The Positive Achievements of Stalin and his Regime

The Positive Achievements of Stalin and his Regime

Introduction

Josef Stalin was one of the most important leaders that presided over the USSR in the 20th Century. He was able to establish economic and political structures that were sustained until 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union.1 Over the past decade, perceptions on the effects of Josef Stalin’s rule over the Soviet Union have gradually moved towards the negative. The proportion of Russians who still have a positive attitude towards the leader has dropped to 30 percent according to a study by Levada Centre. Furthermore, when respondents were asked whether they would be happy living under a Stalin regime, only 3 percent responded to the affirmative.2 In Russia, the widespread view is that people are split right in the middle regarding those who support Stalin’s Leadership style and those who frown upon it: the Stalinists and the anti-Stalinists3. However, it is safe to say that those who are indifferent in this debate are the minority. This paper’s aim is to highlight the positive achievements of Josef Stalin and his regime.

Perceptions held by Russians regarding Josef Stalin

There are a number of persistent images of Stalin; the leader in Russians’ minds, the ruthless tyrant whose policies led to the annihilation of millions, and the shrewd political leader who led the Soviet Union into prosperous era (Gazeta, 2012). Consequently, any definite assessment of Stalin’s place in the Russian society ends in conflict. When one solely focuses on Josef Stalin’s achievements, it may be viewed as an attempt to justify the atrocities witnessed under his rule. On the other hand, an emphasis on his culpability could be interpreted as damaging the collective identity of Russian’s who are proud to be associated with the achievements of the era, nevertheless.4

The Russian authorities also display this ambivalence. For example, Vladimir Putin, in an address to the nation in 2009, said that people should refrain from making a general assessment. Although he acknowledged that the USSR had transformed into an industrial nation under Stalin’s watch, he added that the prosperity was costly, in that it came with the loss of too many lives.5 It is interesting to note that the two arguments fronted by the Stalinists and the anti-Stalinists are not necessarily linked; each comes to the fore depending on the context.6

Industrialization

Both the wartime communism and the Civil War in Russia had detrimental effects on country’s economy. In 1922, for instance, industrial output was 13 percent of that experienced in 1914.7 A recovery followed under the stewardship of the New Economic Policy instituted by Lenin. This New Economic Policy allowed market flexibility to some extent within a Socialism context.8 When Stalin came to power in the late 1920s, he replaced the New Economic Policy with a system known as the “Five-Year Plans.” These plans called for an ambitious and rapid industrialization guided by the state as well as collectivization of agriculture.9 Since there was no sufficient capital, no cross border trade, and practically no modern physical infrastructure, Stalin opted to finance industrialization by ruthlessly extracting wealth from the kulaks, rich peasants, and restraining the consumption appetites of citizens. Restricting consumption was one way of making sure that capital was re-invested towards industrialization.10

As of 1933, it was reported that workers’ earnings had dropped to almost one-tenth of what was being earned in 1926. There was use of unpaid labour in camps, provided by common convicts as well as political prisoners.11 Moreover, communists and konsomol members were regularly mobilized to provide labour for construction projects. Stalin was also able to secure the help of foreign experts to improve the manufacturing processes, in addition to instructing workers of effective practices, such as Stephen Adams, a British engineer.12

Despite the failures and breakdowns experienced in the early years, the first two years were able to achieve rapid industrialization from a very poor economic environment. Although many historians concede that there were significant economic developments under the guidance of Josef Stalin, the exact figures denoting the rates of growth are a disputed. While official Soviet estimates placed the figures at 13.9 percent, Russian as well as western estimates lowered the figure further to 5.8 and even 2.9 percent.13

Furthermore, not only was the Union able to repel advancing German forces in World War II, but its industrial success made it become recognized along with the United States as a world superpower.14 A social transformation promptly accompanied the economic transformation. Peasants were drawn to the cities to take advantage of emerging employment opportunities, leading to a ballooning urban population.15 Moreover, these cities grew so rapidly that by the 1960s, more people lived in the cities compared to the countryside. This change was part of enormous growth experienced in social mobility, evidenced by the changes whereby peasant families would become white-collar workers in the cities.16

