September 25, 2014


Triumph of the Will (PAUL JOHNSON, October 2014, Standpoint)

At the end of this volume Professor Kotkin asks the question: What if Stalin had died in 1928 before he launched the collectivisation of Soviet agriculture? What difference would it have made? The scale of this gigantic act of social engineering, 1928-1933, unique in world history, affected more than 100 million people living in villages and on the nomadic steppes. About five million of them, many of them highly productive, were forcibly "dekulakised", enclosed in cattle trucks and exiled in far-off regions of Siberia and elsewhere in the remote Russian countryside. Millions of others, to escape removal, sold or abandoned their properties. In many cases, those forced into collective farms burned their crops, slaughtered their flocks and did their best to kill the officials and troops who dragooned them.

The losses were quite unprecedented. In the hunger that followed -- the longest, by far, man-made famine in history -- between five and seven million died, and 40 million more came close to starvation. The number of sheep fell from nearly 22 million to under two million, cattle from 70 million to 28 million, horses from 35 million to 17 million and pigs from 26 million to 12 million.

The whole colossal exercise was without any rational justification. Tsarist Russia was an inefficient country but, under the impact of rapidly expanding capitalism, was becoming less so with impressive speed. Agriculture was modernising itself without undue suffering. All this was taking place without any interference from the state. Collectivisation halted and reversed the process of improvement, and the losses were not made good for half a century, indeed in some cases never. To collectivise was a specifically political decision, without any economic, demographic, cultural or humanitarian reasoning. It was an absolutist piece of theorising, undertaken without preparation or practical planning, in the arrogant belief that this form of socialism was right.

To take such a decision, and to carry it through, year after year, against all the evidence that it did not work, and was wasting life and property in vast quantities, required a sustained act of will of an unusual kind -- one is tempted to say a unique kind. Stalin was capable of such an extraordinary act of will and, in Professor Kotkin's opinion, that set him apart from others at the summit of Soviet power at the time. [...]

What made Stalin different -- in this he was unlike any other Bolshevik leader except Lenin -- was the overwhelming strength of his will. Hence the transformation of Russia from the confused muddle of capitalism and authoritarian government created by the NEP into the centralised state monolith and tyranny of the Soviet Union, held together by the GPU and the gulag archipelago, was the work of one man. And if Stalin had died in 1928 it would never have come into existence, with all of its enormous consequences to this day.

The only man with a will, at this time, comparable to Stalin's was not a Russian but a German-Adolf Hitler. 

All Stalin did was what Lenin would have done.  

Posted by at September 25, 2014 5:38 PM

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