He brought his country and his people nothing but harm. To what extent do you agree with this assessment of Stalins domestic policies in the USSR between 1929 and 1953?

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‘He brought his country and his people nothing but harm.’ To what extent do you agree with this assessment of Stalin’s domestic policies in the USSR between 1929 and 1953?

‘Life has become better comrades; life has become more joyous’ addressed Stalin in 1935, to a population overworked and underfed. For by 1935, let alone the early fifties, Stalin’s Russians were far from joyous, living under a dictator and his despotic whims with the austere domestic policies of collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, the Great Terror and High Stalinism. Although Stalin’s agricultural and industrial methods raise contention as to whether they really benefitted the USSR, the most unambiguous evidence for Stalin’s disregard for his country and his people was described by Service as ‘the most thorough repressive project in history’; the dictator’s Great Terror. This terror was defined by the brutal purges and show trials which succeeded in little besides creating a festering atmosphere of apprehension and undermining any stability within the Soviet Union. It was this domestic policy of terror, described by Volkogonov as ‘waging war on his own people’, that created the foundations for collectivisation and rapid industrialisation as well as the climate that allowed High Stalinism to develop in the aftermath of WWII. It also ensured that any successes in these policies were obtained at such a high cost to the people of Russia and Russian security that is indubitable that Stalin did indeed bring his country and his people little else but harm.

Throughout his rule, Stalin’s domestic policy had two aims at its heart, to consolidate his own power as well as boost the Russian economy so that it could compete with more modernised western powers. Collectivisation was introduced early in Stalin’s regime with the aim of combating inefficient farming and, as agriculture was virtually the only source of Soviet income, it was relied upon to raise funds for investment in an industrialisation drive. Further to this, it was hoped that the merging of private plots into large state-run farms would increase the motivation of the peasantry with the return to Marxist principles it appeared to symbolise. However for Stalin the symbolism was not of a victory for Socialism, but one for his regime, which now had taken power away from the peasants with regards to the food production necessary to feed the cities’ workers. However, the aims of collectivisation were purely based in the interests of industry, with little regard for the welfare of the people; therefore, due to his disregard for their welfare, Stalin certainly was not protecting them from the harm that was to come.

Through the policy of collectivisation, there were some successes, with various new plans benefitting the people, as well as Stalin himself. For the peasants, the amenities available at some kolkhozes increased literacy rates, although these were few and far between. Collectivisation also played a role in modernising farming methods, with machinery becoming more readily available from the MTS on each farm as the years went on. For the dictator, there was now no political threat from Bukharin or Nep-men now that the NEP was gone. Further to this, the peasants were eventually fully socialised thanks to collectivisation, and another positive for Stalin was the speed of the process; by 1941, virtually all farms were collectivised. Eventually, Stalin’s aim was achieved as seventeen million peasants were freed up to work in towns and agricultural production increased sufficiently to fund industrial growth, yet at a great cost to both peasant livelihood and lives.

Despite from Stalin’s perspective the scheme being a success, the policy had significant limitations that ultimately countered any success it had had. The most significant occurrence of this was the significant lapse in production figures that, in the opinion of Lee, ‘showed collectivisation to be a disaster’ as the grain harvest declines from the already modest 73.3 million tonnes in 1928 to 67.6 by 1934. By 1929, only 20% of the population had been collectivised, which prompted Stalin to use a force so harmful against his people that it caused a severe drop in agricultural output as peasants preferred to kill their animals rather than allow them to be repossessed, causing the slaughter of 26.6 million cows and 63.4 million sheep between 1928 and 1933. Further to this a famine occurred that would claim the lives of tens of millions; Ward asserts that ‘scarcely a single hamlet escaped the terrors of arrest, execution or deportation...and the mayhem and confusion could not last long without fearful consequences’. Stalin later calmed the force, proportioning responsibility for it on local administrators ‘dizzy with success’. After the publication of this article in 1930, Kitchen concludes that the number of collective farms fell by 50%, which evidences the peasantry’s dissatisfaction with the domestic policy, although it soon intensified again. Nevertheless the relaxing of the Terror campaign only occurred in some aspects; in its worst form, Dekulakisation, Stalin made the mistake of continuing to deport the country’s best workers, even when production levels fell with growing stagnation amongst the peasantry in 1933 to the extent that 1.1 million suspected Kulaks were sent to the collectives or exiled to the gulags. In order to placate the peasants, who fiercely resisted collectivisation, private plots were introduced and compromises made in a distinctly un-Marxist fashion. The ineffectiveness of the collectives can be seen from the fact that by 1937, the output from private enterprise was bigger than that of the state farms. Overall, Stalin’s lack of foresight failed to see that agriculture’s inefficiency problems were often more to do with the methods rather than the distribution of land, and that this was the problem that had to be primarily combated, rather than being the secondary effect of a collectivisation process that rapidly reduced the quality of life of the peasantry.

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The outcomes of collectivisation caused harm to the peasantry, and their reaction the severity of collectivisation caused damage to the economy that lasted for decades. The already low living standards of the peasants were further reduced as a result of the new agricultural policy, to the extent that between 1928 and 1932, the consumption of meat and lard fell from 24.8 million to 11.2 million, and the consumption of bread also fell by several tens of millions. With these shortages in mind, the toll the 1932 Famine took on the peasants is unsurprising; the great cost to human life caused ...

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