When Joseph Stalin published his article “A Year of Great Change” he was referring to the success of the first Five Year Plan launched at the beginning of 1928. In this first year the Soviet State saw success on three very important fronts. First off, the state and party were able to tighten labor discipline and create a certain atmosphere of enthusiasm for labor throughout the country. Secondly, agriculture production had been raised and millions of peasants were willingly joining collective farms across the country. And thirdly and most importantly, the state and party were able to solve the problem of investment capital for the creation of heavy industry, which was a prerequisite for industrialization. However, I find the name “A Year of Great Change” to be far too modest for the changes Stalin would bring to the Soviet Union, and his article should have been titled “Three Decades of Fundamental Construction”.
A Socialist Economy
In 1928 Stalin marked the beginning of the first Five Year Plan, which aimed at a break neck pace of industrialization of the Soviet economy. What was introduced alongside the first Five Year Plan, was centralized economic planning of the entire economy. Everything that was to be produced was coordinated by the State Planning committee, or most commonly known by is acronym GOSPLAN. The State would decide what to produce and at what prices it would sell. This marked the creation of a Socialist economy, something the world had never seen before.
“Instead of letting the market mediate in relations between state-owned industry and peasant agriculture, the state would centrally allocate resources and assign prices according to its own determination of rationality and need.”Lewis Siegelbaum
On the cultural front, Stalin’s Soviet Union reversed course on many of the revolutionary values that were popular in the 1920’s. Experimentation in many spheres of life such as literature, film, and music were curtailed and in many cases completely eliminated. On the literary front Stalin was frustrated with the turbulence of literary politics and called for the elimination of both the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers and the Literary Front which both experimented with “leftist literary methods.” To take their place would be the new Union of Soviet Writers, which would align itself with the new socialist values. Classical entertainment also felt this change, with many avant-garde artistic styles such as Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” Opera being slammed by the Party Press and eventually banned. Other relatively “liberal” values such as fairly easy access to abortions and divorce were also tightened if not out right banned during this period known as the “Great Retreat”.
They(the Soviet leadership) resorted to patriotic appeals; they buttressed the family and schools as key institutions in Soviet society; they replaced iconoclastic avant-garde culture with Russian classics; and they discarded leather jackets and revolutionary asceticism in favor of tailored suits and material rewards.Nicholas Timasheff
While the fundamental political system had been created by Lenin, i.e. democratic centralism wherein the Party’s Congress acts as the highest governing body, and elects the Central Committee which subsequently elects the General Secretary and the Politburo who act as the main governing body when the Congress is not in session. The way this system functioned however, would be determined by his successors, mainly Stalin. Under Stalin’s leadership the traditional Marxist reverence for the “masses” were replaced by the reverence of the “vozhd” which more or less translates to leader in English. This can be seen in the “cult of Lenin” which elevated Lenin’s statues to that of a near god throughout the Soviet Union, with cities, streets, and anything and everything being renamed in his honor. This celebration for the leader also meant Stalin as well, with his cult of personality. This turned Stalin into a god among men and like Lenin he was elevated to a level of infallibility with his portraits and statues appearing in almost every public space and most people’s homes. This eroded the idea of “collective leadership,” which the party and its Central Committee and Politburo were suppose to represent, with almost every major decision being decided by Stalin.
“What is even more clear is that no issue of any importance was decided by the Politbiuro without Stalin’s participation, and certainly not against his will.”Lewis Siegelbaum
It would be wrong to say that the three decades of Stalin’s leadership fundamentally changed the USSR. His leadership did not “change” the structure of the Soviet State, but constructed it, and it all began in the 1930’s. The 30’s marked the creation of Soviet Economic, cultural, and political thinking.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
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