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History of the Soviet Union (1927–1953)

  (Redirected from Stalinist USSR)

The history of the Soviet Union between 1927 and 1953 covers the period in Soviet history from the establishment of Stalinism through victory in the Second World War and down to the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. He sought to destroy his enemies while transforming Soviet society with aggressive economic planning, in particular a sweeping collectivization of agriculture and rapid development of heavy industry. Stalin consolidated his power within the party and the state and fostered an extensive cult of personality. Soviet secret-police and the mass-mobilization Communist Party served as Stalin's major tools in molding Soviet society. Stalin's brutal methods in achieving his goals, which included party purges, political repression of the general population, and forced collectivization, led to millions of deaths: in Gulag labor camps and during man-made famine.

World War II, known as "the Great Patriotic War" in the Soviet Union, devastated much of the USSR, with about one out of every three World War II deaths representing a citizen of the Soviet Union. After World War II, the Soviet Union's armies occupied Eastern Europe, where they established or supported Communist puppet governments. By 1949, the Cold War had started between the Western Bloc and the Eastern (Soviet) Bloc, with the Warsaw Pact (created 1955) pitched against NATO (created 1949) in Europe. After 1945, Stalin did not directly engage in any wars. He continued his totalitarian rule until his death in 1953.


Soviet state's developmentEdit

Industrialization in practiceEdit

The mobilization of resources by state planning expanded the country's industrial base. From 1928 to 1932, pig iron output, necessary for further development of the industrial infrastructure rose from 3.3 million to 6.2 million tons per year. Coal production, a basic fuel of modern economies and Stalinist industrialization, rose from 35.4 million to 64 million tons, and the output of iron ore rose from 5.7 million to 19 million tons. A number of industrial complexes such as Magnitogorsk and Kuznetsk, the Moscow and Gorky automobile plants, the Ural Mountains and Kramatorsk heavy machinery plants, and Kharkov, Stalingrad and Chelyabinsk tractor plants had been built or were under construction.[1]

In real terms, the workers' standards of living tended to drop, rather than rise during the industrialization. Stalin's laws to "tighten work discipline" made the situation worse: e.g., a 1932 change to the RSFSR labor law code enabled firing workers who had been absent without a reason from the work place for just one day. Being fired accordingly meant losing "the right to use ration and commodity cards" as well as the "loss of the right to use an apartment″ and even blacklisted for new employment which altogether meant a threat of starving.[2] Those measures, however, were not fully enforced, as managers were hard-pressed to replace these workers. In contrast, the 1938 legislation, which introduced labor books, followed by major revisions of the labor law, were enforced. For example, being absent or even 20 minutes late were grounds for becoming fired; managers who failed to enforce these laws faced criminal prosecution. Later, the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, 26 June 1940 "On the Transfer to the Eight-Hour Working Day, the Seven-day Work Week, and on the Prohibition of Unauthorized Departure by Laborers and Office Workers from Factories and Offices"[3] replaced the 1938 revisions with obligatory criminal penalties for quitting a job (2–4 months imprisonment), for being late 20 minutes (6 months of probation and pay confiscation of 25 per cent), etc.

Based on these figures, the Soviet government declared that Five Year Industrial Production Plan had been fulfilled by 93.7% in only four years, while parts devoted to heavy-industry part were fulfilled by 108%. Stalin in December 1932 declared the plan a success to the Central Committee, since increases in the output of coal and iron would fuel future development.[4]

During the second five-year plan (1933–37), on the basis of the huge investment during the first plan, industry expanded extremely rapidly, and nearly reached the plan's targets. By 1937, coal output was 127 million tons, pig iron 14.5 million tons, and there had been very rapid development of the armaments industry.[5]

While making a massive leap in industrial capacity, the first Five Year Plan was extremely harsh on industrial workers; quotas were difficult to fulfill, requiring that miners put in 16- to 18-hour workdays.[6] Failure to fulfill quotas could result in treason charges.[7] Working conditions were poor, even hazardous. Due to the allocation of resources for industry along with decreasing productivity since collectivization, a famine occurred. In the construction of the industrial complexes, inmates of Gulag camps were used as expendable resources. But conditions improved rapidly during the second plan. Throughout the 1930s, industrialization was combined with a rapid expansion of technical and engineering education as well as increasing emphasis on munitions.[8]

From 1921 until 1954, the police state operated at high intensity, seeking out anyone accused of sabotaging the system. The estimated numbers vary greatly. Perhaps, 3.7 million people were sentenced for alleged counter-revolutionary crimes, including 600,000 sentenced to death, 2.4 million sentenced to labor camps, and 700,000 sentenced to expatriation. Stalinist repression reached its peak during the Great Purge of 1937–38, which removed many skilled managers and experts and considerably slowed industrial production in 1937[9]

Collectivization of agricultureEdit

Propaganda shows the use of tractors (in this case McCormick-Deering 15-30) as a backbone of collectivization. Soviet Ukraine, 1931

Under the NEP, Lenin had to tolerate the continued existence of privately owned agriculture. He decided to wait at least 20 years before attempting to place it under state control and in the meantime concentrate on industrial development. However, after Stalin's rise to power, the timetable for collectivization was shortened to just five years. Demand for food intensified, especially in the USSR's primary grain producing regions, with new, forced approaches implemented. Upon joining kolkhozes (collective farms), peasants had to give up their private plots of land and property. Every harvest, Kolkhoz production was sold to the state for a low price set by the state itself. However, the natural progress of collectivization was slow, and the November 1929 Plenum of the Central Committee decided to accelerate collectivization through force. In any case, Russian peasant culture formed a bulwark of traditionalism that stood in the way of the Soviet state's goals.

