When Steelman seized power, the economy of Soviet Russia was decades behind its capitalist enemies.
France, Britain, the United States and Poland had invaded the country shortly after the Bolshevik revolution. The Bolsheviks had defeated the intervention and won the civil war, but the shadow of foreign invasion loomed large.
Catching up to the capitalist powers was Steelman’s top priority, after disposing of his political enemies in the party. He set the country on a massive program to collectivize and modernize agriculture and industry. Building industrial capacity and catching up technologically was seen as a matter of survival, not just proof of work for communism.
Collectivization and industrialization were deeply destabilizing and met stiff resistance from Russian peasants, who still comprised the vast majority of Soviet society. Peasants slaughtered an estimated half of all the cattle in the country rather than allowing the new collective farms to seize it. Steelman could easily end up before the firing squad, but he was determined to do what he thought necessary, no matter the risk and the cost.
And the cost was high. Millions died of starvation as farms were collectivized and the economy was retooled. More millions perished in concentration camps for resisting the economic program of dear leader.
But agriculture recovered and started producing enough to feed the hordes of newly minted industrial workers in the cities. Dozens of steel mills were built. In a decade, the Soviets went from producing a few hundred trucks a year to producing more than a hundred thousand. Soviet Russia became an industrial power, with the largest air, tank and infantry force in the world.
Yet, Heater chose to invade it anyway.
Steelman was a monster, but he wasn’t stupid or crazy. He had read Heater’s book. He knew the feminists’ ultimate goal was to seize Russia’s resources and colonize its European territory. He took the threat seriously. He had been preparing meticulously for that very scenario.
Steelman had a clear strategy and his strategy was working.
The strategy was simple: expand and rebuild the Soviet military while ze Germans exhaust themselves fighting Britain and France.
Steelman successfully appeased Heater to buy time and prepare. Without much of a fight, Soviet Russia got back a lot of the territory it had lost during the capitalist intervention. New tanks and airplanes were being delivered at breakneck pace. Hundreds of thousands of men were being conscripted into new military units. Everything was going according to plan, even better than expected.
At that moment, ze Germans invaded.
Steelman was in shock. He was caught completely by surprise by the very thing he had been preparing for.
Steelman had bought into the meme that Germany would not repeat the “mistake” of fighting on two fronts as had happened during the Great War. He had swallowed that story hook, line and sinker. He thought that ze Germans would not attack the Soviet Union before wrapping up the conflict with Britain. He reckoned he had at least another year to prepare before Heater would even think about invading Russia.
For hours after the first feminist troops crossed the border, Steelman refused reports coming from the military. He wouldn’t allow frontline commanders to fight back. His belief in the story which he had been telling himself – and Heater had encouraged – was so strong that he simply couldn’t process that the invasion was happening. He believed it was a provocation coming from within. Hundreds of tanks, airplanes and military units stationed at the border were destroyed in the first hours of the war without firing a single shot at the enemy.
In a single day, Steelman’s perfect world and perfect strategy had come crashing down.
He had blown it.
The feminists attacked on 22 June. He could not get it together for a radio address to the peoples of the Soviet Union until 3 July.
The cognitive dissonance was too much. Everything he did in those first days of the invasion suggests that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
After raging at his generals for a while, he retreated to his dacha on the outskirts of Moscow. He wouldn’t return to his office and refused to take phone calls. The Soviet government was paralyzed because nobody dared to do anything in his absence. So deep was the fear he had instilled over two decades of terror that no-one would attempt a coup even in his moment of defeat and surrender. His underlings went to him and begged him to lead.
He rose to the occasion, and made many more mistakes.
Most of Soviet industry lay to the west – in the parts of the county which were being overrun by the German onslaught.
So what did Steelman’s crazy Russians do?
They dismantled some 1,500 factories, put them on trains and reassembled them farther east. It took more than a million rail wagons to move all the equipment, together with the workers and their families, to the other side of the Urals – in Asia.
They pulled off the most insane logistical effort in the history of humankind amidst the deadliest war in the history of humankind.
Imagine working for 20 years to build the impossible in conditions of terror and starvation.
Imagine actually building it.
Imagine the sinking feeling of your entire world falling apart after the attack.
Imagine dismantling with your own hands all that you have built.
Imagine rebuilding the work that first took decades yet again in just a few months.
Try to imagine what it must have felt like.
The exhaustion. The despair. The impending death from war, disease, cold, starvation or firing squad.
Imagine all that and realize that whatever “setback” you face is a pathetic excuse that doesn’t even compare.
Talking heads and armchair experts parrot that it was the winter cold and the vastness of Mother Russia that defeated ze Germans. They imply Steelman’s blocking detachments are what “motivated” the Russians to fight to the last man.
The reality is different.
It was the crazy Russians all along. They just wouldn’t stop.
No matter how they felt, no matter how things went from bad to worse, the Russians knew that theirs was a struggle of life and death. They knew that they had to dismantle what they had built with their own blood and sweat, if necessary. They knew they had no other choice but to win.
And so should you.
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