Rapid or moderate pace of industrialization in the Soviet Union – what was at stake? (A brief overview)

This is a modified excerpt from a recent discussion I’ve had concerning the nature and role of the industrialization process in the early years of the Soviet Union.

True, industrialization did start under the Tsarist rule, but rapid industrialization, the concentrated effort to close the technological and cultural gaps in barely a decade or so, started only with the First five-year plan in 1928. Stalin said in 1931: “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall go under.” This effort was the key to victory in the oncoming war against the Nazis.

Some say this matter is a source of eternal debates, that there’s still some validity behind the question of choice between the rapid industrialization which actually took place and a more moderately paced industrialization whose effects we can only imagine. However, that debate was resolved a long time ago, in the plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the CPSU where an overwhelming majority rejected the latter option. During the trials which proved the existence of a conspiratorial group devoted to the overthrow of the Soviet government and the derailment of the rapid industrialization process. At the gates of Moscow where the Nazi war machine was first pushed back. In the streets of Stalingrad. On the fields near Kursk. In the marshes of Belorussia. And finally, at the top of the Reichstag. But also in the rapid reconstruction program of the immediate post-war years.

If the Soviet leadership accepted Bukharin’s view of slowing the industrialization to a more moderate pace, of diverting a great portion of their efforts away from the development of heavy industry towards light industry and the production of consumer goods (submitting to the rules of capital accumulation), then the Soviet Union would’ve been unable to defend itself in the war that was creeping near. Simply put, you need heavy industry (steel, coal, metal alloys, oil, etc) to produce tanks, airplanes, parts, munitions, weapons, fuel… Furthermore, pursuing Bukharin’s policy (which was, in effect, the indefinite continuation of NEP, which Lenin and Stalin always considered only as a temporary retreat), even excluding the inevitability of a renewed imperialist attack (keep in mind the failed foreign intervention during the Civil war), would most probably lead to the restoration of capitalism.

Some say that the rapid industrialization was a tragedy because so many lives were sacrificed and therefore they question the necessity of advocating such a policy. But, if some lives were lost during this period, they certainly weren’t sacrificed in the often propagated sense that there was this irrational monster called the Soviet Union which threw its children into the cauldron to appease the gods. They were lost in a conscious class struggle against those who resisted revolutionary changes in order to preserve their own privileges. Kulaks, the rich peasants, for example, withheld grain in their attempt to starve the government into submission, because they feared what the collectivization of agriculture might do to their prestige. They killed Party members, they terrorized the countryside, they blackmailed the workers in the cities, they withheld or destroyed their products. They sabotaged the socialist project. And they were defeated. Possessing no access to foreign financial credits, aid or investments, collectivized agriculture became to the USSR the lifeblood of its rapid industrialization. This far-seeing policy which modernized the country, championed by Stalin (however inconvenient this truth may be to some), saved the Soviet Union, and the rest of the world, from annihilation and enslavement by the Nazi hordes.

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On the scientific method – An excerpt from “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”


S01E05: “Hiding in the Light”

DEGRASSE TYSON: Ibn al-Hazen was the first person ever to set down the rules of science. He created an error-correcting mechanism, a systematic and relentless way to sift out misconceptions in our thinking.

Ibn al-Hazen: Finding truth is difficult and the road to it is rough. As seekers after truth, you will be wise to withhold judgment and not simply put your trust in the writings of the ancients. You must question and critically examine those writings from every side. You must submit only to argument and experiment and not to the sayings of any person. For every human being is vulnerable to all kinds of imperfection. As seekers after truth, we must also suspect and question our own ideas as we perform our investigations, to avoid falling into prejudice or careless thinking. Take this course, and truth will be revealed to you.

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Regarding the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings – Excerpts from “The Soviet-German War” by David Glantz

Relative Contributions to Victory:

On the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion of 1944, a U.S. news magazine featured a cover photo of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was labeled as the man who defeated Hitler. If any one man deserved that label, it was not Eisenhower but Zhukov, Vasilevsky, or possibly Stalin himself. More generally, the Red Army and the Soviet citizenry of many nationalities bore the lion’s share of the struggle against Germany from 1941 to 1945. Only China, which suffered almost continuous Japanese attack from 1931 onward, matched the level of Soviet suffering and effort. In military terms, moreover, the Chinese participation in the war was almost insignificant in comparison with the Soviet war, which constantly engaged [and] absorbed more than half of all German forces.

From June through December 1941, only Britain shared with the Soviet Union the trials of war against the Germans. Over 3 million German troops fought in the East, while 900,000 struggled elsewhere, attended to occupied Europe, or rested in the homeland. From December 1941 through November 1942, while over nine million troops on both sides struggled in the East, the only significant ground action in the Western Theater took place in North Africa, where relatively small British forces engaged Rommel’s Afrika Corps and its Italian allies.

In October and November 1942, the British celebrated victory over the Germans at El Alamein, defeating four German divisions and a somewhat larger Italian force, and inflicting 60,000 axis losses. The same month, at Stalingrad, the Soviets defeated and encircled German Sixth Army, damaged Fourth Panzer Army, and smashed Rumanian Third and Fourth Armies, eradicating over 50 divisions and over 300,000 men from the Axis order of battle. By May 1943 the Allies pursued Rommel’s Afrika Corps across northern Africa and into Tunisia, where after heavy fighting, the German and Italian force of 250,000 surrendered. Meanwhile, in the East, another German army (the Second) was severely mauled, and Italian Eighth and Hungarian Second Armies were utterly destroyed, exceeding Axis losses in Tunisia.

