AQA History Stalin and the USSR 1924-1941

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Russia 1917-24

Civil war 1918-21:

  • armies from 17 foreign nations including Britain, USA, France and Japan
  • whites - anyone opposed the Bolsheviks
  • Trotsky was leader of the Red Army

Policies introduced:

  • workers committee's to supervise managers
  • social legislation e.g. eight hour day and legal equality for women
  • 1918- industry nationalised

By 1921:

  • Bolsheviks won civil war
  • economy in ruins - industrial/agricultural production below pre war levels
  • NEP set up in response
  • Lenin increased control over party - very little free discussion
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Stalin's rise to power

Stalin's powerbases:

  • General secretary - access to lenin
  • 1923 - was managing 'lenin enrolment'
  • compiled reports on other important communists
  • part of the Politburo
  • Commisar for nationalities
  • head of Workers and Peasants Inspectorate
  • head of central control commission 1921- eradicate corruption within party
  • part of Orgburo
  • after Lenin's death built up cult of Lenin

Stalin's character:

  • Trotsky referred to him as 'arch mediocrity' - intellectual ability doubted
  • ruthless, paranoid, thorough and determined
  • Georgian background -  coarseness
  • 'grey blur' and 'comrade card Index' - boring, not ideal leader
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Stalin's rise to power

Lenin's testament:

  • danger of split warned,
  • Trotsky - 'outstanding ability'
  • Stalin - 'unlimited authority concentrated in his hands'
  • October incident - K and Z disagreed with October revolution
  • was not published - due to fear testament would cause the split people feared

Trotsky's powerbases:

  • Red Army leadership - heroism 1905, 1917 and civil war
  • had been menshevik untill 1917
  • Lenin said 'there was no better communist' - resentment due to his positions
  • most 'western' due to exile in London, Paris, NYC,
  • Politburo and Orgburo
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Stalin's rise to power

Leadership struggle:

  • Nature of the leadership - favoured collective, feared dictator, wanted unity
  • The NEP debate - when and how should it end, LW rapid industrialisation
  • Permanent Revolution (1924) vs Socialism in One Country (1925)

The defeat of the Left:

  • early 1924 - Trotsky attacked growth of party beurocracy (insult Lenin) and argued against publishing the testament, he attacked the NEP 'lessons of October' book in 1924
  • 1924 - Stalin allied himself with Zinoviev and Kamenev against Trotsky
  • 1925 - Stalin began policy of Socialism in One Country
  • Trotsky attacked Stalin's ideas and joined Zinoviev and Kamenev in the United/Left Opposition
  • 1926 - the left opposition failed to get its policies accepted
  • the lefts leaders were expelled from their official positions (politburo)
  • Trotsky was sent into exile before being forced to leave the USSR for good in 1929.
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Stalin's rise to power

The defeat of the right:

  • Stalin overcame the left by using his powerbase in the party and with the support of the right (Bukharin, Kykov, Tomsky)
  • Bukharin believed in the neccessity of industrialisation but not by force as it was a peasant based society, wanted tax and pace of social harmony
  • Bukharin believed that war communism would alienate people
  • the defeat of the left removed any dependance Stalin had on the right
  • 1928 - with the left out of the picture, Stalin decided on industrialisation
  • when the right opposed Stalin's decision, Stalin removed their leaders from the Politburo
  • Stalin was now effectively the leader of the USSR

Structuralist arguement:

  • that the party developed in a direction immediately after the revolution which meant that many of its key characteristics were firmly in place under Lenin.
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Stalin's rise to power

Why did Stalin emerge as leader?:

1. Stalin had control of the party machine through his key positions in the Politburo and Orgburo and as General Secretary

  • able to bring members supporting him, and expel those supporting Trotsky
  • he was a useful ally - could deliver votes in congress

2. Luck favoured Stalin rather than Trotsky

  • Lenin and Sverdlov died at the right time for Stalin
  • lucky that Lenin's testament was not published or publicised
  • Trotsky was ill for most of the power struggle

3. Stalin's characteristics and qualities helped him become leader of the party

  • 'grey blur' no one saw him as a threat until it was too late
  • down to earth and practical - ideally suited to managing centralised party
  • loyal, proletarian party member - seemed he would not cause a split
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Stalin's rise to power

