Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Russia's Success: The Soviet Union (Russian Portfolio VIII)

Russia's Success: The Soviet Union
            It’s hard for many people especially Westerners to see the Soviet Union as a success story. With millions of people killed during the Stalin Era and so much political repression throughout most of its existence, many people view the Soviet era as a catastrophe for Russian history. However, if we reexamine the ideals of the Russian nation and put them within the context of the Soviet Union, we begin to see something very different.
             Going back through the centuries of the Russian Empire, the Russian people have always strived to gain a sense of identity and security in the world. Beginning after the removal of the Tatar Yoke, the Russian Empire sought to establish itself as a world power that could compete with the countries in Western Europe. Russia unlike most European nations never shared the natural course of development to early modernity. They had none of the prerequisites to bring about a shift to early modernity and so were disadvantaged from the start. But despite their shortcomings, the Russian people made a bold attempt to become an early modern nation through consolidating their power into the hands of the czars. The czars in turn would put tons of resources into establishing a sizable gunpowder military and creating a tightly controlled public sphere. They also would reform their management system to meet the demands for early modernization and takeover their economic sector in order to make it proto-industrial. Needless to say, the Russians managed with some difficulty to become an early modern nation.
            When examining the case of the Soviet Union, we should see it not as a failure of Russians to modernize, but as a continuation of their social-engineered path to prominence. For centuries, the West has been a source of insecurity within the Russian nation, and this feeling of insecurity caused the Russians to advance in a compulsory, state-controlled manner. They had to keep up with Europe, or they would end up being annexed by one of these power-hungry nations. The Soviet Union was another expression of Russia’s traditional pursuit of security and preeminence within the world. Similar to Russia under the czars, the Soviet Union eliminated all opposition groups within its borders and created a mass public sphere that was under strict scrutiny by the government. They nationalized all the labor and land in the lands and transferred much of it into the process of industrialization. They transferred much of their resources to modernizing the military. They created a massive bureaucracy governing all parts of life and ensuring the control of the Party. 
The Soviet path to modernization was littered with violence and death and was certainly not justifiable from an ethical standpoint, but it did achieve the goals it aimed for. The Soviet military could rival if not beat the military might of the U.S. The Soviet culture featured universal education, consumerism, and mass communications. The Soviet economy was industrial, and the political system was firmly entrenched. The Soviet Union ultimately accomplished Russia’s goal of modernization bringing it from a poor, semi-industrial society to an industrial superpower that enjoyed a high standard of living. More importantly though, the Soviet Union provided the Russian people with the sense of security and identity that they had been searching for. It is because of the reasons that one may conclude the Soviet Union was an indubitable success for the Russian nation.
-Anthony McRae

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