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(CIVIL WAR, LENIN and RISE of STALIN – continued)

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CIVIL WAR, LENIN and RISE of STALIN (10 of 10)

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Stalin becomes the "Great Builder"

With the opposition within the Party crushed, Stalin still had the old Bolshevik Bukharin to worry about – the one Lenin had described as the Party's greatest theoretician. Bukharin had two allies on the newly formed seven-man Politburo, Aleksei Rykov and Mikhail Tomsky, and he believed that he was leading a majority on the Politburo. But two members of the Politburo who appeared to support Bukharin – Voroshilov and Mikhail Kalinin – would come down on the side of Stalin. Stalin had close ties with the secret police, the GPU (formerly the Cheka), and he had a new weapon: the dossier. Kalinin was having an affair with a showgirl who had risen to stardom as his protégé, and Voroshilov was a playboy. Both feared Stalin and were ready to curry favor with him. The seventh member of the Politburo, Vyacheslav Molotov, was also loyal to Stalin.

The Soviet Union needed to import machinery to advance its industry, and to pay for these imports it needed to export. Tsarist Russia had been a great exporter of grain, and the Bolsheviks were hoping to repeat this – to export grain rather than manufactured goods. Grain production was abundant in 1926, but in 1927 production fell some two million tons short of what was needed to meet both export requirements and to feed people in the cities. Part of the problem was a bad government pricing policy. Government price controls were a disincentive against peasants producing. Bukharin's attempts to unleash farmer incentives had not been widely supported. And in January 1928, in response to the grain shortage of 1927, the Politburo returned to its emergency measure: confiscations.

When Stalin visited the countryside and tried to convince farmers to give up their stored grain, one of them shouted ridicule at his being a Georgian and said that if he danced a lezginka maybe they would give him some grain. Stalin returned to Moscow determined to control the farmers. The Party sent 30,000 activists into the countryside, and they collected 2.5 million tons of grain. But the coercion had disastrous results on production. The farmers were fearful of more confiscations and a return to what they remembered of War Communism. With less incentive to produce, another drop in production was in the making.

In the spring of 1928, Bukharin mobilized his supporters against Stalin and others supporting a policy of coercion against farmers, and he talked of sweeping Stalin away. Stalin, meanwhile, had learned of sabotage in factories, and he began denouncing saboteurs – also called "wreckers." In May 1928 a trial began against 53 engineers accused of sabotage. Reporters from abroad attended the trial. Twenty-two of the engineers were found guilty and sentenced to die. But, thanks to the benevolence of the Bolsheviks, only five were actually executed.

Stalin still appeared to be the man of Party unity and amity, while Bukharin and others opposed to Stalin's policy regarding agriculture appeared to be disloyal and disruptive. The GPU gave Stalin reports of Bukharin's visits to Zinoviev and Kamenev – more moves by Bukharin in organizing opposition to Stalin, with Bukharin calling Stalin behind his back an unscrupulous intriguer and a Genghis Khan.

Meanwhile Stalin's struggle against "wreckers" continued. By July, another fall in grain production was apparent. And the nation launched an ambitious five-year program for industrialization, a program for increased production of pig iron, tractors, cars and trucks. And in need of more grain for export as well as food at home, Stalin asked the Party to strike hard against the peasants he called kulaks. What Stalin meant exactly by "kulak" is not clear. In the eyes of Stalin's supporters the kulak was a rich peasant, but by "kulak" Stalin meant any average farmer with maybe two or three cows and up to ten hectares of farming land – a family farmer with perhaps five children.

Stalin was concerned that his policies were increasing the average Soviet citizen's opposition to the Party. Stalin attacked the issue head-on. At the Sixth Soviet Congress, a call was made for open war against Mensheviks (Social Democrats), who were described as spies. In Turkestan, Trotsky was writing and distributing propaganda against Stalin, and, in January 1929, Stalin managed to expel Trotsky from the Soviet Union, Trotsky going first to Turkey.

On the fifth anniversary of Lenin's death, Krupskaya angered Stalin by publishing an article in Pravda about Lenin's non-coercive approach towards the peasants. Stalin intensified his drive for conformity and for war against the "exploiting classes." A Party man was put in charge of each intellectual field of endeavor, with the authority to impose Party conformity on persons in that field. A slogan, "the five-year plan in four!" was pushed across the Soviet Union. The slogan reached kindergartners who marched around their schools waving banners and chanting without knowing what their chant meant.

