The Making of a Superpower: The USSR by 1953

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Soviet Victory in WWII- USSR's Strengths

The USSR defeated Germany due to a number of factor, vitally it had 4 strengths:

  • mineral wealth of the country.
  • size of the country made it virtually unconquerable.
  • climate had defeated previous invaders and Russia joked about 'General Winter'.
  • the population was 3x larger than that of Germany.

The greater population meant that despite the appalling casualty rate, the USSR could call end endless new recruits and form new armies in a way that was impossible for the Germans. This meant that the Soviets' loss of more than 1 million soldiers in the Battle of Stalingrad was less devestating than the Germans' loss of 200000. In other battles the Soviet troops outnumbered the Germans nearly 2:1.

Stalin took no account of Soviet losses and the population itself expected no compassion as they were hardened by collectivisation, dekulakisation and industrialisation. Those at the front and those at home expected huge losses and the Terror put discipline in place.

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Soviet Victory in WWII- Stalin's Leadership

After he had recovered from the shock of Nazi invasion, Stalin's leadership and decisions were integral to the USSR's victory:

  • FYPs had already put the USSR on a war footing.
  • Wartime reorganisation of the economy.
  • Propaganda emphasised patriotism and defence of the homeland.
  • Reversal of policy of repression towards the military elite.
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Soviet Victory in WWII- Economy

Pre-War Economy:

The key to success in WWII was the pre-war industrialisation, there had been inefficiency, injustice and judicial murder. Nevertheless, by 1941 and the outbreak of war, the USSR had been turned into one of the world's foremost industrial powers, even surpassing Germany in industrial output.

Stalin's peacetime decision to prioritise heavy industry and military spending meant that the economic plan didn't need extensive rewriting to match war time conditions.

Wartime Economy:

Stalin's decision to move whole factories and their workers east of the Urals prevented defence-related industries from falling into the hands of the German Army. By 1943, the Soviet Union had recovered from the 1941 loss of industrial capacity; factories were in full production and production of armaments began to outstrip that of Germany. This allowed Russian troops to be supplied more quickly and more fully than the Germans could match.

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Soviet Victory in WWII- Patriotism and Propaganda

When Stalin finally adressed the Soviet people, he implored them to fight for the Motherland, in July 1941. In this, the most important speech of his life, he made no reference to the Communist Party or to Marxist ideology; instead he appealled to the Russian people as a patriot and a fellow citizen. The opening words were: "Comrades, citizens, brother and sisters, men of our Army and Navy. My words are addressed to you, dear friends." Stalin was able to draw on their patriotism but also on the years of the personality cult: he was one of the people, asking for the people's help.

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Soviet Victory in WWII- Military Leadership

In a change of policy, Stalin released thouands of officers, including generals, who had been imprisoned during the purges. Their military expertise was vital and they went to the front to lead troops, Tsarist-era practises were re-introduced:

  • officers received better rations than men.
  • officers' families received priviledged treatment.
  • military personnel saluted their superiors.

In a key difference from Hitler, Stalin gave his generals control over decision-making, Stalin got better at taking advice and the quality of advice from the generals improved as they gained experience.

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Soviet Victory in WWII- Lend Lease

Roosevelt introduced Lend Lease to provide armaments for the war as well as food, aircraft, tanks, uniforms, locomotives, lorries, tyres and woollen fabric. Stalin was suspicious of Lend Lease throughout the war, especially because the Western goods were of higher quality than those produced in the USSR and the Russians noticed this. This undermined the propaganda of the USSR which showed the Soviet supremacy, as a result, praising foreign goods could lead to arrest.

Soviet statistics play down the importance of Lend Lease and suggest that the percentage contribution to industrial production and military materiel was small: Gosplan declared that the scheme accounted for 4% of goods used by the Red Army. However, Western statistics show that 95% of trains by which the Red Army could travel were provided by Lend Lease.

The undeniable fact is that the supply allowed Soviet industry to continue making armaments, as well as helping clothe the army and feed the population. It made a major strategic contribution to the Soviet victory.

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Soviet Victory in WWII- Nazi Racism

The USSR was inhabited by many different peoples with different languages, religions, cultures and traditions. Such diversity might have beeen a weakness as certain regions, such as the Ukraine, welcomed the Nazis as liberators and there was collaberation as well as resitance. However, Nazi racial policies prevented the Germans from making use of anti-Soviet sentiments in Ukraine and elsewhere.Hitler had defined all Slavs as sub-human.

In addition, the Germans were deperate to feed their vast army and pay for the war. Accordingly, the local people found that the forcible requistioning of grain continued, only the quotas demanded by the Nazis were higher than those under the Soviets.

