Stalin and the USSR

The Russian Civil War 1918-1921
After the Bolshevik government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in 1918, effectively ending the war with Germany, the new Russian government will be enveloped in a civil war, (after the first attempt on Lenin's life, the Bolshevik's will introduce the Red Terror, to try to remove their enemies), where the Russian Red Army will be fighting the White Army.

Use this worksheet to determine whether the Bolshevik's won the civil war, or the White Army lost the war.

Lenin's Russia
For all the talk of freedom from tsarist oppression, it would appear, early on, in the Bolshevik take over of power, that Lenin would impose harsh penalties on those who opposed the government. This would lead to the 'Red Terror' and the creation of a secret police force, known as the Checka. Despite the land distribution, people would continue to live in poverty, with little possibility of improving their lives.

The peasants rose up against the government, after grain harvests were less, and famine ensued. The government continued to requisite grain. Lenin had to make a compromise with the peasants, allowing them to make a living from their harvests. Lenin, with the support of Bhukarin, introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP).

The Organisation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)
You need to know about the different governing bodies/offices of the Communist Party as...

1) it helps when trying to understand the significance of Stalin's positions, e.g. in the power struggle, and
2) because questions about Stalin's rise to power can come up on Paper 2, Topic 3

So, I've made notes about the Central Committeee (CC)/Politburo/Orgburo/Secretariat/Party Congress:

Stalin's Rise to Power:

After the death of Lenin, in 1924, there was a struggle for power in the Soviet Union. Left wing members of the Communist parties were divided against right-wing members, and, as a result, after four years of intrigue and back-stabbing, Josef Stalin emerged the victor. How did this happen, when no one in the party would have predicted that the 'grey blur' had the skills and qualities necessary to establish a total dictatorship within the next decade?

Why did it take him five years to do this?

What were the main issues in the leadership struggle?
How do historians view Stalin's successful bid for leadership:
Three interesting interpretations from History Review
Stalin's Economic Policies
After the power struggle, where Stalin emerges triumphant, he begins the process of collectivisation. What would you say to advise Stalin about the Soviet economy?
Key dates:
  • 1929- kolkhozis (collective farms) were established.
  • 1929, First Five Year Plan put into action.
  • 1932, Second Five Year Plan.
  • 1932-34, Famine.
  • 1936, abortion made illegal.
  • 1937, Third Five Year Plan.
  • 1941, German invasion of Soviet Union.
What were Stalin's aims in his economic and social policies?
  • Increase military strength of the country to resist foreign intervention,especially due to the war scare in late 1920s and 30s.
  • Achieve self-sufficiency- watned to make USSR independent of western manufactured goods.
  • Increase grain supply- end dependence of the economy on a backward agriculture system. In the past this had created huge problems when there was bad harvest or peasants did not produce enough food.
  • Improve standards of living- catch up with the west in terms of standard of living people enjoyed, industrialization would create a wealthy society and communism should appeal to workers across the world.
  • Wanted to restore more conservative values of women and family.
  • Crush internal 'class enemies' of the kulaks. Brutal de-kulakisation to break the peasantry and bring the countryside (and thus grain supply) under Communist control.

The First Five Year Plan
With collectivisation underway, the Communist Party's other objective is to increase industrialisation to avoid another 'Scissors crisis'. Stalin's Five Year Plans, each having a particular aim, will be first introduced in 1928. The concentration of this plan will be the development of iron and steel, electric power, transport and machine tools. High targets (unrealistic?) will average a 300% increase in productivity in heavy industry. The second five year plan, introduced in 1933, will set more realistic goals and increase the output of consumer goods. The state planning organization, GOSPLAN, were charged with the responsibility of setting up goals and targets were set for every industry, with every worker expected to meet these state set goals.
Industrialisation- 2nd and Third Five Yeaer Plans

