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Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History

National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera

In the late 19th century Russia was a troubled country, ripe for revolution. Please, explain, why: an essay
of no less than 300 words, no less than 3 points.
Revolutions are usually portrayed as brief periods of rapid change. However, revolutionary movements are not
formed overnight, and are by no means sudden or unexpected. Regardless of their success, every revolution has
numerous preconditions to be met, and the Russian Empire was no exception. For clarity's sake, however, I will
summarize it to 3 major contributing factors: Disillusionment spanning different socioeconomic classes, failure to
undertake far-reaching reforms, and offers of a better future from revolutionary movements.
Revolutions are usually portrayed as brief periods of rapid change. However, revolutionary movements are not
formed overnight, and are by no means sudden or unexpected. Regardless of their success, every revolution has
numerous preconditions to be met, and the Russian Empire was no exception. For clarity's sake, however, I will
summarize it to 3 major contributing factors: Disillusionment spanning different socioeconomic classes, failure to
undertake far-reaching reforms, and offers of a better future from revolutionary movements.
It is well-known that most Russians before the Soviet era lived in utter poverty as poor peasants, whilst a minority
comprising the ruling class enjoyed extravagant lifestyles at their expense. It is not illogical then, to deduce that
revolution was a result of the widespread discontent of the peasants. To do so, however, would be too simplistic.
Most Russians (and in fact, the world population) had been living in utter poverty long before the 19th century
whilst their rulers lived in luxury. In fact, life as a serf was arguably worse than that of free peasants or the proletariat
formed following the 1861 abolition of serfdom. Why did they not revolt earlier?
A repressive and backward society can remain stable even in the face of widespread discontent. The Eastern Bloc
during the Cold War (particularly the case of East Germany) effectively substantiates this point. The tipping point
is only reached, when socioeconomic classes which traditionally support the establishment (namely the military,
aristocracy, and middle classes) stop doing so. For the late Russian Empire, the abolition of serfdom effectively
destroyed the old means of livelihood a significant proportion of the aristocracy, leading them to withdraw their
support for the imperial government. Whilst the middle classes benefitted from having a reserve army of proletariat,
they were unlikely to have backed a conservative imperial government which limited their room for expansion.
Given that rapid capitalist expansion only took off following the Revolutions of 1848, it was plausible that the
middle classes would have preferred the same to happen in Russia. Discontent had spread to the traditional pillars
of imperial support, setting a key precondition for revolution.
While failing to exact significant political change, the 1848 revolutionary waves which swept Europe brought
dramatic social and economic reforms, most notably the end of serfdom and for some countries, a heightened sense
of national identity. The same could not be said for the Russian Empire. While feudalism was officially abolished,
most serfs effectively owe a lifetime of debt to the state and needed to continue farming. Hopes of meaningful
reforms were dashed when Alexander III ascended the throne in 1881, reviving the maxim of "Orthodoxy,
Autocracy, and Nationality". Alexander III believed Western culture to be detrimental to Russian society, refusing
to adopt their modernization techniques and causing Russia to remain backward. This led many disillusioned
intellectuals (traditionally supporters of the imperial state) to turn to revolutionary ideals.

Lenin once famously remarked, "There can be no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory." The
Narodnik (literally translated as populism) movement, while failing to gain much support from the peasantry, would
help form the ideological bedrock for the ensuing revolutionary socialist movement. In particular, the vision of
agrarian land redistribution originating from the Narodniks would form the basis of popular support for the Socialist
Revolutionary Party, while the view that Russia could bypass capitalism into the socialist stage of development was
adopted by the Bolshevik Party under Lenin. Without a blueprint of a better society, revolutionary movements were
likely to falter - as it did in the 1905 Russian Revolution.
John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, had once remarked of the Eastern Bloc, "Those who
make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable". Certainly, the inability to quickly
undertake far-reaching reforms are a key prerequisite of almost any revolution in modern history. But it can only be

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera

so if the revolutionary movement offers hope for a better future - and manage to convince enough of the
intelligentsia to abandon the old order, to forge the new society ahead.

In your view, was the Bolshevik seizure of power an illegitimate and unjustified coup or was it an illegal
but justified act because the majority of the population supported the Bolsheviks’ radicalism? An essay of
no less than 300 words, no less than 3 points.
Was the October Revolution a coup d’etat, or a genuine popular uprising? Western historians typically argue that it
lacked popular support from the populace, and was dominated with force from the Bolshevik Party. Soviet
historians hold the opposite view, claiming that the move enjoyed widespread popularity, just that the Bolsheviks
played the role of the vanguard party in leading the revolution. The Western view will be discussed first, followed
by the Soviet one.
Western historians often point to the 1917 Russian Constituent Assembly elections as evidence that the Bolsheviks
lacked popular support. In the election, the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) Party won 40.4% of all votes, awarding
them with 380 out of 703 seats – a decisive majority, as opposed to 24.0% of all votes and 168 seats for the
Bolsheviks. That the Bolsheviks went on to establish a single-party soviet republic irrespective of the election results
was viewed as an illegitimate coup d’etat.
However, these numbers masked huge regional or occupational disparities of support for both parties. The
Bolsheviks were wildly popular amongst urban workers and soldiers who grew increasingly weary of the war, by
promising “Land, Peace and Bread”. In predominantly military regions, the Bolsheviks won 62.6% of the vote in
the Baltic fleet and 66.9% in the Western Front. In major cities, 86.5% of industrial workers voted for the
Bolsheviks. This shows that the October uprising, though technically illegal, enjoyed vast popularity and could not
be simply reduced to pure scheming on the part of the Bolsheviks.
Additionally, the “Dual Power” nature of the Russian Republic was often neglected when discussing Bolshevik
legitimacy. Though Bolsheviks may not have won the Constituent Assembly elections, it should be noted that
political power was by no means exclusive to the Provisional Government. In the brief period following the
February Revolution, the workers’ councils (soviets, of which the Petrograd Soviet was most prominent) coexisted
with and competed for legitimacy with the Provisional Government. These were not Bolshevik innovations to seize
power – they originated following the failed 1905 Revolution, long before the Bolsheviks gained much prominence.
However, the fact the Bolsheviks grew increasingly dominant in these soviets cannot simply be discounted, for it
lends partial legitimacy to the soviet (and hence Bolshevik) seizure of power, which was a movement from below
rather than being dictated from Lenin by force.
In conclusion, while the Bolshevik seizure of power was not exactly legitimate, it cannot be denied that they did, in
fact, enjoy much popular support amongst the soldiers and urban workers. Hence, the October Revolution cannot
be purely a coup d’etat dictated by force – it was very much justified at that time by promising “Land, Peace, and
Bread”, something the Provisional Government was never able to fulfil.

