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The Industrialization Debate: 1925-28

"Gorbachev Factor"

By the mid-1920s, thanks to the economic liberalism of the NEP, the country had, to a great extent, recovered after the dislocation of the First World War and the Civil War. But this economic recovery meant merely the attainment of the prewar levels of economic development of tsarist Russia. Even in 1913 Russia had not been an economically advanced or developed country. A decade later its economic backwardness was even more acute. In essence, the country appeared even more agrarian than before. 

Bolshevik leaders saw the rapid acceleration of economic development as a vital means of overcoming the backwardness inherited from tsarist Russia and creating the material base of a socialist society. The task of accelerating the country’s economic development was felt particularly urgently, because the “proletarian dictatorship” ruled in an overwhelmingly agrarian country. In addition, the Bolsheviks were concerned that the country’s economic weakness had serious implications for national security. The Bolshevik revolution remained isolated in a world dominated by “imperialist” powers. The breaking off of diplomatic relations by Britain in 1927 was just one example of the hostility of most Western powers to the Bolshevik regime. The same year saw the worsening of Russia’s diplomatic relations with Poland, China, and other countries.

In the period 1925–28 two rival factions emerged within the party leadership that clashed over the issue of industrialization. There was the right wing, led by Bukharin, and the left wing, led by Trotsky, with Stalin playing one faction off against the other for his own political gain. In other words, the industrialization debate was also closely connected with the struggle for power and, first and foremost, with Stalin’s all-consuming ambition to consolidate his position as leader of the party by any means and to rule as a dictator. However, it would be incomplete to reduce the industrialization debate in the Bolshevik leadership to the personal struggle for leadership. The political struggle at the top was affected by a combination of various circumstances arising from the domestic situation and international pressures and also by the predominant attitudes of various sectors of the population, from the lower classes to the ruling echelons.

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