History of the Soviet Union (1927–1953)

History of the Soviet Union (1927–1953)

This period of the Soviet Union was dominated by Joseph Stalin, who sought to reshape Soviet society with aggressive economic planning, in particular a sweeping collectivization of agriculture and development of industrial power. He also constructed a massive bureaucracy, which some allege is responsible for millions of deaths as a result of various purges and collectivization efforts. During his time as leader of the USSR, Stalin made frequent use of his secret police, gulags, and nearly unlimited power to reshape Soviet society.

Stalin oversaw his nation's involvement in World War II, ushered in the Cold War, and exported communist ideology around the globe.

World War II, known as "The Great Patriotic War" in the Soviet Union, devastated much of the USSR with about one out of every three World War II deaths being a citizen of the Soviet Union. After World War II, the Soviet Union's armies occupied eastern Europe, where Communist governments came to power into the Soviet bloc, while the United States kept its influence on western Europe where democratic governments were established. The Cold War ensued as the USSR and the United States struggled indirectly for influence around the world.

The Republic's development


At the 15th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in December 1927, Stalin attacked the left by expelling Trotsky and his supporters from the party and then moving against the right by abandoning Lenin's New Economic Policy which had been championed by Nikolai Bukharin and Alexei Ivanovich Rykov. Warning delegates of an impending capitalist encirclement, he insisted that survival and development could only occur by pursuing the rapid development of heavy industry. Stalin remarked that the Soviet Union was "fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries" (the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, etc.), and thus must narrow "this distance in ten years." In a speech foreboding World War II, Stalin declared, "Either we do it or we shall be crushed."

To oversee the radical transformation of the Soviet Union, the party, under Stalin's direction, established "Gosplan" (the State General Planning Commission), a state organization responsible for guiding the socialist economy toward accelerated industrialization. In April 1929 Gosplan released two blunts drafts that began the process that would industrialize the primarily agrarian nation. This 1,700 page report became the basis the First Five-Year Plan for National Economic Construction, or "Piatiletka", calling for the doubling of Soviet capital stock between 1928 and 1933. [Robert C. Tucker, "Stalin in Power" (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990): 96.]

Shifting from Lenin's NEP, the first Five−Year Plan established central planning as the basis of economic decision−making and the stress on rapid heavy industrialization ("see" Economy of the Soviet Union). It began the rapid process of transforming a largely agrarian nation consisting of peasants into an industrial superpower. In effect, the initial goals were laying the foundations for future exponential economic growth.

The new economic system put forward by the first Five−Year plan entailed a complicated series of planning arrangements ("see" Overview of the Soviet economic planning process). The first Five−Year plan focused on the mobilization of natural resources to build up the country's heavy industrial base by increasing output of coal, iron, and other vital resources. Despite the high human cost, this process was largely successful, and caused long−term industrial growth more rapid than any country in history.

Industrialization in practice

The mobilization of resources by state planning augmented the country's industrial base. From 1928 to 1932, pig iron output, necessary for further development of the industrial infrastructure rose from 3.3 million to 6.2 million tons per year. Coal, the integral product fueling modern economies and Stalinist industrialization, successfully rose from 35.4 million to 64 million tons, and output of iron ore rose from 5.7 million to 19 million tons. A number of industrial complexes such as Magnitogorsk and Kuznetsk, the Moscow and Gorky automobile plants, the Urals and Kramatorsk heavy machinery plants, and Kharkov, Stalingrad and Cheliabinsk tractor plants had been built or were under construction.

Based largely on these figures the Soviet government declared that Five Year Industrial Production Plan had been fulfilled by 93.7 percent in only four years, while parts devoted to heavy−industry part were fulfilled by 108%. Stalin in December 1932 declared the plan a success to the Central Committee, since increases in the output of coal and iron would fuel future development.

During the second five−year plan (1933–37), on the basis of the huge investment during the first plan, industry expanded extremely rapidly, and nearly reached the plan. By 1937 coal output was 127 million tons, pig iron 14.5 million tons, and there had been very rapid developments in the armaments industry, as a result of the growing threat from Germany and Japan.

While undoubtedly marking a tremendous leap in industrial capacity, the first Five Year Plan was extremely harsh on industrial workers; quotas were extremely difficult to fulfill, requiring that miners put in 16 to 18−hour workdays. Failure to fulfill the quotas could result in treason charges. Working conditions were poor, even hazardous. By some estimates, 127,000 workers died during the four years (from 1928 to 1932). Due to the allocation of resources for industry along with decreasing productivity since collectivization, a famine occurred. The use of forced labor must also not be overlooked. In the construction of the industrial complexes, inmates of labor camps were used as expendable resources. But conditions improved rapidly during the second plan. Throughout the 1930s, industrialization was combined with a rapid expansion of education at schools and in higher education.