Given the goals of the first Five Year Plan, the state sought increased political control of agriculture in order to feed the rapidly growing urban population and to obtain a source of foreign currency through increased cereal exports. Given its late start, the USSR needed to import a substantial number of the expensive technologies necessary for heavy industrialization.

By 1936, about 90% of Soviet agriculture had been collectivized. In many cases, peasants bitterly opposed this process and often slaughtered their animals rather than give them to collective farms, even though the government only wanted the grain. Kulaks, prosperous peasants, were forcibly resettled to Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Russian Far North (a large portion of the kulaks served at forced labor camps). However, just about anyone opposing collectivization was deemed a "kulak". The policy of liquidation of kulaks as a class—formulated by Stalin at the end of 1929—meant some executions, and even more deportation to special settlements and, sometimes, to forced labor camps.[10]

Despite the expectations, collectivization led to a catastrophic drop in farm productivity, which did not return to the levels achieved under the NEP until 1940. The upheaval associated with collectivization was particularly severe in Ukraine and the heavily Ukrainian Volga region. Peasants slaughtered their livestock en masse rather than give them up. In 1930 alone, 25% of the nation's cattle, sheep, and goats, and one-third of all pigs were killed. It was not until the 1980s that the Soviet livestock numbers would return to their 1928 level. Government bureaucrats, who had been given a rudimentary education on farming techniques, were dispatched to the countryside to "teach" peasants the new ways of socialist agriculture, relying largely on Marxist theoretical ideas that had little basis in reality.[11] Even after the state inevitably won and succeeding in imposing collectivization, the peasants did everything they could in the way of sabotage. They cultivated far smaller portions of their land and worked much less. The scale of the Ukrainian famine has led many Ukrainian scholars to argue that there was a deliberate policy of genocide against the Ukrainian people. Other scholars argue that the massive death totals were an inevitable result of a very poorly planned operation against all peasants, who had given little support to Lenin or Stalin.

Almost 99% of all cultivated land had been pulled into collective farms by the end of 1937. The ghastly price paid by the peasantry has yet to be established with precision, but probably up to 5 million people died of persecution or starvation in these years. Ukrainians and Kazakhs suffered worse than most nations.

— Robert Service, Comrades! A History of World Communism (2007) p. 145
Early Soviet poster: The Smoke of chimneys is the breath of Soviet Russia

In Ukraine alone, the number of people who died in the famines is now estimated to be 3.5 million.[12][13]

The USSR took over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940, which were lost to Germany in 1941, and then recovered in 1944. The collectivization of their farms began in 1948. Using terror, mass killings and deportations, most of the peasantry was collectivized by 1952. Agricultural production fell dramatically in all the other Soviet Republics.[14]

Changes in Soviet societyEdit

Endorsed by the Constitution of the USSR in 1924, the State Emblem of the Soviet Union (above) was a hammer and sickle symbolizing the alliance of the working class and the peasantry. Ears of wheat were entwined in a scarlet band with the inscription in the languages of all the 15 union republics: "Workers of All Countries, Unite!" The grain represented Soviet agriculture. A five-pointed star, symbolizing the Soviet Union's solidarity with socialist revolutionaries on five continents, was drawn on the upper part of the Emblem.

In the period of rapid industrialization and mass collectivization preceding World War II, Soviet employment figures experienced exponential growth. 3.9 million jobs per annum were expected by 1923, but the number actually climbed to an astounding 6.4 million. By 1937, the number rose yet again, to about 7.9 million. Finally, in 1940 it reached 8.3 million. Between 1926 and 1930, the urban population increased by 30 million. Unemployment had been a problem in late Imperial Russia and even under the NEP, but it ceased being a major factor after the implementation of Stalin's massive industrialization program. The sharp mobilization of resources used in order to industrialize the heretofore agrarian society created a massive need for labor; unemployment virtually dropped to zero. Wage setting by Soviet planners also contributed to the sharp decrease in unemployment, which dropped in real terms by 50% from 1928 to 1940. With wages artificially depressed, the state could afford to employ far more workers than would be financially viable in a market economy. Several ambitious extraction projects were begun that endeavored to supply raw materials for both military hardware and consumer goods.

The Moscow and Gorky automobile plants produced automobiles for the public—despite few Soviet citizens affording to buy a car—and the expansion of steel production and other industrial materials made the manufacture of a greater number of cars possible. Car and truck production, for example, reached 200,000 in 1931.[15]

The Soviet leadership believed that industrial workers needed to be educated in order to be competitive and so embarked on a program contemporaneous with industrialization to greatly increase the number of schools and the general quality of education. In 1927, 7.9 million students attended 118,558 schools. By 1933, the number rose to 9.7 million students in 166,275 schools. In addition, 900 specialist departments and 566 institutions were built and fully operational by 1933. Literacy rates increased substantially as a result, especially in the Central Asian republics.[16]

The Soviet people also benefited from a type of social liberalization. Women were to be given the same education as men and, at least legally speaking, obtained the same rights as men in the workplace. Although in practice these goals were not reached, the efforts to achieve them and the statement of theoretical equality led to a general improvement in the socio-economic status of women. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which marked a massive improvement over the Imperial era. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people access to free health care and education. Widespread immunization programs created the first generation free from the fear of typhus and cholera. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record-low numbers and infant mortality rates were substantially reduced, resulting in the life expectancy for both men and women to increase by over 20 years by the mid-to-late 1950s.[17] Many of the more extreme social and political ideas that were fashionable in the 1920s such as anarchism, internationalism, and the belief that the nuclear family was a bourgeois concept, were abandoned[citation needed]. Schools began to teach a more nationalistic course with emphasis on Russian history and leaders, though Marxist underpinnings necessarily remained. Stalin also began to create a Lenin cult. During the 1930s, Soviet society assumed the basic form it would maintain until its collapse in 1991.

Urban women under Stalin, paralleling the western countries, were also the first generation of women able to give birth in a hospital with access to prenatal care. Education was another area in which there was improvement after economic development, also paralleling other western countries. The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first near-universally literate generation. Some engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract. Transport links were also improved, as many new railways were built, although with forced labour, costing thousands of lives. Workers who exceeded their quotas, Stakhanovites, received many incentives for their work, although many such workers were in fact "arranged" to succeed by receiving extreme help in their work, and then their achievements were used for propaganda.

Starting in the early 1930s, the Soviet government began an all-out war on organized religion in the country. Many churches and monasteries were closed and scores of clergymen were imprisoned or executed. The state propaganda machine vigorously promoted atheism and denounced religion as being an artifact of capitalist society. In 1937, Pope Pius XI decried the attacks on religion in the Soviet Union. By 1940, only a small number of churches remained open. It should be noted that the early anti-religious campaigns under Lenin were mostly directed at the Russian Orthodox Church, as it was a symbol of the czarist government. In the 1930s however, all faiths were targeted: minority Christian denominations, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.

The Great PurgesEdit

As this process unfolded, Stalin consolidated near-absolute power using the 1934 assassination of Sergey Kirov (which many suspect Stalin of having planned, although there is no evidence for this) as a pretext to launch the Great Purges against his suspected political and ideological opponents, most notably the old cadres and the rank and file of the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky had already been expelled from the party in 1927, exiled to Kazakhstan in 1928 and then expelled from the USSR entirely in 1929. Stalin used the purges to politically and physically destroy his other formal rivals (and former allies) accusing Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev of being behind Kirov's assassination and planning to overthrow Stalin. Ultimately, those supposedly involved in this and other conspiracies numbered in the tens of thousands with various Old Bolsheviks and senior party members blamed with conspiracy and sabotage which were used to explain industrial accidents, production shortfalls and other failures of Stalin's regime. Measures used against opposition and suspected opposition ranged from imprisonment in work camps (Gulags) to execution to assassination (of Trotsky's son Lev Sedov and likely of Sergey Kirov—Trotsky himself was to die at the hands of one of Stalin's assassins in 1940).

Several show trials were held in Moscow, to serve as examples for the trials that local courts were expected to carry out elsewhere in the country. There were four key trials from 1936 to 1938, The Trial of the Sixteen was the first (December 1936); then the Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); then the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One (including Bukharin) in March 1938. During these, the defendants were typically accused of things such as sabotage, spying, counter-revolution, and conspiring with Germany and Japan to invade and partition the Soviet Union. Most confessed to the charges. The initial trials in 1935–36 were carried out by the OGPU under Genrikh Yagoda. The following year, he and his associates were removed from office and arrested. They were later tried and executed in 1938–39. The secret police were renamed the NKVD and control given to Nikolai Yezhov, known as the "Bloody Dwarf".

The "Great Purge" swept the Soviet Union in 1937. It was widely known as the "Yezhovschina", the "Reign of Yezhov". The rate of arrests was staggering. In the armed forces alone, 34,000 officers were purged including many at the higher ranks.[18] The entire Politburo and most of the Central Committee were purged, along with foreign communists who were living in the Soviet Union, and numerous intellectuals, bureaucrats, and factory managers. The total of people imprisoned or executed during the Yezhovschina numbered about two million.[19] By 1938, the mass purges were starting to disrupt the country's infrastructure, and Stalin began winding them down. Yezhov was gradually relieved of power. Yezhov was relieved of all powers in 1939, then tried and executed in 1940. His successor as head of the NKVD (from 1938 to 1945) was Lavrentiy Beria, a Georgian friend of Stalin's. Arrests and executions continued into 1952, although nothing on the scale of the Yezhovschina ever happened again.

During this period, the practice of mass arrest, torture, and imprisonment or execution without trial, of anyone suspected by the secret police of opposing Stalin's regime became commonplace. By the NKVD's own count, 681,692 people were shot during 1937–38 alone, and hundreds of thousands of political prisoners were transported to Gulag work camps.[20] The mass terror and purges were little known to the outside world, and many western intellectuals continued to believe that the Soviets had created a successful alternative to a capitalist world that was suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. In 1936, the country adopted its first formal constitution, which on paper at least granted freedom of speech, religion, and assembly.

In March 1939, the 18th congress of the Communist Party was held in Moscow. Most of the delegates present at the 17th congress in 1934 were gone, and Stalin was heavily praised by Litvinov and the western democracies criticized for failing to adopt the principles of "collective security" against Nazi Germany.

