IB History Review Guide/The USSR and Stalin

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Rise to Power

  • Georgian from lower classes.
  • 1905- Stalin led fighting squads in bank robberies to raise money for the Bolshevik Party. He was characterized as a basic thug.
  • 1917- Stalin was the editor of the official Communist Newspaper, the Pravda. At this time, Trotsky was in the US, and Lenin in Switzerland.
  • April 1917- elected to the Politburo of the central committee.
  • 1917-1923: Commissar for Nationalities
  • 1922- Stalin made General secretary of the Central Committee; this was seen as a minor position by the others, but it allowed Stalin to build his power base. He was referred to by others as "Comrade Card-Index". Stalin began to fill positions with cronies.
  • A dying Lenin explained his fear of Stalin's imprudence in his Testament, stating that his views were too extreme and his methods too violent. However, he didn't think that his natural heir would be the best ruler for the USSR either. He believed that the best way to lead the country would be if Stalin and Trotsky were to work together.
  • 1924- Stalin forms the Triumvirate with Kamenev and Zinoviev against Trotsky.
  • Stalin organized Lenin's funeral and made a speech which religiously told of his devotion and loyalty. Stalin undermined Trotsky by misleading him about the date of the funeral, thus Trotsky did not attend. This showed the Soviet public that Stalin cared more about their fallen leader.
  • Stalin referred back to a document where Trotsky slandered Lenin pre-revolutionary doctrine. Stalin also played on the fact that Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks just before the revolution and that he was a Bonapartist threat.
  • Stalin was also extremely manipulative. As soon as Trotsky had been eliminated, Stalin joined forces with the right wing and Bukharin and went against Kamenev and Zinoviev. Using the fact that they had voted against insurrection in 1917.
  • In 1927, he turned against the right and Bukharin.
  • There was a popular appeal to Stalin since he was a man of the people. Also his Socialism in One Country appealed to a people who had been fighting since 1914 and simply wanted peace.
  • He had dominated the leadership by 1928, but would not gain control until The Purges.

Five Year Plan

  • The NEP introduced following the failure of War Communism which allowed for a sufficient degree of market flexibility under the context of socialism. This was because 1922 levels of output were at 14% of the ones in 1914.
  • Stalin established the GOSPLAN in 1927. This was a state general planning commission which had a goal to accelerate industrialization. In 1929, it wrote two drafts which eventually became the basis for the five year plan.
  • It shifted from the NEP and placed the emphasis on central planning. It focused on the transformation of a largely agrarian nation consisting of peasants into an industrial superpower. It attempted to increase coal, iron, and other vital resources.
  • 1928-1933: Pig iron rose from 3.3 million to 10 million
  • Coal from 34 to 75
  • Ore from 5.7 to 14
  • In addition, there were numerous tractor, automobile, and machinery plants built.
  • It succeeded in 4 years, Stalin announced his success. The costs were extremely high. Some 127,000 workers died during the four years that it ran. Collectivization helped induce a famine where some 10 million people died.
  • Soviets stated that Economic Growth was around 13.9%, Americans think it's around 5%.


  • Intended to increase agricultural output. Consolidated farms into collective farms or state farms. Transfer of land from the kulaks to the peasants.
  • 1928- Stalin blamed the kulaks for the lack of grain. To some extent this was true, as grain was hoarded by peasants.
  • 1929- tried to modernize agriculture. Predicted an increase of 200% of output. Collectivization at this point was voluntary, but only some 2% of the peasants agreed. By November of 1929, collectivization was absolutely mandatory.
  • It was good for those without land, but not good for those with it. Widespread opposition, sometimes even sabotage. Peasants were forced to join the collective farms. The kulak class was liquidated.
  • 1/6 of kulaks died.
  • 6 million peasants lost their lives.
  • 1930- number collectivized fell as 50%, peasants began to simply leave.
  • 1936- 90% collectivized. Many farmers refused to work.
  • 125,000 peasants sentenced to death for staling collective farming.
  • Lack of success lead to the Great Famine of 1932-1933. Ukraine was hit hard especially since there was no warning as the government attempted to make it secret.

Social liberalization

  • Women were given equal education, rights to employment. Stalinist development led to an improvement in health care and the quality of life. Stalin's policies granted universal access to health and education which cut down on malaria, cholera, and typhus. New generation of almost university literate. New generation of Soviet women who could give birth in hospitals.

