There are two prevailing schools of thought in analyzing history. The first is the ‘great man’ theory, in which great men such as Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte drive history. The second school of thought is that history is inspired by societal trends and circumstances, not merely the actions of one man. This essay seeks to examine Benito Mussolini and try to understand if his rise to power was a product of circumstance or made possible by his efforts.
Daniel Szwec | @szewc_daniel
Historically speaking, the Baltic-Black Sea isthmus, currently occupied by the Polish and Ukrainian states has always experienced extremely strong policical forces, ones set on uniting the region into a single political entity. From having a monopoly on the non-Scandinavian geopolitical European Rimland’s border, to being the crossing of trade routes from North to South, and East to West, the region was already in a political union, in the form of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, during which the region enjoyed enormous prosperity and had the largest aristocratic class in all of Europe. What’s more, the geopolitical longing for uniformity may be seen as one of the major causes for the first world war- the region was split in between the Entente and the central powers- Western Poland belonging to the German Empire, the East of Poland and the Ukraine belonging to the Russian Tsardom, and Galicia belonging to Austria-Hungary.
Nate Galt | United States
Joseph Stalin ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics after the death of its founder, Vladimir Lenin, until his own death in 1953. His rule caused millions of deaths in his own country. Stalin was born in Georgia, which was under the control of the Russian Empire. He changed his name from “Jugashvili” to “Stalin,” meaning “man of steel.” He did rule with an iron fist, becoming most famous for his leadership of the Red Army in World War II and for his brutal repression of his political opponents. Commissars, army officials, dissidents, and other perceived rivals of Stalin were either sent to “gulag” prison labor camps in Siberia or were simply executed. Stalin was a dictator who resorted to totalitarian measures, directly ordering the deaths of millions of people.
His totalitarian regime’s victims were not limited to his political opponents. When the Soviet dictator realized that Ukraine was drifting more towards the West, he decided to implement a famine known as the “Holodomor” in Ukrainian. His officers took the vast majority of food from certain parts of Ukraine. A survivor of this genocide recounts the story to a special U.S. government committee. She stated that “all the train stations were overflowing with starving, dying people” and that “there wasn’t a dog, a cat, or a sparrow in our village.” People resorted to cannibalism to survive. The evidence of Stalin’s rule causing the deaths of millions of Ukrainians cannot be denied.
At the beginning of Stalin’s rise to power after the bloody Russian Revolution, he wanted to make sure that he would remain General Secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the U.S.S.R. Part of his plan to do so was his elimination of any opposition. One of his strongest opponents was the Russian Orthodox Church. He wished to “completely eliminate” all religion and wanted more persecution of the clergy, going as far as imprisoning many Catholic bishops in western Ukraine. Joseph Stalin’s rule repressed religion and aimed for its destruction. He even destroyed several historic churches to build monuments and palaces dedicated to the glory of his rule and to his country, a clear sign that Stalin did not respect freedom of religion.
When the German Reich attacked the Soviet Union as a part of Operation Barbarossa, breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin was caught by surprise. Adolf Hitler’s offensive was quick and deadly. Western Soviet cities like Kiev and Minsk soon fell under the control of the Reich. Stalin spoke to his people, saying that the “Great Patriotic War” was a matter of life and death for the people of the U.S.S.R. He wanted absolutely “no mercy for the enemy” and stated that any cowards or traitors should be shot on sight. The Nazi-Soviet war of attrition raged on, with millions of men, women, and children mercilessly slaughtered. After key turning-point battles such as Stalingrad, the Third Reich was forced to retreat.
After the fall of the Nazi capital of Berlin on May 9, 1945, Stalin and the Allies were victorious. After the war, propaganda pamphlets owed the destruction of fascism to Stalin. The cruel dictator’s leadership during the war may have saved his country. Stalin’s supporters and communists point to the Allied victory as a good deed of his. They also point to the fact that the Russian literacy rate skyrocketed during his rule. They say that the economy grew during Stalin’s reign. He implemented a series of five-year plans in order to further industrialize the Soviet Union, hoping to produce more electricity, steel, coal, and oil. The Soviet Union certainly played a major role in World War II and the economy had a noticeable upturn; however, this fact should not distract anyone from the fact that Stalin murdered millions.
While Stalin’s modernizations could be considered a slight success, there were millions of victims of his authoritarian, oppressive regime. Low estimates put all non-wartime casualties at 10 million while the highest estimates state that Stalin was responsible for the death of 35 million people. Joseph Stalin’s methods of maintaining power were totalitarian. He kept the populace in line by the threat of execution or sentencing to a Siberian “gulag” labor camp. Tens of thousands died in these cruel camps as a result of several factors, such as the biting cold, fatigue, or starvation. In all, while Joseph Stalin ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and attempted to modernize it, the primary result of his regime is the murder of millions of innocent people. There are thousands of pieces of evidence that prove that these deaths were caused by the government of the U.S.S.R. Despite certain improvements in Russian education, the economy, and the victory in the deadliest war to ever have been fought, the death toll is too great to ignore.
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