The Soviet Union After Lenin
Lenin was virtually incapacitated from 1922 onwards. In 1922 he had dictated his ‘Political Testament’ in which he discussed the other Bolshevik leaders and their strengths and weaknesses.
* Trotsky was guilty of an ‘excess of self-confidence’.
* Stalin could not be trusted to wield power with ‘sufficient caution’.
* Kamenev and Zinoviev had opposed revolution in October 1917 because they lacked revolutionary zeal.
* Bukharin was regarded as theoretically suspect and thus likely to deviate from the Party line.
* In 1923 Lenin added more about Stalin. Stalin was described as ‘disloyal, intolerant, discourteous and rude’ and called for his dismissal as Party General Secretary.
The Bolsheviks were keen not to repeat what they saw as the mistakes of the French Revolution.
* The French Revolution had ended up as a military government led by Napoleon.
* Trotsky, as leader of the Red Army, was thus regarded with suspicion by most of the other leading Bolsheviks, in case he led a military coup.
* An informal group – Stalin, Kamemev and Zinoviev combined to limit the influence of Trotsky.
* Trotsky had only joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, having previously been a Menshevik, and was thus viewed with suspicion by many ‘Old Bolsheviks’
At Lenin’s funeral Stalin gave the funeral speech.
* This suggested he was in prime position to succeed Lenin as Party leader. It sent a powerful image to the rest of the country.
* Trotsky was missing – convalescing at a Black Sea resort. He later claimed Stalin deliberately gave him the wrong day and stopped him returning to Moscow
* After the funeral, and against his express wishes, a ‘Cult of Lenin’ began. The body was preserved and put on display in Red Square. The Party set up an Immortalization Commission to preserve Lenin’s memory.
* Each city soon had a statue of Lenin. Workers were exhorted to join the Party in the so-called ‘Lenin Enrolment.’ Membership of the Party nearly doubled. Petrograd was renamed Leningrad.
* Whoever was to succeed Lenin would need to be seen as a close follower of his ideas and policies
What issues divided leading Bolsheviks?
Relations with the rest of the world
* Some Communists, like Trotsky believed in ‘Permanent Revolution’. They thought it was impossible for the USSR to survive in a hostile world without the support of other Socialist states.
* The emphasis therefore should be on helping other countries become Communist. Hence Comintern (The Communist International) was set up in 1918.
* Others, like Stalin, believed in ‘Socialism in One Country’. They argued that it was necessary to consolidate Soviet rule in Russia first, make a successful communist country by their own efforts, and thus create a Superpower that could resist the efforts of a hostile world to defeat it.
* The two issues of Industrialisation and the NEP bitterly divided many communists.
* The New Economic Policy was seen by many as a defeat, as giving in to the peasants and capitalists.
* Lenin had described it as a temporary measure to rebuild the shattered war-torn economy but how long was temporary?
* Many questioned the validity of building the first communist state by capitalist means. By 1923-24 the economy had largely reached pre-war levels of food production.
* All agreed on the need for large-scale industrialisation, after all Marxists believed in the supremacy of the workers. The argument was about how to best industrialise the country.
* Those on the Right of the Party, like Bukharin, believed in a long slow road to growth. The Party should encourage the peasants to grow more crops for food for the cities but also to export the surplus.
* These exports would create the capital needed to invest in the new factories, etc.
* Those on the Left, like Trotsky, believed this would be far too slow, that peasants should be squeezed to force them to provide the capital much more quickly, that industrialisation should be at the expense of the peasants.
* This was called the ‘Theory of Primitive Socialist Accumulation’.
* In 1921 Gosplan was set up to collect statistics of economic growth, and eventually to produce targets for the economy.
The Party, or Bureaucratisation
* The Bolshevik Party had begun as an underground party in exile. This meant tight discipline and doing as you were told.
* During the Revolution and Civil War discipline had been essential too for survival. In theory posts within the Party were elected from below but in practice most were appointed from above. Whoever controlled the Party thus had great power and influence.
* In 1921 there had been a Ban on Factions within the Party to try to minimise dissent. Some leading Bolsheviks, like Trotsky, wanted more openness in the party and more debate on issues and policies.
* There was also concern about the nature of Party membership. Many members were bureaucrats and functionaries, rather than workers, viewing the Party as a meal ticket and a source of privilege.
* This led to a ‘conservative’ rather than a ‘revolutionary’ attitude and it was feared the Party was now hindering the fulfilment of the Revolution rather than hastening it.