Culture and Religion

  • Socialist realism made the official style for music, drama, literature, art, and almost everything.
  • Artists and poets persecuted.
  • Hunted down on the church.
  • Only mere hundreds of active parishes
  • Thousands of priests were killed, churches leveled.
  • Reintroduced as a patriotic organization during WW2.

Great Purge

  • Stalin's consolidation of power, justified by the assassination of Sergei Kirov, a popular leader in Leningrad. Evidence has come to light that the death of Kirov, once blamed by Stalin on the opposition was actually ordered by Stalin himself because he feared that Kirov was more popular and could take over his position.
  • Communist party itself purged. Millions died, the exact number is unknown. Carried out by the NKVD.
  • 1933- 400,000 members were expelled from the party.
  • Moscow Trials from 1936- 16 members of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre. Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev sentenced to death and executed. Another minor one in 1937.
  • 1938- Nikolai Bukharin and Alexei Rykov executed, as well as Right Wing politicians.
  • Also in 1937, purging of the military including the general Mikhail Tukachevsky who was said to have connections with the German high command.
  • Stalin would be the only living member of Lenin's politburo. Leon Trotsky would be assassinated in 1940 by with an icepick while exiled in Mexico.
  • People who were killed were removed from texts and photographs. NKVD leader Yezhov also purged in 1938.

Cult of Personality

  • Numerous towns renamed after Stalin
  • Grandesque titles such as "Father of all nations" and the "Great Helmsman".
  • Focus on literature, poetry, music, and films.

Struggle for Leadership

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  • In the early 1920's, a lot of the idealism that was in the minds of Russia's people ceased to exist. In January 1923, Lenin published in article in which he supported the idea of Russia's people being educated about the revolution. Two months later, in March 1923, Lenin suffered a stroke and lost the ability to speak, and implicitly, of ruling Russia.
  • This left a power vacuum in Russia. His successor would be the most powerful man in the country. There were five candidates for this:
  • Leon Trotsky. He was an able revolutionary, who had managed to win the Civil War. He had been Lenin's right hand man. He had led the Red Army, but Trotsky was idealist and very arrogant. He refused to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litvosk and believed in world revolution. Furthermore, he had previously been a 'Menshevik,' something which Stalin successfully used against him.
  • Grigory Zinoviev. He was a colleague of Lenin, and head of the COMINTERN.
  • Lev Kamenev. He was the president of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party.
  • Stalin. He was the General Secretary of the Party Central Committee, Main Commissar for Nationalities. He was of Georgian descent.
  • Bukharin: Editor of the Pravda, believed that the economy should develop at its own pace and was Pro-NEP.
  • Stalin, the most powerful, managed to unite with Kamenev and Zinoviev against Trotsky, the second most powerful. This was known as the Triumvirate. It was powerful from 1922-1924 until Zinoviev and Kamenev joined forces with Trotsky in order to oppose Stalin. Their main reason lay in Trotsky's belief that governmental control was vital in fueling a permanent revolution.

Politics from 1917 to 1924: Had to deal with internal and external opposition. Party was becoming a mass movement and the bureaucracy remained from the Tsarist regime. Council of People's Commissars formed, which has 10 main members- the most powerful body and greatest concentration of power. Stalin was appointed the General Secretary in 1922. This placed him in a position by which he could influence who obtained positions of power within the regime. By 1921, the bureaucracy was 10 times larger than the Tsarist one, consuming 90% of Russia's paper. In 1921, Lenin introduced his ban on factions. The CHEKA was used as government policy to incite the Red Terror from 1921 to 1923. The CHEKA included 30,000 members and was responsible for two million deaths.

  • Trotsky "We will not enter the kingdom of socialism with white gloves on a polished floor"

Nationalities from 1917-1924: Russia was a huge country with many different nationalities. At first, Lenin advocated self-determination, but in the 1920s he began to change his mind after the failed invasion of Poland. He made Stalin, a Georgian, Commissar for nationalities. Ukraine is retaken in 1921 and made part of the old empire. Asian states are brought into the empire. The USSR emerges in 1922.

