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#1 Cyfer

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 10:38 PM

Hello I was wondering if there was any basis to the following argument.

Most people would argue that what the Bolsheviks did was horrifying and inhumane, and I agree that their actions at the time were evil with millions of lives lost. However could it be argued that leading to the events of the Second World War, the evil actions of the Reds actually benefited Russia in the sense that it gave the nation unity, an economy and food? The argument goes along the idea that there would be no telling what Hitler would have done if he had taken over Russia or how many people would have died in the struggle. This is under the assumption that Russia would be indefensible with no industry, with people still working for themselves (no collectivism) and alliances spread thin with a provisional government.

I've tried to look for cases where Hitler has spared nations that surrendered/lost but I found no examples apart from one referendum which was more of a choice than a surrender/defeat.

Or is the argument baseless because you cannot predict what will happen in 20 years? Maybe something might have happened that would have joined the alliances, put the nation under a single power, raising the industry and settling political disputes, however this does not look to be what was stemming from the provisional government.

#2 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:46 AM

I think you would be regarded as probably being correct. Certainly Stalin in the early 1930s,predicted that, unless the USSR modernised, it would be overrun by Germany, and had ten years to get ready; in the event he was right.
There is also a strong argument that, without Russian involvement in the war, Hitler would have been victorious.

On the other hand, you are correct about hypothetical history. Who knows what a Tsarist or Consitutional Russia would have done - historians have traced the industrialisation of Russia back to the tsarist period (they no longer believe it was all the result of the 5-Year Plans). Also, there is evidence that Stalin massively REDUCED the military capacity by his purges - perhaps a non-Stalinist Russia would have done better. (Also, by the way, historians have found out that, although Hitler invaded Russia in 1941, Stalin was just about to do the same thing; Hitler beat him to it by just a month.)

I think the thing to do is to turn things round. Whilst there are problems with saying that, without Stalin, Russia would have fallen - that is hypothetical History - you CAN say that Stalin strengthened Russian industry and capacity, and that in the event the Soviet Union proved strong enough to resist and defeat the Nazis (that is fact).

#3 Mr. D. Bryant

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 12:49 PM

Counter-factual history can be fascinating, but eventually you have to leave the evidence behind and guess. This limits its value (in my opinion). However, here are some thoughts.

I don't know enough about the situation in Russia in 1917 to add much to what you have already said. You are correct in pointing out the instability of the Provisional Government, but I am not sure if there were any realistic alternatives to the Bolsheviks. Having said that, was the outcome of the Russian Civil War a foregone conclusion? Perhaps one could draw parallels with other states in Eastern Europe after the end of the First World War, several of which became, effectively, military dictatorships. This might have been a potential futures for Russia, however, several of these states were newly-created nations, rather than an established empire.

It is true that the Communist regime enforced unity e.g. in the Caucasus and, after the Second World War had broken out, in the Baltic states, for example. Perhaps a less ruthless and effective regime would not have been able to crush these proto-nations, leading to a similar situation to what happpened after the end of the Cold War. However, Russia was always going to be the dominant power in the region, so maybe our potential non-communist dictatorship would have bound the various breakaway areas together just as well.

You are quite right to look at Stalinist industrialisation, but this movement had begun much earlier (as Mr. Clare pointed out) and it was a very inefficient process in many ways. The same was true of agricultural collectivisation, for example the famine of the 1920s. So, perhaps a less brutal regime might have achieved a similar level of efficiency, although probably subject to the effects of the Great Depression from 1929.

The great argument in favour of Stalin is that he helped Russia win the Great Patriotic War. To many Russians, even today, this justifies the measures he took before and during the war. However, as Mr. Clare said, his purges of the officer corps in the late 1930s probably didn't help the Russian war effort. His refusal to plan for a defence in depth led to huge losses in 1941, especially as units were refused permission to fall back in order to fight again. Fortunately for Stalin, the Russian winter and extraordinary Russian resistance eventually stopped the Nazis and preserved the Communist regime. How much this was because of Stalin and how much in spite of him is still a controversial subject.

