by Evgenii Prussakov
University of Cambridge

It would be just to say that there was not a single area of life that was not changed (or, to give justice to the facts, utterly transformed) in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. These were the years when the totalitarian machine of Stalin swept through and transformed the whole of Soviet life: its political structure, its economic system, its culture and society. The main characteristics of the emerged system of totalitarianism were: (1) central management of economics; (2) a single party, working on the mobilization of the population towards "building communism" and fighting the "enemies of the people" (3) state monopoly on all media; (4) a terrorist and omnipresent secret police, watching the life of every single individual in the country; (5) worship of the Вождь (Leader); (6) a single official ideology, that not only claimed to know the path to building a perfect society, but also saw itself as supreme over any law and every citizen of the state.

The sphere of politics was probably the first area where the changes started to take place. By 1929, open persecutions of everyone in opposition to the mainline "doctrine" of the Communist Party (the one based on Stalin's interpretation of Marxism-Leninism) were ubiquitous. Looking into the evolution of Stalin's political power and his application of it, it is important to mention two hypotheses. One states that in the 1920s Stalin represented a "monster in embryo", doomed to become the gory Stalin of 1937-38 and became such due to the underestimation of this almost devil-like power within him by his opponents (Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinovyev, etc). The second hypothesis on this question states that, on the contrary, even Stalin himself could not predict what he would become in the late 1930s, but developed the gory qualities through a type of an evolution during these dozen of years at power. This second hypothesis seems to be more realistic to the author of the present essay. Facts show that prior to 1929 all debates between Stalin and the opposition took pace at the Central Committee (of the Communist Party) plenums. No leaders of the opposition were arrested or executed (e.g. Trotsky was simply sent out of the country). Only starting from the first Five Year Plan (1928-1933) and onwards did Stalin begin to behave aggressively in his treatment of those in opposition.

Two main characteristics of Russian Communism helped him justify this aggression (not only in politics, but in every other sphere of life where repressions were registered). First, in the USSR Marxism-Leninism was always believed to be the one and only true guiding principle (a) for the understanding of the historic evolution of the society in general and (b) for the understanding of the proper direction for the future of the Communist Party in particular. This automatically anathematized all other types of political thinking and excluded the possibility of the emergence of any alternative politics. To understand the direct relatedness of this to Stalin's politics, one has to develop the line of thinking a little further; and see that to get most benefit from the above-mentioned one had to seize the power before anyone else managed to do so, and proclaim his/her interpretation of the Marxist-Leninist doctrines as the only true one (this was exactly what Stalin did). Everything else would then automatically fall into the category of fractions and oppositions. It is interesting to note that the Communist Party did have an inter-Party democracy proclaimed as one of its main principles. However, when opposition (or any new/alternative line of interpreting the Marxist-Leninist principles) emerged, it was an unspoken belief that the principle of inter-Party democracy could be temporarily abandoned for the sake of rooting out the opponent and the rival line of thought. It is exactly, because of this factor that even such people as Trotsky, Zinovyev and Bukharin (all enormously gifted in politics and skilled in rhetoric) could never compete with Stalin without being defeated by the latter.

Secondly, to be able to understand Stalin's policies better (especially those of repressions and political persecutions) it is important to mention another distinctive feature of Russian Communism. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union wholeheartedly professed unity. However, in actuality, for a party with such an ambitious objective, the Soviet Party suffered enormously from all types of inner conflicts and political fights. The theoretical side of Marxism-Leninism did not foresee any debates or conflicts within the Party. Hence, every viewpoint that differed from the mainline Communist teaching, was declared misleading and fallacious, and had to be rooted out. Both of these - rather closely intertwined - characteristics of Soviet Communism paved the way for Stalin's victory over his opponents - a victory that firmly rested on the principles of Communist ideology.

