What do Marxists think of Stalinism?
Soviet Union I: 1917-1953
Prof. Dr. Susanne Schattenberg is director of the Eastern Europe Research Center at the University of Bremen. Her research areas include Stalinism, the cultural history of foreign policy and the Soviet Union after 1953. She is currently working on a biography of Brezhnev.
Contact: [email protected]
Manuela Putz is a research fellow at the Research Center for Eastern Europe and is doing her doctorate at the University of Bremen on political imprisonment and oppositional self-image in post-Stalinism. Her research interests include dissent, alternative literature and art in the Soviet Union and emigration, as well as cultures of remembrance in today's Russia.
"What was Stalinism?" This is a question that is still hotly debated in research. There is broad consensus that Stalinism was largely shaped by the violence and terror that ended with Stalin's death. The purpose of violence is disputed: did it serve to create the perfect industrialized and modern society in which all those who did not conform to the ideal of the "new man" had to be liquidated? Or did it serve to annihilate the enemy, the ubiquity of which has been invoked permanently at home and abroad? Or was the terror no use at all, as reputable scientists recently believe, but was exhausted in a single orgy of violence?
Undoubtedly, Stalin and his comrades-in-arms made use of the utopias and visions that had inspired people since the Enlightenment and, despite terror and violence, cast a spell over workers and intellectuals from all over the world in the 1930s: fight all superstition and all backwardness, education and Culture for everyone, modernity and progress in all areas of economy and society. While the western capitalist world has sunk into unemployment, recession, and chaos since the stock market crash in 1929, the Soviet Union seemed to be on the right track.
Stalinism began in 1928 with several mutually dependent actions, which in the Soviet Union were referred to as the "Great Upheaval", in the West as Stalin's "Revolution from above" or "Cultural Revolution": collectivization of agriculture, forced industrialization, first show trials against the old one technical intelligence and exchange of old, tsarist scientists and experts in the people's commissariats, authorities and cultural establishments by young cadres with party membership.
The great changeCollectivization and deculakization
The NEP ended with a rigorous change in policy towards the farmers. Since they had not been persuaded to voluntarily form collective farms, this should now be done under duress. On the one hand, the utopia of the Bolsheviks of industrial agriculture came into play here: farmers as trained agricultural workers who achieved record harvests with the help of tractors and other machines and catapulted the backward country into the modern age. On the other hand, the enemy image of the lethargic, dull peasant, who out of sheer stubbornness and cunning, refused to deliver his harvest and wanted to boycott the Soviet government, continued to have an effect. After all, collectivization was intended to serve industrialization directly: the grain that the collective farms had to deliver was to be exported and the proceeds were to be used to finance industrialization.
When there were bad harvests in 1927 and 1928, Stalin did not see the consequences of a still restrictive policy towards the peasants, but took this as evidence that the Bolsheviks had been too compliant with the peasants. When the Deputy People's Commissar for Agriculture Alexei Swiderski (1878-1933) declared in 1924: "There are no kulaks in the village, they can only be found in the resolutions of the 13th Party Congress," believed Stalin on a trip to Siberia at the beginning of 1928 to be rich everywhere Recognize kulaks. He ordered all "speculators", "kulaks" and "market disorganizers" to be arrested. Four to ten kulaks per village were to be convicted of speculation. By April 1928 there were 6,000 arrests.
A government decree of June 1929 legalized the practice of sentencing farmers under Article 61 ("Failure to pay tax debts") and demanding five times the tax burden from them as a punishment. In December 1929, Stalin declared the "liquidation of the kulaks" to be part of the program: "Today we have a sufficient material basis to strike against the kulaks, to break their resistance, to liquidate them as a class and to increase their production through the production of the To replace collective and Soviet farms. " Although there were specifications as to how much property a farmer had to have in order to qualify as a "kulak" (e.g. 1600 rubles means of production, which corresponds to ten horses or 13 cows), ultimately anyone could be called a "kulak" who opposed the Bolsheviks.
The kulaks were divided into three categories: 60,000 "counter-revolutionaries" who were to be sent to concentration camps immediately and executed if they resisted; 150,000 "kulak activists" who had to be deported with their families to inhospitable, remote areas; the third group should only be partially expropriated and used as workers in their home villages. The Politburo estimated that around three to five percent of all farms or one million farms with around five to six million people would be expropriated.