Where I would definitely go further than Mr. Clare is that without the USSR Germany would not have been defeated. The Eastern Front is not taught very much in British schools, but without the Russians I cannot see how the Nazis would have been defeated. I could write a lot more on this, but it may be outside the remit of this discussion.

Incidentally, Robert Harris published a counter-factual novel, 'Fatherland', in 1992 in which the USSR was effectively defeated and the USA was engaged in a kind of Cold War with the United States. Might be worth a look at if you have time.

#4 Cyfer

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 05:21 PM

Thank you for your feedback

#5 Andrew W

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 05:03 AM

Well, you asked a question with several sub-questions, so I hope you're in for some exposure to the mind bending world of the philosophy of History!

An eminent historian of the twentieth century, E.H. Carr, argued that his colleagues spent too much time on the 'losers' in History and that they should concentrate on the 'winners.' In essense, this was an argument against the genre of counter factual history which he claimed is of limited usefulness to academic history; for a contrary view I would recommend the works of Hugh Trevor-Roper who argued the importance of fate in determining history. A rather good summary of what Carr was arguing has been written on Wikipedia:

For Carr, historical "accidents" can not be generalized, and thus not worth the historian's time. Carr illustrated his theory by telling a story of a man named Robinson who went out to buy some cigarettes one night, and was killed by an automobile with defective brakes driven by a drunk driver named Jones on a sharp turn of the road. Carr argued one could contend that the "real" reasons for the accident that killed Robinson might be the defective brakes or the sharp turn of the road or the inebriated state of Jones, but that to argue that it was Robinson's wish to buy cigarettes was the cause of his death, that while a factor was not the "real" cause of his death. As such, Carr argued that those who were seeking to prevent a repeat of Robinson's death would do well to pass laws regulating drunk driving, straightening the sharp turn of the road and the quality of automobile brakes, but would be wasting their time passing a law forbidding people to take a walk to buy cigarettes.


By some happy coincidence, E.H. Carr was a noted specialist in Soviet Russia also one of the first Historians to put forth the view that we are discussing. He argued strongly that the actions taken by Stalin were necessary for preparing Russia to defend themselves against the threat of Germany. Taking the 'winners' approach to History, he could say this is what Stalin did and this is what happened in 1945, though his work is obviously in much greater detail than that! To Carr, it is irrelevant whether the White Russians would have done any better, because it never happened and is therefore not historical. To Carr, such a discussion would be no more than a 'parlour game.'This is very different in approach to Hugh Trevor-Roper, who argued that one must try to grasp the alternatives in order to understand how events did unfold.

E.H. Carr agreed that the rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union was a necessary evil for Russia to be able to defend itself though the question as to what would have happened had Germany's invasion succeeded is of less relevance because ultimately it failed. However, such a view has been condemned as akin to Holocaust denial by the American historian Richard Pipes. I would suggest that to fully appreciate the question you need to consider two factors. First, what realistic prospect is there of containing Russia within an Empire and second, how would a Russian state be treated under occupation?

For the first question, you need to go right back to the Roman Empire under the Emperor Augustus. Literary records include a warning from Augustus that Rome should not seek to expand its borders beyond its current limit. After his death, Rome added Britain to its Empire and fought several wars with Germanic tribes. Eventually, the Empire collapsed, quite possibly because it was too large and too diverse for Rome to sustain without the agreement of the various ethnicities within it. Once the German tribes realised they themselves could fight and beat the Romans, they began to seek their own autonomy.

The lesson here has been repeated time and time again in History. Indeed, it also happened before Augustus in Ancient Athens who failed to keep all their allies during the Peloponesian War against Sparta! Look at various empires in History; the Spanish, the French, the British and you will see the same theme. In the end they cannot support their own weight and they decline. Nationalities within states agitate for greater autonomy. Perhaps the very best example of this is the Ottoman Empire, which included several Balkan states under its rule and was broken up by the Treaty of Sevres in 1918.

