The following were equally important reasons why Stalin was able to hold on to power in the Soviet Union:
The purges and show trials
The secret police
Propaganda and the cult of personality
Stalin’s economic policies
Explain how far you agree with this statement
There are a number of reasons why I partially agree with this statement, however, I do not believe it would be correct to say that it is totally correct. The fact that Stalin was extremely politically cunning enabled him to combine the above techniques, in order to minimise opposition, and maximise support and production in the soviet state. Stalin’s techniques can be classed into two main methods of winning support: the use of fear, and the use of propaganda and success in order to persuade.
After Stalin achieved power in 1928, he became increasingly paranoid of any opposition. His initial aim was to ensure that his position in power was totally secure, and risk free. In order to achieve this, Stalin used two of the methods mentioned above: the purges and show trials, and the secret police. These two methods were very closely linked and intertwined.
From around 1930 onwards, Stalin gave the Secret Police (NKVD) the right to arrest anyone suspected of opposing, or having the potential to oppose Stalin. However, this did not simply include party members who had previously opposed Stalin, for the police would arrest scientists, doctors, actors, teachers, artist and any ordinary people or workers whom Stalin felt threatened by. Naturally, this was an enormous task, and could not be managed by Stalin alone. Instead, a vast army of informers were released into society, to tip off the NKVD of any opposition.
Such was the extent of the spying that went on in the 1930s, and Stalin’s terror of opposition, that children were even encouraged to inform on their own parents, and neighbours would condemn each other, in order to deflect blame from themselves. The situation became extremely similar to that of the Nazi police state, with the Gestapo, in which Hitler used to spy on the public. In addition to this, Stalin even took the extreme measures of executing any members of the NKVD, who were either inefficient at rooting out counter-revolutionaries, or who he suspected of knowing too much about his plans, and posing a potential threat to his position.
A number of show trials were also held under Stalin’s command. These were court cases of predetermined verdict, which were greatly publicised in order to boost support for Stalin. By doing this, Stalin aimed to ward off criticism for having killed millions of Russians as a result of the purges. In 1934 Kirov, a popular leading communist was assassinated. Historians today are quite convinced that Stalin was at least partially responsible for the murder. However, on 13th march, 1936, sixteen old Bolsheviks, including Zinoviev and Kamenev were faced with charges of having been responsible for the death of Kirov, and having plotted against Stalin. Whilst historians today believe that it is extremely unlikely that the two loyal Bolsheviks had anything to do with the assassination of Kirov, all sixteen of the accused were sentenced to be executed on 24 August. This shows how Stalin was able to carefully twist purges and show trials into a form of propaganda, in which he could present himself as a great leader, and make it impossible for people to oppose him.
In the following years, up to 1938, many more show trials were held. Stalin was extremely quick with dealing with the army, executing over 90 percent (some 25 000) of all Soviet generals in order to make it totally incapable of leading a putsch against Stalin. The Communist party had been purged of anyone likely to face up to Stalin, and all of the old Bolsheviks of the 1917 revolution were gone. History books were rewritten in order to erase any memory of these counter-revolutionaries. By 1939, People’s lives were crippled with fear of the NKVD, as over 20 million Russians were now in labour camps, 12 million of them dead.
To prove this, in 1989, a mass burial pit was discovered, containing the bodies of over 80 000 people who had been executed under Stalin’s command. However, in the meantime all knowledge of Stalin’s purges was being erased, and the myth of his greatness being created. Stalin had finally achieved what he wanted, and his position in power was totally safe, with the army incapable of opposing him, and all opposition amongst the communist party, and throughout the Soviet Union removed. This was an extremely important step taken by Stalin, in order to preserve his leadership, however due to the huge cost of these actions, Stalin found the economy under a great deal of stress.
It is my belief that Stalin used his economic policies for two main reasons. Firstly a successful economy would cause him to look good, and help him tighten his grip on power. Secondly, the international situation was becoming fairly gloomy for Russia, it was seriously threatened by famine, and it could not compete with other industrial countries, increasingly towards 1938, after Stalin’s costly purges and show trials. Stalin said in a speech to the first conference of workers, ‘we are fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make up this gap in ten years. Either we do this or they crush us. We can therefore conclude that it was becoming vital for Stalin to introduce a change in the system in order for Russia’s economy to survive.
After realising that Lenin’s idea of trying to persuade the Peasants to join collective farms was not working fast enough, Stalin decided that a far more ruthless process was required, in order to produce enough food to support an increasing amount of workers in industry. To begin with, Stalin tried Lenin’s tactic of persuading peasants, however after they heavily resisted, Stalin became far more brutal. Over 5 million kulak families are thought to have died in labour camps, along with anyone who tried to defend them. Eventually, Stalin achieved the results he wanted, and by 1935, 94 percent of agricultural land had been collectivised, and the kulak class eliminated, however the brutal way in which this process was carried out meant that it was greatly resented by many.
