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“The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”
(Attributed to Stalin)
Before moving onto other aspects of Stalin’s regime between 1927/8 and 1953, it is worth raising a historical debate that has taken place regarding Stalin. The debate rages over just how many people in the Soviet Union died under the government led by Stalin. This question is of great significance especially to those citizens of the modern Ukraine who lived through the famines of the Collectivization era.
Certainly it is undisputed that, during the period of Collectivisation, “the Russian country-side degenerated into something akin to civil war” (C. Condon, (1991) The Making of the Modern World, p.244).
Certainly Stalin’s government was responsible for events that led to violence and loss of life: The Soviets ordered the confiscation of kulak homes and possessions. The kulaks, in turn, often responded by burning their homes and slaughtering their livestock rather than hand them over to the state. There is a huge mass of historical material to demonstrate that police, secret police and even the army were sent into the countryside in order to impose Stalin’s laws. In this time many peasant families were arrested, deported to Siberia, while people were indiscriminately shot and unco-operative villages burnt to the ground. Further, the process of Collectivisation led to famine in the USSR. But what exactly was the death toll? It is difficult to know given the nature of the totalitarian regime.
According to the Twentieth Century Atlas – Death Tolls the following sometimes contradictory estimates of deaths due to famine have been made by numerous sources:
- 3,333,000 total non-deliberate famine deaths in the USSR (estimate by Rummel).
- 3,100,000 – 3,200,000 in just the Ukraine in 1933 alone (estimate by Nove)
- 4,400,000 in just the Ukraine between 1927-38 (estimate by Maksudov)
- Total: 5,000,000 – 7000,000M in just the Ukraine (estimate by Mace)
- 3,350,000 in USSR, 1933 (estimate by Osokin)
- Total in USSR in 1932-33 alone: 4,000,000 – 5,000,000 in USSR (estimate by Wheatcraft)
- Total in USSR in 1926-37 alone: 11,000,000 (estimate by Conquest)
It is important to note, that these figures do not include estimates of deliberate deaths by the regime during the famine / collectivisation era. Those deaths are often included in statistics related to the 5 Year Plans and the Great Terror. That said, Heidenrich is cited as identifying an additional 7,000,000 deliberate “kulak” deaths during this era.
To put this in context, another author, Rummel, is cited as claiming that, in addition to deaths by famine, during the entire Stalin period, the Soviet government was responsible for the deliberate deaths of 51,755,000 people. This is perhaps a “high estimate”. Most writers seem to suggest that the total was more like 20,000,000.
In 1928, Stalin faced three problems in the agricultural sector of the Soviet economy. These were:
1. Production of food could not meet demand and urban areas were suffering food shortages.
2. The industrialization program of the FIVE-YEAR PLANS could only be carried out if the USSR was able to import machinery from capitalist western nations. These machines would have to be paid for by the export of the one saleable item possessed by the USSR that the west wanted at the time… grain.
3. The existence of small private capitalists with private holdings of land (Kulaks) in the farming sector was contrary to Communist ideology and Stalin was determined to stamp it out.
In order to resolve these problems Stalin introduced the policy of COLLECTIVIZATION of farms whereby small peasant holdings were joined together into larger (often communal) Soviet run farms. It was hoped that this policy would lead to greater agricultural output. In some senses, this was similar to the process of enclosure that took place in Britain during the Agricultural Revolution over a century earlier. In the place of small peasant holdings (the traditional form of Russian farming), two new types of large mechanised farms were introduced:
1. The Sovkhozy or State Farm: These farms were extremely large and concentrated upon one specific crop or on livestock. The peasants on the State Farm were state employees (“public servants”) and were paid wages by the government. Each peasant family had a little land of their own on which they were allowed to grow its own crops. All housing was provided by the state.
2. The Kolkhozy or Collective Farm: These farms were created by amalgamating a large number of private holdings the collective farms were jointly owned by its members. After the state had received its “quota”, the produce of the farms was shared out among the members according to their contribution to the farm.
Each collective was provided with a state owned Machine Tractor Station, which supplied and maintained machinery in exchange for a share of the crop.Opposition to the policy of Collectivisation came largely from the wealthier members of the peasantry, the Kulaks.
Kulaks were poor peasants who owned some land and usually a few head of livestock. In some cases they even hired a labourer and rented land to other peasants. The kulaks were successful farmers. To resist the introduction of collectives many kulaks cut production (and therefore the supply of food). In response, Stalin ordered the confiscation of kulak homes and possessions. They were forbidden to join collectives. The kulaks, in turn, often responded by burning their homes and slaughtering their livestock rather than hand them over to the state. Police, secret police and even the army were sent into the countryside in order to impose Stalin’s wishes. Kulak families were arrested, deported to Siberia, people were indiscriminately shot and unco-operative villages burnt to the ground. “The Russian country-side degenerated into something akin to civil war” (C. Condon, (1991) The Making of the Modern World, p.244). Within the 1930s, the term “kulak” was used by the Soviet government to denounce anyone in the countryside who in any way questioned their methods or rule. The result of Collectivisation and the violence associated with it was a dramatic decrease in agricultural output. A severe famine gripped the USSR. In 1938, agricultural production finally regained its 1928 levels
The precise period of the Cold War is difficult to limit since it cannot be linked to a particular starting and ending event. For ease of understanding we can define the Cold War as taking place between 1945 (the end of the Second World War) and 1991 (the collapse of the Soviet Union). It is important to note, however, that some historians argue, perhaps convincingly, that the Cold War era actually commenced in 1917 with the Bolshevik take-over of power in Russia. Other historians have argued that the Cold War commenced slightly later during the Allied War of Intervention in Russia in 1918 (when British, American and other “western” forces fought alongside the White Armies as anti-Bolshevik allies during the Russia Civil War).
