Gorbachev’s Bold Plan

v-govorkov-no-to-drink-1954

Let’s all  be honest, when we think of Russia one of the first things we think of is vodka, and it’s completely justified. Russians have always been massive consumers of alcohol, and in the mid 1900s, the Soviet Union had a monopoly over the production and distribution of alcohol. In fact, the state made more money off of alcohol than it did from income taxes. Unfortunately, the heavy consumption of alcohol caused high rates of child abuse, suicide, work related accidents, and other issues among frequent alcohol consumers. In order to combat this, Gorbachev decided to start a movement against alcohol abuse that led to new laws limiting where alcohol was created, who could sell alcohol, and when it could be sold. Much like the prohibition in the United States, this did not go as well as Gorbachev had hoped.

Looking back on his campaign, Gorbachev said “We should have had conducted a systematic, long-term battle with alcoholism,” rather than attacking it so aggressively with an “ax over the head” method. The campaign saw many negative effects including an increase in moonshine production, Soviet citizens turning to other substances for a buzz, and a massive decrease in revenue from the state. From 1985 to 1987, the Soviet Union lost 20 billion rubles as a result of the prohibition of alcohol. In 1987, just two years after starting his initiative, Gorbachev quit his fight against the sale of alcohol.

While it did not succeed in the long run, the anti-alcohol did see some positive results among its citizens. There was a decline in mortality rates, less accidents on the road and at work, and better health among newborns whose parents had consumed less alcohol. Even with these positive effects of less alcohol consumption, current day Russia still sees a large amount of its citizens abusing alcohol. Today, around 30 percent of all deaths in Russia are in some way related to alcohol consumption; a sign that Gorbachev’s campaign was well-intended, but nearly impossible to accomplish.

 

Sources:

Anti-Alcohol Campaign

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/30-years-on-gorbachev-rues-running-of-his-soviet-anti-alcohol-campaign/520817.html

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The Novocherassk Massacre

Massacre

In the 1950s and 60s, workers in the Soviet Union watched as their wages were reduced year after year in an attempt to make false statistics regarding labor efficiency. One of the biggest wage cuts came on January 1, 1962 when the Novocherassk Electric Locomotive Works (NEVZ) had its wages reduced by around 35%. Workers were upset, but they did their best to remain calm. That all changed on June 1st when it was announced that the costs of meat and dairy products would be raised. Workers like those in NEVZ already had a hard time providing for themselves, especially since housing cost as much as 30% of their monthly income, and now they could hardly afford to put decent food on their table.

The workers in the factory didn’t immediately resort to protests. They simply expressed their discontent among each other, but the murmurs eventually found their way to the plant director who decided to speak to the workers. Clearly not on their side, the plant director said to them “You don’t have any money, so eat meat pies with liver.” This added fuel to the fire and caused an explosion among the workers. They quickly and spontaneously formed groups and stopped working in order to go on strike. The workers kept the protests peaceful by making signs, barricading the railroad tracks into the plant, and filled the square where the plant’s management office was.

On multiple occasions, militiamen and KGB members were sent into the protests in an attempt to get workers to end the strike. The protesters refused to end the strike, but they remained peaceful. The following morning, tanks and armed soldiers made their way into the town and surrounded the plant. One soldier supposedly aimed his rifle at a worker who grabbed the gun and wrestled it away from the soldier. At this moment, officers ordered their men to open fire on the crowd mowing down all who stood before them. It is reported that multiple officers shot themselves because they were unwilling to carry out the orders to open fire, but the massacre continued without them. Accounts vary as to how many were killed, but official reports state that 24 people were killed, dozens more were wounded, and over 100 protesters were arrested and put on trial.

The massacre ended as government buses filled the city and picked up the bodies lying in the streets, which is why the exact number of protesters killed is not certain. The Soviet Union attempted to keep the massacre a secret for as long as possible. There were no radio or newspaper reports following the incident, and it is believed that the bodies were buried in secret rather than being given to the families. Workers were put on trial to make it appear as though they were to blame, and seven were shot for their involvement. The first newspaper report didn’t surface until 1988, and since then multiple films, articles, and books have been created documenting the brutal killings. Today, a monument has been created to remember the event, but the brutal tactics put in place by the Soviet Union that day remain as another ugly stain in history books.

