The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945

By Anthony D’Agostino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
The Great Purge and the Path to War

Launching the planned economy on the basis of agricultural collectivization was in effect a decision to create a new society with a new working class and intelligentsia. It seemed to those who supported Stalin in 1927–1928 that there was no other choice. Only a modernized Russia could fend off the threat from Britain and France, possibly assisted by Poland and Japan, Romania, and others. It is ironic to note that Germany was not among the perceived enemies. The threat of a renewal of the allied intervention of 1919, as they saw it, could only be met by a return to the methods of War Communism. Stalin was attempting something grander than anything in Russian history, grander than the work of the Tsar Liberator, Aleksandr the Second, who freed the serfs; grander than Peter the Great, who made Russia a maritime trading nation; or even Ivan the Terrible, who made Muscovy into Russia. It was no accident that Stalin began to think of himself in terms of the great monarchs. He was the latest personification of what professor Miliukov had once called Russia’s “critical state.”

The civil war of 1918–1921 had originally made possible the Communist party’s dictatorship over Soviet Russia. By 1928, Stalin had won the leadership of Lenin’s party dictatorship by adroit navigation of the antagonisms between his rivals. The collectivization of agriculture was a second civil war that lifted Stalin to new heights of personal power over the party.

Even so, to feel fully secure in this regime, Stalin would, in the next few years, bring down Lenin’s party dictatorship and put in its place a thoroughgoing police state, a regime of permanent civil war. Party Congresses, which had previously met yearly, met only in 1934,

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