In my opinion, the suffering that the Soviet people went through was worth it as Russia progressed a lot under Stalin’s leadership. Although some things did not change, and some seemed to get even worse, important changes were made that brought Russia nearer the line with other European countries; and ultimately helped them defeat Germany in the Second World War. Agriculture was a major part of Russian society. This was because most people living in Russia were illiterate peasants and could only really work on land.
Under the NEP, peasants were either agricultural labourers with no land, or prosperous peasants (known as Kulaks) who owned small farms. These people used old-fashioned, out of date farming methods. These farms were small and inefficient; so many fertilisers, machinery such as tractors, and other modern methods were not used. These could not be afforded anyway. Stalin planned to modernise this. He wanted to build factories to increase the industrial centres to make the country strong and wealthy, but there was the problem of feeding all the workers.
As early as 1928 Russia was already 2 million tons short of the grain needed to feed its workers. He also wanted to raise money for his industrialisation programme, and needed money to buy machinery from other countries. Foreign experts would also need to be hired and paid to help get things running. The problem was that no other country wanted Russian currency, so the Russians had to export food (especially grain) to get foreign currency. Extra grain was also needed to feed the growing urban population.
Now that Russia needed to sell its grain, Stalin decided to make the peasants hand in their land and make it into one big collective farm (known as a kolkhoz). The name given to this was Collectivisation. The peasants had to work on the farms, but weren’t allowed to control it. All the grain produced was sold to the government at a fixed low price. Although there was a lot of propaganda to gain support for collectivisation, many of the 100 million peasants opposed to this plan, so Stalin realised that he had to deal with them.
Firstly he dealt with the richest peasants, the ones who would object to his plan the most as they had more to lose – the Kulaks. They were the scapegoats, and got the blame for stopping collectivisation. The government often encouraged people to attack the kulaks. In December 1929 Stalin announced that the kulaks were to be sent to concentration camps in places like Siberia. Their land was confiscated and given to local kolkhoz. In 1934 all the kulaks were wiped out. In February 1930 over half the peasants in Russia had joined the collective farms, but the grain shortage problem had not been solved.
Many framers destroyed their crops, tools and farm buildings, and killed their animals rather than hand over their grain and animals. Stalin still sent armed squads to collect grain from the peasants. This meant that too much food was being exported; which was a punishment for not cooperating. All these factors caused a sudden drop in food production, and a man made famine was created. Over the next 3 years about 5 million people starved to death. As the famine was not reported because of censorship, in theory it did not exist so nothing could be done about it. Collectivisation seemed to have failed.
Wiping out the kulaks was a bad idea as they were the most successful farmers, who knew new techniques. This could have benefited Stalin’s collective farms, and helped modernise Russia’s agriculture. Also the famine caused by Stalin left many dead. But some good did come out of it. Now Russia was making some money from exports. New farming methods were being given a chance. This helped Russia improve its farming. Also, the second time collectivisation was done, people got to keep a bit of land for themselves. Despite the failures, collectivisation was a push that was needed in order to improve old farming methods.
Russia became a communist country under Stalin. One of the aims of communism was to share the country’s wealth amongst its people. The Russian communists set up a Supreme Council of National Economy (known as Vesenkha) in December 1917, and in 1921 they set up the State Planning Commission (known as Gosplan). Together they had to estimate how much farms and factories would make, and decide on ways to increase this. So in 1927, economist and financial experts drew up the 5 year plan – a plan to develop the Soviet economy ‘from an agrarian into a industrial one, capable by its own means of producing the necessary equipment. It concentrated on raw materials and industry rather than goods. The Plan set targets for things such as industry, agriculture, railways, canals, trade, energy, housing, education and other public services. The plan went into action on the 1st October 1928. Over the next 5 years heavy industries (such as coal, iron, steel, oil and machine-making) were expected to triple their output. Light industry (such as producing consumer goods like clothing, shoes and furniture) was to double its output. To make sure that factories had enough power, energy was to rise six fold. Workers were enthusiastic to meet targets.
There was a lot of propaganda to encourage workers to do their best. Many people belonged to ‘shock brigades,’ groups of young workers who competed with each other to increase their output. There was also the Stakhanov movement. In 1935, Alexei Stakhanov mined 14 times more coal than people usually could in a single shift. This was given great publicity, and encouraged workers to work just as hard as Stakhanov. The Stakhanovites became star workers who did far more than they usually would. The government also introduced new work practices. This included getting workers to work a 6 day week, with only one day off.
To prevent workers from taking too much time off work, absenteeism was also punished very severely. If someone was absent for more than one day without good reason, they would be sacked and evicted from the factory housing. To stop people from staying only a few weeks at one job and then moving on to find more agreeable work, the OGPU (the secret police) introduced internal passports in 1932. This meant that people could not move to a new town without the police’s permission. Because most workers were previously peasants, they did not have many skills or experience, and lacked basic training.
Towns and cities also became very crowded; flats were being shared by several families, and kitchens, bathrooms and toilets had to be shared. Some workers even had to live in tents and huts. Because of the uninterrupted week, husbands and wives found that they usually didn’t have the same day off; so couldn’t spend much time together. Also, Christians weren’t always given Sundays off to attend church. Bad working and living conditions still existed, and there weren’t much consumer goods available. People got paid low wages, and workers were punished harshly for minor faults.
They could not escape these conditions as internal passports had been introduced. There was also an emphasis on quantity more than quality in industries as they had to meet targets. But industrialisation did bring lots of success. As there was a lot of enthusiasm and hard work from people, Stalin decided to cut a year off the plan. In a sense conditions did improve as there were now hospitals, free medical care and pensions available to people. There were also schools, meaning there were not as many illiterates and everyone had equal job opportunities. The Stakhanovites were also given flats of their own and other luxury goods.
