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Yanks for Stalin
Interview Transcript

Stephen Kotkin    (cont)


It is also not to say that there isn't this inefficiency waste and other problems associated with a planned economy, but, there is something successful and captivating about the Soviet assimilation of this technology, which is very, very important in their defeat of the Nazis. They defeat the Nazi's not only with the winter, but, also with advanced weapons and with general industrial mobilization.  There is a sense of purpose which comes during the 1930's, a sense of a crusade, of uplift, of participation, of individuals, whatever they may do, however modest that may be their particular contribution, they are contributing to a grand cause- the building of Socialism, a superior way of life that is put to the test with the Nazi invasion.  So, the country and the individual people rise to the occasion within the parameters of some believing in Socialism , some not, some liking Stalin, some not.  There are many paradoxes, but the industrial effort is rather remarkable and it is critical for their success.  For the Americans at the time, this is not such a difficult issue to admit.  Later on, it will be more difficult for the Americans to admit that the Soviets have indeed defeated Hitler on the Eastern front and that the landing at Normandy, however heroic, however much sacrifice is involved, however important it is.  That the landing at Normandy  takes place in June 1944, the war is mostly over and the Soviets have defeated Hitler on the Eastern front, including in a tank battle in (city) , which is the Nazi specialty and the first time the Nazis are defeated in a tank battle is on the Eastern front.  Moreover, when the Normandy landing takes place, the Soviets still are engaging the Nazis massively along the entire Eastern front, if those divisions, the Nazi divisions, are not there on the Eastern front , it is very hard to envision any landing whatsoever on the French beaches.  The Nazis had 170 divisions, approximately four million men on the Eastern front and the amount of killing, the carnage on the Eastern front are so much greater than anything that happened on the Western front.  So, you get a combination of  Hitler's strategic mistakes, the Soviet resistance, the Soviet industrial output, a little bit at the margins with (name) and the fact that the Soviet war effort was technologically underpinned by Western technology having come to the Soviet Union during the 30's.  The sense of purpose and technology, and industrialization is critical to the war effort. The success on the Eastern front is that it appropriated by the allies, U.S. and Britain, the landing of Normandy becomes the mythic contribution to victory in the war and the Nazis, in fact, surrender first to the West for obvious reasons.  They are afraid, having done what they did in the East they are afraid to surrender to the Soviets, with good reason.  So, in the end, yes, of course, the contribution of the West to Stalin's industrialization is critical for the Soviet ability to fight the war effort, but, once again, one must tell this story in a way that understands the Soviets own ability to use that technology and the other contributions that they made to it.   This is not to defend the Soviet system.  This is not to make the Soviet system anything better than it was, which was a dictatorship and a forced labor economy.  On the other hand, one must recognize that alongside the dictatorship and the forced  labor economy, there is a successful mass societal wide mobilization and there is a use of assimilation and improvement of many of the technologies which are transferred.

Q. So why don't you talk about specifically, we don't know what this means, this "forced  labor" term.  You know, gathering people up and shipping them around. Talk about this mobilization situation.

A. Yes. Well, if you think about American industrialization, imagine that millions of people will come voluntarily across the ocean to the United States and to work for  in many cases very low wages in factories and to move wherever the factories need labor, voluntarily.  So that, if the Midwest is going to industrialize, there are going to be a lot of new factories in the American midwest, all sorts of immigrants, including some from the Russian empire, will come to the United States of their own volition and be employed at these factories and perhaps even move from one factory, or one construction site to another, supplying an enormous mass of cheap labor for American industrialization.  The Soviets don't have this option, instead of the free immigrant labor, cheap, free immigrant labor, which helps the United States industrialize and is predicated on the type of country the United States is.  The fact that the United States is an immigrant country, its borders are open and people are assimilated into the society, however difficult that process is, instead of this kind of model, the Soviets have a different kind of model.  Their model is that the state commands the people to go where the state needs the people in order to industrialize.  The state may in fact treat the people the same way as a large, cheap labor force available for whatever reasons , whatever places, whatever goals, just as the Western firms will treat the immigrant labor force.  So, the Soviet labor force is partly voluntary, it is partly...(tech break)

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