While over 3.5 million German and Soviet troops struggled at Kursk and 8.5 million later fought on a 1,500-mile front from the Leningrad region to the Black Sea coast, in July 1943 Allied forces invaded Sicily, and drove 60,000 Germans from the island. In August the Allies landed on the Italian peninsula. By October, when 2.5 million men of the Wehrmacht faced 6.6 million Soviets, the frontlines had stabilized in Italy south of Rome as the Germans deployed a much smaller, although significant, number of troops to halt the Allied advance.

By 1 October 1943, 2,565,000 men (63%) of the Wehrmacht’s 4,090,000-man force struggled in the East, together with the bulk of the 300,000 Waffen SS troops. On 1 June 1944, 239 (62%) of the German Army’s 386 division equivalents fought in the East. With operations in Italy at a stalemate, until June 1944, in fact, the Wehrmacht still considered the west as a semi-reserve. In August 1944, after the opening of the second front, while 2.1 million Germans fought in the East, 1 million opposed Allied operations in France.

Casualty figures underscore this reality. From September 1939 to September 1942, the bulk of the German Army’s 922,000 dead, missing, and disabled (14% of the total force) could be credited to combat in the East. Between 1 September 1942 and 20 November 1943 this grim count rose to 2,077,000 (30% of the total force), again primarily in the East. From June through November 1944, after the opening of the second front, the German Army suffered another 1,457,000 irrevocable losses. Of this number, 903,000 (62%) were lost in the East. Finally, after losing 120,000 men to the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge, from 1 January to 30 April 1945 the Germans suffered another 2 million losses, two-thirds at Soviet hands. Today, the stark inscription, “died in the East,” that is carved on countless thousands of headstones in scores of German cemeteries bear mute witness to the carnage in the East, where the will and strength of the Wehrmacht perished.



After factoring in the role of the Allied strategic bombing campaign which damaged German industrial output and tied a significant portion of the Luftwaffe away from the Russian front as well as the role of the Lend-Lease campaign (which only started arriving in sufficient quantities after the most crucial period of the war, the Moscow counteroffensives, and never in any decisive capacity), Glantz concludes:

Left to their own devices, Stalin and his commanders might have taken 12 to 18 months longer to finish off the Wehrmacht; the ultimate result would probably have been the same, except that Soviet soldiers could have waded at France’s Atlantic beaches. Thus, while the Red Army shed the bulk of Allied blood, it would have shed more blood for longer without Allied assistance.

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The Collapse of the Soviet Union Reconsidered by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny (May 10, 2014)


We argued that the Soviet Union did not collapse because socialism failed. Rather, the system of socialism based on collective or state ownership of property and state planning proved a remarkable success, particularly from the point of view of working people.

What brought down Soviet socialism were the policies pursued by Mikhail Gorbachev. These policies emanated from a belief that the problems of socialism could be solved by making unilateral concessions to imperialism and by incorporating into socialism certain ideas and policies of capitalism. Gorbachev’s ideas had roots in Soviet political discourse, but they had never triumphed so completely as they did under Gorbachev.

Why anti-Stalinism remains such a touchstone deserves more attention than it has received. Recently, such scholars as Domenico Losurdo and Grover Furr have shed light on this question. One factor, surely, is that the Stalin demonization has the support from the “Left,” a “Left” cover, thanks to Trotsky and Khrushchev. Another reason is that Stalin serves as a handy personal symbol of the USSR in 1924-53, the time of its successful construction and also the time when the Soviet state was the main enemy of imperialism. Whatever the reason, for Marxists, like some of our critics, to indulge in anti-Stalin stereotypes and to press them into polemical service, is best understood as an opportunist concession to the pressure of ruling class ideology. Of course, the undoing of anti-Stalinism will not come about by beatifying Stalin, by heaping praise on him, or still less by ignoring the problems associated with his leadership. It will come about, rather, by patient scholarly work that uses the same standards to evaluate him as would be used to evaluate any 20th century leader.

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Excerpts from “Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union” by Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny, part 2

I just ran into some older screenshots (forgot all about them ’cause I read the first half of the book and only after a few months continued with the second half) which still seem extremely relevant. Of course, I strongly recommend reading the entire thing but I’m posting these excerpts in the hope that they’ll get you hooked. All underscores in red are mine.

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The Unknown War [1978]

Copy-paste from Wikipedia:

The Unknown War (Russian: “Великая Отечественная Война” (The Great Patriotic War) or “Неизвестная война” (The Unknown War) is an American documentary television series. The 20-part series documents the World War II conflict between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Each episode is about 48 minutes long, similar in format to The World at War. The footage was edited from over 3.5 million feet of film taken by Soviet camera crews from the first day of the war, 22 June 1941, to the Soviet entry into Berlin in May 1945. Most of these films have never been seen outside this documentary series.

The series is hosted by Academy Award Winner Burt Lancaster, who spent three weeks in eight cities in the USSR for location filming. Film footage from Soviet archives comprises a major portion of the series, supplemented by film from both the United States and British archives. Appearing in exclusive interviews would be Russian Commanders like Georgi Zhukov and Vasily Chuikov.

The series was produced with Soviet cooperation after the release of The World at War, which the Soviet government felt paid insufficient attention to their part in World War II. Released in 1978, The Unknown War is sympathetic to the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany. It was quickly withdrawn from TV airings after it ran in 1978, possibly because its tone was at odds with the growing tensions between East and West after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Later it returned to airings on cable, including A&E, the History Channel and YouTube.

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Excerpts from “Stalin – Man of Contradiction” by Kenneth Neill Cameron

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