Various euphemisms have attached to the events in the Soviet Union that began in early 1928 and culminated in the frenzy of Stalin’s revolution from above at the end of 1929. Some of these characterizations are scholarly; others, frankly political. All obscure the real significance of 1928-29 as a turning point in modern history, and the difficulty of explaining it.
Western historians sometimes speak, for example, of 1928-29 as the onset of “fullblown totalitarianism,” suggesting a continuous, ineluctable, and thus easily understood outcome. Recent scholarship points, however, to the presence of alternatives. Soviet and Western writers alike speak of a first “five-year plan” in the economy, implying
a high level of calculation. But there was no real plan, even in industry, only pell-mell heavy industrialization through wildly escalated targets, menacing exhortations, recurrent crises, makeshift measures, and wasteful imbalances. Nor does the term collectivization, with its overtones of rationality, evoke the needless tragedy of the
Soviet countryside in 1929-33—a virtual civil war between the state and the peasantry that left millions dead and agriculture wrecked. And despite irrefutable documentation about subsequent decades of official abuses and privilege, there are those who still speak of 1928-29 as the “beginning of socialism” in the Soviet Union.
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