A. STALIN 1879-1953 (cf. Hitler 1889-1945; Mussolini 1883-1945; Lenin 1870-1924; Mao 1893-
1. His life. (nb. The details are very unclear, and Soviet biographies were eulogies and
contradictory. The records, of course, are not available.)
i. He was born in Gori in Georgia, the fourth and only surviving child of a peasant
(laundress) mother and a drunken (cobbler) father, who died when Stalin was 11 and had worked his last
years in a shoe factory. (There are different versions of whether he was treated well or badly by his father.)
As a child, he was apparently obstinate, striving for superiority, resentful, vindictive, and lacking in
compassion, although he himself feared being beaten.
ii. Although his father wanted him to train as a cobbler, his mother had ambitions for
him as a priest, and between 1888 and 1894 he attended a church school, followed between 1894 and
1899 by the seminary in Tiflis (which, after 1917, was called Tbilsi). He joined the Social Democratic (SD)
Party, probably in 1898, and in 1899 was expelled from the seminary for his revolutionary views (although
according to his mother, it was for health reasons).
iii. He tried tutoring, but this brought in little money, and he became a clerk in the Tiflis
Observatory. Then, from 1901, he worked as a professional revolutionary within the SD party. By 1911, he
was well known within the party, apparently for his "expropriations" (that is, organizing bank raids to
finance the party). According to the anti-Stalin Soviet historian Roy Medvedev, he took part in the raids, but
the British expert Robert Conquest thinks he did not.
iv. In 1912, when the Bolshevik Central Committee was established, he was
recognized as the expert on racial minorities and peasants. In 1913, he took the nom de guerre of
Stalin, meaning "man of steel", having previously had a number of other names, in particular, Koba, a heroic
figure in the famous Georgian novel, The Parricide, by Alexander Kazbeg.
v. Between 1902 and 1913, he was arrested six times and exiled to Siberia. Five times
he escaped, resumed his activities under a false name, and was rearrested, each time failing to be
recognized as a previous offender. There was no need for him to escape after his 6th arrest as the March
1917 revolution brought his release as part of a general amnesty of political prisoners. The way his true
identity was not noticed on his rearrest has been used as evidence for the contention that he was an agent
of the Okhrana, the Tsarist secret police, but even Medvedev can find no evidence for Stalin being a spy.
The way he escaped is often used as evidence to support the view that Stalin was an idealist, taking risks at
a time when he, like Lenin, thought that revolution was unlikely; according to others, he was extremely
ambitious and knew that the only way to gain power was by a successful revolution.
vi. A defective stiff left arm, the result of a childhood illness or an accident, saved him from
being drafted into the Russian army in 1917 during the First World War.
vii. From 1912, Stalin was on the editorial board of the party paper, Pravda (Russian for
truth), editing (and censoring) Lenin's letters from abroad. Stalin took the view at first that socialism was
impossible in a country where the proletariat was not the majority. Thus, until Lenin's April Theses 1917, he
favoured co-operation with the provisional government set up following the February/March 1917
Revolution, and continuation of the war. After Stalin's release from gaol in 1917, Viacheslav Molotov had
engineered the dropping of Stalin from the Politburo (the main Communist Party committee and, in effect,
the country's main governing body; see below, C,4,iii)), but Stalin in two days had organized his
reinstatement and control over Pravda; thereafter, Molotov remained staunchly loyal (and survived).
According to Medvedev, Stalin opposed the Bolshevik coup in October/November 1917, and took no part in
it; certainly, there is no mention of Stalin in John Reed's eye-witness account, Ten Days that Shook the
viii. Official hagiography has it that in the Civil War between 1917 and 1922 he
distinguished himself against General Denikin's White (that is, counter-revolutionary) forces in the defence
of Tsaritsyn (which was renamed Stalingrad in 1925, and then in 1961 Volgograd). Tsaritsyn was vital for the
Bolsheviks, as food supplies had to pass through the town on the way from the Volga and Caucasus regions
as the Ukraine and Siberia were cut off. Stalin, as political commissar, and in charge of food supplies,
subordinated all power to himself in the area, acting with great ruthlessness, for example, ordering hootings.
He was not a success in the later stages of the Civil War.
ix. In 1917, Stalin was made Commissar (Minister) for Nationalities. Then in 1919, he
became head of Rabkrin (the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate), with the task, among others, of seeing
that officials did not abuse their powers! In April 1922, he became General Secretary of the Party, a post
which he transformed into the most important in the party and country.
x. Lenin became alarmed at Stalin's high-handed manner (not his policies or methods)
and his "Testament" to the 13th Party Congress of 1924 recommended his replacement as Secretary.
However, Lenin died in January 1924, unexpectedly, despite his illness (strokes), and Stalin skilfully
outmanoeuvred his opponents in the power struggle against Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, for example,
using his control of the party machine, and not notifying Trotsky of the time of Lenin's funeral, so that Trotsky
was not present.
xi. By 1927, Stalin dominated the Party and Russia but opposition was still possible,
as witness the efforts by Ryutin and Smirnov to remove Stalin from his posts in 1932. However, the purges
thereafter left Stalin absolutely supreme, in a way that Hitler and Mussolini never were.
xii. In 1941, in view of the German invasion, Stalin no longer relied on indirect control but
made himself Chairman of the Council of Commissars (Prime Minister), Commissar for Defence and
Marshal of the USSR, rather than just Party Secretary.
xiii. He died on 5th March 1953 of a cerebral haemorrhage, but the details are unclear.
Officially he died in his Moscow flat, but, according to others, he died at his dacha. Possibly it was "medical
murder" in that the doctors made no effort to save his life, as apparently Stalin was planning a new purge,
following the so-called "Doctors' Plot". According to Ilya Ehrenburg in 1956, Stalin died at a meeting of the
Praesidium (the name at the time for the Politburo, the main governing body), when Lazar Kaganovich and
Anastas Mikoyan - no doubt fearing for their own lives - demanded an objective enquiry into the Doctors'
Plot and threatened the use of the army against Stalin. Stalin had suffered from heart trouble, being
seriously ill in 1933-34, and then again in 1949, after which he had a speech impediment; after 1945, he had
spent more and more time at his dacha at Kunsevo near Moscow.
2. The man.
i. "A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" was Churchill's description of
Stalin's foreign policies, but this was true of Stalin generally, and his motivation in particular. (Churchill also
said of Lenin that "the worst misfortune was his coming; the next worse was his leaving.") Was Stalin a
fanatical, unbalanced idealist or a power-seeker?
Russians now generally take the view that Stalin was driven by a lust for power and
"measureless ambition" (Roy Medvedev, 1972, in Let History Judge, where he also takes the view that Stalin
was aware of his brutality, and not mad, although he had paranoiac tendencies.). Stalin's daughter Svetlana
believed that her father was driven by a desire for power and domination over others. Earlier, the old
Bolshevik, Nikolai Bukharin, had said that Stalin would change his theories, just to remove someone from
Western historians (paradoxically?) point out that Stalin initially opposed Lenin's call
for a seizure of power and tend to see Stalin as an idealist, who was convinced that he alone could save
Russia and Communism from external enemies and catastrophic internal policies. Robert Tucker in Stalin as
Revolutionary (1974), Ronald Hingley in Stalin: Man and Legend (1974) and Adam Ulam in Stalin: the Man
and his Era (1987), for example, agree that Stalin was driven to wickedness by sincere belief that he alone
could save the situation. Hingley also asserts that "the drive to substitute for an imperfect, real society a
notional perfect society tends to create a hell on earth ... most people who seek or claim to build a Utopia by
political means do more harm than good." This would explain: his escapes from prison before 1917; his
rejection of German offers to exchange his son Yasha, a German prisoner of war, for important German
prisoners; his brutality in the purges; and his comment to the Politburo "You are blind, like kittens. What will
happen to you without me?" (But: revolution was a means to power; he had little time for his son; he was
brutal long before the purges, for example, at Tsaritsyn; and he wanted to increase his reputation and power
by making people think he was indispensable.)
ii. He was short, heavy, and stocky, with coal-black hair, black teeth, and smallpox marks
on his face, which was fatherly in appearance; two toes on his left foot were joined and he had a stiff,
defective left arm. He could take drink and enjoyed drinking others under the table. He chain-smoked
(cigarettes and a Dunhill pipe). He was generally unhealthy, smoking and drinking too much and getting little
exercise. He had heart trouble from 1933 at least.
iii. He was confident, controlled, patient, dour, taciturn, humourless (apart from a cruel
sense of humour - he loved pushing people into ponds, putting tomatoes on chairs, and seeing people get
drunk), iron-willed, cruel (amoral?), ruthless, spiteful, vengeful, distrustful (his usual doodle was wolves
attacking: him, Russia and communism presumably), and undemocratic (adopting Lenin's plaque: "Go your
way, and let the people talk."). He was not good with people (partly because of an inclination to be rude),
although he could be charming when he wanted.
He always led a simple life, mainly living in a four-roomed flat in the Kremlin, and was
outwardly modest but he also displayed a great appetite for praise. He was usually greeted as Vozhd,
meaning leader. Nikita Khrushchev (Soviet leader 1953-1964) and others later condemned the way Stalin
built up a "personality cult", that is, made himself the object of almost divine-like worship. His "inordinate
vanity" (Leonard Schapiro, in The Russian Revolution and the Origins of Present-day Communism, 1986)
prompted him in the 1930s to seek a western biographer. Discussions with Leon Feuchtwanger and André
Gide came to nothing, but the French communist, Henri Barbusse, complied with a eulogy.
He brought his second wife, Nadya, an outspoken communist, to suicide in 1932.
According to his daughter, Svetlana, she shot herself, although officially, she died of natural causes.
iv. He was a very good negotiator, administrator, and American-style party boss,
having an excellent memory, working very hard, and paying great attention to detail. He was a great
manipulator and dissimulator (for example, reassuring people whom he must have known would be arrested
shortly afterwards), with a gift for simple, plausible, innocuous statements and explanations. He was not an
intellectual ("The Party's most eminent mediocrity", according to Trotsky) or a good speaker (partly because
his Russian vocabulary was limited), but he had the gift of putting things simply and clearly. He was
pragmatic, and distrustful of rigid plans; "a practical man, trying to run a great country, and surrounded by
intellectuals" (A.J.P. Taylor).
v. Stalin was Asian rather than European, unlike Lenin and Trotsky (Lenin used "Asian"
as a term of opprobrium), and had little experience of countries outside Russia. Some historians consider
him more a Russian nationalist than an international Communist; Medvedev, for example, considers that he
was not a genuine Marxist. He seems to have had genuine strong feelings of class hatred, but he made no
effort to meet the people; he never visited a collective farm or factory; and in the war, he made only one visit
to the front, in August 1943, before the Smolensk offensive. He is often accused of anti-Semitism, and he
certainly associated Jews with capitalism and made anti-Semitic jokes. However, Zinoviev, Kaganovich, and
his secretary Mekhlis were all of Jewish origin.
According to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Norman Stone and others, Stalin merely
continued Lenin's path, and Stalin insisted to Emil Ludwig that he was "nothing but a pupil of Lenin's, and I
don't want to be known as anything else". Robert Tucker and others question this, seeing Lenin as a
break in Russian history, with his collective leadership, and party, not bureaucratic, rule, while Stalin was a
reversion to the old Russian system; Stalin restored the internal passport system and his collectivization was
a partial return to serfdom, indeed being called the "second serfdom" by the peasants. However, Stalin
found Lenin's mantle useful as a means to power.
vi. Stalin as a military commander was "mediocre" (Medvedev), despite his reputation as
an outstanding military leader. In 1920, he had refused to obey orders to transfer troops to General
Tukhachevsky, who was outnumbered on the vital Polish front, apparently hoping himself to take Lvov and
then beat the Poles; he resigned subsequently as commissar, before he was dismissed. He made no
preparations for a German attack in 1941, although he had warnings; even if he discounted these warnings,
he should have made contingency plans. Following the German attack on 22nd June l94l, he made no
public announcement between 24th June and 3rd July, apparently having lost his nerve; in addition, he
made matters worse by forbidding a strategic withdrawal to more easily defended lines, thereby helping the
German advance. He was careless about his troops, both with regard to conditions and the number of
casualties. Early defeats were blamed on the generals; when victories began, Stalin became more willing to
sign orders and the role of Grigori Zhukov and others was played down. According to Marshal Vasilevsky,
Chief of Staff, Stalin was too willing to try to advance, too slow to adapt, and made too many changes in
3. Some views on Stalin.
i. "The teacher of the Universe" (Pravda on Stalin's 50th birthday, December 1929).
"I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and to these qualities it is,
and to nothing occult or sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy in Russia. No one is
afraid of him and everybody trusts him." (H.G. Wells).
The US ambassador to Moscow (1936-38), Joseph Davis, found Stalin pleasant,
and the Canadian Lord Beaverbrook in 1941 thought him "a kindly man".
Emil Ludwig found him a "healthy moderate man, without delusions of grandeur".
"Though I knew the man to be without mercy, I respected the quality of his mind,
and even felt a sympathy which I have never been able to analyse ..... a good European" (Anthony Eden, in
1935, at the time, British Lord Privy Seal).
ii. "The greatest criminal in history" (the Yugoslav Communist, Milovan Djilas, 1911-95, in
"Conversations with Stalin", 1961. Admittedly he had earlier thought Stalin "the bitterest enemy of all that is
"A misanthropic tyrant ..... Not one of the tyrants and despots of the past persecuted
and destroyed so many of his compatriots.....He was typical of those unstable and dishonourable people,
who join a revolutionary movement and later degenerate into tyrants" (Medvedev).
"A gangster genius and a great actor" (Edward Crankshaw).
A follower of "policies of treachery and banditry" (Nikita Khrushchev).
"Pierre le Grand en rouge" (King Boris of Bulgaria).
B. THE POWER STRUGGLE ON LENIN’S DEATH IN 1924
1. There was no obvious successor to Lenin, especially as Lenin's death in January 1924 was
unexpected, for he seemed to be recovering from his stroke. In his "Political Testament" (a letter given to
his wife to be read at the 13th Party Congress in December 1924 but not in fact read out), Lenin was critical
of the main contenders, Trotsky and Stalin.
Leon (or Lev) Trotsky was the ablest, and clearly the most important figure in the
Bolshevik revolution after Lenin, having led the action in 1917, won the Civil War between 1917 and 1921,
and crushed the Kronstadt Rising in March 1921, but he was too self-confident, too inclined to "administrate"
and was never a real Bolshevik. Stalin was the "most able" after Trotsky, but he was too rude, too
capricious, and unlikely to use power well. Lenin even went as far as recommending the removal of Stalin
from his post of General Secretary (see below, section C on Government) although not from the party.
Between them, they were likely to split the party, with disastrous results. Lenin envisioned a collective
leadership, such as had, in theory, existed under him.
2. In the Politburo (See below, C,4,iii), Lenin was succeeded by a troika of Stalin, Leo (or Lev)
Kamenev and Gregori Zinoviev. (Kamenev, whose real name was Rosenfeld, was well educated and the
least revolutionary, and had acted as chairman when Lenin was ill. Zinoviev, whose real name was Ovsel
Radomyslsky was arrogant, rude, unprincipled, not especially able, but ambitious, a good speaker, able to
lead Kamenev, and, for a time, the leading member.) Aleksei Rykov succeeded Lenin as Chairman of the
Council of Commissars, that is, Prime Minister.
3. Between 1924 and l927, Stalin cleverly and gradually made himself leader, first removing
the "left opposition" and then the "right opposition".
i. In January 1925, Trotsky was replaced as Commissar for War by Mikhail Frunze.
Trotsky accepted this and did not use the army to impose his views, especially the spreading of world
revolution by force and the ending of the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1921-28; see section E below on the
Economy). Trotsky's main attackers were Zinoviev and Kamenev, supported by but not joined by Stalin.
ii. Later in 1925, Zinoviev and Kamenev formed with Trotsky "the new opposition"
against Stalin's growing power.
At the 14th Party Congress, December 1925, Kamenev attacked Stalin, saying: "We
are against the doctrine of one-man rule; we are against the creation of a leader." However, Stalin by then
had packed the party with his supporters, and advocated popular policies of "socialism in one country" and
the continuation of the NEP.
Stalin joined Prime Minister Rykov and trade union leader Mikhail Tomsky in
supporting Nikolai Bukharin, who argued not only for the continuation of the NEP but for further concessions
to the peasants, on the grounds that state control of the main industries guaranteed the survival of socialism.
Zinoviev and Kamenev argued against Bukharin, although they did not go as far as Trotsky, and called for
greater state control of the economy and rapid industrial development.
Stalin, at this stage, took a middle position in the debate between right and left,
insisting only that the USSR should build socialism by its own resources, and that socialist construction not
the export of revolution should have priority.
Eventually, the Congress supported Stalin's policy of "socialism in one country"
and condemned Trotsky's contention that, without world revolution first, the Bolshevik revolution would be
destroyed, either because the capitalists would attack, or because it would be corrupted in the backward
Soviet cultural and social environment: the attempt to export revolution by force was condemned as a recipe
for disaster. (Trotsky was internationally minded, while Stalin and the others thought along national lines.)
Stalin also condemned the Zinoviev-Kamenev line that talk about socialism was
pointless and academic, as Soviet backwardness would end only after revolution in the more advanced
countries, which would then give the lead; this line, according to Stalin, was basically the same as Trotsky's.
iii. In October 1926, after the continuation of the debate, Trotsky, Zinoviev and
Kamenev were expelled from the Politburo. On 7th November 1927, Trotsky and the others tried to
organize popular demonstrations in favour of their policies, but this led to their expulsion from the party and
banishment to the provinces. Zinoviev and Kamenev sought pardon and were readmitted to the party.
Trotsky, however, stirred discontented workers and peasants, and, in January 1929, was expelled from the
Union, going first to Turkey. (In 1935, Zinoviev and Kamenev were arrested, and shot in 1936. Trotsky was
murdered in Mexico in 1940 on Stalin's orders.)
iv. The 15th Party Congress, December 1927, saw the defeat of the "united" or "right
opposition". Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov favoured the retention of the relatively free NEP system, but
the Congress supported Stalin's call for greater state control of the economy, especially farms, and the rapid
development of industry.(See E below.) These policies were very similar to those condemned in 1925 and
1926, when advocated by Zinoviev and Kamenev. The debate continued until 1929, when Bukharin, Tomsky
and Rykov were removed from their executive positions by the Central Committee Plenum. 1929 is often
given as the start of Stalin's tyranny; however, the First Five Year Plan, implementing Stalin's 1927
recommendations, began in 1928, and the government changes of 1929 were little more than a formality.
(Between 1931 and 1937, Rykov served as Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs, but he was arrested in
1937 and executed in 1938. Bukharin became editor of the newspaper, Izvestiya, and was largely
responsible for the 1936 constitution; he too was arrested in 1937 and executed 1938.)
v. At the 16th Party congress in 1930, there was no praise of Stalin. In 1932, there were
unsuccessful attempts to remove him from power, and he was unable to secure the death penalty for those
against him. However, at the 17th congress in 1934 every speech dwelt on Stalin's greatness, and it was
clear that his opinion was more important than that of the Central Committee. Thereafter, he made himself
supreme, especially in the "Great Purge" 1936-38 (see D below), and became more powerful than ever
Hitler or Mussolini were.
4. Reasons for Stalin's success.
i. Stalin was generally underestimated by his opponents, who despised him; Trotsky
thought him "the Party's most eminent mediocrity". In fact, Stalin was extremely capable politically; for
example, he followed the advice to tyrants given by Aristotle (384-322) to remove the opposition gradually,
and arranged Lenin's funeral, without telling Trotsky when it was, so that Trotsky did not attend! He was also
ruthless; already by 1925, there were reports of the Trotsky's murder and, according to Boris Bazhanov,
Stalin's secretary from 1923 to 1925, Stalin, in October 1925, arranged the death, at the hands of doctors, of
Frunze, the War Commissar, who was very independently minded. Possibly Stalin cynically supported the
right in order to eliminate the left opposition, and then imposed ideas similar to those just condemned!
(Admittedly, 1927 was an important turning point economically; the economy was more or less back to its
1913 level, but there were shortages of manufactured goods- especially as agriculture recovered - so that
peasants were reluctant to produce. Was Stalin, at least in 1927, pragmatic rather than cynical?)
ii. Lenin, unintentionally, had given Stalin the means to impose his power. Stalin was
Commissar for Nationalities but, more important was also head of RABKRIN (the acronym for The Workers'
and Peasants' Inspectorate, supervising the bureaucracy, with a special view to eliminating bureaucratic red-
tape, inefficiency and corruption) and, above all, Party Secretary; as such, he was able to appoint
supporters to important posts throughout the USSR. While others argued about ideology, Stalin was placing
supporters and arranging his power base.
iii. Trotsky, although Commissar for War, failed to try to seize power before January
1925. Possibly Trotsky was too loyal to the revolution, but more likely, he did not want to appear a Napoleon
figure having to seize power, and thought his intelligence would win the day; in 1926, Kamenev told Trotsky
that "it will be enough for you and Zinoviev to appear together on the same platform to win back the whole
party." He was also unwell at the time, with an undiagnosed illness.
Trotsky also made the political mistake of attacking Stalin at the 13th Party
congress, 1924. This resulted in plans to replace Stalin as Secretary being shelved through fear of Trotsky
iv. Stalin advocated sensible, popular policies, especially "socialism in one country". He
condemned the plans of Trotsky and others to spread revolution, if only because it would invite foreign
retaliation. ("The export of revolution. That is nonsense.") Then there was the failure of the communist
risings in Germany in 1923 and of the 1926 General Strike in Britain, which ended hopes of world revolution
and meant that socialism would have to be constructed in the USSR, and without foreign help, if it was to be
He also pointed out that the experiences of War Communism (the economic system
in operation between 1917 and 1921) had shown the problems of trying to accelerate the establishment of
v. The timely death in 1926 of Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the secret police and a very
strong character, removed a powerful source of potential opposition.
C. THE GOVERNMENT SYSTEM
1. Stalin inherited the January 1924 constitution for the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist
i. Following the Bolshevik coup of November 1917, Lenin, in April 1918, established a
constitution for what was called the RSFSR, Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic. An All-
Russian Congress of Soviets (parliament) was chosen by indirect election; that is, villagers and townspeople
elected representatives, who elected provincial representatives, who, in turn, elected the All-Russian
Congress. There was one representative for 25,000 urban dwellers and one for every 125,000 rural
ii. Before 1917, Lenin had supported autonomy for the non-Russians of the Russian
Empire, who made up 57% of the population, and during the Russian Civil War, 1917-22, as areas such as
the Ukraine and Transcaucasia (Armenia, Azerbajan and Georgia) were brought under their control, the
victorious Bolsheviks established systems similar to that in Russia, creating autonomous republics, which
were allied to the RSFSR. Admittedly, Lenin bowed to nationalist, bourgeois, non-Bolshevik sentiment in
certain areas; for example, 1917-20, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia seized their independence, and,
following a vote in April 1918, Bessarabians joined Romania.
iii. Lenin and the other leaders of the Communists, as the Bolsheviks called
themselves from 1918, had always envisaged a federation of Soviet Republics, including in particular
German Soviets, which it had been hoped would give the lead to the predominantly agrarian Russians. Thus
the alliances (see ii. above) were considered inadequate and only temporary, especially as they would likely
be an insufficient safeguard against the bourgeois nationalists seizing independence and overthrowing the
revolution. Consequently, once the Civil War was over, communist representatives from Russia,
Belorussia, Transcaucasia, and the Ukraine agreed in December 1922 to establish a union, called the
USSR, of the 54 nations of the old Russian Empire. The constitution was written in 1923 and ratified on 31
January 1924. (Lenin had died 21st January 1924.)
2. Main features of the 1924 constitution (which was based on the US model).
i. Each republic elected representatives (by indirect election as under the 1918
RSFSR constitution) to a state soviet but in addition the soviet of each Republic elected
representatives to an All-Union Congress over 2,000 in number. The unequal representation for rural
and urban workers was retained, that is, one representative for 25,000 urban and one for 125,000 rural
voters; the village and town soviets were elected, as before in Russia, openly by a show of hands; all over
18 years voted, except for Romanovs, former officials, clergy and bourgeois. Initially, there were four
Republics: Russia, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Transcaucasia (= Georgia, Armenia and Azerbajan). The
number increased to sixteen with:-
a. the separation from Russia of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in 1924, Tajikistan in
1929, and Kazakhstan and Kirghizia in 1936.
b. the division in 1936 of Transcaucasia into Georgia, Armenia and Azerbajan.
c. the reacquisition in 1940 by conquest of Bessarabia, Lithuania, Latvia and
Estonia, and the conquest from Finland of the Karelo-Finnish Republic (which in 1956 was brought into the
RSFSR, so that there were 15 republics).
ii. The All-Union Congress met briefly every two years in the Bolshoi Theatre. It
selected, from its members, a Central Executive Committee to do its work between sessions. The Central
Executive Committee was in two sections, usually meeting separately:-
a. the Council or Soviet of the Union (at first 414 members and later 371)
representing the people of the republics according to the size of the population.
b. the Council or Soviet of the Nationalities, with five representatives from each
of the Republics (and one from autonomous regions, which had been set up within the Republics). Each
soviet elected a Praesidium of seven (later nine) to serve as an executive; in theory, the Praesidiums
controlled the government.
iii. The Central Executive Committee appointed the Council of People's Commissars
or Ministers (Sovnarkom). It was this Council, which, with the Party officials, actually ran the USSR.
iv. Responsibilities were divided between Republic and Union governments, but the
central federal powers were so wide that there was little freedom for the Republics (for example, the Union
controlled transport, principles of economic and political life, posts and telegraph, finance, defence and
foreign policy; the Republics dealt with education, justice, social security, public health).
v. nb. The Union was dominated by Russia. Not only did Russia have over half
the population but it was also divided into sufficient autonomous regions to give it a majority in the Soviet of
It was the Party, not the elected officials, that ran the USSR.
3. 1936, the new constitution (The Fundamental Law; 146 articles in 13 chapters; in operation
until 1977) which, in practice, changed little.
i. Reasons for the new constitution.
In the early 1930s, Serge Kirov and other leaders were urging the
democratization of the government machinery (for example, the abolition of the town-country distinction),
in the belief that the initial harshness of the dictatorship was no longer necessary. Thus, in July 1934, OGPU
(the Secret Police) was abolished and its judicial functions transferred to the regular courts, with the
Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) handling administration.
