Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) was a leading member of the Bolshevik Party during the Russian Revolution. He eventually succeeded Vladimir Lenin as the leader of the Soviet Union.
Stalin’s regime encompassed three crucial periods in Russian history – the formative years of the Soviet Union, World War II and the early years of the Cold War. Consequently, he is regarded as one of the most influential European leaders in the interwar and the postwar eras (Minahan 155).Stalin’s rise to power, however, was characterized with “shifts in national policy and a cynical manipulation of the aspirations of the country’s many national groups for his own purposes” (Minahan 156). Simply put, he established his dictatorship mainly through the frequent reconstruction of history (Zuehlke 11). Stalin’s rule, for one, promoted a fabricated Soviet identity by glorifying Russian language and culture and brutally suppressing all other ethnic and national identifications.
In addition, party leaders in Moscow and the leaderships of the autonomous territories were subjected to periodic purges (Minahan 156).Those who knew Stalin since childhood described him as “embittered, insolent, rude, (and) stubborn…incapable of feeling pity for man or beast” (Zuehlke 11). Most of them attributed his cruelty to his harsh home life. Stalin’s father, Vissarion “Beso” Dzhugashvili, was an alcoholic who flew into violent rages when drunk.
Beso beating up his wife and son was already a common occurrence in the Dzhugashvili household (Zuehlke 12). Although Beso later abandoned his family, young Joseph’s home life remained violent. Joseph’s mother, Yekaterina (Keke), beat him unmercifully for the slightest infractions.Joseph, therefore, grew up to be a vindictive and angry person. Despite his excellence in school, he was more known as a student who threw stones at birds and often got into fights with classmates (Zuehlke 13).
In adulthood, Stalin’s mean streak manifested itself through an extreme hatred for authority. As a student in the Tiflis Theological Seminary, he led many of his schoolmates to rebel against the school authorities (Zuehlke 16). Stalin was likewise the leader of a radical political organization in the academy (Zuehlke 17).Such a brazen abhorrence of authority, however, did not go unpunished – he was expelled from the seminary in 1899 (Zuehlke 21). Shortly afterwards, Stalin became a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). When the RSDLP split into Menshevik and Bolshevik factions in 1903, he joined the more militant Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin.
Impressed with his talents for underground conspiracy and propaganda, Lenin appointed him into the Bolshevik Party leadership in 1912. By 1917, Stalin was already one of the top leaders of the Communist Party (Daniels 84). Stalin served a number of positions in the Communist Party.He co-edited the party newspaper and chaired the Bolshevik party congress held in August 1917. Despite playing a modest role in the October Revolution, Stalin became a key organizer and troubleshooter for the new Soviet government. He was commissar of nationalities, commissar of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, an army group commissar in the Civil War of 1918-1921 and was one of the first members of the Politburo.
Stalin also led the intra-party struggle against the Trotskyists and the Workers’ Opposition (Daniels 85). Stalin managed to obtain full control of the party organization when his allies (Molotov, Yemelian Yaroslavsky and V. M. Mikhailov) replaced the Trotskyist party secretaries (Nikolai Krestinsky, Yevgeny Preobrazhensky and Leonid Serebriakov) in 1921.In 1922, at Lenin’s behest, he assumed the position of general secretary of the Communist Party.
This rank gave him control over appointments, a privilege which he exploited by installing associates in key Party positions. But Lenin started making belated reconsiderations about Stalin, particularly after he noticed the rude and aggressive behavior of the latter. Shortly before his death in 1924, Lenin wrote all his apprehensions about Stalin in a political “testament” (Daniels 85).Most Party leaders, however, had no knowledge regarding the existence of this “testament” – Stalin had the latter discounted and suppressed through clever political maneuvering. He then proceeded to make himself the undisputed leader of both the Party and the Soviet Union. Stalin succeeded in politically isolating Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1925.
Between 1926 and 1927, Stalin defeated the combined opposition of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev and had them expelled from the Party by aligning himself with Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky.But from 1928 to 1929, Stalin denounced the Bukharin group as a “right deviation” and packed the Politburo and the Central Committee with his own appointees (Daniels 85). The period from 1928 to 1941 is considered as the formative years of the Soviet Union. This span of time saw the implementation of the Five-Year Plans, collectivization and the periodic mass purges.
These policies, in turn, were so closely associated with Stalin that some historians actually refer to them collectively as “Stalinism” (Phillips 17).But there is a deeper reason behind this title – the failure of the aforementioned strategies reflected the evils of Stalin’s regime. The Five-Year Plans sought to achieve large-scale industrialization through the extension of state control over all aspects of the economy. Large-scale industrialization, however, entailed sustainable urbanization. The former was therefore inevitably linked to the need to implement a policy of collectivization in agriculture (Phillips 17). Stalin implemented the Five-Year Plans and the collectivization of agriculture for a number of reasons, which would be further explained below:First, Stalin was fearful of a foreign invasion.
Despite the relatively significant economic achievements of Lenin’s New Economic Plan (NEP), the Soviet Union remained a backward country. During the 1920s, for instance, France surpassed the Soviet Union in terms of coal and steel production. Stalin believed that the lack of a strong industrial base rendered the Soviet Union vulnerable to attacks from capitalist countries. He viewed events such as the Civil War of 1918-1921 and the rise of the Kuomintang in China as signs that the West had plans of invading and destroying the Soviet Union (Phillips 19).Thus, the Soviet Union must be prepared to go war at any time. Industrialization was seen as the only means of achieving this objective.