In your view, what were the main reasons for the oppositions in the party? An essay of no less than 300
words, no less than 5 points.
Despite Lenin’s emphasis on party discipline, the Bolsheviks were by no means devoid of intra-party dissent.
Reasons for opposition varied depending on the period in time, and can be broadly categorized into 3 different
phases – between February to October 1917, during the Russian Civil War and after Stalin’s rise to power.
Following the 1917 February Revolution, Lenin returned to Russia to take charge of the Bolshevik Party. Contrary
to conventional Marxist theory where capitalist development must take place before socialism takes root, Lenin
argued that Russia could bypass capitalism and establish socialism directly, provided revolution is quickly exported
to other advanced industrial nations. This view initially shocked many Bolsheviks, but support for it grew alongside

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera

booming popularity of the party. Nonetheless, opposition still existed as late as 10 October in a Bolshevik Central
Committee meeting, less than a month before the October Revolution. Critics of the plan, Zinoviev and Kamenev,
argued that Russian workers would not support a violent coup against the regime and that there was no clear
evidence for Lenin's assertion that all of Europe was on the verge of proletarian revolution. Fortunately for Lenin,
his argument was won with ten votes against two, leading to the successful October Revolution.
During the Civil War, Lenin’s policy of “war communism” proved unpopular to say the least – opposition to
Bolshevik authoritarianism soon surfaced even with the party. Production targets and workforce discipline were
imposed from above, rather than democratically decided by the workers themselves as stipulated by conventional
Marxist theory. Headed by Alexander Shlyapnikov and supported by Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai, the
Workers’ Opposition was formed in 1920 to highlight these grievances. Alongside the Group of Democratic
Centralism (which advocated a return to dictatorship of the proletariat rather than of the party), they were criticized
at the 10th Party Congress for "deviation towards syndicalism and anarchism" and undermining party unity in the
face of major crisis. The Resolution on Party Unity in 1921 banned factions within the party, though Workers’
Opposition did succeed in obtaining concessions and improvements to the living and working conditions of
industrial labourers.
After the Russian Civil War, Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy (NEP), a more market-oriented
environment as opposed to complete nationalisation of industry. Although the state continued to control banks,
foreign trade and large industry, small private enterprises were permitted, and could hire up to 20 workers in urban
areas. Lenin considered the NEP as a strategic retreat from socialism, but justified it as a new form of “state
capitalism” before socialism evolved. Whilst accepted by Stalin and his supporters, Trotsky and the party’s left-wing
believed that the state should repossess all output to invest in capital formation. Regardless of their opposition, their
commitment to democratic centralism within the party allowed the NEP to proceed as planned.
With Lenin’s passing, Stalin ascended to the position of General Secretary, and implemented the theory of Socialism
in One Country put forth by Nikolai Bukharin. It argued that the USSR can achieve socialism independently by
internal development. This lies in stark contrast to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which argues that the
socialist revolution needs to spread to advanced capitalist countries if the USSR was to survive. Despite the official
ban on factions, Trotsky managed to assemble a Left Opposition as a response, setting the stage for formation of
the United Opposition in the years to come which represented intra-party dissent.
However, it should not be taken for granted that opposition within the party after Stalin’s ascent were purely
between him and Trotsky’s supporters. Even when allied with Stalin, Bukharin was a prominent member of the
Right Opposition, which represented the influence of the peasantry as opposed to the international working class
under the Left Opposition. The Right Opposition favoured allowing some peasants and small-scale businessmen to
get richer first, then taxing their surplus to use for economic development. Such ideas did not sit well with Stalin,
which grew increasingly wary of the influence held by kulaks and “NEPmen”, and aimed to force industrialisation
during his First Five Year Plan. Stalin eventually side-lined the Right Opposition after ditching the NEP.
It would be delusional to think that a large organization like the Bolshevik Party was always united and cohesive
throughout. Factions have always existed, be it official or not, though their reasons for existence differ greatly
depending on historical period.

In your view, was Stalin’s method of industrialisation effective? An essay of no less than 300 words, no less
than 5 points.
“Do you want our socialist fatherland to be beaten and to lose its independence? We are 50 or 100 years behind the
advanced countries of the West. We must make good of this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they crush us”
Stalin roused his audience. It was February 1931, halfway through the First Five Year Plan – despite the tremendous
human costs, Stalin’s forceful industrialization eventually paid off, paving the way for the USSR’s superpower status
less than 2 decades later. The process, however, was less than smooth-sailing. Its failures in agriculture and consumer
welfare will be discussed first, followed by its successes.

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera

The dismal state of Soviet agriculture is often cited as a major failure of central planning. Intended to reap economies
of scale, Stalin’s collectivisation policies sought to pool small-scale farms from individual peasant families into larger
collectives called Kolhoz. Stated-owned MTS (Machine Tractor Stations) were shared amongst several Kolhoz to
enhance productivity, while simultaneously justifying the taxes on produce levied by the state and liquidate the
powerful kulak as a social class. Instead of increasing agricultural output by the targeted 130%, grain production
dropped between 10-32% from 1928 to 1932, whilst livestock numbers only recovered to its 1928 level in 1953.
This was the result of both active and passive resistance from the peasants, notwithstanding the numerous
experienced farmers which were killed for resisting collectivisation. The resulting Soviet famine of 1932–33 killed
some 5 to 7 million people, particularly in the major grain-producing areas of Ukraine, Northern Caucasus, Volga
Region, the South Urals, West Siberia, and Kazakhstan.
The struggle to reach the unrealistic 350% growth target in heavy industry meant that consumer goods and light
industry were largely neglected. Shops were empty, clothing became scarce, and food rations were paid alongside
wages rather than being purchasable. Rapid unplanned urbanisation led to severe housing shortages, and several
families squeezing in tiny rooms became commonplace. Labour exploitation was also heightened – real wages in
1932 were only about half the 1928 level.
Despite the widespread inefficiency and shortages, the ascent of heavy industry was undeniable, even after
accounting for the lower quality of goods produced. Between 1928 to 1937 (the space of 2 Five Year Plans),
production of coal and iron increased from 36 to 130 and 3 to 15 million tonnes respectively, whilst electricity
generation grew from 5,000 million to 36,000 million kilowatts. From 1925 to 1938, Soviet economic might more
than doubled – from 32600 to 75964 million 1960 dollars – putting it ahead of every great European power except
for Germany, which grow from 45002 to 77178 million 1960 dollars in the same period. The significance of this
rapid economic growth should not be overstated, for it was the precursor to the USSR’s prominence on the global
stage following World War 2.
The USSR’s massive industrial power was what helped it survive World War 2. The USSR produced 6590 and 24446
tanks and self-propelled guns in 1941 and 1942 respectively, whilst the corresponding figures for Germany were
5200 and 9300. Similar trends were mirrored in aircraft production – 15735 and 25436 Soviet aircraft were
manufactured in 1941 and 1942 respectively, as opposed to 11776 and 15556 in Germany for the same years. In
fact, it would be accurate to say that the USSR won by outproducing the Germans, as the Germans simply could
not destroy Soviet military equipment as quickly as they were produced. This would not have been possible would
Stalin’s forceful industrialization in the first 2 Five Year Plans.
A commonly neglected aspect of Stalin’s forceful industrialization policies was its leaps forward for gender equality.
Whilst more likely borne out of economic necessity (industrial labour shortages were rampant) than adherence to
ideals of socialist equality, the position of women did improve significantly after the onset of the First Five Year
Plan. Whilst women only constituted 28.6% of industrial jobs in 1928, to increased by nearly 50 percent within 7
years, to some 42% in 1935. The work experience gained by women at this stage would be invaluable for the country
during the upcoming World War, as the women were needed to keep the economic engine running while the male
population went to war. This had far-reaching consequences for gender equality even after the World War, pushing
the proportion of female university graduates to 40% in the earlier 1960s – a record unreached anywhere else in the
In conclusion, despite Stalin’s failures in agriculture and consumer goods, his industrialization policies eventually
led the USSR to modernize successfully through its massive industrial and military prowess, and leaps forward in
gender equality. Unfortunately, the USSR never truly “caught up” with the West outside the industrial realm, causing
it to lag behind up till the end of the Cold War.

