HIS 242
Stalinism in the 1930s remarks by Professor Evans

Kalinin Collective Farm
An innocent image of the peaceful Russian countryside,
the fields of the former Kalinin Collective Farm
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Here I am getting ready to write a bit about Stalin while listening to Mel Carter; what an absurd contraposition. 

Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Иосиф Виссарионович Джугашвили, იოსებ ჯუღაშვილი, 6/18 December 1879-5 March 1953, aka "Koba" or "Uncle Joe") stands alone with Adolf Hitler as one of the greatest killers in world history, "one of the most powerful and murderous dictators in human history."  He certainly left his mark on Russian history.  Might we conservatively estimate 75 million dead as a result of his actions?

Consider the revolution that he imposed on Russia in the 1930s:

  • the collectivization of the Russian peasantry beginning in 1928 carried out under the false premises of the "grain requisition crisis," dramatically changed the organization of the Russian countryside and resulted in the deaths of millions of peasants (and a man-made famine that engulfed most of the Ukraine)--By 1938 over 90% of peasant holdings had been collectivized while the number of peasant households dropped by over 7 million; over half the number of horses and cattle disappeared, and agricultural output dropped by over 30% between 1928 and 1938.
  • the industrialization of the Soviet Union carried out at enormous cost, and at a questionably excessively rapid pace, between 1928 and 1938 that did lead to Russia becoming an industrial power but at an enormous cost again of human life and wasted natural resources
  • the decimation of the intellectual, artistic and political elite of Russia in the Great Terror, purges, show trials and executions of the 1930s (and the creation of the entire GULAG camp system--Gulag is the acronym for Главное Управление Исправительно Трудовых Лагерей и колоний, or Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel'no trudovykh lagerei i kolonii, The Chief Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies)--I have available a short list of the  changing names of the different Soviet secret police organizations over time..  I also have a short informational sheet on the Show Trials.
  • the crippling of the Red Army on the eve of World War II through the purging (execution) of the officer corps of the army.  It has been estimated that about thirty thousand members of the armed forces were executed, i.e., about fifty per cent of all army officers.
  • on a personal level, there was the "suicide" (more probably murder) of Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Allilueva (1901-1932) in 1932.  Check out some details of Stalin's personal life and marriages and family.

Then there is the fact of Stalin's non-aggression pact with Hitler in August 1939 that allowed the start of World War II and eventually the German invasion of the USSR, leading to some 50 million dead Soviet citizens.  Stalin had had plenty of warnings about the intended German invasion, including information from:  Richard Sorge, a Soviet spy in Japan; Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, who contacted Stalin in April 1941; and, finally, a German deserter who warned on 21 June 1941 that the invasion would begin the next day.  Stalin choose to ignore everything, and so when the Germans attacked on 22 June 1941, they caught the Soviet army completely by surprise.

It is pretty clear that Stalin was a man of limited moral scruples.  This was exactly what Lenin was looking for when he recruited Stalin for the Bolshevik party.  Most of the Bolshevik leaders were intellectuals, but Stalin was a man hardened by his upbringing.  He had grown up in poverty in the Caucasus (in a mixed atmosphere of being Georgian but living in the Russian Empire--Thus, he was considered to be the nationalities expert in the Bolshevik party), and he attended the Tiflis Theological Seminary, fulfilling his mother's wish that he become a priest.  Can you even begin to imagine?  But it was at the seminary that Stalin was first exposed to Marxist thought, and he was expelled in 1899.  After serving some time in prison and then Siberia--Interestingly, Stalin was always able to escape pretty quickly from his imprisonments in the tsarist regime, leading some to speculate later that he had been a police operative.  Any evidence for that went up in flames soon after the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 when the Okhrana archives mysteriously burned--OK, back to the story.  Stalin joined the Social-Democrat party in 1901 and then sided with Lenin and the Bolshevik faction when the party split.  He was soon deeply involved in the party, carrying out all kinds of illegal activities, especially the nasty stuff like bank robberies to help fund party activities, maybe even some murders but that has never been clearly proven.

As a sidenote, some of the physical problems that Stalin had to overcome in his life--who knows the psychological impact of these:

  • When he was a child, he contracted smallpox which scarred his face.
  • Relatively small in height (remember Napoleon)
  • He had some sort of problem with his left arm and shoulder.  I don't remember the detail, but I think the arm was shorter and/or slightly deformed.
  • Not the best dental hygiene.  His teeth were black, irregular, turned inward.
  • He had a heavy, Georgian accent which was one of the reasons he did not speak much in public.
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Some recommended books
  • Mikhail Sholokhov, Virgin Soil Upturned (1932)
  • Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization (1968)
  • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (1941)
  • Evgeniia Ginzburg (1904-77), Journey Into the Whirlwind (1967)
  • Sebag Montefiore, Stalin, the Court of the Red Tsar (2004)
  • Max Beloff, The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia, 1929-1941 (1949)
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, Master and Margarita
  • High Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (1977)
  • Laurel Fay, Shostakovich: A Life (2000)
  • Boris Nikolaevskii, Letter of an Old Bolshevik (1937) (published originally by Nikolaevskii in the Menshevik journal Sotsialisticheskii vestnik in 1936 but of disputed value since supposedly Bukharin never spoke with Nikolaevskii according to Bukharin's wife's memoirs)
Some recommended websites



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For information contact cevans@nvcc.edu