The impact, character, and ideologies of an individual have the potential to profoundly reshape an entire empire, regardless of the consequences and the manner in which the transformations are executed and received by the entire nation.

The principles of communism in Russia were shaped by Karl Marx, who presented his “Communist Manifesto” as a declaration of beliefs outlining the ideal conditions for a society without class divisions, advocating for radical changes to be achieved through revolution. Communism was proposed as a superior alternative to the ruling class, based on the notion that in a society devoid of classes, where the means of production are controlled collectively and facilitated by machinery, the resulting profits should be distributed equally among all individuals. To bring about these changes, certain transformative measures were deemed necessary, including the abolishment of private land ownership, implementation of income taxes, equal responsibilities for all workers, elimination of inheritance rights, provision of free education for children, and the removal of child labour. Additionally, the state was expected to assume control over national banks, communication networks, transportation systems, and factories. However, it was Lenin and Stalin who implemented these ideas in their own distinctive ways, resulting in a complete overhaul of Russia’s previous leadership practices.

“The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.”

― Leon Trotsky

Power was perceived as the ultimate authority over a population or a country, and since Tsar Alexander II, Russia had aspired to follow the model of European industrial expansion while maintaining absolute monarchy and retaining exclusive control. The ambition to rapidly transform a society comprised of 80% peasants into an industrialized one, without possessing all the necessary resources or a structured plan, came at a cost. The persistent issue in Russia revolved around the system of land ownership, as reforms akin to those implemented in Europe were not enacted. The majority of the population consisted of peasants and serfs, who remained under the control of landowners. The peasants fell into debt due to exorbitant prices, depleted their cash reserves, and had to resort to taking out more loans, thereby plunging themselves further into obligations.

Vladimir Lenin, influenced by Karl Marx’s ideas, returned from exile with the intention of bringing communism to Russia. In order to gain credibility and consolidate power after the Revolution, Lenin implemented two decrees: one regarding land and another addressing peace, providing a swift solution to the struggles faced by the majority. Through these decrees, the debt owed by peasants for their land ownership was forgiven, allowing them to become landowners themselves. However, these principles contradicted communist ideology.

Lenin introduced the “New Economic Policy” in March 1921, which brought additional changes in the pursuit of industrialization. However, it was soon realized that the main source of income for Russia was grain production, and displacing people from the land would adversely affect the economy. In 1923, industry and agriculture experienced significant growth. However, the industry could not develop without depleting the exhausted stores and reserves, leading to the borrowing of grain and raw materials from the peasants. Meanwhile, peasants, unable to fulfil their needs, began shifting from agriculture to industrial labour. The slogan “Get rich!” was intended to signify a gradual progression of the kulaks towards socialism, but in practice, it resulted in the enrichment of a minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority.

Driven by his ambition for expansion and opposition to capitalism, Stalin created a false reality. He implemented collectivization, removing land ownership to establish a classless society, and pursued industrialization to bring Russia closer to a productive society. However, under Stalin, Russia deviated significantly from Karl Marx’s initial ideas. Collectivization marked a significant turning point, and despite the tremendous costs associated with the process, it facilitated the expulsion of peasants from their land and their involvement in new industrial projects, such as dam construction and automobile plans.

As a consequence, millions of kulaks and their families were killed or sent to work camps, with many perishing in their resistance against the confiscation of their properties or during their journey to exile and imprisonment. Livestock numbers plummeted, production levels decreased, and a decade of growth was lost. Aware of Lenin’s previous attempts to reclaim land from peasants, Stalin resorted to labelling and deceiving the people, pressuring them to increase production for export. He sought rapid industrialization, socialized farms, and invested in education and transportation. Stalin recognized that agriculture formed the foundation for a communist country and a sustainable economy, and he took drastic measures regardless of the consequences and impact.

Stalin relocated 25,000 industrial workers to farms and enforced collectivization, without considering the fact that these individuals lacked the knowledge and skills to effectively run the farms. Peasants who refused to abandon their land were met with violence, including shootings, imprisonment, deportation of family members, and consignment to labour camps. Others were sent to regions where resources were insufficient to sustain their lives, leading to starvation.

The 1917 revolution marked a significant turning point in Russia, replacing old structures with new ones. However, three years after the revolution (1918-1921), production continued to decline, and the city faced a demand for grain and raw materials, exchanged for worthless paper money. Storehouses were set ablaze, armed workers seized grains, steel production diminished, famine prevailed, grain harvests dwindled, foreign trade collapsed, and productive forces crumbled. These were just a few of the changes witnessed during Stalin’s rule, as observed by Leon Trotsky.

“How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”

― Ronald Reagan

The expansion of industry in Europe facilitated the accumulation of capital, and advancements in commerce, navigation, and railways, and led to the transformation of individuals into paid wage labourers. This expansion extended across the globe, making money a central priority for everyone. These transformations revolutionized the old modes of production and resulted in substantial growth of the urban population, creating immense productive forces on the foundations of the previous feudal society.

However, Lenin and Stalin approached the transformation of Russia under their leadership in different ways, drawing inspiration from these principles of countrywide expansion. Lenin’s proposal aimed to reintroduce the market to millions of isolated peasant enterprises and establish economic relations with the outside world, excluding trade, which would only be permitted with nationalized industries. The New Economic Policy (NEP) sought to establish economic ties with rural areas, ensuring the supply of necessary goods and relied on planned economy principles based on supply and demand.

