I have been reading what is called the ‘resistance genre’ of histories of the Stalin era – Fitzpatrick, Viola, Edele and others. They tend to follow a social history approach, focusing on everyday life in the 1920s and 1930s. People, they argue, engaged in ‘subaltern strategies’ to counter the various planning initiatives and to make ends meet. Quotidian realities were therefore the key, and the economic and social situation quite chaotic. Most of this stuff is deeply liberal, focusing on another aspect of ‘dissent’, with the agenda of showing that the government had little or no support. However, it also undermines the totalitarian hypothesis, for a government that exercises at best haphazard control is hardly a totalitarian one. The problems with such an approach are that they make no sense of the massive popular support for Stalin and the government after Hitler’s attack. Wouldn’t people simply abandon the government and support the Nazis, as they did in parts of western Ukraine?

However, Losurdo offers an intriguing interpretation of the situation. He notes all of the data used by the social historians and points out that this is what it is like working in a socialist economy. Workers and peasants now have immense autonomy, so they can down tools at will and have a discussion. They can take half a day off if needed for important personal matters. They are free to express their opinions and act on them. For a capitalist system, such insubordination is simply unacceptable. Workers need to be disciplined and kept in line so that profits can be made. On this matter, Stalin himself equivocates, at times calling for greater efficiency and discipline, but at other times noting the benefits:

At the Ford plants, for example, which function efficiently, there may be less thieving, nevertheless they function for the benefit of Ford, a capitalist, whereas our enterprises, where thieving takes place sometimes, and things do not always run smoothly, nevertheless function for the benefit of the proletariat. (Works, volume 7, p. 314).