The USSR under Stalin was exposed to a lot of propaganda and facts were conveniently altered, so how did historians decide what was likely the truth about that time period?


The USSR under Stalin was exposed to a lot of propaganda and facts were conveniently altered, so how did historians decide what was likely the truth about that time period?

In: 128

Well, the government of the USSR still needed to know actual figures, etc so no doubt someone there was keeping accurate information. Historians can look at those documents. Post collapse of the USSR a lot of documents from Stalin’s time were located and released.

There are reports that everything was counted. There was a quota for items and often it was reported that the quotas were fulfilled. Your job might depend on that quota. But can you move whatever it is around so it seems that the quota was made yet not. Here in the US we had a system Double entry bookkeeping. 1 showing how much we reported to the government. 2 how much was really made. There are ways to do the opposite.

So warehouse 1 and 2 are counted Monday. You take the inspector out for drinks and warehouse 3 and 4 are filled with those same goods. Tuesday inspection numbers are great. Reports back to central committee. But somehow appartment heating units are never as available as they should be. But all the records show on paper they are. Energy, raw materials can give you some idea of growth but it is a bit harder to say what it wasn’t used for in the overall economy.

This is actually a true problem. As offical statistics are often problematic, historians have to take into account various other sources, e.g. private notes, media coverage from contemporaries, crossreferencing the “offical ” event with internal reports or other non-secret notes, secret service infos (if available) and several other sources.

In the end it is often just enough for a rough estimate. We’ll likley never know how many people died during the great jump forward in china, or other things. Just a rough estimation which may very well be off, but is the best we can currently reconstruct with the available data.

First, it is actually pretty difficult to hide the facts that matter, especially from the outside world and especially for long.

There was a serious grain shortage in the Soviet Union around 1970. The Soviet Union did everything in its power to hide this fact from its citizens, but everybody who went to Moscow could see the bread lines, and everybody outside of the country knew that the Soviet were forced to “buy” grain from the West, at prices that made it clear they were more or less begging.

Many facts are forgotten, many facts are consciously or subconsciously misframed, but few facts in history are successfully *suppressed*.

Second, to a certain degree this is just what historians *do*.

Every report about every ancient battle exaggerates troop numbers, plays up the author’s side’s bravery, carefully avoids talking about the author’s favorite general’s tactical mistakes, invents speeches and dialogues that never happened, or all of the above.

Historians have been aware for a very long time that they had to work around propaganda efforts and popular narratives and that it was therefore part of their job to seek out as many different accounts as possible, question every source, scrutinize every plot for plot holes, and so on. They have gotten very, very good at this over the centuries.

In USSR, especially in early stages, it was a big issue. In the United States, and in most democratic government, if a government official makes a mistake, the worst case they can think is being fired. They may be jailed, but in most cases, going to prison is unlikely when they didn’t do some frauds. However, in the USSR, the worst case was going to concentration camp, often including all relatives, and confiscation of all money. Because of this, officials kept trying to alter facts. For example, a government official failed his job, making a town poorer. Then, the official altered data, saying the town is actually doing well. Therefore, they didn’t go to the camp. However, the town’s problem was not solved, and due to wrong data, it was not recognized by higher people. Such a thing happened throughout the USSR.