On Stalin and Stalinism
1.) Delineating distinctive periods of Stalin’s foreign policy is a complicated and difficult issue. Foreign relations between the Soviet Union and foreign powers show that Stalin’s decision making was primarily based upon a set of basic principals as well as a strong pragmatic philosophy. Roughly, his principals influencing foreign policy were: firstly the preservation of the Soviet states was paramount, first socialism in one country and eventually world revolution could come out of a strong USSR; preservation meant that the USSR needed a series of “buffer states” which would be “friendly” to control by Moscow; war with the capitalists and imperialists was inevitable, but war should be avoided if all possible so all energy could be spent strengthening the regime and building industry; lastly, an understanding with Germany was the key to achieving security and future communist goals in Europe. Both the USSR and Germany had been ostracized by the Western powers after World War I. Stalin understood that a friendly Germany could provide an effective buffer against France and Great Britain. As the political atmosphere of Europe would radically change with the rise of Nazi Germany, Stalin’s principals would bend and adapt to the foreign relations climate until his death in 1953.
Stratifying a certain historical time frame is never a clear-cut process. But Stalin’s foreign policy towards Germany between the years from 1929 through 1953 can perhaps be divided into four major periods, some of which are longer and more notable than the others. Each period is roughly marked by a major historical development in Europe from 1929 to 1953: First, Stalin virtually achieves absolute power over the Party and USSR in the late 1920s; Secondly, during the early 1930s the Nazi Party rises to power in Germany; Thirdly, Hitler attacks the Soviet Union in 1941; and lastly, Nazi Germany is ultimately defeated in 1945. The following will briefly describe each major period and then evaluate the effectiveness of Stalin’s policies during that particular period.
In 1929, on his fiftieth birthday, Stalin was eulogized as the leader of the Soviet Union in a manner surpassing any praise ever lavished on Lenin in his lifetime. His doubters and political rivals were defeated and crushed (but perhaps not yet enough in Stalin’s paranoid mind). Another despot in his position may have sought even more power through foreign conquests, but Stalin was more focused on vast schemes of social engineering then with international diplomacy. His general policy towards Germany was to continue the cooperation the two nations had shared since 1922, while monitoring and controlling the German Communists through Comintern. Soviet foreign relations with Germany since the inception of the Weimar Republic were peaceful and friendly. The USSR had “a clandestine military collaboration with Germany” (Ulam, p.337) allowing secret German installations on Soviet soil, which enabled the Weimar government to circumvent provisions of the Versailles Treaty. In return, Stalin’s diplomats negotiated the Rapollo Agreement with Germany which provided agricultural and industrial machinery for Stalin’s 5-Year Plan, as well as the exchange of military intelligence. Stalin patiently waited for the proletariat revolution to take place in Germany because he was preoccupied with internal matters in the USSR. Maintaining the status quo was Stalin’s primary policy for Germany during this first period. As mentioned before, one of the basic principals of Stalin’s early foreign policy making was the belief that a friendly Germany was the best way to keep the balance of power between the imperialist powers and the Soviet Union. When evaluating this period, it is evident that Stalin’s policy is a sound and safe one. There were no major diplomatic crises between the Soviet Union and Germany during this time. Unfortunately, the long-lasting “honeymoon” period between the two nations would soon come to an end.
The second period of Stalin’s policy toward Germany is marked by the rise of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s. The illusionary brightening of international politics and economy following The Great War did not last. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, mass unemployment afflicted the West and the liberalism of the democracies was under increasing attack from extremists. As fascist regimes began taking control of European governments, Stalin looked on without alarm. The National Socialist Party in Germany was gaining support. Initially, Stalin believed that “Hitler was preferable to the Catholic and Social Democratic politicians who had been seeking a rapprochement with Britain and France . . . A Hitlerian interlude would only serve to radicalized the German working masses” (Ulam, p.363). Consequently, the German Communists were ordered to not assist the socialists in saving the Weimar Republic. This move by Stalin marks the beginning of his reaction to the rise of Nazism in Germany. The decision to play a small part in the overthrow of the Weimar government will prove to be a critical error in policy on Stalin’s part. Stalin wishfully hoped for instability and revolution in the homeland of Marx and Engels. It also shows how little Stalin understood Hitler’s ideological mentality and fanaticism. Even after it appeared that Hitler was not just a transitional figure clearing the way for German Communism, Stalin would still leave open the possibility for good relations between the two conflicting nations.