Culture and Social Life from 1917-1924: Religion is banned, 8,000 clergy members are killed in the terror and the state acquired the wealth of the church. There is more personal freedom, it is easier to divorce, women gain equal property rights, and there is more freedom of expression. However, in 1924 all the writers and poets became exiled.

  • Even with the improvements that Lenin's NEP brought in Russia, Stalin still supported the idea of Socialism in One Country. He thought that the Soviet Union must first be a well-established country before trying to spread its communism.
  • It was clear that whoever became the ruler of Russia had to be very close to Lenin. Stalin fostered a cult of personality around Lenin, and emphasized his own close relationship with the dead leader. In this way, he could gain support from those who sympathised with Lenin's beliefs.
  • An important feature of Stalin’s rise to power is the way that he manipulated his opponents and played them off against each other. Stalin formed a "troika" of himself, Zinoviev, and Kamenev against Trotsky. When Trotsky had been eliminated Stalin then joined Bukharin and Rykov against Zinoviev and Kamenev, emphasizing their vote against the insurrection in 1917. Zinoviev and Kamenev then turned to Lenin's widow, Krupskaya; they formed the United Opposition in July 1926.
  • In 1927 during the 15th Party Congress Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party and Kamenev lost his seat on the Central Committee. Stalin soon turned against the "Right Opposition", represented by his erstwhile allies, Bukharin and Rykov.
  • Stalin gained popular appeal from his presentation as a 'man of the people' from the poorer classes. The Russian people were tired from the world war and the civil war, and Stalin's policy of concentrating in building "Socialism in One Country" was seen as an optimistic antidote to war.


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  • "We are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this gap in 10 years. Either we do it or they crush us." (Stalin 1931) Stalin and xenophobic. By 1926, NEP is not an effective policy. 17% of what is grown is marketed. Most of the food is hoarded by peasants in fear of a famine.
  • Collectivization: Stalin's plan for agricultural reform. Attempted to increase efficiency and productivity through modernization and improvement in agricultural methods. It was piloted in Siberia in 1927, and then made the official government policy later that year. It involved large farms owned by the state of a workforce of 1,000. Resources and labour were shared on the land, the government took a percentage of what was produced regularly. It was introduced in the country in 1929 as a volunteer program, but no one wanted to join and so it was made mandatory. Between December 1929 and March 1930, 60% of peasants were collectivized. By June, only 25% of peasants are collectivized, as 35% leave their collective farms. The process happened again in by September 1930, this time much more organized and peasants were given incentives to join such as tractors. By 1936, collectivization is complete and the Kulak class (rich peasants who owned land) were collectivized or sent to Gulags.
  • Famine: (1931-1934) 10-15 million people die, but kept a secret. This is because peasants burned their crops to avoid collectivization and collectivization was slow to get going. This is due to Stalin's emphasis to push collectivization too quickly.
  • Stalin's regime moved to force collectivization of agriculture. This was intended to increase agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, to bring the peasantry under more direct political control, and to make tax collection more efficient. Collectivization meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, and it faced violent reaction among the peasantry.
  • The Kulaks, the rich peasants who owned land posed the greatest problem. Stalin believed that peasants, being the backbone of the USSR, were supposed to work for the country, and not for themselves.
  • There were many problems, though. Farms were unable to benefit from modern equipment, and a great number of them still used methods developed in the Middle Ages. Transportation was also a great problem, and often the collection and distribution of goods were severely slowed down.
  • The Kulaks were killed or deported to Gulags, so that the USSR can benefit from their land. This created an immense famine, because:

Peasants the peasants were supposed to take over the Kulak's land and property. The latter, reluctant, burned everything. The produce that was meant for the rapidly-industrializing cities was slowed down by a terrible transportation system.

O:*Overall, seven million people were deported to Siberia, and most of them found their death there.

For the Communist Party, the Collectivization was a success, as it had achieved its goal of having complete control over the agriculture and what was going on in the countryside.

The Five Year Plans

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The Two Five Year plans are best viewed from an Economic and Social Perspective.


