Guest Post: The Bukharin Alternative, Part Two
It is a common belief in some circles that Stalinist policies were necessary for the Soviet Union to industrialize sufficiently in order to defeat the inevitable genocidal Nazi invasion. In particular is the Holodomor, in which grain was exported to the West to purchase industrial equipment and the like while millions starved to death. Ukraine was hit particularly hard, but Central Asia, the North Caucasus, and other places suffered as well.
However, my Internet cohort Scott Blair doesn't agree with this theory and wrote this essay--which I broke into two parts--to elaborate. Part One can be see here.
The Bukharin Alternative Part Two: Stalinist Complicity in the Rise of Hitler
By Scott Blair
It is also worth considering whether or not Hitler would have risen to power without Stalin’s support. In 1928, the Comintern leadership in Moscow took a much harsher stance against collaboration with Social Democrat parties in Europe, on the belief that the collapse of capitalism was imminent. In Germany, the results were disastrous. From 1928 onward, the German Communist Party (KPD) “party directed its venom principally against the Social Democrats”, while the Red Front-Fighters League became a paramilitary force. The KPD were particularly vocal in attacking the Social Democrats, who they denounced as “social fascists”, and by the end of 1932 Germany’s military was worried that a crackdown on the Nazis or Communists would result in civil war. Initially, Josef Stalin and the KPD welcomed the rise of Nazism, believing that he was a crazy fool whose rise to power was a sign that the German revolution was at hand. History has proven how wrong this belief was.
In these circumstances, one may well wonder if Nikolai Bukharin would have made a difference, and the answer is an emphatic yes. In contrast to Stalin, by 1928 Bukharin had become notable for advocating collaboration with the Socialist parties of Europe, and as the KPD followed the line set down in Moscow, it would have followed Bukharin’s policy as well. While it is unlikely that the Social Democrats and KPD would have collaborated in any meaningful way, if the KPD had emphasize on stabilizing the Republic the German military may have been more willing to crack down on the Nazis. This would not have resulted in a shiny, happy German democracy, and the possibilities range from an authoritarian state run by the military, to an unstable democracy, to a German civil war.
All three alternatives would have been preferable to the Third Reich. Even a militarist dictatorship would have been unstable, possibly annexing Austria and warring with Poland, but it is unlikely to have been as aggressive or uniquely successful as the Third Reich was. It must also be remembered that before the rise of Hitler Germany and the USSR had been close, with joint military exercises and discussions about a partition of Poland. Thus, in the Bukharin alternative the Great Patriotic War may never occur.
Even if one assumes Hitler still rose to power, and that things are the same until the beginning of Barbarossa, then it is possible Bukharin’s policies would have still let the Soviet Union win. On the one hand, the Soviet Union would have a smaller industrial base. First, it is unlikely that Bukharin would have been caught by the surprise the way that Stalin was, which may have resulted in a different outcome in the opening stages of the Great Patriotic War. It is also unlikely that the purges would have taken place, with their well known effects on the Soviet officer corps. Finally, peasant disenchantment with the regime, so obvious in the summer of 1941, may have been much less significant in a USSR that followed Bukharin’s policies. All told, even if we assume a somewhat smaller Soviet industrial base, there is good reason to think that the USSR would ultimately prevail in the war, as it did historically.
Thus, Bukharin would have emerged from the Great Patriotic War as the head of a USSR with a much more vigorous agricultural sector, and one with millions of more citizens than had died in the famine. Perhaps Bukharin’s Soviet Union would not have turned the former breadbasket of Europe into an importer of American grain. Perhaps calls for increased autonomy in the economy would have been more successful in the 1960s, and the USSR’s economy would not have stagnated and ultimately crumbled.
At the risk of being speculative, in such a scenario it is possible that the Soviet Union would still exist today. If so, Stalin, far from being necessary, may have ensured the USSR’s ultimate demise.