To what extent was Stalin responsible for the modernisation of Russia?

When Stalin came into power in 1924, Russia was fifty to one hundred years behind other westernised countries. To maintain their status as a super power, the whole country had to be modernised. It is debatable, however, whether the modernisation of Russia was solely due to Stalin or whether past leaders, whether it be the Tsars or the New Economic Policy introduced in 1921. This essay will be looking at whether the modernisation of Russia was exclusively due to Stalin or whether there were others that contributed.

One of the main focuses that was modernised within Russia was the industry. It was the main factor that put Russia behind so many other countries. Stalin did a lot that modernised the industrial side to Russia. Production of all raw materials was increased. For example, the amount of electricity that was produced for Russia by Russia was up at least 5000 million kilowatts, coal was up by at least 35 million tons and steel production was up by at least 4 million tons. Therefore, Stalin must have done something that increased production on such a large scale. He had created genuine enthusiasm amongst young pioneers. As production rose, so did the technology used to produce such goods. New cities were made, transport was broadened, and there was little to no unemployment. However, this could have been due to many reasons, Stalin created fear within Russia.

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The unemployment or ‘enthusiasm’ could be due to genuine fear instead of the reported enthusiasm. The discipline within Russia was still at a high. Industry could not have been truly modernised as old types of punishment were being used. Labour camps still existed and were still being used thoroughly. So called accidents and deaths strike fear into the hearts of the Russian people, with 100, 000 workers dying in one incident whilst building Belomor Canal. The truth was, the organisation of the modernisation of Russia by Stalin was poor and inefficient and was even seen as a waste, with the common belief that the tsars set up the basis for industrialisation. For example, the tsars wanted to modernise Russia so it would stay a major power in the world, however, it was hard to do this if they wanted to maintain their autocracy. Under Alexander II’s rule, Russia was an expanding giant; however, it could not generate enough capital to support the rapid industrial development or to compete with advanced countries on a commercial basis.

Therefore, it must be said that industrialisation was ready to go ahead at this time, however, the resources it needed were not available. Additionally, when Alexander II was in power, there was a severe lack of resources because of the industrial backwardness. During the Crimean War, only one gun was produced for two men. The same situation held throughout the whole of the year. However, whilst Alexander II was in power, production of raw material once again rose with coal increases by about 1200%, nevertheless, at this time it was useless. There were not enough railway tracks to send the materials over Russia, and the surplus of the materials was still unable to cover the debts of Russia. Therefore, again, the tsar was unable to modernise the state at this point in time as the country was still struggling to get out of debt. However, it is ultimately Khrushchev that made a change to industry. Although Alexander II and Stalin were those that modernised Russia in the terms of levels of raw materials produced, it was Khrushchev that modernised it for the workers.

Khrushchev made it possible for workers to change their jobs when they wanted and introduced a 7 hour working day, instead of the endless hours to meet targets workers would originally have to do under Stalin. He also created 100 economic who could decide what would be produced. However, it is therefore impossible to argue that Khrushchev was the independent leader that modernised Russia. His policies seem to suggest that he modernised the people and their attitudes to work instead of the actual industry from having to work endless hours under Stalin and being punished for the smallest of things to being slightly free and able to move around a bit more, whereas Alexander II’s policies seemed to begin the modernisation but did not have the correct resources to get the economic goods they wanted. Therefore, it must be said that although the tsars began to modernise Russia, they did not complete it, whereas Stalin changed attitudes, increased workload and improved machinery. Khrushchev, finally, was responsible for making the workers a little bit more liberal. If one had not occurred, it would not have modernised the industry at all.

Agriculture was the main area of Russia that had to be modernised if Russia wanted to proceed with be in competition with the rest of western Russia. In 1858, 19,379,631 state serfs were in Russia, which took up at least 80% of the population at the time. The need for urgent reform was recognised by at least three people but was always put down by the nobility who continued to exploit the serfs. Ultimately the serfs were given personal freedom over a period of two years, including the land they previously owned. Serfs got several new freedoms, such as being able to marry who they wanted, move, within reason, where they wanted, could own property and generally were allowed to become free citizens of Russia. The abolition of serfdom encouraged the growth of banking, railways, industries and cities, and seen as a vital stage in the modernisation of Russia and in keeping support high for the Tsar. This way it was seen that the army would become stronger after they got rid of serfs that didn’t want to be there and the economic backwardness of Russia could be reversed.