From 1921 until 1954, during the period of state−guided, forced industrialization, it is claimed 3.7 million people were sentenced for alleged counter−revolutionary crimes, including 0.6 million sentenced to death, 2.4 million sentenced to labor camps, and 0.7 million sentenced to expatriation. Other estimates put these figures much higher. Much like with the famines, the evidence supporting these high numbers is disputed by some historians, although this is a minority view. The peak of the repressions was during the great Purge of 1937–8, and it had the effect of greatly slowing down production in 1937.


In November 1928 the Central Committee decided to implement forced collectivization. This marked the end of the NEP, which had allowed peasants to sell their surpluses on the open market. Grain requisitioning intensified and peasants were forced to give up their private plots of land and property, to work for collective farms, and to sell their produce to the state for a low price set by the state itself.Given the goals of the First Five Year Plan, the state sought increased political control of agriculture, hoping to feed the rapidly growing urban areas and to export grain, a source of foreign currency needed to import technologies necessary for heavy−industrialization.

By 1936 about 90% of Soviet agriculture was collectivized. In many cases peasants bitterly opposed this process and often slaughtered their animals rather than give them to collective farms. Kulaks, prosperous peasants, were forcibly resettled to Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Russian Far North (a large portion of the kulaks served at forced labor camps). However, just about anyone opposing collectivization was deemed a "kulak." The policy of liquidation of kulaks as a class, formulated by Stalin at the end of 1929, meant some executions, and much greater deportation to special settlements and sometimes to forced labor camps.

Despite the expectations, collectivization led to a catastrophic drop in farming productivity, which did not regain the NEP level until 1940. The upheaval associated with collectivization was particularly severe in Ukraine, and the heavily Ukrainian adjoining Volga regions, a fact which has led many Ukrainian scholars to argue that there was a deliberate policy of starving the Ukrainians (see Holodomor for more information). The number of people who died in the famines is estimated at between three and ten million in Ukraine alone, not counting the adjoining regions. The best estimate is that in the whole USSR there were 5–6 million excess deaths. Soviet sources vary between denying the existence of the famine and estimating much smaller numbers of dead. The actual number of casualties is bitterly disputed to this day. In 1975, Abramov and Kocharli estimated that 265,800 kulak families were sent to the Gulag in 1930. In 1979, Roy Medvedev used Abramov's and Kocharli's estimate to calculate that 2.5 million peasants were exiled between 1930 and 1931, but he suspected that he underestimated the total number. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union huge numbers of archival files have been opened, and it is possible to make reasonably accurate estimates.

In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the collectivization of agriculture was started in 1948. By terror, killings and deportations, most peasants were collectivized by 1952. Agricultural production fell dramatically to the level of Soviet agriculture in the other Soviet Republics. [ [http://www.xxiamzius.lt/archyvas/xxiamzius/20030124/istdab_01.html lt icon Kazys Blaževičius. "Antanas Sniečkus. Kas jis?". XXI amžius, No. 7 (1111), 2003] ]

Changes in Soviet society

Stalin's industrial policies largely improved living standards for the majority of the population, although the debated mortality levels resulting from Stalinist policies taints the Soviet record.

Employment, for instance, rose greatly; 3.9 million per year was expected by 1923, but the number was actually an astounding 6.4 million. By 1937, the number rose yet again, to about 7.9 million, and in 1940 it was 8.3 million. Between 1926 and 1930, the urban population increased by 30 million. Unemployment had been a problem during the time of the Tsar and even under the NEP, but it was not a major factor after the implementation of Stalin's industrialization program. The mobilization of resources to industrialize the agrarian society created a need for labor, meaning that the unemployment went virtually to zero. Unemployment was also achieved by fixing wages, which dropped in real terms by 50% from 1928 to 1940, thus making it financially viable for the state to employ so many workers. Several ambitious projects were begun, and they supplied raw materials not only for military weapons but also for consumer goods.

The Moscow and Gorky automobile plants produced automobiles that the public could utilize, although not necessarily afford, and the expansion of heavy plant and steel production made production of a greater number of cars possible. Car and truck production, for example, reached 200,000 in 1931. [Tucker, 1990: 96]

Because the industrial workers needed to be educated, the number of schools increased. In 1927, 7.9 million students attended 118,558 schools. This number rose to 9.7 million students and 166,275 schools by 1933. In addition, 900 specialist departments and 566 institutions were built and functioning by 1933. [Tucker, 1990: 228.]

The Soviet people also benefited from a type of social liberalization. Women were to be given an adequate, equal education, and legally had equal rights in employment. In practice, these goals were not reached, but the efforts to achieve them and the statement of theoretical equality led to improvements in socio−economic status for women. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which was a vast improvement over the health care system under the Tsars. Life expectancy increased. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people universal access to health care and education. Widespread immunization programs created the first generation free from the fear of typhus, cholera, and malaria. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record−low numbers, increasing life spans by decades.