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera


Would you agree with Molotov or with Vasilevsky on the meaning of Stalin’s Great Terror for the war and
its outcome? An essay of no less than 300 words, no less than 5 points.
Molotov believed that the purges of 1937 helped prevent a “fifth column” of internal enemies during World War
II, and was crucial in the final Soviet victory. In stark contrast, Marshall Vasilevsky thought that the Hitler’s decision
to start the war against the USSR in 1941 was based to a large extent on his assessment of the degree of the
destruction of the Soviet military cadres. While I don’t agree completely with either of their opinions, given the
benefit of hindsight, I believe that Marshal Vasilevsky was more correct than Molotov.
It was indeed true that the USSR contained many internal enemies, which worked actively to undermine the state
whenever it showed signs of vulnerability. Indeed, the great variety Soviet nationalities becoming Nazi collaborators
is a clear testament to this point. Within the Nazi German Ostlegionen ("eastern legions"), there existed the Armenian,
Caucasian Muslim (later divided into the Azerbaijani and North Caucasian), Georgian, Turkestan and Ukrainian
Legions, many of whom were motivated by local independence from central Soviet rule. However, local
independence was not the only reason for external collaboration. Even within Russia, there existed the 1
Kosaken‑Kavallerie‑Division and Russian Liberation Army, which fought for opposition to communist ideology. In
that respect, Molotov was right that a “fifth-column” did exist.
However, it would be inaccurate to say that the 1937 purges helped prevent all these internal enemies from uniting
in the face of fascist aggression. Created to consolidate Stalin’s grip on political power, the purges targeted loyal
party members far more than legitimate enemies of the state. While leaders of the latter may indeed have been
reduced in numbers, the incorporation and coordination of the different Ostlegionen by Nazi military commanders
show that the purges failed to prevent the “fifth column” from uniting, refuting Molotov’s claims of its effectiveness.
It is likely that the purges did way more harm than good. At the pinnacle of Soviet military command, 3 out of 5
marshals and 15 of 16 commanders of the armies were executed, alongside half of all regimental commanders and
all army commissars. Some 35000 soldiers were also discharged. With all the experienced veterans gone, the USSR
was ill-prepared for the upcoming war ahead.
Indeed, the lack of competent military leadership became well-known during the Winter War with Finland. Despite
having double the soldiers, 35 times as many aircraft and about a hundred times as many tanks as Finland (the
comparative numbers are 425,640–760,578 soldiers, 2,514–6,541 tanks and 3,880 aircraft from the USSR versus
250,000–340,000 soldiers, 32 tanks and 114 aircraft from Finland), the USSR could not attain the quick victory they
anticipated. In the 3 months of fighting, the USSR suffered heavy losses of some 321,000–363,000 total casualties,
compared to just 70,000 total casualties on the Finnish side. The poor performance of the Red Army reconfirmed
negative Western opinions of the Soviet military, and quite possibly led Hitler to think that an attack on the Soviet
Union would be successful.
Contrary to Marshal Vasilevsky’s, however, I believe that Nazi Germany would have eventually invaded the USSR,
regardless of whether the 1937 purges took place. Nazism and communism were bitter ideological enemies, the
former based upon superiority of the Aryan race, while the latter strove for equality of all humankind. Political
ideology aside, the conquest of the Western Soviet Union was consistent with Hitler’s policy of lebensraum, where
the Slavic “proto-humans” were to be enslaved by the Aryan Germans, to reap the vast agricultural potential and
natural resources of the conquered lands. War would have broken out eventually, but without the Great Terror it
would likely have taken place far later than 1941, and might not have been anywhere as devastating for the Soviet
It is worth noting that similar developments had taken place in Nazi Germany just 3 years ago in 1934, during the
Night of Long Knives. To consolidate political power, Hitler carried out a series of political extrajudicial executions,
with victims ranging from the left-wing Strasserist faction of the Nazi Party to establishment conservatives and anti-

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera

Nazis. Prominent members of the former include Gregor Strasser and the SA leader Ernst Rohm, while the latter
included Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Bavarian politician Gustav Ritter von Kahr. Unlike Stalin, however,
Hitler understood the importance of military competence, and strove to incorporate the SA under the SS and
German military rather than dismantling it outright. This difference in approach likely proved crucial in maintaining
German military expertise over the USSR, at least in the initial stages of the war.
In conclusion, while Molotov was indeed correct that there existed a “fifth column” which sought to undermine
the Soviet state, he was incorrect to say that the 1937 purges stopped them from uniting in the face of fascist
aggression. Rather, the Great Terror likely proved more harmful than beneficial – the loss of Soviet military expertise
proved pivotal to their humiliation in the Winter War with Finland, and quite possibly catalysed a premature and
devastating invasion of their country by Nazi Germany.

In your view, did the Stalin–Hitler Pact strengthen or weaken the USSR on the eve of war? An essay of no
less than 300 words, no less than 5 points.
Also known as the Nazi–Soviet or the German–Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact
provided a written guarantee of non-belligerence by each party towards the other, and a declared commitment that
neither government would ally itself to, or aid, an enemy of the other party. Though detrimental to its international
reputation, the pact did in fact strengthen the USSR on the eve of war.
Signing the pact meant that the USSR lost quite a few potential allies in their standoff with Nazi Germany. The
mass killings of over 21,000 Polish military personnel, politicians, and officials by the Soviets in Katyn forest
significantly weakened the Polish resistance movement. Similar acts were carried out in the Baltic states – “enemies
of the people” were deported en masse. Estonia alone lost 60,000 citizens, whilst approximately 35,000 Latvians
were deported or killed within the first year, totalling over 130,000 residents across the Baltics. Shockingly, Stalin
also handed back a substantial number of German communists who had taken refuge in the Soviet Union after the
Nazi seizure of power; some of them, arrested during the purges, were taken directly from the Soviet Gulag to a
German concentration camp. Such atrocities could only have benefitted Nazi Germany in their subsequent invasion
of the USSR.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact extended to the economic sphere. Signed in August 1939, the German–Soviet Credit
Agreement was expanded upon in the 1940 German-Soviet Commercial Agreement, where in payment for Soviet
commodities (oil, raw materials and grain), Nazi Germany was to supply its own products (war materiel; machinery
and technologies; raw materials).. Large amounts of raw materials, including over 900,000 tons of oil, 1,600,000 tons
of grain and 140,000 tons of manganese ore, were exported to Germany. The German war effort against the Soviet
Union was ironically supported these very raw materials obtained from the Soviets through the 1940 agreement.
Particularly, the German stocks of rubber and grain would have been insufficient to support the invasion of the
USSR had it not been for Soviet exports. Without Soviet deliveries of these major items, Germany could barely
have attacked the Soviet Union, let alone come close to victory, even with more intense rationing. In this regard,
Stalin effectively shot himself in the foot by signing such an economic agreement.
The pact, however, provided invaluable buffer time for reform and recovery of the Soviet military, severely
weakened by the 1937 purges. The Red Army’s poor performance was glaringly obvious in the Winter War - despite
having double the soldiers, 35 times as many aircraft and about a hundred times as many tanks as Finland, the USSR
suffered heavy losses of some 321,000–363,000 total casualties, compared to just 70,000 total casualties on the
Finnish side. Clearly, the USSR was ill-prepared to face off Nazi Germany in 1939. Hasty reorganization of the
Soviet military command was only possible then, because of mutually nonaggression with Nazi Germany, and helped
alleviate similar strategic failures during the Eastern Front.
Moreover, trade with Nazi Germany was not without its benefits. In the military sphere, the USSR received the
incomplete Admiral Hipper-class naval cruiser Lützow, blueprints of the battleship Bismarck, information on
German naval testing, "complete machinery for a large destroyer", heavy naval guns, naval gear, and samples of
thirty of Germany's latest warplanes, including the Bf 109 fighters, Bf 110 fighters, Ju 88 and Do 215 bombers.

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera

These very technologies quite possibly helped the USSR outproduce the Germans in military equipment – Soviet
production of 6590 tanks and self-propelled guns and 15735 aircraft in 1941 significantly outpaced the
corresponding figures of 5200 and 11776 from Nazi Germany. While this could not be entirely attributed to German
technological expertise gained from the economic agreements, it is likely that the pact played a part in modernizing
the Red Army, which just a year ago was shown to be technologically backward during the Winter War.
From annexing Eastern Poland, the USSR gained an additional 100+ miles of “buffer zone” between Nazi German
frontline and its industrial centres. These were further reinforced by “leasing” military bases from the Baltic states
and stationing 50,000-60,000 Soviet troops there. If not for this additional breathing space, the Nazis would have
captured Moscow and went knocking at the doors of Stalingrad by the end of Operation Barbarossa given their
rapid rate of advancement. Had that happened, the USSR would have been unable to stage their Winter
Counteroffensive by end 1941, and the Nazis would have penetrated deeper into the USSR and destroyed their
industrial centres – which productive capacity was a major contributing factor of their eventual victory.
The very same pact provided assurance, at least in the short term, that the USSR was “safe” from invasion by Nazi
Germany. This allowed the Soviets to focus on neutralizing the threat of fascist Japan early in the war, securing swift
and decisive victories over the Japanese Sixth Army in the Battles of Khalkhin Gol. By avoiding a war on 2 fronts,
the USSR escaped the fate which the Nazis eventually plunged themselves into.
Some Western contemporaries are convinced that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the key catalyst of World War
II. Though it was undoubtedly a major contributing factor, such a claim ignores the fact that it was formed as a last
resort. Until 1939, Poland did all it could to sabotage Soviet efforts to build an anti-Nazi alliance, including a mutual
assistance pact with France in 1934-35. European conservative elites viewed Adolf Hitler a less "evil" than Soviet
Russia - not only were they unwilling to establish any alliances with the Soviet Union, they also poured money into
Nazi Germany's economy, facilitating the rise of the Nazi war machine. Exclusion of the USSR from the 1938
Munich Agreement proved the final straw for Stalin. That Czechoslovakia was not even invited to a conference
determining its sovereignty showed to him that all major European powers were only concerned about their national
interests and could not be trusted. Stalin was likely aware that the Germans would not honour their pact (the Polish-
German Non-Aggression Pact signed in 1934 did nothing to help Poland), but wanted more time to prepare the
USSR for war.
In conclusion, whilst forgoing Polish and Baltic allies against Nazi Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact helped
buy invaluable time and technological expertise to reform and modernize the Red Army, which would have
otherwise been ill-prepared for war. The additional “buffer zone” gained between Nazi German frontlines and
Soviet industrial centres proved crucial in the final Soviet victory, without which Moscow and Stalingrad would have
been conquered during Operation Barbarossa. Even if the pact had not been made, war would have broken out
eventually, as the major European powers failed to uphold international law above their own national interests.

What were the reasons for the beginning of the Cold War? An essay of no less than 300 words, no less than
5 points.
Although the Cold War officially started following World War II, it was a storm which brewed several decades in
the making. While tempting to reduce it to a fundamental ideological conflict between the 2 superpowers, to do so
neglects other contributing factors such the aggressive actions taken by both parties to secure geopolitical influence,

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
National Research University Higher School of Economics on Coursera

