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Europe Between Two World Wars

Europe Between Two World Wars



The Russian Revolution

  • In Central Europe the Great War had secured the triumph of the principled of nationality and democracy. But in Russia it led to an upheaval which was as characteristically social and economic as it was national and political. It proved to be greatest social upheaval since the French Revolution. Whether the principles it stands for will, like those of the French Revolution, secure general acceptance still lies in the womb of the future. But it is undeniable that it wrought marvellous transformation in Russia itself and ushered in a movement pregnant with far-reaching consequences. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • As regards the causes of the Russian Revolution they were in many respects analogous to those which produced the French Revolution of the eighteenth century. As in France the government of Russia was autocratic without being efficient. On more occasions than one autocracy stood discredited by military disasters. The defeat of Russia in the Crimean War and in the Russo-Japanese war had revealed the incompetence of the Czarist regime, and the lesson which the people had learnt bore fruit in a far greater crisis. The inefficiency of the autocratic government of the Czar and its failure to cope with the storm and stress of the Great War was one of the potent causes of the revolution. Secondly, as in France the social order in Russia was marked by a wide cleavage between the upper and lower classes. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century Russian society was composed of two classes, the nobles and serfs. The greater proportion of land was owned by the nobility who also filled most of the offices of the state. The serfs on the other hand were no better than “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. Even when the serfs were emancipated their economic conditions improved very little. Hence they remained a discontented class ready to take advantage of any movement which promised them relief from their misery. Lastly, as in France, the material revolution in Russia was preceded by a revolution in the realm of ideas. In spite of the attempts of the Czars to seal Russia hermetically against the liberal and radical ideas of the West, the influence of West European thought and example filtered into the country and produced a movement ultimately subversive of the existing order. As in France these new influences found expression in literature. The great novels of Tolstoy, Turgenev and Dostoevsky profoundly stirred the imagination of young Russia. The liberal and educated section of the people, called the “intelligentsia,” demanded political reforms on western lines, while the radical intellectuals deriving their inspiration from Marx and Bakunin turned to Socialism and Anarchism. One result of this ferment of thought was the growth of Nihilism which aimed at destroying everything in the existing order of Russia. Nihilism indeed was stamped out but Socialism came to stay.
  • During the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century the industrialisation of Russia began to make great progress. Towns multiplied and factories began to spring up like mushrooms. Capitalists and urban proletariate arose and with them also arose new problems of factory life and the new outlook of the town worker. The new generation of industrial workers had to toil hard in crowded towns under circumstances which made their lives an intolerable burden. Naturally it was from this class that the message of Socialism met with a hearty response. In the nineties the teachings of Marx were popularised and spread by radicals like the novelist Maxim Gorky, and revolutionary socialism made rapid progress among factory workers, winning over even many of the intelligentsia to its cause. In 1895 was founded the Workmen’s Social Democratic Party with a programme similar to that of the socialists in other countries. The peasantry now led by middle-class radicals, imitated the example of the urban proletariate and in 1901 organised a Social Revolutionary Party with a platform that included the confiscation of the large estates of the nobility and their division into small individual holdings. This party believed in terrorism as a weapon, though they kept it for the present in reserve. Thus was set on foot a revolutionary movement which aimed at reconstructing the social and political systems of Russia on socialistic principles. In 1903 there came a split in the Social Democratic Party on the questions of party discipline and tactics, and its radical section led by Vladimir llyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, seceded