The growing German-Japanese threat caused Stalin to work for rapprochement
with the West, for example, by joining the League of Nations. A new and apparently more democratic
constitution might make the West more amenable. It would be good propaganda (according to Stalin, it was
the most democratic system in the world, and it certainly looked good on paper), even if nothing much
changed in practice, as the Party would continue to dominate.
ii. The new constitution for the 11 Republics (mainly Bukharin's work and clearly very
much influenced by the US constitution), cynically inaugurated as the Great Purge began. (See below, D,
The Elimination of Opposition).
Voting was now direct, by all over 18 (candidates had to be over 23), and all votes
were equal (that is, the urban advantage was ended). The ballot became secret, but the candidates were
official ones nominated by "public organizations and associations of the working people, Communist Party
organizations and cultural societies" (that is, by the Party). Voters were instructed to cross out the names of
candidates, except the one they wanted, but, in practice, only one candidate was ever nominated. Unlike the
1918 and 1924 constitutions, the Communist Party was named. Elections were to be every four years.
Voters voted for delegates to a Council of the Union (one delegate for every
300,000 inhabitants) and a Council of the Nationalities (25 delegates for each Union Republic, plus
representatives from the autonomous regions within the Republics). Each of these Councils or Soviets
eventually had about 700 members. The two Soviets together made the Supreme Soviet (cf. Congress in
the US) and replaced the indirectly elected All-Union Congress of Soviets as the legislature. Both Soviets
had equal rights, including the right to initiate legislation. If the two soviets could not agree on a measure, a
conciliation committee was to be set up; if no compromise could be reached, fresh elections had to be held;
in the event, all votes were unanimous!
The Supreme Soviet had to meet twice a year, and extraordinary sessions could
be called by the Praesidium (see 4 lines below), or by a Republic. As the Supreme Soviet was too large to
be effective (and so only met four days or so at each session to ratify the decrees of the Praesidium, or elect
new officers), it elected from its members a Praesidium to represent it when not in session. The Praesidium
could issue decrees, to be ratified later by the Supreme Soviet. The Praesidium was usually composed of
one Chairman or President, 15 or so Deputy Chairmen (one from each Union Republic) and 16 or so others.
The powers of the Praesidium were vested in the Praesidium as a whole, but the Chairman or President
acted as head of state, for example, entertaining foreign dignitaries. The (honorary) President 1919-46 was
The Supreme Soviet also appointed an executive Council of People's
Commissars (a ministerial cabinet), which was responsible to the Supreme Soviet. (After 1946, the Council
was called the Council of Ministers.) The Council had no powers of legislation, but could, and did, issue
directives "in accordance with existing legislation". After Stalin's death, the Chairman of the Council (also
called the Premier or Prime Minister) competed with the Party Secretary for control of the USSR, the
Secretary winning each time. Sometimes, the posts of Premier (Prime Minister,) and Party Secretary were
held by the same man: for example, Stalin was also Prime Minister 1941-53, as was Nikita Khrushchev
between 1958 and 1964.
In theory, the USSR was a federation, and, as under the 1924 constitution, any
Republic could (in theory) leave the Union. (A 1944 Amendment entitled Republics to have their own foreign
policy and foreign relations, and their own military forces.) However, the powers reserved to the central
government were so great that the Republics in fact had little power. (Thus, in 1951, Georgian party leaders
accused of wanting secession were executed.) Moreover, the Party dominated.
A Supreme Court was set up; as well as being the highest court, this was to settle
constitutional disagreements. In effect, it was used by the Central government against the Republics.
Basic rights were guaranteed (for example, freedom of speech, religion, and to
leave the country) but these rights existed only on paper.
4. In practice, the new 1936 constitution changed nothing, as the Party continued to
i. The Communist Party, with about 80,000 members in 1917, and 12,500,000 million in
1966, was the only party allowed. To become a member, one had to be recommended to the local cell by
three party members, of not less that five years' standing, who had known the candidate at work for at least
a year. The city or district party organization had then to accept the candidate. Members had to be over 23.
ii. Every four years (and later every five – and in extraordinary special sessions if
needed), the Party elected the All-Union Congress of about 2,000, all candidates being proposed by
the Politburo!. The Congress then elected a Central Committee of about 200. This Committee in turn
elected the Political Bureau, usually called the Politburo (1952-66 called the Party Praesidium) of 12 or
so, plus 8 or so "candidate members", who had no vote. The head of the Politburo was the Party General
Secretary (1953-66 called the First Secretary), an office which Stalin turned into the most important in
Russia, Lenin's office having been Chairman of the Council of Commissars.
iii. The Party Secretary was officially the head of the Party Secretariat, which had over
1,000 permanent officials, headed by a dozen or so, many of them also serving on the Politburo. This
secretariat prepared legislation, selected candidates for election, and was in practice responsible for the
running of the country, with guidelines laid down by the Politburo and decisions rubber-stamped by the
iv. The constitutions of 1924 and 1936 (as well as that of 1977) were façades for what
in effect was a "partocracy" run by the "nomenklatura" (that is, the party elite). This was contrary to
what Lenin had intended, namely that the legislature and the Council of Ministers would run the country.
v. The party was increasingly led by old men, and so the Communist Party, which called
itself the party of youth, became a gerontocracy.
D. THE ELIMINATION OF OPPOSITION
1. Stalin's system was based on that of Lenin: (Stalin always insisted he was Lenin's
i. "All who are dangerous to the cause of revolution must be eliminated."
(Pravda 1918.) Lenin and the Bolsheviks were not interested in freedom of thought but in acceptance of
Marxist-Leninist doctrines. Deaths were "regrettable but necessary" (Lenin, in response to the protest by
Stalin's second wife, Nadya, about the killing of a hostage.) Admittedly, Lenin was influenced by the August
1918 attempt to assassinate him, and by the Civil War, which were clear indications of the danger to the
ii. In December 1917, Lenin replaced the Tsar's secret police, the OKHRANA,
with the CHEKA (an acronym for the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution),
headed by the efficient and pitiless Polish aristocrat, Felix Dzerzhinsky (who died in 1926, being succeeded
by another Polish nobleman, Menzhinsky 1926-34, although in the late 1920s, the deputy police chief
Yagoda became increasingly influential, becoming chief in 1934. Yezhov - or Ezhov - was the chief from
1936 to 1938; on his removal and execution, Beria took over, until 1953, when he was purged and executed
in the power struggle on Stalin's death).
The CHEKA gained the power to execute without trial, and, between 1918
and 1922, an estimated 280,000 were killed. (cf. according to Soviet sources, between 1866 and 1900, 94
political prisoners were executed, despite 40 assassinations, including the Tsar, Alexander II 1881.) With the
end of the Civil War in 1922, the CHEKA was replaced by the OGPU (United State Political Directorate). The
OGPU gave way 1934, as part of Stalin's "liberalization", to the NKVD (Ministry for Internal Affairs). Then
1946 it became the MGB (Ministry for State Security) and the MVD (Ministry for Internal Affairs).
iii. In 1918, the first concentration camps for those of "doubtful loyalty" were
set up. The camps, usually called labour camps as the inmates had to work, came to be run by GULAG (the
Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps), set up in 1930.
iv. In 1921, the 10th Party Congress banned "fractionalism" within the Party
(that is, disagreement with the accepted party position), and Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries
(SRs), who until then had been accepted, were repressed. There followed the first mass purge of the Party,
with the removal especially of those who opposed Lenin's New Economic Policy. Ten prominent Mensheviks
were allowed into exile, but the SR leaders were given the first show trials and executed in 1922.
v. Bolshevik trade unions (TUs) were the only ones allowed. "Their (= unions')
activity is directed towards fulfilling the purpose and tasks determined by the Party. The TUs act as supports
and conveyors of the Party's policies towards the masses .." (definition of a union by TRUD, the union
Control of the press and later radio. The two main papers were Pravda
(Russian for Truth), a daily, representing the Party and set up 1912; and Izvestiya (Russian for New), begun
by the government after the seizure of power (in 1960, it became an evening paper). Tass (Telegraph
Agency of the Soviet Union) was set up as the official news agency in July 1924.
According to Stalin in 1924 "The cinema is the greatest means of mass
agitation" and films were put to good propagandist use, for example Eisenstein's film in 1927 creating the
myth of the heroic popular seizure of power in 1917.
In 1921 Lenin ordered that culture should reflect "Socialist Realism" and
influence people in a positive way; this was the first time a government had an official cultural policy. Thus in
1921, the poet Nikolai Gumilev was shot; the artists Vasily Kandinsky and Antoine Pevsner managed to
Youth movements were organized in 1918; the Little Octobrists for those
age 7-9; the Pioneers for those age 10-15; the Komsomol (acronym for the All-Union Leninist Communist
League of Youth) for those between 15 and 28.
Education was controlled and developed.
vii. Control of the Church. Lenin regarded religion as "the opium of the people"
(Karl Marx) and disliked its influence, especially as it was considered reactionary. There was no official
persecution and the 1918 constitution permitted religious and anti-religious propaganda. However,
Communists had to renounce religion. In December 1917, all Church property was seized (although it could
be used by the congregation if not needed for other purposes), and several hundred bishops and clergymen
were shot or died in prison as counter-revolutionaries; the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Nikon, was
viii. Control of the armed forces. The loyal Leon Trotsky, the first Commissar for
War, had introduced the idea of "political commissars" who "assisted" the military commanders, making
sure that they were politically sound.
ix. nb. Stalin, like Lenin, also built on the Tsarist system. For example, in 1932,
Stalin reintroduced the Tsarist system of internal passports to help to track down "anti-social elements".
Peasants were denied passports to stop them flooding to the towns. (In 1975, passports were given to all.)
2. Stalin made less use of propaganda than did Mussolini, Hitler and Mao. Stalin was a
poor speaker, and brutality was a Russian tradition. The brutality was arbitrary, which made it more
3. Stalin apparently considered that brutality, including the purges, were necessary:-
i. to establish a reliable bureaucracy, ready to impose the hardships necessary
for development, and to give unity of purpose, especially after 1933.
ii. to save Russia and Communism; his policies had to be followed, for, as Stalin
told the Politburo on one occasion, "You are blind like kittens. What will happen to you without me?".
Especially In the years 1934 to 1937, he sensed real danger from the old Bolsheviks, who challenged his
nb. Some historians take the view that he was mad, a power-seeker, with delusions
of grandeur and a persecution complex, increasingly seeing enemies everywhere.
4. Stalin trusted no one, even the Secret Police. Thus he had his own bodyguard, directly
under him and capable even of arresting the police chief. Yet people trusted Stalin, usually until they were
themselves arrested! All were subject to arrest, from workers, through poets and artists, to factory managers
and engineers, and politicians. Of the old Bolsheviks, Vyacheslav Molotov alone survived Stalin's purging.
This was strict and even parts of Marx's writings were censored. Socialist Realist Art was
meant to glorify the Party, sing the praises of the working class, attack Party enemies, show the power and
strength of the state, and be immediately understandable to all. Brilliant writers, such as Boris Pilnyak (in
1938) and Isaac Babal (in 1940 or 1941) disappeared without trace, as they would not toe the line.
III. Religion. (nb. The USSR was the 5th largest Moslem country in the world.)
1. Freedom of conscience was guaranteed by the various constitutions, but the guarantee
was not worth much.
2. In 1925, the Militant Atheists League was established, and worked to win converts to
atheism. The upheaval of the Five-Year Plans was expected to destroy the power of the Orthodox Church.
In 1929, the Church lost the right to try to win converts, and, as before, was not to concern itself with non-
religious matters (that is, no social or cultural activities). Priests suffered, especially in the Great Purge (see
below, V,6.), being arrested on charges of sabotage.
3. After 1937, the government took an increasingly mild approach to religion.
Seminaries and thousands of churches and mosques were reopened. 1943 brought a Concordat with the
Orthodox Church, which was allowed to elect its own Patriarch, have its own ecclesiastical government, run
its own journal, and hold property.
This was the result of:-
i. the obvious failure of the anti-religious campaigns, which only seemed to increase
the number of believers;
ii. the growing German and Japanese threat, and the need for unity;
iii. the readiness of religious leaders to co-operate;
iv. waning fear of the churches as centres of counter-revolution.
IV. The nationalities.
1. The 54 nations of the USSR suffered from domination by Russia and from Russification.
2. In 1944, Chechens, Crimean Tartars, Ingush, Kalmyks and Volga Germans were all
transferred from the West to the East after accusations of collaboration with the Germans. Many died from
cold and starvation, and Stalin apparently hoped these nations would die out.
V. The purges, especially the Great Purge (the Yezhovchina, meaning Yezhov's thing),
i. The Secret police chiefs were:-
Felix Dzerzhinsky 1917-26; Nikolai Yezhov 1936-38;
Vyacheslav Menzhinsky 1926-34; Lavrenti Beria 1938-53.
Genrikh Yagoda 1934-36;
ii. The Chief prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky (cf. Roland Freisler in Nazi Germany
and Antoine Fouquier-Tinville in the French Revolution), a Menshevik to 1921, was cowardly and secretive.
He was a member (and later rector) of the Law Faculty of the University of Moscow. He survived the purges
(as he was no threat?), and was foreign minister 1949-53.
ii. The purges were unique:-
because of their magnitude and ubiquity, and the way they involved all
because there was no evidence that the victims were a danger.
