Stalin’s Great Turn: a Revolution without Footsoldiers?

  • Catherine Merridale
Part of the Themes in Focus book series (TIF)


Most of the revolutions discussed in this volume involved complete changes of regime, the more or less violent overthrow of an established government by revolutionaries dedicated to far-reaching political and, usually, economic and social change. By these criteria, Stalin’s so-called ‘great turn’ of 1929–32 is not at first an obvious candidate for the title of revolution. The Soviet Union’s leadership was not overthrown, and the political programme to which Lenin’s revolution of 1917 had been dedicated was ostensibly continued. But the speed and scope of change in the three years in question defy most other definitions. Contemporaries referred to the period as the ‘great break’ (velikii perelom); historians have spoken of ‘cultural revolution’, ‘revolution from above’, the turning point.


Communist Party Cultural Revolution Secret Police Party Elite Soviet Citizen 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    For an excellent discussion of the ‘revolution from above’, see R. Tucker (ed.), Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation (New York, 1977).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    T. Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), p. 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    The best account of this in English remains R. W. Davies, The Socialist Offensive: the Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture, 1929–1930 (London and Cambridge, Mass., 1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    See R. Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine (London, 1986).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See A. M. Ball, Russia’s Last Capitalists, the Nepmen, 1921–1929 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987) especially Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    R. W. Davies, The Soviet Economy in Turmoil, 1929–1930 (London and Cambridge, Mass., 1989).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    see S. Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921–34 (Cambridge, 1979).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    For the ‘Industrial Party’ trial, see H. Kuromiya, Stalin’s Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 167–72.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    These changes are discussed in C. Merridale, Moscow Politics and the Rise of Stalin (London, 1990), Chapters 4 and 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 13.
    On Kamenev’s political style and its contrast with the ‘Russian’ Stalinists, see C. Merridale, ‘The Making of a Moderate Bolshevik: an Introduction to L. B. Kamenev’s Political Biography’, in J. Cooper, M. Perrie and E. A. Rees (eds), Soviet History, 1917–1953, Essays in Honour of R. W. Davies (London, 1995).Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    See P. A. Ginsborg, ‘Gramsci and the Era of Bourgeois Revolutions’, in J. Davies (ed.), Gramsci and Italy’s Passive Revolution (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    For an example, see R. Medvedev, Let History Judge (New York, 1972 and 1989).Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    On this remark, and the literature about it, see Ger P. van den Berg, ‘The Soviet Union and the Death Penalty’, Soviet Studies, vol. XXXV, no. 2 (April 1983), pp. 156 and 168.Google Scholar
  14. 19.
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  15. 23.
    M. Fainsod, Smolensk under Soviet Rule (Cambridge, Mass., 1958 and 1989).Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    See J. Habermas, ‘Vom öffentlichen Gebrauch der Historie’, Die Zeit, 7 November 1986.Google Scholar
  17. 29.
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  18. 30.
    For an example, see C. Merridale, ‘The 1937 Census and the Limits of Stalinist Rule’, Historical Journal, 39, 1 (1996), pp. 225–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 32.
    Numerous recent works document this view. For an example, see E. A. Rees, Stalinism and Soviet Rail Transport, 1928–41 (London, 1995).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 36.
    For examples of low-level protest, see D. Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialization (London, 1986), pp. 130–51.Google Scholar
  21. Mutual protection among groups of ex-peasants within Moscow industry is discussed by David Hofman, Peasant Metropolis: Social Identities in Moscow, 1929–1941 (Ithaca and London, 1994), pp. 85–91.Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    S. Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1995), p. 228.Google Scholar
  23. 41.
    A study of this phenomenon was made in the 1920s by the Bolshevik Party itself. N. Semenov, Litso fabrichnykh rabochikh prozhivayushchikh v derevnyakh i politprosvetrabota sredi nikh (Moscow-Leningrad, 1929).Google Scholar
  24. 46.
    S. Merl, ‘Socio-economic Differentiation of the Peasantry’, in R. W. Davies (ed.), From Tsarism to the New Economic Policy (Basingstoke and London, 1990).Google Scholar
  25. 47.
    See L. A. and L. M. Vasil’evskii, Kniga o golode (Petrograd, 1920).Google Scholar
  26. 56.
    See R. Tucker’s ‘What Time is it in Russia’s History?’ in C. Merridale and C. Ward (eds), Perestroika: the Historical Perspective (Sevenoaks, 1991).Google Scholar

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© Catherine Merridale 2001

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  • Catherine Merridale

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