After the original plan had provided for only 15 percent of the farms to be converted into collective farms by 1934, the November plenary session of the Central Committee in 1929 decided to go over to total collectivization and collectivize at least 80 percent of all farm households. The main growing areas for grain were to be collectivized by autumn 1930, all other regions to follow by spring 1932. However, there were no instructions on how collectivization should be carried out. It also remained unclear what the difference between a collective farm (kolkhoz) and a state enterprise (sovkhoz) should be.
Agriculture and Industry Controversy
There is another general line that starts from the assumption that we must use all our resources to make our country an economically autonomous, independent country based on the internal market, a country that serves as a field of attraction for all other countries, which gradually fall away from capitalism and turn into the paths of the socialist economy. This line requires maximum development of our industry [...]. It firmly rejects the policy of transforming our country into an appendage of the world capitalist system. That is our building line, which the party adheres to and which it will also follow in the future. This line is essential as long as there is a capitalist orbit. [...]
J. W. Stalin, Werke, Volume 7, 1925. The German edition obtained from the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute at the Central Committee of the SED, Dietz Verlag Berlin 1952, p. 259 f.
N. I. Bukharin on the need for a "dynamic economic equilibrium" between agriculture and industry, autumn 1928
[...] If the Trotskyists do not understand that the development of industry depends on the development of agriculture, then the ideologues of petty-bourgeois conservatism fail to understand that the development of agriculture depends on industry, that is, agriculture without tractors without chemical fertilizers, without electrification, is doomed to stagnation. They fail to understand that it is precisely industry that is the lever of the radical transformation of agriculture, and that without the hegemony of industry it is impossible to do away with the backwardness, the barbarism and the misery of the village. [...]
N. I. Bukharin, Before the eleventh anniversary of the October Revolution. At the beginning of the new financial year in the Soviet Union. Remarks from an economist. In: Internationale Presse-Korrespondenz 8 (1928), 2nd Hj., No. 117-119, quoted by Helmut Altrichter / Heiko Haumann (eds.), The Soviet Union. From the October Revolution to Stalin's death. Vol. 2: Economy and Society, dtv documents, Munich 1987, p. 225 f.
Stalin to solve the agricultural crisis in front of students at Sverdlov University, May 28, 1928
[...] While in industry we can oppose the small capitalist in the city with the socialist large-scale industry, which supplies nine tenths of the total mass of industrial goods, we can only use the collective and not yet strengthened collective and industrial goods for the kulak large-scale production in the village Oppose Soviet farms, which produce only an eighth part of the grain that the kulak farms produce. [...]
The way out consists above all in moving from the small, backward, fragmented peasantry to united, large, social economies equipped with machines, equipped with the achievements of science and able to produce a maximum of commodity grain. The way out consists in the transition from individual farming to collective farming. [...]
J. W. Stalin, Works, Volume 11, 1928-March 1929. The German edition obtained from the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin Institute at the Central Committee of the SED, Dietz Verlag Berlin 1954, p. 78 f.
Collectivization has entered a new phase. Resolution of the Central Committee plenum of November 17, 1929
[…] The broad development of the kolkhoz movement takes place under the circumstances of an intensification of the class struggle in the village and a change in its forms and methods. Simultaneously with the intensification of the direct and open struggle of the kulaks against collectivization, which goes as far as direct terror (murders, arson, harmful activities), the kulaks are increasingly resorting to camouflaged and secret forms of struggle and exploitation, penetrating the kolkhozes and even entered the executive organs of the kolkhozes to decompose and blow them up from within. […] Despite […] the panicked demands of right-wing opportunists […] to slow down the pace of industrialization and the socialization of agriculture, the party is leading the way towards a decisive fight against the kulaks, towards the uprooting of the roots of capitalism in agriculture , on the fastest unification of the individual small and medium-sized farms in large collective farms, on the preparation of the conditions for a development of the planned product exchange between town and country and will continue to carry it out. [...]
Helmut Altrichter / Heiko Haumann (eds.), The Soviet Union. From the October Revolution to Stalin's death. Volume 2: Economy and Society, dtv documents, Munich 1987, p. 273
Bukharin's group, which Stalin also referred to as the "right-wing opposition", determined economic policy in agreement with the Stalin group until late autumn 1928. At meetings of high party bodies in February 1929, Stalin disempowered the "right-wing opposition". Stalin's industrialization policy was approved in April 1929. Bukharin lost his seat in the Politburo and, like the other leaders of the "right-wing opposition" Rykov and Tomsky, was relieved of other important functions. On November 25, 1929 these three politicians submitted to Stalin's "General Line" in a public confession of guilt. […] Bukharin and Rykov were executed after the 3rd Moscow Show Trial.