and major shifts in power on the global arena. This creates the delusion that the Cold War would have been
completely avoidable had it not been for underlying ideological conflicts, which is simply untrue.
It is undeniable that ideological conflict set the bedrock for the Cold War, nearly 3 decades before it began. Under
Soviet communism, private businesses (aside from small-scale ones) were effectively abolished, the economy
centralized, and the communist party became the only legal governing force in society. The contrast against the
American system could not be starker – a market economy driven by profits, inequality seemingly institutionalized,
but with political freedom for people to choose their own representatives. Lenin’s open declaration of exporting
the revolution worldwide – even setting up the Cominterm to do so – naturally did not sit well with the ruling class
in capitalist societies. The USSR was diplomatically isolated from its birth, fighting against practically every existing
capitalist power during the destructive Russian Civil War. This further strengthened the notion that the USSR was
fighting alone in a hostile capitalist world, setting a strong foundation for numerous conflicts to come.
Stalin’s shift in political ideology hastened the onset of the Cold War quite considerably. Formerly, Stalin adhered
to the theory of Socialism in One Country, arguing that the USSR can achieve socialism independently by internal
development. Stalin’s dissolution of the Cominterm during World War II was a welcome move for his Western
allies, as it seemingly stalled (if only temporarily) the spread of international socialist revolution. Following the war,
however, Stalin seemed to renounce his old ways. Puppet pro-Soviet regimes were established across Eastern
Europe, with show-trials and rigged elections typical of Stalinism. This renewed the fear that the USSR intended to
dominate the world by spreading communist ideology, leading the USA to adopt the Truman Doctrine which was
overtly anti-Soviet and revived old hostilities. Stalin’s revived desire to spread communist ideology was a significant
contributing factor in officially starting the Cold War.
Of course, ideological conflicts led to economic ones. As an advanced capitalist superpower, the USA believed in
the need to help Europe recover from its wartime destruction, as only by doing so can its businesses expand to
overseas markets and reap even greater profits. To achieve this goal, the USA initiated the Marshall Plan as an
economic aid program, with underlying conditions of political and economic freedom. As these values were
incompatible with Stalin’s societal views, Stalin forbade all soviet satellite states from participating in the programme,
establishing the Comecon as a rival economic union. This effectively cut off Eastern Europe as a potential market
for American exports, infuriating their businessmen and industrialists. Given their significant lobbying power, it is
quite conceivable that they would pressurize their politicians to undertake more aggressive actions towards the
USSR in penetrating the Iron Curtain. Such subversive activities served to undermine American-Soviet relations
even further, worsening the Cold War.
While not commonly mentioned, various geostrategic theories may have had considerable influence in stirring a
Cold War of sorts, as they drove nations to assert dominance over areas of strategic importance, commonly centred
on Eastern Europe. Submitted by Halford John Mackinder in 1904, "The Geographical Pivot of History” divided
the Earth's land surface was divisible into the World-Island (comprising the interlinked continents of Europe, Asia,
and Africa), the offshore islands (prominently featuring Britain and Japan) and the outlying islands (the Americas
and Australia). At the centre of the World Island lay the Heartland, occupied by Eastern Europe and the USSR.
Mackinder summarised his theory as: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland
commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world."
Despite sounding just like any other typical textbook theory, Mackinder’s thought had significant influence on
Western powers (Britain and France) which feared world domination by the USSR or Germany should they conquer
the Heartland. Amazingly, it even managed to gain traction inside the USSR, which typically understood influence
in spatial terms (as what Professor Filatova mentioned) and sought to prevent further invasions by securing the
Heartland. Another competing geopolitical concept was put forth by Nicholas John Spykman, which argued that
the Rimland, the strip of coastal land that encircles Eurasia, is more important than the central Asian zone (the so-
called Heartland) for the control of the Eurasian continent. Spykman's vision is at the base of the "containment
politics" put into effect by the United States in its relation/position to the Soviet Union during the post-World War
II period. Such competition for geopolitical influence would have likely resulted in a Cold War of sorts – even if the
USSR was capitalist, vast cultural differences between it and the West would have made for an uneasy peace at best

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and tensions at worst. Given the numerous failed attempts at cooperation prior to World War II, it is difficult to
imagine that the USSR and USA would have remained allies after their common enemy is gone.
Though geopolitical strategies have always existed throughout history to allow great powers to assert their political
or cultural dominance over others, a Cold War could not have existed without the prior concentration of power in
fewer hands. Whilst the old-world order had Britain, France, Germany, USA and the USSR as major powers,
following the Second World War only the last 2 remained, with their power greatly heightened. The reduction of
competitors to share the European ‘pie’ led to an intensifying of conflict which transcends political ideology.
Parallels can be drawn with the Sino-Soviet split in gaining influence over newly independent African or Asian
nations despite both states being constitutionally socialist. Modern Sino-American tensions also illustrate this point
– conflicts are borne less from China being a one-party state, and more for geostrategic or economic reasons.
Conflicts are more pronounced when the parties involved are fewer yet more powerful – that the Cold War existed
was quite plausibly a testament to shifts in power on the global arena, not simply ideological conflicts alone.
Otherwise, it would have immediately followed the October Revolution in 1917 rather than brewing for 3 decades.
In conclusion, whilst incompatibility of capitalist and communist systems and Stalin’s renewed internationalization
of communism played major roles in precipitating the Cold War, it is way too simplistic to reduce the Cold War to
an ideological conflict alone. In their bids to secure geopolitical influence (especially after formulation of various
geostrategies) and the concentration of global power in fewer hands, it is quite conceivable that the Cold War would
have happened regardless whether communism existed – albeit, to a far smaller extent.

Why after the war did Stalin want to return to his pre-war methods of governing the country? An essay of
no less than 300 words, no less than 5 points.
Stalin’s pre-war rule was characterized by widespread terror campaigns, accompanied by forceful industrialization
programmes. Various factors contributed to the revival of such forms of repression after the war, including but not
limited to a heightened cult of personality and wartime rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church,
alongside the need to rebuild the Soviet economy amidst its enlarged territorial influence with the onset of the Cold
As the undisputed dictator of the Soviet Union, Stalin enjoyed considerable power in deciding the policy directions
of the Soviet government. Whilst he could have rightfully been blamed for the excesses of his Five-Year Plans and
Great Purge, he stood to claim considerable credit for leading the USSR to victory in the Great Patriotic War. As
such, his popularity was likely at an all-time high following the final Soviet victory, providing him with considerable
political capital to implement his policy objectives, unpopular as they might be. These will be elaborated on in the
subsequent points.
During World War II, Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support, presenting Russia
as a defender of Christian civilization. He learnt that the church could arouse the people in a way where the party
failed, and that such shows of seeming tolerance helped gain Western sympathies (and consequently, their aid). The
Moscow Theological Academy Seminary, which had been closed since 1918, was re-opened.
Whilst controls on the Russian Orthodox Church were seemingly loosened, the opposite was true for Catholicism
and Judaism, which did not fit into Stalin’s political agenda. Part of the reason for persecuting Catholics were because
of their perceived ties to the anti-communist Vatican, which sided with fascist Italy prior to World War II. Soviet
authorities arrested, deported, and sentenced to forced labor camps in Siberia and elsewhere the church's
metropolitan Josyf Slipyj and nine bishops, as well as hundreds of clergy and leading lay activists. Although centuries
of official antisemitism in the Russian Empire was officially overthrown by the 1917 October Revolution, Stalin
once again revived it following the war, in high-profile purges like the Doctors’ Plot where a group of predominantly
Jewish doctors in Moscow were accused of conspiring to assassinate Soviet leaders. Though it was theorized that
part of Stalin’s antisemitism arose from his personal rivalry with Trotsky (a Jew), a more plausible reason would be
the symbolic restoration of relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which were historically opposed to

