Inner development 1929–39
The forced industrialization under the sign of the first five-year plan (1928–32) and the collectivization of agriculture in 1929–32 not only fundamentally changed the social and economic foundations of the Soviet system of rule by ending the phase of the New Economic Policy, but them also ushered in the era of Stalinism. Under the ideological maxim of the »liquidation of the kulaks«, peasant private farms were turned into collective farms (kolkhozes) or state farms (sovkhozes) with extreme severity) merged. By 1937 around 93% of the peasant farms were socialized. Collectivization marks the beginning of the peasantization of the Soviet Union. Its consequences were catastrophic: it brought about serious social disputes in the countryside. According to naturegnosis, in 1930 alone the secret police OGPU (Russian abbreviation for “United State Political Administration”) recorded 13,754 unrest, the majority of which were directed against collectivization. Over two million people lost in the “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” (Kulak) their lives, two million people were deported partly to concentration camps, partly to special settlement areas, both of which were under the supervision of the secret police. Another two million people were resettled in the vicinity and initially lived as individual farms. There was also slaughter of cattle by farmers (between 1928 and 1934 the number of sheep fell by 66.1%, pigs by 55.7%, horses by 54.6% and cattle by 45.5%) and to a famine with at least four million deaths (particularly serious in Ukraine 1932–33).
Stalin’s “Revolution from above” was primarily oriented towards the economic needs of the state, but was characterized not only by far-reaching social change but also by the elimination of the last political and cultural freedom. Open expression of opinion and collective representation of interests fell victim to a principally unrestricted rule of the party leadership. Industrialization increased the workforce (3.1 million in 1928, 8.3 million in 1940), but also changed its social structure, since around 60% were rural immigrants. The chances of social advancement were very good and were systematically promoted by the state, which tied the climbers to itself. The industrialization was accompanied by class struggle slogans and show trials (1929–31) directed against “traitors” and “saboteurs”. These fulfilled a scapegoat function, as they could be held responsible for the failures and bad planning of industrialization. The use of the assembly line, elements of Fordism or Taylorism and performance incentives (e.g. since 1935 Stakhanov Movement) led to a massive stream of rationalization. At the same time, industrialization brought about not only social discipline (domestic passport system and workbooks since 1932, punishment for violating work discipline through loss of wages and corrective work), but also a polarizing social differentiation of the workforce with a pronounced hierarchy.
Based on the Writers’ Union founded in 1932, Stalin subjected literature and art to party-political regulation under the principle of socialist realism. With the education of the youth in Soviet patriotism, a state ethos was to be created that was oriented towards the social reorganization since the October Revolution and, at the same time, towards positively rated achievements and personalities of pre-revolutionary Russia. The constitution of 1936 created a federal state structure, but this was called into question by the constitutional stipulation of the leadership claim of the WPdSU (B) at all levels of the state and society. In an extensive political persecution, the Great Chistka (1935–38), Stalin eliminated all supposed or actual opponents, be it through administrative means or in the context of large show trials (1936–38). With this purge, justified by Stalin himself as “intensification of the class struggle as socialism progresses,” he wiped out the revolutionary elite of 1917 and set the keystone on the way to personal dictatorship over party and state. Stalin’s rule was combined with an increasing cult around himself (personality cult) and, in particular, the establishment of a centralized, bureaucratic administrative apparatus (Stalinism).
Stalin used the state secret police (GPU, since 1934 NKVD) to monitor the population in all areas of life and to suppress any opposition with repressive means including terrorist measures (deportation to camps, forced labor, shootings) (GULAG). At the same time, there was gradual political indoctrination and conformity. The radical action against the political opposition expanded into reprisals against large sections of the population (officers of the Red Army, scientists, artists, state and party functionaries of the lower levels, religious groups) and v. a. also against non-Russian peoples (e.g. 1941 dissolution of the Republic of the Volga Germans and their deportation to Siberia or Central Asia, 1944 forced resettlement of North Caucasian peoples, e.g. the Chechens, the Crimean Tatars, the Mescheten from South Georgia); Foreigners were also affected by the terrorism (e.g. communists who emigrated from Nazi Germany).