Urban Soviet women under Stalin were also the first generation of women able to give birth in a hospital with access to prenatal care. Education was another area in which there was improvement after economic development. The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first near−universally literate generation. Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract. Transport links were also improved, as many new railways were built, although of course with forced labour, costing thousands of lives. Workers who exceeded their quotas, "Stakhanovites", received many incentives for their work, although many such workers were in fact "arranged" to succeed by receiving extreme help in their work, and then their achievements were used for propaganda.

The Great Purges

As this process unfolded, Stalin consolidated near−absolute power using the 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov (which many suspect Stalin of having planned) as a pretext to launch the Great Purges against his suspected political and ideological opponents, most notably the old cadres and the rank and file of the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky had already been expelled from the party in 1927, exiled to Kazakhstan in 1928 and then expelled from the USSR entirely in 1929. Stalin used the purges to politically and physically destroy his other formal rivals (and former allies) accusing Zinoviev and Kamenev of being behind Kirov's assassination and planning to overthrow Stalin. Ultimately, those supposedly involved in this and other conspiracies numbered in the tens of thousands with various Old Bolsheviks and senior party members blamed with conspiracy and sabotage which were used to explain industrial accidents, production shortfalls and other failures of Stalin's regime. Measures used against opposition and suspected opposition ranged from imprisonment in work camps (Gulags) to execution to assassination (of Trotsky's son Lev Sedov and likely of Sergei Kirov — Trotsky himself was to die at the hands of one of Stalin's assassins in 1940).The period between 1936–37 is often called the "Great Terror", with thousands of people (even merely suspected of opposing Stalin's regime) being killed or imprisoned. Stalin is reputed to have personally signed lists containing the names of about 40,000 persons who were to be sentenced to death.

During this period, the practice of mass arrest, torture, and imprisonment or execution without trial, of anyone suspected by the secret police of opposing Stalin's regime became commonplace. By the NKVD's own count, 681,692 people were shot during 1937–38 alone (although many historians think that this was an undercount), and hundreds of thousands of political prisoners were transported to Gulag work camps.

Several show trials were held in Moscow, to serve as examples for the trials that local courts were expected to carry out elsewhere in the country. There were four key trials from 1936 to 1938, The Trial of the Sixteen was the first (December 1936); then the Trial of the Seventeen (January 1937); then the trial of Red Army generals, including Marshal Tukhachevsky (June 1937); and finally the Trial of the Twenty One (including Bukharin) in March 1938. "See also: Moscow Trials"

In spite of the Stalin's seemingly progressive constitution, enacted in 1936, the party's power was in reality subordinated by the secret police, the mechanism whereby Stalin secured his dictatorship through state terror.

Foreign relations before 1941

Franco−Soviet relations were initially hostile because the USSR officially opposed the World War I peace settlement of 1919 that France emphatically championed. While the Soviet Union was interested in regaining lost territories in Eastern Europe, France was determined to protect the fledgling nations there. This led to a rosy German−Soviet relationship in the 1920s. However, Adolf Hitler's foreign policy centered on a massive seizure of Eastern European and Russian lands for Germany's own ends, and when Hitler pulled out of the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1933, the threat hit home. Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov reversed Soviet policy regarding the Paris Peace Settlement, leading to a Franco−Soviet rapprochement. In May 1935, the USSR concluded pacts of mutual assistance with France and Czechoslovakia; the Comintern was also instructed to form a united front with leftist parties against the forces of Fascism. The pact was undermined, however, by strong ideological hostility to the Soviet Union and the Comintern's new front in France, Poland's refusal to permit the Red Army on its soil, France's defensive military strategy, and a continuing Soviet interest in patching up relations with Germany.

The Soviet Union also furnished military aid to the Republicans in Spain, but held back somewhat, possibly out of a desire to prolong the war and distract foreign attention from unflattering conditions inside the Soviet Union. Its support of the government also gave the Republicans a Communist taint in the eyes of anti−Bolsheviks in the UK and France, weakening the clamour for Anglo−French intervention in the war.

In response to all of this the Nazi government promulgated an Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and later Italy and various Eastern European countries (such as Hungary), ostensibly to suppress Communist activity but more realistically to forge an alliance against the USSR.

When Nazi Germany entered Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union's agreement with Czechoslovakia failed to amount to anything because of Poland and Romania's refusals to permit a Soviet intervention. On April 17, 1939, Stalin both suggested a revived military alliance with the UK and France and dispatched ambassadors to Berlin to negotiate with the Nazis. He was probably unsure which side was safest to join and was willing to test both of them. The Anglo−French military mission sent in August, however, failed to impress Soviet officials; it was sent by a slow ocean−going ship and consisted of low−ranking officers who gave only vague details about their militaries. Stalin favoured Germany.

