Western Civilizations (Unit VII) Assessment Essay Questions

Published 09 Mar 2017

What social transformation was Stalin trying to bring about in the Soviet Union in the 1930s? Why do you think he felt obligated to carry out the Great Purges of the late 1930s?

The kind of social transformation that Stalin was trying to bring about in the Soviet Union in the 1930s was the creation of the New Soviet Person (Hoffmann, 2003). He believed that socialist values must be instilled in all members of society alongside the implementation of the policies of industrialization, urbanization and modernization. Stalin’s Soviet Union, therefore, was a “Soviet version of the (Enlightenment) impulse to remake and improve society” (Hoffman, 2003). Human nature itself must be tailored to accommodate the demands of socialism.

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For Stalin, this could only happen if the Soviet Union isolated itself from the rest of the world (Chambers, Hanawalt, Rabb, Woloch, Grew and Tiersten, 2007). Without outside interference, the country would be able to develop an environment that is conducive to the emergence of the New Soviet Person. Consequently, Stalin implemented measures that would supposedly transform the Soviet Union into a self-reliant industrial power. The First (1928-1932), Second (1933-1937) and Third (1938-1942) Five-Year Plans all attempted to collectivize agriculture and push for industrialization, with disastrous results. Famine ensued as the government seized grain from peasants to feed industrial workers and to export in order to raise payments for imported machinery that was necessary for industrialization (Chambers, Hanawalt, Rabb, Woloch, Grew and Tiersten, 2007).

As soon as the Soviet Union acquired some semblance of autonomy, the government carefully monitored the people for anti-Soviet activities. Associations of writers, musicians and artists were obliged to come up with pro-Soviet propaganda. Mass organizations were instituted with the purpose of indoctrinating workers and the youth. Members of the party who criticized Soviet ideology or even exhibited skepticism were immediately accused of treason (Chambers, Hanawalt, Rabb, Woloch, Grew and Tiersten, 2007).

Stalin felt obligated to carry out the Great Purges of the late 1930s because he eventually replaced socialism as the center of Soviet society (Chambers, Hanawalt, Rabb, Woloch, Grew and Tiersten, 2007). Not only was his picture literally everywhere; works of art were dedicated to him and factories were named after him. Fearful of potential conspiracies against him, especially after the assassination of close associate Sergei Kirov in 1934, Stalin used violence to eliminate everyone whom he perceived to be his enemy. From 1934 to 1939, engineers, Ukrainian separatists, former Mensheviks and party members accused of being counterrevolutionaries were arrested, tried and executed.

Why did the United States become so fearful of the Soviet Union after 1945? Why was the Soviet Union so fearful of the United States?

The United States became so fearful of the Soviet Union after 1945 because during this period, communism was rapidly expanding throughout Eastern Europe and the Third World (De Escobar, Kelly and Romero, 2002). The post-World War II economic climate leaned favorably to the political left. The experience of poverty during the war resulted in popular demands for widespread land, welfare and economic reform. Accustomed to wartime controls, people viewed economic planning as the best means of ensuring economic growth and equity after the war (Painter, 1999).

The political left gained further prestige because of the key role that the Soviet Union played in defeating Nazi Germany. The victory of the Soviet Union over Nazism resulted in tolerance, if not a sustaining myth, for continued communist rule. In the process, communist parties and other leftist groups gained ground throughout Europe and in some parts of the Third World (Painter, 1999). By 1947, the Soviet Union had already established Communist regimes in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Hungary (MSN Encarta, 2008). Communism was likewise on the verge of assuming power in France, Italy, Greece, China and Vietnam (Painter, 1999).

The US felt extremely threatened with the aforementioned developments – the Republicans (strong opponents of the New Deal) dominated the postwar government of the former (Painter, 1999). US President Harry S. Truman therefore issued in 1947 the Truman Doctrine, a policy which extended military assistance to any nation that was under the threat of Soviet expansionism (MSN Encarta, 2008). But the Soviet Union was also fearful of the US – Soviet leaders were very much aware that their country’s political, economic and military power was extremely inferior to that of the US (Painter, 1999). The Soviet Union’s wartime reputation can no longer hide the poverty that communism has wrought upon the country.

The Soviet Union therefore took certain steps to display an illusion of power. In 1949, it conducted its first nuclear testing. In 1961, the Soviet Union constructed the Berlin Wall in order to prevent the exodus of East German refugees to West Germany (MSN Encarta, 2008). In retaliation, the US deployed troops and missiles in strategic locations in various parts of the world. This rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union came to be known as the Cold War.


  • Chambers, M., Hanawalt, B., Rabb, T.K., Woloch, I., Grew, R., & Tiersten, L. (2007).
  • The Western Experience, Volume II (9th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.
  • De Escobar, J.K., Kelly, J., & Romero, C.A. (2002). The United States and Venezuela: Rethinking a Relationship. New York: Routledge.
  • Hoffmann, D.L. (2003). Stalinist Values: The Cultural Norms of Soviet Modernity, 1917-1941. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • MSN Encarta. (2008). Cold War.
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