The People involved
Bukharin: Born in 1888, his parents were teachers. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1906, was arrested and exiled to Siberia, but escaped abroad. Played a big part in the October Revolution, and became editor of Pravda. A keen supporter of the NEP. Wrote the best selling ‘ABC of Communism’ in 1919. Became Chairman of Comintern in 1925. Lenin regarded him as the theoretician of the Party.
Stalin: Born in 1879. Joined the RSDLP and worked as a fundraiser and agitator. Was repeatedly sent to Siberia. Made Commissar for Nationalities in 1917. Supported Lenin closely. During the Civil War had several conflicts with Trotsky. In 1922 he was made General Secretary of the Party – a post no-one else wanted – it was regarded as ‘boring’. Was one of the few leading Bolsheviks to have stayed in Russia before the Revolution.
Rykov: Born in 1881, his parents were peasants. Stayed active in Russia until 1914 – exiled to Siberia several times. Regarded as a moderate, and with a reputation as a good administrator. Elected Prime Minister to succeed Lenin. Was Chairman of the Supreme Council of the National Economy.
Zinoviev: Born in 1883. Jewish. Superb speaker. Joined the Party in 1901 and was close to Lenin in exile until 1917. Opposed the October Revolution and resigned, but quickly apologised and rejoined the Party. Was Chairman of Comintern in 1919 and was party leader in Petrograd.
Kamenev: Born in 1883. Jewish. In exile with Lenin, but returned to Russia in 1914 to direct Party business. Arrested. Released in February 1917. Urged co-operation with the Mensheviks, arguing Russia was not ready for Revolution. Opposed Lenin’s ‘April Theses’ Criticised the October Revolution and resigned. After the Revolution rejoined the Party and remained close to Lenin. Leader of the Moscow Party.
Trotsky: Born in 1883. Jewish. Excellent writer and speaker. Chairman of the St Petersburg Soviet in 1905. Repeatedly arrested and exiled. Escaped and left the country. Returned after February Revolution. And quickly joined the Bolsheviks. Led the MRC that seized power in October. Head of the Red Army during the Civil War. Reluctant supporter of the NEP. Believed party should concentrate on promoting World revolution as the only way to survive. Had many bitter disputes with Stalin. Regarded by many as the natural successor to Lenin.
The Power Struggle
The Defeat of Trotsky
* Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin combined in an informal alliance to limit the power of Trotsky. These three controlled the key posts in the Party. Trotsky’s power base was the Red Army.
* Trotsky criticised the Party over economic policy, bureaucratisation, permanent revolution, and the ban on factions.
* Trotsky was also repeatedly ill during this period. Perhaps, deep down, Trotsky realised he could not successfully oppose Stalin. He certainly didn’t really help himself with his tactics.
* The Triumvirate (Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin) gradually isolated Trotsky. He was replaced as Head of the Red Army in 1925.
The New Opposition
* In late 1925 and early 1926 Kamenev and Zinoviev became worried about Stalin’s increasing power. They openly criticised the NEP and foreign policy. During 1926 they sided with Trotsky in an attempt to reduce Stalin’s influence.
* New elections in Leningrad and Moscow chose new Party Committees, loyal to Stalin. Both Kamenev and Zinoviev lost their posts.
* Stalin added new members to the Politburo – Voroshilov, Radzutak, Molotov and Kubyshev. They supported Stalin.
* The Politburo voted to remove Kamenev and Zinoviev in 1926. In 1927 all three had their Party Membership removed.
* Trotsky was exiled to Siberia. In 1929 he was exiled from Russia.
The Right Opposition
* Having defeated the Left, Stalin now turned his attention to the Right of the Party.
* Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky argued for the continuation of the NEP. There had been an excellent harvest in 1927, but the peasants had been reluctant to hand over their grain – there were few goods they could buy with the money they received anyway.
* Bukharin argued the price paid to peasants must be increased, industrialisation therefore being slower, but based on solid economic foundations.
* Stalin now seemed to change his mind – some Historians argue cynically, as a way to attack the Right. Other Historians argue he was persuaded to adopt Trotsky’s policy of rapid industrialisation because of the peasant’s reluctance to sell grain.
* There was also a ‘War Scare’ in 1927 – a deep-seated distrust of the West. Soldiers forcibly requisitioned grain from the peasants
* The first major ‘Wrecker’s Trial’ took place – some Russian miners were accused of collaborating with foreigners to weaken the Soviet Union.
* Stalin began to talk about Collectivisation as the way forward – to control the peasants as much as to hasten industrialisation.
* Bukharin attacked this is in ‘Notes of an Economist’ in 1928. In 1929 Bukharin was removed as the editor of Pravda and Chairman of Comintern.
