In a recent message one person wrote that "Russian communism ceased to exist as soon as Stalin came to power." Replying to this I wrote that the economic policy of confiscation of grain, the subsequent suppression of the Kronstadt uprising, the imprisonment of Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, etc. happened when Lenin was still in power. Russians would probably have been better off without proletarian dictatorship. Russia was not the only country devastated, demoralized and disorganized by W.W.I. It had everything needed to economically catch up with other European nations, in a decade or two.
The first post-tsarist government, headed by A. F. Kerenski, with its duma, etc., was a promising innovation, resulting from the 1917 February Revolution. But several months later that social structure was crushed by Bolsheviks. That was Lenin's big mistake; the ensuing civil war would probably not have taken place without the October Revolution.
2) And what was Stalin's biggest mistake, after Lenin's death? It was the policy of forced collectivization of agriculture. What follows is my recent message on the Montclair State University discussion list.
Forced collectivization, resulting in millions of deaths, was one of the Stalin's doctrinal mistakes. I am not an economist but I worked in several Soviet collective farms (as a hired 12-year-old worker, during W.W.II). For every bag of potatoes, collected behind the plow, they paid us with one to take home. Here is what I remember about this problem; I have no history books at home.
a) As in other European countries, peasants in Russia were serfs, until the feudal system was abolished. In the 19th century they became rural proletariat (working for landlords).
b) Peasants supported Lenin's revolution because it promised redistribution of land. After the revolution they became owners of plots of land.
c) The revolution, the civil war that followed, and nationalization of factories created a deplorable food situation in towns. The policy known as "War Communism" was established at that time. It consisted of military-like assaults on peasants (large scale confiscation of grain and farm animals).
d) Disastrous consequences of War Communism were recognized by Bolsheviks. The New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced by Lenin, saved the country from immediate collapse. It was a state-controlled market economy. Differentiation among peasants developed, some of them becoming more productive than others. Prosperous peasants were called kulaks.
e) A large number of city dwellers also benefitted from the NEP trade; they were called Nepmen.
f) Stalin decided to eliminate NEP. The policy of rapid industrialization (the first 5-year plan) was introduced at essentially the same time as forced collectivization of agriculture.
Collective farms were not sufficiently productive. I think that Soviet economy would have been in much better shape without forced collectivization, and without sending kulaks to gulag camps. Let me repeat, forced collectivization, resulting in millions of deaths, was one of Stalin's doctrinal mistakes. Is this not obvious? Consequences of this mistake are described on page 89 of my book (1). "About 28% of the Soviet agricultural production [1979 data] was from small private plots of private citizens. These plots represented less than 1% of the cultivated land."
3) Numerous mistakes were described in a more recent paper (2). The author seems to be a young leftist trying to dissociate himself from Stalinism. His scholarly analysis of Soviet history shows that at least some Marxists are willing to be open-minded about Stalinism. Criticism of Stalin is a prerequisite, I think, for being taken seriously. Here is what I wrote about this in Section 3.9 of (1). "Who should be eager to make attempts to understand Stalinism? Those who still believe in Marxism-Leninism. Why? To be sure their ideology is worth believing. How can they advocate Marxism without an analysis of objective data from the Soviet Union and several other countries? They probably prefer not to talk about this in public because nobody wants to be called a promoter of mass murder. Do they discuss the evil empire among themselves? I doubt it. They prefer to forget about Stalin and move forward. As a result Stalinism is mostly investigated by those who disagree with it. The refusal to openly discuss Stalinism, [by some leftists], does not help the ideology."-
4) Let me also mention an interesting observation found in (3). The author wrote that "the internal contradiction between utopian promise and systematic political violence runs through the history of the Soviet Union, and it helps explain how the regime that promoted ethnic and national cultures could also use all the powers of the state to suppress and deport in the worst conditions imaginable particular nationalities."-
5) Please identify other social engineering errors made by Bolsheviks.
1) Ludwik Kowalski, "Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist regime,"- Wasteland Press, Shelbyville, KY, USA
Excerpts are at:
2) Jack Conrad, "Dripping from head to foot with blood and dirt,"- Weekly Worker 742, October 23, 2008
3) Eric D. Weitz, "A Century of Genocide: Utopiaa of Race and Nation,"- Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2003