from the main body. This section came to be known as the Bolsheviks (men of majority) because they were in a majority on the questions which had caused the split. The more moderate wing of the party came to be known as Mensheviks (minority men). As a party the Bolsheviks remained far inferior in numbers to the Mensheviks, although they had secured the majority on the questions which caused their secession. The Bolsheviks stood for extreme measures and were eager to establish a dictatorship of the proletariate at the very first opportunity by force and violence. If necessary, they did not recognise any class other than that of the workers, and were hostile to any cooperation with middle-class political parties. The Mensheviks on the other hand, were much less radical in their views and methods. They were willing to await the eventual triumph of socialism by a slow and gradual process,’ and were in the meantime ready to cooperate with other political parties in overthrowing autocracy in Russia.
  • But the day of Lenin had not yet come. When the twentieth century opened, the challenge to the autocratic system of Russia came more from liberalism than from Socialism. The Industrial Revolution had created a well-developed and energetic middle class, and merchants, factory-middle class owners and other businessmen joined hands with intellectual liberals in demanding some system of representative government. The Zemstvos also became active and drew up a definite programme of reform demanding a freely elected national assembly, a responsible ministry, equality of all citizens and freedom of the press, of religion and of speech. But Czar Nicholas who was under the influence of the reactionary minister Plehve, turned a deaf ear to these demands. The Russian government failed to recognise that the people had outgrown the necessity of an autocrat and that the old bottles would not contain the new wine. Hence it continued to be oppressive and repressive quite heedless of the gathering storm. The perversity of Nicholas and his blindness to the potential strength of the new forces that were surging round him were among the important causes which produced the Russian Revolution. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • The storm that had been brewing burst forth in 1905 when the Government stood discredited by its failure in the Russo-Japanese War. There were agitations and disturbances all over the country. The Zemstvos demanded reforms, the workmen struck work, and the peasantry plundered the landlords. Unable to suppress the growing disorders the Czar promised reforms and announced the summoning of a Duma or national assembly. But as noticed elsewhere the experiment of reconciling parliamentary government with autocracy ended in failure. Taking advantage of the divisions in the rank of the opposition the Czar reduced the Duma to a mere consultative body and was able to secure the triumph of autocracy. By 1906, the revolutionary wave had spent its main force and reaction was in full swing. The Government under the influence of Stolypin continued the policy of alternate (sometimes combined) repression and concession, and the hatred aroused by the former more than undid any benefits from the latter.
  • An analysis of the foregoing account will show that for about half a century prior to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Russia had been simmering with discontent, and opposition to the Czarist regime gradually developed among every section of the population. First, there were the ‘intellectuals’ who advocated individual liberty and political reform of a radical character. Secondly, there was the growth of a new liberalism which was championed by the capitalists and other middle class people, who though less radical in their views than the intelligentsia, wanted to set a limit to the autocratic system by establishing some sort of constitutional government. Thirdly, there were the peasants who clamoured for more land. This land hunger of the peasants was largely due to the enormous growth of their number, which put increasing pressure upon their small holdings. It was they who formed the bulk of the Social Revolutionary Party. Fourthly, there were the urban working men who were inclining towards Marxian Socialism and had their own organisation in the Workmen’s Social Democratic Party. Lastly, there were the Jews and subject nationalities who were embittered by the policy of “Russification” systematically pursued by the Czars. All these elements of discontent produced two, streams of movement, liberal and socialist, which flowing together, became a mighty torrent which eventually swept off the Czarist regime. Europe Between Two World Wars