Solzhenitsyn (a famous Russian dissident) reported (in his book "The Gulag Archipelago") that taking 10
cucumbers from a collective farm brought five years in a camp, while praying in church for Stalin's death
brought 25 years.
because punishment was both erratic, and arbitrary, ranging from death to
prison, the latter followed sometimes by reinstatement (if the victim was useful; for example, the aircraft
designer Andrei Tupolev) and even by decoration with the Order of Lenin!
because of the show trials held, at which fantastic confessions were made.
iii. Legality was ignored (and even the rule that Party members on the Central
Committee could be removed only by 2/3 vote by the Central Committee; in fact, members were shot without
trial); Lenin had preserved legality, in 1917 had rejected torture to extract information (on the grounds that it
was incompatible with revolution, and the information obtained was unreliable) and in 1920 ordered that
prisons should not be punitive. In contrast, Stalin specifically authorized "physical pressure", even though,
unlike Lenin, he did not have to deal with Civil War.
iv. Many Russians remained convinced that Stalin did not know what was
happening. The Great Purge was the Yezhovschina ("Yezhov's thing"). Many died shouting "Long live
Stalin!". Many believed the accusations against others, until they were themselves arrested.
However, Stalin clearly knew what was going on, even though he received and reassured people
shortly before they were arrested by the secret police. Each day, Yezhov presented Stalin with a file of
detainees. Stalin refused to investigate or answer letters from abroad by pro-Soviet foreign friends, and
rejected requests made by communists inside Russia to end the purges.
v. Old Bolshevik leaders like Nikolia Bukharin did not act against Stalin (although
1932, Ryutin and lesser Bolsheviks, and the old Bolshevik Smirnov separately and secretly planned to
vi. Stalin was helped by the immaturity and ignorance of the masses. There
was the Russian tradition of servility, the belief in the boss, and Stalin used the popular passion against
"enemies of the people".
2. 1924-27, the removal of opposition to Stalin during the power struggle. (See B above.)
3. 1928-32, during the First Five Year Plan, there were trials of bourgeois engineers,
technicians and administrators, accused of sabotaging the Plan, and plotting with enemy powers. In general,
there was a secret trial, or no trial at all, but there were also some show trials, the first since 1922 and
presided over by Andrei Vyshinsky. Generally, and puzzlingly, the accused confessed, even to crimes of
which they had not been accused, and were imprisoned or executed, although some were acquitted and
foreigners were expelled. These confessions were extracted by torture, by threats to the prisoners' family, or
by promises of leniency. There was possibly some sabotage, and certainly much inefficiency, but those
arrested were essentially scapegoats for failures of the Plan.
4. 1933 saw the purge and expulsion from the Party of about 1/3 members (about
1,000,000). Ryutin, the leader of the opposition to Stalin, was saved from death by the opposition from the
Politburo to his execution, which Stalin demanded.
5. 1934-35, prelude to the Great Purge.
i. The presence of counter-revolutionary elements was apparently indicated
by the assassination on 1st December 1934 of the Leningrad Party leader, Serge Kirov.
ii. The assassin, Leonid Nikolayev, was arrested, but the whole affair was very
mysterious (cf. the murder of Giacomo Matteotti in Italy in 1924, and Van der Lubbe and the Reichstag Fire
in Germany in 1933).
According to defectors like Alexander Orlov, an OGPU official, Stalin
arranged the murder. Stalin had been rattled by the 1932 attempt to vote him from power and by his failure
to obtain the execution of Ryutin and Smirnov, the ringleaders of the attempt. Then, in 1934, at the 17th
Party Congres, Rodionov had led a campaign to replace Stalin with Kirov, who had been critical of Stalin's
policies although he had rejected proposals that he should become Party Secretary. (Many of the 2,000
delegates to the 17th Party Congress were subsequently purged as being of doubtful loyalty.) The
assassination would help gain assent for harsher measures, while at the same time removing one of the
ablest and most popular of the younger generation of Bolsheviks, the leader of the liberalizing trend and the
most eligible alternative as Party Secretary. Certainly, the assassination was odd; Nikolayev had been
arrested twice by Kirov's bodyguard, who found on Nikolayev a gun and the plan of Kirov's route, but
Nikolayev had been released on the orders of a high official; Nikolayev was apparently successful at the
third attempt, and Kirov's bodyguards were later shot.
Adam Ulam in Stalin (1974) discredits the idea that Stalin arranged the
murder, and even the Soviet anti-Stalinist historian, Roy Medvedev, can find no evidence of Stalin's
involvement. However, in 1990, the last living member of a committee of enquiry, which was set up by
Khrushchev in 1956 to investigate the murder, but whose conclusions were never published, alleged that
Stalin had ordered Kirov's death.
Possibly the murder was arranged by the extreme left and the secret police;
the extreme left feared that the government might veer to the right, and the secret police feared that
liberalization would reduce their powers. Stalin's daughter Svetlana attributed the assassination to Beria,
who had fallen foul of Kirov and wanted revenge.
On the evening of the assassination, the Praesidium of the Soviet Union
issued a decree that served as the basis for repression. For example, it permitted rapid execution without
appeal, limited investigation of crimes to 10 days, and stipulated that the indictment was to be handed to the
accused one day before the trial.
At first, the Whites (the anti-Bolsheviks) were blamed, and then agents of
Zinoviev and Kamenev. In January 1935, Zinoviev and Kamenev and others were arrested, and accused of
plotting with the German secret police to murder Stalin and other Bolshevik leaders. 39 "counter-
revolutionaries" were shot in Leningrad and 29 in Moscow, but Zinoviev and Kamenev were only imprisoned,
for 10 and 5 years respectively (although they were later, in 1936, shot, for being alleged Trotskyists!).
The purge built up into the Great Purge, 1936-38.
In 1935, the penalty for trying to leave the USSR was death, and adult
punishments were to apply to anyone over 12. In 1936, party members lost the right to carry weapons.
6. The Great Purge 1936-38, which gradually accelerated.
i. Possible reasons:-
Widespread dissatisfaction in the USSR with the Five Year Plan and with
Stalin's power and methods.
Only violence and fear could impose the unity of will and the strength
of purpose necessary to galvanize the country into building up and strengthening itself in the face of the
growing German and Japanese threat. Stalin was convinced that he alone could save Russia and
communism; thus, he removed anyone who might challenge him, and created a body of leaders who owed
their position to him and would carry out his will.
Insanity? Stalin had a persecution complex, and was a psychotic power-
seeker. His fears of coup and assassination were encouraged by the Germans. Reinhard Heydrich of the SS
(Schutzstaffel, originally Hitler's bodyguard) seems to have sold forged information that Marshal
Tukhachevsky was a traitor. Possibly Heydrich learned of Stalin's plans to purge Tukhachevsky, and
Destruction of the old party leaders would create the preconditions for
Stalin to be able to claim he was one of the two chiefs of the 1917 Revolution, and the equal of Lenin.
Certainly the Personality Cult grew, and Stalin was popularly acclaimed as Vozhd (=leader).
Scapegoats were needed for failures, especially in the Plans.
ii. The details only became clearer after Stalin's death, especially with
Khrushchev's 1956 "secret" speech at the 20th Party Congress. The British Ambassador to Moscow (Lord
Chilston) and others like the British journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, gave details of "disappearances", but at
the time, no one had any idea of the extent.
iii. In 1936, the main victims were Zinoviev and Kamenev, tried in August by the
Supreme Military Tribunal, and executed for being Trotskyists and Bukharinists, and for plotting with enemy
powers against the USSR. At their trial, they freely confessed and testified against each other.
iv. In 1937, the purge was at its height, touching all branches of the government,
administration, diplomatic corps, army, plant engineers, scientists, churchmen, artists, writers. Thousands
were arrested, including :-
Radek: former Comintern leader, editor of Izvestiya, Foreign Policy Adviser, Ambassador to Britain;
given 10 years and probably killed later.
Bubnov, Commissar for Education, who died in prison.
Ordzhonikidze, Commissar for Heavy Industry, committed suicide; the Vice-Commissar, Piatakov,
400 (out of 700) of the highest officers in the armed forces were executed, including Marshal
Tukhachevsky, hero of the 1917 Revolution. Marshal Gamarnik, Vice-Commissar for War, committed
suicide. Others were imprisoned, including Zhukov and Rokossovsky.
All were accused of plotting to restore capitalism and/or joining Trotsky or a foreign power.
v. 1938. (Many of the purgers were purged!)
Bukharin (former editor of Pravda 1919-29, and of Izvestiya 1934-37, architect of
the 1918 and 1936 constitutions).
Rykov (Chairman of the Council of Commissars 1924-30, and then Commissar for
Post and Telegraph; in particular, he had questioned Stalin's agricultural policies).
Yagoda (Secret Police Chief 1934-36) was accused of treason and of wanting to
restore capitalism. He was tried in a great show trial and shot.
Smirnov, Commissar for the Navy, a great purger, was himself purged, as was
Krylenko, the Minister for Justice (shot without legal procedure).
Menzhinsky, Secret Police Chief 1926-34, and Yezhov, Secret Police Chief from
1936, disappeared. (According to Robert Conquest, in The Great Terror, Yezhov was probably shot 1940,
his punishment for having moved too slowly; according to others, he was shot as a German agent.) 3,000 or
so NKVD men disappeared, accused generally of being German agents.
Pauker, Stalin's bodyguard for 15 years, was executed.
According to Roy Medvedev (the maverick Soviet historian, in Let History
Judge) between 1936 and 1939, about 500,000 were shot, out of about 5,000,000 arrested; in 1937 and
1938, about 100 a day were shot in Moscow (cf. Ivan the Terrible's "score" of about 20 a day). The defector
Petrov, a clerk in the Secret Police, estimated that between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 were executed in the
Great Purge. Probably a further 3,000,000 died in labour camps.
Perhaps 8,000,000 were sent to labour camps, in Siberia especially, in
addition to the 7 million or so already there before 1936. (Medvedev calculates that 5,000,000 were already
in labour camps; Solzhenitsyn estimates 7,000,000), with a further 1,000,000 in gaols.
Stalin became supreme, leading a party of young, inexperienced, loyal
career men. (Of 139 communists elected to the 1934 Central Committee, 98, that is 70%, had been
executed by 1938; all the Politburo members who had served with Lenin had been eliminated. 1,108 out of
1,966 delegates to the 17th Party Congress in 1934, who had all been screened, were purged. Molotov and
Vyshinsky alone survived of the old leaders.)
Every Soviet citizen born before 1938 knew what it was like to live in
fear; according to Petrov, Stalin created "an empire of fear".
There was an adverse effect on the Soviet economy and security. The
Plans were greatly upset and the purge of the armed forces encouraged Hitler to attack.
Arrest. The short story writer Isaac Babel was apparently arrested and
executed because he was a friend of Yezhov's wife. Putting a jacket over a bust of Lenin in an empty room
brought arrest (and 10 years in a labour camp). A children's conspiracy was investigated for eight months,
and one ten-year-old confessed to being a member of a Fascist group from the age of seven. Petrov and
Conquest tell how orders went out to find and eliminate a certain number of enemies of the people, and the
requisite number was rounded up; presumably, this was an attempt to inspire terror.
Interrogation. According to Robert Conquest, 20,000 to 25,000
interrogators were employed. Crude tortures were used. For example, Marshal Blyukhea, tortured
relentlessly, had one eye torn out, and was shot trying desperately to attack his tormentors; and the
Armenian Commissar Tergabrielian was finally hit on the head with fire-tongs, collapsed in a pool of blood,
and was thrown from a window.
Punishment. Important political prisoners were shot in the back of the head
in NKVD headquarters at number 11, Dzerzhinsky Square, Moscow. In Georgia, on one occasion,
prisoners were put down a mine-shaft and left to die. Solzhenitsyn reports an eyewitness account (from
February 1929) of about 100 prisoners placed on a pile of logs and burnt alive, for failing to fulfil their norms;
others were buried alive, as it was easier to cope with live bodies than dead ones. Solzhenitsyn also
includes sections in "The Gulag Archipelago" on the fate of women and children in the camps. People
abroad, especially Soviet diplomats, were "rendered harmless", the bodies usually being removed in rolled-
up carpets being taken away for cleaning! Millions went into labour camps; Solzhenitsyn lists the major
construction projects by camp labour; these included 9 cities, 3 major canals, 12 railway lines, 3 hydro-
electric stations. In the course of work, many millions died.
Some had had a trial, others had not. Sometimes the deaths were
announced, but as often as not, people just disappeared.
7. Purging and the terror continued at a lesser level after 1938.
i. In August 1940, Trotsky was killed in Mexico by a Soviet agent, posing as one
of his supporters.
ii. Returning prisoners of war suffered a hard fate, both after the Winter War with
Finland 1939-40, and in 1945. The officers were usually shot and the lower ranks imprisoned. Their "crime"
was that they should have died for Mother Russia; in addition, they might have been contaminated by
iii. In 1949 Nikolai Voznesenskii, head of GOSPLAN (The State Economic
Planning Commission) since 1937, was demoted and then in 1950 shot.
iv. 1949-50 saw the Leningrad Affair, in which the leading party officials in
Leningrad, including the First Secretary, Popkov, were purged, many subsequently dying in prison.
v. 1952-53, the indications were that Stalin was preparing a new purge. At the
19th Party Congress in 1951, the first since 1939, a 25-man Praesidium replaced the small Politburo, and it
was feared that this was the prelude to the Politburo being purged. In 1952, Stalin publicly called Vyacheslav
Molotov and Klement Voroshilov British spies, and Anastas Mikoyan a Turkish spy. In January 1953, a
"Doctor's Plot" was allegedly discovered; 9 doctors, of whom 7 were Jewish, had apparently planned to
murder important members of the government, including Stalin. A pogrom began, with synagogues being
closed, Jewish cultural organizations banned and many Jews deported; it was assumed that non-Jews
would later be dealt with. Whether a purge was planned will never be known, as Stalin died in March 1953,
officially as the result of a cerebral haemorrhage, but possibly as the consequence of medical murder by
those who feared for their lives in a new purge.
