The Eastern Bloc by Caleb Slinkard

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The Eastern Bloc
1917-1991

Definition of Communism
Communism as a socioeconomic ideology can be difficult to describe due to the many different subtle variations among its practicers. It can be fundamentally described as an ideology which seeks the formation of a classless state based upon communal ownership of property and the means of production and the absence of private property. Variations of communism among self-identified communists include Maoism, Trotskyism and Stalinist communism. Offshoots of the Stalinist and Maoist interpretations of communism have been the driving force behind many of the world's nation's for much of the 20th century.

The Origins of Communism
The foundation upon which the Marxist philosophy of communal property can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, early Christianity and the Medieval manorial system. The Ancient Greeks spoke of a mythic time before personal property, a so called “Golden Age.” The early Christians practiced a form of communal living and ownership, as described in Acts 4:32-35, although their motives and methods were quite different than those of communism. In the Medieval manorial system the lord would allot land to his peasants who would in return would give money and services. Other communal societies include the ancient Essenes, who are responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Gnostics, who sought to fuse Christianity with Greek philosophy.

Utopia (by Thomas More) was written in 1516 in response to what he saw as selfishness derived from economic individualism. To combat this selfishness he proposed communal ownership of property. Spurred by similar reactions to the descendant of economic individualism, capitalism, Karl

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Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848. The book gave birth to the socioeconomic doctrine that was known initially as Marxism, later in the century as socialism, and then as communism.

Rise of Communism in Russia
Russia entered World War I in 1914 as part of the Triple Entente (the other members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom and France), a move that was supported by all political parties in Russia. As the war dragged on, resources dwindled1 and the casualties rose. The reigning Tsar, Nicholas, was away from the capital at the front, leaving the management of the nation to his wife and ministers. Their lack of effective leadership, coupled with a massive food shortage, led to a national feeling of unrest.

In 1917, following a harsh winter, workers began to hold strikes in St. Petersburg to protest the war and demand bread. These strikes escalated to the point that on February 25th when Tsar Nicholas sent a large battalion of troops to suppress the uprising. At first the troops engaged the protesters, causing casualties on both sides. That evening many of the troops began to leave their officers and join the rebellion. On March 2nd the Tsar abdicated the throne and a provisional government took over.

In the October Revolution the more extremist division of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the Bolsheviks, succeeded in an almost bloodless overthrow of the provisional government. This brought on some debate as to the effectiveness of communism in Russia. One of the key elements needed in order for a state to establish a Marxist society, as postulated by Marx, was a strong capitalist

1 By 1922 the industrial output of Russia was 13% of that in 1914

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society. Yet Russia was one of the poorest and least educated countries in Europe. The less extreme branch of the RSDLP, the Mehshiviks, wanted to wait to implement a communist society until capitalism became more developed in Russia.

During the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), the Bolsheviks created a one-party regime under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. They gained power by nationalizing all productive property and putting factories and railroads under government control. Following the Kronstadt Rebellion (1921), Lenin implemented the New Economic Policy. The NEP required farmers to give the government a specified amount of raw agricultural goods but allowed them to lease and hire labor. It replaced the Prodrazvyorstka system, which forced farmers to hand over surpluses of almost every kind of agricultural product for a fixed price. This move toward limited capitalism ended in 1930 due to Joseph Stalin's rise in power.

The Soviet Union: 1922-1991
Following the end of the Russian Civil War the Bolsheviks created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) by assimilating countries of the former Russian Empire2. By 1956 the original 4 members of the USSR had grown to 15 union republics. These communist “states” were joined in a strongly centralized federal union under the control of the Bolshevik Party. Although the United States did not recognize the USSR until 1933, most European countries began trading with the new country.

2 The former Russian Empire was made up of 81 provinces and 20 regions which had split from Russia following the 1917 Revolution

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The Stalin Era: 1928- 1953
When Lenin died in 1924, his most obvious heir was Leon Trotsky. Over the next 4 years Trotsky slowly lost a power struggle with Joseph Stalin. Later Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union and murdered by a Soviet agent. With his political enemies out of the way, Stalin began to implement his own form of communism upon the USSR. This included replacing the NEP with the Five-Year Plans in 1928 and collective farming.

The Five-Year Plans:
“These called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.

With no seed capital, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin's government financed industrialization by both restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens, to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry, and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulaks.

In 1933, worker's real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. There was also use of the unpaid labor of both common and political prisoners in labor camps and the frequent "mobilization" of communists and Komsomol members for various construction projects. The Soviet Union also made use of foreign experts, e.g. British engineer Stephen Adams, to instruct their workers and improve their manufacturing processes.

In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization from a very low economic base. While there is general agreement among historians that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, the precise rate of this growth is disputed.

Official Soviet estimates placed it at 13.9%, Russian and Western estimates gave lower figures of 5.8% and even

The Eastern Bloc by Caleb Slinkard
2.9%. Indeed, one estimate is that Soviet growth temporarily was much higher after Stalin's death.”3

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Collectivization Seeking to increase the agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, to put the peasantry under more direct government control, and to increase the efficiency of tax-collection, Stalin forced collectivization on the peasant population. Contrary to his intent, collectivization reduced the peasants income to a fraction of what it was before and succeeded in reducing grain output and the livestock population. This resulted in major famines in 1932 and 1933, including one that killed several million (mainly Ukrainian) peasants. It wasn't until 1940 that agricultural production passed its precollectivization levels.