* Tomsky was sacked as head of Trade Unions. Rykov was removed from the Politburo. Stalin was now dominant in the Party
How had Stalin managed to get control of the Party?
Some questions for you to think about:
* Was Stalin a very clever, devious politician who played on the weaknesses of others to obtain power?
* Did he have no political convictions, swapping from Left to Right and back again at an opportune moment in order to remove opponents?
* Was he simply a moderate, trying desperately to hold together a divided party?
* Did he genuinely change his mind about the policies needed for Socialism to survive in a hostile world?
* Was he a manipulator of the Party membership, or was he genuinely in touch with ‘grass roots’ opinion and responding to their wishes?
All these arguments have been put forward by historians when they discuss the rise of Stalin. You need to make up your own mind based on the facts as you see them. Perhaps there is no right answer! Whatever the cause, the consequence was Stalin’s control of the Party seats of power from about 1929 onwards.
B. Stalin and political control: his use of the party machine and terror
How did Stalin establish control over the Soviet Union?
* First of all Stalin had to establish control over the Party. He did this by a combination of terror – see below – and delivering what party members wanted.
* Much the same can be said about Stalin’s control over the country: control over dissenters was mostly by force, but propaganda and the cult of the individual played a key part in sustaining Stalin’s popularity in the country.
* Even prisoners in the Gulags were reported to cry when Stalin’s death was announced.
* It is important to note that some recent historians question just how much control Stalin had over the country.
* They argue he was certainly at the centre of events, but that often the Centre was trying desperately to get local parties and members to follow the Party line. Perhaps Totalitarianism isn’t an appropriate term to describe Stalin’s Russia after all.
* The Terror is used to describe a whole series of events in Russia from 1928 to 1938, when millions – no one knows quite how many.
* Stalin once told Churchill that collectivisation cost 10 million lives – were either deprived of Party membership, arrested with or without trial, sent to the Gulags or shot.
* Were these all enemies of Stalin that needed to be removed? Some confessed to the most unlikely of crimes – killing Lenin, working for the Nazis, and so on. Others maintained their innocence throughout.
* The period 1936-1938 is known as the Yezhovschina -after Yezhov, the Head of the NKVD. It was this period that was the ‘high point’ of the Terror.
* Target figures of arrests and executions were set for each district. Kulaks and returning political prisoners were to be the main category, but priests, former members of political parties, nationalists, ex- Whites were all added to the list.
* In all, nearly 2 million people were arrested at this time, with about 700,000 being executed.
Was there serious opposition to Stalin within the Party?
* The events of the Terror largely targeted the Party and bureaucracy, and seem to coincide with changes in policy – 1928, 1933-4, – or with problems with industrialisation.
Or are the events tied in with Stalin’s personal battle over leadership?
* All his opponents in the struggle for power figure in the Show Trials and confess to all manner of heinous crimes.
* The purge of the army seems to be linked with Trotsky – he had been Head of the Red Army and the army was really the only other possible source of power. Many of the leading generals must have been confidants of Trotsky, and there is evidence that still, in the 1930s, some leading Communists were maintaining links with Trotsky.
* However, some historians argue that the Terror was really quite arbitrary, that the frightening thing about the Terror was that it could strike anyone, anywhere, at any time, and that the victims never really knew why they were enmeshed in the system. Often they had been implicated by previous victims under torture, in an effort to save themselves.
To what extent was Stalin involved in the Terror?
* There is no doubt that Stalin was closely involved in setting the Terror in progress, or in key decisions about the Show Trials.
* He personally signed the death warrants for thousands of the victims. He also made the key speech in March 1939 at the Party Congress that brought the full force of the Terror to an end.
* What is open to debate is how much of the Terror was directed from the Centre, and how much it was a result of local forces getting out of control – either settling old scores or out of enthusiasm for building socialism.
* These were extraordinary times in Russia, with great economic and social changes taking place. There is no defending the scale of terror, but it needs to be put into the context of the time.
* Recent work suggests we should not view the Terror as a whole, carefully planned series of events, but as a series of unconnected events, as responses to specific problems as they arose.
* It shows not the strength of Stalin’s government but it’s weakness – i.e. its inability to control its own followers, its own party members; it’s inability to carry them with it and the need to resort to force to get its way.
* Was the Terror the result of Stalin’s fevered imagination, his paranoiac personality, seeing opposition behind every move?
* Or was it a result of Party bureaucrats trying hard to protect their own skins? Or the justifiable removal of those Trotsky called ‘radishes’? (Red on the outside, but White in the middle).
* Whatever the reason it is an area of great debate – after all historians can’t even agree on the numbers killed or arrested, let alone why the Terror happened!