4. Stalin was politically very skilful and cunning

  • pretended to be a moderate peacemaker and outmaneovered his opponents
  • Lenin's funeral, tricked Trotsky, transfered Lenin's prestige to himself

5. Trotsky himself was responsible for his own downfall. He had weaknesses that made him unfit for the power struggle

  • only joined Bolsheviks in August 1917 and was not seen as loyal
  • many did not trust him - thought he might try and become a dictator
  • high minded, arrogant, dismissive of colleagues, respected but did not engender affection/personal loyalty - most likely to cause splits.
  • underestimated Stalin - allowed powerbases to be eroded by Stalin
  • did not like 'drudgery of politics' - no interest in alliances

6. Stalin was responsive to the mood at the time, in terms of adopting policies

  • Socialism in One Country more appealing - special historic role
  • Stalin's changing position on the NEP was popular throughout
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Stalin's rise to power

The state of the NEP in 1928:

Arguements for the NEP:

  • 1921 - emergency measure to rescue economy
  • 'halfway house' (lenin) between Capitalism and Socialism
  • allowed individuals the opportunity to make money whilst in theory also protected the interests of the population as a whole since key industries and means of production were in state hands

Arguements against the NEP:

  • economic base of NEP flawed - went against Marxist ideology
  • class differences were created 'new bourgoise'
  • class differences could lead to political divisions
  • all party members agreed that the NEP experiment could not last forever
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Stalin's rise to power

Economic developments 1924-1928

1920's - soviet agriculture had suffered from the devestation of war communism

1921-1922 - great famine and terror from partisans activities living in the forest, deportations, excecutions and the burning of villages by authorities seeking 'counter-revolutionaries'

1926 - swift recovery, production had mostly recovered to pre WW1 levels. Peasant households benefited from the feedom to sell produce on the open market


  • recovery - uneven, production of certain crops was recovering more than grain
  • peasant hoarding - richer peasants taxed more heavily, hid possesions
  • ineffective market - farmers kept produce for themselves, surplus meant lower prices so peasants reduced cultivated land, 1927-8 famine grain procurement crisis
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Stalin's rise to power

discontent amongst peasantry:

  • peasantry complained about discrimination in the form of taxation, education and medical care
  • grain export was 1/4 of the 1913 levels
  • primitive ***** farming was used
  • 1924-1927 peasant unions were set up but destroyed by authorities
  • party blamed 'kulaks' - decided to destroy in 1926, taxed them, lost their civil rights and 1928 hard labour and property confiscated
  • state farms at this time were less efficient than private farms

The NEP and agriculture - was successful for economy, in ideological terms it was not a success, peasants were not convinced

Agitprop, Komsomol, education (party schools) and religion (churches destroyed) attempted to control peasantry

But peasants in rural work became even more religious and Komsomol had a reputation for drunkeness and thuggery.

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Stalin's rise to power

Ideologies for how the NEP should end

  • Trotskyite Model - rapid and forceful industrialisation, believed that Russia did not have the resources to industrialise by its own means and socialism in one country would expose russia to hostility of a capitalist world
  • Stalin Model - strengthen role of the party and leader to achieve self sufficiency quickly, believed did have resources with careful planning, a focus on heavy industry and collectivisation would be neccessary
  • Bukharinite Model - 'socialism with a human face', encouraging peasantry would increase demand for consumer goods and therefore industry, mixed economy

Impact of NEP summary:

  • Industry - by mid 1920s improvement in production but limited, low wages, little mechanisation, housing shortages, scapegoats 'class enemies' and 'saboteurs'
  • Agriculture - improvement by 1926 but recovery uneven, grain fell, 'kulaks' blamed, peasant problems
  • society - agitprop, religion, youth, education
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Industrialisation 1928-1941

Stalin, Pravda, 1931 'We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall be crushed'

Why Stalin made the 'Great Turn' 1928?

