Help With Paper 1

Fun with Stalin

Prescribed Subject 1—The USSR under Stalin, 1924 to 1941

Items to help you in each of these areas are listed below.

1. Struggle for leadership

Click here for a very helpful power point to help you review the power struggle.

Why was Stalin able to obtain control?

He was the link between the Party leadership and the administrative levels below (which carried out Politburo decisions)
And used this positions to ensure the appointment of loyal supporters
His opponents underestimated him.
He removed his opponents one at a time w/ others and then attacked those who had been his allies.
He was popular because he came from the peasant class.
He represented the view ‘Socialism in one country’ as opposed to ‘continuous revolution’ and this had a greater appeal.
Stalin was totally unscrupulous, whereas Trotsky was loyal to certain ideals which he would not betray
Trotsky was considered ambitious and arrogant.

2. Collectivization, agricultural policies

The condition of agriculture in 1924:

80% of pop. in agricultural sector
Vast majority lived in primitive conditions w/ widespread poverty
Farming methods were not up to date
The more productive peasants still used backward methods
Problems as a result of these:

Peasants were conservative and Stalin saw them as holding back progress
Industrial development could not occur w/out sufficient food prod.
The peasant labor force was to be redirected to industrial labor, and this was impossible w/out more efficient farming
Peasants would not allow surplus to pay for imports
Stalin’s answer was to collectivize farming (this was carried out by force) and peasants rebelled against this, and destroyed crops and animals.

The results of collectivization:

In a very short time the bulk of the peasants were organized on collective farms
The Gov. gained greater control over production and allocation.
Modernization and use of machinery became possible
Food was made available for the Five Year plans (industrialization)
Supplies of food were ensured (even during the German invasion) and this gave the Soviets an advantage.


The immediate effect was a massive drop in production (w/ the destruction of crops and animals)
Collectivization had an enormous human cost (as opposition was eliminated / and as a result of starvation)
The kulaks (the most able farmers) were virtually destroyed
It proved inefficient in the long run b/c not responsive to changes in local/regional needs
The peasantry were heavily taxed

3. Five Year Plans, industrialization, rearmament

Stalin introduced a system of central planning w/ production determined by the Gov. and resources allocated accordingly. Each Sector of the economy was given a five year target. This was believed to eliminate waste and concentrate upon vital areas of the economy.

The first five year plan 1928-1933 (aimed to create an industrial base for further development)

Aimed to achieve rapid expansion of coal and steel production / electrical power / transport and other ‘capital goods industries’.
It called for 20% per annum increase, however this was not realistic / the peasants had little skill / central planning involved a vast army of then inexperienced bureaucrats.

It met w/ some success b/c:

There was enthusiasm on the part of the work force (probably as a result of propaganda)
Most of the required labor force was unskilled labor (which was in large supply)
Of the complete control of the Gov. and of its allocation of resources to progress in designed areas.
Standards of living decreased as a result, but a solid industrial base was developed.

The second five year plan 1933-1938: (diversification)

The aim was more realistic: 14% increase in prod.
The planners had gained more experience
The workforce was more experienced
Gov. control over labor increased
Growth in certain areas was excellent (i.e.: engineering and metal working sectors)


Growth in sectors such as the consumer goods was less successful.
Real wages did not increase
As Hitler came to power, more and more resources were aimed at weapon production.

The third five year plan 1938-1943:

This plan was obstructed by the need to speed up armament and the 1941 German invasion.

The goal for growth was 12%
There were labor shortages
New plants were built in the East
Stalin’s purges led to disorganisation

An Evaluation of the 5 Year Plans for Industry

Succeeded in turning the USSR into a major industrial power over a short period of time
In the early years there were many errors and much waste.
They allowed the USSR to resist the 1941 German invasion.
The methods used were harsh (i.e.: abolition of U. relief) although in addition to a high degree of Gov. control, there were incentives.
Living standards declined at first and then improved slowly.
A new elite was created
It became increasingly cumbersome as the Soviet industry’s extent and complexity increased, by 1945 there was need for reform.

4. Nature of the Soviet State, constitution, extent of Stalin’s power, cult of personality

(notes by Camilla)

  • Development of totalitarian/autocratic society - Stalin seen as an idol to many – nicknames included the “Red Tsar”, “man of the people”, “Father of All Nations”, “Great Helmsman”
    • characterized as a great father, adored and idolized (image helped through propaganda)
    • long standing ovations at speeches – no one wanted to be the first to stop clapping
  • Stalin committed to eliminating all opposition
    • destruction or alteration of many documents to create an ideal legacy
    • alteration of Constitution in 1936 (lasted until 1977)
      • bicameral legislature
      • free elections, universal suffrage
      • Bill of Rights (worthless – thousands of people exiled/killed without trial during the Purges)
      • renamed many institutions – for example, Central Committee became Supreme Soviet
      • only one party permitted to exist
        • in 1939, Communist party members only numbered 1.5million (not even close to representative of entire nation)
      • power of party concentrated in Presidium – members handpicked by Stalin
  • State power did not wither away (as Marx prescribed), but grew tremendously large
    • Stalin justified this as necessary to lead USSR to socialism and defend against foreign capitalism
  • Russian Orthodox Church abolished (Marxists were atheist)
    • priests exiled and humiliated; thousands sent to gulag or killed
  • by 1930s, USSR economy was entirely centralized and planned – priority given to heavy industry (“the way of the future”)
  • some chances for advancement among workers, but required exceptionally hard work
  • Socialist realism – official style (for music, drama, literature, art)
    • artists forced to produce works that glorified the Stalin and the Soviet state, to the point of outlandishness
  • towns renamed after Stalin (ex: Stalingrad)
  • Equality: women given equal education and rights to employment.
  • (In theory) universal access to health and education