Stalin and Stalinism in Russian History
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Of course, heightened Stalinist repression following the war cannot be purely attributed to his reconciliation with
Russian Orthodox leaders, given he had little use for them after the crisis had passed. Certainly, there were more
concrete reasons behind the return of his old ways, and the ensuing economic crisis caused by wartime destruction
played a major role in it. Soviet GDP plunged 34% between 1940 and 1942 alone, and industrial output did not
reach to its 1940 level until the end of the decade. Combined with a poorly-timed drought, agricultural output
dropped drastically – total grain harvest of 39.6 million tons in 1946 was barely 40% of 1940's yield. Parallels can
be drawn with the pre-World War II period, where forceful mobilization was required to bolster economic
production. Faced with such circumstances, it made logical sense for Stalin to revert to his traditional practice of
exploiting low-cost prison labour, inhumane as it may seem.
Fortunately for Stalin, plenty of prisoners are being scheduled for arrival. Successful annexation of Eastern Finland,
Poland and the Baltic states meant that the populace will need be “cleansed” with any residual nationalist ideologies.
The establishment of various Nazi German Ostlegionen ("eastern legions") during the war led the Soviet leadership
to grow increasingly paranoid of any local independence movements, which could easily develop into a “fifth
column” of internal foes. Stalin learnt that creating a common enemy seemed helpful in uniting society, and he
wasn’t about to let it go unexploited. This, of course, led to the revival of all-too-familiar purges which spread
throughout Soviet society, in its witch-hunt for internal enemies.
The onset of the Cold War meant competing against the Western capitalist world for global supremacy. From simply
establishing Socialism in One Country, the USSR started to spread Stalinism beyond its boundaries to establish
satellite states. Since only Czechoslovakia, Albania and Yugoslavia had genuinely popular communist parties,
“popular fronts” had to be established in the rest of Eastern Europe for local Stalinists to seize power. This meant
persecution of anyone not toeing the Soviet line, which necessitated the creation of a climate of political terror,
where infiltration, subversion and show-trials were widespread.
It is worth noting that Stalin’s return to his old governing methods were only possible because the ruling institutions
in the USSR were effectively unchanged during the war, allowing him to retain heavy influence over Soviet politics.
Such a reversal was made unthinkable after the Khrushchev Thaw – though neo-Stalinists eventually rose to power
after his fall, the leadership became more collective in nature, rendering rule by one man next to impossible.

What, in your view, were the main features of Stalinism? An essay of no less than 400 words, no less than
5 points.
The Western world often lumps all variants of communism into a singular mould. This overly simplistic approach
masks critical differences between competing ideological factions – indeed, Trotskyism and Stalinism are about as
alike one another as social democracy is to the unregulated free market. For the purposes of this essay, only the
main features of Stalinism – Socialism in One Country, forceful industrialization, centralized economic planning,
Popular Front techniques, and cult of personality – will be discussed, with brief comparisons to other competing
communist ideologies.
The theory of Socialism in One Country was first put forth by Nikolai Bukharin, rather than Stalin himself. It argued
that the USSR can achieve socialism independently by internal development. This lies in stark contrast to Trotsky’s
theory of permanent revolution, which argues that the socialist revolution needs to spread to advanced capitalist
countries if the USSR was to survive. It is worth noting that even Maoists (debatably the Stalinists’ closest ideological
companion) admonish the idea that socialism can be constructed independently of international revolution.
To attain sufficient internal development for the independent development of socialism, Stalin implemented his
Five-Year Plans to force rapid industrialisation. Aside from catching up to the capitalist West, there were ideological
reasons for doing so. Conventional Marxist ideology theorized that only the proletariat (industrial working class)
can lead the struggle to defeat capitalism. This lay in stark contrast to early Soviet society, where the peasantry was
dominant. By forcing industrialization, it logically follows that the proletariat would grow rapidly too, hastening the
pace which socialism can be achieved. Interestingly, Maoists contradict Stalin once again, by claiming the rural
peasantry could lead the revolution just as well.

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Stalin’s Five-Year Plans relied heavily on Gosplan, the state planning agency. Using the material balance method for
resource allocation, which determined that the inputs into an industry equals outputs from another industry lower
in the value chain, production targets for individual enterprises were then dictated accordingly by the centralized
state. By no means, however, are such rigid planning methods central to all communist ideologies – Trotskyists,
conventional Marxists and even Titoists criticized the lack of workers’ participation in economic planning under
Stalinism and how this led to alienation from their work. In Tito’s Yugoslavia, workers’ self-management within
was put forth at the enterprise level, though the state was still in charge of setting overall economic targets.
Stalin initially denounced cooperation with social democratic or liberal parties as “social fascism”, pushing all
Comintern member parties to fight them as aggressively as towards conservative parties. Following the Nazi
takeover of Germany, this policy was reversed – instead, a “popular front” could be set up to contest elections
together in the same coalition. Though far broader in scope than “united fronts” advocated by the Trotskyists, the
latter argued that the communists were necessarily sidelined by other parties within the popular front, whilst within
the united front they could still retain their independence. To quote Trotsky, “…the united front tactic has nothing
to do with the so-called 'electoral combinations' of leaders in pursuit of one or another parliamentary aim. The
united front tactic is simply an initiative whereby the communists propose to join with all workers belonging to
other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests
of the working class against the bourgeoisie”. This feature of Stalinism is commonly neglected, but it is no less
crucial than the others.
Last but not least, one cannot examine Stalinism without understanding the nature of the cult of personality. Whilst
propaganda campaigns were prolific in Lenin’s Bolshevik government (as they were in practically every country to
be fair), Stalin’s personality cult focused on himself as the supreme leader rather than simply the party’s leading role
in society. This was taken to extremes at times – like censorship of less ideal facial features, or removal of purged
officials from photographs. This too was endemic in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romanian and Kim Il Sung’s North
Korean regimes where the individual was glorified excessively, as opposed to the whole party in Marxist-Leninist
Czechoslovakia, Poland, or Hungary.
Of course, there were other features of Stalinism which were not discussed, such as political and cultural repression
or socialist patriotism. However, these features were also predominant in other communist regimes, save for
Trotskyism which never taken root in any society. Hopefully, this brief essay allowed for not just a better
understanding of Stalinist ideology, but also that “communism” is not as much a cohesive ideology as commonly

Why, in your view, did Stalin’s methods of short-cutting history fail? An essay of no less than 300 words,
no less than 5 points.
Stalin had undeniably brought great progress to the Soviet Union, transforming the agrarian, backward nation into
a military, scientific and economic superpower. Yet, for all his accomplishments, the USSR ultimately failed to short-
cut history and overtake the West, eventually collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. Numerous
theories have been put forth to explain Soviet backwardness and its final disintegration. Commonly recurring themes
include the stranglehold of the military-industrial complex, lack of room for disruptive innovation, and the political
failure of socialism to deliver on its promises.
It is tempting to say that the USSR failed to catch-up simply because its economy was centrally planned, and such
an economic structure cannot be efficient. While no rational person should deny the widespread inefficiencies of
Soviet-style material balance planning, such an argument ignores the inconvenient truth that Stalinist planning had
once worked tremendously well. According to Maddison’s historic GDP per capita estimates (given in 1990 Geary
Khamis dollars), the USSR’s GDP per capita in 1928 (before commencing the First Five Year Plan) stood at just
$1370, more than a century behind Western Europe, which achieved a $1455 figure in 1820. By Stalin’s death in
1953, the Soviet GDP per capita had more than doubled – the $3013 figure stood just marginally below the $3132
attained by Western Europe in 1921. Effectively, the USSR under Stalin’s rule had closed the development gap with
the West from more than a century to just 32 years, catching up 3 years of growth annually for the remaining 25

