At first sight, it seems unlikely that Stalin was the most successful ruler of Russia in the whole of the 101 years, when taking into account the large amount of the Tsars reforms, in comparison to the amount of people Stalin killed and repressed. However, there are three aspects to success, success in the eyes of the ruler, the Russian people and judgement from outside Russia. In order to ascertain success, it is necessary to consider how the rulers were able to maintain themselves in power, their popularity, their contribution towards economic success and their concern for the welfare of the people.
One aspect of success if how the leaders maintained their power, as well as how they dealt with success. Stalin was a very brutal leader, and this was how he kept the power. Within his time as leader, he put 2.5 million Russians into labour camps and a further 300,000 more in prison. Additionally, he conducted several show trials of the old Bolsheviks, which not only demonstrated his power, but also got rid of any opponents. Therefore, he could easily maintain his power as anyone who opposed him was either killed, exiled or imprisoned. Stalin’s treatment of minorities also demonstrates this, especially the treatment of religious individuals. Within 20 years, 24,700 mosques were destroyed. By 1939, only 1 in 40 churches were still functioning.
However, although he maintained his power this way, by 1937, 57% of Russians were still religious. Therefore, his brutality must not have been the only aspect that allowed him to keep the power. Generally, it is accepted that the other leaders were ‘up to their arms in blood.’ Alexander II, for example, was in power during the Polish Revolt of 1865, where any perpetrators were caught and publicly hanged. Alexander III, on the other hand, was known as the repressor. To keep him power, he introduced Russification, where Russia returned to traditional values. All textbooks, books published, newspapers and many other types of media had to be in Russian. The Ukrainian language ‘does not exist, never had existed and never will exist.’ Nicholas II, on the other hand, was in power during Bloody Sunday, the Moscow uprising, Stolypin necktie and Lena goldfields. However, this therefore proves that Nicholas II was poor at maintaining power as he had to constantly assert his power to prevent large scale opposition.
Lenin, however, began to assert his authority without the use of violence with the one party state. However, when opposition increased, he turned to violence, murdering hundreds. However, this was nothing compared to Stalin. Khrushchev, however, maintained his power by his policies. The population was still mostly peasant or working class, and that was who his policies were for. The other thing that needs to be looked at in regards to maintaining power is how the leaders were removed from power. Alexander II was assassinated, which shows poor power. Similarly, Nicholas II was abdicated, as he lost the support of the army. Later, however, he was murdered. The NEP was dissolved soon after it started as it was seen as unsuccessful. Khrushchev was removed from office as things proceeded to worsen. Therefore, in conclusion, it must be Stalin who was the greatest leader in this respect. He maintained power and stayed in power for the longest out of all of the leaders. Additionally, his rule ended when he died in bed, whereas all other leaders were either killed or removed from office. Therefore, Stalin is the most successful.
Popularity and support from the Russian people also contributed to whether a leader was successful or not. Stalin experienced much opposition, especially amongst the peasantry and killed millions of his own people. However, the success he experienced in the great patriotic war did much to restore some of his popularity. Even dissidents, even the people who had been exiled to the gulag system cried on the news of his death. This therefore suggests that Stalin was extremely popular and was loved by the Russian people. The tsars’ popularity was bolstered by the church and the tradition of the ‘little father.’ Alexander II was initially popular when introducing the reform of emancipation; however, this popularity fell when emancipation failed to give peasants all of the freedom they wanted.
Alexander III was resented by the peasantry due to the return of serf law. Nicholas II was one of the least popular leaders of them all. He was isolated from court due to his son’s illness. However, his popularity did increase following the tercentenary. However, he even managed to deplete this, as he lost all popularity when associated with Rasputin and the new theories that his German wife was in fact a spy. The communists distorted their popularity with propaganda. However, Lenin was genuinely popular, as people cried when they heard he had died. This was also boosted by deification past 1924. Khrushchev remained to be one of the only leaders that kept the ‘human touch’ and was classified as the most caring. Khrushchev was originally a peasant himself and therefore could relate to the main population. Therefore, when the cult of personality bias is removed, Khrushchev proved to be the most popular due to his popularity with the working classes. However, affection for Stalin was genuine due to propaganda and the longevity of his rule.
