In his final writings, Lenin emphasised the importance of ‘wholesale literacy, culture, and participation’. He spoke of mass education as a basis for popular ‘self-administration’. He also thought that Russia needed a period of transition between capitalism and socialism – hence his implementation of the capitalist measures of the New Economic Policy following the devastating Russian Civil War.
Stalin, however, chose forced collectivisation and rapid nationalisation. In pushing and forcing changes rather than educating and convincing, millions died as a result of famine in Ukraine (caused by peasant resistance to change). His tactics may have boosted the economy in the short-term, but they came at the cost of the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.
It would be difficult to prove that Stalin wasn’t interested in the success of his country. In part, the achievements made under his rule were a means of ensuring workers would keep supporting him. For those unaffected by these achievements, the fear instilled and the system of oppression acted to keep people in line.
With World War Two fast approaching, the purges of 1937, where Stalin saw off his opponents in the Party and the military, weakened the country’s defences significantly. Along with the gulags, these purges instilled fear in dissidents. With an iron fist, Stalin kept himself in power.
For such a grip on political power, fear is more important than love. As Lenin mentioned in his Last Testament, Stalin was rude, arrogant, and stubborn, but he had a sharp, pragmatic mind. He was not an idealist. An example of this was his appeasement of the Nazis and then his cosying up to the imperial powers of the United Kingdom and United States once Russia has been definitively brought into the Second World War.
When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, Stalin delayed – shocked that Hitler would betray the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact made before the war. The result of his delayed response was the destruction of 25% of the Soviet air force without opposition while planes lay on the ground. It took an immense struggle, full of many inspiring stories, for Russia to turn the tables on such significant losses at the hands of Nazi forces.
The ideological commitment of troops and the will of the Russian people to resist the Nazi invasion helped to win the Second World War, in spite of Stalin’s poor decisions both before and during the war. In the case of Stalin, it is true that, for a long time, no-one condemned the victor.