Wolf D. Behschnitt, The Russian Revolution 1917-1929. Sources and representations. Social science materials, Ernst Klett Verlage GmbH, Stuttgart 1987, p. 56
1929 was an extremely violent year. Almost the entire rural area of the Soviet empire found itself in the civil war again: The 25,000 labor activists recruited from the cities forced peasants at gunpoint to show their "grain hiding places", carried out martial arts shootings and arranged for the peasants to be deported to cattle wagons.
Once again, farmers withdrew into the woods and formed gangs, which in 1929 committed 384 murders of "confiscators" and attacked activists. Peasants slaughtered their cattle so that they would not have to be given to the kolkhoz; Peasant women armed with axes, forks and pitchforks attacked the collective farmers. At the end of 1929 / beginning of 1930, 250,000 "kulak families" fled their home villages in order to escape "Dekulakization". To break the resistance of the peasants, churches were closed, bells melted down and icons burned.
When Stalin received reports from the GPU that the situation in the country was threatening to get out of control, he called on activists to moderate things on March 2, 1930 under the title "Dizzy with success" in Pravda, the party’s central newspaper. However, this was a cynical propaganda measure, because the Politburo had wanted to spark the fight in the village and the GPU had received clear instructions as to how many peasants were to be deported. Deculacization and collectivization were therefore ruthlessly continued, and the civil war-like conditions persisted.
Ethnic conflicts were also violently fought under the flag of the fight against kulaks: the Russian village of Molozino on the Middle Volga was literally "occupied" for six weeks by a Tatar group of grain collectors and sealed off from the outside world, the inhabitants were arrested, tortured and raped . In Kazakhstan, the collectivization campaign was a death sentence for the nomads' way of life: they had to sell their cattle in order to buy grain that they delivered to the state. In the face of the struggle for life and death, sedentary peasants hunted down Kazakhs who systematically murdered them. Kazakh tribes, in turn, formed combat units, which were soon joined by Turkmen clans. Together they rose up against the Soviet power in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. In 1930 a report reached Moscow: "In large areas [...] there is no longer any Soviet power or party organization".
The backward individual farmers were harassed in various ways. The nightly meetings took place in their houses, and authorized representatives [...] were quartered at them. The collective farms […] were […] exempt from billeting and other obligations.The individual farmers, however, were forced daily to harness their lean horses to drive firewood for the village soviet or school, to bring detainees to neighboring kolkhozes [...] or to "do service" for hours at the village soviet [...].
As an extreme measure against malicious non-handlers, the village rulers were allowed to "unconditionally requisition": A brigade of several young kolkhoz farmers and members of the village council, almost always under the direction of Vashchenko, searched the house, barn and farm and confiscated all grain crops subject to handover Cows, horses and pigs away, took the fodder with them.
Sometimes, out of pity, they left potatoes, peas, and corn for the family to eat. Stricter brigades took everything away, leaving the yard swept. In particularly serious cases, "all valuables and excess clothing" were also confiscated: icons with silver fittings, samovars, small tapestries, even metal tableware - it could be made of silver! - as well as money found in hiding places. A special order stipulated that gold, silver and foreign money should be confiscated. Here and there, hidden gold coins from the time of the tsars were actually found - five and ten ruble pieces. Most of the time, however, the treasures turned out to be paper: old large-format notes with the images of Peter the Great or Catherine II, or the inconspicuous ones of the Kerensky government, also emergency money from the civil war, [...] sometimes they were also so-called "limes" - Millions, or "Limonard", billions of notes from the early Soviet period. Silver rubles were found, 50 kopeck pieces, also copper fives. We were told: "The metal money from 'in front of the collective farms' is worth more."
Volodya and I have been present at such robberies several times, even taking part in them: We had to draw up a list of the confiscated on the spot. [...] I heard the women screaming desperately and clinging to the sacks: "Oh, that's the last one! For the children to the pulp! For God's sake - the children will starve!" And howling loudly they threw themselves on their chests: "Oh, no, not, this is my dowry, memory of the blessed mother! Leave that to me, dear people, this is my marriage good, never dressed!"