The year of 1932 saw more change in Stalin’s foreign policy in reaction to Hitler’s rise. The USSR signed non-aggression treaties with the Baltic states, Poland, and France. This was Stalin’s early attempt to protect the Western border of Russia in the case that Hitler “really meant his anti-Communist and anti-Soviet rhetoric” (Ulam, p.365). By 1934, the pleasing vision of a Communist Germany had all but been extinguished. Stalin could now clearly see a future in which Hitler controlled the most powerful and efficient military-industrial war-machine on the European continent. Before 1934, Stalin and his advisors, such as Maxim Litvinov, fooled themselves into believing that Hitler’s anti-Communist tirades were mostly for propaganda. “But now Hitler was putting himself forth as defender of Western civilization against Communism” (Ulam, 377) and was finding a sympathetic ear in some of the conservative French and British circles. A breakdown in foreign relations occurred and treaties from 1922 which involved military collaboration between the two states were soon terminated. It is at this point when Stalin realizes that to keep the Soviet Union out of war he must negotiate with the Western “imperialist bandits.” Stalin’s foreign policies with the French show how his willingness to adapt to the political climate transcends his fundamental ideological principals. He is willing to deal with the capitalist aggressors if that means keeping Russia secure from German attack. The Franco-Soviet treaty of mutual assistance is the best example of Stalin’s foreign policy moves in response to Nazi anti-Communist rhetoric. Stalin is making appropriate and gradual moves to strengthen the security of the USSR. His objective is not to destroy Hitler at this point, because the possibility of war was not immediate. The Russians (mistakenly) considered the French army the strongest force on the continent and viewed German rearmament as far from complete. As Ulam states, “The war might come, but certainly not this year or next, and if it came, one hoped that the Soviet Union would not be involved or, if worse came to worse, would not be without powerful allies” (Ulam, p.400).
Stalin’s international political chess game was far from easy. While he negotiated with the Western democracies, he never abandoned the possibility that Hitler may come to his senses and agree to Soviet neutrality. “Discreet probes from the Soviet side took place as early as the summer of 1935” (Ulam, p.403). Stalin’s probes were only to keep a diplomatic channel open between the USSR and Germany. Stalin still stood by his assumption that Hitler could be contained through collective security agreements with the West. But beginning in 1936, with Hitler’s uncontested move into the Rhineland, Stalin’s faith in the Western nations’ convictions would be tested and eventually destroyed. Stalin watched as the French position became weak and undecided. France “did not do so much as order a general mobilization, even though this, with Germany far from rearmed, would probably have made Hitler back down on the Rhineland” (Ulam, p.406). In 1938, the Czechoslovakian crisis would further influence Stalin’s future decision to sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August of 1939. It appears that the appeasement of Hitler by the Western powers (Britain and France) during the crisis demonstrated to Stalin that the imperialists were no longer interested in collective security and in fact pushing Hitler’s aspirations for land towards the East. The fears of Russia eventually becoming the target of the German Fuhrer’s war-machine would culminate in the summer of 1939.
To make a long story short, “Russia’s imperative need in 1939 was to stay out of war” (Ulam, p.513). Hitler appeared to be ready to attack Poland and relations between Germany and the democracies had broken down. Stalin and Molotov’s gamble in the summer of 1939 was a success for the Soviets. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and it is impossible to speculate on how the war may have turned out if Stalin had committed to collective security with the West. But what is known is that Stalin cleverly and successfully negotiated with a hostile German government and achieved his primary goal. His foreign policy motivations may be interpreted as short-sighted and misguided, but it gave the USSR what she needed, time. Immediately following the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Stalin became “ a virtual satellite of Hitler’s, his policy for the moment more attuned to Germany’s wishes and needs than even Mussolini’s were” (Ulam, p.517). The new agreement would control and humiliate Stalin’s foreign policy until the German surprise attack on Russia in June 1941. Evaluating the previously mentioned period of Stalin’s foreign policy shows that his decisions were based on misinformed assumptions, but most would prove to be effective. In 1932, Stalin wrongly believed Hitler to be a transition figure in German politics, thus ordering German Communists to help overthrow the Weimar Republic. Fortunately, Stalin did lay the groundwork for a military alliance with the West when he advanced European collective security and promoted the image of Soviet Bolshevism as the only strong opponent to Nazi Germany. Because of political developments from 1936 to 1939, Stalin desperately signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. He rationalized this decision because he wrongly believed that as in WWI, Germany could not prevail over France and Britain, and the conflict would be long and destructive to both sides as Russia waited on the sidelines.
The final two time periods of Stalin’s foreign policy towards Germany are, for the most part, straightforward or beyond the scope of this evaluation. Immediately prior to Operation Barbarossa, Stalin was fixated on the notion that maintaining peace with Germany was the only policy which could expand Soviet interests. He did not consider any opinions or facts stating the contrary. Stalin was convinced that if he did nothing, Hitler would not be provoked into attacked. On June 22nd, 1941, the Soviet Union was attacked and Stalin was completely surprised. His decision making abilities were frozen for the first few days of the war. The Nazi-Soviet Pact had finally folded under the extreme pressure of Hitler’s fanatical ideological philosophy. Foreign relations between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany became non-existent. The Great Patriotic War would prove to be total war, the likes of which the Western world had not yet seen. It is obvious that Stalin’s foreign policy immediately prior to and after the German attack were extremely ineffective. Stalin was totally convinced of the rationality of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and he would not allow any mobilization of defense for the impending invasion. The results were disastrous defeats of the Russian army, one after another. Stalin’s leadership directly contributed to this disaster. After accepting the state of war the USSR was in, Stalin’s foreign relations with Germany evaporated. There was only one possible policy in response to this indignity, total annihilation of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
The last period of notable foreign relations between Germany and the USSR under Stalin begins with the defeat of Nazi Germany and is marked by the events of 1948. When World War II in Europe ended, Germany was effectively no longer a sovereign state. Stalin’s foreign policy towards Germany was now a policy over post-war Germany via the United States (and to a lesser extent Great Britain). The foreign relations between these two super-powers in the early years of the Cold War are complicated and still controversial today. As a result, the evaluation of Stalin’s policies will focus on one major event, the Berlin Blockade. Following the end of the war, Stalin’s main policies for post-war Germany were to reap the maximum amounts of reparations, keep West Germany divided and weak, and install a communist friendly government in East Germany. On June 24th, 1948, Stalin ordered the cutting off of passenger and freight traffic. This was an aging Stalin’s risky gamble over the future of Western Germany. Stalin feared that after the Western powers had unified their German occupied territories, German rearmament would soon follow. Stalin was uncharacteristically visionary in his assessment of this situation, but his decision to enact a blockade would only strengthen the convictions of the Western powers in their belief a strong Germany was needed equalize the balance of power in Europe. In this final period of Stalin’s foreign policy, his gamble proved to be ineffective, but at least not disastrous. “It had been a draw: The Americans had not grown weary of foreign entanglements, but the Western response to the blockade was not vigorous enough to discourage the Soviets from threats over Berlin in the future” (Ulam, p.688).
Stalin’s foreign policy twisted and adapted as political conditions in Germany and Europe evolved from 1929 to 1953. In any discussion of diplomatic policy, foreign relations between two nations are never just isolated to those countries involved. The causes and effects of Soviet-German relations encompass most industrialized nations. In closing, one must remember that Stalin’s complicated policies toward Germany were always intertwined with other concurrent foreign relations: France, Great Britain, and Poland during the 2nd period and the United States during the 3rd and 4th period.
2.) To my new friend Ivan Ivanovich,
Last week the two of us were having an interesting historical debate about the merits of Stalinism. Your view of Stalinism was intriguing to me, although I must admit I thought you had finished off one too many glasses of Stolichnaya. I want to respond to your comments about Stalin and the USSR under Stalinism in a fair and responsible manner. I respectfully disagree with your beliefs Ivan, but I do have some understanding about why you have admired Stalin and his policies. My response to your argument will consist of examining each statement you have made praising Stalin and Stalinism, and then revealing the true and terrible effect Stalinism actually had in each of these topics. The following will discuss your claims that when Stalin was alive: everyone had work, the economy was growing, prices were stable, the USSR had the respect of other nations, the army fought as an effective force, there was no crime, and the USSR was building toward socialism.
