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Joseph Stalin

Stalin Triumphant

The Struggle for Power

The Great Terror and the Nazi-Soviet Pact

During this period, Stalin's wife, Nadezhda, bore him his third child, Svetlana, in February of 1926. Nadezhda, who may have suffered from depression, was unhappy in their marriage, which always took a back seat to Stalin's political work--she left him at times to stay with her relatives, and the couple eventually slept in separate beds. Even more unhappy, however, was Yakov, Stalin's son from his first marriage, who came to live with them in the mid-20s. A gentle young man, Yakov never got along well with his father, who ridiculed his son's weakness, which might have led to Yakov's suicide attempt in the later part of that decade. After hearing of the attempt, Stalin purportedly said "Ha! He couldn't even shoot straight."

By 1928, meanwhile, Bukharin was sufficiently alarmed over Stalin's growing power to seek a reconciliation with the disgraced "Leftist", Kamenev. His efforts were fruitless, however--Kamenev was convinced that his only hope of survival lay in going along with Stalin, who was now beginning his campaign against the "Rightists." Having defeated Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, he now readmitted the latter two into the Party and began to co-opt their ideas, pushing for immediate collectivization of land and rapid, state-controlled industrialization, as opposed to the more gradualist approach backed by Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky. Throughout 1928 and 1929, Stalin gathered support in the Central Committee, and by November 1929, he was powerful enough to have Bukharin removed from the Politburo. Earlier, in February of that year, Trotsky, who had continued political activity in the Russian east, was expelled from the Soviet Union. With Stalin's strongest adversaries thus humbled or eliminated, he stood alone atop the pyramid of Soviet power.

Even as he was tightening his hold on the Politburo, Stalin had pushed his economic program into action. This Five-Year Plan, as it was called (the first of many) set ambitious economic goals for the U.S.S.R., to be implemented by a central agency called the Gosplan, which would oversee a rapid industrialization process that was intended to bring the Soviet Union toward economic parity with Western Europe and the United States--all without any foreign aid. Lenin's New Economic Policy was abandoned, and the limited market economy that had been allowed to exist in rural areas was, quite literally, liquidated. In its place, Stalin imposed a vast and complex planned economy, in which every decision would be made centrally, rather than individually.

Initially, the Five-Year Plan only called for collectivizing about one-fifth of the rural farm population, but in 1929 Stalin abruptly decided on immediate collectivization on an unprecedented scale. In theory, this meant that individual farm ownership would be abolished, and peasants would be consolidated into collective farms, usually averaging three to five thousand acres in size. In practice, the program was an excuse for Marxist class war in rural areas, as the peasantry naturally resisted the government's attempts to make them leave their farms, and the government, in response, unleashed deadly force against the wealthy kulaks, the rich peasants who were, according to Stalin's propaganda, exploiting everyone else.

The entire notion of kulaks was, in actuality, a Marxist myth, invented during the Revolution by Lenin. The richest peasants had all been dispossessed during the civil war in 1918-20, and there was little violent class animosity remaining in Russian villages. It was therefore almost impossible for Soviet officials to separate "exploiting peasants" from "exploited peasants." But they were bound by ideology--or rather, Stalin was bound by ideology, and it was his iron will that drove the collectivization process. Beginning with his declaration, in December 1929, that the Soviet Union needed to achieve "the liquidation of the kulaks as a class," the entire apparatus of the newly Stalinist state was directed against the recalcitrant peasantry.

The results, to put it mildly, were catastrophic. Fifteen million peasants were uprooted from their homes and marched at gunpoint across the country into inhospitable regions, where they were expected to farm--or, more realistically, expected to die. In early 1930, the policy had caused so much chaos that Stalin was forced to pull back, and for a time he allowed some peasants to leave the collective farms. This was tantamount to an admission of defeat, but there was no real opposition left to take advantage of the situation--even as collectivization was failing, Tomsky and Rykov were forced from the Politburo, putting an end to Bukharin's factions. And over the next two years, the brief retreat came to an end, and collectivization went forward again, with even greater zeal. Hundreds of thousands were shot, and a terrible famine swept over the country, which Stalin allowed to rage unchecked, viewing it as another weapon against the "kulak". Between four and five million people died in the Ukraine alone, and another two to three million in the rest of Russia--while the Soviet Union, under Stalin's direction, wasexporting 1.7 million tons of grain, and keeping millions of tons in state "reserves" in case of war. Meanwhile, the "class struggle" went forward in other areas as well--churches were destroyed, priests arrested, and a vast propaganda campaign conducted against organized religion; and at the same time, supposedly "bourgeois" influences were removed from academia, the army, and even engineering, leaving the Soviet Union bereft of talented men.

But the campaign against the "kulaks" was the greatest and most pervasive of Stalin's terrors during this era. In scope, ferocity, and cruelty, it warrants comparison to Hitler's Holocaust. The apparatus of death was cruder than the tightly regimented German system, but the toll was just as high, and the ideological fervor bore a striking resemblance to Nazism's strident anti-Semitism. The kulak, the "enemy of the people", was treated as subhuman and demonized just as thoroughly as Germany's Jews. The vast system of labor camps that sprang into being in the early 1930s--the "gulag"--bears comparison to the Nazi concentration camps. Vasily Grossman, who would later become the Soviet Union's chief authority on the Holocaust, made the comparison explicit:

They would threaten people with guns, as if they were under a spell, calling small children "kulak bastard," screaming "bloodsuckers!"...They had sold themselves on the ideas that the so-called "kulaks" were pariahs, untouchables, vermin. They would not sit down at a "parasite's" table; the "kulak" child was loathsome, the young "kulak" girl was lower than a louse. They looked on the so-called "kulaks" as cattle, swine, loathsome, repulsive: they had no souls; they stank...they were enemies of the people and exploited the labor of others...And there was no pity for them. They were not human beings; one has a hard time making out what they were--vermin, evidently.

To the West, the Soviet Union was a closed country, and western visitors saw what Stalin wanted them to see. During this period, with Europe and America wracked by the Great Depression, the now all-powerful Soviet leader presented them with smiling, happy villagers, bustling factories, and statistics that showed a truly remarkable period of industrial growth, unmatched by any industrial nation in the 19th century. Of course, the Soviet Union remained a desperately poor country, as every penny was reinvested in building industry, rather than improving the quality of life, and later analysis would show the Five Year Plan barely matched the growth that would have been expected had the N.E.P. been left in place. But in the early '30s, eager western intellectuals flocked to Moscow to see "the future" in action. Stalin's Soviet Union, where a cheerful, prosperous facade masked a regime built on murder and terror, was considered by its western sympathizers to be the wonder of the world.

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Another Resource

by Liam_Carter, September 02, 2014

I found this other more userfriendly and interactive timeline of Stalin http://histolines.com/timeline_character.php?charname=Joseph+Stalin+

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