  • Stalin knew that only by taking full control of the resources and labour of the Soviet Union would industrialization be achieved; introduced a series of Five Year Plans to achieve a "revolution from above".
  • The First Five Year Plan (1929-32) called for a massive increase in industrial output and to create a proletariat by moving large numbers of peasants from the countryside to the cities.
  • Build iron and steel manufacturing plants, electric power stations, infrastructure including railways and to increase production of coal and iron.
  • The Second and Third Five Year Plans (1932-) shifted the production to heavy industrial goods as iron and steel plants were producing but the country needed trains, trucks and tractors.
  • Hitler was focusing on re-armament in Germany and many countries now opposed Communism and Soviet Union- Stalin wanted to make sure they had the resources to re-arm.
  • Industrialization would be achieved through labour discipline, slave labour and propaganda:
  • Labour discipline; Very harsh laws were introduced that punished workers who were late or absent and also made it a crime to break machinery, in some extreme cases these crimes were punished with execution. Managers were responsible for meeting targets and it they failed to do so they could be punished with death sentence.
  • Slave labour; during 1930s many gulags were built where kulaks and hundreds of thousands political prisoners were sent during the "purges".
  • Propaganda; Stalin's speeches about the successes of the Five Year Plans were printed in Pravda and with their own eyes, workers saw that the Soviet Union was industrializing and cathing up with the capitalist powers. However, did not know that the prison camps were overflowing with people!

The Red Terror

'Although Stalin would have preferred to have been remembered for his towering economic achievements, he is most closely associated with The Purges'. (RJ Tarr) Russia Remembers Propaganda played a significant role, alongside the use of force, to remove those from Russian society, whom Stalin deemed a threat to his and its existance.
Complete the reading and attached assignment with regard to 'The Terror and the Purges.'
Stalin's Terror
By the end of the 1930's, it is estimated that over 20 million Russians either died or faced life in prison, as a result of Stalin's purges.
Three Phases of the Purges of the 1930's
-Purge = 'cleansing' or 'clean out'.
First Stage: Chistka- non-violent cleansing, from 1932-1935, where 20% of the population were non-violently expelled, as part of a clearing out process after collectivization (most were poor illiterates)
Second Stage: Show trials were prominent, especially with 'old' Bolsheviks (Bukarin's a prime example) who were arrested and tried for treason, spying and sabotage. Over fifty Communist Party members were involved.
Third Stage: Yezhovshchina, named after Yezhov, the head of the NKVD (secret police) from 1937 onward. A period of mass terror where thousands of party members, state officials, members of the armed forces, industrial directors, and professionals were denounced, arrested and imprisoned. Many were subsequently executed; more died in Soviet labour camps.
Questions: What would be three reasons for Stalin to purge the ranks of the Communist party, the armed forces and ordinary Russians? What might be the effects of the purges on society, as a whole?

Stalin developed a 'cult of personality' in order to offset the negative purge/terror that his regime represented. Was it all manufactured or was there an element of truth to this worship by the people of Russia?

Stalin's Foreign Policy

Past Questions:

Paper 3

To what extent was Stalin responsible for the break-up of the Second World War alliance, and the early stages of the Cold War? (Specimen)

To what extent do you agree that Stalin’s foreign policy between 1928 and 1953 was inconsistent and unfocused? (Nov 2008)

Compare and contrast the foreign policies of Hitler and Stalin in Europe, up to the invasion of Russia in 1941.(May 2007)

  • Link to Guided Responses to these three questions:
Review of Stalin's Rule over the USSR: Stalin's Rise to Power

Foreign Policy pre-WW2, up to 1939

Aims and methods

  • Encourage the "world revolution" through the work of the Comitern (1919) by supporting Communist struggles abroad.
  • Pragmatic agreements with other states to end diplomatic isolation and defending Russia (i.e. Treaty of Rapallo with Germany and non-aggression pacts.)
  • Modernize and industrialize in fear of a united alliance of Capitalist nations against USSR and communism:
  • "We are fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must made this gap in ten years. Either we do this or they crush us."- Stalin.
  • Therefore- to improve and achieve security for the Soviet state!


Phase 1: Looking to West for "collective security":
- The rise to power of Hitler (1933) and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931) led to USSR attempting to establish good realtions with Western states:
  • 1932-33, USSR signs non-aggression Pacts with France, Italy and Poland and more.
  • 1934- Joins the League of Nations (described by Lenin as the "robber's den"); the relations between USSR and Germany worsen as USSR moves towards the West.
  • 1935- Defensive alliances with France and Czech, however these were largely symbolic and gave little actual military protection.
  • 1936- Stalin supports the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War due to concern over Hitler and Mussolini's support for the Nationalists. However, Soviet intervention was cautious and offered little gain.

