Accounts of the Great Depression (1929 to the late 1930s) usually use terms such as ‘worldwide’ and ‘global’. Trade declined by 50%, heavy industry came to a virtual standstill, unemployment went as high as 33% and so on. Obviously, for such accounts the USSR was not part of the ‘world’ and ‘globe’ at the time. The first and second five-year plans had an extraordinary effect, industrialising a ‘backward’ economy in a way that makes every other industrial revolution pale by comparison. Agriculture was mechanised and collectivised, and output, employment, and standard of living grew by staggering proportions. While many at the time prophesied the imminent economic collapse of the Soviet Union – ‘mediaeval fossils to whom facts mean nothing’ (Stalin) – others were willing to give honour where honour was due. For example, the English capitalist, Gibson Jarvie, president of the United Dominion Trust, wrote in 1932:

Now I want it clearly understood that I am neither Communist nor Bolshevist, I am definitely a capitalist and an individualist …. Russia is forging ahead while all too many of our factories and shipyards lie idle and approximately 3,000,000 of our people despairingly seek work. Jokes have been made about the five-year plan, and its failure has been predicted. You can take it as beyond question, that under the five-year plan much more has been accomplished than was ever really anticipated. … In all these industrial towns which I visited, a new city is growing up, a city on a definite plan with wide streets in the process of being beautified by trees and grass plots, houses of the most modern type, schools, hospitals, workers’ clubs and the inevitable crèche or nursery, where the children of working mothers are cared for. … Don’t underrate the Russians or their plans and don’t make the mistake of believing that the Soviet Government must crash. … Russia today is a country with a soul and an ideal. Russia is a country of amazing activity. I believe that the Russian objective is sound. … And perhaps most important of all, all these youngsters and these workers in Russia have one thing which is too sadly lacking in the capitalist
countries today, and that is—hope!

Talk about unleashing the forces of production! Obviously, the USSR did not experience the Great Depression. All of which leads me to ponder whether there was not a connection between that Depression and the huge and disruptive processes underway in the Soviet Union. Such a massive shift in a place like the USSR was bound to have an effect globally.

Five-Year Plans 02

Five-Year Plans 06

Did Stalin have an idea to which the USSR was striving? It may be called the vision of the future commune, based on the massive collectivisation drive of the late 1920s and 1930s. In between the lines, we may catch a glimpse of the idea that communism is a state of becoming rather than being, although he does tend to the latter.

The future communes will arise out of developed and prosperous artels. The future agricultural commune will arise when the fields and farms of the artel have an abundance of grain, cattle, poultry, vegetables, and all other produce; when the artels have mechanised laundries, modern kitchens and dining-rooms, mechanised bakeries, etc.; when the collective farmer sees that it is more to his advantage to get meat and milk from the collective farm’s meat and dairy department than to keep his own cow and small livestock; when the woman collective farmer sees that it is more to her advantage to take her meals in the dining-room, to get her bread from the public bakery, and to have her linen washed in the public laundry, than to do all these things herself. The future commune will arise on the basis of a more developed technique and of a more developed artel, on the basis of an abundance of products. When will that be? Not soon, of course. But it will take place. (Works,vol. 13, p. 360).

Stalin was not averse to taking the piss out of trendy Bolshevik talk. As part of his typology of useless Bolsheviks, he speaks of the bureaucrat, the red-tapist, the big-wig and the wind-bag. Here is the characterisation of the windbag:

I have in mind the windbags, I would say honest windbags (laughter), people who are honest and loyal to the Soviet power, but who are incapable of leadership, incapable of organising anything. Last year I had a conversation with one such comrade, a very respected comrade, but an incorrigible windbag, capable of drowning any live undertaking in a flood of talk. Here is the conversation:

I: How are you getting on with the sowing?

He: With the sowing, Comrade Stalin? We have mobilised ourselves. (Laughter.)

I: Well, and what then?

He: We have put the question squarely. (Laughter.)

I: And what next?

He: There is a turn, Comrade Stalin; soon there will be a turn. (Laughter.)

I: But still?

He: We can see an indication of some improvement. (Laughter.)

I: But still, how are you getting on with the sowing?

He: So far, Comrade Stalin, we have not made any headway with the sowing. (General laughter.)

There you have the portrait of the windbag. They have mobilised themselves, they have put the question squarely, they have a turn and some improvement, but things remain as they were. (Works, vol. 13, pp. 378-79)

In response to all the well-wishing on his fiftieth birthday, Stalin wrote:

Your congratulations and greetings I place to the credit of the great Party of the working class which bore me and reared me in its own image and likeness. And just because I place them to the credit of our glorious Leninist Party, I make bold to tender you my Bolshevik thanks. (Works, vol. 12, p. 146)

I’ve been meaning to post this one for a while. It is from the Siberian Times, which has the intriguing slogan, ‘What happens in Sibera stays in Siberia … unless it is covered by The Siberian Times’. This is a great piece, called ‘S Novym Godom! In pictures, how the USSR marked the happy times at New Year,’ concerning celebrations of New Year in the USSR. Surprise, surprise, people enjoyed themselves.

S1 (320x271)

S2 (320x316)

S3 (320x213)

In 1929, Elena Mikulina published a work called Emulation of the Masses and Stalin provided a forward. The work was written by a young, unknown writer, and caused many among the intelligentsia to mock the work. In reply, Stalin writes (with a biblical allusion or two):

We have hundreds and thousands of young and capable people who are striving with might and main to rise to the surface and contribute their mite to the common treasury of our work of construction. But their efforts are often unavailing, because they are very often kept down by the vanity of the literary “lights,” by the bureaucracy and callousness of some of our organisations, and, lastly, by the envy (which has not yet evolved into emulation) of men and women of their own generation. One of our tasks is to break down this blank wall and to give scope to the young forces, whose name is legion. My foreword to an inconsiderable pamphlet by an author unknown in the literary world is an attempt to take a step towards-accomplishing this task. I shall in the future, too, provide forewords only to simple and unassuming pamphlets by simple and unknown authors belonging to the younger forces. It is possible that this procedure may not be to the liking of some of the snobs. But what do I care? I have no fondness for snobs anyhow . . . (Works, vol. 12, p. 120)

More from the interview with Ludwig, now on the question of fate:

Ludwig: My question is the following: You have often incurred risks and dangers. You have been persecuted. You have taken part in battles. A number of your close friends have perished. You have survived. How do you explain that? And do you believe in fate?
Stalin: No, I do not. Bolsheviks, Marxists, do not believe in “fate.” The very concept of fate, of “Schicksal,” is a prejudice, an absurdity, a relic of mythology, like the mythology of the ancient Greeks, for whom a goddess of fate controlled the destinies of men.
Ludwig: That is to say that the fact that you did not perish is an accident?
Stalin: There are internal and external causes, the combined effect of which was that I did not perish. But entirely independent of that, somebody else could have been in my place, for somebody had to occupy it. “Fate” is something not governed by natural law, something mystical. I do not believe in mysticism. Of course, there were reasons why danger left me unscathed. But there could have been a number of other fortuitous circumstances, of other causes, which could have led to a directly opposite result. So-called fate has nothing to do with it. (Works, vol. 13, p. 122)

Come to think of it, this is the kind of silly question Kotkin’s asks in his atrocious biography of Stalin.