World War IIEdit

Foreign relations before 1941Edit

The young Soviet Union initially struggled with foreign relations, being the first socialist-run country in the world. The old great powers were not pleased to see the established world order rocked by an ideology claiming to be the harbinger of a world revolution. Indeed, many had actively opposed the very establishment of Soviet rule by meddling in the Russian Civil War. Slowly the international community had to accept, however, that the Soviet Union was there to stay. By 1933, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan, along with many other countries had recognized the Soviet government and established diplomatic ties. On November 16, 1933, the United States joined the list. Thus, by the 1930s, Soviet Russia was no longer an international pariah.[21]

Franco-Soviet relations were initially hostile because the USSR officially opposed the World War I peace settlement of 1919 that France emphatically championed. While the Soviet Union was interested in conquering territories in Eastern Europe, France was determined to protect the fledgling nations there. This led to a rosy German–Soviet relationship in the 1920s. However, Adolf Hitler's foreign policy centered on a massive seizure of Eastern European and Russian lands for Germany's own ends, and when Hitler pulled out of the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1933, the threat hit home. Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov reversed Soviet policy regarding the Paris Peace Settlement, leading to a Franco-Soviet rapprochement. In May 1935, the USSR concluded pacts of mutual assistance with France and Czechoslovakia; the Comintern was also instructed to form a united front with leftist parties against the forces of Fascism. The pact was undermined, however, by strong ideological hostility to the Soviet Union and the Comintern's new front in France, Poland's refusal to permit the Red Army on its soil, France's defensive military strategy, and a continuing Soviet interest in patching up relations with Germany.

The Soviet Union also supplied military aid to the Republicans in Spain, but held back somewhat. Its support of the government also gave the Republicans a Communist taint in the eyes of anti-Bolsheviks in the UK and France, weakening the calls for Anglo-French intervention in the war.[22]

In response to all of this the Nazi government promulgated an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and later Italy and various Eastern European countries (such as Hungary), ostensibly to suppress Communist activity but more realistically to forge an alliance against the USSR.

Common parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the Invasion of Poland. At the center Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein

Stalin arranged the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany on August 23, along with the German-Soviet Commercial Agreement to open economic relations. A secret appendix to the pact gave Eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia and Finland to the USSR, and Western Poland and Lithuania to Nazi Germany. This reflected the Soviet desire of territorial gains.

Propaganda was also considered an important foreign relations tool. International exhibitions, the distribution of media such as films, e.g.: Alexander Nevski, and journals like USSR in Construction, as well as inviting prominent foreign individuals to tour the Soviet Union, were used as a method of gaining international influence.[23]

Start of World War IIEdit

Germany invaded Poland on September 1; the USSR followed on September 17. The Soviets quelled opposition by executing and arresting thousands. They sent hundreds of thousands to Siberia and other remote parts of the USSR. Estimates varying from the figure over 1.5 million.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30] to the most conservative figures[31][32] using recently found NKVD documents showing 309,000[33][34][35] to 381,220.[35][36] in four major waves of deportations between 1939 and 1941.

With Poland, including part of the old Prussian state, being divided between two powers, the Soviet Union put forth its territorial demands to Finland for a minor part of the Karelian Isthmus, a naval base at Hanko (Hangö) peninsula and some islands in the Gulf of Finland. Finland rejected the demands and on November 30, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, thus triggering the Winter War. Despite outnumbering Finnish troops by over 2.5:1, the war proved embarrassingly difficult for the Red Army, which was ill-equipped for the winter weather and lacking competent commanders since the purge of the Soviet high command. The Finns resisted fiercely, and received some support and considerable sympathy from the Allies.[citation needed] But in the spring of 1940, the snows melted, and a renewed Soviet offensive compelled them to surrender and relinquish the Karelian Isthmus and some smaller territories.

In 1940, the USSR occupied and illegally annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. On June 14, 1941, the USSR performed first mass deportations from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

On June 26, 1940 the Soviet government issued an ultimatum to the Romanian minister in Moscow, demanding Romania immediately cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Italy and Germany, which needed a stable Romania and access to its oil fields urged King Carol II to do so. Under duress, with no prospect of aid from France or Britain, Carol complied. On June 28, Soviet troops crossed the Dniester and occupied Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, and the Hertza region.[37]

Great Patriotic WarEdit

Soviet children celebrating the school year end on the eve of the Great Patriotic War, June 21, 1941.

On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler abruptly broke the non-aggression pact and invaded the Soviet Union. Soviet intelligence was fooled by German disinformation and sent to Moscow false alarms about German invasion in April, May and the beginning of June. Despite the popular myth there was no warning "Germany will attack on 22 June without declaration of war", moreover, Soviet intelligence reported that Germany would either invade the USSR after the fall of the British Empire[38] or after an unacceptable ultimatum demanding German occupation of Ukraine during the German invasion of Britain.[39] Like in Sino-Soviet conflict on Chinese Eastern Railway or Soviet–Japanese border conflicts Soviet troops on western border received a directive undersigned by Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and General of the Army Georgy Zhukov that ordered (as demanded by Stalin): "do not answer to any provocations" and "do not undertake any (offensive) actions without specific orders" – which meant that Soviet troops could open fire only on their soil and forbade counter-attack on German soil.

The Nazi invasion caught the Soviet military unprepared. In the larger sense, Stalin expected invasion but not so soon.[40] The Army had been decimated by the Purges; time was needed for a recovery of competence. As such, mobilization did not occur and the Soviet Army was tactically unprepared as of the invasion. The initial weeks of the war were a disaster, with tens of thousands of men being killed, wounded, or captured. Whole divisions disintegrated against the German onslaught.