The Coming of the Revolution

  • The Russo-Japanese War had shaken the foundation of the Czarist regime. The Great War destroyed it. It supplied a fresh instance, if one were needed, of the incompetence of the Russian autocratic system, and thereby brought to a head the gathering discontent of the people. It thus provided a suitable occasion for ending what could not be mended. Russia had entered the war with no lack of enthusiasm and had some initial successes to her credit. But before long she was disillusioned. In 1915 she was badly beaten by the Germans and her unpreparedness and inefficiency, as compared with Germany, became manifest. There was woeful shortage of munitions and supplies. The Czar was weak and was under the influence of ministers many of whom were quite incompetent, and some downright dishonest and corrupt. In a word, autocracy proved itself quite unequal to cope with the situation. The people became sick of the existing system. Matters became worse when rumours were afloat that the Czar wanted to make a separate peace with Germany. In fact there was reactionary party in Russia, which came to dislike the war, fearing that military defeats might lead to a revolution. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • This party found a leader in the Czarina who in her turn was guided by the monk Rasputin-, both of whom were avowed pacifists. The army officers and the Duma openly complained that the Government was hampering the prosecution of the war. There was public outcry against such a move and in the explosion of popular rage Rasputin was murdered. There were riots of peasants in the country, strikes of workmen in the cities, and desertions in the army. To make matters worse, there was a shortage of bread which intensified the distress of the people.
  • The crisis appeared in Petrograd in March 1917. The working men struck work and the population rioted for bread. The soldiers refused to do their duty in keeping order and began to fraternise with the strikers. A Soviet or council of soldiers and working men, was set up in the capital to direct the rising and to discharge the functions of the local government. The Duma set up a provisional Government and forced the Czar to abdicate. The Revolution had come. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • The provisional Government was, in outlook and composition, a bourgeoise or middle class government. It was composed mostly of Cadets (constitutional democrats) who were moderate republicans led by men like a Milinkov, a professor-politician. It promulgated a number of liberal reforms current in the western countries, such as freedom of speech, of association, of the press and of religion. It announced that a national Constituent Assembly would shortly be elected to determine the form of the permanent government of Russia. At the same time it declared for a continuance of the war and sought to stimulate the patriotism of the masses. But in a politically backward country like Russia the masses cared very little for political reforms. Their more urgent demands were peace, land and bread. The revolution they desired was not of the political type but one which would accomplish radical social and economic changes. Thus the revolution which began as a liberal movement drifted towards Socialism. Local Soviets of working men and soldiers were set up all over Russia and these became centres of popular agitation’ and propaganda. Indiscipline stalked all over the country. The workmen refused to work and struck for higher wages and fewer hours. The peasants seized the large estates of the nobility. The infection spread to the army. The soldiers refused to obey their officers and murdered some of them. They began to fraternise with the Germans across the trenches. Finally, the subject nationalities like the Finns and Poles began to assert their freedom and to break away from their union with Russia. The Empire was in a process of rapid disintegration and the whole existing order in Russia, moral and material, was on the eve of crumbling to pieces. The war policy of the liberals (Cadet) had by this time become thoroughly unpopular and so they were turned out of the Provisional Government and were replaced by moderate socialists, known as Mensheviks. The leader was Alexander Kerensky.
  • Kerensky soon found himself in a tragic situation. His policy was to continue the war and bring it to a speedy but honourable conclusion. He wanted to guide the revolution into safe channels and assured the people both political democracy and social reform. But as a leader of the moderate socialists (Mensheviks) he wanted to come to socialism by constitutional methods and gradual stages. His policy, however, found no favour with the extreme wing of the socialist, known as Bolsheviks. These extremists were opposed to war and wanted to bring about a peace on the basis of no annexations and no indemnities. They sought to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat at once by the violent overthrow of the existing order. They were led by two returned exiles, Lenin and Trotsky. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • For a time Kerensky roused the enthusiasm of the army and organised a sensational offensive against the Germans in Galicia. But the success was temporary and the ground gained was immediately lost. The soldiers, influenced by the pacifist propaganda of the Bolsheviks, refused to fight and before long the grand army of Russia became a mutinous rabble. General Kornilov attempted a counter-revolution but failed. Taking advantage of the prevailing confusion, Germany captured Riga and so threatened Petrograd itself. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks improved their organisation and swelled their rank. They soon came to control the Petrograd Soviet and in November 1917 by a coup d’etat overthrew the provisional Government. Kerensky fled from the country. Thus was carried out the second revolution, and power passed into the hands of Bolsheviks. Europe Between Two World Wars

