Analysis of Russia Under Joseph Stalin: Essay
Who was Joseph Stalin?
Joseph Stalin was without a doubt one of the most powerful men in the world in the 1930’s. His control over the communist party led to massive collectivization and industrialization plans, as well as huge famines and enormous death tolls. Stalin’s determination to create a perfect society and to revolutionize Russia turned into mass paranoia and chaos. From creating a huge labor camp system, to massive murders of farmers who opposed him, Stalin was willing to run over anyone who got in the way of his utopia in the making.
Joseph Stalin - The Hard Line
In a speech given by Joseph Stalin himself to a group of industrial managers in 1931, Stalin reinforced his beliefs in why they could not “slow down the tempo a bit.”(Stalin) The ideal of Russian nationalism that Stalin is trying to get his audience to feel is evident throughout the entire speech. He believes that Russia has been backwards in almost every important aspect for far too long, and if they do not catch up with the rest of the world they will be crushed by it. He backs up his idea by giving examples of different conflicts that resulted in Russian losses from the “Mongol Khans” to the “Japanese Barons” (Stalin) in the Russo-Japanese war in the early 20th Century. Stalin tells his audience that foreign countries were picking on Russia because she was easy to crush and was profitable in doing so. He says that this is the law of the capitalists, to beat the weak and exploit them in doing so. This is his evidence to back up his rapid industrialization and by putting nationalistic emotions behind it, these workers being given the idea that if they do not endure this harsh revolution they will be conquered and enslaved by the capitalist nations.
Stalin reminds these workers that they now have a fatherland which gives them something to defend. He gives them they question “Do you want our socialist fatherland to be beaten and to lose its independence,” (Stalin), of course, in this context the audience must have been cheering and chanting their love for Mother Russia. He tells them again that the only possible way to prevent a foreign domination was to correct the backwardness of Russia in the shortest possible time, because he believes that they are “fifty or hundred years behind” (Stalin) the capitalist countries and this gap should be made up in about ten years. In an attempt to further push nationalism he reminds the crowd of the October Revolution and Lenin’s words, “Either perish, or overtake and outstrip the advanced capitalist countries.”
It is evident throughout this speech that Stalin finds Russian Independence to be the most important aspect of his entire reign of power. However harsh the methods might be to achieve this he feels is vindicated by the goal. A sort of, the end justifies the means attitude. Stalin figures that however many Russian’s die while trying to put the fatherland ahead of the other capitalist nations, would be a very small amount in comparison to what it would be if they were to attacked again. At least they are dying for a just cause, in his eyes, by adding to the industrialization of their country.
Joseph Stalin - Liquidation of the Kulaks
Stalin’s Liquidation of the Kulaks speech is an attempted justification, in my opinion, of why he believes the kulaks must be, as he mentioned several times, “Eliminated as a class.”(Stalin) He constantly repeats that the policy has changed from “restricting the exploiting proclivities of the kulaks to the policy of eliminating the kulaks as a class.” (Stalin) Stalin’s reasoning for this change in policy is that because of the collectivization movement they are now able to substitute any material output the kulaks may have had by simply increasing the output or the quotas required of the state farms. Stalin uses the arguments that before these collective farms were implemented, going after the kulaks would have never been a success because they were too valuable. What Stalin failed to foresee was that this extermination of the kulaks would nearly destroy Russia’s agricultural industry. His communists were not all experienced in running these farms and as a result a massive food shortage begins.
Stalin’s wording at the end of this speech is also very interesting. “Should the kulak… be permitted to join the collective farms? Of course not, for he is sworn enemy of the collective farm movement. Clear, one would think.”(Stalin) Of course they would be against the collective farm system, they made it to where they were on their own and now they are supposed to just turn over everything to the government and go back to being poor peasants. I find it simply amazing how anyone who disagrees with anything Stalin believes is a “sworn enemy” of the nation. He seems to completely forget though, that the kulaks had a huge part in reviving the agricultural industry and alleviated some of the food shortage issues when Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” was administered. To the kulaks this collectivization plan must seem like a step back in the wrong direction after they were doing so well. Yet Stalin believes that this clearly makes them an enemy and they must be exterminated, resulting in not only the deaths of hundreds of thousands of kulaks, but also poor peasants that the secret police would claim as kulaks just to impress their commanders.
