I’m trying out a new thing—responding to a tweet here and posting a link back on Twitter, rather than doing a whole bunch of tweets to say all the things I have to say…
[…]one thing I belabor is that without Stalin and the industrialization that he insisted upon, the USSR would not have survived WW2.
— Asinus Pervicax (@Cato_of_Utica) June 4, 2015
It sounds plausible on the face of it, but I have all sorts of issues with this claim.
First of all, I think this kind of historical “what if” is always hard to argue or argue with—just too many contingent possibilities. It seems to me that an expert on industrial development in the Soviet Union up through WWII or on the Soviet Union in WWII might be able to hazard some informed guesses on the subject, but the degree of detailed knowledge required for even a tentative version of this assertion is substantial.
The crux of the issue seems to me this: The tweet reads—to me, at least—like a retroactive justification for Stalin as a whole, or at least for Stalin up through WWII. Saying, in effect, that no matter what you think of Stalin, without him the Soviet Union would have fallen. Which, though the tweeter doesn’t make this point, would most likely have led to the Nazis winning WWII, and we’d still be cowering in the shadow of the Thousand Year Reich.
So… Thank god for Stalin, right? Well, maybe not. Consider:
- There’s no saying whether another leader wouldn’t have done as good or better in preparing the Soviet Union to meet the German invasion.
- It’s not immediately self-evident how much of the industrialization pursued by Stalin was necessary for the victory against the Germans.
- Most centrally, it’s not at all clear which if any of the features of Stalin’s rule that people criticise—purges, show trials, deportations, whatever—were crucial to that industrial preparation.
Again, an expert on Soviet pre-war development could probable put forward some useful, tentative conjectures about the second two of these. But even having done Soviet history, I wouldn’t begin to consider making a claim like the one in the tweet as an evident truth.
Some reading on Soviet industrialization–but note that I haven’t read this stuff, it’s a huge topic, and obviously a bit contentious.
- Collectivization and Industrialization [documents in Library of Congress archives]
- Stalin’s Five Year Plan [Sparts]
- A Beginner’s Guide to Soviet Industrialization | Waiting for Putney.
- History of the Soviet Union (1927–53) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.