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Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

What political and social changes took place in the Soviet Union between 1928 and
1933? How did the Bolsheviks succeed in introducing these changes? Why, in your
opinion, did they want to introduce these changes? In your answer, please make
specific references to the readings.

By 1927, productivity under NEP-led grain production still remained a mere

percentage of similar rates in England and the United States.1 This continuing economic

disappointment, combined with the June 1927 murder of a top Soviet official (rumored to

have been committed by a British agent) and severed relations with China created

desperate war paranoia among the top Soviet officials.2 Soviets began acting as though

invasion and war would inevitably land on their doorstep. Consequently, Stalin

proceeded to wage war against Bukharin’s moderate argument of staying the NEP course.

After some clever politicking in the Politburo and Central Committee, Stalin basically

gained complete party control and proceeded to declare an unofficial war on those classes

he believed were purposefully thwarting Soviet plans for industrialization.3 Launching

an aggressive offensive against the “enemies of the Communist state” in order to enforce

his hard-lined Ural-Siberian grain acquisition policy, Stalin officially abandoned his

previously moderate/centrist stance and actually outdid the Left of his own party.4 Thus,

following peasant grain withholding and slow rates of industrialization, Stalin revved up

the Soviet war machine; from 1928 through 1933, Stalin declared an understood martial

law and utilized all the weapons in his Soviet arsenal—terror, economic coercion, and

Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1998), p. 242. “A constant problem for the government was low labor productivity. In 1926/27 the
average Soviet worker produced only one-half as much as a British worker and a quarter as much as an
American worker. In part this might be explained by the recent arrival of workers into an industry or their
lack of skills or labor discipline, but it was largely the result of a yawning technological gap between
Russia and the West.”
Notes taken from lecture (date)
Suny, p. 221
Suny, p. 221. According to historians, his radicalism “was a response to a grain collection crisis and a
stagnating industrial economy that had been created by his former moderate policies.

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

conformist culture—to target all non-worker classes, eventually centralizing all the

Soviet power within his own hands.5

Once Stalin made his class war intentions clear, “the floodgates were opened for

reviving utopian schemes of social engineering … [and] a wave of Communist

intolerance swept through the country,” targeting the kulaks and bourgeoisie specialists

first.6 Now that NEP was touted by Stalin and his allies as a failure at military retreat, the

communists proceeded to enact a “Socialist Offensive” by which they waged violent,

preventative war against enemies of the state.7 Almost immediately, the kulak was

declared the state’s enemy, a class that needed to be liquidated. Regarding the impending

de-kulakization, Molotov advised loyal Communists to “treat the kulak as a most cunning

and still undefeated enemy.”8 Under the previous imperial reign, these kulaks had been

envied social betters, and the resentful Stalinist Communists were sending the kulaks to

the GULag in order to prevent the kulaks from advocating a return to the previous system

of government, under which they had been so comfortable and successful.9 Similarly, the

Stalinists enacted a broad attack against the bourgeois specialist population, whom the

Stalinists believed were the likely leaders of the 1927 grain sabotaging and “wrecking.”10

Since Stalinists believed that law was tainted by the old bourgeoisie, they refused to use

legal methods in their war against the bourgeois kulaks and specialists; instead, the

Communists simply used terror methods like the GULag to demean and disempower
Suny, p. 221
Suny, p. 209
Lecture. The genealogical approach to arrests was eventually utilized by the Soviets in power. Under this
method, Russian residents who were related or associated with someone who had recently been arrested
were seen as possible future subversives and were often arrested as well.
Suny, p. 223.
Suny, p. 252.
Suny, p. 217, 235. In 1928, the Stalinists even held the very public Shakhty Trial at which engineers
were tried for “conspiring with the former owners of coal mines, now living abroad.” The bourgeois
specialists were seen as a class threat because they had held all the real power in the factories until Stalin
consolidated the power among the Red directors.