Organising the country’s economics was, at the time, a vital part of leadership and seeing as Russia was going through vast modernisation, economic progress was fundamental. Under Stalin, there was a huge, rapid industrialisation programme to bring Russia back into competition with other western countries as when Stalin came to power, he stated that Russia was ‘fifty to one hundred years behind other westernised countries’. Compared to the Wall Street Crash which affected most westernised countries, Russia was progressing rapidly under Stalin. Collectivisation was equally extensive; however, it ended up being rather counter productive as the land given to peasants by Lenin was effectively being taken away again by Stalin. As a result of the strong opposition to collectivisation, some collectives burned all evidence that they were ever part of collectivisation to get out of the programme but to avoid being caught by the secret police, causing a decline in the amount being produced.
Furthermore, most of the grain acquired by farmers could be sold for a much higher price on the black market, so very often grain was not available. As a result, grain production fell from 73.3 million tonnes in 1928 to 67.6 million tonnes in 1934. However, the biggest decline was in livestock, for example the number of sheep and goats fell from 146.7 million in 1928 to 51.9 million in 1934. However, as a result of the rapid economic progress, Russia were able to fight and win the great patriotic war with an expanded military and better weapons due to the stronger economy. By the time of Stalin’s death, Russia was a world super power. The Tsarist period generally coincided with rapid economic growth. Under Alexander II, Witte’s great spurt started and the trans-Siberian railway was built which seen an improvement to Russia’s infrastructure, potential trade links and therefore economy.
By the time of Alexander III’s reign, Russia was the 5th largest industrial power by 1914. The NEP furthered the success in economic terms as they experienced a moderate success in stabilising the economy. Khrushchev also helped to improve the economy, however, he improved it for the people of Russia, rather than improving it for industrial means, and improved general standard of living. However, the Virgin Lands scheme was a complete disaster and damaged the economy. However, under Lenin, the economy was second thought to many other policies, and was floundered due to the war and the revolution. Furthermore, he was presided over a catastrophe, war communism. Therefore, in conclusion, economic progress was mostly made in the Stalin era. However, without the trans-Siberian railway or emancipation of the serfs, Stalin would not have been able to make such a prominent difference to the economy. Therefore, although Stalin improved the economy the most, such progress could not have been made if it were not for the Tsars.
What defines a leader is their people and, ultimately this means their attitude towards their people. Stalin did what he could for rapid industrialisation. Ultimately, he did not care who he killed, as long as he reached his goal, and in his words, the ends justified the means. He also stated that ‘one death is a tragedy, one million in just a statistic’ suggesting that he did not care how many were killed either, he just seen them as a statistic. However, as stated, although this should have resulted in vast opposition towards him, dissidents cried on the news of his death. The tsars, however, had a paternalistic, autocratic and spiritual interpretation of welfare and generally ended up with no real distinction between them. As they were seen as the ‘little father’, they did not have to look after the welfare of the people as tradition meant that the people would still support them.
However, they did, with policies such as emancipation and attempts to generally improve living standards. Even though these did not seem to help the people vastly at the time, they lay the foundations for further improvements in the future. Lenin, however, was much like Stalin in the way that he did not mind who he killed as long as he reached his ultimate goal. Hanging orders generally demonstrate this as he did not mind who were hanged, as long as it was put in full view (for example, many were hung on busy crossroads for many to see) to promote that he was a no-nonsense leader.
However, Lenin let conditions decline as this was his overall goal. He believed in the dictatorship of the proletariat and wanted conditions to get worse, so that revolution would occur. Therefore, Lenin also did not look after the welfare of the people. However, again, similarly to Stalin, people cried when they heard the news of him dying. Therefore, although it can be said that they did not look after the welfare of their people, they were still respected leaders. However, Khrushchev saw the happiness of the people as paramount. As a born peasant himself, he placed a bigger priority on the production of consumer goods than heavy industry and even introduced the minimum wage in 1956 with the aim to improve the lives of Russians. Therefore, in conclusion, although the people seemed to prefer leaders such as Stalin and Lenin, Khrushchev was the most concerned about the welfare of the people and did all he could to improve their lives, especially in terms of availability to consumer goods.
Therefore, in conclusion, if success equals military and political power, coupled with the means to transform the social and economic fabric of a country, Stalin is indeed to most successful ruler over the whole of the 101 year period. In Russian political culture, this is good enough. However, if we define success in a more western sense, with an emphasis on popularity, then Khrushchev deserves the credit. He may have been deposed, but his success in demolishing Stalinism was apparent when his overthrow was not accompanied by an obituary. The tsars collectively failed to impress. Despite two equalling Stalin in terms of longevity, none of them succeeded in transforming the empire or defended it as successfully as Stalin did. Lenin and Khrushchev, like Alexander III, simply ran out of time. Therefore, the most successful ruler, most definitely, was Stalin.