Was the victory over Hitler in the Great Patriotic War achieved inspite of Stalins policies ?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

13 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)


Table of Contents


Mobilization of the Population

The War Ecomony

Organizing political leadership

Stalin as Military Leader





Having defeated the remains of the Wehrmacht in the streets of Berlin in May 1945 the USSR achieved a triumphant victory of the “Great Patriotic War”. Stalin was celebrated as the great Generalissimo who had lead the Red Army to victory. But the Soviet Union also had to come to terms with a loss of 27 Million people (with almost 18 million civilian deaths)[1], the destruction of a significant part of her infrastructure, the loss of housing space and industrial plants after the occupation of a major part of her European territory and the near loss of Moscow and Leningrad.[2] Had this high price to be paid for victory or was it mainly due to inappropriate policies, personal mistakes and misjudgements of Stalin?

Soviet historeography until 1956 celebrated Stalin´s genius as political and military leader. Under Khrushchev Stalin was blamed for the high losses and the nearly total defeat of 1941, while the role of the party became overemphazised.[3] Western scholars tended to support the negative view of Stalin’s role[4] while during the last decade a more balanced view has been developed also due to the newly accessable documents in Soviet archives.

This essay intends to highlight that in fact Stalin´s policies contributed decisively to final victory at a very high price but also led to serious setbacks. Given the limited scope of this paper I will concentrate on the evaluation of Stalin´s domestic policies[5] concerning the mobilization of the population, the war economy, organizing political and military leadership before coming to a conclusion.

Mobilization of the Population

Right from the beginning of the German invasion it became clear that this war was different from Hitlers previous Blitzkrieg campaigns. It was not just about quickly defeating and occupying a country but about a war of extinction. Therefore Stalin quite early changed his use of vocabulary in public adresses. Instead of refering to international class struggle and the unity of the international working class which according to the ideology should be enforced through a new big[6] war he started appealing to national feelings. He spoke about German, not fascist invaders,[7] called on the “brothers and sisters”, soviet “citizens” (not “comrades”) to defend the fatherland.[8]

In addition traditional values such as family and the village community were increasingly emphasised and used to create a common Soviet patriotic spirit. This spirit was enforced through the role of the army where many different nationalities fought side by side to defend the fatherland. Alongside went the promotion of Russia as the leading nation[9] in the struggle for freedom. This was illustrated with reference to historic heros such as Dmitri Donskoi, Aleksandr Nevsky or Mikhail Kutusov who were revived as great examples through Stalin’s speeches.[10]

Stalin also approached Russian Orthodxy, which before 1917 had always been a traditional ally of the Russian rulers. The climax of this strategy was the reception of Metropoitan Sergei in the Kremlin in September 1943, when some return of religious activities again was endorsed by Stalin.[11]

Most scholars agree that reacting to the existential threat this way significantly helped mobilising and encouraging the population to stand together as one. Jettisoning ideology that proved to be osolete when confronted with reality and the selective resorting to traditions of nationalism and religion by Stalin promoted strong support for the leadership and mobilised the people.

Nevertheless not all nationalities were included in these efforts of Soviet nation-building. Some smaller nations such as the Kalmyks, Chechens or Volga Germans were deported as alleged traitors and collaborators with the Germans. This move is hard to explain as none of these could have posed a serious threat for their small size and their composition[12] and the organisational and logistical efforts to carry out the deportation of some hundred thousand people at the height of the war. These measures ordered by Stalin might be seen as a deterrent against other larger non-Russian nationalities (mainly the Ukrainians) who at first, to some extent welcomed the German soldiers as liberators from Soviet suppression.[13] In fact this proved to be unneccessary when the German invaders soon showed their real intentions by commiting mass-scale attrocities and turned substantial parts of the occupied population into passive hostility or even partisan guerrilas.

In this context Stalin can be seen as resorting to brutal and inappropriate “traditional” methods to achieve loyalty and causing useless suffering.

In contrast to these new victims of Stalinist terror, some former victims of the great purges were given “a second chance” to prove one’s worth the confidence of their compatriotes and their leaders. Prominent examples were high-ranking officers such as General Rokossovski, rehabilitated scientists but also ordinary Gulag inmates who fought in the Red Army, mainly in penal battalions.[14] Stalin had realised the neccessity that these people were urgently needed, and he was willing to rehabilitate able and loyal specialists.[15]

The War Ecomony

Right from the beginning of the German invasion the Soviet economy had to cope with high losses of machinery, man-power, infrastructure, land and deposits of raw materials. The most important industrial centres were situated in the occupied or threatened territory of the West, as well as urban concentration, the bread basket and essential raw materials. It took unimaginable efforts to compensate for these losses and moreover build up a powerful arms industry to fight the enemy.