In economics (especially from 1929 until 1937 - during the first two Five Year Plans) the distinctive features were: (1) coercion against the кулак [kulak] peasants, (2) "emergency measures" of suppression and repression of everyone not content with the present authority, (3) mass collectivization, (4) deportation & execution of врагов народа [enemies of the people] (especially between 1933-38; this was true not only of economics, but of 'enemies of the people' and 'imperialistic spies' in every sphere of Soviet life), (5) introduction of a five-year plan structure and rapid expansion of urban labor force, followed by a spectacular economic growth of 1934-36, (6) close state control over agriculture, industry (especially heavy and military industry) and financial enterprises. From the end of the 1920s Stalin's power grew rapidly and so did his ambitions. Just as he could no longer tolerate the opposition in politics, so could he not bear the steady pace of the New Economic Policy in the economics of the country. By the 1929 he came to a decision that the time for the implementation of War Communism - suppression and terror - had come again. Mass collectivization and industrial modernization were scheduled to take place in an extremely short period of time; and here again the Вождь (Leader) justified it by the Marxist-Leninist principles. Being an extremely talented practical politician (by no means a politician-theorist, but a politician-pragmatist) he, like no one else, knew that one of the futurist principles of Leninism stated that "the closer the society was to Socialism, the fiercer the class struggle would be." This perfectly justified all of his "revolution from above": the 'emergency measures', the coercion, the oppression and the growth of one part of economics at the expense of exhausting the other (e.g.: military industry growth 'on the backs' of the peasants).

Another area deserving special attention is the Soviet society. It is often being noted that in the rush of the economic restructuring and devastating terror, it was not only a new political system, but also an entirely new type of the society that was being built in the USSR during 1930s. New personnel entered such areas of public administration as the management of economics, governmental apparatus and Party management. Facts hold it that between the XVIIth Congress of the Communist Party in 1934 and the XVIIIth Congress of 1939 only twenty-nine out of one hundred and thirty-nine Central Committee members remained in office. The rest were exterminated in the 'labour camps' of Kolyma and Yamal or deported into parts of Siberia and Kazakhstan. People of a very different social background and education experience took their places. In 1920s the leadership of the country consisted of middle class citizens, having higher education in law or humanities. In 1930s the country's life was in the hands of regular workers and peasants, having predominantly technical education. This new type of leadership was easier to subdue and Stalin liked it. They could enjoy the privileges of the new Soviet management only as long as they were in favour with the Вождь [Leader], the NKVD and the Central Committee Department of Party Personnel (Отдел партийных кадров Центрального Комитета). Stalin could always remove anyone he installed, and all the way through the 1938-39 that was exactly what he did. The education that these new 'leaders' were receiving was, on the overall, of a traditional (pre-Revolution) type with considerable elements of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism embedded in it. Better education was made accessible not only to the above-mentioned categories of 'leaders', but also to army personnel, doctors, lawyers, diplomats and those managing the 'arts sphere'. In literature and culture a new principle was proclaimed as a guiding one - that of the "Socialist realism"* [*The principle of Socialist realism was made to be broad enough to encompass all of great classic (both Russian and foreign) literature and interpret it as pointing to the Socialist future.]

As it has already been mentioned above Stalin was not a good politician-theorist and he knew that. (It was exactly for this purpose - to theorize on the Communist doctrines - that he reinstated Bukharin to one of the leading positions in the Party.) However - just as the 1930s proved it - he was beyond any doubt a great politician-pragmatist, a genius of intrigue, organization and control, persistent and relentless ruler that knew what he wanted (unlimited power over the people's lives), and, unfortunately, achieved it. The power that Stalin was able to accumulate through a skillful application of Marxist-Leninist principles to every area of the country's life was boundless and totally unconstrained. He was a perfect example of that extreme end to which Leninism could lead, and did lead the Soviet Union in the pre-World War II years.

Works Cited:

- A. Bullock "Hitler and Stalin. Parallel Lives", 1991, volume 1
- R.W. Davies, M. Harrison and S.G. Wheatcroft "The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union 1913-45"
- Hosking "A History of the Soviet Union. 1917-1991"