5. Purges, impact on society

The effects of the purges:

Opposition to Stalin was removed, and this enabled him to act as a dictator until his death
The ‘cult of personality’ around Stalin grew
Many of the most able people of Soviet society were eliminated
The purges had eliminated most experienced officers in the Soviet army (this encouraged Hitler’s 1941 attack)
Millions of innocents were executed or imprisoned, denouncing of others became common.
Initiative was thought to be dangerous and several areas of Soviet life stagnated.


Abstractly Stalin was successful (the army grew in power, industry grew, etc.) but the costs imposed on the population for these improvements was enormous (purges, massacres, etc.)

6. Foreign relations, USSR and Nazi Germany, Nazi/Soviet Pact.

Foreign Policy 1919 to 1934

The Comintern was used to encourage unrest in the capitalist states at the same time as establishing normal diplomatic relations.
The attitude towards the League of Nations was one of constant hostility
Germany became of great concern b/c:
It had great revolutionary potential
It was a ‘revisionist’ power unhappy at the Versailles settlement
Both the USSR and Germany were ‘outcast’ powers.
In April 1922 the USSR and Germany signed the Treaty of Rapallo which provided for: the establishment of full diplomatic relations between them / renouncing of any claims against each other / development of trade / the possibility of Germany’s army using Soviet territory as a training and weapons testing ground. The agreement was renewed for 5 years in 1926.

The Locarno Treaties (1925) these represented failure for the Soviets b/c Germany improved her relationship w/ her WWI enemies w/ this treaty.

The Far East was of second main interest:
It was an area ‘ripe for revolution’ — especially China and the colonial possessions of France and G.B.
Vital concern for security due to the sharing of a large frontier w/ the USSR and the fact that Soviet strength was concentrated in the West
The Soviets gave aid to the nationalist Sun-Yat-Sen, stopped aid when Chiang Kai-Shek came to power. Soviets were concerned at Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

The reactions to Japanese militarism in the area included:

Strengthening of the army in Eastern USSR
Avoiding provocative action against the Japanese (did not criticize Japanese policy / offered a non-aggression pact / sold railway interests in Manchuria to Japan)
Restoring of diplomatic relationships w/ China in 1932
Encouraging Chinese communists to cooperate w/ nationalists against the Japanese.
The relations between the USSR and other capitalist powers stayed at the USSR’s policy of using the Comintern to "maintain relations but subvert". The USA however, refused to recognized the Soviet Gov. until Roosevelt 1933.

Foreign Policy after 1933/34:

A change was evident and was brought about by:

The rise to power of Hitler
The total control Stalin came to have over policy, which then came to be based on ‘cold blooded realism’.
As a result:

The USSR joined the League of Nations in 1934 to adopt ‘collective security’
Diplomatic relations w/ the USA were established and a treaty of mutual assistance signed w/ France.
The Soviets urged communist parties to cooperate with other left wing groups against Fascism.
Soon Stalin became disillusioned b/c:

G.B. and France clearly saw communism as a threat greater then Fascism
Collective security failed (b/c of lack of support)
His proposals of military cooperation against Germany failed.
Of the appeasement policies followed by France and G.B.
Of the exclusion of the USSR at the Munich conference.
As a result Stalin sought a compromise w/ Hitler and this led to the Germano-Soviet Pact of August 1939. Stalin accepted the pact b/c:

Of suspicion of G.B. and France b/c of their lack of support against Germany
He wanted to give time for the Red Army to recover.
He could obtain from Hitler parts of Poland and Baltic States.
He would push away the Soviet frontier from main Russian cities.

Main events until Babarossa:

Did Stalin miscalculate when he accepted the 1939 Pact?

The agreement over Poland brought Soviet gains but it also placed the Germany army in a better position to attack the USSR
The USSR was able to continue its armaments program and begin recovery. Thus Stalin might have ‘bought’ time. But was there immediate danger of an attack on the USSR in August 1939 which the Pact avoided? If not, then he didn’t buy time.
It is argued that ‘Stalin gave the green light to aggression’ since he removed fear for Germany of having to fight a two front war. Maybe Stalin hoped to weaken both Germany and the Western Allies. But then Stalin’s miscalculation lays in "believing that such a war would be a long drawn out affair rather than a ‘blitzkrieg’ victory for Germany."
Did Stalin make the mistake of trusting Hitler? Considering his own nature, probably not. But then, why did he continue to supply Hitler with needed supplies right up until the day of the Barbarossa attack?


The Foreign Policy of the USSR to 1941

Dominated by two features:

1. Hostility towards the capitalist world (b/c of Marxist ideology and foreign intervention on the side of the Whites during the Civil War)
2. Expansionist nationalism

The Bolsheviks revised their foreign policy when it became clear that the rest of the capitalist world would not undergo revolution. The features of this revised policy were:

Belief that in the long run world revolution was inevitable
Help to those struggling against western imperialism.
Exploiting the rivalries between the capitalist states
The use of Comintern to encourage labor unrest, etc.

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