And so on to Germany. Hitler clearly ignored the experience of Napoleon a little more than a century before him and invaded Russia and this was his undoing. Even if Germany had been successful, how long could they have kept the vast territory of the Soviet Union under their control? It was testament enough to the Soviets to keep the 100+ nationalities within their borders as a single state until 1989, let alone another foreign power taking control. The Nazis could never have managed to occupy the Soviet Union without total defeat in the West, industrialised or not. As Eddie Izzard once said, "Hitler never played Risk as a kid!"

As for the second question, it is not enough to determine if any surrendering states were spared. Hitler treated many territories differently some with a degree of self governance (Vichy France, Quisling Norway) and some with ruthless dictatorship (Poland, Ukraine). Others were somewhere in between (Channel Islands, Northern France). I wouldn't investigate this general question further, as this won't lead to any firm conclusion.

Instead, look to the countries like the Soviet Union, such as the Ukraine and Poland. Hitler despised Communists as surely as he despised Jews. This may give some indication of what the Soviet Union had in store but honestly? The Soviet Union was too vast for Hitler to be any more destructive than Stalin.

In conclusion, I would argue that Stalin's brutality was unnecessary. Industrial or not, the Soviet Union would have been impossible to occupy in the long term.

#6 Cyfer

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 09:03 PM

Well, you asked a question with several sub-questions, so I hope you're in for some exposure to the mind bending world of the philosophy of History!

An eminent historian of the twentieth century, E.H. Carr, argued that his colleagues spent too much time on the 'losers' in History and that they should concentrate on the 'winners.' In essense, this was an argument against the genre of counter factual history which he claimed is of limited usefulness to academic history; for a contrary view I would recommend the works of Hugh Trevor-Roper who argued the importance of fate in determining history. A rather good summary of what Carr was arguing has been written on Wikipedia:

For Carr, historical "accidents" can not be generalized, and thus not worth the historian's time. Carr illustrated his theory by telling a story of a man named Robinson who went out to buy some cigarettes one night, and was killed by an automobile with defective brakes driven by a drunk driver named Jones on a sharp turn of the road. Carr argued one could contend that the "real" reasons for the accident that killed Robinson might be the defective brakes or the sharp turn of the road or the inebriated state of Jones, but that to argue that it was Robinson's wish to buy cigarettes was the cause of his death, that while a factor was not the "real" cause of his death. As such, Carr argued that those who were seeking to prevent a repeat of Robinson's death would do well to pass laws regulating drunk driving, straightening the sharp turn of the road and the quality of automobile brakes, but would be wasting their time passing a law forbidding people to take a walk to buy cigarettes.


By some happy coincidence, E.H. Carr was a noted specialist in Soviet Russia also one of the first Historians to put forth the view that we are discussing. He argued strongly that the actions taken by Stalin were necessary for preparing Russia to defend themselves against the threat of Germany. Taking the 'winners' approach to History, he could say this is what Stalin did and this is what happened in 1945, though his work is obviously in much greater detail than that! To Carr, it is irrelevant whether the White Russians would have done any better, because it never happened and is therefore not historical. To Carr, such a discussion would be no more than a 'parlour game.'This is very different in approach to Hugh Trevor-Roper, who argued that one must try to grasp the alternatives in order to understand how events did unfold.

E.H. Carr agreed that the rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union was a necessary evil for Russia to be able to defend itself though the question as to what would have happened had Germany's invasion succeeded is of less relevance because ultimately it failed. However, such a view has been condemned as akin to Holocaust denial by the American historian Richard Pipes. I would suggest that to fully appreciate the question you need to consider two factors. First, what realistic prospect is there of containing Russia within an Empire and second, how would a Russian state be treated under occupation?

