It was about more than just digging coal….
Could the US and the West have done more? The Balkan Wars and the West — it’s history podcasts.com – The home of the ‘History in 28-minutes’ audio podcasts and the ‘Required History’ books
Hi Folks, I know this is a mild detour from our constant diet of hardcore Stalinism, but work with me on this on, I think you’ll like it.
Apologies for the lack of recent posts, I have been rather busy adding to the Explaining History series. My latest ebook on Stalin is now ready to download here. It features a bonus essay at the end on historiographical debates over the Soviet Famines and the genocide question. Normal posting service should resume now I’ve got that monster out of the way, I think this week I might do a little bit about Soviet writers, Maiakovsky and all that.
Here is a link to an excellent article on the history of Dalstroi, one of the Soviet camp complexes in the Gulag system.
One of the ‘moments’ in the Gulag history that interests me, a moment upon which a great deal hinges, probably occurred some time shortly after the death of Lenin. It was the moment when the industrial potential of mass imprisonment and slavery was first contemplated. Initially, much of the Gulag system seems to have been little more than a duping ground for undesirables, a larger, more brutal and more ideologically driven version of the previous Czarist use of exile. By 1928 the Gulag network had undergone massive expansion and the establishment of a quota system for industrial production had subborned the Gulag administration and inmates to the NKVD’s economic output goals.
I am in the middle of writing a new ebook on Stalinism, a sequel to Russia’s Struggle With Modernity, and as a result I have been reading widely about Stalin’s famines. I started out from the standpoint of questioning whether or not it should be counted as a genocide, but the more I read, the more I become convinced of the case that it certainly was one.
Stalin’s policies caused famine throughout much of the USSR, but he instituted at least seven specific policies that targeted the Ukraine for exceptionally harsh grain requisitioning. This, combined with a deliberate sealing of the Ukrainian borders guaranteed a famine, the scale of which Stalin was fully aware of.
Here is an excerpt of the forthcoming title (for this title and more, check out the Explaining History Ebooks page on this blog or visit Explaining History)
“Stalin knew that the working classes in the towns and cities of Russia were far more important to his power-base than the peasants, and he believed that the workers were instinctively inclined to be Communist Party supporters. Party logic dictated that these were the people who had adapted to modernity and to the conditions of urban life and the work place, they understood the modern world and its rules and dynamics in a way the peasants couldn’t hope to, and therefore they were more likely to support the party that appeared to represent their interests. It would not be difficult, therefore, to direct their anger, ire and suspicion against greedy trouble makers in the countryside. It would be especially easy to do if it could be established to the rest of the country that the Kulaks were more than just self interested, but that their self interest was a threat to the revolution. Stalin would claim that there were enemies within, traitors to the revolution, and they must be weeded out without mercy.
The reintroduction of requisitioning in 1928 sent clear messages to the peasants, bringing fearful memories of Lenin’s famine during the Civil War. The peasants had previously had disincentives to sell food, but now there was an even bigger disincentive to produce it. A decline in production, along with an increase in hoarding saw food shortages increase and in 1929, the Ural-Siberian Method of expropriating food from the Peasants saw a reintroduction of the practices of War Communism, though limited to Siberia.
In November 1929, the decision was taken at the Central Committee of the Communist Party to introduce collectivisation across Russia, the policy decision was taken in direct response to the challenge of shortages presented by the Kulaks. The reality of the situation was that the majority of the land under cultivation was worked not by Kulaks but by middle peasants, and if anyone was to blame for food shortages, it was the ineptitude of Soviet economic planners and Stalin himself.
A small army of the party faithful flooded from the towns and cities to the countryside at the behest of the Narkomzem, or People’s Commissariat for Agriculture. Vladimir Milyutin, supposedly the party expert on the ‘peasant question’ (in reality the degree of his ‘expertise’ was an indicator of the extent to which he concurred with the Leninist and later Stalinist doctrines about the Kulaks).
Much like the Narodniks two generations before them (but this time with the full force of state violence on their side), these young radical and utterly convinced Stalinists found themselves adrift in often very alien territory. They wound up on lonely and isolated tractor farms in the vast expanses of the Russian countryside, with sullen, mistrustful and angry peasants for company. Many of them concluded that the peasants were not just resistant to change but, actively trying to sabotage it. The official party line that they had been fed made a lot of sense to them when they experienced the countryside first hand.
They descended on the countryside determined to carry out a process of de-kulakisation, one which was immersed from the start in explicitly genocidal language, slogans read:
“We will exile the Kulak by the thousands and when necessary, shoot the Kulak breed.”
“We will make soap of the Kulaks.”
“Our class enemy must be wiped off the face of the earth.”
The activists that the Soviet government had shipped out to the countryside were part of an initial wave of terror, designed to break the will of the Kulaks and to galvanise as much class hatred against them as possible. One OGPU report read:
“These people drove the dekulakised naked into the streets, beat them, organised drinking bouts in their houses, shot over their heads, forced them to dig their own graves, undressed women and searched them, stole valuables, money etc.”
Here’s an article I wrote a while ago on the tyrant and the composer, enjoy.
At the height of Stalin’s Five Year Plans, his forced modernisation of Russia, an indication of the new found confidence and assertiveness of the regime could be seen in Paris. The Soviet pavilion at the Worlds Fair of 1937 was a vast monolithic Socialist Realist celebration of the worker state. Vera Mukhina’s marble sculpture of athletic New Soviet Man and Woman with hammer and sickel, reaching optimistically and triumphantly in to the future of humanity was a clear response to Albert Speer’s bombastic Neo classism in the form of the German pavilion that stood directly opposite to the Soviet site.
Hilarious observations worthy of The Life Of Brian
An old revolutionary walks across the Brooklyn Bridge one day, and he sees man of a similar age standing on the edge, about to jump. He runs over and says: “Stop, don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asks.
“Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“I’m just depressed, I’ve been a Communist all my life and the revolution seems as far away as ever.”
“You’re a Communist?”
“I am as well!! Did you originally join the Communist Party USA?”
“Me too! Did you join the pro-Trotsky Communist League of America in 1928, which later merged.with the American Workers Party to form the Workers Party of America in 1934?”
“Spooky, me too! After the WPA was expelled from the Socialist Party of America in 1936, did you then go on to join the Socialist Workers Party USA and the Fourth International?”
“I did, actually!”
View original post 117 more words