It is said that Stalin, at first, refused to believe Nazi Germany had broken the treaty. However, new evidence shows Stalin held meetings with a variety of senior Soviet government and military figures, including Vyacheslav Molotov (People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs), Semyon Timoshenko (People's Commissar for Defense), Georgy Zhukov (Chief of Staff of the Red Army), Nikolay Kuznetsov (Commander of both North Caucasus and Baltic Military Districts), and Boris Shaposhnikov (Deputy People's Commissar for Defense). All in all, on the very first day of the attack, Stalin held meetings with over 15 individual members of the Soviet government and military apparatus.

German troops reached the outskirts of Moscow in December 1941, but failed to capture it, due to staunch Soviet defence and counterattacks. At the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–43, the Red Army inflicted a crushing defeat on the German army. Due to the unwillingness of the Japanese to open a second front in Manchuria, the Soviets were able to call dozens of Red Army divisions back from eastern Russia. These units were instrumental in turning the tide, because most of their officer corps had escaped Stalin's purges. The Soviet forces soon launched massive counterattacks along the entire German line. By 1944, the Germans had been pushed out of the Soviet Union onto the banks of the Vistula river, just east of Prussia. With Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov attacking from Prussia, and Marshal Ivan Konev slicing Germany in half from the south, the fate of Nazi Germany was sealed. On May 2, 1945 the last German troops surrendered to the overjoyed Soviet troops in Berlin.

Wartime developmentsEdit

From the end of 1944 to 1949, large sections of eastern Germany came under the Soviet Union's occupation and on 2 May 1945, the capital city Berlin was taken, while over fifteen million Germans were removed from eastern Germany and pushed into central Germany (later called the German Democratic Republic) and western Germany (later called the Federal Republic of Germany). Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czech, etc., were then moved onto German land.

An atmosphere of patriotic emergency took over the Soviet Union during the war, and persecution of the Orthodox Church was halted. The Church was now permitted to operate with a fair degree of freedom, so long as it did not get involved in politics. In 1944, a new Soviet national anthem was written, replacing the Internationale, which had been used as the national anthem since 1918. These changes were made because it was thought that the people would respond better to a fight for their country than for a political ideology.

The Soviets bore the brunt of World War II because the West did not open up a second ground front in Europe until the invasion of Italy and the Battle of Normandy. Approximately 26.6 million Soviets, among them 18 million civilians, were killed in the war. Civilians were rounded up and burned or shot in many cities conquered by the Nazis.[citation needed] The retreating Soviet army was ordered to pursue a 'scorched earth' policy whereby retreating Soviet troops were ordered to destroy civilian infrastructure and food supplies so that the Nazi German troops could not use them.

Stalin's original declaration in March 1946 that there were 7 million war dead was revised in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev with a round number of 20 million. In the late 1980s, demographers in the State Statistics Committee (Goskomstat) took another look using demographic methods and came up with an estimate of 26–27 million. A variety of other estimates have been made.[41] In most detailed estimates roughly two-thirds of the estimated deaths were civilian losses. However, the breakdown of war losses by nationality is less well known. One study, relying on indirect evidence from the 1959 population census, found that while in terms of the aggregate human losses the major Slavic groups suffered most, the largest losses relative to population size were incurred by minority nationalities mainly from European Russia, among groups from which men were mustered to the front in "nationality battalions" and appear to have suffered disproportionately.[42]

After the war, the Soviet Union occupied and dominated Eastern Europe, in line with their particular Marxist ideology.

Stalin was determined to punish those peoples he saw as collaborating with Germany during the war and to deal with the problem of nationalism, which would tend to pull the Soviet Union apart. Millions of Poles, Latvians, Georgians, Ukrainians and other ethnic minorities were deported to Gulags in Siberia. (Previously, following the 1939 annexation of eastern Poland, thousands of Polish Army officers, including reservists, had been executed in the spring of 1940, in what came to be known as the Katyn massacre.) In addition, in 1941, 1943 and 1944 several whole nationalities had been deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia, including, among others, the Volga Germans, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetian Turks. Though these groups were later politically "rehabilitated", some were never given back their former autonomous regions.[43][44][45][46]

"Everything for the Front. Everything for Victory", Soviet World War 2 propaganda poster

At the same time, in a famous Victory Day toast in May 1945, Stalin extolled the role of the Russian people in the defeat of the fascists: "I would like to raise a toast to the health of our Soviet people and, before all, the Russian people. I drink, before all, to the health of the Russian people, because in this war they earned general recognition as the leading force of the Soviet Union among all the nationalities of our country... And this trust of the Russian people in the Soviet Government was the decisive strength, which secured the historic victory over the enemy of humanity – over fascism..."[47]

World War II resulted in enormous destruction of infrastructure and populations throughout Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, with almost no country left unscathed. The Soviet Union was especially devastated due to the mass destruction of the industrial base that it had built up in the 1930s. The USSR also experienced a major famine in 1946–48 due to war devastation that cost an estimated 1 to 1.5 million lives as well as secondary population losses due to reduced fertility.[a] However, the Soviet Union recovered its production capabilities and overcame pre-war capabilities, becoming the country with the most powerful land army in history by the end of the war, and having the most powerful military production capabilities.