- What is meant by the term “the Cold War” as it is used by historians?
For the purposes of clarity in our studies this semester, the term “The Cold War” will be used to refer specifically to the tensions that existed between the Capitalist/Liberal Democratic world (led by the USA) and the Communist/Marxist-Leninist world (led by the USSR and to some extent China) in the post-1945 era.
- How does a “cold war” differ from other wars?
Cold wars (generally) can be understood as periods of international tension and hostility between nations that fall short of actually breaking out in open, large-scale warfare between them.
The Cold War, therefore, was a period of confrontation between the post-1945 superpowers that never amounted to direct open warfare between them. Rather their confrontation was often by “proxy”, confined to “incidents” or other military, political or economic actions.
- How do historians study the Cold War?
After consideration of key terms and issues of historiography, the Cold War is often studied through the use of incidents as case studies that give examples of the policies of the superpowers. A wide range of international “incidents” took place during the period and historians tend to choose from these numerous examples of tension to illustrate their perspectives on issues relating to the Cold War.
- What is the historiography of the Cold War?
Historiography is essentially the study of the way that history is written. Effectively, historiography can be thought of as “the study of the study of history”. The Cold War period is an excellent time frame to consider in terms of historiography as historians studying the period have involved themselves a series of clearly articulated and documented debates regarding key issues of the period.
For example, historians argue as to the precise origins of the Cold War. Generally speaking, they offer three broadly differing perspectives as to the causes and responsibility for the tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1991. These three differing historical “schools” are known as the “orthodox”, “revisionist” and “post-revisionist” schools of thought and represent the three main perspectives offered by historians on the study of the Cold War.
When using visual sources (such as posters, editorial cartoons or photographs) as a historian, it’s important to consider them in a structured and methodical way.
Firstly, you should consider and CAPTIONS AND CONTEXT that you have been given.
- When was it produced?
- Who produced it?
- What was going on at the time it was produced?
- What titles or captions does the source have?
Secondly, you should IDENTIFY the key characters and features in the source.
- Are there any significant people, objects, places or symbols you can identify?
- Does the image “reference” or parody other sources or familiar images?
- Does the source use any particular stereotypes or caricatures to make its point?
- How is the space of the source used by the artist? Does this carry any meaning?
Thirdly, you should consider any BIASES or particular perspectives the person who produced the source might have.
- Who created the source?
- Where was it published?
- Does the creator have a particular bias or perspective that may colour their work?
Finally, you should bring all of this together to consider the intended MESSAGE of the source. Remember many sources are not meant to be taken literally.
Have a go at interpreting and analysing these sources.
Now try Source 2:
Russia suffered huge losses at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian and German armies during the First World War (1914-18) and its civilian population was starving as war raged across much Russian farmlands and limited supplies were diverted towards the war effort. Against this background, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate his autocratic power in the aristocratic and liberal (bourgeois) revolution of March 1917. This revolution placed a Provisional Government in power which was led initially by the aristocrat Prince Lvov then after July 1917 by the lawyer, Alexander Kerensky. This Provisional Government was weak and divided at a very difficult time for Russia. As the war continued, it seemed unable to deliver on the key desire of the public: an end to the war, more food and redistribution of land ownership across Russia. By November 1917, the radical Marxist (Bolshevik) slogan of “Peace, Bread, Land” began to resonate in the minds of the workers and soldiers of western Russia.
As mutinies by Russian soldiers and sailors broke out, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and supported by other factions and Marxist groups (such as the mutinying sailors on the cruiser Aurora) , called upon the Provisional Government to surrender power to them. Finally in the October Revolution (on November 7, 1917!), groups of revolutionaries advanced upon the Tsar’s Winter Palace in St Petersburg (Petrograd) where the government was based and seized power.
Lenin’s government quickly consolidated power and, changing their name from Bolsheviks to Communists, nationalised industries, banks and transport, confiscated Russian Orthodox Church land and property, and seized the lands held by the aristocracy. In March 1918, Lenin’s government, amid rumours of German bribes, signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ending Russia’s war with Germany. Any hopes by opponents of the Bolsheviks that the Tsar would once again return to power faded in July 1918, when the Communists ordered the execution of Nicholas II and all his family (including the famous Princess Anastasia). Despite this, a Russian Civil War and Western War of Intervention gripped the USSR from 1918-1922 as White Russians supported by western nations attempted to overthrow the Communist Government based now in Moscow. The Bolshevik /Communist secret police (Cheka), Bolshevik military leader Leon Trotsky, the Red Army dealt ruthlessly with both the internal and external threats to the revolution.
By the time Lenin died in January 1924, he firmly controlled the world’s first Communist State. A dictatorship of the proletariat had been established. After his death a power struggle ensued that ultimately saw power pass into the hands of one of his party officials, Joseph Stalin. This new leader became perhaps the greatest tyrants of Russian history.
Consider the poster provided and try these tasks: