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Stalinism is a term that refers to a "theory and practice of communism" utilised in the political system associated with Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Unionmarker from 1928–1953. The term refers to a form of government which was inherently oppressive with extensive government spying, extrajudicial punishment, and political "purging", or elimination of political opponents either by direct killing, through exile or by the use of labour camps known as the Gulag.

It involves a state making extensive use of propaganda to establish a personality cult around an absolute dictator to maintain control over the population and to maintain political control for the Communist Party. The term was originally coined in a positive sense by Lazar Kaganovich, but nonetheless rejected by Stalin himself.

The term "Stalinism" is almost never used in a positive way. Stalinism has been additionally described as "red fascism", especially in the United Statesmarker after 1945, but the term Stalinism had already gained international currency in the 1930s when the fight for political supremacy between Stalin and Trotsky was at its peak. Those who subscribe to the ideas of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong almost never describe themselves as Stalinists; they see the term as derogatory and in the west are on the political fringe. In Russia though, Stalin is today viewed in a positive light by many and the current Russian authorities have been accused of suppressing the historical record.

In connection with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact an OSCE parliamentary resolution has condemned both Stalinism and fascism for starting World War II and called for a day of remembrance for victims of both Stalinism and Nazism on August 23. The Russian representatives in response to the resolution threatened the OSCE with "harsh consequences".

Stalinist policies

Stalinism usually defines the style of a government rather than an ideology. The ideology was "Marxism-Leninism theory", reflecting that Stalin himself was not a theoretician, in contrast to Marx and Lenin, and prided himself on maintaining the legacy of Lenin as a founding father for the Soviet Union and the future Communist world.

Stalinism is an interpretation of their ideas, and a certain political regime claiming to apply those ideas in ways fitting the changing needs of society, as with the transition from "socialism at a snail's pace" in the mid-twenties to the rapid industrialisation of the Five-Year Plan. Sometimes, although rarely, the compound terms "Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism" (used by the Brazilianmarker MR-8), or teachings of Marx/Engels/Lenin/Stalin, are used to show the alleged heritage and succession.

Simultaneously, however, many people who profess Marxism or Leninism view Stalinism as a perversion of their ideas; Trotskyists, in particular, are virulently anti-Stalinist, considering Stalinism a counter-revolutionary policy using vague Marxist-sounding rhetoric to achieve power.

From 1917 to 1924, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin often appeared united, but their ideological differences never disappeared. In his dispute with Trotsky, Stalin de-emphasised the role of workers in advanced capitalist countries (for example, he postulated these considering the U.S. working class as bourgeoisified labour aristocracy). Also, Stalin polemicised against Trotsky on the role of peasants, as in Chinamarker, whereas Trotsky's position was in favor of urban insurrection and over peasant-based guerrilla warfare.

The main contributions of Stalin to communist theory were:

Stalinism has been described as being synonymous with totalitarianism , or a tyrannical regime. The term has been used to describe regimes that fight political dissent through violence, imprisonment, and killings . However given that fascist, theocratic, and otherwise anti-communist governments have used these methods to curb dissent just as much as pro-communist governments have, the term "Stalinism" may only really be accurate when describing a government that is pro-Stalin.

Stalinist economic policy

At the end of the 1920s Stalin launched a wave of radical economic policies, which completely overhauled the industrial and agricultural face of the Soviet Union. This came to be known as the 'Great Turn' as Russia turned away from the near-capitalist New Economic Policy. The NEP had been implemented by Lenin in order to ensure the survival of the Communist state following seven years of war (1914-1921, World War I from 1914 to 1917, and the subsequent Civil War) and had rebuilt Soviet production to its 1913 levels. However, Russia still lagged far behind the West, and the NEP was felt by Stalin and the majority of the Communist party, not only to be compromising Communist ideals, but also not delivering sufficient economic performance, as well as not creating the envisaged Socialist society. It was therefore necessary to increase the pace of industrialisation in order to catch up with the West.

Fredric Jameson has said that "Stalinism was [...] a success and fulfilled its historic mission, socially as well as economically" given that it "modernised the Soviet Union, transforming a peasant society into an industrial state with a literate population and a remarkable scientific superstructure." Robert Conquest disputed such a conclusion and noted that "Russia had already been fourth to fifth among industrial economies before World War I" and that Russian industrial advances could have been achieved without collectivisation, famine or terror. The industrial successes were far less than claimed, and the Soviet-style industrialisation was "an anti-innovative dead-end", according to him.

Points of view on Stalinism

After Stalin's death in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev repudiated his policies, condemned Stalin's cult of personality in his Secret Speech to the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, and instituted destalinisation and relative liberalisation (within the same political framework). Consequently, most of the world's Communist parties, who previously adhered to Stalinism, abandoned it and, to a greater or lesser degree, adopted the moderately reformist positions of Khruschchev.

A few of the notable exceptions were North Koreamarker under Kim Il-sung, the People's Republic of Chinamarker, under Mao Zedong, the Albanian Party of Labour under Enver Hoxha, the Communist Party of Indonesia, certain sections of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and the Communist Party of New Zealand. In countries where the local Communist Party sided with the CPSU under the leadership of Khrushchev, various groupings of dissident party members left to begin pre-party formations adhering more closely to traditional Marxism-Leninism. This process accelerated as the 1960s progressed into the 1970s, eventually leading to what was called the New Communist Movement in various countries.

For example, in the United States the New Communist Movement led to a plethora of formations, among them the Progressive Labour Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation, and the October League, amongst others. Kim simply purged the North Korean Communist party of de-Stalinisation advocates, either executing them or forcing them into exile or labour camps. Under Mao, the People's Republic grew antagonistic towards the new Soviet leadership's "revisionism", resulting in the Sino-Soviet Split in 1960. Subsequently, China independently pursued the ideology of Maoism, which still largely supported the legacy of Stalin and his policies.

Albaniamarker took the Chinese party's side in the Sino-Soviet Split and remained committed, at least theoretically, to its brand of Stalinism for decades thereafter, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha. The ousting of Khruschev in 1964 by his former party-state allies has been described as a Stalinist restoration, epitomised by the Brezhnev Doctrine and the apparatchik/nomenklatura "stability of cadres," lasting until the hyper-revisionist Gorbachev period of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s and the fall of Soviet communism itself.

Some historians and writers (like German Dietrich Schwanitz) draw parallels between Stalinism and the economic policy of Tsar Peter the Great. Both men wanted Russiamarker to leave the western European states far behind in terms of development. Both largely succeeded, turning Russia into Europe's leading power. Others compare Stalin with Ivan IV of Russia, with his policies of oprichnina and restriction of the liberties of common people.

Trotskyists argue that the "Stalinist USSR" was not socialist (and certainly not communist), but a bureaucratised degenerated workers' state — that is, a non-capitalist state in which exploitation is controlled by a ruling caste which, although not owning the means of production and not constituting a social class in its own right, accrued benefits and privileges at the expense of the working class. Left communists like C. L. R. James and the Italian autonomists, as well as unorthodox Trotskyists like Tony Cliff described Stalinism as "state capitalist", a form of capitalism where the state takes the role of capital. Milovan Đilas argues that a New Class arose under Stalinism, a theory also put forward by various liberal theorists. Some in the Third Camp use bureaucratic collectivism as a theory to critique Stalinist forms of government.

Some analysts like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Mortal Danger: Misconceptions about Soviet Russia and the Threat to America consider the use of the term "Stalinism" is an excuse to hide the inevitable effects of communism as a whole on human liberties. He writes that the concept of Stalinism was developed after 1956 by western intellectuals so as to be able to keep alive the communist ideal. The term "Stalinism" however was in use as early as 1937 when Leon Trotsky wrote his pamphlet "Stalinism and Bolshevism" [4840]. The relevance of Solzhenitsyn's statement can be further called into question as the term Bonapartism was used prior to 1937 to describe all the phenomena that later became known as "Stalinism."

Relationship to Leninism

Historian Edvard Radzinsky believes that Stalin was a real follower of Lenin, exactly as he claimed himself. It is argued Lenin introduced the Red Terror with its hostage taking and internment camps, who developed the infamous Article 58, and who established the autocratic system within the Communist Party. Vyacheslav Molotov, when asked who of two leaders was more "severe", replied: "Lenin, of course... I remember how he scolded Stalin for softness and liberalism."

Supporters of the view that Stalinism emerged from Leninism point to a number of areas of apparent continuity. For example, Lenin put a ban on factions within the Communist Party and introduced the one-party state in 1921 - a move that enabled Stalin to get rid of his rivals easily after Lenin's death. Moreover, Lenin used to purge his party of “unfaithful” Communists, a method used extensively by Stalin during the 1930s.

Under Lenin’s rule fear was used to suppress opposition. For that function the Cheka was set up in December 1917. Felix Dzerzhinsky, its leader, exclaimed with some enthusiasm: “We stand for organised terror – this should be frankly stated”. Western authorities estimate that the Cheka had executed more than 250,000 people.

The radical methods of Stalin’s modernisation program were also not his invention, they were mainly the further development of Lenin’s war communism. This policy was characterised by extensive nationalisation, the forceful grain collection from the countryside and harsh direction of labour. Labour discipline was draconian and lateness and absenteeism were punished severely.

See also

Further reading


  2. Luke Harding "British academics protest after Russia closes down history website", The Guardian, 13 July 2009
  3. "Marxism and the National Question"
  4. Fredric Jameson, collected in Marxism Beyond Marxism (1996) ISBN 0-415-91442-6, page 43
  5. Robert Conquest Reflections on a Ravaged Century (2000) ISBN 0-393-04818-7, page 101
  6. Lankov, Andrei N., Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinisation, 1956 Honolulu:Hawaii University Press (2004)
  7. Dietrich Schwanitz, Bildung. Alles, was man wissen muss. "At the same time, Stalin was a kind of monstrous reincarnation of Peter the Great. Under his tyranny, Russia transformed into a country of industrial slaves, and the gigantic empire was gifted with a network of working camps, the Gulag Archipelago."
  8. Edvard Radzinsky Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives, Anchor, (1997) ISBN 0-385-47954-9
  9. Richard Pipes Communism: A History (2001) ISBN 0-812-96864-6, pages 73-74.
  10. George Leggett, "The Cheka: Lenin's Political Police"
  11. page 28, Andrew and Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield, paperback edition, Basic books, 1999.
  12. page 180, Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition, 2004.

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