Stalin arranged the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non−aggression pact with Nazi Germany on August 23, along with the German-Soviet Commercial Agreement to open economic relations. A secret appendix to the pact gave Eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland to the USSR, and Western Poland and Lithuania to Nazi Germany. This reflected the Soviet desire to wield influence over Eastern Europe and bolster its defences for possible Nazi aggression. Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1; the USSR followed on September 17. The Soviets quelled opposition by executions and by arresting thousands. They sent hundreds of thousands (estimates vary) to Siberia and other remote parts of the USSR in four major waves of deportations between 1939 and 1941. (see "Soviet invasion of Poland (1939)")

With Poland being divided between two powers, the Soviet Union put forth its territorial demands to Finland for a minor part of the Karelian Isthmus, a naval base at Hanko (Hangö) peninsula and some islands in the Gulf of Finland. Finland rejected the demands and on November 30, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, thus triggering the Winter War. Despite outnumbering Finnish troops by over 2.5:1, the war proved embarrassingly difficult for the Red Army, although it concluded with the Soviet annexation of strategically important border areas, particularly those to the immediate north of Leningrad. The war triggered an international outcry and on December 14 the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations.

In 1940 USSR occupied and annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. On June 14, 1941 USSR performed first mass deportations from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. ("see Occupation of Baltic Republics")

On June 26, 1940 the Soviet government issued an ultimatum to the Romanian minister in Moscow, demanding Romania immediately cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Italy and Germany, which needed a stable Romania and access to its oil fields urged King Carol II to do so. Under duress, with no prospect of aid from France or Britain, Carol complied. On June 28, Soviet troops crossed the Dniester and occupied Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, and the Herta region. [Charles King. The Moldovans. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 2000. ISBN 0-8179-9792-X.] ("see Soviet occupation of Bessarabia").

The Great Patriotic War

On June 22, 1941, Hitler abruptly broke the non−aggression pact and invaded the Soviet Union.

Using his contacts within the German Nazi party, NKVD spy Richard Sorge was able to discover the exact date and time of the planned German invasion of the Soviet Union. This information was passed along to Stalin, but went ignored, despite warning from not only Sorge, but Winston Churchill and other sources as well. And so, the Nazi invasion caught the Soviet military unprepared. In the larger sense, Stalin expected invasion but not so soon.David E. Murphy, "What Stalin Knew: the enigma of Barbarossa", Yale: 2005, ISBN 0300107803] The Army had been decimated by the Purges; time was needed for a recovery of competence. In the immediate sense, Stalin, although receiving a specific and accurate warnings of when the invasion would occur, simply refused to believe it would happen. As such, mobilization did not occur and the Soviet Army was unprepared in that tactical sense, when the invasion occurred.

It is said that Stalin at first refused to believe Nazi Germany had broken the treaty. However, new evidence shows Stalin held meetings with a variety of senior Soviet government and military figures, including Vyacheslav Molotov (People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs), Semyon Timoshenko (People's Commissar for Defense), Georgy Zhukov (Chief of Staff of the Red Army), Nikolai Kuznetsov (Commander of both North Caucasus and Baltic Military Districts), and Boris Shaposhnikov (Deputy People's Commissar for Defense). All in all, on the very first day of the attack, Stalin held meetings with over 15 individual members of the Soviet government and military apparatus. Other sources, however (Zhukov in his memoirs), report that for the first three days after the invasion, Stalin locked himself into his chambers and simply could not be reached in any way. Stalin emerged on the third day and then resumed his position.

Nazi German troops reached the outskirts of Moscow in December 1941, but failed to capture it, because the forces reaching Moscow were late and under−strength. At the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–43, after losing an estimated 1 million men in the bloodiest fighting in history, the Red Army was able to regain the initiative of the war. Due to the unwillingness of the Japanese to open a second front in Manchuria, the Soviets were able to call dozens of Red Army divisions back from eastern Russia. These units were instrumental in turning the tide, because most of their officer corps had escaped Stalin's purges. The Soviet forces soon launched massive counter attacks along the entire German line. By 1944, the Germans had been pushed out of the Soviet Union onto the banks of the Vistula River, just east of Prussia. With Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov attacking from Prussia, and Marshal Konev slicing Germany in half from the south the fate of Nazi Germany was sealed. On May 2, 1945 the last German troops surrendered to the overjoyed Soviet troops in Berlin.

