AWAKENING TO CRISI
S o far, we have focused on Stalin's personal relations with his inner circle and on his manipulation of political and economic structures. Yet as Stalin and his coterie went about pursuing their own goals, they left large swathes of their country in dire poverty. As became apparent from the mounting flow of complaints to the center, some sectors of the economy, most notably agriculture and the labor camp system were, after years of relentless exploitation, on the verge of crisis. In this chapter, we examine the leadership's response to these signs of crisis. Doing so allows us to reconstruct some of the informal understandings that emerged among Stalin's companions prior to his death. By looking at how information reached the leadership and how it was filtered through by ministers and Politburo members to Stalin, we shall also be able to establish more clearly what relations existed between the leadership and lower bureaucracies. An examination of policy formation and, equally, of policy rejection, will also enable us to assess the very real costs to the social system of Stalin's determination to pursue his own ends. It will show, in particular, how Stalin's personal logic was often at odds with what was rational for the social system as a whole.
We know little of the substance of Stalin's own positions on policy. What direct evidence we have suggests that Stalin was prone to reject out of hand any talk of “reforms. ” 1 At the same time, Stalin must have had an explanation of some kind for the increasingly desperate problems facing the country and, most probably, some notion of how these problems could be solved. What was Stalin's position on these matters?
Stalin's companions will have had their own views. Establishing these is by no means an easy task, not least because under Stalin, senior Soviet leaders were extremely wary of advancing major policy initiatives of their