Social Services

Another benefit that the Soviets derived from Stalin’s rule was the unprecedented liberation in social circles. Females were given equal educational opportunities and women could claim equal rights in the workplace. Therefore, women had a real opportunity of improving their plight alongside that of their families. They began occupying leadership roles in education as well as in industry, Furthermore, to make it easier and desirable; day-care systems were established across the state. 17

Another positive feature of Stalin’s rule is evident in the improvements witnessed in health care. This greatly improved the quality of life of the average Soviet while increasing their lifespan.18 Stalin’s policies ensured that the Soviet people had universal access to health care as well as education, essentially giving rise to the first generation free from cholera, malaria and typhoid.19 It is reported that the incidences of such ailments reduced to record lows, in turn increasing the lifespan of the population by decades.20

Moreover, Soviet women who lived under the rule of Stalin are said to have been the first generation of women to bear children in hospitals. There was also access to pre-natal care.21 Furthermore, education improved under Stalin’s watch along with economic development. The social program touted “LicBez,” loosely translated to mean “elimination of illiteracy” had just that in mind, eliminating illiteracy.22

The regime required every child to attend school free of charge; eight years in two four year-stages followed by another four of formal education. This was also made accessible to Civil war orphans and later for World War II orphans.23 Women also benefitted from the work force shortage occasioned by repression and genocide suffered by some generations that lived under Stalin’s rule. This shortage was also worsened by the heavy human losses conceded to the World War II. These otherwise grim realities opened up opportunities for women, in addition to the fact that they were needed to take part in the industrialization process.24

Furthermore, education was not just about reading books and going to class, the establishment recognized the need to introduce closer links between what was regarded as learning and the practical applications in the field. Consequently, the upper stages of middle schools were transformed into tekhnikuny, vocational training colleges. In addition, by the end of 1930, all learning institutions were required to establish a link with an enterprise.25

It is noteworthy that this was the first time, in Russian history, that there was a deliberate effort to improve the orphans’ lives offering then both basic care and professional training.26 Publicity materials were developed to convince both young men and women to study engineering as a way of preparing for careers in aviation, metallurgy, and chemistry. Again, engineers were sent overseas to study modern industrial technologies and the establishment contracted hundreds of foreign engineers.27

A dilemma that presented itself was that better educated children were more likely to perpetuate an elitists system after going on to higher learning institutions. Therefore, it was a challenge to get children from poor backgrounds to attend schools. Lenin’s administration attempted to make education more accessible to all, although there were no far-reaching changes instituted in the curriculum.28 In 1965, it was decreed that 65% of those who were to be admitted to institutions of higher learning had to originate from the working class, a figure that was further raised to 70% in 1929, whereas, 14 % had to be women.29

By 1931, the Central Committee had determined that all students needed to be literate and have a basic understanding of the Science subject. Moreover, by the mid 1930s, there were officially recommended textbooks, and tests and examinations were restored (The Stalin Project, 2008). In addition, education did not simply emphasize reading books and attending classes, in late 1920s, reforms had been instituted to ensure that there were close links between education and what would eventually be applied in actual practice.30

The positive changes in the social context were further made possible by significant improvements in literacy levels, better and comprehensive healthcare, as well as increased life expectancy and living standards.31 By the time Stalin was dying in 1953, the USSR population was mainly urban, learned and substantially separated from their rural roots, in stark contrast to when Josef Stalin took over the reins of power.32

The middle class that Stalin gave rise to expect the trend of improvements to be sustained. These expectations were further fuelled by the deprivations associated with wartime experiences. However, Stalin’s focus on industry, as opposed to consumer goods may have resulted in a conflict that led ultimately to the collapse of the Union. Furthermore, Stalin’s successors could not maintain the central planning model perpetuated by.33

Another point is that there was infrastructural development under Josef Stalin’s rule. Transportation systems were upgraded such that as many new railways as roads were constructed. Consequently, the regime was better placed to purchase goods to cater for an expanding Soviet economy.34 Again, workers who surpassed their quotas were rewarded with incentives to encourage more effort on their part. This strategy certainly increased productivity in the workers’ environments.35

Religion

For centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church had been a strong national institution in Russia. However, under Lenin, it was despised so that attending church services was frowned upon while religion was demonized, which was another way of enforcing collectivization among peasants, to whom religion was still a very important feature of daily living.36 As a result, churches were demolished, and bells hauled away to be melted fro metals. In addition, priests were driven out together with the kulaks.37