War and Stalinist industrial-military developmentEdit

Although the Soviet Union received aid and weapons from the United States under the Lend-Lease program, the Soviet production of war materials was greater than that of Nazi Germany because of rapid growth of Soviet industrial production during the interwar years (additional supplies from lend-lease accounted for about 10–12% of the Soviet Union's own industrial output). The Second Five Year Plan raised steel production to 18 million tons and coal to 128 million tons. Before it was interrupted, the Third Five Year Plan produced no less than 19 million tons of steel and 150 million tons of coal.[49]

The Soviet Union's industrial output provided an armaments industry which supported their army, helping it resist the Nazi military offensive. According to Robert L. Hutchings, "One can hardly doubt that if there had been a slower buildup of industry, the attack would have been successful and world history would have evolved quite differently."[50] For the laborers involved in industry, however, life was difficult. Workers were encouraged to fulfill and overachieve quotas through propaganda, such as the Stakhanovite movement.

Some historians, however, interpret the lack of preparedness of the Soviet Union to defend itself as a flaw in Stalin's economic planning. David Shearer, for example, argues that there was "a command-administrative economy" but it was not "a planned one". He argues that the Soviet Union was still suffering from the Great Purge, and was completely unprepared for the German invasion. Economist Holland Hunter, in addition, argues in his Overambitious First Soviet Five-Year Plan, that an array "of alternative paths were available, evolving out of the situation existing at the end of the 1920s... that could have been as good as those achieved by, say, 1936 yet with far less turbulence, waste, destruction and sacrifice."

The Cold WarEdit

Soviet control over Eastern EuropeEdit

Soviet expansion, change of Central-eastern European borders and creation of the Eastern Bloc after World War II

In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union extended its political and military influence over Eastern Europe, in a move that was seen by some as a continuation of the older policies of the Russian Empire. Some territories that had been lost by Soviet Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) were annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II: the Baltic states and eastern portions of interwar Poland. The Russian SFSR also gained the northern half of East Prussia (Kaliningrad Oblast) from Germany. The Ukrainian SSR gained Transcarpathia (as Zakarpattia Oblast) from Czechoslovakia, and Ukrainian populated Northern Bukovina (as Chernivtsi Oblast) from Romania. Finally, by the late 1940s, pro-Soviet Communist Parties won the elections in five countries of Central and Eastern Europe (specifically Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) and subsequently became People's Democracies. These elections are generally regarded as rigged, and the Western powers recognized them as show elections. For the duration of the Cold War, the countries of Eastern Europe became Soviet satellite states — they were "independent" nations, which were one-party Communist States whose General Secretary had to be approved by the Kremlin, and so their governments usually kept their policy in line with the wishes of the Soviet Union, although nationalistic forces and pressures within the satellite states played a part in causing some deviation from strict Soviet rule.

Tenor of Soviet–U.S. relationsEdit

The USSR urgently needed munitions, food and fuel that was provided by the U.S. and also Britain, primarily through Lend Lease. The three power kept in regular contact, with Stalin trying to maintain a veil of secrecy over internal affairs. Churchill and other top Soviets visited Moscow, as did Roosevelt's top aide Harry Hopkins. Stalin repeatedly requested that the United States and Britain open a second front on the European continent; but the Allied invasion did not occur until June 1944, more than two years later. In the meantime, the Russians suffered high casualties, and the Soviets faced the brunt of German strength. The Allies pointed out that their intensive air bombardment was a major factor that Stalin ignored. [51][52][53]

Domestic eventsEdit

The mild political liberalization that took place in the Soviet Union during the war quickly came to an end in 1945. The Orthodox Church was generally left unmolested after the war and was even allowed to print small amounts of religious literature, but persecution of minority religions was resumed.[citation needed] Stalin and the Communist Party were given full credit for the victory over Germany, and generals such as Zhukov were demoted to regional commands (Ukraine in his case). With the onset of the Cold War, anti-Western propaganda was stepped up, with the capitalist world depicted as a decadent place where crime, unemployment, and poverty were rampant.

Art and science were subjected to rigorous censorship. Where previously The All- Russian Union of Writers (AUW) had attempted to publish apolitical writing, The Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) insisted on the importance of politics in literary work, and published content which primarily embodied the hegemony of the working-class values in fiction. The RAPP launched a campaign against the AUW chairman Evgeny Zamyatin. It resulted in the defeat of the AUW, and they were replaced by the All-Russian Union of Soviet Writers, which strictly adopted the literary style of socialist realism. Soviet biology studies were heavily influenced by the now-discredited biologist Trofim Lysenko, who rejected the concept of Mendelian inheritance in favor of a form of Lamarckism. In physics, the theory of relativity was dismissed as "bourgeois idealism". Much of this censorship was the work of Andrei Zhdanov, known as Stalin's "ideological hatchet man",[citation needed] until his death from a heart attack in 1948. Stalin's cult of personality reached its height in the postwar period, with his picture displayed in every school, factory, and government office, yet he rarely appeared in public. Postwar reconstruction proceeded rapidly, but as the emphasis was all on heavy industry and energy, living standards remained low, especially outside of the major cities.[citation needed]

In October 1952, the first postwar party congress convened in Moscow. Stalin did not feel up to delivering the main report and for most of the proceedings sat in silence while Nikita Khrushchev and Georgy Malenkov delivered the main speeches. He did suggest however that the party be renamed from "The All-Union Party of Bolsheviks" to "The Communist Party of the Soviet Union" on the grounds that "There was once a time when it was necessary to distinguish ourselves from the Mensheviks, but there are no Mensheviks anymore. We are the entire party now." Stalin also mentioned his advancing age (two months away from 73) and suggested that it might be time to retire. Predictably, no one at the congress would dare agree with it and the delegates instead pleaded for him to stay.