Phase 2: Undecided between Hitler and the West:
  • 1938- Britain and France's failure to include USSR in the talks at Munich over the Sudetenland, increases Soviet suspicion over Western appeasement to Hitler. Fears of Western powers intentions of sacrificing Eastern Europe to Hitler.
  • 1939- Hitler's nivasion of rest of Czech leads to talks between USSR, Britain and France over a mutual alliance against Hitler.

Phase 3: seeks security in Nazi-Soviet Pact with Hitler (1939)

  • The failure of a mutual pact forces Stalin away from collective security and in August, the new foreign commissar Molotov signs a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany.
  • The treaty meant peaceful relations for ten years and to secretively split Poland between them and allowing uSSR to extend its influence in the Baltic States.
  • The Anti-Comitern pact between Germany, Italy and Japan in an alliance against Communism, left Stalin with the fear of a two-front war and in this sense, the pact can be seen as a pragmatic move to secure position of USSR.
  • Stalin also hoped that a war between the West and Hitle would leave both sides exhausted and thus provide best protection for USSR.

In 1939, the Red Army invades and takes control over Eastern Poland!

Key successes

  • In the start, the non-aggression pacts saw some time of stability in the USSR as end to diplomatic relations- however failed in long term as USSR and Western powers failed to put their differences aside for the fear of Hitler's expansionism.
  • The Nazi-Soviet Pact allowed Stalin time to re-arm and industrialize- huge success as shown in Soviet Union able to defeat the Nazi Troops in WW2!
  • It also provided a biffer zone against a German attack and recovered all the territory lost in the Treaty of Brest Litovsk (1918).

Key failures
  • As mentioned earlier, the main failure of Stalin's foreign policy during this timepreiod was the failure to secure an agreement with the Western powers in the search for collective security. This drove Stalin instead to search for insurance with Germany and Hitler- furthermore, it could be argued that the agreement between USSR and Germany is what ultimtely sparked off the Second World War as Hitler now no longer feared a war on two fronts. Plus, Hitler thought that the Western powers owuld not intervene if in an alliance with Russia!

Winning the Great Patriotic War, 1941 - 45

What factors enabled Stalin to defeat Hitler and the Nazi wehrmacht?
  • Since the economy in the USSR in 1941 was already highly centralized, it did not take much to transform it into the "total war" conditions.
  • In June 1941, the State Committee of Defense was established (Stalin of course was its Chairman) and through this, Stalin kept close control over the generals and made it clear that retreat or defeat in battle was not an option.
  • Stalin used propaganda and the restored position of the Orthodox Church to gain support through the war- "Great Patriotic War" fought to save Mother Russia rather than an ideological war to save communism.
  • Mistakes of the Germans- for Hitler the war was a racial war against the enemy and this was demonstrated by the brutality of the Nazi forces as they marched towards Moscow, leningrad and Stalingrad. In many places there was support for the Germans as they were often seen as liberators (estimated that 2 million Soviet citizens fought on the side of the Germans) but this soon changed as the death toll of civilians increased from German policies of extermination.
  • The German troops were halted by the "General Winter" that brought frost and snow. This halted their advance in 1941 abd gave the Red Army time to recover.
  • The size of the Soviet Union- this meant that they could sacrifice territory to the advancing Germans and retreat eastwards- many factories could be dismantled and the infrastructure shipped east, re-assembled and brought back into production.
  • External help- Stalin recieved substancial aid from the US Lend-Lease arrangement that was given to USSR in summer of 1941. Especially jeeps and lorries as well as large quantities of equippment from Britain's Royal Navy.
  • End of the siege of Stalingrad by German defeat in North Africa and Allied invasion of Sicily which required German forces to retreat.

Paper 3 Sample Questions: Russia, Russia and more.... (wait for it) Russia:Paper 3 Practice Questions This site also has revision notes for Russia from 1850 to 1924!