Intelligence in the Soviet Union Ever since their foundation the Bolsheviks used secret police as a means of control and repression. Following the 1917 Revolution the Cheka was established. Originally its purpose was to investigate counter-revolutionary crimes, but it soon began a campaign of terror against the richer classes and other enemies of Bolshevism. After the end of the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), the Cheka was disbanded; and its duties and power were handed over to the State Political Directorate (GPU). The GPU had less power than its predecessor, and the repression of the Soviet population was lessened.

Stalin transformed the GPU into the NKVD, an organization that was outside of political or legal control. Throughout Stalin's reign he would use the NKVD as a method of control and fear. Following his death, the NKVD was transformed into the KGB. Although no longer involved in the mass purges and forced depopulation of the Stalin-era, the KGB continued suppressing religious and political
3 Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin, section 5.1, paragraphs 3-6

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The Great Purge During the 30's Stalin achieved almost absolute power over the Communist Party and he began a series of purges of government and military leaders, as well as wealthy peasants (kulaks). Experts estimate between 1-1004 million people died as a result of these purges. Eventually almost all of the prominent members of the Communist Party involved in the 1917 Revolution or Lenin's government were executed.. These purges were condemned by Nikita Khrushchev following Stalin's death.

Religion and the Arts in the Soviet Union
The USSR was an atheistic state in both theory and practice. Lenin summed up the USSR's attitude towards religion like this:
“Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about the religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.” 5

Although there were a few official churches that were allowed to operate under the control of the Soviet Union, religion, and Christianity in particular, was mocked, ridiculed and often openly persecuted. Organizations such as the Society of the Godless sought to fight religion and develop a “scientific” mindset among Soviet workers. Their motto was “Struggle against religion is a struggle for
4 “The most conservative estimates are based almost exclusively on publicly available execution lists, while the largest estimates are arrived at by counting all "unnatural deaths" that occurred during Stalin's rule and include, in addition to executions and gulag deaths, deaths from artificial famines, preventable disease epidemics, and reckless military campaigns.” 5 Karl Mark- Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right

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socialism.” The government's suppression of religion resulted in about ½ of the people professing atheism, and 2/3 of the people professing no religious beliefs.

Shortly after 1917 the USSR impounded the property of the Russian Orthodox Church, forbade religious instruction, instituted anti-religious propaganda, and persecuted priests. Atheistic fervor, having abated in the 1920s, reached a crescendo after 1929 when thousands of churches were closed, many being turned into museums of science and atheism. Persecution ebbed in the late 1930s and yielded during World War II to pragmatic concessions to believers. The crusade against religion was revived by Khrushchev then toned down under Brezhnev and Gorbachev.

The poverty, pain and suffering caused by the Soviet Union's anti-religious policies reveals the inability of man to govern himself and his fellow man apart from Godly morals. The USSR failed to calculate God into their plans and in doing so failed to understand that man is motivated by more than just material things.

The Cold War
The United States watched the rise of the Soviet Union with concern and fear. The democratic ideology that the U.S. was founded upon was almost the exact opposite of Soviet Communism. The American people saw the USSR as the enemy of freedom and democracy (with good reason). In fact, the U.S. didn't recognize the USSR officially until 1933, 11 years after its formation.

The USSR's takeover of Eastern European states deepened the estrangement between the USSR and the West. Following Stalin's death in 1953 East/West relations went through alternating phases of

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relaxation and confrontation. During the “period of stagnation” under Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982) events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) continued to keep the two super powers apart. During the '70's friendly relations increased until the Soviet's invasion of Afghanistan. Following the “election” of Mikhail Gorbachev the USSR continued to increase cooperation.

The Fall of the Soviet Union
When Mikhail Gorbachev began his glasnot (political openness), perestroika (economic restructuring) and uskoreniye (speed-up of economic development), his goal was to strengthen his political position and hopefully jump-start a failing Soviet economy. All of these reforms led to unintended results. The relaxation of censorship under glasnot led to a re-awakening of anti-Soviet sentiment that had long been suppressed.

While the Gorbachev reforms advanced freedom in the Soviet Union, his country's economic policy was slowly draining the people of their resources. His reforms had depleted the Soviets' control over the people, and calls for independence began echoing throughout the Soviet Union. Demonstrations began, often ending in bloodshed. In 1989 many republics of the Soviet Union began to declare their independence. By 1991 the USSR was no more.

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Appendix A
Countries who were part of the Eastern (or Soviet) Bloc:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. The Soviet Union Bulgaria Czechoslovakia East Germany Hungary Poland Romania Albania

Countries that made up the USSR:
1. Russia 2. Armenia 3. Estonia 4. Belarus 5. Georgia 6. Kazakhstan 7. Kyrgyzstan 8. Latvia 9. Lithuania 10. Moldavia 11. Tajikistan 12. Turkmenistan 13. Ukraine 14. Uzbekistan

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