To what extent did the USSR’s victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 45 prove the political and economic strength of the Stalinist system?
The USSR’s victory proved to some extent the political strengths of the Stalinist system. Stalin’s ability to delegate power proved to be beneficial in the outcome of the war. As a response to the German invasion, Stalin established two new institutions. The ‘Stavka’ served as a General Headquarters where military strategy would be discussed with the most able officers promoted by Stalin such as the brilliant Gen. Zhukov. Stalin also showed a greater willingness to permit military decisions to be taken by the generals in situ and abandoned the ‘Politicisation of Army’. Stalin not only delegated his centralized power to military figures but also to other political leaders such as Molotov, Voroshilov, Malenkov and Beria through the ‘State Defense Committee’ or ‘GOKO’ whose responsibility was to reduce the administrative confusion and keep the population together by eradicating resistance from national minorities such as Ukrainians, Chechens and Crimean Tatars among others.
Stalin’s use of propaganda meant that Russians could identify themselves with their government, their party and ‘their Stalin’ in the common struggle. Stalin succeeded in keeping women in the USSR content by introducing more women in the workforce and the army, thus boosting the Marxist Credentials; as for the Soviet men, Stalin established a correlation between the Great Fatherland War with the Great Patriotic War in order to recruit more men into the Army arguing that Hitler would be defeated in the same way that the Russians had once defeated Napoleon. This resulted in numerous military victories for example at Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk and ultimately Berlin which in turn proved that Stalin’s management of the USSR led the people to victory.
However there were obvious political weaknesses in the Stalinist system during the Great Patriotic War. Stalin describes the conflict as a ‘Great Patriotic War’ because he is aware that Stalinism is not popular and that the people would not fight for a ‘Great Stalinist War’ or a ‘Great Communist War.’ G. Fisher supports this by arguing that “up to 2 million Soviets defected to and fought for the German armies.” Stalin did not only prove to be politically inconsistent on his Marxist credentials through the previous example, he also allowed the Church to regain influence in society when he had previously declared an open war against religion and even demolished emblematic such as the Church of the Holy Blood in St Petersburg. He was forced to do this as a result of the Nazi invasion and the resulting vertiginous defeat. The almost immediate disintegration of the Eastern front was also Stalin’s fault since the initial Nazi success was due to lack of experienced officials as a result of Stalin’s Purges. All these weaknesses in Stalin’s political system called for a political redistribution, seen in the establishment of the Stavka and the GOKO, which were, as Stephen J. Lee argues, “not so much pulling the components of Stalinism back together but rather dismantling some of the components in order to affront the crisis.”
Not only Stalin’s political policies proved to be weak during the ‘Great Patriotic War’ but also Stalin himself was proved to be weak. As General Zhukov and Konev reported, he seemed totally depressed and he was ready to make peace with Germany and to give up huge areas. This is supported by Prof Samsonov who, when talking about how Stalin was prepared to give up Ukraine to Hitler for peace, he justifiably states that “the image of Stalin as a commander-in-chief begins to fade when facts like this come to light.”
The USSR’s victory proved to some extent the economic strengths of the Stalinist system. Stalin’s economic policies before the war prepared the USSR for war. Stalin’s policy of centralised economy meant that incredible levels of production could be secured despite the desolate state of the country in other aspects. This is supported by Professor Alec Nove who argues that “whatever harm it [Centralised Planning] does in peace time it is rather effective in mobilising resources in war.” Stalin’s ‘5 Year Plans’ made the difference in establishing the industrial foundation in order to support a total war, the third ‘5 Year Plan’ was of great importance since Stalin ordered to focus heavily in armament production showing foresight from Stalin. In previous ‘5 Year Plans,’ Stalin situated many of his capital projects beyond the Urals, such as the city of Magnitogorsk, where these were safe from foreign invaders.
During the war, Stalin’s ‘Scorched Earth Policy’ meant that the Nazis lost major resources in the occupied areas and challenged the advance eastwards. Stalin also ordered the evacuation of 10 million workers and the removal of hundreds of factories to be rebuilt in the East, an example of these is Tankograd a city dedicated to the exclusive production of tanks. Although the USSR’s workforce had been reduced from 66 to 35 million the USSR was still able to produce large quantities of war material, eventually outnumbering the German output.
However there were economic weaknesses in the Stalinist system. Stalin depended on the Western economies to survive the Nazi Invasion. The Lend-Lease programme gave the USSR a $722 million of aid from USA to finance the war effort in June 1941. Contrary to the view of many Soviet historians of the Post-War period, the USSR still depended on the West in February 1943 when the USA granted the Soviet Union a 1 billion dollar loan. It is often said that Europe suffered the ‘Nazi boot’ in the Second World War and that this was followed by the ‘Soviet boot’ in the Cold War period, however the Red Army marched into Europe with 14 million pairs of US boots and 400,000 trucks manufactured in the United States, proving that the Western aid was crucial, and perhaps even tipped the balance acting as a catalyst for Soviet recovery.
In conclusion, the USSR’s victory did not prove the strength of the political and economical Stalinist system. The Soviet victory proved the weaknesses of the Stalinist system it was because the system was not firm, not dictatorial, that it succeeded; Stalin signed an alliance with Hitler, delegated desperately, all out of a sense of weakness – but these were exactly the things that saved his country. Hitler in contrast was strong to the point of stubborn – and that was his undoing. The victory of this, and generally any conflict, gave Stalin the necessary wood to keep fuelling the Stalinist propaganda fire. To argue that the Russian people won because of Stalin would be the best example of a non sequitur argument - the association of the USSR’s victory to the strength of the Stalinist system is a formal fallacy where the premises, being the victories of the Red Army and the dedication of the Russian people to defend their country, are true without the conclusion, being that it was all planned and due to Stalin, being true. This is mainly because Stalin had to retract in his views in order to adapt to the situation not only in the political ambit but he also retracted in his own principles by being rescued with Western aid. This question assumes that the result of the conflict was a victory for the USSR; it could be possible to argue that it was more of a German defeat due to German mistakes, such as the exploitation of the national minorities in the occupied territories, or the stretching of supply lines, than a USSR victory due to the great human sacrifice that was required to achieve this ‘victory.’ The Annales School of History could even argue that the German defeat, and the subsequent USSR victory, was all due to the crude winter that followed the Nazi Invasion. The question also neglects other factors such as the social and cultural factors which gave the Russian people the hope and the strength to continue fighting.