I heard the children screaming, choking, screeching. I saw the looks of the men: intimidated, pleading, hateful, dully submissive, desperate or flashing in half mad anger. "Take it, take everything! There - there is still a pot of borscht in the oven. There is just no meat on it. But everything else: beets, potatoes, white cabbage. And well-salted! Take it, comrades citizens! Wait, I'll take off." the boots from [...]. They are patched and full of holes, but maybe the proletariat can still use them, the beloved Soviet power [...]. "
It was excruciating and oppressive to see and hear all of this, and it was even more oppressive to join in. No, wrong: Watching idly would have been even harder than participating, trying to convince others, to explain to them and to persuade yourself in the process. Because I dared not become weak and feel pity. We did a historically necessary act. We were doing a revolutionary duty. We provided bread for the socialist fatherland. We fulfilled the five-year plan. [...]
Lev Kopelev, And created an idol for me. Apprenticeship as a communist, © Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 2003, p. 294 ff.
The direct consequence of the collectivization and deculakization campaign was a famine that killed between five and ten million people in 1932/33, depending on the estimate. The granary of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, was particularly hard hit, with around five million starvation deaths alone. As in 1921/22 there were cases of cannibalism, but this time the famine was concealed and foreign aid was not allowed. People just fell over in the streets and stayed there; the cities were cordoned off to keep them free from the misery of the peasants. From 1932 onwards, Stalin spoke of the "weapon of hunger" which the party had to use specifically against its enemies. The thesis that it was a deliberate genocide (Ukrainian: Holodomor) against the Ukrainians cannot be accepted, however, since the Politburo directed the campaign and violence against all peasants equally, Russian peasants were just as affected and the percentage of losses among them Kazakhs were even bigger. While the commemoration of the Holodomor and the horrors of deculakization and collectivization remained forbidden until the end of the Soviet Union, there is today a pronounced culture of remembrance in Ukraine as well as active political efforts to have the Holodomor internationally recognized as genocide and thus implicitly to blame Russia for the perpetrators .
Famine in Kazakhstan
In 1932 it came to a complete collapse. Agriculture collapsed. The last reserves were exhausted, the harvest was even worse than the previous year, and the Bolsheviks were still withdrawing grain and cattle from the regions. Practically all regions of Kazakhstan were now affected by the emergency. Everywhere people fled from starvation. [...]
The famine destroyed society - in the actual hunger areas and beyond. Because nobody could escape the catastrophe and its consequences. It is true that the starving were those who "went wild", but the people around them were inevitably affected by the dynamics of the emerging hunger society. [...]
The starving began to eat all kinds of grasses and plants as substitute food. They ate dogs, cats, birds, mice, whatever could be caught. […] After that, the people had no choice but to leave their home regions. They dragged themselves to larger towns, to train stations, sovkhozes and large construction sites [...]. [...]
[When] the last supplies were exhausted and there was no longer any prospect of help, the helpless, weak and sick were left behind [...]. [...] The nuclear family often stayed together even under the most difficult conditions and tried to overcome the crisis together. [...] Some hoped that better-off people would take care of their children. They deposited babies in front of Soviet buildings or hugged their young children in the arms of passing strangers. [...]
When all reserves were exhausted, some starving people broke the last taboos and began to consume human flesh. News of such incidents quickly spread among the population and terrified the people. [...]
The steppe was now a gigantic dead zone. In many places, the authorities were neither able to care for the living, nor were they able to bury the dead, even in a makeshift manner. Nobody bothered to dig graves for the bodies that were deposited in road ditches and holes in the ground. [...]
Unburied corpses became a normal part of the street scene in the larger towns. [...] Nobody wanted to have anything to do with the starving. [...] Often enough, the rejection of the hungry turned into open violence. [...] The starving became the dregs of society. They were driven out, threatened and often also killed. They were strangers and beggars: the refugees became part of an undifferentiated, gray mass for which there was no future and whose past did not interest anyone. [...]
Robert Kindler, Stalin's nomads. Rule and Hunger in Kazakhstan (series "Studies on the History of Violence in the 20th Century"), Hamburger Edition - Verlag des Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung, Hamburg 2014, p. 232 ff.
Stalin also pushed through the forced heavy industrialization against his rivals Bukharin, Rykow and Tomski as well as the old technical intelligentsia, who wanted to develop the light industry more cautiously and use the proceeds from the export of consumer goods to build the heavy industry. Here, too, the utopia of a highly industrialized country played a major role, producing coal, steel and heavy machinery, revitalizing the desert, taming the water and transforming rural Russia into a landscape of smoking chimneys.
At the party conference in April 1929, the Politburo announced the introduction of the First Five-Year Plan, which was postponed to 1928 and approved by the Fifth Congress of Soviets in May 1929. It envisaged the mobilization of the entire population, enormous resources, propaganda campaigns, but above all the construction of hydroelectric power stations, steelworks and machine factories on a scale never seen before.
The construction of the dam on the Dnieper (DneproGES, 1927-1932) as well as the steelworks in Magnitogorsk and in Kuzbass (Magnitostroj and Kuznetskstroj, both 1929-1932), both of which were supposed to be completed in an incredible 1000 days, were considered exemplary for the whole of industrialization. Under the slogan "catch up with America and overtake", the Soviet Union wanted to be the new land of unlimited possibilities, in which the most powerful blast furnaces, the longest dams and the largest power plants were built. The claim to catapult a "backward", agrarian country into industrial modernity within a few years fascinated many people at home and abroad. One of the new methods of socialist work was the socialist competition, in which various brigades, construction phases or, as on the Dnieper, both banks vied for faster completion; Even more was demanded to over-fulfill the plan or to draw up a "counter-plan" with which the workers committed themselves to fulfill their target faster than planned. Although enormous sums of money were spent to buy skilled workers and machines from abroad, there was planning chaos, a lot of improvisation and botch on the construction sites. In Magnitogorsk, construction of the factory began without a confirmed plan and then restarted elsewhere; the first blast furnace had to be demolished shortly after commissioning because the concrete was crumbling.
The rush and enthusiasm were part of the program. In a famous speech to the country's business leaders in February 1931, Stalin said that Russia must catch up 300 years behind in ten years. Industrialization was therefore portrayed as a struggle for survival, a race against time and a war against nature. As heroic as the struggle for industrialization was portrayed in newspapers, films and novels, thousands of workers and sometimes also engineers lived miserably, for whom there was often no accommodation, so they had to live in tents and burrows. Nevertheless, many of them transfigured these years into a heroic period of reconstruction, in which they gladly made sacrifices for progress and, with great enthusiasm and bare hands, built socialism.
About the tasks of economists
This is not an easy task, of course, but it is manageable. Scientific knowledge, technical experience, knowledge - all of these can be acquired. Today you don't have it, tomorrow you will have it. The main thing here is the passionate Bolshevik desire for mastery of technology, for mastery of the science of production. With passionate desire, one can achieve anything, overcome anything.
Sometimes the question is asked whether the pace could not be slowed down a little, the movement could be restrained. No, you can't do that, comrades! The pace must not be reduced! On the contrary, it must be increased as much as possible. This is what our obligations to the workers and peasants of the USSR demand of us. That is what our obligations to the working class around the world require of us.
Slowing down means lagging behind. And those who are behind are beaten. [...] The history of old Russia consisted, among other things, in the fact that it was continually defeated because of its backwardness. It was defeated by the Mongolian khans. It was defeated by the Turkish begs. It was defeated by the Swedish feudals. It was defeated by the Polish-Lithuanian Pans. It was defeated by the Anglo-French capitalists. It was defeated by the Japanese barons. It was beaten by everyone for its backwardness. Because of its military backwardness, its cultural backwardness, its state backwardness, its industrial backwardness, its agricultural backwardness. It was beaten because it was profitable and went unpunished. [...] That is the law of the exploiters - the backward and weak are beaten. That is the wolf law of capitalism. You are backward, you are weak - so you are wrong, so you can be beaten and subjugated. You are powerful - so you are right, so one must beware of you.
[...] Do you want our socialist fatherland to be defeated and lose its independence? If that is not what you want, then you must remove his backwardness as quickly as possible and develop a real Bolshevik pace in building his socialist economy. There are no other ways. That is why Lenin said on the eve of October: "Either death or the advanced capitalist countries overtake and overtake."
We are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries. We have to cover this distance in ten years. Either we can do it or we will be crushed. [...]
We must move forward in such a way that the working class of the whole world, looking at us, can say: Here it is, my vanguard, here it is, my shock brigade, here it is, my workers' power, here it is, my fatherland - they make it Work, our work, well, let's support them against the capitalists and spark the cause of the world revolution. [...]
I am not saying that we have not done anything in the past few years as regards the management of the economy. Something has certainly been achieved, and a great deal. We have doubled industrial production compared to the pre-war period. We have created an agriculture that has the largest farms in the world. But we could have done even more if we had tried during this time to really master the production, its technology, its financial and economic side. [...] And we will do it if we only really want it!
J. W. Stalin, Works, Volume 13, July 1930 - January 1934. The German edition obtained from the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin Institute at the Central Committee of the SED, Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1955, p. 34 ff.
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