Power of the Masses: How Regional Government Organs Shaped Collectivization in the USSR

Though at first Stalin and the Central Committee argued that it was necessary to collectivize and mobilized the 25,000ers in order to promote controlled collectivization in the countryside, collectivization in rural areas often became controlled by local government organs. The 25,000ers themselves were not influential in these regions because these “rural offices” outnumbered them. ((Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 126.)) Further, when members of the 25,000 attempted to provide feedback to the Central Committee’s Department of Agitation and Mass Campaigns regarding unclear government policies on the gathering of seeds for sowing , they were often rejected from the party. The Central Committee’s inability to accept all feedback from the 25,000ers made the task of controlling collectivization from the top down more difficult.

Despite Stalin’s initial argument that “it was necessary to begin gradually to organize agriculture on the basis of large-scale collective farming,” regional organizations took initiative and began to collectivize at a rapid rate between the years of 1929 and 1930. ((Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 110-112.)) As a result, Stalin and the central government found themselves attempting to control collectivization in response to this rapid growth. In January of 1930, the Central Committee released the decree “On the Tempos of Collectivization and Measures of State Aid to Collective Farm Construction” in order to discourage the forming of rural parties who took it upon themselves to control their region’s collectivization process. Further, the decree encouraged the elimination of the Russian kulaks “as a race.” ((Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 114.)) This decree was an empty threat to rural communities because the members of the 25,000ers who were in each region were not only outnumbered, but considered as outsiders. Though some 25,000ers went against policy and resorted to violence to control these communities, the majority had little authority over the communities and the local government organs. ((Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 122.)) In addition, the encouragement of the elimination of the kulak “race” led to uncontrollable violence in the countryside. In the government’s attempt to regain central control, its policies perpetuated more instability in the rural regions of the USSR.

The 25,000ers did not allow this lack of control to go unnoticed, they frequently reported back to the central government. Members of the 25,000 noted the threat that the kulaks presented, lack of “support offered by villagers,” and the problem of collecting seeds for sowing. ((Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 118-120.)) Regarding the later concern, workers who complained about the government’s lack of specific instructions on the collection of seeds were “transferred, fired, or expelled from the party.” ((Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 119.)) Though these members were trying to point out to the government its own inefficiency and ambiguity, the government rejected this constructive criticism. These reports were clear indicators of many issues present in the countryside, and the government often chose to ignore these critiques. As collectivization continued to increase, the government found itself having difficulty keeping up with this rapid, uncontrollable growth because of its inability to make full use of its reach through the 25,000ers.

Is it Ethical?

The readings for this week were quite upsetting. All of the reading focused on the abuse that people, children in particular experienced during the mid 1800s at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The first text, The Life of the Industrial Worker in the 19th Century-England exposed the harsh circumstances people were working under in factories. The workers are often described as pale and sickly looking due to the immense amount of hours they were working each day. One of the texts mentions that there was a point where people were working seventy one hours a week. The very last text in the first reading talks about how crippled children became so early on in their youth due to the gruesome working conditions they were put under. In the poem called The Silesian Weavers a particular line struck me because of the violent image it implanted in my brain, “who wrenched the last coin from our hand of need, And shot us, screaming like dogs screaming in the street”. This sentence sums up the attitude of the factory owners who did not care about the conditions their workers were subject to. Lastly, Oastler shows the anger and frustration felt by people after witnessing and hearing accounts of abuse from children workers. Oastler recounts one boy by the age of ten who had suffered many injuries already at such a young age that would surely affect his health in the future.  

These texts make me wonder about how such inhumane conditions and treatment of other human beings became acceptable in the first place. Today there are a number of companies that employ child workers who are paid very little and forced to work long hours. Not only child workers, but adults as well in many developing countries are treated poorly, regarding their wages and/or the conditions in which they are expected to work under. Why haven’t these issues been solved, why is it so easy for people to take advantage of others regarding their work? I am currently in a business class and the other day we were talking about business ethics. The question my teacher asked was as follows: Is it right of a U.S. company to support a company (presumably in an underdeveloped nation) who underpays their workers and makes them work under bad conditions if the workers say they are grateful for their work? Where is the line drawn? What if that job is the only way the workers are getting food on the table? Who are we to judge?

A classic struggle of “us against them”

In her article “Us Against Them” in Fitzpatrick’s Stalinism: New Directions, Sarah Davies describes a society in the Soviet Union that is fraught with discontent. In the mid to late 1930’s the elite party leaders were attempting to reconstruct a class system–albeit a different one than before–and the people were growing weary.

The long-term goal of the revolutionaries was to abolish the class system and bring to fruition a country ruled by the working class, but it was a goal that proved to be nearly impossible. If the ideology of the party was based on a hatred for the Bourgeoisie and the belief that the workers ought to rule, eliminating all class structures and identification made it more difficult for the party to differentiate between its allies and enemies. Consequently, some new system had to be constructed to distinguish friend from foe. 

In hindsight it is easy for us to see the flaws in the plan, but at the time it seemed the logical solution to a party-made problem. Elite party members became a new “class,” with workers, peasants, and other social groups like Jews classified at lower statuses. What resulted was in essence a new Bourgeoisie (the Party), with the lower working class remaining in the same old social stratum.

The workers had been “liberated” by the revolution and been given the hope that someday in the near future they would rule the Soviet Union, yet here they were less than two decades later being governed yet again by a class of elites–this time by members of the same revolutionary movement that deplored class distinctions. The grand strategists of this plan created an “us against them” environment that was counterproductive to its overall goals. Additionally, history shows that this dichotomy is a powerful motivating force–just look at the Russian revolutions.

The Communist Party may not have successfully abolished all class distinctions with their revolution, but they did instill a new mentality in the Proletariat. It was this new mentality that sparked discontent towards the new “classes” in the 1930’s, and ultimately eroded the revolutionary foundations of the Soviet Union.

Working Conditions in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s 1927 science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis depicts a futuristic dystopia ridden with class-struggle. Made in Weimar Germany, the films follows Freder, the son of the city’s overlord, and Maria, his love interest, as they try to disenfranchise the classist nature of this urban society. Throughout the film, there is a stark contrast between the scene’s of the workers slaving endlessly to power the city, and the pleasured lives of rich. The city eventually crumbles due to the rocky internal nature and ends with a reconciliation (despite total destruction) of “head” and “heart.”

The scene that stood out to me the most was when Freder explained the horrific details of an accident on of the machine rooms to his father, Fredersen. Freder was down there out of curiosity of the depths, and was following Maria. He watched in shock when a machine exploded and caused several deaths and injuries. He begs his father to fix these horrible conditions, but his father remains unaffected.

This scene paints a picture of the horrible factory conditions in Weimar Germany, as well of the rest of Europe at the time. Economic output was a top priority as modernization prevailed, even though many times it was at the expense of many workers health and safety. It also depicts how little factory owners cared about these workers. To them, workers were replaceable as everybody was looking for work. Conversely, it also shows that perhaps some wealthy people, such as Freder, were appalled by these conditions and urged immediate change.

Maria prophesized a mediator that would bring the classes together and help the workers, could this be Adolf Hitler?