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years Stalin stood in power. This build-up in industrial and scientific capability was instrumental in its rapidly
improving living standards following World War II, as well as beating the USA in the initial stages of the Space Race
by sending cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space before the Americans did. For all its brutal inhumanity, the results
of Stalin’s Five-Year Plans cannot be understated.
Stalin’s rule also brought huge leaps forward with regards to social gains. Before the 1917 revolutions, the Russian
Empire had a dismal literacy rate of just ~45%, far behind their Western counterparts. Less than a decade in 1926,
the literacy rate increased to 66.5% for males and 37.2% for females, with an overall rate of 51%. For the first time
in Russian history, over half the populace could read the alphabet and write their own name in their own native
language, marking a tremendous milestone in social progress. A 1939 census recorded literacy rates of nearly 90%,
and by Stalin’s death in the early 1950s, illiteracy was practically eliminated. While there existed much room for
improvement with regards to quality, the Soviet education system was vastly superior to that in the Tsarist era –
education on natural and social sciences became widespread, compared to simply teaching basic writing and
arithmetic. However, critical thinking and entire academic disciplines could be wilfully suppressed on the whims of
the ruling party and are major flaws to be discussed subsequently.
Aside from enjoying educational opportunities which were previously considered taboo, the position of women in
the workforce improved tremendously. Consisting just 28.6% of industrial jobs in 1928, female composition
increased by nearly 50 percent within 7 years to ~42% in 1935 and were in all practical purposes equal to men after
World War II. The first woman in space was also a Soviet citizen. Valentina Tereshkova made her pioneering space
flight in 1963 – 20 years before Sally Ride, the first American woman to do so. This is not to say that perfect gender
equality had been achieved. Gender-based income inequality was institutionalized especially in the industrial sector,
and women remained under-represented in scientific academies. Despite these flaws, the Soviets undeniably short-
cutted and led the West with regards to gains made in social progress.
Though industrial progress formed the basis of Soviet influence on the global stage, its subservience to the military-
industrial complex eventually strangled the Soviet economy. Allocating nearly 20% of GNP to military spending
meant that 1 of every 5 workers were fuelling the Soviet war machinery. This skewed resource allocation was likely
justified on grounds of maintaining geopolitical influence over Eastern Europe and suppressing any independence
movements from its own constituent republics in Central Asia or the Baltics. Nonetheless, the dominance of the
military-industrial complex greatly distorted the structure of the Soviet economy – only very specific forms of
research found military applications, leading many disciplines within natural, life and social sciences to be neglected.
Resources could have been better allocated to light industry, consumer goods or services, which were taken for
granted in the Western world but existed only as luxuries in the USSR. Lack of consumer power was a source of
brewing discontent within the Eastern Bloc, particularly for the most prosperous states like Czechoslovakia, East
Germany and the USSR, whose citizens were well-aware that their societies had the capacity to produce consumer
goods but neglected to do so. A society which ignores the needs of its populace can hardly be considered forward-
The Soviet leadership was also particularly averse to disruptive innovation, even when change is obviously needed.
The lack of incentive was a major obstacle to Soviet innovation. Enterprise managers naturally prioritized meeting
of production targets and were generally unwilling to risk any production capacity to manufacture inventions not
stipulated under Gosplan. Commercialization for profit was equated with capitalism and exploitation of workers,
which was fundamentally opposed to the Communist Party’s ideology. If anything, the Stalin era served to teach
intellectuals to keep their heads down, lest they be identified as potential opponents of the regime. Besides, different
organizational boundaries need to be crossed to move any inventions from the research to production cycle, and
the conflict between different ministries created an overarching bureaucracy which presented massive barriers to
Without delving into debates of markets versus planned economies, it is worth noting that the Soviet leadership did
little to optimize their planning mechanism. Originating in the late 1950s, a comprehensive blueprint for a
computerised planning system had emerged: The All-State Automated System — known as the OGAS — designed
by the brilliant cyberneticist Viktor Glushkov. Glushkov’s design aspired to the Marxist ideal of a rational economic
system guided by worker inputs, winning favour in the early 1960s by party members who wanted to abandon the

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inefficient material balance planning method. Adopting Cybernetics was a logical progression, given that material
balance planning was geared toward rapid industrialization, which had already been achieved in the preceding
decades. However, the plan fell through by the 1970s – its implementation would have undermined too many vested
interests within the Soviet bureaucracy, by severely limiting their political influence and room for corruption.
Without real-time coordination in an increasingly complex economy, shortages and overproduction of different
goods continued to persist in the USSR. Soviet bureaucrats went beyond simply resisting changes – rather, they
actively worked to undermine any measures which could challenge their privileged position in society. These
deliberate actions prevented the USSR from catching up to the West, precipitating their failure to “short-cut”
economic development.
Ultimately, the Stalinist route of development failed to accomplish the very goals of socialism – to liberate the
working class from exploitation in all forms, allowing them to realize their full potential outside of being a simple
labourer. Obliterating the capitalist class did little to end human exploitation. A new bureaucratic ruling class rose
to take their place, which was largely out of touch with the masses and cared only about preserving their privileged
position in society. Lenin’s idealized society, where any labourer will eventually have their say in governing the state,
was never achieved. Individual voices were suppressed, and political participation by and large degenerated into a
means of scaling the hierarchical ladder in society. Consequently, nationalizing the means of production did little to
free the workers from exploitation by capital. Stalin’s logic of “primitive socialist accumulation” meant that any
surplus value generated was largely devoted to enlarging the capital stock, paying workers artificially low wages to
do so. This is not too different from how businessowners sought to depress wages under capitalism, so that the
money saved can be reinvested in purchasing more machinery to outproduce their competitors. For so long as
Stalin’s policies relied on continued exploitation of humankind, any economic and social gains made by Soviet
society would not have borne fruit in directly short-cutting to the socialist stage of development. Even if the USSR
overtook the West, the very purposes of establishing the Soviet state could not have been realized.