The Bolsheviks Government

  • After their successful revolution the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky proceeded to consolidate their work. The task before them was one of enormous difficulty. As yet they were only a minority of the Russian population, and they would have to secure the acceptance of their rule within Russia as well as without. Secondly, they would have to organize a form of government and with its aid to rebuild the social and economic life of Russia on communistic principles. The first essential to secure these objects was external peace which was necessary to enable the Bolsheviks to concentrate their full strength and energy on the pressing problems at home. Hence immediately after seizing the supreme power in the state Lenin opened negotiations with the Central Powers and concluded a separate peace with Germany and her allies by the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. It was a humiliating treaty, involving, as it did, the loss of almost all the territories acquired by Russia since the time of Peter the Great. But for Lenin and his followers no sacrifice was too great to secure the triumph of the social revolution which they were bent upon accomplishing.
  • Lenin began his work by giving effect to the principles of Marxian socialism. He abolished all private property and gave land to the peasants to be cultivated for the benefit of the state. Factories and workshops were seized by the state without compensation to their former owners and handed over to the management of working men. Labour was made compulsory for all citizens. All public debts contracted by previous Russian governments were repudiated. The Orthodox Church of Russia was despoiled and disestablished. In a word, the Bolshevist regime brought about a vast holocaust of existing political social, and economic institutions of Russia and began to prepare for a world-revolution on the same lines.
  • Such drastic and sudden changes naturally provoked opposition to the new regime. The Bolsheviks were supported only by the industrial workers in the towns and the peasantry in the country. But the landlords, businessmen and clergymen who were all reduced to destitution, vehemently protested against the confiscation of private property and the abolition of special privileges. The sacrifice of individual liberty and political democracy at the alter of the dictatorship of the proletariat was resented by many including the Menshevist faction of the socialists. But the Bolshevists, like the Jacobins of France, were men of determined mood, and they frankly adopted terrorist methods against those who opposed their policy. Under the agency of a tribunal known as the “Cheka” there were thousands of executions recalling the murderous excesses of the Committee of Public Safety. As in the days of French Revolution, opposition within the country or without, increased the violence and the terror. By this ruthless method, the Bolshevists completed the ruin and broke the spirit of the old bourgeois class. Among the victims of terror were Czar Nicholas II and the members of his family, who were shot dead in July 1918. Europe Between Two World Wars

Foreign Intervention

  • But a socialistic regime in capitalistic Europe naturally excited alarm in foreign countries. Everywhere there were economic distresses and political unrest after the Great War, and the Western Powers feared that the example of Russia might incite revolt among the working class within their own borders. This fear was intensified by the Bolshevist propaganda for a world-wide social revolution. Hence the Allied Powers studiously refused to recognise the Soviet Government. They were further alienated by Lenin’s repudiation of foreign debts contracted under the Old Regime. Hence they felt it necessary to take a hand in Russian affairs. Their object was twofold, to prevent Germany from exploiting the disturbed situation in Russia to her own advantage, and to overthrow the Bolshevist Government by supporting the various attempts at counter-revolution which were being made during the years from 1918 to 1922. An Allied expeditionary force landed at Archangel and Murmansk to support the anti-Bolshevik party in North Russia, and a similar force consisting mostly of Japanese soldiers, occupied Vladivostok. British forces occupied positions in the Caucasus and the French occupied some places in southern Russia as bases for helping the counterrevolutionary movements. Of these the most serious was that of the Cossacks of the south led first by Kornilov, then by Denkin and finally by Wrangel. There was also a serious threat from Siberia where a Russian admiral named Koltchak organised an army to sweep westwards across the Ural mountains, aided by a force of Czecho-Slovaks, who, released from Russian prisons, were on their way to Europe via the Pacific. For a time it seemed as though the Bolshevist Government would collapse before foreign intervention and domestic revolts. To make matters worse, Poland, incited by France and anxious to extend her frontier, declared war against Russia. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • The Bolsheviks however pulled through all these troubles and several causes contributed to their triumph. First there was a great deal of dissension in the ranks of the counter-revolutionists, and so united action for any length of time became impossible. The royalists were at odds with the republicans, and the military leaders with the politicians. Secondly, the peasants supported the new government for they feared the return of the old landlords, which would mean the loss of their newly acquired land. Lastly, the Allied intervention was inadequate and half-hearted. After the strain of the Great War and with many post-war problems still unsolved, the Allies were not in a mood to undertake extensive military operations which were necessary to subjugate a huge country like Russia. Hence they withdrew their forces in 1919. Deprived of foreign military support and torn by dissension among themselves, the anti-Bolshevists were no match for the Red Army organised by Trotsky. The counter-revolutionary forces were beaten everywhere and Poland was compelled to come to terms.