On the industrial front, Stalin set about introducing the first Five-year Plan, from 1928 until 1932. This was a regime intended to last for five years, in which GOSPLAN, the State planning Commission constructed a list of ambitious targets to develop industry, power supply, and transport. The basic aim of the plan was to shift Russia away from agriculture slightly, and move more into industry. After having successfully swayed Russia from being an agricultural country, to an agricultural-industrial country, Stalin introduced the second Five-Year plan. This plan involved increasing the production of machinery, such as tractors to keep up with the collectivisation of farming, water supplies and transport. In little time at all, Russia had become the world’s third biggest industrial power, which was an enormous success.
These five-year plans were an extremely important method of keeping Stalin in power, as people would become proud of their country and leader, and be reluctant to change. However, this boost in industrial strength came at a heavy price, and the importance of these plans is shown in the tight discipline exercised by Stalin. Managers could be prosecuted, and arrested by the NKVD for failing to reach targets, as it was actually made to be a crime.
Every worker was required to have a permit in order to change jobs, and was instantly sacked if absent for more than a couple of days. Alternatively they could be briefly sent to prison! Anyone leaving school had no choice of where they worked, and they were simply allocated to jobs where employees were needed. By the time the third five-year plan was introduced in 1938, Stalin was able to start producing consumer goods, such as radios, bicycles and household goods. In my opinion, these consumer goods were a clever trick played by Stalin, to convince the public that their standard of living was improving, in order to win support. In reality, it was quite the opposite, and living standards generally declined. People were regimented, lost their personal freedom, and were very closely supervised and intimidated by the NKVD.
In general, this economic revolution was a fairly important step for Stalin to remain in power. Firstly, although they may have resented the way in which the economy was boosted, it would have triggered a large amount of support from the Russian people, who felt unstable in their economy, and surrounded by hostile neighbours. Many people also shared his view that rapid industrialisation was the only way for Russia to survive, and so would have been extremely impressed after Stalin caused Russia to become second to only the USA in industrial production.
Stalin was also extremely aware of the importance of his image, and how the impression he made on people affected the way in which he could govern. He realised that in order to maintain his domination of Russian people, he would be required strictly monitor and regulate all aspects of the media, and promote his qualities which won him respect, so he set up a tight propaganda program, which eventually brainwashed the minds of Russian people. Stalin ensured that all arts, films and books were carefully controlled by the state. Artists were forced to adapt their work so that it glorified the state, and positively projected its policies.
Through the careful control of films, Stalin was able to promote himself as running the state as a haven of the good-life for all workers, showing workers having free holidays and happy lives. Films also promoted hard work, by glorifying workers such as Stakhanov, who exceeded his factory quota. Authors were also kept under strict regulation, being forced to promote the state and Stalin’s policies, and those who wrote anything critical of these thins were arrested by the KGB ( ) and thrown into prison, or disappeared into labour camps. Another way Stalin promoted himself was by presenting himself as the Father and protector of the Soviet Union. Stalin tricked the public into believing that he had been close to Lenin, when in fact, Lenin left a list of complaints of how he disliked Stalin in his testament.
In general, I feel that this is a moderately important step towards keeping power in the Soviet Union, as it reduced opposition to his policies, however it would have provoked aggravation amongst people involved in the production of films, books and arts. Stalin a
Drawing to a conclusion, I believe that the way in which Stalin sustained his grip on power was extremely complex, and it is therefore very difficult to put a finger on one particular technique and say that it is most important. Realistically, the four main methods used by Stalin; the purges and show trials, the secret police, propaganda and the cult of personality, and Stalin’s economic policies were all carefully intertwined. For example, Stalin used the show trials, in which he had many counter-revolutionaries falsely accused of murder, as a means of propaganda, to deflect criticism from himself. The secret police were also heavily involved in the three other methods of maintaining power.
They ensured that Stalin’s propaganda campaign ran smoothly, arrested anyone failing to keep up with the pace of Stalin’s economic policies, and were actively involved in the purges and show trials, to such an extent that some became victims and were exiled or executed. I also believe that Stalin’s economic polices were partially due to the stress placed on the economy by the costly purges. It is therefore possible to see how all of the reasons why Stalin was able to hold onto power in the Soviet Union were very much dependant on each other.
However, I do believe that propaganda was a rather unimportant contribution to Stalin’s success, after he had achieved power in 1924. Whilst Stalin did a good job of controlling the media and presenting himself well to the Russian people and the rest of the world, many Russians were not really given a choice in the first place. Therefore I believe that even without propaganda, it could have been possible for Stalin to maintain power, due to the way people were strictly monitored and intimidated by the secret police.