8. Perhaps in the years 1934 to 1953, some 20,000,000 died (Robert Conquest's figure) -
the result of firing squads, mistreatment in camps, or famine. Medvedev puts the minimum number of deaths
at 20,000,000 but considered 30,000,000 quite possible. Estimates vary between 5,000,000 and
Solzhenitsyn's 66,000,000 total for all the deaths Stalin caused. Medvedev calculated that Stalin was
responsible for the death of more Russians in the Spanish Civil War than were killed by the enemy's bullets.
According to Solzhenitsyn, communists were safer in Hitler's concentration camps, especially in the 1930s,
than they were if they went for safety from Germany to Russia! (cf. Hitler, responsible for the death of
between 6,000,000 and 8,000,000 Jews, and 10,000,000 non-combatants, with 50,000,000 usually put as
the total figure for those who died in the Second World War. Hitler did not have almost sole responsibility for
those deaths in the way that Stalin had. Possibly, this was because German society was more sophisticated
and advanced than Soviet society.)
E. ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL POLICIES, THE PLANNED ECONOMY
FROM 1928, “THE SECOND REVOLUTION". (the "First" being the
political revolution of 1917)
1. Stalin inherited from Lenin, and retained, the "controlled capitalism" of the New
Economic Policy, the NEP. In 1921, Lenin had won the 10th Party Congress to the NEP, a temporary
retreat from the socialist "War Communism" that had been set up after the November 1917 Bolshevik coup
d'‚tat. In War Communism, the state had assumed control of all the means of production, exchange (trade)
and communication; all land had been declared nationalized (by the February 1918 Land Law, which also
set collectivization as the long-term goal), although the peasants had been allowed to work the land they
held, with the production surplus to their "needs" being "bought" by the state on the state's terms (not
surprisingly, the peasants cut production, whereupon food was "requisitioned", that is, seized); money
gradually came to be replaced by barter and a system of coupons.
2. Under the NEP, the State controlled all large enterprises (factories, mines, railways),
but small private enterprises, employing fewer than 20 people, were allowed (mostly tradesmen and
shopkeepers); the appropriation of farm produce was replaced by a tax system (a fixed proportion of the
crop), and the peasants were free to sell their surplus (at a state-regulated price), although they were
encouraged to join state farms (Sovkhozes, set up on land expropriated from nobles after the 1917
revolution), in which they worked for a fixed wage like workers in a factory; money came back into use, with
a new bank note being issued, backed by gold.
3. The NEP had been Lenin's response to a crisis. In 1920, industrial production had
been 13% and agricultural production 20% of the 1913 figures. Between 21st February and 17th March
1921, the sailors in Kronstadt had mutinied. In addition, the Civil War, which had been the main reason for
the introduction of War Communism, had virtually been won and so controls could be relaxed.
4. In the 1920s, there had been great debate between Bukharin, Tomsky, and Rykov
on the one hand, and Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev on the other. The former group considered that
the NEP provided sufficient state control of the economy and sufficiently rapid development, while the latter
argued in favour of more rapid development and greater state control, taking the view, among other things,
that profits should be shared among all people, and not just among a privileged few. In 1925, at the 14th
Party Congress, Stalin, as he usually did in the early days, stayed in the background but sided with the
Bukharin group. However, later, in 1927, he changed sides, supporting those in favour of a new course, with
greater state control.
II. Possible reasons for Stalin's change of mind and support for the end of the NEP.
1. The immediate cause was probably that the USSR, as in 1921, faced an economic
crisis, so that something had to be done, and Stalin judged that it was both possible and necessary to
end the NEP. In general terms, the economy by 1927 had recovered to 1913 levels, but agricultural output
had grown most in crops other than grain, where there was a shortage. This shortfall was the result of low
grain prices and the lack of goods for sale, which meant that the peasants did not produce as profits were
low and there was virtually nothing to buy.
(In view of the grain crisis, Trotsky and Zinoviev proposed to the 15th Party
Congress in December 1927 the forced requisitioning of grain. Stalin opposed this measure, but after the
Congress was over, supported requisitioning, which was decreed! Probably this volte face was not a
stratagem to remove the opposition but the result of the peasants not responding to reforms as had been
hoped, so that there was no alternative. Certainly, in 1928, the government increased its efforts to win over
the peasants, by raising the price of grain, and by making more goods available in the countryside. But the
peasants were not won over, the crisis continued and in 1929 grain was rationed.)
2. According to Stalin, the main reason for the Plans was defence. "We are 50 or 100
years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this lag in 10 years. Either we do it, or they crush
us". (Stalin, in 1931.)
i. There had always been the long-term aim of making the economically
backward USSR into an advanced industrial and agricultural state, which would first rival and then
surpass the US, thereby illustrating the superiority of the Soviet system. However, the pressing immediate
need was to provide security, for official Marxist ideology until 1956 took the view that capitalist
expansionism made inevitable a war against pacifist communism. Modernization would end Soviet
dependence on the West for machinery and enable the country to defend itself. Thus, for defence reasons,
modernization had to be rapid.
ii. Throughout history Russia had been attacked from East and West, for
example, by the Mongols (1240-1480), the Swedes and Poles (in the 17th century), Napoleon (1812), and
the intervention forces which aided the Whites (opponents of the Communists) 1918-22. There was no
reason for Stalin, who anyway suffered from a growing persecution complex, to think that such attacks
would stop. Possibly he feared the worst when, in 1927, the British government, the leading capitalist power
at the time, broke off diplomatic relations, accusing the Soviets of stirring revolution.
iii. Soviet economic thinking had initially assumed that there would be
Western assistance, especially from Germany, as the Marxist revolution spread. However, the failure of the
1923 communist risings in Germany and of the 1926 General Strike in Britain made it clear that the
Bolsheviks would have to stand on their own. Thus Stalin pursued the idea, heretical to Marxist ideology, of
"Socialism in One Country", which led logically to the introduction of a planned economy for rapid
development to defend "Socialism in One Country".
3. Only the state had the resources for rapid development. Recovery under the NEP
had been slow, and more important, had been the work mainly of private enterprise, especially the kulaks
(prosperous peasants) in the countryside. Stalin did not want the future development of the USSR to
continue to come slowly and at the hands of a capitalist class, who, in the event of an attack, could not be
relied on. Moreover, as a communist, he believed in equality; the NEP had produced a new prosperous
capitalist class, and this could not be allowed to continue.
4. A planned economy was official ideology, having been approved by Marx, who
typically, gave no details. (The planned economy as introduced was "state capitalism" and presumably not
what Marx had had in mind.) There was also much admiration for the German War Economy of the First
World War. In 1921, GOSPLAN, the State Planning Commission, had been established, subject to the
Supreme Council for the National Economy, the VSNKH, usually called VERSENKHA, set up in 1917.
However, Lenin had derided a planned economy as "idle talk". None the less, especially in view of the
success of GOELRO, the State Electrification Plan (introduced in 1920, and run by the old Bolshevik
engineer and economist Gleb Krzhizhanovsky, 1872-1959), there was much debate from 1925 about the
desirability of an overall plan.
5. It is possible, but unlikely, that Stalin supported the new economic plans in order
to remove Bukharin and the others from their positions of power. The policies adopted or supported by
Stalin made sense at the time and were also supported by a majority of communists (who admittedly mostly
owed their appointments to Stalin).
1. Development was to be by means of 5-year plans, organized and controlled by
GOSPLAN, and subject to VERSENKHA. As a result of disagreements about the actual speed of change,
the plans established minimum and optimum goals.
2. While industrial development was to have priority, agriculture could not be neglected.
Fewer farm workers would have to feed more people in the towns, and farm exports would play a large part
in paying for the costs of the initial imports of machinery. Transport, housing, education, health measures,
consumer goods, all had their part in the plans too.
3. Initially Stalin supported a gradual, even if rapid, programme, by persuasion as far
as possible, in order to avoid the repeat of the catastrophe of War Communism. However, Stalin
seems to have miscalculated, initially underestimating the level of opposition, and increasingly resorted to
violence, on the principle that only a good measure of fear would spur the people to make the necessary
sacrifices. Objectives were systematically pursued, with complete disregard for the hardships and privations
of the people (for the benefit of later generations?).
4. The plans were to be financed by taxes and exports (especially raw materials, such
as lumber, oil and grain), even if, as was the case, this meant hardship for the people, including death from
5. Initially, foreign experts would have to be employed.
1. Despite Soviet propaganda that they began the modernization of the country, the
Communists were able to build on solid foundations erected in Tsarist days. By 1917, Russia was the
third industrial power in Europe, after Germany and Britain. In 1917, 6% of the workforce was in industry,
including communications (3,000,000 workers in factories, and 1,000,000 in mines). In 1905, unions had
been legalized, and 1912 accident and health insurance introduced. 1894-1914, the number receiving
secondary education increased from 225,000 to 820,000, and the literacy rate went up from 24% in 1897 to
45% in 1914, when most young people learnt to read. Communications had been improved, especially with
the construction of several thousand miles of railways, in particular, the Trans-Siberian, built 1892-1905.
After 1905, there had been considerable development of co-operatives, which by 1914 numbered 32,300,
with 12,000,000 members. The local government bodies, the district and provincial zemstvos (councils) and
the urban dumas (councils), which had been set up in the 1860s, had given many Russians experience in
administration and had brought some development in addition to what had been ordered by the central
government in St. Petersburg.
2. Initially at least, there was much idealism, and a number of idealistic foreigners went
to take part in what was regarded as a great experiment.
3. While the plans called for rapid development, and were termed economic progress,
they were, in essence, an attempt to bring a return to economic progress, as the economy since 1914 had
failed to develop.
4. Population growth: 1914 - 145,000,000; 1926 - 147,000,000; 1939 - 170,000,000; and
1955 - 199,000,000. (nb. 1800- 36,000,000; 1871 - 87,000,000).
5. Stalin knew little about economics, industry or farming, and never visited a collective
V. The Plans.
1. Each plan dealt with all aspects of development: capital goods (those used to produce
other goods, for example, coal, iron, machinery), consumer goods (things like chairs, carpets, irons),
agriculture, transportation and communications, health, education and welfare. However, the emphasis
varied from plan to plan, although generally the emphasis was on power (electricity), capital goods, and
agriculture. There were base and optimum targets. Efforts were made, especially in the Third Plan, to move
industry eastward to make it safer from attack.
2. The First Plan 1928 - 1932 (approved in principle by the 15th Party Congress December
1927, and in operation 1st October 1928, although the final details were only approved in May 1929 by the
l6th Congress, where it was decided to complete the Plan by 3lst December 1932).
i. The emphasis was on power, heavy industry and agriculture.
ii. In industry, the optimum Gosplan target was an overall production increase of
36.6%. Officially, 34.3% was achieved.
iii. In agriculture, an overall production increase of 50% was planned, to be
achieved by means of collectivization. From 1921, state farms (sovkhozes) had been set up on nationalized
estates; farmers were paid wages, just as they would be in a factory, but, it had been expected, would be
attracted onto the farms by the lure of equipment and a better, easier life. However, by 1928, only about 1 in
60 farm families had joined the state farms, which, although they were the government's goal, were clearly
not popular. Consequently, it was decided to establish collective farms (kolkhozes) in which:
70-100 families covering 3-4,000 acres, worked together, receiving a share
of the profits, based on the amount of work done;
a percentage of the profits had to be paid to the government;
there were government-run Motor Tractor Stations, which provided and
maintained the equipment. These had to be paid for.
the government and party exercised considerable control, for example,
deciding what should be grown and fixing the prices for crops.
The initial plan was for 23% collectivization by 1932, to be achieved by
propaganda and persuasion (including higher taxation for independent farmers). However, in January 1930,
the government ended the gradual approach and, despite the lack of preparation, decreed full
collectivization by 1932 at the latest. This was probably the result of farmers, especially the wealthy kulaks,
opposing collectivization, with the result that in 1929, the grain crisis was even more serious than previously.
In protest at the programme and low government prices, farmers
hoarded grain, or refused to plant for more than their own needs; violence occurred as hungry townspeople
seized food from the countryside, under the slogan "attack the rich peasants", and the peasants fought back
in what was often termed "the second civil war".
The government decreed that kulak property, including houses, should
be seized and given to the collectives, on which the kulaks were not allowed. Many kulaks were killed and at
least 1,000,000 died in labour camps, where they and their families had been deported. (There had been
much disagreement about whether kulaks could be allowed onto the collectives where their skills would
have been useful, but it was concluded that their danger outweighed their advantage.)