During the Stalin Revolution there occurred a massive project for collectivization and industrialization. While the basic statement “everyone had work” is factually correct, the conditions of the employed work force should be considered before any credit is given to Stalin. Between the years of 1928 to 1932 the industrial work force doubled. With this sudden rise in urban population, the industrial workers were hit hard with near starvation. “In 1929 the city-dweller consumed 47.5 kilograms of meat, poultry, and fat; in 1930, 33; in 1931, 27.3; and in the terrible year of 1932 less than 17” (Ulam, p.342). In addition, finding housing became an increasingly difficult task. There was a serious lack of living quarters to accommodate the influx of workers. Furthermore, factory managers hired scores of unskilled workers to meet their targets and quotas, but this only served to create an unbelievable labor turnover rate. So-called unemployment was abolished because of Stalin’s 5-year Plan, but the side effects of this policy scarred Soviet society. As unfortunate as conditions were for the Soviet industrial worker, it does not compare to the plight of the Soviet peasant during the Stalin Revolution.
The statements “the economy was growing” and “prices were stable” under Stalinism are shown to be false when examining the facts of collectivization from 1928 to 1933. Apart from the human cost (de-kulakization) and terrible atrocities (Ukrainian famine) committed in the countryside during the Stalin Revolution, the actual success of this excessively cruel policy can be called into question. “Collectivization has been an economic disaster in the long run. After 40 years Soviet agriculture still remains the Achilles’ heel of the entire national economy. For all the zigzag course of repression and incentives, it still performs poorly in comparison with agriculture in other countries” (Ulam, p.356). Even Stalin had realized that collectivization had been an economic failure. His regime falsified crop statistics and after his death Khrushchev stated that actual statistics showed the performance of Russian agriculture was the same as in 1913. Furthermore, during Stalin’s rule, prices were in fact not stable. In 1930, inflation had become a major problem. Reduced consumption by workers and peasants was greater than before. Stalin’s policies show that he whole-heartedly believed his plan was the only way to achieve socialism in the shortest period of time (something Lenin was opposed to) and did not care if his economic policies actually benefited the quality of life for the Russian people. Of course the Soviet economy did see a small amount of improvement from 1934 to 1938, but that only demonstrates the Russian peoples’ achievement in spite of, not because of, Stalinism.
It is sometimes easy to fall into the illusion that Stalin’s policies created a feeling of respect for the Soviet Union among her international neighbors. Likewise, there is a misconception that the Soviet armed forces were an effective and dominant fighting force prior to 1943. In actuality, the USSR did not have much respect from other nations. For example, during the Czechoslovakia crisis of 1938, Stalin pledged to stand by his obligations to attack Germany if a European war broke out over Czechoslovakia. He did this in part because he knew it would be geographically difficult for Russia’s military to fulfill Stalin’s lofty statements. His statements did build a strong, positive perception of the USSR in the eyes of the Western democracies, but they were made mostly without teeth. Russian military efficiency did not stir up any confidence for the British and French, nor did it strike fear in Hitler’s cold, dead heart. The German Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernst von Weizsacker once confided to a fellow German diplomat: “Russia hardly exists in our calculations today. As long as Stalin makes himself as useful as now, we need not particularly worry about him as regards military policy” (Ulam, p.495). Weizsacker is referring to Stalin’s purge of the Red Army in 1937-1938 which unquestionably crippled the Red Army’s effectiveness as a fighting force on the eve on World War II. Stalin had shot, en masse: generals, marshals, lieutenant generals, corps commanders, divisional commanders, and even lower grades of officers in the Soviet navy. How could any industrial foreign power fear, at alone respect, an army whose highest and most experienced men had been shot? “Most of the Red army commanders who were liquidated were vigorous men in the prime of life, whose absence undoubtedly contributed to the military catastrophe of the first months of the war and of the summer of 1942” (Ulam, p.448). Furthermore, even Stalin’s “heroic” leadership during the Great Patriotic War can now be called into question. Recent writings of Marshal Zhukov found by his daughter describe the wartime leader: “he was not really competent as commander-in-chief; his main concern was to claim credit for the victories scored by others; he tried constantly to instigate quarrels and mutual distrust among his most prestigious marshals and generals” (Ulam, p.xxiii). Stalin’s paranoid and impulsive policies before World War II (and perhaps even during) created the exact opposite of an “effective and dominant” fighting force: a weak and vulnerable military establishment which had nearly cracked under the pressure of the Nazi blitzkrieg.