Soviet Constitution

  • The political structure of Soviet Russia was determined by a constitution promulgated in 1918. Every city and every country district were to have a Soviet or a council of workmen. These local Soviets chose delegates to represent them in the provincial Soviets, and out of these provincial Soviets was chosen the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was invested with supreme power. This national congress was to elect a Central Executive Committee which in its turn chose the council or cabinet of ministers called People’s Commissars. For soviet elections the franchise was granted to all citizens of eighteen years of age or over, male or female, provided they earned their living by productive labour. Revolutionary soldiers and sailors were also given the franchise, but it was denied to the clergy, nobility and most of the middle class. The voting system was more favourable to the artisan than to the peasant, and the All-Russian Congress was so organised as to ensure the preponderance of the urban delegates over the rural. In 1922, after Russia had become enlarged by the recovery of certain regions which it had previously ceded, a federal system was established known as the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (U.S.S.R), each of these component republics having a constitution similar to that of Russia. All these republics were united together under a system of federal government consisting of an All Union Congress, a central executive and a Council of Commissars. The real control over Russia rested with the Communist Party and the dictatorship of the proletariat meant the dictatorship of the Bolshevists who were recruited mainly from the town workers. The head of this party was Lenin who was virtually a dictator. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • Bolshevism was both a political and economic movement. Its political creed was the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, of the manual workers. It did not recognise any class other than the workers, and so its policy was to root out all other classes who may dispute the authority of the proletariat. Rule of the working class, and not political democracy, is what Bolshevism stood for. Its economic creed was based upon Marxian socialism. It sought to overthrow the social order based upon capitalism. This implied the abolition of all private capital and the nationalisation of land and other instruments of production.



  • The Bolsheviks had made sweeping changes in the social and economic system of Russia. Their programme of nationalisation and state-ownership produced results which put Communism to a very severe test. They soon realised that their enthusiasm for new order had carried them too far. The peasants were glad enough to get rid of their landlords but they wanted the confiscated lands for themselves rather than for the State. They cared little for the Communist theory and wanted to cultivate their lands from the capitalist motive of profit and were reluctant to hand over the surplus produce to the Government of Moscow. When the authorities insisted, the peasants decided to cut down production. A severe drought came to the aid of their decision and in 1921 Russia was visited by a terrible famine, one of the severest on record. About five million persons died of starvation. Many millions more would have perished but for the generosity of foreign, especially American, relief societies. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • The industrial situation was equally grave. Factories and large industrial plants were nationalised and committed to the charge of workers. But few of them were trained in management and so there was little discipline and less efficiency. Besides, the workers showed no inclination for hard labour. Hence the production in factories and mills went on diminishing and prices rose very high. The situation was aggravated by the threatened break-down of the railway system which made transport of manufactured products and the grain requisitioned from the peasants, well-nigh impossible. Shortage of food and diminishing industrial output caused acute distress and cries of “Down with the Soviet Government” became more and the more insistent and vehement.

New Economic Policy (NEP)

  • Lenin realised that the perilous economic situation arising from the establishment of pure Communism boded destruction to the Soviet Government. A change of policy was a crying necessity. Hence he proclaimed a New Economic policy or the NEP as it was styled. It was a strategic retreat from Marxian Communism and involved a compromise between socialism and capitalism. The following were the chief features of the policy. The requisition of foodstuffs from the peasants was abandoned and they were required to pay a fixed tax instead, at first in kind and after 1924 in money. The peasants were also allowed to sell in the open market any surplus produce which was left after the payment of the tax. Private enterprise on a small scale was allowed, nationalisation being applied only to big industries and public utilities. To secure liquid capital, profit-sharing concessions were allowed to foreign capitalists for large-scale agriculture and engineering projects, but the State retained the option of purchasing the products of such concerns. Private retail trading was permitted under certain restrictions, but the State set up retail-stores of its own by way of competition and encouraged consumer’s cooperative societies. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • The NEP was a departure from the Marxian ideal, although it was not a complete return to capitalism. Lenin and other Communist leaders regarded it as a temporary makeshift. There is no doubt that the new policy stimulated production and brought it to pre-war levels. By healing the ravages of the early Communist experiments the NEP averted a great catastrophe and thereby saved the Bolshevist Government.

