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The Crisis of 1932

By 1932, Stalin's policies had brought the Soviet Union to the verge of a catastrophe. Forcible collectivization had been a disaster. The rushed industrialization of the Five Year Plan had led to chaos in the 'planned' economy. Workers' living standards fell. In real terms, in 1932, workers' wages were 49% of their 1928 level, and more than half their wages went on food. Because the Five Year Plan was geared heavily towards heavy industry and construction the shops had few consumer goods.

The regime was rocked by a wave of workers' strikes and demonstrations starting in the spring of 1932. In the Ivanovo region, north-east of Moscow, 16,000 textile workers downed their tools and joined the protest movement: they were angered by cuts in their rations and harsh new measures to enforce labour discipline. Their grievances were mainly economic but some of their more radical leaders denounced the Soviet regime, blaming its 'utopian' industrial policies for the workers' suffering and calling for its overthrow. OGPU arrested its leaders as 'counter-revolutionaries'.

People grumbled - sometimes openly - about the Soviet regime. They sang rhyming songs (chastushki) and told jokes that expressed a popular cynicism about Communism's promises.

There was grumbling in the Party too. The chaos of collectivization attracted considerable criticism, which by 1932 was gaining political momentum in opposition to the leadership. Local officials resented being blamed for excessive zeal by Stalin in his Pravda article when they had been implementing his orders.

Stalin was a 'fallen idol' by 1932. That was the claim of a Moscow Party official in a letter to Trotsky's Bulletin of the Opposition in Paris. Stalin's appearance at the Bolshoi Theatre on 23 February 'was greeted with cold silence.'

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