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Yanks for Stalin
Interview Transcript

Stephen Kotkin

STEPHEN KOTKIN is a professor of Russian history at Princeton University. He had traveled extensively throughout Russia studying the economic and political history of the Soviet Union.

The following interview was conducted as a part of the documentary program Yanks for Stalin concerning American aid in the industrial development of the Soviet Union during the 20's and 30's:

Q. Talk about the American view of Communism, both on this side and, also, their view of (mumble).  You might tell me about that.

A. Okay, to understand Communism in it's early phase and the American approach to Communism, I think you have got to understand WW I a little bit.  What happens in W.W.I is this senseless slaughter that goes on for years.  The senseless slaughter that goes on for years, becomes perhaps the primary weapon in Lenin's hands.  That, the generals send all of these people to the front lines for no particular reason. (interruption).  To understand American Communism, or American approaches to Communism, you have to understand W.W.I.  W.W.I did a great deal to discredit Western Europe, to discredit Capitalism, to discredit what we regard as a superior way of life. Millions of people were sent to senseless slaughter at the front, this played right into Lenin's hands. W.W.I also gave Lenin and the Bolsheviks a model for how they would act, which was a militarized kind of politics and, also, management of the economy.  So, here you are in the inter-war period where the most advanced countries control 85% of the world as colonies, they send their own people to senseless death at the front, and there doesn't seem to be a particular reason for it.  In the Bolshevik case, they claimed to be a revolution against this kind of Imperialist war. They claimed to be in favor of peaceful development.  They claimed to be in favor of the little man and, empowering the little man and realizing a superior way of life, both morally and historically, or scientifically.  You end up, therefore, with many people projecting their dreams onto the Bolshevik Revolution. Dreams about this better way of life, which they think the Bolsheviks can realize, and you also end up with many people extremely fearful of the Bolshevik Revolution, both because they think it might, in fact, be successful and , also, because they see it as a threat to the values they uphold.  In the end, the world is divided many different ways.  Even the Left is divided in what the Bolshevik Revolution represents.  Many people on the left regard the Bolshevik as an abomination, because they are social democrats in the German sense, but, the Bolsheviks, by having a successful revolution, a successful leftist revolution, lay claim to the entire pataplee of leftist symbolism, and dreams and hopes.  So, that the social democrats lose out, they in fact have supported the war, the German social democrats, the Bolsheviks win, the left gets much lefter, or reder, and the right gets a little bit righter. You get something like Fascism, which is in some ways a response to the success of Bolshevism and the world becomes divided into those who feel the left is the future and into those who feel the left is the primary danger.  Americans will exhibit the same kinds of division and you get many people going, or supporting, Bolshevism and many people doing whatever they can to stop Bolshevism.  This is sort of the beginning of Americans dealing with Communism.

Q.     The next question is your perception about whether or not the Soviets could achieve similar technological results without the American aide.  I know this is not really in sequence in terms of story, so, why don't you talk about that.

A. What you get in the Soviet case is this wild, bold gamble called Socialist Revolution, where nobody knows what Socialism is about.  The Bolshevik leaders believe that they are the only ones with the right to define what Socialism is about, even though they don't really know what the content may be.  This period in the 1920's, ascertain of political control and vagueness and ambiguity in what the socio-economic structure of Socialism should look like, is a sort of dead end.  What happens is they discover, in part because of the fact they are a peasant country and they are worried about the peasantry, in part because of the international situation and they need to modernize their army in order to fight a war, and , in part because they are committed to a Socialist revolution they discover a path to Socialism which becomes non-capitalism.  Whatever Capitalism might be, Socialism cannot be that.  If Capitalism has the markets, Socialism cannot have markets.  If Capitalism has private property, Socialism cannot have private property.  If Capitalism has the family and beajoir individuals, Socialism cannot have that, and on and on it goes.  So, what Socialism becomes is the negation of Capitalism and this is achieved, ironically enough, by borrowing many of the techniques, many of the industrial.....by borrowing a great deal of what made Capitalism strong, which has to do with the factory, the assembly line and industrial production.  So, Socialism becomes a Communist monopoly on power, the negation of Capitalism through Non-Capitalist economic modernization.

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