quill Publishing. 1965

Alaexander Werth. “Russia at War” Carroll and Graf Publishers. 1964

Robert Conquest. “Stalin: Breaker of Nations” Penguin. 1992

Alan Bullock. “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives” Vintage Publications. 1993

Von Laue “Why Lenin? Why Stalin? Why Gorbachev?: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet System” Addison-Wesley Pub Co; 3rd edition. 1997

Adam B. Ulam. “Stalin: The Man and His Era” Beacon Press; Reissue edition. 1987

Robert Conquest. “The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine” Oxford Press; Reprint edition. 1987

Martin McCauley, “Stalin and Stalinism, Third Edition” Longman; 2003

Jeffrey Brooks. “Thank You, Comrade Stalin!: Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to Cold War” Princeton University Press; 2001

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