Terror by the secret police continued in the postwar period. Although nothing comparable to 1937 ever happened again, there were many smaller purges, including a mass purge of the Georgian party apparatus in 1951–52. Stalin's health also deteriorated precipitously after WWII. He suffered a stroke in the fall of 1945 and was ill for months. This was followed by another stroke in 1947. Stalin became less active in the day to day running of the state and instead of party meetings, preferred to invite the Politburo members to all-night dinners where he would watch movies and force them to get drunk and embarrass themselves or say something incriminating.

Korean WarEdit

In 1950, the Soviet Union protested against the fact that the Chinese seat at the United Nations Security Council was held by the Nationalist government of China, and boycotted the meetings.[citation needed] While the Soviet Union was absent, the UN passed a resolution condemning North Korean actions and offering military support to South Korea.[citation needed] After this incident the Soviet Union was never absent at the meetings of the Security Council.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Although the 1946 drought was severe, government mismanagement of its grain reserves largely accounted for the population losses.[48]


  1. ^ Martin Mccauley, The Soviet Union 1917–1991 (Routledge, 2014). p. 81.
  2. ^ "On Firing for Unexcused Absenteeism". Cyber USSR. Retrieved 2010-08-01.
  3. ^ "On the Prohibition of Unauthorized Departure by Laborers and Office Workers from Factories and Offices". Cyber USSR. Retrieved 2010-08-01.
  4. ^ Martin Mccauley, Stalin and Stalinism (3rd ed. 2013) p. 39.
  5. ^ E. A. Rees, Decision-making in the Stalinist Command Economy, 1932–37 (Palgrave Macmillan, 1997) 212–13.
  6. ^ Andrew B. Somers, History of Russia (Monarch Press, 1965) p. 77.
  7. ^ Problems of Communism (1989) – Volume 38 p. 137
  8. ^ Mark Harrison and Robert W. Davies. "The Soviet military‐economic effort during the second five‐year plan (1933–1937)." Europe‐Asia Studies 49.3 (1997): 369–406.
  9. ^ Vadim Birstein Smersh: Stalin's Secret Weapon (Biteback Publishing, 2013) pp. 80–81.
  10. ^ Hudson, Hugh D. (2012), Hudson, Hugh D. (ed.), "Peasants, Political Police, and the Early Soviet State", Peasants, Political Police, and the Early Soviet State: Surveillance and Accommodation under the New Economic Policy, Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 89–111, doi:10.1057/9781137010544_6, ISBN 9781137010544 |chapter= ignored (help)
  11. ^ "Famine and Oppression | History of Western Civilization II". Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  12. ^ Himka, John-Paul (2013). "Encumbered Memory: The Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33". Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. 14 (2): 411–436. doi:10.1353/kri.2013.0025.
  13. ^ R. W. Davies, Stephen G. Wheatcroft, The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia Volume 5: The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture 1931–1933 (2nd ed. 2010) p xiv online
  14. ^ Blaževičius, Kazys (Jan 24, 2003), "Antanas Sniečkus. Kas jis?", XXI Amžius (in Lithuanian), LT (7): 1111.
  15. ^ Tucker 1990, p. 96.
  16. ^ Tucker 1990, p. 228.
  17. ^ Da Vanzo, Julie; Farnsworth, Gwen, eds. (1996), Russia's Demographic "Crisis", RAND, pp. 115–21, ISBN 978-0-8330-2446-6.
  18. ^ Geoffrey Roberts (2012). Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov. Icon Books. pp. 58–59. ISBN 9781848314436.
  19. ^ Paul R. Gregory (2009). Terror by Quota: State Security from Lenin to Stalin. Yale University Press. pp. 16–20. ISBN 978-0300152784.
  20. ^ Gregory (2009). Terror by Quota: State Security from Lenin to Stalin. p. 16. ISBN 978-0300152784.
  21. ^ "Pretty Fat Turkey", Time (magazine), Nov 27, 1933.
  22. ^ MCCANNON, JOHN (1995). "SOVIET INTERVENTION IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, 1936–39: A REEXAMINATION". Russian History. 22 (2): 154–180. doi:10.1163/187633195X00070. ISSN 0094-288X. JSTOR 24657802.
  23. ^ "About". USSR in Construction. CA: Usask. Retrieved 2010-08-01.
  24. ^ Davies (1986), p. 451.
  25. ^ Polian (2004), p. 119.
  26. ^ Hope (2005), p. 29.
  27. ^ "Holocaust: Five Million Forgotten: Non Jewish Victims of the Shoah". Remember. Retrieved 2010-08-01.
  28. ^ Malcher (1993), pp. 8–9.
  29. ^ Piesakowski (1990), pp. 50–51.
  30. ^ Mikolajczyk (1948).
  31. ^ Piotrowski (2004).
  32. ^ Gross (2002), p. xiv.
  33. ^ Cienciala (2007), p. 139.
  34. ^ a b Polian (2004), p. 118.
  35. ^ "Lecture 17: Poland Under Occupation" (PDF), Poland, Brandeis.
  36. ^ King, Charles (2000), The Moldovans, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, ISBN 978-0-8179-9792-2.
  37. ^ Reshin, LE, Year of 1941, 1, p. 508.
  38. ^ L. E. Reshin, "Year of 1941", vol. 2, p. 152.
  39. ^ Murphy, David E (2005), What Stalin Knew: the enigma of Barbarossa, Yale, ISBN 978-0-300-10780-7.
  40. ^ Ellman, Michael; Maksudov, S (1994), "Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War: A Note", Europe-Asia Studies, 46 (4): 671–80, doi:10.1080/09668139408412190, PMID 12288331.
  41. ^ Anderson, Barbara A; Silver, Brian D (1985), "Demographic Consequences of World War II on the Non-Russian Nationalities of the USSR", in Linz, Susan J (ed.), The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union, Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld.
  42. ^ Conquest, Robert (1970), The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities, London: MacMillan, ISBN 978-0-333-10575-7.
  43. ^ Wimbush, S Enders; Wixman, Ronald (1975), "The Meskhetian Turks: A New Voice in Central Asia", Canadian Slavonic Papers, 27 (2–3): 320–40.
  44. ^ Alexander Nekrich (1978), The Punished Peoples: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War, New York: WW Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-00068-9.
  45. ^ Population transfer in the Soviet Union, Wikipedia.
  46. ^ Russification (complete text of the toast).
  47. ^ Ellman, Michael (2000), "The 1947 Soviet Famine and the Entitlement Approach to Famines", Cambridge Journal of Economics, 24 (5): 603–30, doi:10.1093/cje/24.5.603.
  48. ^ "The First Five Year Plan, 1928-1932". Special Collections & Archives. 2015-10-07. Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  49. ^ Russia and the USSR, 1855–1991: Autocracy and Dictatorship p.147
  50. ^ Herbert Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought (Princeton, NJ, 1957).
  51. ^ William H. McNeill, America, Britain, & Russia: their co-operation and conflict, 1941-1946 (1953)
  52. ^ Jonathan Fenby, Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another (2007)