Lev Kopelev - Terror in the Countryside
Lev Koplev, a militant under Stalin, recalls some of the events that he took part in or witnessed during the raids of some small farms. Koplev remembers going into homes and being under the order to remove anything of value, silverware, stored food, cows, pigs, even extra clothing a family may have had. He is reminded of the screams and pleas of the families, as they watched these men take away their possessions. Koplev mentions that he had to continuously remind himself that they were doing this for the good of society, and that it was necessary for the revolution to succeed. He had to remember that this was part of the five year plan, and that he could not give in to the miserable cries and screams of the families who they were taking everything from.
Koplev later looks back at his time in the party and can’t believe some of the things that he was led to believe by Stalin during this time of collectivization. “With the rest of my generation I firmly believed the end justified the means”, Koplev writes. He says that this is what he had to repeat to himself whenever he began to doubt Stalin’s methods. When he saw what was really happening to the country. It became a requirement to look at the theoretical result of their actions, and to remember that the country would be better off after the suffering. Koplev says that the greatest fear for the “disciples” of communism was to lose faith in the cause and to begin to doubt that what they were doing was for a noble cause.
In this writing the mindset that was required for some of these secret police and other militants that Stalin commanded becomes clearer. Even though they struggled, at times, with their conscience, they were so sure that liquidating and stealing the property from the Kulaks was a necessity that they justified themselves by saying that it was for the good of the revolution. That it was necessary for communism to succeed and make the country a better place.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Forced Labor Camps
Gulags were an essential part of Stalin’s plan to modernize Russia. Anyone who he thought was disloyal or a threat to his goal was either killed, liquidated as he would say, or put into a gulag. Gulags were labor camps spread throughout the Soviet Union, and the prisoners of the camps were called zeks. They worked as a double edged blade in some ways, not only were they meant to punish those who were forced into them, but they also became a way to gather valuable raw materials that would not otherwise have been acquired.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a man who spent nine years inside of gulags and amazingly lived to tell the tale. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for one of his works and was exiled from Russia because of his accuracy. Solzhenitsyn tells us of some of the different jobs zeks were required to do on a daily basis, including hauling bricks, breaking stones, mining for gold, lead, and copper. By no means were these just prisoners, they were slaves. He says that in some camps not even the crippled got a free pass, “They will send out a three-man gang of armless men to stamp down the foot-and-a-half of snow.” (Solzhenitsyn) The worst job to have was to be a lumberjack, having to cut down trees, chop off all the branches, drag them to piles for burning, all while sloshing through soft deep snow. Solzhenitsyn mentions that the norm required would push most men to work until they could hardly move, sometimes working for sixteen hours a day. If the norm was not met the loggers were left in the woods until it was reached, sometimes just in time for them to get back to camp to eat the dinner that they missed and their breakfast together before going right back out to log. To make sure quotas were met, days when the loggers would not have normally been forced to work, days when it was more than sixty below zero, the managers of the gulag would make them go out anyway, collecting whatever they could to add towards their totals.
The zeks were fed very scarcely, just enough to keep them alive. The zeks only got the worst of the food that came out of the kitchens; anything decent was taken by the chiefs. Most of the time, the zeks were working in the Russian cold malnourished. The camps were usually tents, with a lamp. The prisoners had to carry their belongings with them at all times for fear of them being stolen. Any sense of individualism is lost soon after entering a gulag; they are always acting as a unit.
Russia under Joseph Stalin went through massive changes in both its industrial and agricultural sectors as well as in its population. As was seen in the two speeches by Stalin himself, he was not going to slow down the rapid five year plan to industrialize Russia, he believed that they needed to catch up with the rest of the world and the only way to do that was to push the pace. He was prepared to do whatever he had to do to make Russia into a superpower, including executing hundreds of thousands of Kulaks who did not want to give up their private property to the communists. If you weren’t killed on the spot, you could be put into mass labor camps where you worked up to sixteen hour days, sometimes full days at a time. Even his own followers began to doubt him, but they did not dare speak about it for fear of being reprimanded. They had to convince themselves that it was all for the good of the party, and that the end justifies the means. This was the basis for Stalin’s communist-socialist ideology.
Koestler, A. (1968). Darkness at Noon. New York: Scribner.
Kopelev, Lev. Terror in the Countryside
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. 1975. Forced Labor Camps
Stalin, Jospeph.1929. Liquidation of the Kulaks
Stalin, Joseph. 1931. The Hard Line