Wartime developments

From the end of 1944 to 1949 large sections of eastern Germany came under the Soviet Union's occupation and on 2 May 1945, the capital city Berlin was taken, while over fifteen million Germans were removed from eastern Germany and pushed into central Germany (later called GDR German Democratic Republic) and western Germany (later called FRG Federal Republic of Germany). Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czech etc. were then moved onto German land.

The Soviets bore the brunt of World War II because the West did not open up a second ground front in Europe until the invasion of Italy and the Battle of Normandy. Approximately 28 million Soviets, among them 20 million civilians, were killed in "Operation Barbarossa," the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany. Civilians were rounded up and burned or shot in many cities conquered by the Nazis. Many feel that since the Slavs were considered "sub−human," this was ethnically targeted mass murder. However, the retreating Soviet army was ordered to pursue a 'scorched earth' policy whereby retreating Soviet troops were ordered to destroy civilian infrastructure and food supplies so that the Nazi German troops could not use them.

The total number of Soviet civilian and military World War II casualties remains uncertain. Stalin's original declaration in March 1946 that there were 7 million war dead was revised in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev with a round number of 20 million. In the late 1980's, demographers in the State Statistics Committee (Goskomstat) took another look using demographic methods and came up with an estimate of 26–27 million. A variety of other estimates have been made. [The figures reported in this paragraph are as summarized in Michael Ellman and S. Maksudov, "Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War: A Note," "Europe−Asia Studies" 46, No. 4 (1994): 671–80.] In most detailed estimates roughly two−thirds of the estimated deaths were civilian losses. However, the breakdown of war losses by nationality is less well known. One study, relying on indirect evidence from the 1959 population census, found that while in terms of the aggregate human losses the major Slavic groups suffered most, the largest losses relative to population size were incurred by minority nationalities mainly from European Russia, among groups from which men were mustered to the front in "nationality battalions" and appear to have suffered disproportionately. [Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver, "Demographic Consequences of World War II on the Non−Russian Nationalities of the USSR," in Susan J. Linz, Ed., "The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union" (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985).]

As mentioned, the Soviets bore the heaviest casualties of the major combatants in World War II. After the war, the Soviet Union occupied and dominated Eastern Europe, in line with Soviet Communist ideology, which perceived a fundamental, violent struggle between the Proletariat and Bourgeoisie.

Stalin was determined to punish those peoples he saw as collaborating with Germany during the war and to deal with the problem of nationalism, which would tend to pull the Soviet Union apart. Millions of Poles, Latvians, Georgians, Ukrainians and other ethnic minorities were deported to Gulags in Siberia. (Previously, following the 1939 annexation of eastern Poland, thousands of Polish Army officers, including reservists, had been executed in the spring of 1940, in what came to be known as the Katyn massacre.) In addition, in 1941, 1943 and 1944 several whole nationalities had been deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia, including, among others, the Volga Germans, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetian Turks. Though these groups were later politically "rehabilitated," some were never given back their former autonomous regions. [Robert Conquest, "The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities" (London: MacMillan, 1970. ISBN 0-333-10575-3).] S. Enders Wimbush and Ronald Wixman, "The Meskhetian Turks: A New Voice in Central Asia," "Canadian Slavonic Papers" 27, Nos. 2 and 3 (Summer and Fall, 1975): 320–40.] Alexander Nekrich, "The Punished Peoples: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War" (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978. ISBN 0-393-00068-0).] Population transfer in the Soviet Union, Wikipædia.]

Stalin also had all Russian soldiers taken captive by Germany sent to isolated work camps in Siberia. This was done to minimize any perceived counter−revolutionary ideas they might have been exposed to while in captivity.

At the same time, in a famous Victory Day toast in May 1945, Stalin extoled the role of the Russian people above all in the defeat of the fascists: "I would like to raise a toast to the health of our Soviet people and, before all, the Russian people. I drink, before all, to the health of the Russian people, because in this war they earned general recognition as the leading force of the Soviet Union among all the nationalities of our country.… And this trust of the Russian people in the Soviet Government was the decisive strength, which secured the historic victory over the enemy of humanity – over fascism.…" [For the complete text of the toast, see the article on Russification.]

World War II resulted in enormous destruction of infrastructure and populations throughout Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, with almost no country left unscathed. The Soviet Union was especially scathed due to the mass destruction of the industrial base that it had built up in the 1930s. The USSR also experienced a major famine in 1946–48 due to Stalin's agricultural policy that cost an estimated 1 to 1.5 million lives as well as secondary population losses due to reduced fertility. [According to Ellman, although the 1946 drought was severe, government mismanagement of its grain reserves largely accounted for the population losses. Michael Ellman, "The 1947 Soviet Famine and the Entitlement Approach to Famines," "Cambridge Journal of Economics" 24 (2000): 603–30.] However, the Soviet Union recovered its production capabilities and overcame pre−war capabilities, becoming the country with the most powerful land army in history by the end of the war, and having the most powerful military production capabilities.

