James W. Meng

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Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6


The USSR during the 1920s and 1930s.
11.1. New Economic Politics.

By the end of the Civil War, a desperate political and economic crisis had broken out in the country. The policy of "war communism" caused real wars in villages. At the same time there were strikes of workers, and uprisings in the army and navy, the largest of which was the uprising of sailors in Kronstadt who united under the slogan "Soviets without Bolsheviks!" Events such as these forced the Bolsheviks to abandon the policies of "war communism" and move to the program of New Economic Policy (NEP). Following a broad discussion, the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in March 1921 began a gradual transition to the NEP.

The beginning of New Economic Policy was the decision to replace the surplus appropriation with a natural tax, adopted in March 1921. The NEP also restored typical commodity and monetary relations in trade, industry, and agriculture. Domestic open markets began to operate again; the Nizhegorodskaya, Bakinskaya, and Irbitskaya markets were all rebuilt. Some denationalization of light industry was carried out, and small-scale and handicraft production developed. In agriculture, taxes were determined at the beginning of planting and set at half the amount of the surplus appropriation. Any remaining unallocated harvest could be sold on the market independently by the peasants.

In villages, various forms of agricultural cooperation developed, uniting 6.5 million peasant farms. Mostly, these involved procurement of raw materials and shared use of agricultural machinery. From 1924 to 1927, state and cooperative trade grew 28%.

Taken together, these measures contributed significantly to increases in agricultural production. By 1925, most sown areas in villages were restored, and the gross grain harvest exceeded the pre-revolutionary level of 1913 by over 20%. Foreign exports of agricultural products and raw materials resumed. In the 1920s the economic structure of villages changed dramatically: middle-class households predominated (over 60%) while the poor made up 22-26% and the rich 4-5%.

Efforts to stabilize the financial sphere soon came to the fore. In 1921 the State Bank was re-established; private and cooperative banks appeared; and commercial loans again began to be issued. A system of both direct and indirect taxes was introduced. A certain classist element existed in the system of taxation: the main share of taxes was paid by private entrepreneurs and kulaks in the village; middle-class peasants paid less than half; and the poor were generally exempt.

In 1922-24 a monetary reform was carried out. The Soviet Chervonets, pegged to 10 pre-revolutionary gold rubles, was introduced into circulation and into international foreign exchange; the financial situation of the country began to stabilize.

At the same time, partial decentralization of industrial management was carried out. Unions of single-industry enterprises were established - trusts and syndicates - that engaged in sales, supply, lending, and other commercial activities on behalf of the industries they represented. Creation of private enterprises was also permitted. Some enterprises were given to foreign firms as concessions; in 1926-27 such concession enterprises numbered 117 in total, although their economic output was limited - taken together they produced only 1% of industrial output.

The growth of industrial output in the first years of the NEP was quite rapid. In 1921 industrial output was 42% of the 1913 pre-revolutionary level; by 1925 it had reached 66%; and by the end of the 1920s Soviet industry had nearly reached 1913 pre-revolutionary levels.

There were also several major changes in the social sphere. Compulsory labor service was abolished, and natural remuneration was replaced with cash payments. Between 1924-29, the population of workers and servicemen more than doubled, from 5.8 to 12.4 million people. Economic successes also contributed to improvements in the financial situations of the mainstream of the population: real wages rose markedly, and consumption of food products also approached pre-revolutionary levels.

The first months of the NEP were also marked by an improvement in the sociopolitical and cultural life of the country. Emigrants began to return: over 120,000 refugees returned to Soviet Russia. But in reality, and in the sense of a slightly longer timeline, the NEP constituted only partial and temporary measures. In general, the country still maintained a rigid political regime in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat and ideological censorship. By this time, activities of all political parties were suspended except for that of the Bolsheviks. Religious leaders were also persecuted.

Meanwhile, the power of the All-Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks continued to strengthen. In April 1922 Stalin became the party's general secretary and his power grew virtually unchecked; even a proposal from Lenin himself to remove Stalin from the post of Secretary General for mistakes made was not taken into account by party leadership. After Lenin's death in 1924, an internal discussion began within the party on prospects for the development of the country, resulting in struggle for control of party leadership on behalf of Lenin's closest co-conspirators: L.D. Trotsky, G.E. Zinoviev, L.B. Kamenev, N.I. Bukharin, and I.V. Stalin. The struggle ended in victory for Stalin and his comrades (Molotov, Kaganovich, Beria, etc.)