On the right side, Bukharin and his supporters followed Lenin’s path of dynamic transformation towards socialism, focusing on large-scale industry, finance, taxation, transportation, and foreign trade. They also advocated for limited restoration of the market, particularly for small-scale crafts and services, as well as for the development of peasant agriculture. To maintain these step-by-step transformations, the price of grain was periodically increased to incentivize peasants to sell more agricultural products. The working class refrained from attacking the peasantry, ensuring that the economy progressed gradually and modestly.

The leftists, on the other hand, supported industrialization and pursued a more energetic policy. They believed that investment and the accumulation of resources were key to industrialization, despite the lack of available capital. They also feared dependence on capitalist nations and were reluctant to seek loans or external assistance. The achievements of industrialization during the Stalin period were regarded as significant, regardless of their inefficiencies, wastefulness, the cruelty experienced during the collectivization period, famines, or the existence of Gulags. These shortcomings were justified as unavoidable costs and dismissed as mere mistakes.

However, reaching these conclusions was a lengthy process, driven by the fear that the capitalist world might stage a comeback and attempt to overthrow its communist competitor. Soviet economic policymakers sought to establish an agreement with a US firm to provide technical assistance in constructing an automobile factory owned and controlled by the Soviet government. Henry Ford expressed interest in the Soviet offer and proposed a similar arrangement. Nevertheless, problems arose that hindered progress. The construction of the factory faced delays, with agencies competing for control over operations and resources. The flow of railway cars was significantly reduced, and improvised solutions were implemented to keep the construction on schedule. Internal transportation of materials also posed challenges, and even with intervention from Moscow, conflicts persisted, and there was a shortage of steel, leading to delays in building and equipping the main shops. Additionally, there was a scarcity of skilled workers, and in many cases, it was unclear how many workers were needed. The constructed units proved too small for the number of workers, posing obvious threats to their health and lives.

The second five-year plan was formulated to address the initial problems, expand communication and infrastructure, and increase the production of raw materials, electricity, and consumer goods. However, wage labour remained unequal, despite claims of equal remuneration for all. At the end of these plans, the proposed production targets were not met. Factors contributing to this failure included the simultaneous progress of multiple economic forces, overly ambitious industrial agendas, wastefulness, inefficiency, and bureaucratic obstacles.

“Because the horror of Communism, Stalinism, is not that bad people do bad things — they always do. It’s that good people do horrible things thinking they are doing something great.”

― Slavoj Žižek

The burdens were borne by the Soviet economy, and the leadership’s mistakes were evident in the objective contradictions of the situation and their inadequate understanding of these conflicts and their repercussions. Lenin initiated the “Red Terror” to assert his power and suppress resistance, executing anyone who opposed his radical ideas. However, his plans were cut short when he died of a stroke on January 21, 1924. Lenin had hoped for Trotsky to carry on his ideas and continue the communist movement in Russia, as he did not agree with Stalin assuming control. Nevertheless, Stalin managed to defeat Trotsky and implement his radical and merciless ideas.

Stalin’s ambition was not limited to industrialization and collectivization but extended to purges aimed at eradicating kulaks and their families, criminals, and anti-Soviet elements, in order to establish supreme control and power. However, the scope of these purges extended beyond these categories, targeting anyone who opposed Soviet power. This included individuals who had been released or fled from exile, former members of disbanded parties, former White Guards, surviving tsarist officials, as well as those who were arrested and charged with terrorism or held in labour camps. Immediate arrests, shootings, imprisonment in labour camps, or prison sentences ranging from 8 to 10 years were proposed as solutions. The secret police played a brutal role in enforcing Stalin’s agenda by spying on people. Those who disagreed with Stalin were either arrested, executed, or sent to labour camps. By 1938, approximately 1 million people were in prison, and 8 million were in camps.

To instil fear among others who opposed the regime, Stalin orchestrated “Show Trials” from 1936 to 1938 for supporters of Trotsky, who would be executed after the trials. While local show trials served the purpose of the judicial system, they also had significant political messages. Notable trials were held in Moscow for former leaders of the Soviet Communist Party, terrorists, exiled agents, or spies. Rural trials often resembled theatrical performances with plots written in newspapers. Although Stalin’s name was never explicitly mentioned, his signature and dispatched telegrams with instructions for sentences in the first categories implicated his role in organizing the Great Terror. Lenin and Stalin eliminated anyone who opposed their ideas to solidify their regime and gain control over the country and its population.

Throughout history, class struggles and social hierarchies have often resulted in revolutions or the oppression of the working class, leading to divisions and separations. The death toll paid before and after the Communist Revolution was seen as an excessively high price for the population of the Soviet Union during the regimes of Lenin and Stalin. Poor management, uneven harvests, inefficient stock programs, statistical discrepancies, and increased industrialization all contributed to a significant loss of life, yet there was little accountability assumed for these facts. The entire nation underwent a radical transformation, from agriculture to the development of atomic weapons, in a short period of time. However, Lenin’s and Stalin’s approaches to governing Russia, their actions, and their decisions demonstrated that the consequences and the loss of life among the population were deemed less important than their ideas, personalities, and the influence used to bring about these changes.

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
― Karl Marx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *