Soviet Communism: Weaknesses


Figure 1.--Ethnic/nationlist feeling is aproblem that all empires have to deal with. The Soviet approach, especially during the Stalinist era, was the murderous elimination of the nationalist elite through execution and slower process of elimination in the Gulag. Any real expression of ethnic feeling was brutally supressed. This varied over time, but wasespecially brutal doing theStalimist era. A major objective of both Lenin and Stalin wasyo create the new Soviet Man. And ethnic/nationalist sentiment stoodin the way of achieving this. There wason exception. For propaganda purposes, ethnic dress and clothing was permitted for special occassions as we see here in this classroom. We are not sure where this was, but we think it may be Beylorissia--modern Belarus. The republic shield above the children probanly tells us which republic. although they appear to be two different ones.

Despite the appearance of strength, the Soviet Union was a deeply-flawed state. Some authors discussed those weakness, but not one knew just how significant they were. There were in fact major economic, political and other weakenesses in the Soviet state. Economically, the Soviet system simply did not generate sufficient wealth to sustain its political, social and economic ideals as well as provide the needs of its people. This is striking because the Soviet Union included some of the richest agricultural land in the world and a vast depository of natural resources and a well-educated population. Why with all those assetts was the Soviet Union economy so weak? There are a range of reasons. One factor is that the Soviet economy never recovered from the colectivization of agriculture. As a result, agriculture did not provide a surplus to help finance industrialization. Command economics is part of a reason. Trying to centrally manage the economy created many distotions as did the inefficent use of investment capital. The Soviet Union also stifled individual initiative which proved such a vital part of Western economies. Instead huge resources were devoted to an unproductive beaureacracy and equality unproductive military and security services. Without allowing consumer demand to play a role in the ecomomy, the force of creative destruction never acted to eliminate wasteful and unproductive state enterprises. There are almost unbelieveabke accouts about factory owners having a directive to make goods for which there was not demand. Once made and quota fullfilled they could not be sold so metal products might be melted down to make something which there was a market. There were also serious political problems. The Soviet Union wa a multi-national empire head together by political repression and military force. Once the price for disscent was oppression rather than death (as it was under Stalin), dissent appeared. Nationalist yearings were particularly powerful. Gorbachev's openings provided even more opportunity for dissent.

Economic

Economically, the Soviet system simply did not generate sufficient wealth to sustain its political, social and economic ideals as well as provide the needs of its people. This is striking because the Soviet Union included some of the richest agricultural land in the world and a vast depository of natural resources and a well-educated population. Why with all those assetts was the Soviet Union economy so weak? There are a range of reasons. One factor is that the Soviet economy never recovered from the colectivization of agriculture. As a result, agriculture did not provide a surplus to help finance industrialization. Command economics is part of a reason. Trying to centrally manage the economy created many distotions as did the inefficent use of investment capital. The Soviet Union also stifled individual initiative which proved such a vital part of Western economies. Instead huge resources were devoted to an unproductive beaureacracy and equality unproductive military and security services. Without allowing consumer demand to play a role in the ecomomy, the force of creative destruction never acted to eliminate wasteful and unproductive state enterprises. There are almost unbelieveabke accouts about factory owners having a directive to make goods for which there was not demand. Once made and quota fullfilled they could not be sold so metal products might be melted down to make something which there was a market.

Science

The Soviet Union opened a brand new front of the Cold War with the launching of Sputnik (Otober 4, 1957). The launching of Sputnik was not just a technical achievement with military implications, it also had ideological considerations. Often accounts of the Cold War focus on ideological differences between East and West. Technology played a critical role in the Cold War which is often overlooked. Marxists proclaimed Communism as a new, scientific approach to organizing human society. As a result, science assumed an important ideological status in the Cold war. Obviously if Marxism was the optimal organization of human society, the Soviet Union should be able to produce the best science. And Soviet propaganda trumpeted Sputnik as a symbol of the superiority of Soviet science. In the long run, superior Western technology played an important role in the West's victory. The West's superiority was, however, not apparent in the 1950s. Communism was at the time an ideology embraced by millions around the world. The Russian Revolution and spread of Communism to Eastern Europe and then China seemed to show that Communism was the wave of the future. Soviet technological achieveements like Sputnik was further evidence that Communism, central planning, and atheism were the wave of the future.

Political

There were also serious political problems. The Soviet Union wa a multi-national empire head together by political repression and military force. Once the price for disscent was oppression rather than death (as it was under Stalin), dissent appeared. Nationalist yearings were particularly powerful. Gorbachev's openings provided even more opportunity for dissent.

Ethnicity

The Tsarist Empire was a huge multi-ethnic empire which stretched from Eastern Europe to the Far East, at one time even including North America (Alaska). It was populated by more than 120 different ethnic groups. The Soviet Union was built on the Tsarist Empire, making it the last great land empire. The Russian heartland dominate the Tsarist state and then the Soviet state, despite propagandato the contrary. And it was the Russians that were from the beginning the most supportive of Tsardom and Soviet Communism. A few parts of the Empire on the northwestern fringe (Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) managed to achieve independence after the Revolution, but had to fight the Red Army to do so. The Soviet Union was organized into 16 different republics (the mumber variedover time), each with a basically ethnic base. Lenin began the process of building a Soviet state and people. Stalin intenified the process and through unbelievable brutality applied by the NKVD and the creation of a vast Gulag which both killed peoplein the millions and provided a slave work force. The result was to slaughter national elites in an effort to create a new Soviet people out of the various ethnic groups inherited from the Tsarist Empire. The various actions against theethnic/national minorities has been chronicled in great detail. [Solzhenitsyn] The Soviet Union was a vast country, but huge areas more than half the country was sparsely settled and in many areas virtually uninhabited. One of tghe goals othe Gulag was to force a work force into these sparsely populated areas, many in the far north. World War II offered another opportunity to purse this policy. Stalin ordered the NKVD to move whole ethnic groups designated 'traitor nations' to the uninhabited areas of Central Asia with great brutality. This meant that some 60 million people were living outside their republics. (This was apolicy of empires since the dawn of civilization.) World War II also enabled Stalin to acquire those people who has escaped Soviet clutches after the Revolution--all but Finland. Despite the brutality of the Stalin'sNKVD/KGB, nationalist feeling and rivalries were supressed, but not eliminated. And after Stalin's death when the brutality of the NKVD receeded, the expression of ethnic feeling became more pronounced. And with it demands from the individual republics for greater autonomy and eventually independence. The number of people living outside their republic was a further irritant. It was a recipie for national disaster. And as a result of the inherent inefficencies of scocialist comma nd economics, economic problems intensified in the 1970s and became severe in the 80s--essentially the spark that would blow apart the Soviet Union. And Gorbechev's half measures only served to intensify the ethnic divide. [Graham]

Sources

Graham, James. "Ethnic problems in the Soviet Union, " On ThisDay Website.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexsanddr I. Trans, Thomas P. Wjitney. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-56: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Harper & Row: New York, 1973), 660p.







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Created: 5:37 PM 4/27/2005
Last updated: 9:12 PM 1/31/2019