In March 1930, Stalin, in a letter to Pravda, criticized the excesses of
provincial communists, who had become "dizzy with success". Peasants were henceforward free to leave
the collectives if they wished (8,000,000 or so families did so, leaving about 6,000,000 on collectives), and
those on collectives were allowed a private plot (maximum 1 hectare, about 2.4 acres, later reduced to half a
hectare), a homestead, minor implements and a few animals (1 cow, 2 calves, 2 sows, 10 sheep or goats,
20 beehives and as many chickens as they wished), all of which could be bequeathed.
Stalin had clearly been surprised by the catastrophic dislocation that
the January 1930 decree had brought. Peasants in large numbers killed their cattle, either for a last feast
before joining the collective, or in the hope of not being classed as kulaks; bands of kulaks attacked and
burnt collectives. Collectivization also came just when winter planting should have occurred. The best
estimate, according to Robert Conquest, of the number that died in the famine resulting from the attempt at
forced collectivization is 5,500,000. Agricultural production in general had recovered only by 1938.
By 1934, 71% collectivization was claimed, with 95% by 1938. By 1939,
collectivization was completed, following a law limiting private farms to the same size as the private plots.
There were 241,000 collective farms, with 523,000 tractors and 182 combined harvesters.
State farms, the ultimate goals, comprised only 5% of all agricultural land.
3. The Second Plan, 1933-37.
i. There was greater emphasis than in the First Plan on transportation, quality
and consumer goods.
ii. Industrial targets (overall 13-14%) were apparently exceeded until the Great
iii. Stakhanovism began in 1935. Workers who exceeded the quota (usually called
the "norm") they were expected to produce were to be rewarded with higher wages and privileges, that is, a
"bonus system" was introduced; workers were encouraged to form brigades, where appropriate, to increase
production. The system gained its name from Alexei Stakhanov, a Donetz coal-miner, who in one shift
allegedly produced 102 tons of coal, instead of the "norm" of 7 tons.
iv. It was planned to end illiteracy, and by 1934 universal primary education was
claimed. (The Revolution and the Civil War had played havoc with education. Many teachers had fled or
been killed and what school buildings there had been were often damaged.)
4. The Third Plan, 1938-42.
i. The emphasis was on heavy industry and defence.
ii. The Plan was interrupted by the German invasion June 1941. The growth of
the armed forces (940,000 in 1934; 4,000,000 in 1940) had an adverse effect on the economy.
5. The Fourth and Fifth Plans, 1946-50 and 1951-55.
i. The emphasis was on reconstruction, although Stalin in 1945 promised that the
USSR would be the leading industrial power by 1960.
ii. Much of the USSR had been devastated by the war. Officially, 98,000
collective farms had been ransacked and ruined, with the loss of 137,000 tractors, 49,000 combine
harvesters, 7,000,000 horses, 17,000,000 cattle, 20,000,000 pigs, 27,000,000 sheep; 25% of all capital
equipment had been destroyed in 35,000 plants and factories; 6,000,000 buildings, including 40,000
hospitals, in 70,000 villages and 4,710 towns (40% urban housing) were destroyed, leaving 25 million
homeless; about 40% railway track had been destroyed; officially 7,500,000 million servicemen died, plus
6,000,000 civilians, but perhaps 20,000,000 in all died (cf. 250,000 from the US). In 1945, mining and
metallurgy were at 40% of the 1940 level, electric power was down to 52%, pig-iron 26% and steel 45%;
food production was 60% of the 1940 level. After Poland, the USSR had been the hardest hit by the war.
Reconstruction was impeded by the chronic labour shortage. Moreover, 1946 was the driest year since
1891, and the harvest was poor.
iii. The US and USSR were unable to agree on the terms of a US loan to aid
reconstruction, and this was one of the causes of the Cold War. However, the USSR did gain
reparations from Germany, and Eastern European countries made "payments" in "return" for the Soviets
liberating them from the Nazis. In 1949 COMECON (The Council for Mutual Economic Aid) was set up,
linking the Eastern bloc countries economically. One-third of the Fourth Plan's capital expenditure was spent
on the Ukraine, which was important agriculturally and industrially, and which had been one of the areas
most devastated by the war.
iv. In 1947, food rationing was ended, but agricultural production was barely
above the 1940 level by 1952. However, industrial production in 1952 was nearly double the 1940 level.
1. There was considerable economic (especially industrial) and social development,
even if targets were not always reached (especially in the 3rd Plan because of military needs).
Steel production increased from 4.3 million tons in 1928 to 18 million tons in 1938
(cf. in 1939, the US produced 32 million tons, Germany 18 million tons, and Britain 7 million tons). Coal
production increased from 35.5 million tons in 1928 to 133 million tons in 1938 (cf. in 1939, the US produced
395 million tons, Germany 186 million tons, and Britain 227 million tons). The 5 milliard kilowatt hours of
electricity of 1928 had grown to 39 milliard in 1938. In 1928, 700 motor vehicles were produced, while in
1938, 211,000 were made. By 1938, 80% of the national product was the output of industry built between
1928 and 1938.
2. The collectivization of agriculture did not prove as successful as had been hoped,
and the initial forced collectivization caused great dislocation.
In 1928 there were 70 million cattle; in 1933, 34 million; and in 1941, 54.5 million. In
1928, there were 33 million horses; 1933, 15 million; 1941, 21 million. (Tractors were unable to make up for
the reduced number of horses, and of course, provided no fertilizer.) The number of pigs fell from 26 million
in 1928 to 9 million in 1933, rising in 1941 to 27.5 million.
The collectives were more successful in grain production (1913, 80 million tons;
1920, 18 million; 1928 73 million; 1933 89 million; 1938, 95 million; 1940, 119 million. cf. US average of 240
If 1926-29 average agricultural production = 100, 1930-1939 = 95. 1929-35 there
had to be food rationing. In 1963 and thereafter, the USSR periodically imported grain, especially from the
US; this was a clear admission of the Soviet failure to increase productivity. The large collectives, with
modern equipment, were more efficient, but there was insufficient incentive for the farmers to work. As late
as the 1980s, the private plots, which made up 2-3% of agricultural land, were producing an average of 30%
of non-grain food. In 1971, about 30% of the Soviet labour force worked on the land, but produced less than
the US, where farmers made up 5% of the labour force. (Admittedly, the US enjoys more favourable farming
conditions, but Soviet yields are well below those of Canada, which has conditions similar to those in the
USSR.) In the 1980s, foods such as tomatoes and eggs were still in short supply.
3. Health, education and welfare:-
i. The 30,000 doctors of 1914 had by 1940 been increased to 120,000, and the
number of hospital beds from 140,000 to 600,000. There were more doctors per 1,000 people in the USSR
than in Britain, France, Germany or the US (according to Arthur Marwick), although standards of training and
equipment were generally lower.
ii. The literacy rate in 1914 had been 45%. By 1926, it was 51%, and by 1934,
universal primary education was claimed. There was also rapid development of secondary education; the 71
colleges of 1913 had become 448 by 1939. 1926-52, there was a tenfold increase in the number of
iii. Housing could not be produced rapidly enough for the workers in the growing
towns; in 1935, only 6% of families in old (in effect, most of) Moscow had more than one room, while 40%
had one room, 25% lived in kitchens and corridors, and 25% in dormitories. Yet 1932-36, Stalin and
Khrushchev built the magnificent Moscow underground system, at a cost which would have housed 470,000
people, and Stalin proposed the even more expensive Palace of Soviets (the site was excavated, but the
foundation was found inadequate and the area became a swimming pool).
iv. After 1920, the Kremlin stopped giving figures for the crime rate. While
bribery, drunkenness and theft clearly continued, the all-pervasive police doubtless meant reduced rates.
4. Apart from the agricultural sector, the speed of change was very rapid initially, as is
shown by the fact that, in 1938, 80% of production was in plant built since 1927 and, without this
development, it is unlikely that the USSR would have survived the Nazi onslaught from 1941. However, this
development may have had more to do with the early mass idealism and Stalin’s purging, especially in the
Great Purge, may actually have slowed development . The early mass idealism quickly waned and inertia
set in .
Despite the pressure used, and the sacrifices made, Soviet development was not more
rapid than that of other countries. Britain, the US, and Japan all took about the same time to industrialize,
about 40 years (USSR 1928-65). In 1913, Soviet meat production was 58% of the US figure; by 1958, it was
only 48%. Soviet milk production was 87% of the US figure in 1913, and 84% in 1958.
5. The USSR did not (then or later) become an advanced industrialized country,
remaining basically an underdeveloped state, exporting raw materials, not finished products, to pay for
sophisticated imports. In 1960, 37% of the labour force was still working on the land. The system established
"unwieldy and unworkable, overcentralized control" (Schapiro), and permanent agricultural and industrial
stagnation set in, with all initiative discouraged. Standards and productivity remained low. Consumer goods
were in short supply, partly as the plans proved unable to cope with fashions. Production suffered from
shortage of spare parts, mountains of paper work, and corruption. Thus, inherent flaws in the plans were
made worse by poor leadership. Adam Ulam and other historians take the view that Soviet agriculture has
suffered ever since from the sheer brutality of Stalin's collectivization drive.
6. The cost of the plans in human terms was great, and only the 1877-78 Chinese
famine was more destructive. Famine resulted, especially 1931 and 1932 (partly as a result of bad weather)
and it was officially admitted that 3,500,000 peasants died from famine. Possibly, it was nearer 10,000,000.
Robert Conquest estimates that implementation of the Plans caused 14,500,000 deaths, including kulaks
killed during collectivization, or later in camps. Each worker had his labour book, in which were recorded
latenesses, too frequent visits to the toilet, general slackness and other things; infringements were punished
by wage cuts, imprisonment and labour camp. Many officials were purged from their posts, and often
executed, for alleged sabotage of the plans. The terrible sacrifices made were not necessary for rapid
development, and were surely counter-productive. A small degree of coercion might have brought results,
but the "massive slaughter was senseless and needless" (Westwood).
7. Standards of living in real terms dropped between 1928 and 1933, although
thereafter they began to rise slowly. "Taking 7 basic goods in the Soviet food-basket, for a family of 4, the
Soviet worker had to work 26 hours in 1959, to earn enough to buy the basket. In the US, it was 12 hours in
1928, 7.75 in 1953, and 7.25 in 1959." (Ebenstein). Stalin believed he could extract the maximum work for
the minimum pay.
8. No progress was made to Marxist egalitarianism in which the goal was not equal
wages but payment according to needs. Indeed, in the USSR, wage differentials became greater than in the
Western capitalist countries. A Soviet professor in 1960 earned 8 times as much as a factory worker, while
in the US the differential was 1.5. Medvedev calculated that after 1945, the real wage differential was as
much as 1:40 or l:50, and even 1:100. Unskilled workers (according to Le Monde in 1974) earned 75 roubles
per month, engineers 300-350, plant managers 700. A skilled worker earning 150 roubles a month earned
1/3 that of a teacher or a doctor. Special shops were set up for the new elite of party and factory managers,
with goods not generally available being on sale. These managers formed a new elite. Membership in the
party was useful, if not essential, in getting promotion in industry and agriculture.
However, the status of women improved.
9. The USSR withstood Hitler's attack in 1941 because it had modernized sufficiently.
However, Soviet economic weakness was one reason for Britain being unwilling in the 1930s to conclude an
alliance with the USSR, and for Hitler contemplating his attack. Basil Liddell Hart pointed out that Soviet
backwardness helped beat Hitler in 1941, as his motorized forces could not advance quickly as there were
few or no roads.
According to Medvedev (in Let History Judge, 1972), Stalin's "poor leadership slowed development" and "the
results would have been far greater without Stalin." Given Soviet sources of raw materials and initial development
under the Tsars, development should have been considerable.
Under Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrishchev, 1953/7 – 1964, there was an attempt to revive the economy, but after
Khrushchev’s overthrow, Leonid Brezhnev presided over what came to be known as “the years of stagnation”, 1964 -
1982. The next serious attempt to develop the Soviet economy came under Mikhail Gorbachev after 1985 but he was
overthrown in 1991 and a market economy created.
10. The idea of the plan was continued in the USSR (1986-90 saw the 9th, followed by the
10th, which was ended by the disintegration in 1991 of the USSR) and adopted, in one form or another, by a
number of countries, including non-communist ones such as Algeria, France, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
South Korea, and Turkey.
11. The USSR escaped the 1930s world depression, although this was due not so much
to the plans but to Russia's economic isolation. Stalin's export of grain helped to depress the price of grain
on the world market even more, and so made life more difficult for the world's farmers in general. On the
other had, the USSR, in the 1930s, was placing orders in Germany, Switzerland and the US for capital
goods, at a time when most countries had cut back.
The fact that the USSR seemed to avoid the capitalist cycle of boom and slump in
the economy caused great interest among Western economists and encouraged governments to take
greater control of the economy to try to provide steady growth, without the boom-slump cycle. This was
perhaps one reason why, after 1945, many Western governments adopted Keynesian economics. (John
Maynard Keynes, 1883-1946, the British economist, in his 1936 book "General Theory of Employment,
Interest and Money", had advocated government management of the economy and government spending in
order to provide steady economic growth and full employment. The book became the classic exposition of
F. FOREIGN POLICY
I. Goals. (nb. Was Stalin motivated by a desire for power, by ideology, or by necessity and the
dictates of security, or by a mixture of all these?)
1. Security for Russia and communism.
2. "Socialism in one country", an idea first advanced by Stalin in 1924 after the failure of
the 1923 communist risings in Germany. This meant the relegation of the previous goal of "exporting"
revolution as a prerequisite of the establishment and survival of communism in Russia.
3. The expansion of communism and "World Revolution": for ideological reasons; to
increase Soviet power; as a means of defence. (cf. Stalin at the 16th Party Congress 1930: "We do not want
a single foot of foreign territory.")
1. Stalin tended to continue the Leninist path.
2. Stalin dominated his Commissars for Foreign Affairs:
Georgy Chicherin, 1918-30: pro-German, sick from 1927.
Maxim Litvinov, 1930-May 1939: Deputy Commissar from 1921, in favour
of collective security and co-operation with Britain.
Vyacheslav Molotov, 1939-49, and 1953-56: "a modern robot" (Churchill).
Andrei Vyshinski, 1949-53: a loyal Stalin henchman.
3. The Marxist conviction until 1956 that permanent conflict between capitalism and
communism was inevitable, and that, equally inevitably, the Marxist system would spread throughout the
world. History was "on their side".
4. Stalin was pragmatic and aware of Soviet weakness. Thus he followed a non-
ideological policy, even making a pact with Nazism and trying to appease Hitler by supplying Germany right
up to the invasion. Changes, such as turning to the West in the 1930s, and then to the Nazis later, were
easier in a totalitarian society.
5. Stalin was ignorant about foreign countries and increasingly suspicious.
6. He distrusted the League of Nations (despite Soviet membership after 1934) as it was
dominated by Western capitalism, which he might thus be forced to fight to defend.
7. In general, there were close relations with Germany.
8. Support for national liberation movements (as under Lenin): revolution (not
necessarily communist) in Asia and elsewhere would weaken Western capitalism.
9. Stalin was convinced that China was a target for Western imperialism, with Japan,
the US and Britain especially competing, even to the point of war, for control of China. Stalin therefore
worked to bolster Chinese defences, for example, by promoting Nationalist-Communist co-operation in
China, in order to prevent capitalists from taking over on his Eastern border.
10. He was preoccupied by internal affairs, especially in the early days.
11. According to George Kennan, the key to Stalin's foreign policy was the attempt to
divide and embroil his enemies.
12. There was an armed force 600,000 strong, with 2-year conscription.
1. Being aware of the danger of diplomatic isolation, recognition was arranged with
many states: for example, in 1924 with Britain, Italy and China; and in 1925 with Japan.
2. Security agreements were made with neighbouring countries.
i. Stalin inherited Treaties of Friendship signed in 1921 with Turkey and Iran and
Afghanistan, and the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo with Germany.
ii. In 1925 a Russo-Turkish Treaty of Neutrality was signed. The Turks were
alarmed by British interest in Mosul, and Stalin was alarmed by Locarno. (See below, 3.i. and 4.ii. The 1925
Locarno Treaties guaranteed the inviolability of the Franco-German and Belgo-German borders. At the
same time, the Germans made arbitration treaties with Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, and Poland.
Germany was thus restored to the European community, from which it had been isolated since 1918.)
iii. By 1932, the USSR had signed non-aggression pacts with all nations along
its western border (for example, in November 1932 with Poland), except Romania (because of Bessarabia,
formerly Russian but acquired by Romania in 1918).
iv. In February 1929, the Eastern Protocol or Litvinov Pact was arranged. This
was modelled on the Briand-Kellogg Pact (see 3. iv. below) and involved Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania,
and later Danzig, Persia and Turkey.
3. International affairs generally.
i. Stalin was alarmed at not being invited to the Locarno conference of 1925,
the terms of which he concluded were intended by Britain and France to divert German expansionism to the
ii. From 1927, when talks began, the USSR took part in the League of Nations
world disarmament talks, which culminated in the unsuccessful 1932-34 60-nation conference.
iii. Participation in the 1927 World Economic Conference.
iv. The USSR was a signatory (although with reservations, especially that the
Pact was ineffectual without disarmament) of the 1928 Briand-Kellogg Pact, renouncing war as an
instrument of national policy.
4. Relations with Germany.
i. Stalin inherited the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo, by which the two ostracized nations
had come together, renouncing all claims to debts and reparations, and resuming trading and diplomatic
relations. Stalin also inherited the secret arrangement made about the same time, whereby the Germans
agreed to help train and equip the Russian armed forces, in return for Russian help in German evasion of
the terms of the Treaty of Versailles; for example, the Germans could test new equipment in Russia, train
soldiers there, and manufacture equipment.
The failure of the spontaneous communist risings in Germany in 1923,
especially in the Ruhr, made Stalin conclude that a communist takeover in Germany was unlikely.
ii. Stalin was alarmed by the agreement made in 1925 in Locarno, whereby
Britain, France, Germany and Italy guaranteed the western German borders, but arranged no comparable
guarantee of Germany's eastern borders. Stalin, especially in the light of the general German
rapprochement with the West from 1924, saw the Locarno Agreement as a western ploy to encourage
Germany to resume its traditional "Drang nach dem Osten" (the pushing towards the East). The Agreement
might even mean the Germans allowing French troops through to aid the Poles against the Russians.
Stalin's fears were calmed slightly by the German Foreign Minister, Gustav Stresemann, arranging the April
1926 Berlin Treaty with Russia, promising neutrality if either was attacked by a third country.
iii. In 1928 five German technicians working in the Donetz mines in Russia
were tried for industrial espionage, but in 1929 Russia and Germany came closer together.
Both countries were isolated in the Geneva talks in their plans for
disarmament, while the depression in Germany after 1929 meant the Germans wanted good trading
relations with the Russians. For their part, the Russians wanted German equipment for their Five Year Plan
of development. By 1932, 46% Russian imports were coming from Germany.
Admittedly, Stalin did not entirely trust the Germans and was alarmed by
the Western withdrawal 1929-30 of its occupying troops from the Rhineland, and of the Allied Control
Commission. The 1929 Young Plan and the 1932 Lausanne Conference, both easing the reparations
situation for Germany, were unwelcome signs to Stalin of German rapprochement with the West.
5. Relations with Britain.
i. In February 1924, diplomatic relations were resumed, but October 1924 saw
the publication in the British press of the details of the "Zinoviev Letter" (Zinoviev at the time was head of
Comintern; see point 8 below) of September 1924, instructing British communists to "work for the violent
overthrow of existing institutions" in Britain, Ireland and India. The original of the letter was never produced,
and its genuineness is still in doubt, but it soured relations (and, coming 4 days before a general election,
helped into power the Conservative Party, led by Stanley Baldwin).
ii. In September 1925, the Russian Trade Union leader, Mikhail Tomsky, on a
visit to Britain, addressed the British Trades Union Congress, urging "revolutionary strikes". The May 1926
General Strike in Britain was interpreted as Soviet-inspired; its failure convinced the Russians that
communism was unlikely to take over elsewhere in the near future.
iii. In May 1927, British authorities raided the Soviet trade delegation in London,
seeking incriminating evidence. None was found, but diplomatic relations were broken off until October
6. Relations with China.
i. Russian leaders were convinced that Britain, the US, and Japan (either
together or separately or fighting each other) would try to take over China, including the rail link to
Vladivostok (see ii. below). Consequently, Lenin had worked to strengthen China. 1921-22 negotiations with
the "official" Peking government having failed, talks began 1922 with the rival Nationalist government in
Canton. In 1923 Michael Borodin and a number of Russian advisers (by 1925 1,000 strong) began to help
the Nationalists, who also received about $3,000,000 in aid.
ii. However, in May 1924 a Russo-Chinese Treaty was signed with the "official"
government of the warlord Wu Pei-fu in Peking and not with the "rebel" Nationalist government in
Canton. This established diplomatic relations; restored joint management of the Chinese Eastern Railway
(the CER; also called the East China Railway); ended Soviet extra-territorial rights and concessions
(although the Amur-Ussuri area, acquired 1858-60, and Turkestan, acquired 1881, were not returned); and
recognized Outer Mongolia as part of China.
nb. The CER, although in China, was part of the rail link between Moscow and Vladivostok, and had
been built jointly by the Russians and Chinese. It formed part of the Trans-Siberian Railway, and was linked
by a spur to Port Arthur (Lushun to the Chinese) on the Liaodong Peninsula in China and to Seoul in Korea.
In 1919, the Russians had given up their claim to the railway, as Vladivostok and much of the railway had
been in the hands of the Whites (the opponents of the Reds).
The concessions surrendered had already been lost in the Civil War.
In 1919, during the Civil War in Russia, the Reds had chased the Whites into Outer Mongolia,
where a pro-communist faction and eventually government were established, and Russian aid and presence
requested. Russian troops left Outer Mongolia 1924, but Russia continued to dominate the area, partly as it
was close to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
iii. On the death of the Nationalist leader, Sun Yat Sen (Sun Yixian in Pinyin, the
modern system of transcribing Chinese characters into Roman script) in 1925, Chiang Kai Shek (Jiang
Jieshi in Pinyin) became the new Nationalist leader. He soon fell out with the Chinese Communist Party. The
first Chinese Revolutionary Civil War 1925-26 (between Nationalists and Communists) was patched up, but
fighting began again in 1927. Stalin supported the Chinese Communist Party in its efforts to gain power.
iv. In 1929, Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai Shek) tried to take over the Chinese Eastern
Railway. The Russians, after threats, attacked, seizing two border points. Joint control was restored over the
railway, but relations between Russia and the Nationalists were broken off, being resumed only 1932 in view
of the Japanese attack 1931 on Manchuria. (The apparent Chinese weakness in 1929 had encouraged the
Japanese to attack.)
7. Relations with Japan.
i. Relations with Japan in Tsarist times had been bad, as both competed for
influence in China and Korea. Russia had been beaten by Japan in the war of 1904-5, and Japan had
occupied northern part of Sakhalin Island during the Civil War.
ii. In 1925 a general settlement was arranged between Japan and Russia, with
Japanese leaders of the day following a more conciliatory policy. The Japanese withdrew from Northern
Sakhalin (in return for fishing rights along the Siberian coast, and oil concessions), and diplomatic relations
iii. In the late 1920s, the Japanese returned to a more aggressive foreign policy.
The Japanese takeover of Manchuria between 1931 and 1933 was a clear threat to Siberia.
8. The expansion of Communism.
i. Lenin in 1919 had established the Communist International (Comintern), with
the goal of spreading communism.
ii. Bolshevik hopes of communist revolution elsewhere were dashed by the
failure of the 1923 communist risings in Germany (especially in the Ruhr) and of the 1926 General Strike in
Britain. This, however, did not stop Comintern from trying to promote communism, if only to cause difficulty
among capitalist countries. Comintern helped bring about the abortive rising in November 1926 against the
Dutch in Indonesia, and in 1927 sided with the Chinese Communist Party in the Civil War (the Second,
lasting to 1936) against the Nationalists. Comintern also attempted to penetrate US unions.
iii. In 1928, Stalin concluded that communist revolution once again had a
chance of success in view of the apparent decay of capitalism. Thus the alliance with socialism was no
longer necessary and, Stalin, at the 6th World Congress of Comintern, ranged European Social Democrats
with the Fascists, both being "on the side of the exploiters, on the side of the imperialists .... and their
agents". Comintern also considered that Socialists in power in Europe and elsewhere would delay the
eventual, inevitable communist takeover because their modest reforms would postpone the demand for true
revolution. The Comintern directive to communists in Europe not to co-operate with socialists and liberals
thus weakened those forces which, with communist support, might have formed governments, for example
in Germany, thereby preventing Hitler from gaining power. In 1935, Comintern reversed its policy and
ordered communists to form "popular fronts" with reformist groups to keep the right wing out of power; this
helped bring about the Popular Front in Spain, which sparked off the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
1. Stalin was increasingly preoccupied by the threat from Germany and Japan.
i. The Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the establishment of the Japanese
puppet state of Manchukuo, 1931-33. This Japanese advance was one reason for the USSR and the US
opening diplomatic relations 1933.
ii. In January 1933, Hitler became German Chancellor. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had
advocated acquisition of the Ukraine for grain, the Caucasus for oil, and the Urals for minerals. At the 1933
London Economic Conference, the German delegate asked the West for a free hand in the Ukraine, as
compensation for the loss of colonies in 1919. Hitler was openly anti-communist, and in 1936 signed with
Japan the Anti-Comintern Pact to combat communism.
iii. At first, Stalin neglected the rising Nazi strength, and even welcomed Hitler's
becoming Chancellor. This was partly as he was apprehensive about possible French preponderance in
Europe (French power was generally overrated in the 1930s), and partly because it would prevent Anglo-
French rapprochement with Germany, at a time when the USSR was preoccupied with Far Eastern matters.
Hitler also promised to continue previous arrangements with Russia, and in 1933 ratified the extension
(negotiated in 1931) for another 10 years of the 1926 Neutrality Pact. Stalin made no great effort to win over
the West at first; for example, 1933 witnessed the set-piece trial of British Vickers engineers for allegedly
sabotaging the 5-Year Plan.
iv. Stalin seems to have become alarmed when, in 1934, Germany and Poland
agreed to settle differences, and went on to make a non-aggression pact (denounced by Hitler only in April
1939); at the same time, Hitler refused to guarantee the independence of the Baltic States.
v. Thus in 1934, Stalin began the "Soviet return to Europe". Simultaneous with
the rise of Hitler was the chaos brought about by the first 5 Year Plan (begun partly because of a perceived
western capitalist threat; one reason for the show trials was to show that there had been Western plots to
destroy communism). Clearly, Soviet security necessitated (temporary?) rapprochement with the West.