  • To increase military strength - make/manufacture weapons
  • To achieve self sufficiency - incase of war/blockades etc
  • To increase grain supplies - decrease dependance on peasantry/economically
  • To move toward a socialist society - according to Marx
  • To establish his credentials - prove to workers and Bolsheviks/gain power
  • To improve standards of living
  • Due to various failures of NEP
  • Possibly to defeat right and Bukharin
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Industrialisation 1928-1941

First Five Year Plan 1928-32:

  • emphasis on heavy industry (80% of investments), 1500 enterprises opened
  • successes - electricity trebled, coal doubled, machine tools, magnitogorsk
  • failures - little growth in consumer, few small workshops due to shortage of material/fuel, chemicals targets not met, lack of skilled workers, targets high

Second Five Year Plan 1933-1937:

  • heavy but consumer too, communications, railways, 4,500 enterprises
  • successes - electricity production expanded, 1937 self sufficient in machine making, chemical growing, metallurgy developed, Dnieprostroi Dam
  • failures - not enough growth in consumer, oil production didn't make targets

Third Five Year Plan 1938 - 1941:

  • heavy industry as need for armaments grew more urgent
  • successes - machinery and engineering continued growth, defence grew
  • failures - uneven growth, oil failed to meet targets, factories short of materials, consumer little growth - purges also had affect
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Industrialisation 1928-1941

Impact of the Plans on society:

  • peasantry - majority moved to towns, hard as not used to workplace, unskilled hired for cheap labour
  • workers - better working conditions, volunteers flocked to projects, rise in living standards, special perks (housing, food, from 1931 bonuses), punishments for less enthusiastic workers (prison if left job without permission), strikes
  • women - 10 million joined workforce, less well paid, fewer training opportunities, still home responsibilities
  • generally new or improved facilities for society

Impact on economy:

  • successes - by 1941 had an industrial base, soviet economy grew by 5-6% each year between 1928-1940, soviet weapons produced, rural areas such as siberia and the urals becaamed industrialise, self sufficiency partly achieved
  • failures - couldn't sustain defence and high standard of living, not all targets met (chemicals), poor quality products.
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Industrialisation 1928-1941

Stakhonovite movement - in one shift dug 14x amount of coal expected, propaganda

Gosplan - 1921 - state planning commission, coordinated industries and their targets

Gigantomania - showing off communist russia e.g. Moscow metro

Bourgeois specialist - scapegoats for anything wrong in industry

Shakhty trial 1928 - managers shakhty coal mine some excecuted

Historical interpretations:

  • M. Malia - socialist values were never implemented, that state power is incompatible with equality, freedom and other socialist values and therefore the soviet system was not true socialism 'state capitalism' or 'stalinism'
  • A. Nove - logic in Stalin's method 'It is impossible to make an omelette without breaking eggs'
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Agricultural revolution 1928-41

Why collectivise?

Economic factors:

  • promised a significant increase in production - allow exports
  • workers not paid hourly/daily  - more control over money and profits
  • 1927-1929 poor harvests, since 1921 surplus being sold abroad.
  • large farms would increase sufficiency - fewer workers more for industry
  • collectivisation can be followed by mechanisation

Political factors:

  • Stalin only visited countryside once, believed could be transformed by strong political leadership, peasants who didn't cooperate should be shown no mercy
  • collectivisation naturally appealed to the left wing of the party
  • motivated by struggle to isolate Bukharin and right wing of the party
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Collectivisation 1928-41

Why collectivise?

Ideological factors:

  • collectivisation would allow peasantry to embrace socialism
  • so far communism had a limited impact on the countryside
  • evident in farming - producing for themselves rather than community

The grain procurement crisis 1927-1929:

  • catalyst for collectivisation
  • poor harvest pushed food prices up - blames 'kulaks' hoarding grain
  • Stalin called 'kulak grain strike' and used as excuse to implement grain requisitioning policy again.
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Collectivisation 1928-1941

1918 - under war communism grain requisitioning

1921 - NEP makes peasants pay tax, any surplus sold on free markets

1927 - shortage of grain as peasants sow less due to fall in grain prices (grain procurement)

1928 - 'Urals - Siberian' method seizing grain

1929 - collectivisation under way

1930 - decree on liquidation of kulaks, temporary halt 'Dizzy with success', peasants allowed private plots

1931 - 1933 - collectivisation resumes

1932 - internal passports in countryside

1934 onwards - gradual recovery of agriculture, 1935 - allowed to sell their private plots

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Collectivisation 1928-1941

3 main types:

  • Toz - common before 1930
  • Sovkhoz
  • Kolhoz - most popular, all resources pooled, run by elected committee


  • support collective farms, hired out machinery
  • also had a political department

Why should peasants collectivise?