Death of Lenin

  • It was not given to Lenin to see the full working of the NEP. Tremendous pressure of work told on his health and he died in 1924. As the father of the Bolshevik revolution and the creator of new Russia he will ever occupy a prominent place in the pages of history. He had driving force, iron will and a fanatical faith in Communism, combined with a keen sense of political expediency. To save the Revolution he reversed his policy and thereby averted great catastrophe. The Communists have raised him to the stature of a divinity and his tomb in Moscow has become a shrine and an object of public worship. Europe Between Two World Wars

Rise of Stalin

  • On the death of Lenin two prominent Communist leaders, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, contested for the leadership of the party. Trotsky was Lenin’s Commissar of War. In preparing the way for the November Revolution of 1917 and in organising the Red Army he had played a role hardly inferior to Lenin’s. He was in favour of working for world revolution, for he held that the success of the socialist state in Russia depended upon the conversion of the whole world to Communism. Such an idea was not acceptable to many and so he made many enemies in his party. Besides, his vanity, vitriolic temper and his disdain of the peasantry told against his popularity. Stalin, however, was a realist in politics. He wanted to concentrate first on national revival, that is, upon the economic advancement of the country, rather than upon uncertain attempts to dislodge capitalism from the whole world. He was an astute politician and quietly worked to remove Trotsky and his followers from their posts. Then he expelled them from the Communist Party. Finally, Trotsky was exiled from the U.S.S.R in 1929. Next followed a series of purges in which all those who were suspected of Trotskyite leanings were disposed of. Stalin thus virtually became the new dictator.

Five Year Plans

  • With Trotsky out of the way, Stalin set to work to bring about the economic regeneration of Russia. He sought to do it by a planned economy. He brought forward a long-term Five Year Plan which was to be a complete forecast of the economic and cultural life of the Soviet Union for the five years from 1928. The main principles of the plan were nationalisation, increase of production and industrialisation. Economic self sufficiency and elimination of private capitalism were the ends aimed at. The first Five Year Plan (1928-32) mainly aimed at increasing the production of industrial goods and industrial machinery. When put into operation the plan achieved astonishing success and outstripped the calculations made on paper. The production of coal, pig iron and petroleum was almost doubled. The supply of electric power was almost trebled. Huge factories, giant plants, automobile and tractor plants and new blast furnaces were created in many places. To encourage workers, prizes and special rations were awarded to those who executed their production quotas and every attempt was made to secure the fullest co-operation of all citizens. Technical schools were established and the services of foreign experts secured. In a word, the establishment of so many gigantic industries and enterprises within so short a time is a record unparalleled in history. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • With regard to agriculture the Five Year Plan aimed at liquidating individual farming by the Kulaks or rich farmers. Hence provision was made for collectivization that is grouping together of smaller farms for collective farming on a cooperative basis. Co-operative farming was encouraged by the grant of special privileges such as tax reductions and easy credit facilities. The Kulaks, who were opposed to Collectivization, were subjected to crushing tax and other oppressions. Effective steps were taken to mechanise agriculture. In collective farming the share of the peasants in the total profits was proportionate to the amount and quality of their labour.

Education and Religion

  • Removal of illiteracy was an important item in the First Five-Year Plan. The Communists realised the necessity of building up a new Culture by destroying the bourgeois ideology. Hence the Communist-controlled schools were set up all over the Soviet Union to impart training, both academic and technical. School attendance for seven years was made compulsory for every child. In 1914 the percentage of literacy was only 27; by 1933 it rose to 81. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • Religion has no place in Marxian philosophy which is dogmatically materialist. To Lenin and his followers religion was an “opiate of the people” and an instrument of diverting the mind of the masses from the evils of the present world with the promise of a reward in another world. The Orthodox Church of Russia had always been the most devoted ally of the Czarist regime. Hence, the Communists who cared nothing for religion were determined to strike some of their stoutest blows at the Orthodox Church. As early as 1918 it was disestablished. Its properties were confiscated and many of its edifices were transformed into museums and club houses. Public teaching of religion was forbidden, while atheism was encouraged. The clergy were deprived of their control of education and marriage. Attendance at the Church was forbidden to the members of the Communist Party but not to the masses of citizens.