Since centuries of worship could not be easily erased, in many cases, people formed ‘underground’ churches where they worshipped secretly. Furthermore, in areas where Islam was the predominant religion, most of the mosques were closed down as imams suffered the same fate meted on the priests.38 Islamic practices such as the veiling of women, polygamy, fasting during Ramadan as well as travelling to Mecca for haj were all outlawed. As in the case in Christianity, religious activities went ‘underground’.39

However, upon the starting of World War II, Stalin reviewed this policy towards religion and used it to gather support from the people for the war effort. This is a positive development for religious groups and the population at large. Religion was applied here by linking it to nationalism and supporting defeat of German invaders.40

Collectivization

Stalin’s regime moved to implement collectivization of agriculture. This was meant to improve productivity in farms through large-scale mechanized farms created by integrating smaller private farms. This was also meant to ensure that the peasantry was under the direct control of the establishment, in addition to ensuring they would pay tax. Collectivization implied drastic changes in society on an unprecedented scale.41

Collectivization effectively represented a mandatory shift from private property in agriculture, to a collective, state controlled entity. This presented a situation that went against democratic norms and ideals.42 Land was not the only object to be collectivized, but also machinery, livestock, as well as peasants’ homes. This intervention led to a significant drop in the standards of living of many peasants, and spawned violent reactions from the peasantry, who were in turn suppressed by the Red Army.43

According to Stalin, collectivization had several fundamental advantages. Since the USSR had an agrarian economy, and a greater proportion of its population inhabited the countryside, collectivization would give the government greater control over the country main source of capital and wealth. Furthermore, agriculture would “feed’ industry while the cheap food produced would feed cities and be exported to get capital for financing the purchase of farm/industrial machinery from abroad.44

Other possible advantages according to Stalin and his operatives, included; the fact that the Communist party’s authority could be extended to the countryside, food production would become more efficient and it would be easier to use machinery such as tractors. Further, not all peasants desired to stay in the countryside, and the surplus labour would be obliged to leave and work in the cities.45

Initially, it was estimated that production, both industrial and agricultural would increase by 200 and 50 percent respectively. On the contrary, production in agriculture actually dropped. Stalin attributed this unanticipated failure on rich peasants who resisted collectivization.46

The two-phase process of collectivization is a prime example of the ability of Stalin to tactically withdraw politically, and then intensify the initial strategies. The two stages were interrupted for a year, and linked by Stalin’s famous editorial aptly titled “dizzy with Success”.47 Many historians contend that the disruption that was occasioned by collectivization was largely responsible for major famines; synonymous with the ones occasioned by China’s Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.48

In the course of the 1932-1933 famine in the Kuban region and Ukraine, not only “kulaks” were killed or locked up. According to Stephane Courtois in his Black Book of Communism, as well as other sources, all grain was taken from the areas that were not able to meet targets, including grain put aside for the following year.49 Moreover, peasants were forced to stay in these regions. Moreover, train ticket sales were allegedly halted, and the Political Directorate erected barriers to prevent people from fleeing from these areas threatened by hunger.50

Nevertheless, famine also affected other regions of the USSR. The number of people who succumbed to the famine is currently estimated to be between 5 and 10 million individuals. Such numbers are difficult to reconcile with population figures that are from that tumultuous period, and which are generally accepted in the West. These numbers attest that the population increased from 147 million to 164 million between 1926 and 1937.51

Furthermore, it has been stated that the Soviet Union was exporting grain over the same period. Then again, the worst crop failure, which is associated with the tsarist era, caused hardly over 500,000 deaths.52 Soviet authorities and other scholars have argued that tough measures were necessary, in addition to the accelerated collectivization of agriculture, to achieve rapid industrialization, in the Soviet Union, and ultimately emerge winners in World War II.53 Again, some contend that the Soviet Union managed to industrialize, in spite of, rather than, thanks to, collectivized agriculture.