For the first question, you need to go right back to the Roman Empire under the Emperor Augustus. Literary records include a warning from Augustus that Rome should not seek to expand its borders beyond its current limit. After his death, Rome added Britain to its Empire and fought several wars with Germanic tribes. Eventually, the Empire collapsed, quite possibly because it was too large and too diverse for Rome to sustain without the agreement of the various ethnicities within it. Once the German tribes realised they themselves could fight and beat the Romans, they began to seek their own autonomy.

The lesson here has been repeated time and time again in History. Indeed, it also happened before Augustus in Ancient Athens who failed to keep all their allies during the Peloponesian War against Sparta! Look at various empires in History; the Spanish, the French, the British and you will see the same theme. In the end they cannot support their own weight and they decline. Nationalities within states agitate for greater autonomy. Perhaps the very best example of this is the Ottoman Empire, which included several Balkan states under its rule and was broken up by the Treaty of Sevres in 1918.

And so on to Germany. Hitler clearly ignored the experience of Napoleon a little more than a century before him and invaded Russia and this was his undoing. Even if Germany had been successful, how long could they have kept the vast territory of the Soviet Union under their control? It was testament enough to the Soviets to keep the 100+ nationalities within their borders as a single state until 1989, let alone another foreign power taking control. The Nazis could never have managed to occupy the Soviet Union without total defeat in the West, industrialised or not. As Eddie Izzard once said, "Hitler never played Risk as a kid!"

As for the second question, it is not enough to determine if any surrendering states were spared. Hitler treated many territories differently some with a degree of self governance (Vichy France, Quisling Norway) and some with ruthless dictatorship (Poland, Ukraine). Others were somewhere in between (Channel Islands, Northern France). I wouldn't investigate this general question further, as this won't lead to any firm conclusion.

Instead, look to the countries like the Soviet Union, such as the Ukraine and Poland. Hitler despised Communists as surely as he despised Jews. This may give some indication of what the Soviet Union had in store but honestly? The Soviet Union was too vast for Hitler to be any more destructive than Stalin.

In conclusion, I would argue that Stalin's brutality was unnecessary. Industrial or not, the Soviet Union would have been impossible to occupy in the long term.


I have to say that reading through what you have written (twice) is incredibly enlightening and I will be sure to not only remember your argument but how you reached it, which I must thank you for showing because it has allowed me to get a deep insight, and most probably spare future teachers from annoying questions.

Sorry that my response is so late, I didn't even realise you had posted something here before looking through each individual board for your post.

I cannot confirm that you are absolutely right, as I am sure no one can (although I would be in a less advantageous position, with less knowledge and experience) because new arguments will always be formed however as I sit here writing this I find your argument to be logical and beautifully simple. After reading A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes, the evidence he presents agrees with you wholeheartedly, showing how nationalism was spreading through all of Russia's provincial governments and even the attempts of Stolypin for reform were denounced by the aristocracy because it did not benefit them, even though it would appease the majority's want for nationalism and slight but nonetheless existent autonomy. Although this is not an exact parallel as this was during the events of the Duma(s), I would think it silly to say that Hitler would not have been similarly influenced by high ranking politicians.

However I do not agree with you on the point that Hitler would have been unable to commit the same acts of atrocity and violence as Stalin because such acts were in place during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II when he was attempting to quell the revolution of 1905 and his 'justice' spread to a large amount of peasant communes. Whilst it is clear that Hitler would not have anywhere near the amount of military forces to dispense on such things, he had by far a better organized army, with better structure and transport and that is why I believe he could have done the same things, given a time frame. Whether this time frame would be available before the implosion you suggest I do not know, and I doubt it can be argued.

Thank you for providing a strong argument. If I can think of anything to argue your point I will post it.