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

these supposedly threatening classes. As a non-party member, Sofia Petrovna freely

recalled these types of unlawful arrests. “At first they took all kinds of oppositionists,

then old regime people, all kinds of “vons” and barons. But now it was doctors.”11

Similarly, the Soviets feared uprisings from the peasantry, so they waged another

war on this particular class, replacing their weapon of terrorizing with economic

sanctions instead. In Spring 1928, the first Five Year Plan was enacted by the Soviets.12

Under this plan, grain reacquisition from the peasants was required, with percentages

initially set at 5%, increased to 12% just one year later, and then immediately enlarged to

18%.13 The Soviets hoped that forced collectivization and economic sanctions against the

peasantry, who had previously withheld grain and directly harmed the economy under the

Ural-Siberian method, would increase the marketable grain surpluses and enable rapid

industrialization; however, the sullen peasantry fought back the only way they knew how

—by slaughtering livestock so the state cannot take it and holding mass disturbances.14

Stalin realized an angry and volatile peasant majority posed a serious threat to his

industrializing war, so he published an article in March 1930 titled “Dizziness from

Success,” in which he “blamed the local officials for collectivization” and became an

instant father, savior, and cult figure.15 The resultant “Stalin cult” simply enabled more

aggressive economic war measures to be enacted by Stalin without any public stigma

being attached to his name.16 By the summer of 1932-33, the existence of a widespread
Chukovskaya, Sofia Petrovna (New York: Dutton, 1967), p. 31
Suny, p. 222. Under Stalin’s Ural-Siberian method, “instead of allowing peasants to trade at free-market
prices, the peasants were to be given contracts for acquiring industrial goods in exchange for grain.”
Lecture. Between 1928 and 1933, the peasants slaughter approximately ½ cattle and ½ horses.
Suny, p. 217.
Suny, p. 224
Suny p. 224-25.
Lecture. In fact, “Father Stalin,” supposed protector of the peasant cause, actually made a decision
following the poor harvest of 1932 the struck a hard blow to his peasant followers. Since the state wanted

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

famine was obvious to everyone, and Stalin’s unchecked power enabled him to attack the

peasantry even further by “containing” the famine within their “expendable” population.17

Rounding out the Soviet Cultural Revolution war, which had begun in March

1928, was the Soviet use of art, literature, and science as weapons to strengthen the

Soviet war against deviations from Bolshevik norms.18 Under the Cultural Revolution of

this period, scientists and writers were forced to conform to strict new policies that

viewed art and literature as “means for changing social reality.”19 Traditionally, culture

had been a uniting factor among the tsars and nobility; now, the Soviets were using the

same tools that had once suppressed their radical, Communist factions to create a new,

hard-lined proletarian intelligentsia which would soon replace the older bourgeois

intelligentsia.20 In a sense, this new cultural army would endorse a uniformity of Soviet

culture and Russian language by serving as models of the ideal, educated, technical

workers who would eventually combat all Russian backwardness.21 Similarly, the official

novels, songs, and films of the period served as Soviet propaganda bullets striking at the

heart of those who doubted the “Arcadian paradise” that was supposed to have existed

among the peasant countryside.22

to export as much grain as possible, a decision was made that the grain would be forcibly taken from the
peasantry, despite the fact that this would leave relatively no food to feed the peasant farmers. The Soviet
Union leader consciously concentrated the famine into certain peasant areas so as to ensure the feeding of
urban workers and the army, both of which were essential to the union.
Dolot, Execution By Hunger (New York: Norton & Company, Inc., 1987), p. xi. “When it became clear in
the course of 1932 that the quota for state grain procurement could not physically be met, Stalin in his fury
ordered all the available stocks to be seized, no matter what the consequences for the local population.”
Suny, p. 209
Suny, p. 212
Dolot, p. 36-37. This new revival of Russian nationalism directly contradicted the “tread softly” and
affirmative action policies of Lenin. Soft-line introduction of Soviet policies disappears completely and
becomes evident in the examples of Communist enforcers like Ivan Khizhniak and Vasil Khomenko, whose
“sadism made him infamous in our [Ukrainian] village.”
Suny p. 229. This is quite evident in the numerous plays and public statements of “What is to be done?”
This became a galvanizing and poetic statement of the period, and even today it is closely associated with

