Discussion questions week VII


The study questions for this week are broken into 4 parts (collectivization, industrialization, "experiencing the socialist offensive," and "cadres decide everything." Each part is subdivided into 7 questions and has an over-arching "big question" for consideration.

I will ask each of you to answer one specific question question from each of the 4 parts, as well as the "big questions."  You are to prepare your answers so that you can give (very) short "presentations" to the class.  In all cases, you must be ready to discuss the specific evidence that informs your answers.

PART 1:  Collectivization (based upon Suny and Kuromyia)

1. Did the Stalin leadership have a clear plan for collectivization, or was it improvised?  (What is your evidence?)   BELINKO

2. Was the major aim of collectivization political, economic, or both? Explain. (What is your evidence?) DZURKO AND TRACY

3. Why did the Stalin leadership try to organize collectivization as a "war against the kulaks" and what were the results of this approach? (What is your evidence?) JARSOCRAK

4. A student once asked me why Russian peasants had behaved "like sheep" during collectivization…Did they? Explain. (What is your evidence?) LOFTUS

5. What seems to have changed in the countryside as a result of collectivization/dekulakization? LOSCALZO AND LONGO

6. What seems to have remained the same in the countryside despite collectivization/dekulakization?  (What is your evidence?). SHILLING

7. State policy towards the peasantry was "relaxed" in 1935—How might we explain this change of policy? (What is your evidence?) SOPRANO

BIG QUESTION:  as a whole, was collectivization a success or a failure? Why? (What is your evidence?)   EVERYONE


PART 2:  Industrialization (based upon Suny and Kuromiya)

1. 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. (What is your evidence?)     SOPRANO

2. In what ways were politics tied into the rapid industrialization program, and in what ways were foreign policy concerns tied into the rapid industrialization program? (What is your evidence?)  TRACY

3. Think about the the main economic priorities of the First Five Year Plan, and what had actually been achieved by 1932:  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? (What is your evidence?) SHILLING AND BELINKO

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

5. In what ways did workers actually impede the plan and why? And what did the regime try to do to break workers’ power over the work process and tie them to their jobs? (What is your evidence?)  LOFTUS

6. 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.  JARSOCRAK AND LONGO

7. 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? (What is your evidence?) DZURKO

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


PART 3:  Experiencing "The Socialist Offensive"

Siegelbaum's narrative in Chapter One ("The Socialist Offensive") discusses several major themes regarding the impact of rapid industrialization and collectivization in the period of the First Five Year Plan (1928-1932).  As Siegelbaum explains, the Stalin leadership organized the industrialization drive and the collectivization of agriculture as a "socialist offensive"--they conceived it as a series of military-like campaigns and they used this metaphor to mobilize the population (e.g., "shock brigades," socialist competition, outlandish claims of success, etc.)  The documents in this chapter illustrate ways in which people responded to industrialization and collectivization, to the hardships they created, and to the social tensions they engendered.

In the 31 documents included in this chapter, look for information on the following themes.  Be ready to discuss what the documents reveal about these themes:

1) Popular support for the "socialist offensive." BELINKO

2) Frustration (and complaints) over problems in the industrial "campaign" and frustrations (and complaints) over the "excesses" of collectivization. DZURKO

3) The tendency of the regime, but also of "ordinary people" to define problems in the economy as the result of "wrecking" and "sabotage" by "class enemies."  JARSOCRAK AND LOFTUS

4) The declining standard of living and problems of shortages in cities and in rural areas and evidence that rapid industrialization and collectivization were aggravating already-existing social tensions.  LONGO

5) Public attitudes towards speculation and corruption, and evidence regarding state treatment of criminals. LOSCALZO

6) Evidence regarding "purges from below."  SHILLING AND SOPRANO

7) Evidence regarding state efforts at censorship and ideological control.  TRACY

BIG QUESTION:  Kuromyia says that for some people in the 1930s, the Soviet regime was a prison and Stalin "the anti-Christ," but that for other Stalin was the "embodiment" of a "regime that had enabled them to achieve their potential."  Based upon the documents, did the population seem either entirely hostile or entirely supportive of the Soviet regime during the First Five Year Plan? Explain!  EVERYONE


Part 4:  "Cadres Decide Everything"

The title of chapter 2 in the Siegelbaum book is a statement by Stalin, who during the Second Five Year Plan announced that "cadres decide everything"--in other words, that by mobilizing its cadres the Party could overcome any technical or structural impediments to building socialism.  But cadres were not always strong timber for this task...  As Siegelbaum explains, the Stalin leadership relied heavily upon support from "vydvyzhentsy"--people who had "moved up" from the lower classes into the ranks of the state and party administration.  These were party members with the "proper" class backgrounds, who supported the party (Stalin) line, but who did not necessarily have much administrative, managerial, or technical skill.  The 21 documents in this chapter all concern issues regarding the problem of cadres and in particular purges of party cadres.

In the documents, look for information on the following themes.  Be ready to discuss what the documents reveal about these themes:

1)  Means by which the Party "uncovered" people who were "class-alien elements" and the sorts of backgrounds and activities that would lead to being purged from the party.  LONGO

2)  Ways in which people argued for retention or readmission to the Party or tried to "shape" their own life history to avoid being purged or to "move up."  BELINKO AND TRACY

3)  Ways in which workers, peasants, employees, and other non-officials used the purges for their own purposes--in particular, how they used denunciations against  fellow workers (etc) and especially against officials, and the kinds of charges made against people in such denunciations and accusations.  DZURKO

4) Ways in which officials (cadres) used and abused their positions and manipulated the system to their own advantage, and the efforts of the Party-State administration to root out corrupt and inefficient officials as "enemies of the people."  SHILLING AND JARSOCRAK

5) The ways in which managerial personnel, specialists, and officials tried to cope with changes in the party line and ways that they coped with pressures from above (from the state--for instance, to meet quotas) and from below (for instance, the danger that workers might denounce them).  LOSCALZO

6) Regime concerns with the danger of ideological opposition ("counter revolution"), the main "sources" [locations] of such opposition, and how the regime responded to alleged "counter-revolutionary plots."  LOFTUS

7) Regime efforts to enforce ideological and political controls.  SOPRANO

BIG QUESTION:  Some historians have argued that the Stalin regime reflexively used purges to try to solve administrative problems, but that by doing so they actually compounded administrative inefficiency and corruption.  Do you see evidence of that dynamic in these documents?   EVERYONE