Stalin and the Drive to Industrialize the Soviet Union

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The late twenties and early thirties were perhaps the most transformative period in Soviet history. It was during this period Stalin consolidated his grip on power and was allowed to rule with impunity, instituting his “revolution from above” on the Soviet people. He actively transformed the culture of the time, giving birth to a new Russian nationalism, rejecting the earlier Bolshevik conviction that the family was a bourgeois institution, and even forcing artists and writers to embrace “socialist realism.” These cultural changes were, however, minor adjustments when compared to the vast changes his economic policies brought to the everyday lives of the Russian people. Through the brutal process of collectivization he destroyed the autonomy the Russian peasant had enjoyed since the revolution, and he led an industrialization drive that has had few historic parallels. The human costs of both these initiatives were monstrous. It was during industrialization that the Soviet Union became truly totalitarian. Industrialization was the main component of Stalin’s revolution. All the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution understood the inherent problem in starting a communist revolution in Russia: the country was not sufficiently capitalist to become socialist, and subsequently, communist. The transition from the old Russia to a truly communist state would require industrialization on a massive scale. According to Marxist theory, only through a modern industrialized economy could a true proletariat class be developed as Marx makes no mention of a peasant class. Marxist theory aside, the need to industrialize was also a pragmatic matter of self-defense. Stalin, either as a result of paranoia or a simple distrust of the capitalist West, assumed his country would have to fight for its survival. He presented the need to industrialize as a life or death struggle. “Do you want
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