Stalin overshadows Lenin in this poster, and exhorts the nations of the Soviet Union to be thankful.
According to historians, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was the world’s largest and longest-lived socialist state to date. From 1922 to 1991, the Soviet Union went through many changes, which included variations in border limits, territorial annexations, and political control. At the time of its creation in 1922, the Soviet Union was a single unit that included Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, along with the Transcaucasia Republics, which included Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The peoples in this poster represent those incorporated republics.
Additional changes were made to the Soviet Union group throughout the years, until the final group was announced in 1956(see map below). By then, 15 countries had become part of the Soviet Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The nation of Russia itself was the most powerful of all the republics, and the one maintaining control over the territory and the main political decisions.
See the documentary, Stalin Declassified
In this poster, the people appear to be very happy with their place in the USSR, and historians agree that there was a certain euphoria to the great socialist undertaking, but it is also known that during the establishment of Collectivism in Ukraine and other republics taken over by Stalin, it is estimated that somewhere between 2 and 10 million people died of starvation, and an additional estimated 700,000 people during the years from 1932—1940 were shot. According to Wikipedia’s account of Stalinism:
“There were show trials in every republic of the USSR. State prime ministers, Party secretaries, officials academics, lawyers were all purged. Exiles from Poland, Germany and elsewhere were imprisoned or shot, including Bela Kun, the leader of the Hungarian revolution in 1919, who was shot in 1936. During this period 1 in 18 of the population were arrested.
The terror extended to every aspect of society. It was coupled to the coercion of the peasants. It would be all the more effective if it could be coupled to ideological goals, such as increased production, and tied in with traditional scapegoats, such as “wreckers” and kulaks. When in August 1935 a miner, Aleksei Stakhanov, was alleged to have hewed 12 tons of coal in six hours, Stalin created the cult of Stakhanovism, and used it to “encourage” managers to make attempts on records.”(Copyright © Blacksacademy – July 2005)
See the original newsreel: Year of the Stakhanovite (I can’t embed this one).
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The path of our country is bright and great, heroic… everything is full of a hurricane of creativity… Our happiness of living was created by STALIN – he made [our happiness] the law… Young geniuses are born… and elderly look at them with pride.
The fascist’s path is full of dark clouds, their air is poisonous… Everybody who wears swastika looses human face and acquires the look of a beast… fascism… provides rest at prisons only, they throw their cultural heritage into fire, the youth is to get dum and the elderly have only one way to escape from suffering – to die…. but the proletariat will crush the fascism!
Demyan Bedny is a pseudonym for Yefim Pridvorov. It means “Damian the Poor”. Bedny was an ardent supporter of Communism and much of his work lauds the Communist state. Understandably, his poetry has not been widely translated.
Some historians and the journals of Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya give another perspective on the people’s views of the time. Ultimately, the Soviets, with all their ambitious industrialization projects and tight control, did repel the German advance on the Soviet Union and helped to weaken the German efforts toward the end of WWII.
ABOVE: The girl in the photograph in the woods outside Butovo is remembering those who died in the NKVD firing range of Butovo during the Great Purges. Butovo was a processing center for “enemies of the state” during several years. It has been documented that on some days, more than 500 prisoners were shot in a single day. There, trains also loaded boxcars full of prisoners en route to Siberia from the Moscow area.
Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya’s journal page titled,“Village that Became a Cemetery” depicts the effect of Stalin’s Great Purges one village.
Photos of a few of those arrested and never found after the Great Purges. These photos are on display at a shrine honoring victims of the Great Purges of 1936-7. It opened in Butovo, Russia in 2007.
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Among its articles on Stalin, Wikipedia says of The Industrialization movement during the years from 1932—1942:
“Stalin’s “Five-Year Plans” called for a highly ambitious program of state-guided crash industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture.
With seed capital unavailable because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure, Stalin’s government financed industrialization both by restraining consumption on the part of ordinary Soviet citizens to ensure that capital went for re-investment into industry, and by ruthless extraction of wealth from the kulak landowners.
“The Soviet Union used numerous foreign experts, to design new factories, supervise construction, instruct workers and improve manufacturing processes. 521 factories were built between 1930 and 1932. In spite of early breakdowns and failures, the first two Five-Year Plans achieved rapid industrialization from a very low economic base. While it is generally agreed that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, these gains were accomplished at the cost of millions of lives.“
Historians agree that Five-Year Plans during these years substantially helped to modernize the previously backward Soviet economy. New products were developed, and the scale and efficiency of existing production greatly increased. Some innovations were based on indigenous technical developments, others on imported foreign technology. Despite the great costs, the industrialization effort allowed the Soviet Union to fight, and ultimately win its WWII conflicts.”
ABOVE: An entry called, “On the Railroad” from one of the 12 journals of Eufrosinia_Kersnovskaya. The journals describe her life during 1939—1952. She spent 12 years in Soviet prisons because she was the daughter of a Ukrainian landowner. She produced 680 drawings of her recollections.
Many labor camps, “Gulags”, like this one, although now somewhat more humane, are still in operation. It is not uncommon for political and other prisoners to be housed in camps like this one. This camp is located near the Ural Mountains. You can see some of the prisoners standing on the walkway.
