The Communist party congress also ended NEP and proclaimed that the new “socialist offensive” would begin in 1928. The twelve years between 1928 and 1940 were to see massive changes in Russian life—collectivized agriculture, rapid industrialization, forced labor, great purges, the extermination of all political opposition, the building of an authoritarian state apparatus, and a return of bourgeois standards in almost every aspect of social and intellectual life.
In 1928 the failure of the peasants to deliver as much grain to the cities as was required underlined the dangers inherent in the land divisions of 1917 and in the concessions of NEP. Farm productivity on the small individual holdings was not high enough to feed the city population. Food was expensive, yet the kulaks wanted more land. Grain was hoarded. The government economic plan issued during 1928 set a figure of 20 percent of Russian farms as the maximum to be collectivized by 1933. Yet during 1929 Stalin embarked on immediate full-scale collectivization.
The government did not have the money or the credit to import food and had no governmental machinery to force farmers to part with food that they were hoarding. Therefore, the government enlisted on its side the small peasants; in exchange for their assistance in locating and turning over the kulaks’ crops, the peasants were promised a place on a collective farm to be made up of the kulaks’ land and equipped with the kulaks’ implements. The kulaks, Stalin declared in late 1929, were to be liquidated as a class. There were about 2 million households of them, perhaps as many as 10 million people in all. Their lands were now to be totally expropriated, and at the same time, they were to be barred from joining the new collectives. Since no provision was made for them, this move turned collectivization into an economic and social nightmare.
Peasants were machine-gunned into submission; kulaks were deported to forced labor camps or to desolate regions in Siberia. In desperate revolt the peasants burned crops, broke plows, killed and ate their cattle rather than turn them over to the state, and fled to the cities. More than half the horses in all the western Soviet Union, 45 percent of the cattle, and two thirds of the sheep and goats were slaughtered. Land lay uncultivated, and over the next few years millions died of famine.
As early as March 1930 Stalin showed that he was aware of the incredible mistakes he had made, and he blamed local officials who, he said, had been too eager to rush through the program. Still, 50 percent of Russian farms had been hastily thrown together into collectives during that year. Only 10 percent more were added during the next three years, so that by 1933 a total of 60 percent had been collectivized. The number rose again, and by 1939 more than 96 percent of Russian farms had been collectivized.
Just as he stepped up the frantic pace of collectivizing agriculture, so at first gradually, then suddenly, Stalin shifted to forced draft in industry also. In 1928 the era of five-year plans began, each setting ambitious goals for production over the next five years. In 1929 and 1930 Stalin appropriated ever-higher sums for capital investment, and in June 1930 he declared that industrial production must rise by 50 percent in that year. Under the first five-year plan, adopted in 1928, annual pig-iron production was scheduled to rise from 3.5 million tons to 10 million tons by 1932, but in that year Stalin demanded 17 million tons instead. It was not produced, but Stalin’s demand for it was symptomatic of the pace at which he was striving to transform Russia from an agricultural to an industrial country.
Part of the reason for this rapid pace lay in the collectivization drive itself. Large-scale farming must be mechanized farming. Yet there were only seven thousand tractors in all the western Soviet Union at the end of 1928. Stalin secured thirty thousand more during 1929, but industry had to produce millions of machines plus the gasoline to run them. Since the countryside had to be electrified, power stations were needed by the thousands. Millions of peasants had to be taught how to handle machinery. But there was no one to teach them and there were no factories to produce the machinery.
Another reason for the drive to industrialize lay in the tenets of Marxism itself. Russia had defied all Marx’s predictions by staging a proletarian revolution in a country that lacked a proletariat. Yet despite the communists’ initial political successes, Stalin felt that capitalism had a firmer basis than communism in the Soviet Union, so long as it remained a country of peasants. And so the communists were determined to create that massive urban proletariat which did not yet exist.
The goals of the first five-year plan were not attained, although fulfillment was announced anyway in 1932. Immediately, the second plan, prepared by the state planning commission, went into effect and ran until 1937; the third was interrupted by Hitler’s invasion. Each plan emphasized the elements of heavy industry—steel, electric power, cement, coal, oil. Between 1928 and 1940 steel production was multiplied by four and one-half, electric power by eight, cement by more than two, coal by four, and oil by almost three.
Similar developments took place in chemicals and in machine production. Railroad construction was greatly increased, and the volume of freight carried quadrupled with the production of the country’s own rolling stock. By 1940 Soviet output was approaching that of Germany. What the rest of Europe had done in roughly seventy-five years, the Soviet Union had done in about twelve.
All this was achieved at the cost of dreadful hardship, yet eyewitnesses report that many workers were as enthusiastic as if they had been soldiers in battle. Valuable machinery was often damaged or destroyed by inexperienced workers. The problems of repair, of replacement, of achieving balance between the output and consumption of raw materials, of housing workers in the new centers were unending and cost untold numbers of lives.
Administratively, the Soviet economy was run by the state. The Gosplan (State Planning Commission) drew up the five-year plans and supervised their fulfillment at the management level. The Gosbank (State Bank) regulated the investment of capital. An economic council administered the work of various agencies; its major divisions were metallurgy and chemistry, defense, machinery, fuel and power, agriculture and procurements, and consumer goods. Production trusts controlled the mines, blast furnaces, and rolling mills; these were the so-called combinats, or “great production complexes.” In each plant the manager was responsible for producing the quota set within the maximum cost allowed.
The social effects of this economic program were dramatic. Urban population rose from about 18 percent in 1926 to about 33 percent in 1940. The relative freedom to choose one’s job that had marked the NEP disappeared. Individual industrial enterprises signed labor contracts with the collectives by which a given number of farm workers were obliged to go to the factories. Peasants who resisted collectivization were drafted into labor camps. In the factories the trade unions became an organ of the state. The chief role of the unions was to achieve maximum production and efficiency. Trade unions could not strike or quarrel with management, though they could administer the social insurance laws and negotiate to improve workers’ living conditions.
Thus, Stalin set himself against the old Bolshevik principles of equality. The Marxist slogan, “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs” was shelved in favor of a new one: “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his work.” Where Lenin had allowed none of the members of the government to earn more than a skilled laborer, Stalin set up a new system of incentives.
A small minority of bureaucrats, skilled laborers, factory managers, and successful collective bosses earned vastly more than the unskilled laborers and peasants. Together with the writers, artists, musicians, entertainers, and athletes who lent their talents to the service of the regime, these people—generally men— became a new elite. They had a vested interest in furthering a regime to which they owed everything. The old privileged class of noble landlords, already weakened at the time of the revolution, had ceased to exist. The industrial, commercial, and financial bourgeoisie, which was just coming into its own at the time of the revolution, was destroyed after 1928, despite the temporary reprieve it had experienced under NEP.
Most of the old intelligentsia, who had favored a revolution, could not in the end accept Stalin’s dictatorship, and many of them emigrated. Those who remained were expected to concentrate on technical advances and on new administrative devices for speeding the transformation of the country; that is, they were to be “social engineers,” high-level bureaucrats, propagandists for the new society who did not question its basic tenets or its direction.
After 1928, therefore, the logic of Stalin’s policies forced a systematic mobilization of thought that in time virtually became thought control. Marx had assumed that a radical change in human nature was possible by conditioning of the social environment. Lenin recognized, however, that the new socialist society presumed the existence of a “new man” and “new woman,” who would have to be created as part of the revolution. Industrialization and the collectivizing of agriculture could work only if unproductive speculation gave way to applied thinking directed to the needs of the state; this was particularly so in economics, philosophy, and psychology, but history and literature must also be transformed. To transform them, they must be controlled.
The Soviet Union was noted for its economists, whose support was essential to give credibility to the NEP. Some economists felt that the potential scope of state planning was severely limited; others thought total planning possible; some were optimistic about how fast industrialization could proceed; others were pessimistic. Those whose arguments were contrary to the political needs of Stalin were accused of trying to undermine the first five-year plan. Though Stalin had attacked only the economists for their failure to keep pace with successes, the philosophers quickly understood his message and turned to the practical application of philosophy to social problems.
In psychology, researchers such as Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) emphasized how human behavior could be explained in terms of biological reflexes. Psychology also influenced education, and in time educators would argue that four factors determined behavior: heredity, environment, training, and self-training. Schools ceased trying to provide an environment in which the personality might develop and became institutions geared to turning out productive and loyal citizens.
But it was in literature and history—and in their explicit censorship—that the need to mobilize thought was most apparent. Literature was important because it influenced people, not because it was a path to truth. Declaring that neutral art was impossible, the Central Committee of the party gave its full support to peasant writers. A series of industrial novels sought to energize the people to higher productivity and pride. Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) became editor of a magazine on socialism, and he and others launched a series of histories of factories to focus attention on the nation’s industrial triumphs.
History was to take communist partisanship as its guiding principle. At first non-Marxist historians were allowed to continue their work, but with the organization of the Institute of Red Professors (1921) and the Society of Marxist Historians (1925), Soviet historiography became increasingly intolerant of those who did not see history as a science or who continued to write of Peter as “the Great” or of Catherine II as other than a “dissolute and criminal woman.”
Nonetheless, as Stalin realized that world revolution was increasingly unlikely, and as the need for patriotism to meet Hitler’s challenge became more evident, historians were able to return to writing of past figures who would give the Russian people a sense of pride.
Finally, to make thought control effective and thus change the environment, restrictions and ultimately censorship were necessary. In 1922 a review agency, the Chief Administration for the Preservation of State Secrets in the Press (or Glavlit, its Russian abbreviation), was established to censor the press, manuscripts, photographs, radio broadcasts, lectures, and exhibitions. A subsection, begun in 1923, dealt with theater, music, and other arts. Glavlit placed an official in each publishing house, broadcasting studio, customs-house, and so forth, to monitor how the law was being obeyed. Some publications, such as the official newspaper of the Soviet, Isvestiya, were exempt from Glavlit, and the autonomous republics could establish their own Glavlits.
In an increasingly literate society of the kind Stalin intended, control over the press would prove to be even more important. The government encouraged the establishment of newspapers as a means of informing and educating the people to revolutionary socialism; by 1927 there were 1,105 newspapers and 1,645 periodicals in the Soviet Union; and by 1965 the number had grown to 6,595 and 3,833, respectively, in sixty-five languages.
To control this vast outpouring, a decree of 1935 established the Telegraphic Agency of the Soviet Union (or Tass) as the central organ for information in the USSR. Until 1961 Tass held a monopoly over the distribution of all foreign information within the USSR and over all information that moved from one Soviet republic to another.