  • MTS
  • children looked after
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Collectivisation 1928-1941

Liquidation of the Kulaks:

  • 1929 - mass collectivisation and instruction 'liquidate the Kulaks as a class'
  • initially call for 30% of russia's farms be collective by 1934
  • for majority, collectivisation meant a loss of independance and financial loss.
  • peasants rebelled, destroyed grain and livestock e.g 100 million sheep and goats were killed 1929 and 1933, machinery was also destroyed

The Twenty Five Thousanders:

  • local communists unhappy about collectivisation
  • Stalin issued 25,000 'socially conscious' industrial workers to rural areas
  • 27,000 volunteered, 2 week course supposed to offer technical help to and instruct on modern machinery - reality used to enforce dekulakisation

Dizzy with success:

  • 'Moscow does not believe in tears'
  • economic problems and political reality forced Stalin to halt in March 1930
  • claimed local officials 'overenthusiastic'  and targets met
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Collectivisation 1928-1941

Famine 1932-1934:

  • collectivisation resumed in 1931, resulting in famine
  • 1931 - unrealistic targets were set by the government, Stalin announced failure to meet targets was considered sabotage
  • grain was confiscated by the Red Army and secret police to reach the targets
  • peasants caught hiding one ear of corn could be shot
  • as punishment for meeting targets Stalin set up military checkpoints to stop food entering the Ukraine
  • international offers of aid were rejected
  • estimates suggest that 10 million died during the famine
  • grain seized often sat in barns rotting while peasants starved
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Collectivisation 1928-1941

How successful?


  • political - party extended political control through the countryside through MTS, reinforced Stalin's control within the party and the USSR, step further on the road to Stalin's version of socialism
  • Ideological - class differences abolished in the countryside, 1928 18% working class, 1939 50% working class
  • economic - state secured grain 1928 procured 11 million tonnes 1933 procured 23 million tonnes, russia was urbanised, 100% of farms1941
  • social - brought education to the countryside


  • political - peasants hostile to regime (serfdom), failed unity with workers
  • economic - famine 1932-4, agricultural production fell 1926, farming remained inefficient, skilled farmers dissappeared
  • social - 5- 7 million died, demographic problems, standard of living fell in cities (wages and meat), urbanisation problems lack of housing
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The Terror State

The Kirov murder 1934:

  • shot in party headquarters, had bodyguard wait downstairs, guards missing from corridors
  • Nikolayev shot and then fainted, had resented party beuracracy, his wife was a secretary at part headquaters may have had an affair with Kirov, diary showed planned the murder
  • Kirov had opposed Stalin over the Ryutin affair and pace of industrialisation, wanted reconciliation with peasantry (downgraded role of NKVD)
  • prior to the murder Nikolayev had twice been arrested in Kirov's neighbourhood.
  • after murder Stalin came to Leningrad and interrogated Nikoleyev, pointed to NKVD and said 'ask them'
  • Borisov, Kirov's bodyguard, died on the way to be interogated, in a truck with NKVD men and he was the only one injured
  • very shortly afterwards the first arrests were made - the beginning of the great purges.
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The Terror State

When did things change?

  • periodic purges during the 1920s e.g Lenin enrolment, a non violent process
  • the Kirov assasination a turning point in 1934, the purges more violent, signs before 1934, the Shakhty Trial 1928 and the Ryutin Affair 1932.

Motives for the terror:

  • Stalin's personality - suspicious paranoid, obsessed with reinforcing position
  • Terror was an integral part of the Communist system - regime born in terror
  • Terror was a neccessary part of economic change - Kulaks, slave labour
  • Other party officials acting independantly of Moscow

Why do historians disagree?