2. The "Soviet return to Europe".
the secret military co-operation with Germany was ended, although
Stalin in an attempt to appease Hitler, continued to supply Hitler with raw materials right up to the 1941
German invasion. Stalin also worked to appease Japan, doubtless with Russian defeat in the 1904-5 war in
mind. He also started an arms build-up, which was in full swing only with the Third Five Year Plan begun in
May, a 10-year Russo-Polish non-aggression pact was signed.
June, relations with Romania were resumed, with the USSR recognizing
the loss of Bessarabia.
September, Russia joined the League of Nations (which Germany and
Japan had just left).
2nd May, France and Russia signed a mutual defence treaty, to support the
other if either were attacked by another power.
16th May, a Russo-Czech mutual defence treaty was signed (promising
mutual aid in the event of an unprovoked attack by a third country), although Russian aid was to come only if
the French fulfilled their 1924 treaty obligations to aid Czechslovakia. (Unfortunately, the Poles would not let
Russian troops pass through Poland to Czechoslovakia, and Romania, which was not such a good route,
was not too co-operative.)
July-August, the 7th Comintern congress in Moscow halted revolutionary
action against bourgeois governments, and encouraged communists to form popular fronts against right-
wing Fascism. (The French and Spanish communists, and the Bulgarian, Georgi Dimitrov, pressed for the
October, on Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia, Russia in vain demanded oil,
coal and steel sanctions against Italy.
iii. 1936:- (nb. Russo-German relations reached their nadir, 1936-37, following the
German denunciation of the 1925 Locarno Treaty in March, and the establishment of the Anti-Comintern
Pact in November. In the Great Purge, 1936-38, many of those tried were accused of working for the
18th July, the Spanish Civil War began, with Mussolini and Hitler helping
Franco. Litvinov in vain urged the League of Nations to intervene and until 1938 sent a modest amount of
aid to the Loyalists (in which the communists were strong).
20th July, the Straits Convention was signed at Montreux. The USSR had
supported the Turks in their demands. The convention restored Turkish sovereignty over the Straits at
Constantinople, but allowed Black Sea powers to send their warships through in time of peace, while
warships of other countries were banned; in time of war, if Turkey was neutral, no belligerent ships were to
be allowed through unless authorised by the League; if Turkey was a belligerent, it was left to the Turkish
government to decide what ships might pass through. (This replaced the annex to the 1923 Treaty of
Lausanne, demilitarizing the Straits - which were to be guaranteed by Britain, France, and Italy - and
permitting the transit of all merchant and warships while Turkey was at peace.)
August, conscription was introduced in the USSR.
December, introduction of the new Soviet constitution, in part an attempt to
make the USSR more attractive to the West as an ally.
the Nationalists and the Communists in China were encouraged to
make the Xian Compromise in December, ending the Second Revolutionary Civil War and forming an
alliance to fight the Japanese.
3. Relations with Japan and China.
i. Stalin was anxious to avoid trouble with Japan. Thus, for example, Russia in
1935 sold its share of the East China Railway to Japan (having completed a link inside the USSR to
ii. In December 1936, the Russians helped bring the Xian Compromise, to deal
with the Japanese threat. Soviet equipment and advisers were sent to China. In 1937, China and Russia
signed a non-aggression pact. Soviet aid to Jiang Jieshi between 1937 and 1939 included $250, 000,000 in
loans, l,500 military advisers and 2,000 "volunteer" pilots.
iii. Between July and August 1938, border clashes between Russians and
Japanese (were the Japanese testing Russian strength?) led to full-scale battle on the East Siberia-
Manchukuo border at Changkufeng Hill near Vladivostok (usually called the Battle of Lake Hasan by the
Russians). After almost two weeks of fighting, involving planes, tanks and heavy artillery, the Japanese were
driven back and an armistice signed.
iv. In May 1939, fighting occurred again, the Japanese were thrown back from the
Nomonhan district of Outer Mongolia, and agreed to a truce.
v. In April 1941, Russia and Japan signed a Neutrality Treaty for five years
(denounceable after four years), but relations were uneasy. The Russian spy in Japan, Richard Sorge, in
1941 notified Stalin that the Japanese had no plans to attack Russia. Finally, on 8th August 1945, two days
after the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Soviet forces - the Treaty with Japan having been
denounced - attacked the Japanese in China, thereby starting the "Nine-Day War". Stalin had met
Roosevelt and Churchill in February 1945 in the Yalta Conference, where he had promised Soviet entry in
the Pacific Theatre and in turn been promised the Japanese-held territories of Southern Sakhalin and the
4. The Nazi-Soviet or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact 1939.
i. Stalin's change of policy was the result of deteriorating relations with Japan,
together with alarm at Western appeasement of Hitler and refusal to conclude an alliance with Russia.
ii. The Russians were not invited to the Munich Conference of September
1938, when the French and British Prime Ministers, Edouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain, agreed to
the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. As the French had not honoured their 1924 treaty with the Czechs,
the Russians concluded that their 1935 alliance with France was valueless, and that the West was trying to
divert Germany to the East. Russia had publicly announced its willingness to support the Czechs but had not
iii. In March 1939, following Hitler's seizure on 15th March of the rest of
Czechoslovakia, Litvinov proposed a conference of British, French, Polish, Soviet, and Turkish
representatives to consider future military action, but the British government rejected the proposal as
"premature" and no conference resulted. 21st March 1939, Hitler seized Memel, Lithuania's only sea-port.
iv. On 28 March 1939, Hitler's denunciation of the 1934 German-Polish Non-
Aggression Pact was taken by the Russians as a clear signal of Hitler's aggressive intentions. Litvinov, in
April, outlined a French, British, Russian alliance, with military commitment against Fascist powers, but
Chamberlain's government procrastinated (partly because the Russians demanded too much - a guarantee
to the Baltic States, complete reciprocity, and the right to send troops through Poland). However,
Chamberlain, who already on 24th March had, with France, guaranteed Poland, now on 25th April signed a
Pact of Mutual Assistance with Poland. Consequently, Stalin no longer feared that the West would leave
Russia to fight Hitler alone; indeed, if, as seemed likely, Germany and the West went to war, Russia could
afford to remain neutral and wait for the capitalists to destroy each other.
v. Thus, in May 1939, Molotov was made Foreign Minister, and let it be known
that he would welcome a peaceful settlement of issues with Germany.
At Hitler's suggestion, the German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop visited
Moscow and 19th August 1939, a 7 year Nazi-Soviet trade agreement was signed for a German credit to
Russia of 200,000,000 marks, in exchange for raw materials - petrol, grain, cotton, phosphates and timber.
Then, on 24th August, a 10-year non-aggression pact was signed, with, in addition, agreement for:
consultation; arbitration in the event of disagreement; neutrality if either went to war against a third power;
no membership of a group "which is directly or indirectly aimed at the other"; and a secret clause, revealed
only on Germany's defeat in 1945, establishing spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, with Poland being
divided. Stalin was well aware that Russian mobilization in 1914 had prompted war, and was very cautious
Stalin must have been aware that the secret clause was likely to unleash
war because it freed Hitler from the prospect of a war against the USSR as well as against Poland, France
and Britain. Stalin, who had feared that the West was encouraging Hitler to fight Russia, was now
encouraging Hitler to fight the West.
Stalin was always suspicious by nature, and relations with Germany after
the 1939 Pact were not perfect; for example, Hitler supported the Finns in their 1939-40 war against Russia
and considered Stalin's demands for war materiel excessive.
However, in 1947, Stalin said that he would have continued to work with
Germany, had Hitler been willing; certainly, Stalin had more to gain from co-operation with Germany (for
example, Poland) than from co-operation with Britain. According to E.H. Carr, Stalin was convinced that no
German would be so stupid as to incur hostilities on two fronts, considering it axiomatic that if Germany was
at war with the West, it would have to be friendly with Russia.
5. The Fifth Partition of Poland, September 1939, and Soviet expansion 1939-1940.
i. Stalin's expansion in 1939-40 seems to indicate a desire to acquire security
through a buffer zone, rather than to acquire territory, or to restore the old Russian Empire, or to spread
communism. Thus the occupation of the Baltic States followed the fall of France to the Germans, and the
territory acquired from Finland in 1940 was, in the circumstances, a modest security for Leningrad. Between
1939 and 1941 Soviet forces were expanded 2½ times.
ii. When, on 1st September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland (prompting Britain
and France to declare war on 3rd September) and made rapid advances (on 17th September Warsaw
surrendered to the Germans, and Polish resistance ended), Stalin, on 17th September occupied the Soviet
sphere arranged in August, incorporating it, "by popular demand" into the Ukrainian and Belorussian Soviet
Republics; he acted sooner than he had planned, but the German advance had been very rapid. Soviet and
German troops clashed when they met up on 19th September near Brest-Litovsk, but general war was
averted. While Hitler took Danzig and 32,000 sq. miles, with 22,000,000 people, Stalin acquired 77,620 sq,
miles with 13,000,000 inhabitants.
In 1943, the Germans announced that they had found about 4,500 bodies in
the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. Stalin denied German accusations that he had eliminated as many Polish
leaders as he could; what evidence there is corroborates the German claim (and probably at least 15,000
Poles in all were murdered).
Stalin denounced the Second World War as "an imperialist conflict"
between "degenerate democracies and Fascism."
iii. The Winter War against Finland, November 1939-March 1940. The Finns
(whose independence the Russians had recognized in 1920 by the Treaty of Dorpat) rejected Soviet offers
of a mutual assistance treaty, and an exchange of territory, so that Leningrad would no longer be only 20
miles from the Finnish border. The Russians thereupon denounced their non-aggression pact with the Finns
and attacked, without adequate preparation; possibly Stalin had assumed diplomacy and the threat of force
would suffice. The Finns put up a heroic resistance but after 15 weeks had to agree to the March 1940
Treaty of Moscow. The Finnish border was pushed back a further 70 miles from Leningrad, but the Finns
lost only 16,000 sq. miles (out of 118,000); neither was to attack or join an alliance against the other
(however, 1941, the Finns joined the Germans, in the Finnish "War of Continuation", but once again, in
1944, had to make peace with the Russians). In December 1939, Russia was expelled from the League for
aggression; Japan, Germany and Italy had left before being expelled.
iv. On the fall of France in June 1940, the Russians occupied Lithuania (according
to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact within the German sphere, and so Stalin paid 30,000,000 marks
compensation), Latvia and Estonia, which had gained their independence from Russia during the First World
War. Northern Bukovina (never part of Russia) and Bessarabia (which joined Romania after the First World
War) were seized from Romania. The fall of France had meant that Russia would not be the arbiter of the
war, and might even be the next victim, so the above buffer zones were needed.
6. Operation Barbarossa, June 1941, and the Great Fatherland (or Patriotic) War.
i. Stalin seems to have been convinced that Hitler would not attack, and
ignored warnings from a number of sources about an impending attack. When the attack (Operation
Barbarossa) began on 22nd June 1941, Stalin seems to have lost his nerve; at least, he made no public
announcement between 24th June and 3rd July, although, thereafter, he courageously stayed in Moscow
and directed the fighting, even when German troops reached the outskirts of Moscow.
ii. However, Stalin had planned for a great expansion of the Soviet armed
forces, to be completed by 1942. Already, by 1941, the Soviet army had increased in size by two and a half
times and as much industrial production as possible had been moved beyond the Urals, where it would be
safer. Nevertheless, Medvedev maintains that Stalin did not make full use of the respite from 1939; for
example, many tank units were without their full complement of men and equipment; spares were in short
supply; much equipment was in threatened areas; and the army had no defence plan in the event of attack
and no camouflage.
iii. Stalin's condemnation of the West, especially of Britain (the Russians had
objected in particular to the British blockade of Germany as an infringement of maritime commerce), not
surprisingly ended, and, on 12th July 1941, Britain and Russia signed the Moscow Treaty for mutual
assistance (extended by a further treaty in May 1942).
V. 1941-53. (See the work on the Second World War, the Cold War, and China.)
1. The Great Patriotic War, although it devastated the USSR, left the USSR as one of two
super-powers, dominating Eastern Europe (if not Western Europe too).
2. The relatively good relations between Russia and the West (especially the US) did
not long survive the Second World War, and by 1947, the Cold War was under way. The first phase of
the German Crisis (the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49) and the Korean War 1950-53, seemed to take the world
to the edge of general war. In 1949, the USSR exploded its first atom bomb, 4 years after the US.
VI. An estimate.
1. Stalin saved Russia and communism from destruction, for example, by gaining
adoption of the policy of socialism in one country; by his modernization, admittedly negated to a large extent
by the purges; by his leadership from 1941, when, with Molotov, Voroshilov, Malenkov and Beria - the five of
them making up the Supreme Defence Council - he ran the war.
2. The Second World War enabled him to make the USSR a great power.
3. Medvedev takes Stalin to task for not expanding communism more, despite the
opportunities. For example, he failed to help Mao and the Chinese communists in the 1946-49 Chinese
Civil War against the Nationalists. Stalin's failure to help was probably the result of his having more pressing
use for scarce resources following the war, and his view that Mao was not a true communist. Medvedev also
points out that communism would have done better throughout the world, had Stalin not tarnished its
reputation by his brutality.