Stalin, Industrialization, WWII


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…

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.


2 responses to “Stalin, Industrialization, WWII

  1. Stalin helped initiate the war by annexing part of Poland at the same time as Hitler. That was part of the deal. If it hadn’t been for Stalin and appeasement by the West, Hitler never would’ve gotten anywhere. So to say his 5 year plans are what saved the world from Hitler is a grotesque distortion of the larger picture. It also doesn’t make much sense without some additional layers of arguments. Was his particular brand of forced industrialization necessary to build up a military? I’m not sure there’s any correlation. And as you say, how do we know a different leader wouldn’t have also industrialized the country and done so in a more humane and effective way? Let’s say Hitler had taken Moscow – again, a prospect that Stalin himself had created – why should we believe the US couldn’t have defeated Germany on its own? And so on, and so on.


  2. The Stalin-led Comintern of which the German Communist Party was a loyal member had a lot to do with why Hitler came to power in the first place.


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