Additionally, it was thought that due to this, serfs would be grateful and therefore agricultural production would grow. This certainly was the first step towards modernisation as serfs were once again liberalised. However, the tsars wished to keep their autocratic leadership, therefore it was not exactly freedom. Serfs were given less land than they had before and it was often not enough to support their family, therefore, it begs the question as to how they could make the surplus food to improve the economy if they could not even support their family. Also, regardless of how free the serfs were in theory, the Mir placed restrictions on travel, therefore, things were not modernised. Before the landowners were in charge of the serfs, yet they no longer had the power, therefore, a new system was needed to govern the serfs. However, within the time needed to set up the new government, violence spread across the countryside. Russia ended up being more backward than it was before the emancipation. Stolypin also attempted to modernise the agricultural sector of Russia, however, his plans were not put into power as WWI began, and therefore all interest went into Russian industry. Lenin continued to try to modernise Russia’s agricultural when he was in power under his policy of war communism. Russia was constantly suffering from famines due to peasants keeping excess grain and selling it for large amounts of money, as opposed to it being taken off them directly and being distributed centrally. Therefore, famines were common occurrences. To try and solve these problems, Lenin set up the People’s Commission of Supply in June 1918 to improve grain supply. Nevertheless, results were counterproductive with more peasants turning to subsistence farming and 20% of the population starving. However, this is mostly blamed on poor railway networks as grain could not be taken from the countryside to the industrialised areas. Therefore, although Lenin did substantially modernise Russia’s agriculture, other areas had to be modernised before the affects could reach the whole of Russia.

Khrushchev also attempted to modernise the agriculture of Russia due to the continuing famines and to stabilise the economy. It was known as the Virgin Lands scheme where unused land in Kazakhstan was used to grow grain. However, the land was not suitable for farming due to poor land and weather and therefore failed. This may suggest, therefore, that although Khrushchev had appropriate ideas, they were not executed properly. Stalin, however, was one of the most modernising leaders in agriculture. He had a desire to make agriculture more efficient through introducing machinery and making it more factory based. New farming methods, some up to date with western countries were tried, such as tractors and fertilisers. 99% of Russia was collectivised and therefore 97 million tonnes of crops were produced, which Stalin had complete control over. However, millions of people were killed which therefore reduced morale. An estimated 6-7 million died as a result. However, this is the highest amount of grain produced and new methods, such as the new western ideas towards agriculture were used, therefore it was definitely modernised, but at a huge cost. Nevertheless, it must be stated that although Stalin made the biggest change to the agriculture, it could not have been done without the foundations initially laid by the Alexander II and his emancipation policy. Therefore, it cannot be said that modernisation was solely due to Stalin as his policies could not have been made without the emancipation policy of Alexander II.

Purges were often a large problem in Russia, with the execution and murder of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of the population. For example, when Alexander III came into power, a reign of terror began in reaction to his father’s assassination. Alexander III began a policy of Russification where those who were ‘disloyal subjects’ (mostly those who were not Russian or orthodox but continued to live in Russia. The worst blows fell upon the Jews, with several pogroms took place against the Jews. Over 500 Jews were killed in the ‘great’ pogrom of 1905. Therefore, Alexander III did not modernise Russia as these violent attacks still occurred. This didn’t improve under the leadership of Lenin either as in 1922 over 200 critics were exiled as he tried to form a state of Russian intellectuals. Furthermore, Stalin did nothing to improve the situation, and if anything made them worse with even bigger purges taking place in order to remove people who were considered a threat to the party. Under Stalin’s rule, artists, scientists, teachers and people in the military were exiled, sent to concentration camps or executed. Millions were killed as a result of Stalin’s insecurity. Over 10 million were sent to labour camps, whereas 1 million were killed directly. Once again, it therefore cannot be said that Stalin modernised Russia as they were still using old tactics to clear the country of any opposition. Also, it Russia had been modernised, freedom of speech, to a certain extent would have been allowed, with other parties allowed to be competition for the existing party, however, this was not allowed due to laws passed by Lenin and Stalin. No criticisms or opposition was allowed. Therefore, Russia was not modernised.

Stalin, however, was the one who modernised the education system the most. When Alexander II was in leadership, education was very narrow. Only Russian subjects were taught with severely biased teachers taking lessons, for example subjects such as Philosophy were banned as they promoted western ideas. Additionally, universities were constantly being opened and closed in regards to spreading western, liberal ideas. Therefore, the education was under control of the tsar. In contrast, under Lenin’s leadership, students were very much in control of their education. Education was also compulsory, in comparison to the lax attitude under Alexander II where it was often restricted. Millions of children and adults alike were enrolled in literacy classes in an attempt to modernise Russia and improve global industry. Additionally, he continued to modernise Russia by introducing ‘national schools’ into Russia. However, this education was also biased. Social sciences were dominated by Marxist ideology and many scholars that didn’t approve were purged. Nevertheless, it must have been modernised as the number of children starting school rose dramatically. Stalin continued to contribute to the social liberalisation. Girls were given equal education opportunities with millions benefitting from literacy campaigns in his power. Again, however, this is not solely due to Stalin, as the literacy campaigns would not have been started without the original introduction by Lenin.

Therefore, in conclusion, it cannot be said that the modernisation of Russia was solely due to Stalin. However, it is more suitable to say that different leaders were successful in modernising different things in Russia. For example, as previously shown, Stalin made the most difference to agriculture. Nevertheless, it is also noted that in many of these policies, the successes of modernisation are due to more than one leader. For example, Stalin would not have been able to make such a difference to the education system if Lenin had not come up with a similar idea previously. Additionally, Stalin would not have been able to make such a difference in agriculture if Alexander II had not already laid down the foundations for change. Therefore, this essay concludes that whilst it was mostly Stalin that finished modernising Russia, the process lasted a long time which had contributions of many leaders which additionally lay down the foundations for many of Stalin’s future policies.


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