  • the nature of the topic - scale
  • different political perspectives and different sources
  • challenge prevailing views to make their name
  • the time in which they wrote - lack of evidence
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The Terror State

The totalitarian view:

  • dominated in west since WW2
  • 'top down' view - instructions given by those at the top and carried out by those below
  • 'intentialist' view - Stalin intended to kill his opponents and increase his personal power

The revisionist view:

  • 1970s onwards
  • sometimes called 'decisionist' - sees the Purges as the result of decisions made by the communist leadership in reaction to a series of crisis
  • real story is complex and is too simple amd convienient to just focus on Stalin alone
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The Terror State

Impact on the Communist Party:

  • 1934-1939 - membership fell by 36%
  • 1936-1939 - 600,000 excecuted
  • 1939 - less than 10% had joined before 1920
  • 1938-1945 - action was 'unofficial' not authorised by central committee
  • wife of Kalinin, Soviet president was Gulag 1938-1945
  • 1937 - Pyatnitsky, Central Committee member spoke out against elimination of Bukharin and Yezhov further control, Yezhov 'unearthed' evidence tsar secret police

Impact on the Armed Forces:

  • 1936-1941 from 1 to 5 million, reorganisation of structure
  • 23,000 officers shot or dismissed
  • 1941 - 3/4 of officers had been in post for less than one year
  • Germans involved in planting evidence to implicate army in a plot, 1922 onwards red army working with German officers (Tukhachevsky)
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The Terror state

Impact on the Soviet population:

  • estimates vary
  • 1936-1938 - 7 million arrested, 1 million excecuted
  • 1936-1939 - 10/15 million died, torture/excecution/exile/camps
  • does not include Collectivisation famine deaths

Pace of arrests after 1937:

  • government issued decree condemning 'anti-soviet' elements in the USSR
  • Yezhov drew up arrest lists including a wide range of historians
  • arrest quota's applied to each district and organisation

Opposition to Stalin:

  • 1937 - Pyatnitsky opposed elimination of Bukharin
  • 1937-1938 - up to 74 military officials were shot for refusing to approve the excecution of people of whom they believed innocent.
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The Terror State

Show trials:

  • propaganda exercises in which important prisoners were tried publicly
  • verdicts had already been decided with agreed confessions


  • soviet propoganda claimed Trotskyite 'spies, saboteurs and wreckers' were active in the USSR
  • Trotsky analysed the USSR from abroad and wrote 'the revolution betrayed'
  • he was mudered in Mexico 1940 by Stalinist agents

Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin:

  • arrested after the Kirov affair, Kamenev died by shooting, Zinoviev excecuted
  • Bukharin had pleaded for exile to America where he promised he would 'smash Trotsky's face in' but it was in vain
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The Terror State

Ordzhonikidze and Nestor Lakoba:

  • Ordzhonikidze was Commissar for Heavy Industry, opposed terror, suicide 1937, officialy heart attack
  • Lakoba was an old associate of Stalin, refused offer of leadership of NKVD
  • 1936 'heart attack' at Beria's apartment 'the snake Beria has killed me', impossible to prove, Beria removed organs. Declared 'enemy of the people'


  • torture legalised 1937, but official reduced 1938
  • desperate to fulfil targets 'suspect groups', however some resistance dropped charges

Labour camps:

  • 1937 - key year camps used to deliberately work prisoners to death, 'enemy of the people' - Beria said 'one who doubts the rightness of the party line'
  • Kolyma camps - siberia, gold minerals, 3 months to reach, 1932 10,000 prisoners working there, built city of Magadan.
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Stalin's Russia by 1941

Strengths of the USSR:

  • Stalin - respected as strong leader
  • war - USSR survived German invasion Operation Barbarossa
  • industrial base - self sufficient, skilled workforce, war materials (steel 400%)
  • command economy - allowed adapt to needs of total war
  • social mobitility - 'rise through the ranks', basic health services
  • education - more widespread, increase in literacy, schools in rural areas
  • propaganda - 'siege mentality' 1930s, people used to hardship
  • living standards - began to rise again after fall in early 1930s


  • impact of economic policies - disruption to lives
  • women - remained second class citizens in several respects
  • terror - millions killed, imprisoned or excecuted
  • agriculture - low yields, unenthusiastic workforce (private plotes 1/3 market)
  • urban workforce - strict labour discipline
  • social problems - poor/overcrowded housing, deficiencies in public services
  • propaganda and freedoms - no personal/political/religious freedom
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