In the late 1920s, as the pace of industrial growth began to fall sharply, Stalin and the party leadership abandoned the NEP, opting instead for a change of course toward the "complete and final victory" of new socialist relations.

11.2. Formation of the USSR.

National policy during the first years of Soviet power set about to unite the peoples and restore a single state within the boundaries of the former Russian empire. In the summer of 1922 a commission under the direction of I.V. Stalin drafted a plan for state unification that became known as the plan for "autonomization". It provided a framework for the introduction of independent republics into the RSFSR with the rights of autonomous territories. V.I. Lenin opposed Stalin's proposal, demanding that any such framework preserve the formal sovereignty and independence of each republic. He proposed unification in the form of a federation as a "voluntary and equal association" of independent Soviet republics.

On the 30th of December 1922, a new state was formed - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which included the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Belarusian SSR and the Transcaucasian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, which unified Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In January 1924 the first Constitution of the USSR was formally adopted. In Central Asia, where existing borders did not coincide with ethnic boundaries, the Turkmen and Uzbek SSR were formed; in 1931, the Tajik SSR. In 1936, the Kirghiz and Kazakh SSR were formed. During the same year the Transcaucasian SFSR was abolished and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia entered the USSR as independent republics.

The formation of the USSR contributed both to economic development of the constituent republics and to the overcoming of the undeveloped nature of many of the republics. Positive results quickly appeared in the areas of culture, education, and health systems of certain republics. During the 1920s-30s, national schools, theatres, newspapers, and literature in the local langages began to develop quickly.

Nevertheless, Soviet national policy was generally characterized by serious contradictions. Unitarist, adminstrative tendencies were predominant; rights of the national republics were limited. The Soviet leadership had ambitions to gradually break down national borders of ethnicity, language, and culture as it progressed towards full communism, and a policy of limiting the usage of national languages was put into effect. One particularly striking example of national policy in this vein was the Stalinist repressions and deportations of ethnicities within the USSR.

11.3. Industrial development in the USSR during the late 1920s-30s.

By 1926 the restoration of the USSR's war-ravaged economy was finished, but the country's technical and technological base was effectively obsolete. Resources for industrial development had been exhausted, and industrial growth had sharply declined. The Soviet leadership set out to re-industralize the USSR via the creation of large-scale industrial machine production, and thus the renewal of the technological base in other branches of the national economy. A broader goal to "catch up to and overtake" the capitalist countries was set. Yet industrialization was carried out generally at the expense of internal resources that ordinarily might have otherwise been allocated elsewhere. These included income from agriculture, from foreign trade, from tax revenues and bonds, and from the use of conscript labor as well as that of prisoners and the repressed.

In the late 1920s the pace of industrial growth fell sharply due to lack of financing. An agrarian crisis and failures of grain processing during the winter of 1927-28 convinced the Soviet leadership of the need for urgent measures, including a restructuring of state economic policy. In summary, the theme of the day was the rejection of the NEP and the transition to forced methods of industrial growth. The need for accelerated industrialization was justified with the threat to the USSR from outside and from internal enemies, and thus the need to build up the defense strength of the Soviet Union.

In April 1929, the first five year plan for 1928-32 had been prepared. Stalin set a goal to exceed the critical economic growth indicators of the United States, and in 10-15 years implement an accelerated transition to building full communism. Shortly thereafter, construction of factories and power plants began. Energy, metallurgy, chemicals production, and machine building became the material basis of the military-industrial complex of the USSR. Construction of large power plants as well as metallurgical and machine-building plants in Kerch, Rostov, and Stalingrad began.

One result of the first five-year plan was that the ranks of the working class, particularly engineering and technical workers, increased. In attempts to reduce staff turnover in 1932, mandatory internal passports were introduced to record place of work and city of registration. Also introduced was a new basis of payment for work - the piece-rate system, in which bonuses were introduced for those who hit production goals. One figure who became the face of this system was a Soviet miner, Alexei Stakhanov, founder of the Stakhanovite movement. An alternate side to the incentive system was also built: a system of measures of state compulsion to work in the form of criminal punishment for lateness and absenteeism.

While growth rates for the first five-year plan dropped from 20% to 5.5% over the entire period, its successful completion in just four years and three months was announced. Yet in reality, goals in key industries were not fully completed by the end of 1932.