A full account from one of the workers put on trial was published and can be found here:

https://libcom.org/library/1962-novocherkassk-tragedy

Sources:

Novocherkassk Massacre

https://libcom.org/library/1962-novocherkassk-tragedy

 

Hungary For Change

Hungary.jpg

On March 6, 1953, millions of citizens of the Soviet Union took to the Red Square to mourn the death of the man who had ruled them for the past 30 years. While they mourned, others quickly looked at the new power vacuum as an opportunity for change. In Hungary, Soviet troops began to pull back and students in Budapest took to the streets to protest the Soviet rule. The protest was met with bullets from police officers and riots quickly filled the streets. As can be seen above, protesters pulled down statues of Stalin and any other reminders that the Soviet Union controlled them.

In an attempt to calm the situation, Soviet troops were called in to close off Budapest and put an end to the violence. It didn’t work. As martial law was called, a new leader took power of the Communist Party in Hungary: Imre Nagy. Nagy convinced Khrushchev to pull his troops out of the country, and the situation improved slightly. Those who wanted to be free of Soviet rule made their own parties to run against the state, and they had the support of the West behind them.

In a bold move to stand up to the Soviet Union, Nagy declared that Hungary was neutral and now a democratic state, and asked the UN to consider the move in their next General Assembly. The Soviets didn’t take this well, and sent 15 army divisions and thousands of tanks into Budapest to retake control of the rebellious state. The West that claimed to back the Hungarians in their attempt at freedom did nothing to help as Soviet troops overwhelmed Hungary. As expected, the Hungarians could not withstand the onslaught, and many went into hiding or fled the country, including their leader, Nagy.

A new leader, Janos Kadar, took power and went to work re-instilling Soviet rule in Hungary. He promised Nagy safe passage out of hiding, but then captured him and executed him for his actions against the Soviet Union. While Khrushchev had shown his intent to de-Stalinize the Soviet Union, he also showed his intent to keep control of Eastern Europe. The Hungarians would remain under Soviet rule for another three decades.

 

Sources:

http://homepages.stmartin.edu/fac_staff/rlangill/PLS%20310/After%20Stalin,%201953-1956.htm

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3407

 

Keep Calm and “Not One Step Back!”

Not one step back

A postage stamp with the new catchphrase “Not One Step Back!”

Picture this: you’re the leader of a country and its military commander and you’ve been invaded by a powerful German army that is showing its military strength across the continent. Due to your poor judgement, your military is weak, unprepared, and has low morale. All military aged males have been recruited to go out and fight leaving women and children to work in the factories and fields in order to supply the military. In just over six months, 1.5 million of your soldiers are dead and 3 million are prisoners of war. At this point, your soldiers are retreating without being told to do so, the country has lost all faith in their military, and the Germans have momentum as they push farther and farther East. So, what do you do?

While we could sit here and list all the things Joseph Stalin screwed up prior to and during the war with Germany, he does deserve some credit for rallying his troops and pushing the Germans out of the Soviet Union after an embarrassing start to the war. But how do you rally your troops when they’re bloody, defeated, inexperienced, and have lost the support of the people they’re supposed to defend? Stalin decided to take the honest but brutal approach in an order he gave to his men. Rather than printing an order that would likely not be read, Stalin demanded that Order No. 227 be passed down only by word of mouth, so the men had to come together and listen to their brothers in arms in order to hear what their leader had said.

Stalin did not hold back in Order No. 227. He told his men that the country had lost faith in them and he called his soldiers foolish for constantly retreating East thinking they had endless land and resources to supply them. He informed them that they had far less land, citizens, grain, metal, factories, and plants than they had before the war. After outlining just how poorly the Soviet Union was doing, he gave his order:

“And so the time for retreating is over. Not one step back! That must now be our watchword. Can we take the blows of the enemy and push them back to the west? Yes, we can, because our factories in the rear are doing excellent work and the front is receiving ever more aircraft, tanks, artillery and mortars. Is there something we lack? We lack order and discipline. This is our main shortcoming. We must establish the strictest order and iron discipline in our army if we want to rescue the situation and defend our Motherland. Panickers and cowards will be eliminated on the spot. Commanders of companies, battalions, regiments and divisions, along with their commissars and political workers, will be considered traitors to the Motherland if they retreat without orders from above.”