In this group picture, the girls you see in the second row of the lower photo and the men with longer hair are visitors.
BELOW: Compare the idyllic 1936 poster with Kersnovskaya’s entry, “Entering Labor Camp”.
Original lithographs are sold out. Highest quality reproductions can be produced upon request.
The city in the background looks pretty, but many would say the reality wasn’t. January 1, 1937 marked the last year of the second 5-Year Plan and announcement of Socialism’s Third 5-year plan.
Stalin’s first 5-year plan established collective farming and had gotten most of the peasants organized into collective farms. The idea behind collective farms was that the landowner class would be eliminated. The plan didn’t work as well as expected and millions of people died or were sent to labor camps, some for not going along with the plan, others of starvation.
The second 5-year plan continued to emphasize industrialization, but, by then, food shortages were pronounced because the great emphasis on the industrialization effort was out of synch with the tremendous and widespread dearth of basic necessities.
Many historical sites describe what happened during those years. Caroline Brooke refers to a few of those writings in her article, “May You Live in Interesting Times”. Below is an excerpt.
“For the majority of urban (USSR) residents, the most distinctive feature of the 1930s was not the mass arrests and show trials of 1936-8 but the sharp fall in living standards that accompanied the switch to economic planning at the beginning of the decade. This was a period of chronic shortages, and the ordinary city-dweller had to learn how to hunt and gather in an urban environment in order to secure the basic necessities of life. Ultimately it was the planned economy that lay at the root of most of the problems of the 1930s for ordinary people: the inflated bureaucracy, the housing crisis, food rationing, interminable queues and grinding poverty. And it was these problems that gave rise to many of the distinctive features of urban life detailed in this volume: the emergence of a privileged class and the development of unofficial distribution networks such as the black market, patronage and Mat. But this was not just a time of great scarcity, it was also a period of construction. The 1930s were a time of transition in urban Russia: the era in which most of the amenities of modern cities – public transport, sewage systems, street lighting were only just being established. It was also – at least for some – a time of great enthusiasm: an age of heroism, utopianism, optimism and considerable boasting about the exaggerated achievements of the workers’ state. The regime sought not just to modernize, it also aimed to civilize its subjects, and political leaders saw themselves in the role of a cultural vanguard. Indeed, the 1930s would witness the official redefinition of the category ‘intelligentsia’, to include not just the educated cultural elite, but also the managerial class, recently promoted from the factory bench. Things did not always work out quite as the authorities planned them: the communal housing system, for instance, far from encouraging communal attitudes and practices among residents had the absolute opposite effect, generating feelings of envy and covetousness between neighbors. There were some problems that the authorities generated for themselves: they were anxious, for example, to know what people were thinking, yet they had themselves created a climate in which people felt unable to express their opinions freely in public. Similarly, the regime had a genius for making enemies and never successfully ‘developed. . . effective mechanisms for allowing errant sheep back into the fold’. If the stigma of enmity could never be removed, then those whom the regime had identified as enemies would have to create new identities – to ‘mask’ themselves in order to avoid further persecution. Paranoia about ‘hidden enemies’, and the regime’s inability to accept the possibility that people could be rehabilitated, thus contributed to the creation of a vicious circle of fear and loathing. An inflated bureaucracy, as Trotsky pointed out, becomes a necessary evil during times of scarcity when distribution is an essential administrative task. And yet the Soviet bureaucracy, corrupt and inefficient as it was, served as a useful safety valve for the authorities in these difficult times: a lightning conductor for complaints by ordinary citizens. It would become an officially sanctioned object of attack, particularly during the terror year of 1937.”
Author: Caroline Brooke
Source: Contemporary European History, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Feb., 2003), pp. 119-127
Published by: Cambridge University Press
EA_Kersnovskaya wrote a dozen journals of her experiences in the USSR, beginning in 1939, when she was taken to prison for being a landowner’s daughter. Her journal page below shows a pair who will eat well that day because they had found a dead horse frozen in the ice. They are harvesting the intestines for food.
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By 1936 the Young Communists Club, Komsomol, was providing organized activities for young people, as this poster shows.
According to an Encyclopedia Britannica on the subject of Komsomol:
“Komsomol was started in 1918 in order to band together various youth organizations that had previously been involved in the Russian Revolution. When the military phase ended, a new purpose was set in 1922—to engage the members in sports, education, publishing activities, and various service and industrial projects. The Komsomol was an organization for young people aged 14 to 28 and its other purpose was to spread Communist teachings and preparing future members of the Communist Party.”
As interest declined over the years the Komsomol lost popularity and was officially ended by Gorbachev.
Closely associated with this organization were thePioneers (All-Union Lenin Pioneer Organization, established in 1922), for ages 9 to 14, and the Little Octobrists, for the very young. The Komsomol ceased activities under Gorbachev, but if you watch YOU-Tube shorts on the subject of Komsomol, you can see that the KOMSOMOL still has a place today and, like Communism, the concept is regaining some popularity.
BELOW: Eufrosinia’s Kersnovskaya’ journal page showing a memory of her life during the years 1939-1952. There was a great contrast between life for the families of party members and that of people outside of the city. Looking closely you can see that all the children are sharing one bed in their small house.