By 1928, Stalin had ousted Trotsky and the rest of the Left opposition. In four years, Stalin had single handedly taken major steps away from Lenin?s collective leadership and free inter party debate and replaced them with his autocratic dictatorship. Stalin began to secure predominant power over the communist party and the state by destroying passive opposition from the peasantry and former Lenin supporters. He won growing support from the working class who were impressed with the initial five-year plan. As it promised increased industrialization, which would lead to socialism in one country within their lifetime.
** The First Five-Year Plan **
The first five-year plan, approved in 1929, proposed that state and collective farms provide 15 percent of agriculture output. The predominance of private farming seemed assured, as many farmers resisted collectivization. By late 1929, Stalin moved abruptly to break peasant resistance and secure the resources required for industrialization. He saw that voluntary collectivism had failed, and many ?Soviet economists doubted that the first plan could even be implimented.?1 Stalin may have viewed collectivization as a means to win support from younger party leaders, rather than from the peasants and Lenin?s men. ?Privately he advocated, industrializing the country with the help of internal accumulation? 2 Once the peasantry had been split, Stalin believed that the rural proletarians would embrace collectivization . Before this idea had a chance to work, a grain shortage induced the Politburo to support Stalin?s sudden decision for immediate, massive collectivization.
Initially, the sudden change to collectivization was a success. The first year produced a bumper crop. Although this allowed the U.S.S.R. to increase exports twenty-three times that of 1929,3 due to the world wide depression of this time, the value of their exports only increased by ten times.4 Prices continued to fall into 1931, compulsory and wide spread collectivization were combined with rationing. ? Millions of peasants starved to death as exports were forced on the world in the face of surplus elsewhere.?5 The central committee affirmed that the peasants were willingly moving into collectives. In secret, Stalin had ordered local officials to force the peasants to collectivize or be executed or sent to labor camps. Entire villages had to deliver grain to the state at low prices. Kulaks, or former wealthy farmers, were deliberately over assessed for grain deliveries, and expropriated for failure to obey. The party did not have a specific outline of how to go about collectivization, so initial attempts were confusing, ill prepared, and met with severe resistance. Within seven weeks, about half the peasantry had been herded into collectives, but bringing in as little as possible. They slaughtered more than half their livestock in a protest. In March 1930, Russia was faced with a grain seed shortage. Stalin called for a temporary halt to the collectivization methods and blamed over zealous local officials for misunderstanding his initial request for collectivization.
After a brief pause, peasants were lured into collectives by persuasion and unfair taxation. This practice was however not such a success. Peasants became unmotivated, crops were left unharvested, and farm animals died of neglect. Large grain exports in 1930-1931 depleted reserves and increased quotas. ?By 1932, amid widespread concealment of grain, collectivization hung by a thread, and was maintained by force.?6 In the Ukraine and north Caucasus, the state seized nearly all the grain, creating for the first time in history a man made famine.
** The Great Famine**
Although this famine appears to have resulted in the death of approximately five million people,7 it is scarcely known today. The Soviet Union never admitted that the famine existed, and actually went to great lengths to conceal it. Why is this so? The answer seems to be that the famine of 1932-1934 was a man made disaster. It was almost a direct result of the social and economic policies of the Soviet government during the first five-year plan. To carry out the program of rapid industrialization, the government felt that its need to collectivize agriculture quickly far out weighed the individual human loss.
The famine began in the spring of 1932. Compared to what was to come, the famine at this time was relatively mild. In the beginning, the peasants still had live stock to slaughter and were allowed to travel outside their villages. The famine however reached full stride in the spring of 1933. There were no longer livestock to eat , every piece of grain was accounted for, and harvested by the Soviet government to be sold on the world market. The government doubled the price of bread in August, which did not matter anyway due to the fact that most of the peasants were not paid enough to buy bread at all. Also at this time, the Soviet government prohibited tours in the famine areas and the peasants were not allowed to leave their villages.
The famine was particularly severe in the rural areas. This is the opposite of the norm., but then again this was not the normal famine. Of those who died in the cities, were mostly refugees from the rural areas who in 1921,fled to town thinking things could only be better. They found however, no jobs, no supplies, and no relief. The famine was even worse for the individual peasant than it was for those who joined collectives. The individual peasants were in more danger because they were completely abandoned by the state. This is compared to the members of the collective farms who received , at best, limited state assistance. The individual peasants were completely eliminated either by entering collective farms or by starvation.
** The Second Five Year Plan**
The first five-year plan built a foundation for the Soviet economy and turned the U.S.S.R. into an industrial-agrarian state, as workers completed the plan ahead of schedule. The second five-year plan, redrafted during its first year, was adopted in February 1934. It was a more realistic plan than its predecessor. The new plan stressed a higher standard of living, increased skilled labor, and expanding the Soviet railway system. ? We shall rebuild our country with our own hands and with the help of our own machines. This will prove to the whole world the advantage of Socialist methods and the soundness of a planned economy.8?