#7 Andrew W

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 02:12 PM

My view is but one of many. Like scientific theories, historical debates are never settled once and for all and plenty of historians would disagree with me. Soviet Russia is not an area of expertise for me, but I hope by showing you some of the tools of the Historian that you will develop through further study, that even with the rudimentary knowledge of a period you are able to build the framework of an argument pending further research.

The reason I feel Hitler would have been unable to commit the same level of atrocities as Stalin is because he would never have had the rule of law behind him. I think that Hitler simply never had the resources to subjugate the USSR and I believe his plan was a repeat of the 1914-17 war between Germany and Russia rather than long term occupation. This is another matter of great debate, whether Hitler planned for merely lebenstraum or world conquest. I take AJP Taylor's view on this, that he had no interest in the long term occupation of lands he considered 'non-German' though much of Europe could have become satellite states akin to the USSR.

#8 Cyfer

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 12:07 AM

My view is but one of many. Like scientific theories, historical debates are never settled once and for all and plenty of historians would disagree with me. Soviet Russia is not an area of expertise for me, but I hope by showing you some of the tools of the Historian that you will develop through further study, that even with the rudimentary knowledge of a period you are able to build the framework of an argument pending further research.

The reason I feel Hitler would have been unable to commit the same level of atrocities as Stalin is because he would never have had the rule of law behind him. I think that Hitler simply never had the resources to subjugate the USSR and I believe his plan was a repeat of the 1914-17 war between Germany and Russia rather than long term occupation. This is another matter of great debate, whether Hitler planned for merely lebenstraum or world conquest. I take AJP Taylor's view on this, that he had no interest in the long term occupation of lands he considered 'non-German' though much of Europe could have become satellite states akin to the USSR.


Ok, although I think I have an argument to yours.

There has been a variety of evidence suggesting that many Russians (and non-Russians of course) didn't even care about their nationality. This is shown in two main circumstances. Firstly in the great retreat (World War I, can't remember the exact date, I think around 1916) and the mass student movement (and also that of the intelligentsia) to the peasants to 'educate' them, learn about their lives and become closer to their romantic ideal of the rural peasant (the truth, unfortunately hit hard).

In the soldier's case some remarked how could it be worse under a different ruler? This was fuelled by the idea that the Tsar was telling the Kaiser of his formations etc. In the case of the peasants, many did not even know they were Russian and rather their only allegiance was to that of their land or their commune/village. Since the peasants made up a ridiculous majority (~80%) of the Russian population in the early 1900s (although I believe it diminished as more went to work in factories) I think that if Hitler invaded, most of the peasants simply wouldn't care and would not even put up a fight. Sure there would be riots and revolutions among the middle class but unless Hitler screwed something up, I doubt the peasants would react harshly or even have a revolution, for what did they have to gain? They had no idea of nationality. All that existed for them was their village, their land and in some cases religious commitment to the church.

I doubt Hitler truly intended for world domination. I see no way of him being able to defeat America even without the use of nuclear warheads. What do you mean by satellite states? Vassals similar to Finland to the USSR in the early 1900s?

It's a shame that I only have rudimentary knowledge of Russia in the early 1900s. I'm reading up on later periods however it is taking a long time.

#9 Andrew W

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 10:09 AM

There has been a variety of evidence suggesting that many Russians (and non-Russians of course) didn't even care about their nationality. This is shown in two main circumstances. Firstly in the great retreat (World War I, can't remember the exact date, I think around 1916) and the mass student movement (and also that of the intelligentsia) to the peasants to 'educate' them, learn about their lives and become closer to their romantic ideal of the rural peasant (the truth, unfortunately hit hard).


Stalin's call to 'Mother Russia' was quite effective in 1940 but you do make a strong case. I would suggest you consider this question in terms of nationalities rather than nationality. Russia and the USSR contained a number of nationalities - Stalin was from Georgia for example. Hitler's failure to occupy the USSR was largely geographic (the Russian winter ruined him as it ruined Napoleon). The industrialisation of Russia was a factor too. We can only speculate beyond this and the usefulness of such an exercise is limited but in so far as I can say, I think Hitler would have struggled to subdue the USSR in much the same way as the country broke apart in the early 1990s because of competing nationalities.

