Towards a more balanced understanding of Stalin: this time from a book called Towards a New Socialism by W. Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell.
They argue quite persuasively that the full implementation of a communist economic system happened under Stalin. Through the five year plans beginning in the late 1920s the capitalist mode of extracting surplus value was replaced by a planned economy, in which surplus was controlled and allocated by the planning mechanism.
Under Soviet planning, the division between the necessary and surplus portions of the social product was the result of political decisions. For the most part, goods and labour were physically allocated to enterprises by the planning authorities, who would always ensure that the enterprises had enough money to ‘pay for’ the real goods allocated to them. If an enterprise made monetary ‘losses’, and therefore had to have its money balances topped up with ‘subsidies’, that was no matter. On the other hand, possession of money as such was no guarantee of being able to get hold of real goods. By the same token, the resources going into production of consumer goods were centrally allocated. Suppose the workers won higher ruble wages: by itself this would achieve nothing, since the flow of production of consumer goods was not responsive to the monetary amount of consumer spending. Higher wages would simply mean higher prices or shortages in the shops. The rate of production of a surplus was fixed when the planners allocated resources to investment in heavy industry and to the production of consumer goods respectively (pp. 4-5).
The key to this momentous shift was the old issue of compulsion: how do you encourage workers and peasants to engage in the new system? Under the circumstances of such rapid change and in the face of a sustained threat from international capitalism, that compulsion took the form of carrot and stick. Genuine revolutionary fervour characterised much of the effort, but for those less inclined to engage, forced labour, exile and ‘terror’ were deployed. Crucial to this process was the personality cult of Stalin, who embodied the sheer grit (thereby making up for what he lacked in oratorical skill) of the revolutionary ‘miracle’ required to adopt such a radically new economic system. Stalin was thereby able both to promote a deep sense of ‘participation in a great historic endeavour’, but he was also the ‘stern and utterly ruthless liquidator of any who failed so to participate’. I would add that this combination, along with the deep strength of the communist economic system, enabled the extraordinary recovery during the Second World War and the eventual victory by the USSR over Germany and fascism.