After a bad year in 1933, came three good years in industry and construction. During this time, labor productivity rose substantially and industrial unemployment fell as training programs created a more skilled labor force. Pay differentials widened, rationing was abolished, and more consumer goods were made available. ? After 1934, high prices of necessities stimulated harder work under the prevailing piecework system? 9
Labor productivity was also improved by stakhanovism, a by-product of socialist competition. Named after Alexis Stakhanov, who increased his productivity by fourteen times over, by his ?intelligent use of unskilled labor? 10 Stakhanovism spread throughout the country to all industries and lower labor norms were raised. Harsh penalties for absenteeism and high worker turnover rate reduced these and improved labor discipline. However, the Great Purge eliminated most of the managers, technicians, and foremen.
**The Great Purge**
The rise to power of a self made and poorly educated man, ?gave its imprint to the whole style of Soviet politics and society of the thirties.?11 A growing personality cult aided Stalin?s drive to dominate the party after Lenin?s death in 1924. Within the party, tension grew as Stalin crushed the Left in 1927. It became clear that he would exclude factions or individuals that opposed his personal authority. Although Trotsky, Bukharin, and other old Bolshevik party leaders were stripped of their influential positions, they still underestimated Stalin. The Stalin-Bukharin debate developed behind the scenes. The well off peasants (kulaks), were taxed heavily by the state and withheld their grain from the market. Bukharin favored further concessions to them, including raising state grain prices. Stalin on the other hand began taking severe actions against the kulaks and officials who sympathized with them.
Early 1929, Stalin attacked the Right openly and accused anyone belonging to the Right as purposely hindering industrialization and collectivization, and therefore deemed as traitors. The secret police were encouraged to arrest anyone with out warrant if they were suspected of any treasonous behavior. In 1934, the secret police was dissolved and its duties were assumed by the People?s Commissariat of International Affaires (NKVD)12. NKVD employees were highly paid and obtained the best privileges. This state with in a state kept records of millions of citizens, and spied on all party agencies. They were expected to show loyalty to the NKVD first and to the party second. In 1936, a special committee was established to investigate all party members and liquidate enemies of the state. Private citizens were encouraged to denounce any and all suspected counterrevolutionaries. In Spring, forty members of Stalin?s personal bodyguard were tried for secretly conspiring against the state. ?As the rapidly growing NKVD justified its existence by uncovering conspiracies everywhere, Stalin ordered careful surveillance even of Politburo members.?13
A reign of terror swept the U.S.S.R. that dwarfed that of the French Revolution. Unlike the French, the terror in Russia reached its peak twenty years after the Revolution. The French terror claimed 40,000 victims while Stalin?s terror from 1935-1938 killed hundreds of thousands and sent millions into exile.14 Stalin, however, not the NKVD initiated the Great Purge and approved executions of prominent figures.
Citizens and leaders alike believed that the Party to which they dedicated their lives must be right. Those who were tried in the great public trials included all of the surviving members of Lenin?s Politburo. The purges decimated the military chiefs, army generals, and all full admirals.15 ?Purged were 70 percent of the Central Committee members and members who were just chosen in 1934, only 35 of 1,827 rank-and-file delegates from the previous congress were present.? 16
**The Constitution of 1936**
Stalinism marked a return to tsarist autocracy. Operating through a hierarchy of soviets, the political system was run actually by party leadership and the NKVD. The legal basis for this political system was the new constitution of 1936. Stalin explained to the Congress that due to the rapid industrialization and collectivization, there were neither longer landlords nor capitalists. So in effect, the old constitution was obsolete. Stalin went on to explain that currently there are ?two friendly classes, workers and peasants. Restrictions and inequalities in voting could be eliminated, and a democratic suffrage instituted.? 17 The promises of the constitution often were just words on a page and meant nothing in practice. The constitution claimed that the U.S.S.R. was a ?federal state formed on the basis of a voluntary union of equal Soviet socialist republics.?18 In reality, most republics had been conquered or admitted forcefully, and the predominance of the Russian republic did not see equality.
Soviet federalism provided an illusion of autonomy and self-government. Under the Stalin constitution, the ?bicameral Supreme Soviet became the national legislature, supposedly the highest organ of state authority.?19 The constitution entrusted executive and administrative authority to the Council of People?s Commissars. The Supreme Court headed a judicial system including supreme courts in the republics, regional courts, and people?s courts. Lower courts were elected and higher ones were chosen by the corresponding soviet. Judges were subject to party policies, and the NKVD tried many important cases in secret.
? The constitution promised the Soviets freedom of speech, conscious, press, assembly, and demonstrations in conformity with the interest of the working people and in order to strengthen the socialist system.?20 In fact the Soviet people never saw any of these rights. The Constitutional rights could only be used to support the regime, not to criticize it.
In conclusion, many soviets citizens appeared to believe that Stalin?s positive contributions to the U.S.S.R. far outweigh his monstrous acts. These crimes have been down played by many of Stalin?s successors as they stress his achievements as collectivizer, industrializer, and war leader. Among those citizens who harbor feelings of nostalgia, Stalin?s strength, authority , and achievement contrast sharply with the pain and suffering of post-revolutionary Russia.