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Stalin becomes the Great Builder

Grain production in 1927 declined considerably and is said to have been two million tons short of what was needed to meet both export requirements and to feed people in the cities. In January 1928 the Politburo returned to its policy of grain confiscations. When Stalin visited the countryside and tried to convince farmers to give up their stored grain, one of them shouted ridicule at his being a Georgian and said that if he danced a lezginka maybe they would give him some grain. Stalin returned to Moscow determined to control the farmers. The Party sent 30,000 activists into the countryside, and they collected 2.5 million tons of grain. But the coercion had disastrous results on production incentives.

Zinoviev and Kamenev wrote open letters acknowledging their mistakes and were readmitted to the Communist Party but reduced in standing. In the spring of 1928, Stalin had Bukharin to worry about (the Politburo member whom Lenin had described as the Party's greatest theoretician). Bukharin was against Stalin's policy of coercion against farmers. He had his supporters and courted the support of Zinoview and Kamenev. This was reported to Stalin and used against Bukharin as an indication of factionalism. Bukharin is said to have called Stalin an unscrupulous intriguer and a Ghanghis Khan.

Stalin, meanwhile, had learned of sabotage in factories, and he began denouncing those called "wreckers." In May 1928 a trial began against 53 engineers accused of sabotage. Reporters from abroad attended the trial. Twenty-two of the engineers were found guilty and sentenced to die. But only five were actually executed.

It was in 1928 that the Stalin regime launched its ambitious Five-Year Plan. Its aim was to protect the Soviet Union from being overwhelmed in some future war with capitalist powers — modern wars requiring advanced industry. In addition to rapid industrialization, the plan was for mechanization and collectivization of agriculture. (Collectivization was the alternative to the large mechanized privately-owned farms developing in the United States.) A population shift was expected from agricultural work to work needed by an industrialized economy.

Preparing the way for collectivization, Stalin asked the Communist Party to strike hard against wealthy peasants called "kulaks". Those considered "kulaks" have been described as an average farmer with maybe two or three cows and up to ten hectares of farming land — a family farmer with perhaps five children.

Peasants slaughtered their animals rather kill than give them up to a collective. Famine arose in Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan as well as areas of the Northern Caucasus. In the summer of 1929 a hundred thousand Party members were sent to help organize the countryside, and the government sent perhaps another 100,000 Stalin-supporting urbanites against the peasants.

Stalin moved against Bukharin and his supporters, denouncing them as petite-bourgeois. The Politburo member Mikhail Tomsky was charged with being opposed to the industrialization program. He and another Politburo member, Rykov, confessed their errors and were able to remain on the Politburo. Bukharin was removed.

Many peasant resisters were being put into labor camps. Meanwhile, Stalin's struggle against "wreckers" continued. Mensheviks (Social Democrats) were described as spies. In Turkestan, Trotsky was writing and distributing propaganda against Stalin, and, in January 1929, Stalin managed to expel Trotsky from the Soviet Union, Trotsky going first to Turkey.

Stalin announced that the Soviet Union was moving "full steam ahead" to socialism. In cities and towns, people were being driven out of business by confiscatory taxes. Some business people were arrested. Some were pressured to tell where they had hidden their gold or other valuables. Privately owned shops were beginning to disappear.

The class enemy was condemned in radio broadcasts, at staff meetings in factories, at universities and in kindergartens. Arrests were made and there were more trials. More members of Russia's old aristocracy were denied work and evicted from their homes, and some were arrested. By 1930, six labor camps were in existence. The sons and daughters of priests, aristocrats, well-to-do families and all others whose class origins were suspect were barred from universities, and they would find it difficult to find employment.

On Stalin's fiftieth birthday (18 December 1929) huge portraits of him were hung from buildings. People greeted his appearance with great hurrahs. Statues and busts of Stalin were beginning to appear in town squares and the halls of public buildings — patriotic advertisements. Some towns and cities were now to bear forms of his name: Stalingrad, Stalinabad, and Stalinogorsk. So too were schools, factories, military barracks and agricultural collectives. Stalin was enjoying the support of those wanted a strong leader. Stalin was described as having organized the Bolshevik Party alongside Lenin, as having led the Bolshevik Revolution and as having victoriously commanded the Red Army.

CONTINUE READING: Darkness at Noon

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