Make a list of positives and negatives during Stalin's rule. 

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One major benefit of Stalin's rule was the Soviet Union's survival during WWII. The Soviet Union brought the Nazi blitzkrieg to a halt, even though many of the West's military experts thought the nation would collapse. Under Stalin's rule, the Soviet Union was able to create a buffer zone between it and the West. While this was horrible for people living behind the Iron Curtain, it did ensure the Soviet Union's survival for most of the twentieth century. Stalin also developed the Soviet Union's nuclear capability. In time, nuclear energy would find peaceful uses in the Soviet Union.

The negatives far outweigh the positives of Stalin's rule. Stalinist purges wiped out most of the competent military leadership of the Soviet Union before the Nazi invasion; some historians believe that if Stalin would have spared his best generals, the Nazis would not have had some of their early successes in their invasion. Stalin's secret police cracked down on dissenters and religious activists, killing millions and sending more to the Siberian gulags. Stalin cracked down on churches in general and did all he could to destroy Orthodox religion in the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union under Stalin built many great canals and modernized the Moscow subway, most of this work was done on the back of the oppressed worker. Stalin's collectivization effort in Ukraine intentionally led to the starvation of countless people. The collectivization efforts, combined with grain requisitioning, is known as the Holodomor, and it is still a sensitive subject between Russia and Ukraine. Even though Stalin increased food and industrial exports before WWII at a time when it appeared as though Western capitalism was failing, he did it at the expense of people who lived in the countryside. The Soviet Union under Stalin also supported many oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe and even orchestrated the assassination of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest during their invasion of Eastern Poland in WWII.

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Soviet rule under Joseph Stalin (who ruled from 1929-1953) was marred by a totalitarian regime, but also offered some positives.

Some positives of Stalin's rule:

  • Marginally better status of women - Stalin was a proponent of family.  He made divorce more difficult, but also paid money to families with children.  Women theoretically were able to obtain all the same jobs open to men.
  • Living standards - Despite food shortages across rural regions of Soviet Russia, the standard of living generally increased. Healthcare expanded and was made available to everyone.
  • Industrial powerhouse - by 1939, the Soviet Union was a major industrial nation and its growth and power was matched only by the United States.
  • Military growth - as a result of increased militarism in the 20th century, as well as the industrial growth between WWI and WWII, the Soviet military expanded.  This allowed for the consolidation and stabilization of Russia, in a time where many European nations were disintegrating from economic depression.

Some negatives of Soviet Rule:

  • Loss of freedom - a totalitarian dictatorship operates under the assumption that the leader/party in charge dictates all elements of society.  Personal freedoms are lost for the benefit of the ruling party.  Opposition is strictly forbidden and propaganda and terror are used to control the population.
  • Censorship - while education was rigorous, it was controlled by the state and therefore was subject to harsh censorship.  All anti-Communist material was removed from history books, and the "glory" of events like the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin were pronounced.  
  • Religious intolerance - Stalin agreed with Karl Marx in thinking that the Church was bad for the people.  Stalin shut down churches and arrested some church leaders.  Instead, people were to join his personality cult and worship Stalin.
  • Collectivization - the idea that all farmland would be taken away from the individual and made into a collective farm.  Ultimately this was a failure (and thus a negative) because it demanded too much labor, was supported by human and social costs, and resulted in rebellions (which, as we've discussed, were not allowed in totalitarian, communist Soviet Russia).
  • Purges - anyone seen as a threat to Stalin's image or rule was killed.  Throughout the 1930s, Stalin's government went through a series of "purges" where these potential threats were sought out and eliminated.  Many of these people were intellectuals or artists, so culturally, Soviet Russia did not advance as well they did in industry and military.
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Clearly, the list of negatives will be quite a bit longer, and it cannot be emphasized enough that no equivalence or balance is implied by stating the positives. But Stalin's rule did witness the following positives:

  • the rapid industrialization and modernization of the Soviet economy. 
  • education for many Soviet citizens, especially those in cities.
  • growth of the Soviet Union into a global power, dwarfing the European powers and rivaling the United States. 

On the other hand, the human cost of these advances was astonishing. The negative consequences of Stalin's rule included:

  • millions of small farmers forced onto collective farms, and starved (deliberately) due to Stalin's policies. This was particularly horrible in the Ukraine.
  • the murder of millions of alleged opponents of Stalin's rule during the infamous purges. 
  • the devotion of resources to industrialization at the expense of standard of living.
  • harsh limitations on speech and expression, reaching totalitarian levels. Stalin developed a police state that exceeded even the considerable brutality of the tsarist regime.
  • expansion into Eastern Europe, establishing client states.


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