PS: I hope you are thinking of studying History at university!

#10 Cyfer

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 07:30 PM

There has been a variety of evidence suggesting that many Russians (and non-Russians of course) didn't even care about their nationality. This is shown in two main circumstances. Firstly in the great retreat (World War I, can't remember the exact date, I think around 1916) and the mass student movement (and also that of the intelligentsia) to the peasants to 'educate' them, learn about their lives and become closer to their romantic ideal of the rural peasant (the truth, unfortunately hit hard).


Stalin's call to 'Mother Russia' was quite effective in 1940 but you do make a strong case. I would suggest you consider this question in terms of nationalities rather than nationality. Russia and the USSR contained a number of nationalities - Stalin was from Georgia for example. Hitler's failure to occupy the USSR was largely geographic (the Russian winter ruined him as it ruined Napoleon). The industrialisation of Russia was a factor too. We can only speculate beyond this and the usefulness of such an exercise is limited but in so far as I can say, I think Hitler would have struggled to subdue the USSR in much the same way as the country broke apart in the early 1990s because of competing nationalities.

PS: I hope you are thinking of studying History at university!


No, I want to study physics. I've thought about doing History at A-level but since I already need to do physics/maths/further maths I want to do a wordy subject such as English/Classics for fun.

#11 Andrew W

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 01:11 AM

I did Ancient History, History and Economics at A-Level and I can assure you that all three subjects are very wordy! History is very similar to English Literature in terms of wordyness, except History deals with non-fiction (mostly - literature is useful to the historian as well). The literary style of historians is important and knowing their own backgrounds are useful in much the same way as knowing the background of Orwell, Wilde or Dickins.

Classics is a good subject but if I can be brutally honest it can be perceived as slightly easier than Ancient History, although if you ever wanted to take it further than A-Level you will eventually want to study both. Also, I would recommend you look at the Russell Group's guide on getting into one of their universities (which include Oxbridge). History (and therefore Ancient History) is on their list of good A-Levels to get.

#12 Cyfer

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 11:31 AM

I did Ancient History, History and Economics at A-Level and I can assure you that all three subjects are very wordy! History is very similar to English Literature in terms of wordyness, except History deals with non-fiction (mostly - literature is useful to the historian as well). The literary style of historians is important and knowing their own backgrounds are useful in much the same way as knowing the background of Orwell, Wilde or Dickins.

Classics is a good subject but if I can be brutally honest it can be perceived as slightly easier than Ancient History, although if you ever wanted to take it further than A-Level you will eventually want to study both. Also, I would recommend you look at the Russell Group's guide on getting into one of their universities (which include Oxbridge). History (and therefore Ancient History) is on their list of good A-Levels to get.


I will check it out, thank you although I do not think that my school offers Ancient History. My main aversion to taking History is that I will be placed with subjects I hate, for example my favourite area; Medieval/Renaissance was recently taken off our school's choices since a teacher retired.

How did you find Economics?

Thank you for your advice.

#13 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 01:37 PM

LOVED Economics.
And don't forget Economic History!

#14 Andrew W

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 03:05 AM

Economics is a great subject in its own right but I prefer studying it within a historical context. I prefer economics as a tool to understand the past and to make sensible guesses as to the right policies for the future, rather than as a tool of the occult to make wild risks based on predictions which might more accurately be described as a prophecy!

I prefer History because, whilst it can attract a good grade with a simple mastery of the subject itself, to excel it is a subject which depends upon the mastery of many other academic fields including economics, sociology, international relations, politics & government, English literature and language, psychology and philosophy. As you can therefore probably imagine, mastering History is a life's work which I am still learning and thoroughly enjoying!

#15 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 08:33 AM

As they would say on facebook: John D Clare likes this post!




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