How effective was Stalin’s control over the Party?
* By 1930 all Stalin’s rivals in the struggle for power have been removed from positions of power. Yet the 1934 Party Congress shows his control was not total.
* From 1936 however in terms of policy making Stalin could do as he wished. There were no rivals or even people prepared to question his judgement. He was surrounded by people who owed their position to him, and who, like Yagoda and Yezhov, could just as easily be removed when they were no longer needed.
* Yet, as we have seen, the debate about the Terror suggests that deciding what to do at the centre was one thing, actually ensuring it was implemented at the local level was quite another.
* Stalin controlled the bureaucracy – perhaps that is what the Terror was about – trying to make sure the Party did as it was told?
2. How popular was Stalin’s rule?
A. The successes and failures of Stalin’s modernisation programme for the economy and society of the USSR
The Five Year Plans
* NEP was built on centralised state planning – the chief industries were state owned and controlled. Lenin famously said ‘Socialism was state power plus electrification’.
* Gosplan produced figures and targets for industrial production from 1924 onwards. It was in 1928 that the first Five Year Plan was announced.
* An army of state planners tried to plan increases down to the last detail. Emphasis was to be on heavy industry and infrastructure, with consumer goods and living standards a long way down the list of priorities.
* In the First Plan very ambitious targets were set: coal production to increase by 100%, iron by 200%, electricity by 400%. Such was the response that new improved targets were set in 1929, and these again revised upwards in 1930.
* It became crucial to meet your planned target. Never mind the quality, meet the target! Workers would move from job to job to get higher wages, managers would do anything to ensure they met the target – remember the 1928 ‘Wreckers’ Trial’.
* Public announcements showed that targets had not only been met, but had been exceeded. Statistics from this time are notoriously unreliable.
* The Five Year Plans show that political fervour took over from rational thought. It was almost a Civil War-type crusade to build socialism overnight.
* There was great enthusiasm amongst many Party members who made huge sacrifices to build new towns and factories.
* There were great achievements. But there was also muddle, confusion and waste. It is sometimes hard to separate the rhetoric from the reality when we consider the issue.
* 80% of Russia’s population were peasants, so change in agriculture was fundamental to economic growth.
* Under the NEP food production rapidly returned to pre-World War One levels, with the emergence of some richer peasants, or Kulaks as they were known, who employed others. Still, the majority of agriculture was small scale, old-fashioned and not very productive.
* Lenin had set up the first collective farms, hoping that this example would lead peasants to voluntarily join together. This was not very successful – by 1928 less than 3% of peasants had joined.
* If the Soviet Union was to successfully industrialise, capital would have to come either from capitalist countries – unlikely as Russia had repudiated all debts when the Bolsheviks came to power, and due to the recent War Scare following the so-called Zinoviev Telegram – or from the countryside.
* The debate inside the Communist Party was about how to squeeze capital from the peasants – all were agreed on the policy of industrialisation.
* As well as capital from the countryside, the workers needed in the new towns and industries would have to come from the countryside, so it was imperative to grow more food with fewer workers.
* Some items needed for Industrialisation needed to be imported from the West, and could only be paid for in the short term by food exports, again increasing the need to raise productivity in the countryside.
* The peasants were happy to produce more food. But as 1927-28 shows, if there were no goods in the towns for them to buy, or prices for their grain were too low, then they would hold on to more of their surplus, either to feed their animals or to improve their own standard of living. Anyway, it was essential to have some grain stored in case there was a bad harvest the next year.
The debate about agricultural change
* Some argued that the peasants should be encouraged to grow more and sell more grain by giving them fairer prices. It might take longer to create capital for investment and industry would have to make the goods peasants wanted to buy, but that way a sound economy would develop. The peasants would gradually be won over by the benefits of Socialism and a new, fair society would emerge.
* Others argued that this would take too long. The Soviet Union could not wait. Somehow the peasants had to be forced into growing more, handing over more of their produce, and providing the labour force for industry. They had repeatedly shown they were not reliable political supporters of the Bolsheviks.
* Industry needed a clear plan, this could only be done on the basis of guaranteed food supplies for the cities, and guaranteed income from food exports.
* Collectivisation, it was argued, would make it easier to control the peasants – they had always been a conservative force, and a limiting factor in Russian economic growth. They would always remain selfish and put their own interests first, so the Communist Party needed to bring them into line.
* If the policy of Collectivisation was agreed, it would further undermine some of the opposition to Stalin in the Party – Bukharin, for example was an advocate of slow growth, in effect a continuation of the NEP.