How is to possible to build such an immense country as Russia?

We did it in four easy steps:

  1. Crushed the descendant royalties of Mongol-Tartars to the east and took their lands and dependencies (15th and 16th centuries) in Siberia and Far East
  2. Crushed the Swedes in the West and got access to the Baltic sea (17th century). That´s where St. Petersburg is now.
  3. Crushed the Turks and the Persians to the south and took from them the Crimean peninsula and Caucasus (1700s and 1800s)
  4. Took East Prussia from the Germans and partitioned it with Lithuania and Poland (1945)

There were more land conquests (Alaska, Finland & the Baltics, Ukraine & Belorussia, Romania and Central Asia) but we lost them along the way.

Also remember that the Mercator projection used on modern maps makes Russia look much bigger than it actually is.

Did Hitler really not give his troops coats during the war in the East?

Neither the Soviets or Germans were prepared for the onset of severe weather. 230,000 German troops were reported to be evacuated because of frostbites, against 180,000 on the Russian side. From what we know of how astute the Red Army was at keeping track of its losses, those frozen to death on the battle positions were simply not reported.

Logistics collapsed on both sides. Germans sporting Russian greatcoats were common sight. There were many accounts of squirmishes between opposing troops simply for the privilege to occupy a house for night shelter or to get to the clothes of fallen personnel. Those who lost the shoot-out had little chance to stay alive overnight.

The major difference was that the Red Army had the great advantage of much shorter supply lines. That´s why when the cold spell ended, they were able to win the battle for Moscow.

Top American contributors to the Soviet success

After WW1, Soviet Russia made a spectacular leap from being a smoldering ruin to an industrial giant that prevailed in the war against Nazi Germany and became a world superpower. Two Americans merit to be on the top of the list of our heroes who made this leap possible:

  1. The father of Stalin’s gold industry, Jack Littlepage. Within a few years, thanks to him the USSR built up the production capacity that overtook the US and almost matched the British one. This was the gold that helped create our military-industrial complex—the envy of the entire world and still the pride of Putin’s state-oligarchical Capitalism.
  2. The foreign project manager of Stalin’s industrialization in the late 1920-early 1930s Albert Kahn. Without him, we couldn’t have created the mightiest army in the world by the time WW2 started. We wouldn’t have the economic muscle that allowed to us to grind down Nazi Germany in a war of industrial attrition.

Below, a graph showing the gold reserves of the USSR (blue curve). It gives a good idea of how seminal was Jack Littlepage in his effort for us. The gold and valuables that Stalin confiscated from churches and individuals (Torgsin) were sent out as a settlement for Western deliveries of equipment and technology, while much of the home-produced gold was stashed away for the next wave of revolutionary wars.

During Krushchev’s era, this gold was spent in order to make life more liveable for the mass of Soviet citizens, increased production of consummables, more housing, better social protection. This way, I personally owe to Jack Littlepage and Albert Kahn, too.

Title of the graph: “Gold reserves / gold export”. Red curve is export, blue is reserves in metric tons.

Russian Revolution, in 10 sentences

The Russian revolution of 1917 happened in two steps. In February, a popular unrest in the capital St. Petersburg forced the Czar to abdicate. In the fall, the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional government and started seven decades of Communist rule.

Here’s the essence of what happened.

  1. The Russian revolution in Autumn 1917 was about (1) leaving WW1, (2) giving land to peasants and (3) confiscating industrial properties and banks.
  2. The power was grabbed by a small group of radical Socialists in St Peterburg, who had the support of several military units in the city.
  3. Because of the political fragmentation after the fall of the monarchy in March 1917, no other forces in the country managed to oppose Lenin and his comrades.
  4. The new rulers nationalized everything, including land, in keeping with the Marxist teachings, as well as switched side in the war by signing peace with Germany.
  5. A countrywide economic collapse followed that only partly was reverted several years later.
  6. A tripartite civil war broke out between the Bolsheviks (“Reds”) supported by many militaries and the Germans, the former Imperial urban classes (“Whites”) supported by the Allies, and private peasants who opposed the confiscations of food by the “Reds”.
  7. After the Bolsheviks crushed the “Whites”, a truce was entered between them and the peasants that lasted between 1921 and 1928, and became known as “New Economic Policy”.
  8. The Bolsheviks deemed the NEP a failure, and Stalin dismantled it, crushing private peasants during the Collectivization of 1928–1933.
  9. The Collectivisation, along with the confiscation of valuables from individuals (Torgsin) and from the Church, gave the USSR the means to build the military-industrial complex and the army needed for the initial Marxist project of world revolution.
  10. The successful industrialization made possible a renewed push for world revolution previously thwarted by Poland in 1920, by the USSR entering the Spanish civil war of 1936–39 and partitioning Eastern Europe in an alliance with Germany in 1939.

Below, a painting The Bolshevik, by David Jagger. This piece of art was made in 1918 and reflects the torrents of chaotic passion that swallowed the country during the first months after the Communist takeover.

The Bolshevik by David Jagger
Image: “The Bolshevik”, by David Jagger

Torgsin: Stalin’s money machine

The massive Soviet industrialization needed a lot of cash to pay for Western technology and equipment. Stalin used famine for getting out gold and jewelry that people were hiding in private stashes.

During the collectivization of private peasants in 1928-33 in the USSR, a large part of the food produced in new collective farms was exported to cover the cost of import for Stalin’s breakneck industrialization. This was the major purpose of the collectivization.

Price fall

However, quite soon Stalin’s agroexports hit a considerable wall. The economic crisis in the West led to a sharp drop in prices on Soviet commodities. The collapse of grain farming due to the disappearance of private peasants made it impossible to increase exports in order to compensate for the price fall.

Stalin and his prime-minister at the time Molotov found a smart Communist solution to that impasse. They used the famine to vaccuum gold, jewelry, foreign currency, art and other liquidity from people’s stashes hidden around the country.

Gold for food

Collectivization resulted first in a shortage of food, and then a nationwide famine. The black market prices went exhorbitant, the state rationing paikí was limited to those employed in the party and government. For the rest, the only way to feed themselves and the family was often to bring out their valuables and sell them for food.

In order to forestall private profiteers, Stalin and Molotov grabbed the business for themselves. They opened up to 1,500 Torgsin shops around the country. Anyone could bring their valuables there and exchange them for food, no questions asked. One “Torgsin rouble” was at the time worth 35–40 regular Soviet roubles in the black market. An average worker’s salary at the time, ~125 RUB, was roughly equivalent to three “Torgsin roubles”. In 1933, at the height of the famine, three TR would buy you in Torgsin about 9 kg meat or 6 kg sugar.

Family abroad

People who didn’t have valuables, but had relatives abroad, could send them a telegram or a letter asking for a currency transfer. Calls of distress that contained the magic line “Wire the dollars to Torsin” were allowed to leave the country unimpeded. For those who had charitable relatives abroad, Torgsin even felt obliged to dispatch the priceless relief packages to their doorstep.

During 1931–1936, the Torgsin system covered between 1/3 to 1/5 of annual cost of Soviet industrial imports. Soviet estimates say that 90–95% of all liquid valuables in private possession was confiscated during this time.

The photo below shows one of the Torgsin shops in Leningrad. The sign to the left is a price list for bread, to the right says “Don’t touch the merchandize”.

Torgsin shop in Leningrad
Photo: A Torgsin shop in Leningrad.