Life in USSR under Stalin
Stalin’s control over Russia meant that freedom was the one thing that people lost. The people of Russia had to read what the state allowed, see what the state allowed and listen to what the state allowed. The state’s control of the media was total. Those who attempted to listen, read etc. anything else were severely punished. Everybody knew of the labour camps and that was enough of a deterrent.
Stalin developed what became known as a “personality cult”. Artists painted pictures glorifying Stalin and he dominated many pictures. It was not unusual for Stalin to be in a white suit so that he stood out from the crowd. He gained the nickname “Uncle Joe” which was an attempt to develop an image of a kind, homely man who was the ‘father’ of all Russians. This was all called “Social Realism”. Those who wrote poems and novels had to do the same – write about Stalin in a manner which gloried him. Some artists and authors were so depressed by all this that they committed suicide rather than do what the state ordered them to do. Many others tried to leave the country.
Education was strictly controlled by the state. In 1932, a rigid programme of discipline and education was introduced. Exams, banned under Lenin, were reintroduced. The way subjects were taught was laid down by the government – especially History where Stalin’s part in the 1917 Revolution and his relationship with Lenin was overplayed. Books were strictly censored by the state and Stalin ordered the writing of a new book called “A short history of the USSR” which had to be used in schools.
Outside of school, children were expected to join youth organisations such as theOctobrists for 8 to 10 year olds and the Pioneers for the 10 to 16 year olds. From 19 to23 you were expected to join the Komsomol. Children were taught how to be a goodsocialist/communist and an emphasis was put on outdoor activities and clean living.There was a marked increase in the attacks on the churches of the USSR throughout the 1930’s. Communism had taught people that religion was “the opium of the masses” (KarlMarx) and church leaders were arrested and churches physically shut down. Stalin could not allow a challenge to his position and anybody who worshipped God was a challenge as the “personality cult” was meant for people to worship Stalin.
For a short time under Lenin, women had enjoyed a much freer status in that life for them was a lot more liberal when compared to the ‘old days’. Among other things, divorce was made a lot more easy under Lenin. Stalin changed all this. He put the emphasis on the family. There was a reason for this. Many children had been born out of marriage and Moscow by 1930 was awash with a very high number of homeless children who had no family and, as such, were a stain on the perfect communist society that Stalin was trying to create.
The state paid families a child allowance if their were a married couple. It became a lot harder to get a divorce and restrictions were placed on abortions. Ceremonial weddings made a comeback. In the work place, women maintained their status andthere was effective equality with men. In theory, all jobs were open to women. The only real change took place in the image the state created for women. By the end of the 1930’s, the image of women at work had softened so that the hard edge of working became less apparent.
Living standards: these generally rose in the 1930’s despite the obvious problems with food production and shortages elsewhere. Some people did very well out of the system especially party officials and skilled factory workers. Health care was greatly expanded. In the past, the poorer people of Russia could not have expected qualified medical help in times of illness. Now that facility was available though demand for it was extremely high. The number of doctors rose greatly but there is evidence that they were so scared of doing wrong, that they had to go by the rule book and make appointments for operations which people did not require!!
Housing remained a great problem for Stalin’s Russia. In Moscow, only 6% of households had more than one room. Those apartments that were put up quickly, were shoddy by western standards. In was not unusual for flat complexes to be built without electric sockets despite electricity being available – building firms were simply not used to such things.
Leisure for the average Russian person was based around fitness and sport. Every Russian was entitled to have a holiday each year – this had been unheard of in the tsar’s days. Clubs, sports facilities etc. were provided by the state. The state also controlled the cinema, radio etc. but an emphasis was placed on educating yourself via the media as it was then.
Was Stalin a disaster for Russia?
• the country did become a major industrial nation by 1939 and her progress was unmatched in the era of the Depression in America and western Europe where millions were unemployed.
• those workers who did not offend the state were better off than under the reign of the tsar.
• Russia’s military forces were benefiting from her industrial growth.
• there was a stable government under Stalin.
• people had access to much better medical care some 10 years before the National Health Service was introduced in GB.
• millions had died in famine after the failed experiment of collectivisation.
• Russia’s agriculture was at the same level in 1939 as in 1928 with a 40 million increased population.
• Russia had become a ‘telling’ society. The secret police actively encouraged people to inform on neighbours, work mates etc. and many suffered simply as a result of jealous neighbours/workers.
Also many of Russia’s most talented people had been murdered during the Purges of the 1930’s. Anyone with talent was seen as a threat by the increasingly paranoid behaviour associated with Stalin and were killed or imprisoned (which usually lead to death anyway). The vast Soviet army was a body without a brain as most of her senior officers had been arrested and murdered during the Purges.