What, in your view, was the influence of Stalin and Stalinism on Russian society? An essay of no less than
1500 words, no less than 5 points.
Stalin is undoubtedly one of the most controversial political figures of the 20th century, not just in Russia or the
former Soviet republics, but the world as well. Though it has been more than 6 decades since his passing, Stalin and
Stalinism continues to influence Russian society (and indeed, the world) today. Some of his legacy was undoubtedly
positive, other parts indisputably negative, but grey areas still lie in between.
It is undeniable that Stalin successfully modernized the USSR in a relatively brief period. He transformed the USSR
from a primarily agrarian, illiterate and backward nation into a massive industrial superpower, with universal
education spanning ethnicity, social class, and gender. These achievements came despite massive destruction
wrought by Nazi Germany during World War II – the USSR suffered some 23 to 28 million casualties akin to 12 to
15% of its 192.6 million population in 1940. In contrast, Great Britain and France suffered 451000 and 600000
casualties respectively, akin to 0.92% and 1.44% their 1939 population.
The economic figures speak for themselves. According to Maddison’s historic GDP per capita estimates (given in
1990 Geary Khamis dollars), the USSR’s GDP per capita in 1928 (before commencing the First Five Year Plan)
stood at just $1370, more than a century behind Western Europe, which achieved a $1455 figure in 1820. By Stalin’s
death in 1953, the Soviet GDP per capita had more than doubled – the $3013 figure stood just marginally below
the $3132 attained by Western Europe in 1921. Effectively, the USSR under Stalin’s rule had closed the development
gap with the West from more than a century to just 32 years, catching up 3 years of growth annually for the remaining
25 years Stalin stood in power. These achievements are not to be taken lightly – they form the basis of the USSR’s
ascension to superpower status at the global arena, and correspondingly, its geopolitical influence until its eventual

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collapse. Granted, debates still exist about whether modernization could have been achieved through more humane
means, or whether it could have been carried out more quickly under capitalism. These are valid points which will
be discussed subsequently. Nonetheless, the rapid progress from the Stalinist era form an enduring part of its
positive legacy today.
A commonly neglected aspect of Stalin’s forceful industrialization policies was its leaps forward for gender equality.
Whilst more likely borne out of economic necessity (industrial labour shortages were rampant) than adherence to
ideals of socialist equality, the position of women did improve significantly after the onset of the First Five Year
Plan. Whilst women only constituted 28.6% of industrial jobs in 1928, this increased by nearly 50 percent within 7
years, to some 42% in 1935. This had far-reaching consequences for gender equality even after the World War,
pushing the proportion of female university graduates to 40% in the earlier 1960s – a record unreached anywhere
else in the world at that historical period. Though institutional gender discrimination remained and was heightened
following the USSR’s collapse (rise of the Eastern Orthodox church is often cited as a major contributing factor),
nonetheless women became far more equal in status to their male counterparts compared to before Bolshevik rule.
Increase in gender equality is not purely attributable to economic progress. Although Hoxha’s Albania lagged in
economic growth compared to Turkey (which had similar development levels before the Cold War), his
commitment to Stalinism led him to outlaw the most overt forms of gender discrimination in Albania with regards
to employment and reproductive rights, while these continue to pervade Turkey today despite even further
economic development. This shows that gender equality can only arise from ideological struggles, presented during
the Cold War by the social-democratic movement in the Western World alongside Stalinism in the Eastern Bloc.
Though the latter implemented it in a brutal rather than civil fashion, the leaps forward for gender equality are
nonetheless one of the greatest modern-day achievements of Stalinism, albeit one that is often overlooked.
Stalin’s ideology of “Socialism in One Country” espoused the virtues of “socialist patriotism”. While claiming to be
consistent with proletariatian internationalism, in reality this led to a revival of Russian national pride, above all
other Soviet nationalities. Having been brutalized being various military defeats, from the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese
War to its surrender in World War I, Russia was designated the “Sick Man of Europe” alongside the Ottoman
Empire, corresponding to how Qing China was mocked as the “Sick Man of Asia”. Stalin’s rule effectively reversed
this trend. At a great human cost, the Red Army defeated Nazi Germany in the Eastern Front despite widespread
expectations amongst the West of its technological backwardness, proving pivotal to the latter regime’s collapse.
Following the war, the Russian peoples’ leading role within all Soviet nationalities was promoted by Stalin and his
successors. This shift was most clearly underscored by Stalin's Victory Day toast to the Russian people in May 1945:
“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.” While official literature on nationalities and languages
continued to speak of there being 130 equal languages in the USSR, in reality a clear hierarchy was established,
where several nationalities and languages (most prominently Russian) were viewed as more essential in the long-
term future. Promotion of Soviet (read: Russian) nationalism was also extended to Eastern Europe during the initial
stage of the Cold War, where they were subjected to the leading role of the Soviet people in spreading the socialist
revolution. Russian became the most important language within the Second World, given that a basic understanding
of Russian was almost essential for effective communication with Soviet authorities, a key factor in one’s
socioeconomic success. While Russians may have felt proud (and probably still do) of just how far their language
and culture had spread, this has less positive implications on their international relations today.
The Russification campaigns within the Eastern Bloc grew to be a rising source of resentment, which persists today.
Following the end of the Cold War, even the most loyal Soviet satellites like Bulgaria moved away from Russia into
the NATO orbit. Ukraine and Georgia grew increasingly wary of Russian influence on its doorstep, especially
following the adoption of The Foundations of Geopolitics as a textbook in the Academy of the General Staff of
the Russian military. Published by the radical National Bolshevik Aleksandr Dugin, the geopolitical ambitions put
forth by the book is a legacy of Russia’s Stalinist past.

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To quote the book above, "Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no cultural import or universal
significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an
enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak
about continental politics". Ukraine should not be allowed to remain independent, unless it is cordon sanitaire,
which would be inadmissible.” and “Georgia should be dismembered. Abkhazia and "United Ossetia" (which
includes Georgia's South Ossetia) will be incorporated into Russia. Georgia's independent policies are
unacceptable.” outline aggressive strategies to restore Russia to its former territorial might under Stalinism.
Understandably, all these nationalities did not take well to Russian political and cultural domination once more.
Whilst by no means inherent in Stalinist ideology, Russia’s aggression through the 2008 Russo-Georgian and
Crimean wars are indirect consequences of the Russian nationalism cultivated by Stalin during his rule. Rather than
a healthy economy or happy populace, territorial influence became Russia's traditional understanding of the
country's greatness and strength.
Stalin’s achievements also helped inculcate a mindset of forgoing some benefits today in the hope of a better
tomorrow. Soviet workers had to undergo famines and poor living and working conditions during the First and
Second Five-Year Plans, to achieve the industrialization required to win World War II and provide decent living
standards in its aftermath. While Putin isn’t exactly calling for economic sacrifices today, the Russian people are
generally willing to trade their political liberties today, taking that these sacrifices were necessary to establish long-
term stability and an eventual return to their glorious past. Though more than 6 decades have past since Stalin’s
death, the mentality of sacrificing bread today for cake tomorrow still seems rather prevalent today.
For all his brutality, Stalin’s achievements in economic progress, gender equality and geopolitical influence are to be
commended. Whether he proves a visionary or a tyrant, only time can tell.

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