Stalin's Later Years: 1945 - 53

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • A colleague said of Stalin: ”His last years were the most dangerous. He swung to extremes.” To what extent do you agree with this view? (May 2010)
  • Analyze the effects of the Second World War on the USSR between 1941 and 1948. (May 2005)

Paper 2

  • Compare and contrast the social and economic issues caused by two wars, each chosen from a different region. (May 2009 TZ2)

  • Assess the economic and social results of two wars, each chosen from a different region. (Nov 2008)

  • Analyse the economic and social results on the civilian population of one twentieth-century war. (Nov 2007)


What position was the USSR in after WW2?

  • Stalin emerged from the Great Patriotic War as the undisputed leader of the USSR as he saved the Soviet Union from the Nazi invaders. Also, Stalin portrayed himself as the liberator of the USSR through the use of propaganda (poster, post-cards, statues, books).
  • Stalin was also appreciated by the people for Russia's win!
  • However, despite Stalin's victory, the economy was devastated and Stalin lost no time in demanding more sacrifice, more unrelenting hard work and promising more lean years with no hope yet of a better standard of living for Soviet citizens.

  • Due to war, the economy was devastating. Historian John Fischer argues in his book The Sacred Men in the Kremlin,1947 how difficult it was for ordinary people to find fresh food, beyond the small prices of meat, limited array of vegetables or the few eggs brought into markets by peasants who were able to cultivate small private plots.
  • In order to improve the economy, Stalin planned to restore the infrastructure and repairing factories and mines. The official claim was that by 1950 industrial production was 75% higher than in 1940.
  • Labour and resources were also diverted to the building of the atomic bomb, tested in 1949. Agriculture was far slower to recover and by 1950 the grain harvest ammounted to only 40% of that of 1940.
  • "Russification" remained popular - Stalin wanted to introduce Russian settlers into the Baltic States and so weaken nationalism and impose Russian culture and language.
  • Anti-Semitism resurfaced with a crackdown on Jewish literature, journalism and culture, as well as a purging of Jewish officials from the higher levels of the party leadership.
  • The Zhdanovschina Campaign lead by the Leningrad Party leader Andrei Zhdanov removed all "Western" influence from music and literature. There was even criticism of Einstein's theory of relativity, which was declared to be 'bourgeois' and 'reactionary'.
  • In 1948 (after the death of Zhdanov) Stalin carried out a purge of the Leningrad Party known as the 'Leningrad Affair' and the 'Doctor's Plot' in November 1952, when the mostly Jewish doctors in the Kremlin were arrested and accused of killing their patients, including Zhdanov.
  • The Soviet Union emerged from World War 2 with territorial gains that had restored the losses suffered in 1919. The USSR were now considered as a world superpower.
  • Even prior to the Second World War, Stalin was recognized as a world leader and his meetings with Winston Churchill and Frankling Roosevelt to determine post-war arrangements have been well documented.
  • The Soviet Union expanded into Central and Eastern Europe. This frightened the great US as they thought that Stalin was intending to extend Soviet influence over the whole of Europe.
  • Stalin's "election speech" of 1946 suggested that the USSR was, once again, using anti-Western rhetoric and this implied that the post-war peace was fragile.

What were the aims of Stalin's domestic policies in his final years?
  • Given the immense devastation suffered during the war, Stalin's prime domestic policy was economic recovery.
  • Also, as mentioned above under "Domestic", Stalin pursued his idea of Russification; to rebuild and strengthen the people's love for Russia!
  • Essentially, Stalin aimed to further strengthen his power as the leader of a single party state.

What policies did he carry out in these last years?
  • TERROR was one of Stalin's main policies that he carried out in his last years of rule. The purges of the 1930s were not repeated on the same scale after 1945, although returning prisoners of war, along with White Russians and Cossacks who Stalin had insisted be returned to the Soviet Union, were often shot or sent to the gulag.
  • Historian Norman Lowe argues that approximately 2.8 million soldiers who survived imprisonment in German camps returned home 'to be arrested and interrogated by the NKVD' because Stalin did not want to risk knowledge of the outside world penetrating the walls of the Soviet Union. One sixth of these people were released, whilst the others were either short or sent to labour camps.
  • By 1947, 27 new labour camps were built to hold "bandits", which is how Stalin referred to nationalists in Ukraine and in the Baltic States. Dimitri Volkogonov estimates that more than '90,000 kulaks, and their families, bandits, nationalists and others' were deported from the Baltic States alone.
  • In addition to the 20 million prisoners in the gulags by 1947, a law was passed 'imposing twenty years hard labour for anyone attempting to escape from exile.'

What were the results of these policies?
  • The Great Terror was a grim memory and a few people would have dared plot to overthrow or even criticize Soviet rule.
  • Within the Soviet Union, gratitude for victory in the Great Patriotic War boosted Stalin's popularity further and the suffering undoubtely led people to believe that whatever hardship came with peace, it did not begin to compare with the suffering endured the war.

  • Resources:

pp. 135 - 138
pp. 135 - 138