During the Second Five-Year Plan (1933-37) Stalin refused to continue to pursue plans for accelerated industrialization. Results of the Second Five Year Plan fulfilled all indicators at roughly 70-77% of the intended goals, though the USSR's technological dependence on the West remained high, and the USSR at that time still accounted for 50% of world machinery imports.

11.4. Collectivization of agriculture.

By the mid-1920s, the objective level of progress in industrializing the country had inadvertently posed again the question of reorganizing and raising agricultural production. Stalin was convinced that the existing small peasant farms would not be sufficient to meet the needs of a growing industrial base. Collectivization, the process of which began in 1927, was seen as the solution. Initially, collectivization was ordered and assumed to proceed voluntarily; in practice, this did not happen and by 1928 emergency measures were used to force the peasants to comply: confiscation of grain surpluses, prohibitions on the sale of bread, market closures, etc. But this in fact made matters worse. Food shortages soon resulted and by the autumn of 1928 bread rationing had been introduced. By the end of 1929, in grain-producing regions a plan of "continuous collectivization" was set for the year ahead. The main goal of this plan was the full socialization of all means of production, livestock and poultry in the countryside. An integral part of the process was the policy of "dekulakization", or repression of the kulaks, the wealthy, high-producing peasant farmers who desired to retain their autonomy and commercial advantages, and further, "the elimination of the kulaks as a class". And so the kulaks and their families were evicted from villages in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the Urals.

By 1937, 93% of peasant households and 94.1% of cultivated areas were located on the country's collective farms. Labor productivity nevertheless remained low, and the processes of collectivization progressed mostly in step with the mechanization of agriculture. Machine and tractor stations were established in villages to assist the farmers in the transition, and 25,000 workers were sent from cities to assist.

Policies of total collectivization nevertheless led to severe economic consequences. Collective farms provided bread to the state at roughly 10% the prices of other farms. The result was that between 1929-32, gross production of grain decreased by 10%. Livestock of cattle and horses also decreased by 1.5 to 2 times. These factors together led to a major famine during 1932-33, which deeply affected 25-30 million people.

By the mid 1930s, the agrarian sector had stabilized to some degree. The ration card system was taken out of use in 1935, though the social and legal position of many peasants had largely not improved. When the passport system was introduced in 1932, peasants were not issued passports and were thus deprived of legal freedom of movement. These conditions were then officialized in 1937, after which the peasants were forbidden to leave their collective farms without explicit permission of the administration.

In light of the above conditions, results of the various socioeconomic development programs of the USSR were contradictory. By 1940 the growth rate of heavy industry doubled in comparison to the period 1900-1913, and the volume of industrial production between 1927 to 1940 increased eight times - putting the Soviet Union in second place only behind the United States. Approximately 9000 plants and factories were built in the USSR during this period, and industrialization completely changed the face of the national republics. Central Asia, for example, now possessed modern food processing plants, cotton gins, new canals and power plants, plants for agricultural machinery, and many other cornerstones of modern industrialization. The continued construction of railroad lines also contributed substantially to economic growth: Siberia was united with Central Asia and Kazakhstan by the Turkestan-Siberian Railway, completed in 1930.

Acceleration of the USSR's industrial growth in the 1930s facilitated the creation of key industries that were adapted to military use during World War II. In that sense, criticism of the Five Year Plans must be taken in context of the fact that in their absence, the Soviet Union would likely have quickly fell to the Axis powers.

During the years of industrialization in the USSR a significant new layer of workers emerged in engineering fields. The working class grew by 18 million people, mostly at the expense of rural peasantry. By 1932, unemployment had been effectively eliminated in the USSR, even among women. Workers were entitled to annual leave, temporary disability, and pensions; working women were offered maternity leave.

In terms of per capita industrial production, the USSR nevertheless lagged behind the countries of Western Europe and the United States. Due to inflation, real wages of workers and employees remained at 1928 levels, leading to an effective decrease in purchasing power for the average worker.

As a result of these initial stages of industrialization, the command architecture of leadership in the Soviet economy had begun to take shape. The state controlled all means of production, and was heavily involved in the allocation of resources and products; and it utilized extensively the forced labor of prisoners and other migrants.

11.5. The Soviet political system of the 1930s. Stalinism.

As we know, in the wake of the 1917 revolution, the end to the Russian Civil War led to the establishment of a one-party system in the USSR ruled under Marxist-Leninist ideology and its principles of class struggle.

