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Study questions on Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment:  Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998)  

Week 7

Navigation links for this page:

Chapter 9, pages 217-232

Chapter 10, pages 233-252


Ch. 9, pp. 217-232

Detailed questions:

What is the main point that Suny is making about the 1930s in the first paragraph on p. 217?

According to Suny, on what basic issues have historians disagreed about collectivization?

Did collectivization happen "all at once"? Explain.

What was Stalin’s "Ural-Siberian Method" and why did it cause friction between Stalin and Bukharin?

Explain the position taken by the stalinists and by Bukharin’s supporters in the debate over the "right opposition" and agricultural policy.

According to Suny, was the "war against the peasants" a good economic strategy? Why did the Stalin leadership pursue this policy?

Did Stralin have an absolute majority in the Politburo during the conflict with Bukharin? Explain.

Did Stalin’s "emergency measures" in 1927-28 solve the agricultural crisis? Explain.

According to Suny, was Stalin’s attempt to use the middle and poor peasants against the "kulaks" based on any real divisions in the rural community?

How did the regime respond to peasant resistance, and what were the results?

What grain collection policy did the regime adopt in late 1929 and what were the results?

What was "collectivization"?

What was "dekulakization"?

How were the Kulaks supposed to be treated?

What sort of methods did the regime use to get peasants to collectivize in 1929-1930?

How did peasants respond to collectivization in early 1930?

Were peasant "rebels" anti-Soviet? Explain.

What was the point of Stalin’s "Dizziness With Success" speech of March 1930? Why did Stalin shift policy at this time?

What happened to the collective farms in the months after Stalin’s March 1930 speech?

How did the collective farms actually collect grain for the state (methods?)?

What does Suny portray as the irony of Soviet grain export policies in 1930?

What was the social impact of collectivization?

How does Suny explain the causes of the 1932-33 famine in the Ukraine?

According to Suny, what were the aims and the results of collectivization?

Had collectivization ended all stratification of village society? Explain.

How and why did the state grant concessions to the peasantry in the mid-1930s?

Did the collective farm system really obliterate all of the villages’ traditional ways? Explain.

What problems did peasants on the collective farms face?

As a whole, does Suny agree with those who see collectivization as a necessary evil? Explain.

Big Questions:

Did the Stalin leadership have a clear plan for collectivization, or was it improvised?

Was the major aim of collectivization political, economic, or both? Explain.

Why did the Stalin leadership try to organize collectivization as a "war against the kulaks"? What were the results of this approach?

A student once asked me why Russian peasants had behaved "like sheep" during collectivization…Did they? Explain.

What seems to have changed in the countryside as a result of collectivization/dekulakization, and what seems to have remained the same?

State policy towards the peasantry was "relaxed" in 1935—How might we explain this change of policy?

As a whole, was collectivization a success or a failure? Why?



Ch. 10, pp. 233-252

Detailed Questions:

How did the Stalinists define socialism? Does Suny think that the Stalinist vision of socialism was in keeping with marxism? Explain.

What were the Stalin regime’s priorities in industrialization?

Explain how economic planning was supposed to work in principle.

Was Stalinist economic planning based upon existing resources and rational goals? Explain.

How would you characterize the "spirit" of the industrialization drive? 

Who did the Stalinists accuse of sabotage in 1928?

What is the significance of the 1928 Shakhty trial? The 1930 trial of the "Industrial Party"?

How did Stalin link the idea that there was a real threat from class enemies to the idea that the USSR was moving towards socialism?

What were engineers and administrators being blamed for and why? Why was such scape-goating necessary?

Did purging managers and engineers solve the problems facing industry? Explain.

How and why did Orjonikidze change industrial policy in late 1931, and how did the whole emphasis of the party’s attitude towards technicians and managers change at this point?

How did Stalin interpret the marxist idea of the "withering away of the state"?

What does Suny mean when he says on p. 237 that the industrial economy was based upon "expansion," centralization," and "coercion"? Give examples.

Did industry grow during the First Five Year plan? (At what kind of rate?) Did it grow as much or as fast as the regime wanted it to? Did this growth create problems? Explain.

In what kinds of ways did industrialization transform the working class?

What tensions arose between skilled and "new" workers during the First Five Year Plan?

Did the Party seem to "trust" the new workers? Or the skilled workers? Explain.

Who was supposed to be the "boss" in Stalinist factories? Explain.

What factors limited the authority of managers?

Did workers’ standard of living increase or decrease during the First Five Year Plan?

Why was Soviet productivity so low? How did the regime try to boost productivity?

Why did the regime institute ration cards and internal passports in 1932?

What gave workers a certain degree of power over the labor process?

Why did Stalin turn against "wage equality" in 1931?

Why did the regime institute piecework in 1934?

What prevented managers from using new laws against absenteeism, etc., against workers?

What sort of material and psychological incentives did the regime create to promote hard work and productivity during the period of the first plan?

Who were the new managerial elites of the 1930s?

In what sense were these new managers a "ruling class without tenure"?

What were the "3 good years"? Why were they called this?

Did the problems facing productivity go away during the Second Five Year Plan?

What is significant about Stalin adopting the slogan "Cadres decide everything" in 1935?

Who was Aleksei Stakhanov and what did he do?

What was Stakhanovism? Did these methods really increase productivity? Explain.

Why would the regime support a phenomenon like Stakhanovism?

How would you describe the rate of Soviet urbanization in the 1930s?

What were some of the effects of such rapid urbanization?

Were Stalinist cities egalitarian? Explain.

Big Questions:

Historian Moshe Lewin describes the Soviet economic system in the 1930s as "a planned economy without a plan." Would you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain.

Do you think that the Stalinist rapid industrialization program was a success or a failure (or neither)? Be ready to defend your answer!

In what ways were politics tied into the rapid industrialization program? In what ways were foreign policy concerns tied into the rapid industrialization program?

Explain the main economic priorities of the First Five Year Plan.

If the Soviet economy was not actually producing all of the goods required by the First Five Year Plan, why raise the targets and then declare them fulfilled in 4 instead of five years? What sort of non-economic priorities does this suggest?

Why did the regime hunt for class enemies and wreckers when factories and industries fell short of the plan or experienced problems?

In what ways did workers actually impede the plan and why?

What did the regime try to do to break workers’ power over the work process and tie them to their jobs?

Be prepared to argue in favor (or against) this statement: The people in the toughest situation during the soviet industrialization drive were the factory managers and engineers.

During the Second Five Year Plan, the regime searched more actively for psychological and material incentives to get workers to be more productive. How did this compare to changes in policy towards the collective farmers during the same time period (see last weeks notes)?

Be prepared to argue for or against this statement: The rapid pace of Stalinist industrialization actually undermined many of the regime’s own goals.

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