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Stalin’s Great Turn and Russian Stateism
Under the New Economic Policy instituted by Lenin in 1921, Russia was able to stabilize an economy and agricultural system ravaged by war, civil uprising and uncertainty. The New Economic policy was designed to bridge the gap between a capitalist and socialist economic system, and was never intended to be a permanent solution, doomed to be abandoned in the next leap forward in the quest for socialism. In order to overthrow the New Economic Policy implemented by Stalin’s predecessor, Stalin employed the use of statism to exert centralized governmental control over the country as a whole, dictating policies and asserting control over intellectual, social, economic and creative spheres where governmental control previously could not reach. Under Stalin’s statism, he sought to implement centeralized control by the state of the market, which was doomed to fluctuations between supply and demand under the capitalist systems of the West. Statism under Stalin was defined as complete control by the state over all aspects of life, essentially implementing an ideology by which the needs of the state always superseded the needs of the individual, and that individual rights were supplanted by the needs of the state itself. By boasting of the capabilities of the Russian economy independent of outside Western (and therefore capitalist) influence, Stalin was able to both create and strengthen his absolute hold on power inside the Russian state. This shift fostered the ideologies and circumstances that would then allow the purges that were already on the horizon to take place – in fact creating situations that would justifiably render them necessary, at least from Stalin’s perspective. The implementation of the first Five-Year Plan and the destruction of the NEP also foresaw the inevitably growing tension between Russia and the West, which would in turn help to bolster and intensify the cold war at the end of WWII.
Did Stalin's Implementation of Statist Ideology Contribute to his Tyrannical Regime?
The Implementation and Affect of Stateism
Under Lenin’s New Economic Policy, the march towards complete socialism was temporarily halted as the control of agricultural production rested in the hands of millions of peasants throughout the Russian countryside who were able to manipulate and withhold grain surplus from the cities and government reserves that desperately needed it. Stalin saw this holdover to capitalism as detrimental and dangerous to the continuation of the Bolshevik party under his control. He recognized the need for the NEP, and also used Lenin’s words to his advantage, that the NEP was a temporary retreat, in order to “take a run and make a more powerful leap forward.” By using Lenin’s words and framing his predecessor’s intent to fall in line with his policy shift towards industrialization at any cost, Stalin was able to solidify the state (and his) economic power through centralized government and oversight. Stalin compared aid from the West to submitting to slavery, declaring victory over Russia’s capitalist opponents both abroad and at home with his boasts of large gains, increased industrialization and rates of production. Under Stalin, the desire for private capital or private property was nothing more than greed, and that the good of the state equated to the good of the people which it ruled over.
In order to financially support his demands for increased capital from the agricultural peasantry, Stalin’s first Five-Year plan called for the collectivization of 25% of all available agricultural land, while simultaneously demanding a 150% increase in production. Collectivization was considered initially under Lenin to implement a socialist system that was temporarily suspended due to the implementation of the New Economic Policy. Since the agricultural power resided in the hands of the peasant farmers and collectivization would move that power to the hands of the state under a statist regime, collectivization was justifiably necessary in order to ensure that the cities and the state received its share of the food production. Individually supervising twenty four million individual households and farms was not only impractical, it was impossible as well, and collectivization solved the problem while also allowing for mechanization and agricultural industrialization. Collectivization also ensured that the state would be supplied to the state regularly, but cheaply as well, freeing up capital and infrastructure for the commitment Stalin had made to heavy industry. While the Right protested the implementation of forced collectivization as a destruction of the alliance between proletarian and peasants, their concerns were dismissed as Stalin equated them with capitalistic holdovers to an old regime, accusing his opponents of stalling (if not derailing) the revolutionary momentum. By referring to the opposition as deviants, enemies of the people and enemies of the state as a whole, he was able to minimize the effect of the voice of opposition overall, stifling what were often times valid concerns with his plan for rapid expansion, industrialization and investments in heavy industry when often the capital did not exist to sustain it.
Stalin’s first Five-Year plan implemented a sweeping “vision of the future. It described in general terms what lay ahead in the planned period in all fields of human activity – not only in the economy, but also in education, science, culture and internationally” As the Five-Year plan unfolded, Stalin’s implementation of statism and his control over all aspects of Russian life continued unchecked – and resistance was met with swift reprisals, deportations, executions and censorship. The first reprisal against those accused of being kulaks were financial. Huge household taxes – to be paid in either money or food - were imposed, with a demand to be paid within twenty-four hours. When the family could not pay, their farms were confiscated, often by military force, and the owners arrested or deported north. With the kulak removal, peasants were allowed to move into the property to create a collective farm, which adhered to Stalin’s new economic policy under the Five-Year plan. Under the Five-Year Plan, Stalin took his first steps towards what would be known as the Great Purges, beginning with the powerful peasantry that disrupted his ideals of collective agriculture and the implementation of socialism throughout the country. His plan also sought to eliminate the entire kulak class, and the definitions varied to ultimately include anyone who disagreed with the policy or with soviet leadership overall.
Although Stalin and the Soviet leadership desired to implement socialism at practically any cost, the creation and enforcement of the first Five-Year plan devastated and destroyed the soviet agricultural economy for at least twenty years due to resistance by the very people who were being coerced, manipulated and ultimately bullied into producing it. This move towards totalitarian, dictatorial control of Stalin over the Russian empire had a lasting impact on Soviet culture, economics, science and technology. While Stalin boasted greatly exaggerated achievements reached by the enforcement of his Great Turn, his people began what would become a trend of living in fear for not only their livelihoods, but often their very lives. With over five million peasants deported, and the Great Purge just around the corner, the reality of life in the USSR under Stalin was anything but the Socialist Ideal that he lauded, bragged about and encouraged.
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Kimball, Robert Allen. “Statism: The Rise of Total Government in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Kimball Files. 2010. http://pages.uoregon.edu/kimball/sttism.htm