How successful was Stalin’s desire to transform the Soviet society

Stalin was the Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922 and came to power as the result of the death of Lenin in 1924. Stalin followed the principles of Marxism which may defined as the ‘theory and practice of the proletarian revolution’. They maintained that liberal capitalism could not achieve human emancipation but only through a ‘utopian’ community that worked together, without classes, could this be achieved. Stalin placed huge emphasis on these theories being put into practice and he did this through fear and force.

The political and cultural aims of Stalin’s regime were to identify the totalitarian rule of the Communist party with stability and legitimacy. Stalin lay great stress on religion. According to the Socialists, they viewed religion as the ‘opium of the people’ and were desperate to remove it from society. A number of different religions could be found scattered across Russia. In the countryside, there was widespread support for the Russian Orthodox Church, in the south and central Asia was the belief in Islam and there were also many Jews about.

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The Socialists brought about the destruction of religion through means of severe persecution and destruction of religious buildings. In many ways, religion was removed, but Stalin failed to remove it from the people’s lives altogether. The persecution did impel people to drift away from religion. For example, collectivisation saw the renewal of violent attacks on the churches, believers and priests and this scared people away from the Church. By 1939, only 12 out of the 163 bishops had escaped arrest and imprisonment. Stalin also created laws that prevented the free practice of religion.

An example of this can be seen when Stalin passed the law that made it illegal for religious activity to occur outside of any religious building and that only licensed congregations were allowed to attend the services. This was an effective way of removing religion as it meant that a majority of the people were not able to attend church services as they were without a licence. Along with this law, Stalin prevented Muslims travelling to Mecca and Muslim women were encouraged to remove their veils. But all through the persecution and the laws, Stalin failed in removing religion all together.

Christians, Muslims and Jews continued to meet in secret and as the Russian Orthodox Church was so popular, Stalin was totally unable to remove it. And so, although Stalin attempted to remove religion through means of persecution and destruction, he was unable to remove it entirely from the people. Also, when Russia was attacked, Stalin was forced to reverse his ideals as it was necessary for him to unite Russia once again as it had been torn apart by those who opposed and supported his religious ideals. Another area on which Stalin placed huge weight on was in the field of women and the family.

He believed that as a Socialist country, he should follow the principles of Karl Marx. And by this, he was to encourage equality between man and woman. He did this through allowing more rights for the women. For example, the Zhenotdel was established to give more freedom in abortion, divorce laws and, female literacy and the growth of female workers. This was rather unsuccessful and closed down in 1930, due to lack of support. Women were allowed to work in industry and they were extremely encouraged to work. From the period of 1928 to 1940, there was an increase in female employment that rose from 3 million to 13 million.

But, women were not allowed the same equality in the workforce, although they were entitled to the jobs. They were not allowed to work in the heavy industry, such as steel or engineering. They were, on the other hand, accepted into the textile industry and even here they did not receive the same pay as that of the men. Also, within the Communist Party, only 13. 5% of the officials were women. Emphasis was also placed on women as the mother. There were numerous awards presented to mothers (for example Medal of Motherhood in 2nd class for five children and the same as the number of children increases)

Stalin also believed in the traditional family and that ‘the main function of the family consists in rearing children as Soviet patriots and as active builders of Communism’. Due to the relaxed policies on abortion and divorce, there were more easygoing sexual relationships and as a result, there was a breakdown in family life and a growing population of unwanted infants. This resulted in ‘gangs’ of orphans and beggars roaming the street, increasing the crime rate. At this point Stalin realised that he had to restrict the freedom of abortion and divorce (‘The State is not at all interested in the continuation of divorce proceedings’).

This was in order to pull the family back together as he expressed his view that ‘the state cannot exist without the family’. He also declared that religious marriage was not forbidden, but it had legal significance. He did this in the hopes that the power of religion would further be reduced. And so, although Stalin placed huge emphasis on the traditional view of the family and working women, this fell in the 1930’s from being poplar in the 1920’s. In the 1920’s there was a huge boom in the field of experimental creativity in the areas of music, art, writing and design but in the 1930’s, Stalin attempted to control the creative arts.

Artists and writers were no longer allowed to experiment with abstract work but were to produce products of propaganda, which showed a happy and healthy Stalin who was one with the people as well as showing collective farms and a strong industry. This made people totally subservient to the needs of the regime and allowed Stalin to influence more power over the people. But the restrictions that Stalin held over the artists was immense and slowly they became frustrated with their lack of freedom to experiment and this resulted in a number of afflicted writers and artists.

All the striking and huge posters replaced any abstract work and art was said to only serve the government. Education was thoroughly reversed during the 1920’s and 30’s. Stalin altered a number of textbooks and occasionally replaced them completely so that Russia would sound like a great country. He believed that if he was able to control the minds of the youth, then they would be raised to believe that Socialism was the most powerful form of government. But Stalin did make a number of mistakes. The Young Communists removed traditional methods of teaching and replaced along with the teachers and replaced it with freedom of the students.

By this I mean that the students were now able to create their own tests and assess their own progress. This ended with disastrous results as discipline began to disappear and the children lacked the basic skills that were required for his Five-Year Plans. Soon, Stalin was forced to return the traditional methods of schooling and strict discipline returned to the classrooms in 1931. Stalin tried to restrict freedoms such as freedom of press and freedom of other parties. He did this with a great amount of success. The Russian people were still able to vote, but when they did, they were only able to vote for the one Socialist party.

They could refuse to sign the ballot but then there would be the lingering fear of imprisonment. Civil rights could only be used in conformity with the interests of the working people and in order to strengthen the Soviet system. Soviets were also not allowed to protest against Socialism or any actions that the Government was taking. Article 58-10 of the Criminal Code states that ‘Propaganda or agitation involving appeals to overthrow, subvert or weaken the Soviet authority… is punished by deprivation of liberty for not less than six months’. Propaganda of a religious nature was strictly prohibited.

But, even though the media was heavily controlled by the Soviets (i. e. – there was only one Soviet newspaper), information was stilled smuggled in from abroad and so people were able to obtain a non-Socialist (and probably less biased) information. Also, media was highly censored and nothing could be said in the slightest way against Socialism. All meetings had to be licensed by the Soviets and so in that way, it was extremely arduous to hold a political meeting against Communism. Trade unions were also banned, as this was the way in which the workers could rebel and complain against the regime.

The State could also dissolve any organisation at any time if ‘it’s activities do not correspond to the objectives defined in the charter or if they cannot be reconciled with the State interests’. But although there were secret meetings held to rebel against Stalin, but nothing became of these since the Soviets were too strong. But in the long run, Stalin was very successful in removing and objectors and he accomplished this through the use of his ruthless secret police. Stalin also used effective propaganda (as I previously mentioned) in order to gain popularity and support.

His methods proved to be very prosperous as people began to recognise him as a great, powerful man but who was one with the peasants and didn’t consider himself higher than them. This allowed him put forth his principles easily upon the people as they now trusted him and felt that what he said must surely be right. But, evidently, not all people believed all he said – religious activists and other members of parties. Stalin also made use of the Terror to control the USSR. By this he used ‘Purges’ to remove any enemies and anyone whom he thought might turn against the party.

One problem with this method was that by doing so, he removed nearly 35,000 of his best officers, and this caused great loss during World War 2. And so, in conclusion, I would say that Stalin was successful in changing the outside and the look of Russia as a Socialist country (for example, the effective use of putting down rival parties and removing religion on the outside). But he was unable to change the people and their way of life. People were not prepared to entirely leave religion behind and he could not monopolise the families or the role of women.

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