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Madmen And Simpletons: The Worker State, Absolute

August 6, 2015

Soviet Stalin propaganda poster

He was endowed with the extraordinary powers of endurance characteristic of madmen and simpletons –Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate

 

The world is so full of simpletons and madmen, that one need not seek them in a madhouse — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

Built on a foundation of strife, the Soviet state that won the Russian Civil War had a single overriding goal. It had to preserve itself from its enemies. A country’s survival depends on its weapons and weapons need to be built first.

An industrialized state is essential to a militarized society and when the Soviet Union committed itself to modernization, industrial strength would be its prize at any cost. The fruits of this struggle decided the outcome of the Great Patriotic War.

But, going back again, how did it really start? When were the seeds planted?

Its genesis was the First Five-Year Plan (1928-1933). Never before in modern history was national will shaped by the unrelenting resolve of the state. Its ultimate goal was simple: to launch the Soviet Union into the modern age, on par with Western Europe and the United States, within half a decade.

It deserves mention, however, that Imperial Russia was an industrialized state and a European power until the Bolshevik coup in 1917. The final years of World War One and the Civil War devastated the former empire.

The First Five-Year Plan to rebuild Russia and establish Soviet power was a brutal one. It’s ironic how a communist program could be extremely harsh on both urban workers and farmers. Strict labor laws were enforced that micromanaged a worker’s time, labor, and behavior, effectively erasing the worker’s rights.

In a society of equals a management class was put in place to bully and coerce their employees, who were underpaid and almost had no disposable income for buying poorly made consumer goods. Abysmal standards of living and long hours needed to meet high production quotas further undermined the working class.

Worse still was the subjugation of the independent farmer. With serfdom abolished in Russia since the mid-19th century, the Soviets targeted the holdings of small independent farms for collectivization. This meant destroying private property and merging these holdings into collectivized farms to maximize their output.

The way this was carried out in Ukraine, then a Soviet republic, killed millions of men, women, and children.

The Second Five-Year Plan (1933-1937) had an even stronger emphasis on strategic industries, i.e. railroads, electricity, ore, and other raw materials. Until the outbreak of World War Two, the promised socialist paradise never materialized in Stalin’s country.

If it did accomplish anything, the Five-Year Plans cemented Stalin’s grip on power and the military-bureaucratic apparatus that propped up his regime.

An overture to this short essay can be found here.

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