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

From 1928 until December 1934, Stalin created political structures and social

conditions that overwhelmed both the weakened Russian society and the “dangerous”

class factions that were “thwarting” Soviet industrialization. As a result, Stalin was able

to create an extremely centralized locus of power from which he would permanently

operate.23 Stalin’s own paranoid suspicion and unwillingness to “tolerate the slightest

restraint on his absolute power” caused him to declare war on nearly every faction,

including his own administrative elite.24 Ironically, not only did this consolidation of

protecting power decrease the security of the overall Soviet state (as was seen in the

persecution of the peasant majority), but it merely led to Stalin’s self-assuredness in

enacting later persecutions, like the Great Purges of 1936-38.25

The Bolsheviks took over political control of a well-established state, with a long
history of independence and territorial expansion, in 1917. With references to the
readings and lectures, discuss the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s political/social
transformations in the context of the long-term patterns of Russian history.

Soviet propaganda. It asks the question “what is to be done” to fix the illiteracy and backwardness of the
society while at the same time allowing for rapid industrialization. It is associated with the idealized,
perfect Soviet state—one in which the countryside and all its residents are completely devoted to the cause.
Suny p. 261
Suny p. 262
Suny p. 258-59

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

Initially, it would appear that Russia’s long-lasting imperial government and the

radical Soviet Union exhort diametrically opposed principles and therefore ought to be

antithetical in their practicing policies. After all, Czar Nicholas II and his family were

executed in order to make way for the supposedly revolutionary government. In

actuality, however, the transition between the guiding principles of the czarist regime and

those which formed the Soviet Union was quite gradual. In both the imperial and Soviet

states, the ruling class (the intellectuals, aristocracy, and nobles in the former, and the

Bolsheviks in the latter) maintains an inherent distrust of the peasantry.26 Consequently,

both Russian states forced the peasant class to support industrialization either by

sacrificing vital bushels of grain or by underconsuming.27 And while the initial Leninist

October Revolution of 1917 did not seem to support the ruling precedence begun during

the Muscovite rule of Ivan III, “the Great” (1462-1505), Stalin’s eventual re-shaping of

Soviet rule eerily resembled Ivan’s rule. Both Stalin’s rule and the tsarist reign were

autocratic states with highly centralized power, militaristic tendencies, and “absolute

power in the hands of the grand duke [later the tsar, and even later Stalin].”28 Ironically,

both “Father Tsar” and “Father Stalin” were viewed as protecting the peasantry from the

problematic nobles and bureaucratic officials, even though neither really did anything of

the kind.29 Consequently, despite the fact that the Bolsheviks originated as a dissenting

group underneath the tsarist rule, the old imperial cleavages continued to guide the

Suny, p. 7. Many intellectuals saw the large peasant class as an obstacle to social progress and economic
development, just as the later Bolsheviks thought the peasants were the primary obstacle to rapid
Suny, p. 7. “Throughout Russia’s history, the peasants paid for the rest of society, for the state, for
industry, for the civilization of the towns and cities, which they despised and admired simultaneously.
Particularly in the last half century of tsarist rule, the government forced the peasants to ‘under consume’
… in order to tax their output and export grain abroad so that purchases and payments on the foreign loans
that financed Russia’s industrialization could be made.”
Suny, p. 5
Suny, p. 10

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

increasingly radical Soviet state; and even in those realms in which the two governments

differed drastically—xenophobia, cultural conformity, geographic expansion, and

oligarchic support—the Soviets were still using the tsarist rule as a counter-example to

their ideal.30 While the Russian tsarist state had been one of expansion, geographically

and culturally, thereby reducing the actual radicalism of the ruling tsar, once the Soviet

state decided to maintain the centralized autocracy but close the state off from all other

influences, the path to extreme militancy was paved.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the tsarist and Soviet regimes was

their disagreement about the severity of the threat from foreign nations. Traditionally,