Further readingEdit

  • Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century (1989).
  • Hosking, Geoffrey. The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within (2nd ed. Harvard UP 1992) 570 pp.
  • Kort, Michael. The Soviet Colossus: History and Aftermath (7th ed. 2010) 502 pp.
  • McCauley, Martin. The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union (2007), 522 pp.
  • Moss, Walter G. A History of Russia. Vol. 2: Since 1855 (2nd ed. 2005).
  • Nove, Alec. An Economic History of the USSR, 1917–1991 (3rd ed. 1993).

Stalin and StalinismEdit

  • Daniels, R. V., ed. The Stalin Revolution (1965)
  • Davies, Sarah, and James Harris, eds. Stalin: A New History, (2006), 310 pp, 14 specialized essays by scholars excerpt and text search.
  • De Jonge, Alex. Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (1986).
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila, ed. Stalinism: New Directions, (1999), 396 pp, excerpts from many scholars on the impact of Stalinism on the people online edition.
  • Hoffmann, David L. ed. Stalinism: The Essential Readings, (2002) essays by 12 scholars.
  • Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations (1990).
  • Kershaw, Ian, and Moshe Lewin. Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison (2004) excerpt and text search.
  • Lee, Stephen J. Stalin and the Soviet Union (1999) online edition.
  • Lewis, Jonathan. Stalin: A Time for Judgement (1990).
  • McNeal, Robert H. Stalin: Man and Ruler (1988)
  • Martens, Ludo. Another view of Stalin (1994), a highly favorable view from a Maoist historian
  • Service, Robert. Stalin: A Biography (2004), along with Tucker the standard biography
  • Tucker, Robert C. Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879–1929 (1973)
  • ——— (1990), Stalin in Power (Questia online edition), New York: WW Norton with Service, a standard biography; online at ACLS History e-books.


  • Bendavid-Val, Leah, James H. Billington and Philip Brookman. Propaganda and Dreams: Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the US (1999)
  • Clark, Katerina. Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931–1941 (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization (1996) excerpt and text search
  • ——— (2000), Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, ISBN 978-0195050011.

World War IIEdit

  • Bellamy, Chris. Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War (2008), 880pp excerpt and text search
  • Berkhoff, Karel C. Motherland in Danger: Soviet Propaganda during World War II (2012) excerpt and text search
  • Broekmeyer, Marius. Stalin, the Russians, and Their War, 1941–1945. 2004. 315 pp.
  • Feis, Herbert. Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin: The War they waged and the Peace they sought (1953). online free o borrow
  • Fenby, Jonathan. Alliance: the inside story of how Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill won one war and began another (2015).
  • Hill, Alexander. The Red Army and the Second World War (2017), 738 pp.
  • McNeill, William H. America, Britain, & Russia: their co-operation and conflict, 1941-1946 (1953)
  • Overy, Richard. Russia's War: A History of the Soviet Effort: 1941–1945 (1998) excerpt and text search
  • Reynolds, David, and Vladimir Pechatnov, eds. The Kremlin Letters: Stalin's Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt (2019)
  • Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953 (2006).
  • Seaton, Albert. Stalin as Military Commander, (1998) online edition

Cold warEdit

  • Goncharov, Sergei, John Lewis and Litai Xue, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War (1993) excerpt and text search
  • Gorlizki, Yoram, and Oleg Khlevniuk. Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945–1953 (2004) online edition
  • Harrison, Mark. "The Soviet Union after 1945: Economic Recovery and Political Repression," Past & Present (2011) Vol. 210 Issue suppl_6, pp 103–120.
  • Holloway, David. Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956 (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Mastny, Vojtech. Russia's Road to the Cold War: Diplomacy, Warfare, and the Politics of Communism, 1941–1945 (1979)
  • ——— (1998), The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years (Questia online complete edition);
  • Taubman, William. Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (2004), Pulitzer Prize; excerpt and text search
  • Ulam, Adam B. Expansion and Coexistence: Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917–1973, 2nd ed. (1974)
  • Zubok, Vladislav M. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (2007)

External linksEdit