After the death of Lenin in 1924, a shrewd man, who had previously only blended into the background of the Communist Government, Joseph Stalin, overcame his main opponent Leon Trotsky in the struggle for power. Since Stalin had set up all the necessary government posts with his supporters, he faced nearly no opposition in the government.
Stalin’s aim was to improve industry in the Soviet Union and turn it into a world power. He realized that he could not do this unless Russia industrialized as quickly as possible, for, according to him, it was “one hundred years behind advanced countries.” Stalin’s plan of action, the “command economy” although it contributed greatly to making Russia a superpower, had horrific consequences on the people of Russia.
In 1928, Stalin put an end to Lenin’s NEP and started the Collective Farms in which tens of millions of peasants had to pool their farms into one and mass-produce food to feed all of Russia. With only the scanty food left over after the government had taken its share, it was impossible for the peasants to feed themselves. Famine was widespread; once again, the peasants suffered for the entire nation. When the wealthier peasants, known as the Kulaks, rebelled against Stalin by killing their animals and burning their crops, they were seized by the secret police, the Cheka, and executed.
Stalin forced Russia’s industry to revolutionize at breakneck speed. Every factory was given a quota to fill, forcing some factories to make bad quality merchandise with no regards to consumer interest, as long as the production figures were correct. It is estimated that half the tractors produced in that era broke down within a short period of purchase. The people were pushed to work harder; to do otherwise would mean severe punishment. Those who dared to object ended up in forced labor camps, or gulags, in Siberia, where countless people died of the starvation, overwork and the extreme cold.
In 1934, Stalin devised a more direct way of eliminating opposition: he simply murdered it. Stalin started “the Purges” which lasted four years, from 1934 to 1938. During those years, almost seven million people disappeared into the night, or, more accurately, into the early morning, which was when most arrests by the secret police, the Cheka, were made. Indeed, Stalin’s paranoia knew no prejudice, for people from every class of society were affected by it. He ordered the execution of everyone from Party members, to the old Bolsheviks who had started the Revolution, to the managers of factories that did not meet the production quota, to ordinary citizens who often did not know what they did to provoke Stalin’s wrath. Leading Bolshevik leaders had the honor of being given a “Show Trial”, during which they were forced to confess to ridiculous crimes, and then executed after such humiliation.
In September of 1939, Stalin signed a secret non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler, allowing Hitler to invade Poland. Immediately following this pact, Stalin began annexing the small neighboring countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. In the summer of 1941, Hitler, still power hungry after conquering nearly all of the countries in the Balkans, invaded Russia with his immense army. He besieged the city of Leningrad, trying to starve its people into surrender. During the harsh winter 0f 1941, almost half of the inhabitants of that city died of starvation. Still the city refused to fall. Frustrated with his unsuccessful attempt, Hitler moved his troops into Moscow, the capital of Russia. But winter was on the side of the Russians; as winter blew through Moscow, it froze the oil tanks, the weapons and the morales of the German soldiers, who were finally pushed out of Russia by Soviet troops lead by General Georgi Zhukov in 1943. Russia had survived World War II barely intact.
In the midst of a bleeding country, Stalin made himself omnipotent. He used different forms of propaganda, such as posters, paintings and statues to spread the fact that he was “the wisest man alive.” He glorified the history of Russia in the twentieth century and altered encyclopedias to increase Russia’s power in the minds of its people.
Stalin created a totalitarian state under the name of Communism. It was a government far from Marx’s ideal of Communism, in which there would be no government but political and economical equality. Stalin’s government had turned into a form of absolute dictatorship, which demanded total control of every aspect of the people’s lives. Stalin’s totalitarian government violated the basic freedom of the people under the reasoning of doing so for the “general good.”
The most important question is, why didn’t the people band together and rebel as they had done decades ago? There were certain rebellions over time that were suppressed brutally, but no mass rebellions. Perhaps the masses lacked leadership. Perhaps the people were not really controlled by Stalin and the Cheka police, but by economics. In the former Soviet Union, especially during Stalin’s reign, every aspect of the lives of the citizens were controlled by the government, including their pay, which directly affected the welfare of their families. It was even harder for a member of the Communist Party to shake the system, for there was some form of corruption at every level, such as special privileges and good quality food off-limit to the ordinary citizens. This system of corruption would continue until the fall of the Soviet Union, becoming more widespread over the years to come.
There is, in reality, no such system as a pure Communist system. As was seen in Stalin’s reign, desperate ambition, as well as the temptations of corruption proved too high a barrier for the leaders involved. Thus, Communism, which was theoretically formulated to help the common worker, evolved quickly into Totalitarianism, which jeopardized the most basic right of human beings, the right to make a free choice. Along with this right went the right of free speech, the best defense of human rights and dignity.