Russia had always been a multinational empire—in fact, it had never existed as “a single

nation with a single culture and sense of collective identity.”31 Under tsarist rule,

therefore, the tsar traditionally formed a tight-knit alliance with the noble class, and

together the two explored and appreciated the Enlightened cultural ideas from the west as

a part of the paradoxically multicultural Russian nationalist culture. While the Russian

tsarist state did emphasize Russian nationalism, it did not do so to the punishment of

“foreign” elements and did not view Russia’s somewhat open cultural society as being

opposed to the cleavage of a strong, centralized state.32 In fact, the tsars and nobles even

adopted western Enlightenment ideas despite the disapproval of the great Russian mass,

who themselves remained wary of and hostile toward foreign influence.33 Ironically, this

extremely xenophobic faction eventually became the ruling class of Bolsheviks under the

Soviet Union.34 This is quite evident in John Scott’s description of being assigned to a
Suny, p. 4
Suny, p. 6
Suny, p. 15. Between this relatively culturally-open, tsarist society and the tsarist state “emerged the
alienated intelligentsia of liberals, radicals, and revolutionaries, which became a rival society with

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

separate barrack in Magnitogorsk simply because he was a foreigner, and the government

wanted to isolate his possibly contagious, American, capitalist ideology.35 Futhermore,

whereas the tsarist nobility and ruling class had viewed geographic expansion and the

corresponding cultural absorption of other nations as complementing the “Russian

nationalist culture,” the Soviet trend toward geographic downsizing was directly linked to

the Bolshevik fear of foreign competition and WWI.36 While this policy of Soviet

isolation seemed like a rational and protective Bolshevik move at the time, it eventually

guided the centralized and autocratic Stalinist state toward increased fear and paranoia

about foreign desires to destroy the Soviet Union.37

Upon their takeover, the Bolshevik class, and ultimately Stalin, ruled Russia

single-handedly, without any support from the nation-state imperial scheme. Whereas

the Russian tsarist-noble mutually supportive alliance had always provided governing

support for the tsar, stabilization within the regime, and a preservation of long-established

economic practices (such as the nobles holding control over the peasants), the Bolshevik

1917 revolution put all the governmental faith in the intangible worker vanguard.38

Despite the fact that Stalin soon led the Soviet state back to “the autocratic nature of the

tsarist system, which allowed [him] to act in arbitrary and contradictory ways,” even the

initial move to have only select Bolsheviks lead the country (with the idea that they

oppositional ideologies that seriously threatened the defenders of tsarism.”

Scott, Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1942), p. xv.
Suny, p. 5
Andreev-Khomiakov, Bitter Waters: Life and Work in Stalin’s Russia (Boulder, Colorado: Westview
Press, 1997), p. 18. Despite the fact that the narrator had been reassured by Stalin’s announcement of his
new constitution that “the son did not answer for the father,” the narrator was arbitrarily and illegally
discharged soon thereafter. Whenever anyone discovered that the narrator had been held by a Soviet labor
camp, paranoia and fear that he was a subversive would prevent him from retaining the job even though he
was the most qualified applicant for the position. Most notably, this occurred in the narrator’s dismissal
from the bank job.
Lecture. Lenin believed only the working class was able to attain trade union consciousness and prevent
the type of social injustice the Bolsheviks felt had existed under the former tsarist regime.

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Soviet Take-Home Midterm

would eventually be joined by a worker majority) left the Soviet state open to threats of

militancy from within. Without the checks and balances that had been moderately

inherent within the tsarist-nobility ruling structure, the ruling Bolsheviks left themselves

open to someone like Stalin, who was never held accountable by say, a strong party of

land-owning nobles.39

Tsarist-rooted fear toward “alien authority” existed long before Stalin exacerbated

the problem by centralizing state power even more in order to prevent foreign

domination. Whether stemming from schismatic tendencies like those seen in the Old

Belief antireformist movement in which thousands of schismatics burnt themselves to

death rather than succumbing to the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign authority, or

from 200 years of Mongol rule of Russian lands, the seeds for the Soviet bloc and

isolation were already presented. All the geographic downsizing and xenophobia needed

in order to fuel a complete isolationist movement was a fearful leader like Joseph Stalin

who was ready to fix boundaries, and enforce extreme international policies in order to

preserve the Soviet state.