Soviet society in the 1930s

Upon reading Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and studying other works written on Soviet society in the 1930's it is evident that it was a time dominated by violence, fear and one man's monomania. People lived in a constant state of alert and nervousness which we cannot relate to in Canada today. A culture of helplessness and fear grasped Russia and would only be lifted with an end to the tyranny running the country. The 1930s saw the execution of millions of Russian citizens by their own leader in an attempt to stabilize his power base at any expense.

Joseph Stalin, leader of the communist party, was a man obsessed with achieving his goals. As he became more powerful, it became increasing difficult to make a distinction between his personal goals and those of the entire country as he forced his beliefs upon his people and party. He believed that Russia had to modernize or it would perish. He believed this not only in a metaphorical sense, meaning the life and well being of the nation, but also in a literal sense. His people were forced to change their ways and agree with him or they would lose their freedom or even life.

1 Having risen to power in tumultuous times and seen the damage divisions in the party caused he was obsessed with loyalty and demanded it from all. His paranoid personality saw to it that people who were even suspected of believing in ideas contrary to his own were placed somewhere that they would not be a disturbance. Many of the people who were detained in work camps or killed were innocent but the slightest rumor of anti-party activities could be grounds for execution or imprisonment.

Today, it is difficult to grasp what it must have been like to live in a society where your friends and neighbors disappeared without a trace for unknown reasons. Certainly this sense of insecurity would cause people to live in a state of constant nervousness and cautiousness. Such simple things as speaking openly about the news were not common practice as people never knew who could be trusted and who could not. This is sense of caution is illustrated well when Rubashov recalls meeting with Richard in an art gallery in a foreign country to discuss party affairs.

Even though Richard is a member of the party and a believer of what it is trying to accomplish abroad he is uncomfortable and nervous when speaking to Rubashov, a representative of his own party. He feared his own party and spoke cautiously, and rightly so. The paranoia which possessed Stalin spread to the Russian population as a result of his need for total control. Many people would not make decisions by choosing between right and wrong but rather by what was safe and dangerous.

Such was the case at times during Rubashov's forty years in the party. He saw friends and even lovers sent to their deaths for reasons he did not agree with. He was in a position to save them but did not. He realized that if he tried to save them he too would be silenced. Many people, both civilians and military personnel, would have found themselves in similar positions. During show trials when bogus evidence was presented there were undoubtedly people present who could disprove it but did not because it was unsafe to do so.

The culture of fear and paranoia prevented people from crying foul and seeking justice. The sense of community was lost as neighbors were suspicious of each other or, as in the Ukraine during the famines, even competed for scarce resources to survive. There, the peasants were forced to give up their crops and starve. The only justification they were given was that they were doing their country a great service. 2 People who did speak out or organized opposition against Stalin were handled brutally, eliminated without hesitation.

Stalin was so obsessed with making Russia a world power and maintaining control that he accepted the deaths of millions of his people as a necessary sacrifice in order to achieve his goals. It is ironic that he killed millions of Russians in his attempts to make Russia a world power. Who was to benefit from becoming a great power if not the Russian people themselves? It seems Stalin became so disillusioned with the thought of Russian power that he paid no attention to who Russia consisted of. He saw anyone against him and his ideas as against Russia itself.

Even though millions, including people in his own party, disagreed with him he tried to impose his ideals on the people. He sought power for himself first and thought his people would benefit naturally as a result but that they were too ignorant to recognize it. He believed the ends would justify the means but in the end they did not. Stalin went to great lengths to make it seem he was unconditionally supported by the party. His party would not disagree with him when they believed he was making a poor decision.

In some cases their dedication to communism could blind them but most would say nothing out of fear. By studying works of communist officials after Stalin's death we realize that he was often silently opposed by high ranking officials but that they did nothing. They feared his wrath and followed. Khruschev's speech on February 25 of 1956 shows the extent to which the party did not agree with their former leader's ways. He says that "Prominent Party leaders and rank-and-file Party workers, honest and dedicated to the cause of Communism, fell victim to Stalin's Despotism".

They would have died for reasons such as suggesting plans different from those of Stalin. 3 Rubashov, having spent forty years in the service of the party, had seen many changes in society. What he and the original Bolshevik revolutionaries had set out to accomplish was not in place in the 1930s. He described life under Stalin as: "The Party denied the free will of the individual- and at the same time it exacted his willing self sacrifice. It denied his capacity to choose between two alternatives-and at the same time it demanded that he should constantly choose the right one. "4

He realized that the goals he had initially set out to achieve as a revolutionary were now being pursued using terrible methods but ultimately was still unsure of whether it would all be worth it in the end. When Stalin took control of Russia the country was in a state of instability. He hoped to bring it to great power but went about according to his own will and without any thought of causalities. His obsession with his dream caused many wrongs to be committed. These injustices came to a peak in the 1930s during a time of great purges terror. This caused Russians to live in a culture of fear, suspicion, apprehensiveness and doubt.