Everyone had a job in Russia, which contrasted with most other places while the depression was going on. As there were more jobs to do than people available, women could work too. Nurseries for children opened, making this possible. Also, a second successful 5 year plan was done, and although a 3rd one was started, it was interrupted by the war. Overall, beating Germany in World War 2 would not have been possible if it wasn’t for industrialisation, as Russia would not have the military strength to beat them. As there were not enough workers to fulfil the tasks set by the 5 year plan, prisoners in camps were made to do them.
Prisons therefore became concentration camps. Gulag, a special department of the secret police, was set up in 1930 to run the labour camps. The projects they did included making a 500 kilometre canal which took 300,000 prisoners to build. They had to build it without machinery, taking 20 months to complete. Although all the prisoners were promised they would b released once it was completed, 228,000 were transferred to other construction projects. By the end of 1930 there were labour camps in every part of Russia. Conditions varied from camp to camp, but in all camps the conditions were bad.
The prisoners were given food depending on how much work they did. By 1938 there were around 6 million people in these labour camps. Some of them were kulaks, some workers who did not achieve their targets of the 5 year plan, and some were just ordinary criminals. The reason why so many people were in these labour camps was mainly because of the Great Purge of 1935-8. It started off when Stalin supposedly sent the NKVD (the secret police) allowed a young communist, Nikolayev to kill Kirov, the Secretary of the important Leningrad branch of the Communist Party.
Stalin may have seen Kirov as a possible rival to his position of supreme leader. Stalin then claimed that Kirov’s murder was part of a conspiracy against himself and the Communist Party, and that Nikolayev had acted on orders from a Leningrad Opposition Centre which had connections with the Left Opposition. Because of this, 19 men were arrested and given long prison sentences. The secret police then went onto arresting other members of the Left Opposition. This started the purge of the Party, which expelled members who were seen as unreliable.
When a member was purged from the Party, they were likely to be sacked from their job too. Friends and neighbours would then probably cut off contact with them encase they would be accused of the same crimes. Show trials were held for people who were accused of being supporters of Trosky and other absurd charges. They confessed to these accusations as in some cases they were told if they did confess, they would not be executed. They were also tortured and forced to confess, or just confessed out of loyalty to the Party. The purge also spread to the armed forces.
Marshal Tuchachevsky and several other Red Army generals were accused of being spies for Germany and Japan. They were arrested and shot. They then started to affect ordinary people. People were encouraged to denounce neighbours, workers, bosses and even family. Some people were even arrested for failure to denounce suspicious people. By the end of 1938 people were living in a state of terror. Although people in this time could be sent to labour camps and arrested for no reason, this happened in the time of the Tsar and Lenin as well. People were also exiled and locked up without proper trials before, so nothing had really changed.
It could be argued that people could see this as almost normal as they grew up with these terrors and secret police. But the scale did change, as many more people did get arrested and killed for minor faults. The scale was huge, and nearly all Russian people did live in fear as they could be arrested at any time for any reason. Stalin was the supreme leader, he controlled everything; religion, education, culture, censorship and even family life. There was a lot of propaganda on walls, buildings, shop windows and even private homes, where Stalin was glorified. Worship of him was encouraged, and other religious worship discouraged.
Churches and mosques were closed down and any religious activity was forbidden in public. Education became stricter as under an education law of 1935 teachers were allowed to use stricter methods of discipline. Grade cards and test marks were reintroduced and school uniforms were reintroduced. There was also a lot of censorship, especially in culture. Writers, painters and composers had to make sure they supported the Party and the government. They also had to integrate the progress of Communism into their work. In 1936, family units were also restored to the way they were before the 1920s.
Divorce was made difficult, abortion was a criminal offence unless it was necessary and wedding rings were restored. To increase the birth rate, families received tax exemptions for having lots of children. Stalin was seen as a supreme leader who was in charge of everything. But this was not at all different to how the Tsar ruled. Stalin improved education, which was of great benefit to the Russian people. Illiteracy almost disappeared, as in 1939 94% of people aged 9 to 49 in towns could read and write, and 84% in the countryside could also read and write. This contrasted greatly with the number of illiterate peasants before.
Although there seemed to be freedom of speech, there was a lot of censorship and brainwashing going on, and there was no opposition to Stalin to vote for, so in reality there was no freedom of speech. Family life was getting better, and people did receive a range of new benefits such as free health service, holidays with pay, insurance schemes and new flats. Overall I think that the people of Russia did suffer a lot under Stalin’s rule. They had to cope with bad conditions and fear of being arrested. They worked to the extremes under industrialisation and had to give up land during collectivisation.
They were denied freedom of speech and movement. But I think the benefits did outweigh the suffering. Russia was gaining more money through collectivisation, and farming methods did seem to be improving. Industrialisation meant Russia had more raw materials to export, and everyone had a job even during the depression. This was a push Russia needed to modernise industries. People moved out of country sides into towns and cities where they could work. There was also fewer illiterate people. Ultimately, the biggest achievement was winning the Second World War. I thin that this would have been impossible without Stalin’s changes.
Russia would not have been well equipped and had the necessary raw materials without all these changes. They would also have not been trained well. Russia was now more in line with other. If Germany had won the war, Russia would have been worse off than it was under Stalin as the people did not fit in with Hitler’s supreme race. They would have been used just as slaves, and the 5 million Jews living in Russia would have been killed. I think that the Russians avoided that because of Stalin. So in my opinion, the suffering that the Soviet people went through was worth the progress made under Stalin.