Under Stalinism, the Soviet Union “had no crime”. This statement can be interpreted at true if one defines crime as: “members of a serviceman’s family who, knowing of his intentions to defect abroad did not report him to the authorities” (Ulam, p.398). Or perhaps crimes such as “being late to work, becoming through no fault of their own prisoners of war, or of being related to people condemned on mere suspicion” (Ulam, p.5). If the previously mentioned “infractions” satisfy the definition of crime, then it should be conceded that Stalin’s criminal code did eliminate all crime in the Soviet Union. But instead of focusing on the debate over the existence of domestic crimes, the idea of “no crime” is essentially false because Stalin and his NKVD secret police were directly responsible for crimes against the Soviet people and crimes against humanity. The motivations behind Stalin’s Great Purges and show trials are complicated. Stalin created suspicions about counter-revolutionaries and conspiracy plots in his mind. It was clear that when it came to suspicions it was “easy to fool Stalin, or rather that Stalin chose to fool himself. If a man had grown obnoxious or inconvenient to him, he was ready to listen to and accept any accusation, no matter now absurd” (Ulam, p.397). It would be easy to explain away the purges and show trials on Stalin’s pathological fear of betrayal, but it is important to note that Stalin’s personality and mentality made him “particularly suitable for operating and succeeding within the context of Soviet reality” (Ulam, p.443). Stalin could not allow his followers a moment of relaxation. He always had to maintain an amount of fear and terror. Up to 9 million were arrested and 1 million sentenced to death. The gulag camps contained approximately 4 million prisoners at any one time. Stalin’s purges would continue even after World War II until the time of his death. On average, tens of thousands of innocent Soviet citizens were brought in by the NVKD each year. Aside from his ever lasting purges of the Soviet population, evidence shows Stalin was involved in many instances of mass murder. For example, Stalin went out of his way in 1932 (during the worst year of collectivization) to create a famine in Ukraine which claimed the lives of 3 to 10 million people. Furthermore, in 1939, Soviet troops had captured roughly 10,000 Polish officers. In 1940, Stalin ordered the NKVD to shoot and murder all of them. Stalin’s NKVD war crimes are similar to those perpetrated by Hitler’s SS during World War II. During his reign, crime was rampant in the Soviet Union – state sponsored crime perpetrated by Stalin and his loyal cronies.
When evaluating Stalin’s role in building the USSR toward socialism, the definition of socialism is the first issue at hand. Stalin’s interpretation of socialism was a twisted combination of Marxist, Leninist, and Stalinist views. Stalin did adhere to a core of revolutionary beliefs. Stalin believed in the ultimate goal of world communism and viewed Russia as leading the way. But he combined communist ideology with the historical tradition of Russian authoritarianism. He admired Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible. Stalin believed war communism and totalitarianism as the only ways to achieve true socialist revolution. One of the reasons why people might praise Stalin is because of this conviction to building socialism quickly (and ruthlessly) in Russia. It gave the Soviet peoples a sense of mission and a set of lofty goals to achieve in life. Stalin believed that life had to be a struggle. The image of the Soviet people struggling towards building communism appealed to him greatly. For him, communism could not be built easily, and if it could, it would not be worth creating. Because he controlled every aspect of life in the USSR, Stalin’s cult of personality became so powerful, that it lives on till today despite glasnost and perestroika. A minority still believes that Stalin was a great Marxist and socialist revolutionary driving Russia toward a far-reaching communist goal. Stalin is quoted as saying, “The question stands as follows: either one way or the other, either back – to capitalism – or forward – to socialism. There is no third way, no can there be” (Daniels, p.10). What Stalin provided the Soviet Union was a sense of purpose, whether that purpose is building the USSR towards genuine socialism or Stalinist socialism. Stalin “threw out the humanistic essence of socialism and gradually replaced it with what one might call ‘sacrificial socialism’” (Daniels, p.19). Now the decision is on the individual to decide which form of socialism was the valid one to pursue, and if that ideological interpretation is truly worth praising.
In closing, I hope I have respected your views on Stalin while accurately and concisely conveying my views to you. In any debate, someone will be able to find historical evidence to support their position and I look forward to your response to my analysis of Stalinism. Remember, to expose Stalin’s culpability and his crimes against the Soviet people does not mean to diminish Soviet achievements during those years. Just consider how much more could have been achieved without Stalin’s cruel regime.
3.) New York Times Literary Supplement: Conversations with Stalin and Sofia Petrovna
Adam Ulam’s Stalin: the Man and His Era is a comprehensive historical biography about Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but for all its valuable uses as a reference tool, one cannot escape the fact that it is a secondary historical source. While they do not compare to the magnitude of Ulam’s work, Conversations with Stalin by Milovan Djilas and Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya are primary historical sources which focus more of their attention on the opinions and feelings of people who had lived under or through the brutal periods of Stalinism. For the reader, Djilas’ work provides an intriguing interpretation of Stalinism from the viewpoint of a disillusioned Yugoslav Communist. Not to be outdone, Chukovskaya’s work of fiction is based on her own experiences living under Stalin’s regime and helps to explain the complicated and confusing ideas present during the Great Purges.