In a country full of chaos, a great leader is needed to restore order. In Russia’s case, that leader was Joseph Stalin. After Lenin’s death, Stalin controlled the communist party in 1927. He believed in socialism in one country. After Stalin came into power, his goal was to make Russia a powerful communist country. To achieve this goal, he felt that Russia needed to rapidly industrialize, since they were 100 years behind advanced countries. As heavy industry was being developed, agriculture was to be collectivized as a part of achieving Stalin’s goal to make Russia a stronger state. Collectivization meant eliminating individual farms, and placing them in government control. After WW1, Russia was extremely unstable. They had retreated from the war before the allies were victorious. They had lost land and their military was weaker than it already had been. That is until Stalin made the Soviet Union involved in international affairs. They were victorious against the German oppression and they had also joined the League of Nations under Stalin’s control. When Stalin was in power, there was no doubt that millions of innocent people had died through his strategies of making Russia more powerful. But in spite of his cruel methods, Joseph Stalin deserves the title of the ‘Father of the USSR’, for industrializing the country, collectivizing its agriculture and making the Soviet Union more active in international affairs.
In 1928, one of Stalin’s goals was to rapidly develop a heavy industry. Stalin wanted to make the Soviet Union an industrial fortress and a strong nationalistic state. He figured to make Russian communism succeed industrial power was immediately needed. This was to be achieved by creating a command economy, which had meant that the industry was being forced to industrialize. Lenin had previously destroyed the power of private businesses to create a manageable industry. Therefore, when Stalin came into power, most of the major industries were already in government hands. Stalin had stated that stated that the Soviet Union was behind advanced societies, and that they had to industrialize quickly before ‘enemies’ would crush them. Heavy industry was essential for defense and for supplying agricultural tractors and combines. Stalin had believed that equality and democracy had to wait until the Soviet Union had a thriving industrial economy. In 1928, Stalin replaced Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) by the first Five-Year Plan. Where within a five-year period, each business was given a target that it must reach. The punishments for failing to meet the target were extremely severe. Many people were forced to work against their own will but Stalin felt that the policy was essential. The first three Five-year Plan from 1928 to 1941 increased production about 400%. By the mid-1930s Russia had surpassed the 1913 production figures of iron, coal and oil. There was no country ever known to industrialize so quickly. As a result, unemployment had been abolished. As Stalin was industrializing the country, he felt it was necessary to collectivize the farms of the country.
As heavy industry developed, agriculture was to be collectivized. In 1929, collectivization began. There would be no more individual farms, and no more individual farmers selling their goods independently. The farmers were required to hand over a certain amount of produce to the state each year. The young, large-scale, socialized agriculture, growing now even faster than big industry, had a great future and could show miracles of growth. Collectivization was mainly directed against the kulaks, which were the rich peasants who owned their own land. Basically, Stalin would take land from the people who had owned it since 1861. Many peasants were forced to work for the state as a part of a collective commune. Some peasants and many kulaks resisted collectivization. They slaughtered their own cattle rather than to turn it over to the government. As a result, they were killed or sent to labor camps called the ‘gulags’. By 1934, 70% of all the farms in Russia were collectivized and the kulaks were eliminated as a class. On the collective farms, peasants would be paid wages in return for handing over the produce to the government.
Under Stalin’s power, the Soviet Union became more involved in international affairs. During the WW1, Russia did not play a major role in the Great War. They didn’t have a strong military and their economy was weak. Even in the past, Russia was not active in international affairs as they were under Stalin’s control. In 1934, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations and made diplomatic agreements. This made Russia’s defense stronger than the German oppression. Before WW2, both the axis powers and the democracies realized that the balance of power in Europe depended of which side Russia joined. If they joined Britain and France, Hitler would be forced to fight a two-front war. Both sides entered negotiations with Russia, but Stalin and communist Russia had been distrusted by both sides in the past. On August 23, 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a non-aggression treaty. This Nazi-Soviet pact was shocking to all countries, but Russia had stated that it was for national self-interest only. Stalin wished to avoid war until, at least Russia was prepared. But later, Stalin was aware that Germany might eventually attack his country. On June 1941, German troops invaded Russia. Hitler’s invasion on Russia, convinced the Soviet Union to join the ‘Grand Alliance’, which consisted of only Great Britain and the United States. Then later 26 other nations signed the Atlantic Charter, which was the beginning of the formation of the United Nations. By February 1943, Russia successfully stopped the German advance, which had attacked Stalingrad. Russia’s military, as a result, became stronger.
Therefore, although people had died through Stalin’s cruel methods of making Russia powerful, he deserves the title of the ‘Father of the USSR’, because he successfully industrialized the country, collectivized the farms and made the Soviet Union more active in international affairs. Within ten years, a primarily feudal country changed into an industrialized one. He also collectivized the farms for the good of the people as a whole. He leaded Russia into gaining more victories for the country by becoming more involved in worldwide affairs. Like a father, he guided his child, the USSR, to become stronger and more powerful among others. By setting crucial goals for the country, the Soviet Union became stronger than it was before Stalin was in power. The only question that concerns many is, were there any other alternatives of achieving his goals, without killing millions?
Filed Under: History, People, World War 1 (WW1), World War 2 (WW2)