Stalin did not beat around the bush in his order. He told his men that they had the resources to win the war and they could push the Germans out, but he would not think twice about getting rid of the men that were holding everyone back by retreating. And just in case anyone needed more convincing, he mandated that anyone who retreated would be sent to penal battalions where they would be tasked with the most dangerous and deadly missions (such as walking across a minefield before the main element crossed). The order received an overwhelmingly positive response, and the men rallied to turn the momentum of the war. Sometimes, in order to receive a positive response, it is necessary to explain just how poorly someone is doing in order to put things into perspective. Stalin did just that and then reassured his military that they had the ability to win, they just needed to rally. And they did.

Order 227

Sources:

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/world-war-two-and-eastern-europe/not-one-step-back-order-227/

Stalin’s Order No. 227: “Not a Step Back”

The Rise and Fall of the Proletkult

Proletkult

During the Russian Revolution, culture became a hot topic among the two sides and ended up being another cause of conflict between the Proletarians and Lenin’s government. Both sides agreed that culture was an important aspect of the revolution, but that was about as far as they got. Lenin’s intrigue in culture was simply a tool to create another class of artists known as the intellectuals which he fed, housed, and clothed in order to separate them from the rest of society. In response to this, a Proletarian by the name of Aleksandr Bogdanov stood up and called for other Proletarians to create their own cultural identity in order to succeed against Lenin and his intellectuals.

In order to win the revolution, Bogdanov believed he had to educate the masses in order to help them identify their interests and believe in their revolution. Instead of dominating the working class, Bogdanov hoped that, after being educated, they would take control of the socialist movement themselves, and that their new-found culture would be the basis for their future government. In order to do this, the Proletarians would have to master skills such as technology, language, literature, the arts, newspaper writing, and propaganda techniques that they could identify themselves with and use to gain strength. Unfortunately, while Bogdanov’s intentions were true and his ideas seemed sound, the Proletkult was not able to survive.

The process of forming and leading the working class proved to be a daunting task that would eventually cause the downfall of the Proletkult. In order to try and please everyone, the party allowed trade unions to be a part of the movement and mixed them in with the Proletarians, but this ended up being a nearly impossible breed to sustain. On top of this, the party had no way of controlling who could become members of the movement which caused an overwhelming amount of workers to join the movement and the party was unable to control such a large mass of followers. The Proletkult had no power to really lead its people anywhere and lacked the resources to stay afloat during the war. With the party already weak, the New Economic Policy put in place after the war pretty much sealed the fate of the party, and the Proletkult imploded.

Sources:

http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft6m3nb4b2&chunk.id=d0e11201&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e11201&brand=ucpress

Russia, A History: Pages 303-305

 

 

Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday (Post 2)

January 22, 1905, which quickly became known as Bloody Sunday, is often noted as one of the events that triggered the revolution in Russia. The country was in turmoil under Romanov Czar Nicholas II who had allowed Russia to become corrupt and oppressive since he took power in 1894. This, among other factors, caused revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin to gain strength and rise up against the tyrannical government. The people of Russia wanted an end to the Russo-Japanese War and wanted a more capable leader in power.

On the 22, a priest by the name of Georgy Apollonovich Gapon led a group of protesters into St. Petersburg to demand change, but the situation quickly spiraled downhill. Government forces opened fire on the protest and killed or injured hundreds of the workers. Riots broke out across Russia and the country quickly descended into turmoil. The tension lasted until 1917, when revolutionaries finally overthrew and executed Nicholas II, and the Bolsheviks took power.

Sources:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bloody-sunday-massacre-in-russia

https://prezi.com/uzbt7s8hdfvo/the-russian-revolution/

Rivers in the Russian Empire

Blog Post 1 Picture

In the early 20th century, rivers were a widely used method of transportation throughout the Russian Empire. This picture was taken along the Volga-Baltic waterway which became a popular route for resources to travel from the capital of St. Petersburg to the Volga River Basin in northwestern Russia. This portion of the Russian empire was, and still is, very rural and does not have many roads connecting it to the rest of the country. For this reason, most goods and resources were pulled up the river  by barges like the one

In the early stages of the Russian empire, the Volga-Baltic waterway was not easy to maneuver due to rapids in the area. Over time, a series of locks were put in place to widen the river and allow boats to travel to and from St. Petersburg. This technology greatly increased the area of Russia that was accessible for resources and improved the infrastructure of the more urban regions of the Russian Empire.