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Stalinist industrialisation and the test of war

By Mark Harrison

Abstract

The great Soviet victory over Germany in 1945 has often been cited as justification\ud for the decade of whirlwind transformations which preceded the outbreak of war.\ud Of all Stalin’s policies, rapid industrialisation is the one which seemed most\ud obviously validated by wartime experience. According to authoritative western\ud estimates, between 1928 and 1941) the output of civilian industries multiplied 2.6\ud times, while munitions output grew 70-fold. In these twelve years industry,\ud construction and transport expanded their contribution to the national income from\ud little more than one quarter to not far short of one half.1\ud A decisive factor in the war’s outcome was the volume of munitions available to\ud the armed forces of the opposed coalitions. These volumes far exceeded the\ud previously accumulated stocks initially available to the combatant nations: they\ud depended above all upon the specialised industrial capacities which each nation was\ud able to assign to war production. The quantity and quality of combat munitions\ud available to the Red Army on 22 June 1941 proved far less important than the\ud capacity to replenish and expand them. This meant not only the specialised\ud capacities of the defence industries but also the supporting infrastructure of\ud general-purpose engineering capacity as well as the steel industry, nonferrous\ud metals, the fuels, chemicals, energy and transport sectors.Without these, the Soviet\ud armed forces could not have lasted more than a few weeks in combat with the\ud Wehrmacht. Moreover, enhancement of the Soviet capability for supplying a\ud protracted war of resources was not an accidental by-product of Soviet\ud industrialisation, but was a deliberate element in the complex of goals set out in the\ud transition period of 1928-31.2\ud Stalin himself recorded absolutely no doubts on the contribution of his own\ud prewar policies to victory. In a major speech of February 1946 he summed up the results of the war and evoked the theme of war as a national test.3 The war, he\ud declared, had not been all bad because it had provided “a great school of testing and\ud verification of all the people’s forces . . . an examination for our Soviet system, our\ud state, our government, our Communist Party”. The Soviet Union had passed this\ud examination, thereby vindicating the Soviet social system, multinational state and\ud armed forces against prewar critics and doubters. Essential to this was their prewar\ud preparation. Victory in war was attributable not only to high Soviet morale, but also\ud to material preparedness, making possible a high level of wartime supply of the Red\ud Army. Behind the latter Stalin found the prewar policies of economic\ud transformation: rapid industrialisation of the country, and the collectivisation of\ud agriculture.\ud Industrialisation and collectivisation—and also one other aspect of the party’s\ud general line, its defence against internal opposition. For Stalin, victory in 1945 also\ud provided sufficient justification for his prewar suppression of “the antiparty\ud machinations of the Trotskyists and Rights”. The war had vindicated the Soviet\ud system and its policies against enemies at home, as well as against those abroad.\ud Stalin’s views left a lasting imprint on Soviet historiography.4 The war would be\ud seen as the heaviest, the most bitter, even the supreme test of the Soviet system\ud and economy; it justified the prewar policies of forced industrialisation and\ud collectivisation of agriculture, and demonstrated the superiority of the Soviet system\ud above others in carrying out the tasks of both war and peace. Here would also be\ud found a key element of continuity between today’s ‘new thinking’ and more\ud traditional views. For example, President (then General Secretary) Gorbachev spoke\ud about the test of war on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the October 1917\ud revolution in the following terms:\ud The aggression imposed upon us was a pitiless examination of the viability of the\ud socialist structure, the fortitude of the multinational Soviet state and the\ud strength of patriotic feeling of Soviet people. And we passed this examination by\ud fire and sword, comrades! (Prolonged applause).5\ud And in a more measured analysis published at the same time, Gorbachev concluded:\ud . . . not to force industrialisation was impossible. Already from 1933 the threat of\ud fascism began to grow. And where would the world have been, had the Soviet Union not stood in the path of the Hitlerite war machine? Our people destroyed\ud fascism with the power created by them in the 1920s and 1930s. Had there been\ud no industrialisation, we would have stood defenceless before fascism

Topics: HC, DK
Publisher: Oxford University Press
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:214

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