Milovan Djilas Conversations with Stalin is primarily a diary of his three trips to the Soviet Union in 1943, 1944, and 1948. From the beginning, the titles of each of his chapters foreshadow Djilas account of Stalinist Russia: “Raptures”, “Doubts”, and finally “Disappointments”. His work will not be a blind report praising Stalin and Soviet led socialism, but will be a personal and revealing account of a loyal communist official encountering the harsh reality of Stalin’s socialism.
Immediately one notices that Djilas as a highly intelligent and articulate man. A sense of genuine sincerity is felt as he describes how his “entire being quivered from the joyous anticipation of an imminent encounter with the Soviet Union” (Djilas, p.16). Djilas sentiments were probably very similar to those of his compatriots and other foreign communist officials. His heightened sense of fascination and reverence for the Soviet Union shows the effectiveness of Stalin’s propaganda abroad. Reading Ulam’s work also reveals that loyal communists had a blind faith in Stalin, but the personal, first-person account my Djilas helps the reader to understand human motivations which were previously a mystery. All this would soon change. During his first meeting with Stalin, Djilas observes that Stalin dominates discussions and even asserts that the Netherlands are not a member of the Benelux union. No one at the table dares to contradict him. Djilas later observes about Stalin’s views: “But it would not have been difficult for me, even then, to detect in any other author of the same qualities that his style was colorless, meager, and an unblended jumble of vulgar journalism and the Bible” (Djilas, p.130). Then doubts begin to creep in as he is horrified by the actions of the Red Army in his homeland and the relationship that the Soviets – so-called communist comrades – wish to compel upon the Yugoslavs. Quickly this moves to deep disappointment as he realizes that for all their propaganda, the Soviets are truly just a different embodiment of imperialistic and authoritarian Russia.
Finally, Djilas personal insights into the characters of Stalin’s cronies paint a vivid picture of Stalin’s inner circle, one which he controlled with absolute power. His portraits of Khrushchev, open-minded and clever; of Molotov, Stalin's taciturn lieutenant; Dimitrov, the powerful Bulgarian kept on Stalin's string; Beria, sinister and drunk; and a host of other prominent figures brings to life the historical figures which Ulam described rather drying (with exception to Ulam’s infamous footnotes).
In a similar manner to Djilas, Lydia Chukovsakya’s Sofia Petrovna could easily be a personal memoir, but her method is to use a fictional narrative. Briefly, the story is of the life of Sofia Petrovna, a good and hard-working communist. He daily life is acceptable and relatively good until her beloved son is caught up in the injustice of Stalin’s Great Purges. The realization that Soviet communism is not what she believed it to be drives her insane. Everything she was ever taught to believe in was now being questioned. The reader experiences the turmoil of her inner ideological conflict. There is no happy ending here, only a painfully realistic account of a life ruined because of Stalin’s unnecessary and despicable policies.
Once again, a person can learn about Stalin’s Great Purges by reading hundreds and hundreds of Ulam’s pages, but his abstract explanations of how these purges affected the common Russian people pales in comparison to Sofia’s fictional testimony. Chukovskaya shows that Soviet society had been completely poisoned by Stalin’s lies. As Stalin knowingly destroyed the lives of his fellow countrymen, the feelings and emotions of the survivors became distorted. Sofia Petrovna knows that her son, Kolya, is innocent of the accused crimes. But if she believes in her personal feelings, then the prosecutors and newspapers must be wrong. To a greater extent Comrade Stalin must be wrong . . . no, this of course is not an option. Unlike Djilas, Sofia does not have the luxury of disillusionment. Her remaining years will be spent with confusion, living in a society gone mad. Therefore this is her struggle and is now the readers struggle. As a primary source, Sofia Petrovna helps us understand that “to the ordinary person what was happening seeming purposely planned and senselessness; and how can one make sense of deliberately planned chaos?” (Chukovskaya, p.112).
1.) Adam Ulam, Stalin: the Man and His Era.
2.) Robert Daniels, The Stalin Revolution.
3.) Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin.
4.) Lydia Chukovskaya, Sofia Petrovna.