Although the Five-Year Plans operated on a very paranoid premise, they were successfully completed as the 1930s wore on. For one, the Five-Year Plans saved the Soviet economy from the detrimental effects of the Great Depression – every able-bodied Russian citizen had a job while their counterparts in America and the rest of Europe lived in poverty. In addition, the Five-Year Plans gave the Soviet government a sense of security against the rise of Hitler and his anti-Communist Nazi party (Phillips 19).Second, the First World War and the Civil War of 1918-1921 damaged Russia’s infrastructure and essential services such as distribution. Although the NEP managed to restore pre-war levels of production by 1926, the Soviet economy was still backward when compared to those of other European countries. State control under the Five-Year Plan would bring about industrial and urban growth by allowing the government to direct the economy and focus on the production of and distribution of essential resources such as food.
Since the Communist takeover in 1917, Russia severely reduced its trade with the rest of the world (Phillips 20). The Soviet government opted to focus on developing the country’s domestic economy instead of coming up with products that would merely be sold to foreigners. Lastly, industrialization was viewed as a means of ensuring the survival of the revolution. It was believed that Communism and the Communist Party would not survive without industrialization. This is because the backbone of the revolution, the proletariat, existed only in an industrialized society.Rapid industrialization under the Five-Year Plans would therefore generate more proletariat that would continue the revolution (Phillips 21).
Furthermore, the Five-Year Plans would eliminate the Nepmen – private business owners and traders who managed to evade the reforms of the NEP. Because of their adherence to capitalism, the Nepmen were regarded as “class enemies” who represented the corrupt system that was very rampant during the time of the tsars. The Party believed that for Communism to work in the Soviet Union, parties that are concerned with selfish gains such as the Nepmen must be eradicated (Phillips 21).Indeed, how would Communism survive if its enemies are lurking within its turf? The first Five-Year Plan (1928-1932) concentrated on the development of heavy industries such as coal, steel and iron production.
This focus was based on the philosophy that factories, plants and communications facilities must first be established before consumer good like textiles and household goods can be produced. The second Five-Year Plan (1933-1937), as a result, concentrated on the production of consumer goods.However, the rise of Nazi Germany altered the focus of production. Consequently, the third Five-Year Plan (launched in 1938) was geared towards the manufacturing of arms that would be used to counter the threat of Nazism (Phillips 23). But the Five-Year Plans had very disastrous consequences.
This was mainly because the Soviet government attained industrialization at the expense of other industries. While there were steel mills and coal and iron mines, there was not enough food to sustain the workers.This food shortage, meanwhile, was a result of the failure of the Soviet government’s attempts to collectivize agriculture. Instead of surrendering their crops and livestock to the government, the kulaks destroyed them, resulting in widespread famine (Phillips 21). Furthermore, working conditions in Soviet mines and factories were very deplorable. Basic safety precautions were neglected in order to meet the targets set by the Five-Year Plans.
Workers were made to use machinery without proper training and safety equipment.In addition, they were ordered to work very long hours for very low wages. As a result, onsite accidents and absenteeism were very rampant (Phillips 26). The aforementioned social anomalies bred popular discontent with Stalin’s regime. Stalin, in turn, used the assassination of Party leader Sergei Kirov in 1934 in order to suppress legitimate political dissent. Claiming that an opposition group led by Zinoviev and Kamenev was responsible for Kirov’s murder, Stalin ordered the arrest and conviction of many prominent Party members on trumped-up charges.
Soon, even ordinary citizens who merely suspected of engaging in anti-Soviet activities were apprehended (Phillips 39). These mass arrests, later known as the Great Purges, became a central part of Stalin’s rule in the 1930s. The Party Secretariat collected information on Soviet citizens and officials, while the NKVD conducted surveillance on suspected individuals and oversaw the labor camps in which those who were found “guilty” of treason were made to work in.In Stalinist Russia, it was not unusual for a “subversive” to be abducted by the secret police in the middle of the night and never be seen again (Phillips 39). Aside from crushing legitimate political dissent, the Great Purges likewise suppressed the attempts of the country’s other ethnic groups to attain sovereignty.
In the Soviet Union, ethnic Russians were given special privileges such as better housing and lands and bigger rations. In sharp contrast, the country’s other ethnic groups (Armenians, Kurds, Turks, etc. were either forcibly deported or arrested and imprisoned for the slightest offence (Hoffman 33).In the process, a fabricated Soviet identity based on Russian language and culture emerged. Apart from persecuting non-ethnic Russians, the Soviet government also required the usage of the Russian language as a medium of instruction in schools, as well as in the writing of books and official documents (Wright 86).
The Great Purges suddenly came to a halt with the outbreak of World War II. At the beginning of the Cold War, Stalin made plans of continuing the purges.However, these plans of his were never carried out due to his untimely death in 1953. Indeed, Stalin’s dictatorship was based on a fabricated version of history. In order to prove to the West that he was a powerful and competent leader, he desperately tried to come up with a fraudulent national identity and a constituency that followed his orders out of “respect” and “admiration.
” But akin to all falsehoods, Stalin’s facade of power eventually collapsed. This is no longer surprising – true power always lies in the people and not in the leader.