It is conceivable that by dividing the non-Russian nationalisties from the Russian majority, Germany may have secured the support of the occupied. That would have made occupation easier to maintain and created national disunity, Stalin couldn't have led a disunited country to victory. 

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Soviet Victory in WWII- German Economics

Hitler believed that WWI had been lost in part on the homefront: the population had stopped supporting the soldiers. He insisted that living standards be maintained and domestic needs satisfied by German industry and agriculture in orderr to retain popular support for the war. This contrasts strongly with the Soviet's 'all for the Front' approach, which has been made possible by the years of social discipline.

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Soviet Victory in WWII- Tactical Errors and Timing

Hitler ordered troops to defend territory regardless of its tactical significance because of the propaganda value of occupying large swathes of Russia and he opted for besieging Moscow and Leningrad instead of launching an all-out attack.

The sieges tied down large numbers of German troops and materiel. The invading armies were trapped as the weather turned against them. This went completely against the philosophy of Blitzkrieg, with rapid advance and low-cost victories. Finally, Hitler insisted both on pushing troops north to Leningrad and north-east to Moscow to capture major cities whilst also directing them south-east to over-run Ukraine and pushing on to the Caspian to capture grain and oil supplies. This spread his forces over a vast front running from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Once the initial Blitzkrieg had slowed, Hitler's armies were caught up in a long campaign running into an unreasonably wet autumn and exceptionally cold winter. Supplies were unable to keep pace with the changing conditions and German soldiers lack appropriate clothing for the Russian winter. As the German advance was halted, the Soviets had time to recover and Zhukov was able to plan and launch a counter-offensive.

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USSR as a Superpower: Alliance and Influence

Grand Alliance:

Stalin emerged from the war as a leader of one of the world's two most powerful countries, but he had not won the war on his own. He was part of a Grand Alliance between the USA, Great Britain and Germany.

Together the 3 had faced a common enemy in Nazi Germany, but it had always been quite strained. Democracy and Communism were very different, with conflicting political ideologies and neither side trusted the other. At the end of WWII, the alliance disintegrated and Europe was divided along lines into 2 groups of nations.

Spheres of Influence:

  • In 1941, the Atlantic Charter agreed that the USA and UK would seek territoral expansion during the war.
  • In 1944, a secret meeting between Stalin and Churchill set post-war spheres
  • In 1945, the Potsdam Conference drew a post-war map of Europe
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USSR as a Superpower- Empire and Economy

Building an Empire:

At the end of the war, the USSR extended its influence into Eastern and central Europe, the 11 million stron Red Army had occupied most of this area by the end of the war in 1945. The conferences (see card 10) allowed national self-determinism to be discussed as well as settling the post-war borders and an agreement on spheres of influence.

Economic Power:

The USSR showed the impact of fighting as huge numbers of towns, farms and factories had been destroyed. The infrastructure of roads, bridges, railways and electrical supplies had been damaged. There was a vast homelessness problem and casualties had left a shortage of labour. Equally, the 1946 harvest was poor because of unusually dry weather.

Despite this, Stalin announced the country had set the goal of becoming the world's leading economy within 15 years but he failed to agree loans with the USA whilst succeeding in being granted reperations payments from Germany. Much of this was in the form of industrial installations being relocated inside the USSR which allowed the Soviets to develop new weaponary, keeping place with the wealthier West.

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USSR as a Superpower- Fourth FYP and Military

Fourth Five-Year Plan:

The first 3 FYPs had served Stalin well during the war whilst distorting the economy. The Fourth FYP continued a focus on military expenditure and heavy industry took precedence over consumer industries, spending on the armed forces was half as large again as it had been before the war. Output rose dramatically for coal, electricity and steel, yet the standard of living for the citizens continued to suffer. Housing was inadequate and was worsened by the retreating Germans who destroyed various infrastructures as they departed.

Military Power:

In the Post-War world, the USSR rivalled the USA in the production of conventional weapons and by 1949 the Soviet atomic programme broke the US nuclear monopoly due to:

  • access to raw materials, especially Uranium
  • command economy and central planning agencies
  • spies who passed on Western nuclear secrets and the secret police.
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USSR as a Superpower- 1939 to 1953...

In 1939, the USSR had been isolated and unable to create alliances that it sought. By 1953, it was a member of the secuity council of the United Nation, a nuclear power and the dominant power in a powerful military alliance, which in 1955 became the Warsaw Pact.

The purges continued, there was no press or artistic freedom, there was no opportunity to show initiatove.

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