‘ART 1: How far does the evidence show that Stalin was a genuine ‘hero’ up to the start of war in 1941?
A ‘hero’ is a person who is admired or worshipped for their great abilities, especially someone who has performed an act of great courage and contribution during the time. Throughout the Stalinist years in the Soviet Union, there were remarkable evidence suggesting whether Josef Stalin1 had heroic status or not among the Russians. Owing to his charisma for his domination of power and contributions of policies like the Five-Year Plans and collectivization, Stalin could be regarded as a true hero. However, there were proofs, for instance, massive propaganda and ‘the cult of personality’ to show that he was not completely heroic, but partly manufactured. Yet, the liability of the evidence is to be doubted sometimes for its propaganda nature at that time, for example, the photograph at the Moscow Volga Canal that Yezhov was removed amongst Voroshilov, Molotov and Stalin2.
Early in 1917 when Stalin was appointed as the People’s Commissar for Nationalities and in 1922 that he became the General Secretary, he began to occupy great position in the Bolshevik Party. His success in the struggle of power with Trotsky after Lenin’s death in 1924 made his image as an able and shrewd administrator with a tendency to ruthlessness. He was skilful in using his position, the General Secretary, as a tool to promote his own supporters to key positions, to affect the Party structure and to get valuable information from Dzerzhinsky3. Stalin’s position was further enhanced by the launching of the ‘Lenin Enrolment’4. He was also a chance-maker due to his delivery of an oration at Lenin’s funeral in order to attach himself to the legacy of Lenin5 and totally defeat Trotsky6. Events like the dismissal of Georgian national representatives and the removal of his enemies (the Right, for example, Tomsky and the Left, for example, Zinoviev in the Party who might threatened his power) showed his cruelty. All these proved Stalin’s charismatic personality and heroic qualities which later would lead to his one-person dictatorship of the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953.
Besides, after Stalin’s rise to power, his contributions produced in the Five-Year Plan7 (1928-1932) were also crucial to his position and popularity. Due to his insight to foresee the importance of modernization of the USSR, the economy boomed throughout his ruling years. New industrial centres, like Magnitogorsk8 was built which showed the plan was fairly successful in the expansion of heavy industries. Stalin also created the atmosphere for hero worship, for instance, Alexei Stakhanov9 so as to get control of the Russians. The start and success in the economic plans not only consolidated his power in the state as he eliminated the pro-NEP communists, but also fulfilled his ideology of ‘Socialism in One Country’10. Stalin even saw the potential of aligning himself with the views of the workers (proletariat) to strengthen his position which proved his heroic qualities. However, setbacks should not be overlooked that the goal of production was too high and unrealistic to be achieved11, leading to bribing and corruptions; poor working and living environment for the workers led to chaos; unbalanced economy was developed emphasising heavy industries that made the consumer industries suffered. Though there were numerous defeats of the plans, the Soviet economy did revive and later allowed herself to challenge USA in the Cold War. It can be argued that Stalin’s talent in the plans proved him as a genuine hero, but his weaknesses and ignorance were also exposed which later gave rise to his ‘cult of personality’ to cover them up.
Moreover, collectivisation was in the same pace as the economic plan which was also supported by Stalin. With Stalin’s expertise, collective farms (Kolkhoz) and state procurement were introduced to aim at increasing agricultural production and sweeping away the remaining capitalist class, e.g. the kulaks and Nepmen. Nevertheless, collectivisation was proved to be a failure due to the forcing nature of the policy producing high cost of human lives, shortage and decline of food12 and chaos. These showed Stalin’s mistakes and his use of Dekulakisation squads13 and OGPU14 made it crystal clear that his talent was limited since he had to apply force to suppress possible enemies. Therefore, there was evidence about Stalin being manufactured as a hero figure.
Furthermore, in order to hold on to his power, Stalin triggered the Great Purges15 and a series of show trials16 within the Party to bundle away any threats (all the Old Bolsheviks who were associated with Lenin) after the murder of Kirov17 in 1934. Undoubtedly, the massive murder provided a safe position for Stalin’s dictatorship, but Stalin ignored its influences for the state and the upcoming war, for instance, in ‘Yezhovschina’18, many members in the secret police and the red army were killed and weakened the armament of the state, so that there was insufficient soldiers to fight against the Nazi Germany in 1941. His ruthlessness was totally exposed to make him a hero, however, it can be argued that if Stalin were a real hero, he would use his own abilities rather than great terror to gain applause and eliminate enemies.
Last but not least, during 1930s, Stalin’s promotion of the ‘cult of personality’ brought about his popularity and worship from the majority. He was successfully ‘hailed as a hero of the revolution’19 after Lenin’s funeral through tremendous propaganda activities to endlessly present Stalin’s image of great leader in connection to the former god-like figure, Lenin. His skilful use of youth organizations, e.g. Morozov and education20, the media21, and the arts and popular culture22 made him a star throughout the whole country. Though it showed Stalin was admired as a hero at that time, it can be argued that his emphasis and necessities for promoting himself to be heroic exposed his weaknesses and fears of the lack of abilities. It can be explained that the Great Purge was also launched due to this paranoid personality.
On balance, it is hard to make a distinctive saying about Stalin being the true hero. With the evidence that he had qualities himself to create opportunities and influences on the state and people, he was clearly a hero. However, the massive use of propaganda to create of ‘cult of personality’ showed the manufacturing nature of his status and the unreliability of the evidence itself as it could be ‘produced’ during that time to promote Stalin or for other purposes. Therefore, Stalin was partly a genuine hero but partly manufactured.
1 Stalin is Russian for ‘man of steel’, as stated in “Europe 1870-1991” by Terry Morris and Derrick Murphy.
2 The Commissar for Internal Affairs (1936), and responsible for the most brutal stages of the purges, later, he was arrested and executed as a scapegoat for the excesses of the purges.
3 The head of secret police who reported to Stalin regularly. This is said that ‘there were few Politburo members not under his surveillance’ in “Stalinist Russia” by Steve Phillips.
4 A campaign launched between 1923 and 1925 to increase the industrial membership of the Party.
5 A term used to describe the policies and ideas of Lenin after his death in 1924 in “Stalinist Russia”.
6 Trotsky wrote in 1924, “Stalin will become the dictator of the USSR” as stated in “Russia under Stalin” by J. F. Aylett. He became Stalin’s chief rival mainly because of his charismatic and intellectual qualities and his long-term consolidated support and contributions to the Bolshevik Party since 1905.
7 A government plan for the implementation of economic policies aiming at industrializing the Soviet Union. Its emphasis was on heavy industry in a state- owned and state- directed economy.
8 Magnitogorsk, in southern Siberia was based on metal industries in which the population grew from 25 people in 1929 to 250, 000 people in 1932.
9 A coal miner in Donbass region who mined 15 times as much than average miner in one shift.
10 Stalin’s policy which saw the strengthening of the revolution within Russia as more important than spreading revolution abroad.
Official Soviet production in the years 1927 to 1937 (Taken from a Nove, ‘An Economic History of the USSR’, 1992)
Sheep and goats
Agricultural production during collectiveisation (taken from Soviet sources)
13 A group of loyal party members who were sent to countryside to force the peasants into collectives.
14 The secret police from 1922- 1934 (in 1934, it was replaced by NKVD)
15 A term describing the wave of terror which Stalin and his supporters used to remove enemies.
16 Public trials of prominent enemies of the state.
17 The Head of the Leningrad Communist Party, who challenged Stalin’s status at the 1934 Party Congress. On 1 December 1934, he was shot by an agent.
18 The most violent stage of the purges from 1936 to 1938 by Yezhov, the Head of the NKVD at the time.
19 Stated on page 122 in ‘Stalinist Russia’ by Steve Phillips.
20 In 1935 the Education Law reasserted discipline in schools and government direction over the curriculum. The ‘Short Course’ became a standard text.
21 Newspaper like Pravda and Izvestiya were used for propaganda. Radio was censored.
22 Writers and artists were expected to work within limits laid down by the government.