War and Stalinist industrial−military development

Although the Soviet Union received aid and weapons from the United States under the lend-lease program, the Soviet production of war materials was greater than that of Nazi Germany because of rapid growth of Soviet industrial production during the interwar years (additional supplies from lend−lease accounted for about 10–12% of the Soviet Union's own industrial output). The Second Five Year Plan raised steel production to 18 million tons and coal to 128 million tons. Before it was interrupted, the Third Five Year Plan produced no less than 19 million tons of steel and 150 million tons of coal.

The Soviet Union's industrial output provided an armaments industry which supported their army, helping it resist the Nazi military offensive. According to Robert L. Hutchings, "One can hardly doubt that if there had been a slower buildup of industry, the attack would have been successful and world history would have evolved quite differently." For the laborers involved in industry, however, life was difficult. Workers were encouraged to fulfill and overachieve quotas through propaganda, such as the Stakhanovite movement. Between 1933 and 1945, some argue that seven million civilians died because of the demanding labor. Between 1930 and 1940, 6 million were put through the forced labor system.

Some historians, however, interpret the lack of preparedness of the Soviet Union to defend itself as a flaw in Stalin's economic planning. David Shearer, for example, argues that there was "a command−administrative economy" but it was not "a planned one." He argues that the Soviet Union suffered from the policies of a chaotic Politburo due to the Great Purges, and was completely unprepared for the Nazi German invasion. Economist Holland Hunter, in addition, argues in his "Overambitious First Soviet Five−Year Plan", that an array "of alternative paths were available, evolving out of the situation existing at the end of the 1920s… that could have been as good as those achieved by, say, 1936 yet with far less turbulence, waste, destruction and sacrifice."

The Cold War

oviet hegemony over Eastern Europe

In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union extended its political and military influence over Eastern Europe, in a move that was seen by some as a continuation of the older policies of the Russian Empire. Some territories that had been lost by Soviet Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) were annexed by the Soviet Union after WWII: the Baltic States and eastern portions of interwar Poland. The Russian SFSR also gained the northern half of East Prussia (Kaliningrad Oblast) from Germany. The Ukrainian SSR gained Transcarpathia (as Zakarpattia Oblast) from Slovakia, and Ukrainian populated Northern Bukovina (as Chernivtsi Oblast) from Romania. Finally, in the late 1940s, pro−Soviet Communist Parties won the elections in five countries of Central and Eastern Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) and subsequently became Stalinist dictatorships. These elections are generally regarded as rigged, and the Western powers did not recognize the elections as legitimate. For the duration of the Cold War, the countries of Eastern Europe became Soviet satellite states — they were "independent" nations, which were one-party Communist States whose General Secretary had to be approved by the Kremlin, and so their governments usually kept their policy in line with the wishes of the Soviet Union, although nationalistic forces and pressures within the satellite states played a part in causing some deviation from strict Soviet rule.

The tenor of Soviet−U.S. relations

The wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union was an aberration from the normal tenor of Russian−U.S. relations. Strategic rivalry between the huge, sprawling nations goes back to the 1890s when, after a century of friendship, Americans and Russians became rivals over the development of Manchuria. Tsarist Russia, unable to compete industrially, sought to close off and colonize parts of East Asia, while Americans demanded open competition for markets.

In 1917 the rivalry turned intensely ideological. Americans never forgot that the Soviet government negotiated a separate peace with Germany in the First World War in 1917, leaving the Western Allies to fight the Central Powers alone. Lasting Russian mistrust stemmed from the landing of U.S. troops in Soviet Russia in 1918, which became involved, directly and indirectly, in assisting the anti−Bolshevik Whites in the civil war.

In addition, the Soviets never forgot their requests that the United States and Britain open a second front on the European continent; but the Allied invasion did not occur until June 1944, more than two years after the Soviets had demanded it. In the meantime, the Russians suffered horrendous casualties, as high as twenty million dead, and the Soviets were forced to withstand the brunt of German strength. The allies claimed that a second front had been opened in 1943 in Italy and were not prepared to immediately assault Nazi−occupied France.

The breakdown of postwar peace

When the war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, Soviet and Western (US, British, and French) troops were essentially facing each other along a line down the center of Europe ranging from Lubeck to Triest. Aside from a few minor adjustments, this would be the "iron curtain" of the Cold War. In hindsight, Yalta signified the agreement of both sides that they could stay there and that neither side would use force to push the other out. This tacit accord applied to Asia as well, as evinced by U.S. occupation of Japan and the division of Korea. Politically, therefore, Yalta was an agreement on the postwar status quo in which Soviet Union hegemony reigned over about one third and the Allies over two thirds.

The Soviets were able to use a well organized ring of spies in the United States, to gain critical advantages during meetings with representatives of Britain and the United States. Several of FDR’s advisors and cabinet members regularly reported their activities to NKVD handlers.Verify source|date=August 2007

There were fundamental contrasts between the visions of the United States and the Soviet Union, between capitalism and socialism. And those contrasts had been simplified and refined in national ideologies to represent two ways of life, each vindicated in 1945 by previous disasters. Conflicting models of autarky versus exports, of state planning against free enterprise, of control or individual freedom, of the use of violence and repression by the State vs institutionalised justice, were to vie for the allegiance of the developing and developed world in the postwar years.

Even so, however, the Cold War was not obviously inevitable in 1945. Despite the wherewithal of the United States to advance a different vision of postwar Europe, Stalin viewed the reemergence of Germany and Japan as Russia's chief threats, not the United States. At the time, the prospects of an Anglo−American front against the USSR seemed slim from Stalin's standpoint. Economic advisers such as Eugen Varga reinforced this view, predicting a postwar crisis of overproduction in capitalist countries which would culminate by 1947–48 in another great depression. For one, Stalin assumed that the capitalist camp would soon resume its internal rivalry over colonies and trade and not pose a threat to Russia.

Varga's analysis was partly based on trends in U.S. federal expenditures. Due to the war effort mostly, in the first peacetime year of 1946, federal spending still amounted to $62 billion, or 30% of GDP, up from 3% of GDP in 1929, before the Great Depression, New Deal, and Second World War. Thus, Stalin assumed that the Americans would "need" to look to Russia, to maintain the same level of exports and state expenditures.

However, there would be no postwar crisis of overproduction. And, as Varga anticipated, the U.S. maintained a roughly comparable level of government spending in the postwar era. It was just maintained in a vastly different way. In the end, the postwar U.S. government would look a lot like the wartime government, with the military establishment, along with military-security, accounting for a significant share of federal expenditures.

Two visions of the world

The United States, however, led by President Harry S. Truman since April 1945, was determined to shape the postwar world to America's best interest. He saw the ravaged, war-torn Europe as a place to implant the American system — capitalism, western democracy, constitutional rule — and extend American hegemony throughout the world. The Soviet Union was attempting the same thing, extending its own systems as far as it could reach, and with two opposite empires struggling for hegemony, relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union quickly soured.

World War II resulted in enormous destruction of infrastructure and populations throughout Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, with almost no country left unscathed. The only major industrial power in the world to emerge intact—and even greatly strengthened from an economic perspective—was the United States, which moved swiftly to consolidate its position. As the world's greatest industrial power, and as one of the few nations unravaged by the war, the United States stood to gain more than any other country from opening up a global market for its exports and access to vital raw materials.

The beginning of the Cold War

Truman could advance these principles with an economic powerhouse that produced 50 percent of the world's industrial goods and a vast military power that rested on a monopoly of the new atomic bomb (see also Soviet atomic bomb project). Such a power could mold and benefit from a recovering Europe, which in turn required a healthy Germany at its center; these aims were at the center of what the Soviet Union strove to avoid as the breakdown of the wartime alliance went forward.

The wherewithal of the United States to advance a different vision of the postwar world conflicted with Soviet interests. National security had been the real cornerstone of Soviet policy since the 1920s, when the Communist Party adopted Stalin's "socialism in one country" and rejected Trotsky's ideas of "world revolution." Before the war, Stalin did not attempt to push Soviet boundaries beyond their full Tsarist extent.

In this sense, the aims of the Soviet Union may not have been aggressive expansionism but rather consolidation, i.e. attempting to secure the war−torn country's western borders. Stalin, assuming that Japan and Germany could menace the Soviet Union once again by the 1960s, thus quickly imposed Moscow−dominated governments in the springboards of the Nazi onslaught: Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. Much of the rest of the world, however, viewed these moves as an aggressive attempt to expand Soviet influence and generally viewed the Soviet perception with skepticism.

Disagreements over postwar plans first centered on Eastern and Central Europe. Having lost 20 million dead in the war, suffered German and Nazi German invasion, and suffered tens of millions of casualties due to onslaughts from the West three times in the preceding 150 years, first with Napoleon, the Soviet Union was determined to destroy Germany's capacity for another war by keeping it under tight control. U.S. aims were quite opposed, since they would require a democratic restored Germany as a trade and perhaps military partner.

Winston Churchill, long a visceral anti-Communist, condemned Stalin for cordoning off a new Russian empire with an "iron curtain." Afterwards, Truman finally refused to give the war-torn Soviet Union "reparations" from West Germany's industrial plants, Stalin retaliated by sealing off East Germany as a Communist state.

Russia's historic lack of warm water maritime access, a perennial concern of Russian foreign policy well before the Bolshevik Revolution, was also a focus for Russia, yet another area where interests diverged between East and West. Stalin pressed the Turks for improved access out of the Black Sea through Turkey's Dardanelles Strait, which would allow Soviet passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Churchill had earlier recognized Stalin's claims, but now the British and Americans forced the Soviet Union to pull back.

But when the Soviet leadership did not perceive the country's security was at stake, the policies were more measured: the Soviet Union eventually withdrew from Northern Iran, at Anglo−American behest; Stalin did observe his 1944 agreement with Churchill and did not aid the communists in the struggle against government in Greece; in Finland he accepted a friendly, non−communist government; and Russian troops were withdrawn from Czechoslovakia by the end of 1945. However, a pro-Soviet government seized power in Czechoslovakia three years later.

"Containment" and the Marshall Plan

While the Soviet Union acquiesced to Anglo−American designs to impede Soviet access to the Mediterranean (a perennial focus of British foreign policy since the Crimean War in the 1850s), the United States heated up its rhetoric; what began as Anglo−American efforts to support the Greek government became a struggle to protect the "free" peoples against "totalitarian" regimes. This would be articulated in the Truman Doctrine Speech of March 1947, which declared that the United States would spend as much as $400 million in efforts to "contain" communism.

By successfully aiding Greece, Truman also set a precedent for the U.S. aid to anticommunist regimes worldwide, even authoritarian ones at times. U.S. foreign policy moved into alignment with State Department officer George Kennan's argument that the Soviets had to be "contained" using "unalterable counterforce at every point," until the breakdown of Soviet power occurred.

The United States launched massive economic reconstruction efforts, first in Western Europe and then in Japan (as well as in South Korea and Taiwan). The Marshall Plan began to pump $12 billion into Western Europe. The rationale was that economically stable nations were less likely to fall prey to Soviet influence, a view which was vindicated in the long run.

In response Stalin blockaded Berlin, which was deep within the Soviet zone, although subject to the control of all four major powers. The Soviets cut off all rail and road routes to West Berlin. Convinced that he could starve and freeze West Berlin into submission, no trucks or trains were allowed entry into the city. However, this decision backfired when Truman embarked on a highly visible move that would humiliate the Soviets internationally—supplying the beleaguered city by air. Military confrontation threatened while Truman, with British help, flew supplies over East Germany into West Berlin during the 1948–49 blockade. This costly aerial supplying of West Berlin became known as the Berlin Airlift.

Truman joined eleven other nations in 1949 to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the United States' first "entangling" European alliance in 170 years. Stalin replied to these moves by integrating the economies of Eastern Europe in his version of the Marshall Plan, exploding the first Soviet atomic device in 1949, signing an alliance with Communist China in February 1950, and forming the Warsaw Pact, Eastern Europe's counterpart to NATO.

U.S. officials quickly moved to escalate and expand "containment." In a secret 1950 document, NSC-68, they proposed to strengthen their alliance systems, quadruple defense spending, and embark on an elaborate propaganda campaign to convince Americans to fight this costly cold war. Truman ordered the development of a hydrogen bomb; in early 1950 the U.S. embarked on its first attempt to prop up colonialism in French Indochina in the face of mounting popular, communist−led resistance; and the United States embarked on what the Soviets considered a blatant violation of wartime treaties: plans to form a West German army.

The immediate post−1945 period may have been the historical high point for the popularity of communist ideology. Communist parties won large shares of the vote in free elections in countries such as Belgium, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Finland; and won significant popular support in Asia (Vietnam, India, and Japan) and throughout Latin America. In addition they won large support in China, Greece, and Iran, where free elections remained absent or constrained but where Communist parties enjoyed widespread appeal.

In response, the United States sustained a massive anticommunist ideological offensive. The United States aimed to "contain" communism through both aggressive diplomacy and interventionist policies. In retrospect, this initiative appears largely successful: Washington brandished its role as the leader of the "free world" at least as effectively as the Soviet Union brandished its position as the leader of the "progressive" and "anti−imperialist" camp.

Korean War

In 1950 the Soviet Union protested against the fact that the Chinese seat at the UN Security Council was held by the (Nationalist controlled) Republic of China, and boycotted the meetings. It came to regret this decision when the Korean War started. The UN passed a resolution condemning North Korean actions and offering military support to South Korea. Had the Soviet Union been present at the meetings it would certainly have vetoed the outcome. After this incident the Soviet Union was never absent at the meetings of the Security Council.

ee also

* Soviet calendar

References and Citations

External links

* [http://deweytextsonline.area501.net/ImpressionsOfSovietRussia.htm Impressions of Soviet Russia, by John Dewey]

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