HS-102 Readings

The Soviet Empire

HOW WAS THE SOVIET EMPIRE FORMED?

WHAT DID IT CONSIST OF, AND HOW WAS IT GOVERNED?

WHAT IS ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION?

WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN THE COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY PHASE OF THE
RUSSIAN REVOLUTION?

WHAT WAS THE ROLE OF MARXIST IDEOLOGY IN THE SOVIET EMPIRE?

WHAT WAS THE ROLE OF STALIN IN THE COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY PHASE OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE SOVIET EMPIRE?

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RUSSIAN PEASANTS AND TO THE RUSSIAN
ECONOMY IN THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE WARS?

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SOVIET EMPIRE AFTER STALIN'S DEATH?

WHY DID THE SOVIET EMPIRE COLLAPSE AFTER 1985?

    The one-party dictatorship of the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, held power during the Civil war because of a practical and ruthless determination by Lenin to do whatever was necessary to overcome internal dissent and to defeat the "White Armies".

    The Soviets served as an administrative apparatus to govern the country, while the Marxist ideology set noble-sounding goals of economic justice which served as an inspiration to believers.

    The expansion of Soviet and Bolshevik power into the Caucasus, into Central Asia, and into Siberia brought many non-Russian nationalities under the control of Moscow.

    The Red Army, the secret police, and the Soviets were the means of imposing Russian control over the far-flung empire. The Russian nation was the central core of the empire, while Russian nationals made up a little over half of the population.

    Faced with the collapse of the economy, Lenin did not insist upon government control of the land. Rather, in 1921, he supported the efforts of the peasants and other Russians to trade and to produce in a largely private enterprise economy. This policy was called the New Economic Program (NEP)

    Gradually, during the course of the 1920's, the economy recovered, until, by 1928 rates of production had recovered to the 1913 level.

    Meanwhile, the Soviet Union experienced a political power struggle at the top. As long as Lenin lived, there was no doubt who was the head of state. But, this was a system with no prescribed way of choosing a successor. When Lenin died in 1924, two influential leaders, Trotsky and Stalin, competed to succeed him.

    Trotsky was a brilliant writer and speaker who appeared to have the advantage at first. He had a more visible role as founder of the Red Army and as a spokesman for the regime.

    Stalin, was neither a writer nor a speaker of note, but he was a clever and
ruthless manipulator who quietly built a base of support within the party.

    On the surface, there was an ideological argument in which Trotsky favored spreading the socialist revolution beyond Russia to the world, while Stalin supported the idea of consolidating socialism in Russia first.

    But the decisive events occurred quietly within the Party, as Trotsky found himself gradually outmaneuvered by Stalin, removed from positions of power, banished from the party, and, by 1927 exiled from Russia.

    By 1928, Stalin was the dictator of a police state,  the head of a one party dictatorship which was in firm control of the country.

    Although Stalin was a declared Marxist, he was first and foremost a practical and ruthless leader determined not to allow anyone to challenge his power, either from within or outside the party, either from within Russia or from outside Russia.

    In 1928, he began the first of several five-year plans designed to rapidly industrialize Russia so that they could adequately defend themselves from outside invasion.

    This involved forced migration of people from rural to urban areas to provide a work force for the factories. It also involved seizing the land from the peasants and establishing large collectives or state farms which theoretically  would be more efficient because small peasant plots could be combined into large farms where machinery and new innovations could be introduced.

    The process of industrialization did, indeed, involve migration from rural to urban areas, and the creation of larger farms. This process had created hardship and dislocation when it occurred naturally as a result of economic forces. But it would be much more rapid and brutal when compelled by the government and the police.

    While industrialization did occur in the 1930,s, and new industrial areas were built east of the Ural Mountains, the forced migration and the collectivization of agriculture stimulated a great, passive rebellion. Peasants refused to work and killed their livestock. The farm sector of the economy was so massively disrupted that a great famine arose in the early 1930,s. Estimates of as many 10 million deaths are believed to have
resulted.

    Stalin evoked great hatred for his rule, but his clever and ruthless control of the police and the state swept away all opposition through a thorough campaign of terror. Between 1934 and 1938, a massive purge, conducted throughout Russia in a seemingly indiscriminant and arbitrary way, resulted in the the disappearance and death of about 3 million Russians, while millions more were taken to concentration camps. (the Gulag.)

    By 1938, the purge had brought down high ranking officers in the army, and prominent party leaders some of whom had been colleagues of Stalin in the early days of the revolution. A Stalin cult was encouraged which elevated Stalin to the position of a demigod, with cities and streets named after Stalin, and huge posters of his portrait displayed throughout the country. It is evident that, by that time, a new status quo had been achieved and the Russian Revolution was over.

    How do we evaluate this revolution, which had begun in the way that other great revolutions had done, by trying to create a liberal alternative for the monarchy of the old regime?

    Were it not for World War I, the Russian Revolution would have occurred later under circumstances much more favourable for the establishment of a liberal government under middle class leadership.

    But the moderate phase of the revolution, begun in 1905, paralyzed for a dozen years by the firm resistance of the Czarist autocracy to any meaningful liberalization, and resumed again in the hothouse environment of a lost war and a foreign invasion, gave way rapidly (between March and November, 1917) to the radical phase which began with the Bolshevik coup.

    The radical phase continued through the civil war as opposing factions fought a bitter, unrelenting struggle for power.

    When Lenin survived, and still presided over the government, and commenced his New Economic Program, he was introducing the counter- revolutionary phase of the revolution. Practical considerations swept away Marxist goals of nationalizing the economy. A purge of dissenters both within and without the ruling party, made a lie to any claim that this was a working class revolution designed to create a classless society.

    When the goal of "Russia first" superceded the goal of pursuing the international Marxist revolution, nationalism revealed itself as a more potent motivation than Marxist ideology.

    While the Russian peasants gained control of the land during the moderate phase of the revolution, they lost it to the Soviet state during Stalin's counter-revolution.

    When Stalin perpetuated and consolidated the supreme position of the Party in Russia and ruthlessly drove the Russian people, he fundamentally denied the Marxist vision of economic justice. When he encouraged the Stalin cult, he contradicted the Marxist principle that the masses, not individual leaders, were to determine the future. While he spoke the rhetoric of Marxism, his actions revealed that he was solidly in the tradition of centralized, authoritarian Czars of the Russian past. While he claimed to be a revolutionary, he wrought, by his actions, the most profound counter-revolution.

    In conclusion, the Russian Revolution, occurring when it did, prematurely in time of war, swept away the old leadership and the old regime, but replaced it with a new, reinvigorated leadership which was just as authoritarian, and centralized as before. The Russian Empire gave way to the Soviet Empire.

    The Soviet Empire was built upon the core of a Russian nation-state, but it included large numbers (about half the population) of non-Russians.

    The Soviet Empire was held together by the administrative system of the Soviets , and the police-state terror of a one party dictatorship put in place by Lenin and Stalin.

    When Stalin died in 1953, the terror began to diminish, but the deadweight of a stultifying bureacracy and a fearful populace would perpetuate the empire for another 3-1/2 decades. When Gorbachev introduced political freedoms and abolished the police state after 1985, the Soviet Empire quickly disintegrated, and the Russian nation was released to continue its evolution.