By the end of the 1930s, Soviet society comprised three main groups: the working class, the collective farm peasant class, servicemen, and the intelligentsia. Small pockets of independent peasant farmers and unaffiliated handicraftsmen remained.

The major socioeconomic and political changes that took place in the USSR came to be reflected in the country's basic laws - in the Constitution of the USSR, first adopted in December 1936 and in force through 1977. It reinforced through legislation the "victory of socialism" in the USSR, which itself was constituted of 11 republics. The supreme legislative body of state authority was the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, which by 1936 had replaced the Congress of Soviets. Citizens of all nationalities were imbued with equal democratic rights and freedoms: conscience, speech, press, and so forth. Universal, equal, direct elections were run via secret ballot.

The reality, however, was that many norms established in the Constitution were only declared and not actively practiced. The essence of the political regime of the 1930s, the ideology of which became known as Stalinism, effectively implemented the unlimited power of the party apparatus and its integration with state authorities. The political system also took on the form of a personality cult around the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, I.V. Stalin. This, combined with the general atmosphere of fear that prevailed in the country during the 1930s, helped to establish complete control over the state and the party over society.

While ideological control was certainly a major goal of the Party during the Stalin era, it was not possible to fully achieve complete ideological control, especially at the domestic level. During this period, many changes occurred in the daily lives of Soviet people, and in the everyday culture of Soviet life. Construction of individual apartments began, and it became fashionable to dress well. Hospitals, educational, and cultural institutions became integral elements of urban life.

Special attention was paid to the establishment of good moral foundations in education; both sport and good physical health were common in the country, as was the notion of the family as a microcosm of society. Responsible care for children was instrumental. Attitudes toward divorce became more negative, and abortions were banned.

11.6. Soviet culture.

The Bolsheviks considered cultural revolution an extremely important condition for building socialism. Its primary task was to eliminate illiteracy and raise the overall level of culture among the population. Mass illiteracy was an unfortunate inheritance of pre-revolutionary Russia, particularly among non-Slavic minorities: the rate of illiteracy among Tajiks was 99.5%, among Yakuts 99.3%, and among Uzbeks 98.4%. The Decree of 1919 obliged all children and adults between 8-50 years of age to learn to read and write. Within 20 years, the literacy rate among urban populations in the USSR had reached roughly 90%. For more than 40 ethnicities in the USSR, this was their first experience of written language. Education was secular, and free for all nationalities. Beginning in 1930, universal primary education became compulsory; by the end of the 1930s, the length of compulsary education had increased to seven years (incomplete secondary education). The number of institutions of higher education also increased dramatically during the years of industrialization. On the eve of World War II, there were more students in the USSR than in the 22 countries of Europe combined (812,000 people, of whom more than 50% were women).

In 1924, the State Library of the USSR was created on the basis of the Rumyantsev Museum in Moscow, located in the famous "Pashkov House" built by architect V.I. Bazhenov. It included a large collection of books, manuscripts, and coins. Today it is known as the Russian State Library (Leninka). In Soviet times, a network of academic institutions came to concentrate in Moscow: the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences named for V.I. Lenin (1929); the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1934); the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the RSFSR (1943), and the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR (1944).

The primary reason for the development of sciences during the Stalinist period was ultimately the needs of the country during the course of industrialization. Scientific schools of key academicians took part: S.V. Lebedev (production of synthetic rubber); I.M. Gubkin (geological exploration of oil). Also groundbreaking at the time were developments in physics by A.F. Ioffe; the works of biologists I.V. Michurin and N.I. Vavilov and others. Many studies were also carried out in the area of nuclear physics.

There was also some revival of the country's cultural life during the 1920s. Various literary and artistic associations arose: "October", "The Left Front of the Arts", and others. It was during this period that the creative work of writers A.P. Platonov, M.A. Bulgakov, M.M. Prishvin, and that of poets M.I. Tsvetaeva and O.E. Mandelstam and others came to the fore.

Writers M. Gorky and M. Sholokhov and others addressed themes of building socialism. The task of building patriotism among the population led to an increase in the importance of historical novels: A.N. Tolstoy's "Peter the First", Y. Tynyanov's "The Death of Wazir-Mukhtar", and V. Yan's "Genghis Khan". Writers M. Zoshchenko, I. Ilf and E. Petrov worked in the genre of satire. S. Marshak, A. Gaidar, K. Chukovsky, and S. Mikhalkov wrote works for children.