Other Five-Year Plans

  • The First Five-Year Plan was so encouraging in its results that the date for ending it was pushed back to December 1932. The Second Five-Year Plan was to run from 1932 to 1937. It still further increased the output of coal, iron and petroleum. This time the plan laid great stress upon quality which in the mad rush for quantity, was neglected in the first plan. It paid greater attention to the production of consumer goods and to transport facilities. In agriculture the pace of collectivization was hastened. The collective farms combined the features of Communism with the limited individual ownership of homesteads, livestock and minor implements. The peasants were permitted to sell any surplus (that is, what remained to them after paying the fixed quota to the State) to the consumers in the open market. This relaxation of the rigidity of communistic principles did much to popularise the collective farms. The Third Five-Year Plan aimed at surpassing the leadings capitalist countries both in the volume of output and technical perfection.

Results of the Five-Year Plans

  • There is no doubt that under the stimuli of the several Five-Year Plans, Soviet Russia made amazing industrial and agricultural progress. The boundless natural resources of the country had begun to be successfully tapped and science was harnessed to develop them. From the chaotic famine-stricken land of 1919 the country had grown to be economically self-sufficient from the point of view of food supplies and of the major industries for war. The lot of the Russian peasants and workers had improved. They receive better wages and had enough to buy consumer’s goods. Unemployment was no longer a problem in Russia. But it should be noted that all these achievements had been attained by the ruthless exploitation of human material. All human considerations were sacrificed to the needs of the new regime. Europe Between Two World Wars


  • An international meeting of Communists was held in Moscow in 1919. Lenin organised this gathering as the Third International or Comintern with Moscow as its headquarters. This Communist International committed itself to the policy of world revolution and outlined a programme of anti-capitalistic activities to be carried on everywhere. The Comintern and the Soviet Government worked in close harmony for a time and from 1918 to 1921 the foreign policy of Russia was to promote world revolution by stirring up and aiding Communist uprisings the world over. To attract the Asiatic peoples to their cause the Bolshevists denounced the imperialism of the Western Powers. Thus Soviet Government surrendered the special privileges which the Czarist regime had acquired in China and gave up all extra-territorial and financial rights in Turkey. The Afghans were incited to resist British control. This policy estranged the Powers and Soviet Russia remained isolated for a time from European politics. Europe Between Two World Wars
  • But Lenin and other Soviet leaders soon realised that capitalism in the West was too strongly entrenched to be speedily overthrown. Even in Russia pure Communism had failed and Lenin in his NEP had to modify it. Besides, Lenin was convinced that truce with the bourgeois world was necessary to consolidate the power of the Bolsheviks and to improve the chaotic economic situation of Russia. Foreign manufactures and foreign technical advice which Russia so urgently needed, could not be obtained unless the Bolshevik propaganda were stopped. Hence Lenin wanted to end Russia’s commercial and diplomatic isolation. He entered into negotiation with Britain and concluded an Anglo-Russian trade agreement in 1921, promising to refrain from inciting the Asiatics against the British. Within a year similar trade pacts were concluded with eleven other countries. Thus the U.S.S.R. obtained de facto recognition by many of the States, although full diplomatic relations were not yet restored. But with the advent of the Labour Party to power the British premier Macdonald extended to Russia unconditional de jure recognition in 1924. Italy followed suit and before the close of 1924 nine other countries recognised the Bolshevik Government. Thus Russia re-entered the arena of world politics. She looked upon the Locarno Pact with suspicion and hence to safeguard her position she concluded non-aggression pacts with Turkey, Germany and several other neighbouring countries (1926).
  • Stalin realised that peace with foreign states was necessary to ensure the success of his Five-Year Plans. Without the help of foreign capital and foreign technical experts rapid industrialization of Russia would be impossible. Hence he discarded the Comintern plan of immediate world revolution. He declared the best propaganda for Communism would be the success of the Russian experiment and to achieve it, peace was necessary. He was suspicious of the aggressive activities of militant Japan and Hitlerite Germany and so abandoned his former attitude of indifference to the League of Nations and brought Russia into it in 1934 to safeguard her position. Next year he concluded a Franco-Soviet pact of mutual assistance (1935).
  • But Stalin’s policy of collective security based on co-operation with France and Britain underwent a radical change as the result of the turn of events in Central Europe. He came to distrust the leadership of London and Paris when Britain and France agreed to accept Hitler’s demands at Munich. He reversed his policy and signed a pact of neutrality with Nazi Germany shortly before the outbreak of Second World War (1939).  Europe Between Two World Wars

World History


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