  • The GOSPLAN (state planning commission) was to guide the economy towards rapid industrialization. It established the 1st Five Year Plan (’28 – ’32), focusing on the mobilization of natural resources to build up a heavy industrial base by increasing output of coal and iron. At high human cost, this was largely successful. Output of coal rose from 35 to 75 million tons, and iron ore from 5.7 to 19. The goals were fulfilled in 4 years. The 2nd FYP (’32 –’36) saw an 80% rise in steel production, to 17 million tons. The USSR was just behind Germany as a major steel-producing country. The 2nd Five Year Plan was not uniformly successful, failing to reach the planned production levels in coal and oil. By 1936, 90% of farms were collectivized.


  • In the USSR, by 1940, employment tripled to 8.3 million. The industrialization of agriculture reduced unemployment to virtually 0. In 1924 there were 6 million students, while in 1939 there were 13 million. The people benefited from a degree of social liberalization. Women were given equal rights in labor and education. Universal access to healthcare increased life spans by decades.

Nature of the Soviet State

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  • By the late 1930's, Stalin had managed to centralize and plan the USSR's economy. Priority was given to the heavy industry, as Stalin thought it to be "the way of the future".

Socially, workers in lower ranks do have a chance of succeeding, but this can only be done through their own hard work.

  • The intelligentia were used to contribute to political goals, meaning that the Communist Party benefited from everything.

Stalin created the Cult of Personality around him. His one man leadership was supported by a great deal of propaganda.

  • The USSR became, in fact, a Totalitarian Society, in which Stalin was the autocrat.

The Purges

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  • Stalin's Purges originated during the early 1930's as 'means of punishing those blamed for the lack of succese of the Five Year Plans.' Eventually, it became a means by which Stalin resolved his suspicion of all those around him and managed to rid the Communist Party of those who Stalin considered "unfaithful" members. It's worth mentioning that both Kamenev and Zinoviev were executed in 1936, during the Moscow Show Trials. These trials had verdicts predetermined by Stalin, and were merely formalities. They also served as an effective warning to other members of the Communist Party. Stalin used more of these trials to dispose of other political adversaries, such as Serge Kirov.
  • Eventually, only two of Lenins's initial Politburo survived: Stalin and Trotsky. Trotsky was assassinated with an icepick in 1940 while living in Mexico. Stalin died on March 3 1953 after suffering from an apparent paralyzing stroke. Some people believe that he was poisoned by his own party members. Before his death Stalin had been on the verge of beginning a new series of purges and had considered poisoning his own party to cleanse the system, i.e. Jewish Doctor's Plot.

Foreign Relations

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  • After Lenin's death, the more industrialized powers saw Russia and the Soviet Union as a threat, and therefore isolated it from commercial and political relations, even though it tried to establish political relations with the Western Countries.
  • Eventually, the USSR signed a treaty with the Weimar Republic by which the latter would give the former technology in exchange for natural resources.

The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that divided Poland was eventually the starter of WWII.

Nazi-Soviet Pact

  • Axis formed in Oct. 1936. Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan, Nov. By this time, Stalin giving up on collective security.
  • Nazi gains in 1938, destroyed any hope of USSR getting help from West
  • Munich Conference in October, USSR not included, France and Britain surrendered Czech Sudetenland to Hitler and made Czechoslovakia indefensible
  • Stalin signs friendship treaty with China, and supplies Chiang with arms and credits
  • May 1939, Molotov replaces Litvinov as foreign commissar. Imposes rigid conformity upon Narkomindel.
  • West promises to protect Poland and Romania, but Stalin not convinced.
  • 18th Party Congress, Stalin accuses West of trying to provoke war between Germany and Russia (March)
  • August, West sends military missions. Too late, b/c Hitler already making negotiations with USSR.
  • Aug. 23, 1939, Nazi-Soviet Pact signed. Secret: delimited Soviet and German spheres; Poland disintegrated, and partitioned. Happens with other countries as well
  • USSR attacks Finland to gain land, so that they aren’t totally weak/completely dependent on Germany. Find much resistance, but finally win
  • July 1940, Hitler wants to invade USSR
  • Trying to avoid, Molotov states Soviet demands in pragmatic, power-political terms.: 1) Finland USSR’s, once German troops leave. 2) Security of USSR interests in Straits. 3) recognize area south of Batum and Baku in direction of Persian Gulf is recognized as center of the aspirations of the Soviet Union.
  • Japan renounces rights to concessions for coal and oil in northern Sakhalin