Among the painters and graphic artists who arose in the 1920s, creative groups arose: "Four Arts", the "Society of Moscow Artists", etc., whose work took different artistic directions. Many participants of the past avant-garde groups of the 1920s subsequently took part in revolutionary transformations among these groups - including V.V. Kandinsky, M.Z. Chagall, K.S. Malevich, K.S. Petrov-Vodkin, and others.

During the first years after the revolution, monuments of sculpture began to be built in memory of famous thinkers and revolutionaries. Some prominent sculptors working in this direction included N.A. Andreev, L.V. Sherwood, V.I. Mukhina, and many others. One particularly important work of this period was the sculptural composition "Worker and Collective Farm Girl" by V. Mukhina, which became a definitive emblem of the USSR. Today it can be seen in Moscow, near VDNH.

In architecture, constructivism became the defining new direction of Soviet architecture. Constructivists such as the brothers Vesnina, M.Ya. Ginzburg, P.A. Pogosov, and others, in continuing the traditions of Russian modernism, believed in creating work of good artistic quality that also had productive and socially useful qualities; their creations ranged from factory kitchens to houses of culture.

During the first half of the 1920s, plans were laid for the development of major cities - Moscow, Leningrad, Baku, Yerevan, and others. Under the leadership of architects I.V. Zholtovsky and A.V. Shchusev, a plan to restore and rebuild Moscow was launched during the same years; in 1935, architectural leadership transferred to V.N. Semenova and S.E. Chernyshova. These activities, which also included the development of new regions and the creation of new highways, continued and built upon the historical radial-ringed structure of the city.

During this period in Moscow, the construction of the stone mausoleum by A. Shusev was completed. The House of the Council of Ministers of the USSR was constructed (now the State Duma of the Russian Federation), as was the Hotel Moskva. The construction of the Moscow Metro also began. In 1935 the first line was released, which included 13 stations. Trains ran from "Sokolniki" to "Park of Culture" and "Sokolniki" to "Smolenskaya".

A new type of active leisure also appeared - parks of culture and recreation. In 1928, the Central Park of Culture and Recreation named for M. Gorky and built by architect K.S. Melnikov, was opened. Not long thereafter, in the 1930s, the "Sokolniki" and "Izmailovo" parks were also opened. But the officially atheist nature of the state and the lack of consideration for historical monuments meant that much was lost in the construction of some of these facilities. The Church of Christ the Savior, the primary Orthodox site of worship in Moscow, was demolished to make way for a public swimming pool, as were some of the architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin.

New theater arts were developed. The first Soviet plays, written in the realist tradition, were staged: "Spring Love" by K.A. Trenev (1926), "Bedbug" and "Banya" by V.V. Mayakovsky (1928-29) along with many others.

S.M. Eisenstein, director of the films "Battleship Potemkin" and "October", laid the foundation for the development of revolutionary themes in art cinematography. By the 1930s, motion pictures with sound were available. Among the well-known filmmakers of the period were the brothers Vasilyev (known particularly for the film "Chapaev"). The genre of musical comedy appeared: first, the films of G. Aleksandrov - "Volga-Volga", "Circus", and "Funny Children". Films on traditional historical themes were also produced: Eisenstein's "Aleksandr Nevsky", V. Petrova's "Peter the First", and many others.

Musical arts developed greatly in the works of composers S. Prokofiev, A. Khachaturian, and D. Shostakovich. Also important during this period were the authors of popular song, operetta, and film muic - V. Lebedev-Kumach, T. Khrennikov, I. Dunaevsky, and others.

At the same time, under the Stalinist political system, considerable regulation of culture and science was applied by the state. In the early 1930s, in literature, the artistic method of Socialist Realism was established as the only permitted artistic method and called upon to serve the cause of building socialism. Similarly, the Soviet government struggled with the remaining religious organizations, liquidating fully the patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1927, though it was eventually restored in 1943.

During these years, the culture of Russian emigres and their lives and works carried abroad to Europe, America, China, Australia, and even further afield remained an integral part of Russian culture. Many of these emigrants made major contributions to world science, literature, and art. Among them were aircraft designer I.I. Sikorsky; the inventor of television, V.K. Zvorykin; shipbuilder V.I. Yurkevich; Nobel Prize-winning writer I.A. Bunin, and many others. Following the revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) arose, and existed independently until finally rejoining with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007.