Stalin announced that the Soviet Union was moving "full steam ahead" to socialism. In cities and towns, people engaging in free enterprise were being driven out of business by confiscatory taxes. Some business people were arrested. Some were tortured in an attempt to learn where they had hidden gold or other valuables that could be used for foreign exchange. Privately owned shops were beginning to disappear. The five-year plan was ending unemployment in the cities, while real wages were falling and food rationing was being reintroduced. The five-year plan was designed for industrial advance rather than for consumers, and the public was told that it would need to sacrifice – in other words work hard and do without all but the barest of necessities.

Taking socialism to the countryside, in some rural areas a program of collectivization of agriculture was begun. An intensive campaign of confiscation against the "kulaks" went into high gear, especially in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. Sporadic armed resistance to confiscations arose. Some with excess grain sold it to poorer peasants at reduced prices, or they sold it to an illegal private trader who smuggled it in parcels on rafts or in carts at night. When angry peasants could not hide or sell their grain they turned their crop into hay, burned it, or threw it into the river. In retaliation against the "class enemy" that summer of 1929, a hundred thousand Party members were sent into the countryside to help with the grain collection. And the government sent an army of perhaps another hundred thousand urbanites against the peasants.

Stalin now moved against Bukharin and his supporters, denouncing them as petite-bourgeois. Politburo member Mikhail Tomsky was charged with being opposed to the new industrialization program, and he was dismissed from his position as head of the trade unions. Rykov was removed from his posts. Bukharin was removed from the Politburo. But, by confessing their errors, Tomsky and Rykov were able to remain on the Politburo.

Many peasants were being forcibly resettled and put under police control, and many were being put into labor camps. The number of labor camp inmates soared in 1929 and continued to rise in 1930, the inmates destined to labor on building projects such as a great canal north of Leningrad.

The Party's struggle intensified its push for conformity. Across the Soviet Union the class enemy was condemned in radio broadcasts, at staff meetings in factories, at universities and in kindergartens. More arrests were made and more trials were staged. More members of Russia's old aristocracy were denied work and evicted from their homes, and some were arrested. By 1930, six labor camps were in existence. The sons and daughters of priests, aristocrats, well-to-do families and all others whose class origins were suspect were barred from universities, and they would find it difficult to find employment.

Having little support in the countryside, Stalin and the Bolsheviks needed all the support they could get from the cities. Urbanites were less hostile to the Bolsheviks than were the Soviet Union's "kulaks." To many of them the Bolshevik campaign against saboteurs was credible. Most of them were not hostile to Bolshevik propaganda and felt no pressure to conform ideologically. Stalin's statues and busts were being put up in town squares and the halls of public buildings. Some towns and cities were now to bear forms of his name: Stalingrad, Stalinabad and Stalinogorsk. So too were schools, factories, military barracks and agricultural collectives. Many in Russia, like masses of people in Italy and Germany, felt need for a leader – the word that in Italian translated into duce and in German translated to führer. Stalin would now be viewed by the public as having organized the Bolshevik Party alongside Lenin, as having led the Bolshevik Revolution and as having victoriously commanded the Red Army. On Stalin's fiftieth birthday, in late December 1929, huge portraits of him hung from buildings. People greeted his appearance with great hurrahs. Stalin was adulated in speeches, and described in the Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda, as "deeper than the ocean, higher than the Himalayas, brighter than the sun" and as "the teacher of the universe." Stalin had become the Great Leader of the Soviet Union and its revolution, recognized at home and abroad by people who applied a "class analysis" to events and remained hopeful that the Soviet Union was leading the way to socialism.

Of the seven politburo members at the time of Lenin's death, only Stalin would survive past 1940 – the year that Trotsky would be murdered by a Stalinist agent. All the others would be shot, except for one, Tomsky, the only genuine worker among them, who committed suicide.

Sources

Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2007

Rethinking the Soviet Experience, by Stephen F. Cohen, Oxford Press, 1985

Stalin, by Edvard Radzinsky, Doubleday, 1996

The Young Stalin, by Edward Ellis Smith, 1967

Memoirs of a Revolutionary, by Victor Serge, 1963

The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, by Bertrand Russell, 1920

Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.