These efforts were decisively faciliated by the fact that the Soviet industry was already highly militarized and strictly organized by the end of the 1930s. Workers were pushed to high outputs and severely punished for abstaining or for making the slightest mistake. Through Stalin’s massive industrialization campaign and the first five-year plans the USSR had reached an impressive level of industrial output, especially in heavy industry. Preparing for the probable war Stalin had given much priority to develop the weapons industry already from the mid 1930s.


[1] The number given is the official Soviet estimate of 1985. M Ellmann and S Maksudov, Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War: A Note, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 46, 1995, No. 4, p 671-80.

[2] Capital stock worth 679 billion rubles had vanished (Chris Ward, Stalin’s Russia, L: Arnold, 1999, p.193), one fifth of the population and half of its material assets had been temporarily under German occupation (R Service, A History of 20th Century Russia, L: Penguin, 1997, p.261).

[3] One of the more balanced views of Soviet historeography on Stalin’s role during the Great Patriotoc War from the perestroika years is: V Konasov / A Tereshchuk: Novyi podkhod k uchetu bezwozratnykh poter’ v gody velikoi otechestvennoi voiny, Voprosy Istorii, 1990, No. 6, pp 185-188.

[4] This view was shared by a number of dissident Soviet historians such as Roy Medvedev.

[5] Issues such as the pre-war development of Soviet external relations (towards Britain, France, USA and Nazi Germany) which also play an imortant role in this context cannot be covered here.

[6] World revolution, which never was a favourite concept of Stalin, this way was early disregarded. Another symbol of world revolution, the “Internationale” was replaced by a new national anthem in 1943 which stressed the unity of Soviet people under Russian guidance. Also the Comintern was dissolved in the same year. (H Carrère D’Encausse, Stalin: Order through Terror, L:Longman, 1981, p 112).

[7] In his adress to the Soviet people given in the name of Stalin on the outbreak of war with Germany on 22nd June 1941, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov still explicitly differentiated between the “suffering […] German workers, peasants and intellectuals” and the “clique of bloodthirsty fascist rulers” unlike in later speeches when Stalin denounced “Hitlerite” or “fascist Germany” as a whole. (http://www.ibiblio.org/policy/1941/410662c.html, login: 30/11/2001, see also source of footnote 8).

[8] Radio speech by Stalin to the Soviet people on 3rd July 1941 (http://www.ibiblio.org/policy/1941/410703a.html, login: 30/11/2001). Also the later introduction of the term “Great Patriotic War” has to be seen in this context – it refered to the Napoleonic wars.

[9] Expressed by Stalin in a toast on senior Soviet officers in May 1945 (C Ward, Stalin’s Russia, L: Arnold, 1999, p.204).

[10] G Hosking, The First Socialist Society, Cambridge/Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990, p 273., G Bordyugov, War and Peace – Stalin’s Regime and Russian Nationalism, History Today, Vol. 45, No. 5, 1995, pp 27-33.

[11] C Ward, Stalin’s Russia, L: Arnold, 1999, p 202.

[12] The deportees consisted mainly of women, children and old people as younger men by majority were fighting on the front.

[13] R Overy, Russia’s War, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p 290. This explaination does not seem completely convincing. Besides a certain degree of arbitrarinesss some minor cases of real collaboration might in fact have been taken place and were used to settle an older account for rebellious behaviour.

[14] One could wonder if this increased their life expectancy significantly. Penal battalions were often send in to clear mine fields and used in other fatal operations.

[15] But still the Gulags continued to operate on a large scale.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Was the victory over Hitler in the Great Patriotic War achieved inspite of Stalins policies ?
University of Birmingham  (Centre for Russian and East European Studies)
Graduate Soviet and Russian Social and Economic History
1 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
420 KB
Stalin, 2. Weltkrieg, WK, Great Patriotic War, Grosser Vaterländischer Krieg, Führungsstil, leadership style, planned economy, Kriegswirtschaft, war economy, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pakt, pact, Stalingra
Quote paper
Maximilian Spinner (Author), 2002, Was the victory over Hitler in the Great Patriotic War achieved inspite of Stalins policies ?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/13331


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