The Soviet Union transformed from a chiefly agricultural society, to one of the leading economies at the time, within a span of two and a half decades. In late 1920s, mot of the population occupied farms, industry was underdeveloped, and there were no efficient technologies.54 Following collectivization of agriculture and forced industrialization from 1927, a Soviet economy emerged based on large-scale production and communal agricultural work. This foundation resulted in increased growth rates, which propelled the Soviet Union to be among the industrialized powers.55

Conclusion

The legacy bestowed upon the Soviet Union by the Stalinist period, and by extension to the world, is both conflicting and complex. In addition to the overarching positive effects, there are significant negative realities associated with this legacy. The most significant positive effects were that there were high levels of achievement on the economic front, taking into account the prevailing conditions of the world at the time. The legacy of terror meted out on mostly innocent populations is also a legacy that looms large when Josef Stalin is named. It is important to note that neither Stalin’s government nor his successors did anything to re-integrate these people back into society. The tyranny also had implications across borders for those who had considered adopting Stalin’s model for economic development in their countries, especially in the developing world. While it had produced desired results, it had equally carried out atrocities that led to loss of millions of lives. Whether Stalinist or anti-Stalinist, there are positive achievements that are associated with Josef Stalin’s regime. Nevertheless, finding a balance between the negatives and the positives remains a challenge, even for Stalin’s fellow compatriots.

Bibliography

Gazeta, Rossiyskaya, Josef Stalin; Revered and Reviled in Modern Russia. 15 Jun 2012. The Telegraph 15 June 2012. Accessed 20 Nov. 2012 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/russianow/features/9335008/josef-stalin- revered-reviled.html

Gouldner, Alvin W., Stalinism: A Study of Internal Colonialism, 1978. Accessed 20 Nov. 2012 from from http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/gouldner-stalinism.pdf

New World Encyclopedia, Josef Stalin, 2006. Accessed 20 Nov. 2012 from New World Encyclopedia: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Josef_Stalin

Pearson Global Schools, Josef Stalin and the USSR, 2010. Accessed 21 Nov. 2012 from http://assets.pearsonglobalschools.com/asset_mgr/current/201219/HistoryASPStatesChapter4.pdf

The Stalin Project. The Stalinisty Legacy. Retrieved from The Stalin Project, 2008. Accessed 21 Nov. 2012 from http://www.stalinproject.com/third_level.php?id_topic=58&id_category=14&id_subject=6

 

 

1 Gazeta, R., Josef Stalin; Revered and Reviled in Modern Russia. The Telegraph. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/russianow/features/9335008/josef-stalin-revered-reviled.html&gt;

2 Gazeta, ibid.

3 Gazeta, ibid.

4 Gazeta, op. cit.

5 Gazeta, ibid

6 Gazeta, ibid

7 New World Encyclopedia. (2006). Josef Stalin. Retrieved from New World Encyclopedia: <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Josef_Stalin on 20/11/2019>

 

8 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

9 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

10 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

11 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

12 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

13 New World Encyclopaedia, op. cit.

14 The Stalin Project. (2008). The Stalinisty Legacy. Retrieved from The Stalin Project: <http://www.stalinproject.com/third_level.php?id_topic=58&id_category=14&id_subject=6&gt;

15 The Stalin Project, ibid

16 The Stalin Project, ibid.

17 Gouldner, op.cit.

18 Gouldner, ibid

19 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

20 Gouldner, op.cit.

21 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit

22 Pearson Global Schools. (2010). Josef Stalin and the USSR. Retrieved from http://assets.pearsonglobalschools.com/asset_mgr/current/201219/HistoryASPStatesChapter4.pdf on 21/11/2012

23 The Stalin Project, op .cit.

24 The New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

25 Pearson Global Schools, op.cit

26 Pearson Global Schools, op.cit

27 Pearson Global Schools, ibid

28 Pearson Global Schools, ibid

29 Gouldner, op.cit.

30 The Stalin Project, op.cit.

31 The Stalin Project, ibid

32 The Stalin Project, ibid

33 The Stalin Project, ibid

34 The Stalin Project, ibid

35 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

36 Pearson Global Schools, op.cit.

37 Pearson Global Schools, ibid

38 Pearson Global Schools, ibid

39 Pearson Global Schools, ibid

40 Pearson Global Schools, ibid

41 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

42 Gouldner, op.cit.

43 Gouldner, ibid

44 Pearson Global Schools, op.cit.

45 Pearson Global Schools, ibid

46 Gouldner, op.cit.

47 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

48 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

49 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

50 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

51 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid.

52 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

53 New World Encyclopaedia, op.cit.

54 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

55 New World Encyclopaedia, ibid

 

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