Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin were among Lenin’s revolutionary supporters. They both helped create the Soviet state. After Lenin died, these two men became bitter rivals for control of the Communist Party.
Stalin Becomes Dictator
Joseph Stalin was a quiet man who rarely received much public notice. From 1922 to 1927, Stalin began his ruthless climb to the head of the government. In 1922, as general secretary of the Communist Party, he worked behind the scenes. He shrewdly moved his followers into strategic government offices. By 1924, he had placed many of his supporters in key positions.
By 1928, Stalin was in total command of the Communist Party. Trotsky, forced into exile in 1929, was no longer a threat. Stalin now stood poised to wield absolute power as a dictator. Stalin transforms the Soviet Union into a totalitarian state. The term totalitarianism describes a government that takes total, centralized state control over every aspect of public and private life.
To modernize the Soviet state, Stalin ushered in revolutions in industry and agriculture. His plans called for a command economy—a system in which the government made all economic decisions.
In 1928, Stalin outlined the first of several Five-Year Plans for the development of the Soviet Union’s economy. The government would take drastic steps to promote rapid industrial growth and to strengthen national defense. In 1928, the government began to seize over 25 million privately owned farms in the USSR. It combined them into large, government-owned farms, called collective farms. Hundreds of families worked on these farms, producing food for the state. Peasants resisted fiercely. Many killed livestock and destroyed crops in protest. Stalin used terror and violence to force peasants to work on collective farms.
Weapons of Totalitarianism
Dictators of totalitarian states use terror and violence to force obedience and to crush opposition. In 1934, Stalin turned against members of the Communist Party. He launched the Great Purge—a campaign of terror. Totalitarian states rely on indoctrination—instruction in the government’s beliefs—to mold people’s minds. Party leaders in the Soviet Union lectured workers and peasants on the ideals of communism.
Totalitarian states also spread propaganda—biased or incomplete information. Many Soviet writers, composers, and other artists also fell victim to official censorship. Communists aimed to replace religious teachings with the ideals of communism. The Russian Orthodox Church was the main target of persecution.
Stalin’s totalitarian rule revolutionized Soviet society. Women’s roles greatly expanded. People became better educated and mastered new technical skills. The dramatic changes in people’s lives had a downside, though. As servants of a totalitarian state, they would make great sacrifices in exchange for progress. With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, women won equal rights. Given new educational opportunities, women prepared for careers in engineering and science. Under Stalin, the government controlled all education—from nursery schools through the universities. Schoolchildren learned the virtues of the Communist Party. By the mid-1930s, Stalin had forcibly transformed the Soviet Union into a totalitarian regime and an industrial and political power.