AskDefine | Define Stalinist

Dictionary Definition

Stalinist adj : of or relating to Joseph Stalin or his times n : a follower of Stalin and Stalinism

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A person who accepts the philosophy of Stalinism.


a person who accepts the philosophy of Stalinism

Extensive Definition

Stalinism is the political regime named after Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union from 1929-1953. It includes an extensive use of propaganda to establish a personality cult around an absolute dictator, as well as extensive use of the secret police to maintain social submission and silence political dissent.
The term "Stalinism" was coined by Lazar Kaganovich and was never used by Joseph Stalin who described himself as a Marxist-Leninist and a "pupil of Lenin" although he tolerated the use of the term by associates.
Like many other "-isms" it can be used as a pejorative term when referring to nation-states, political parties, or the ideological stance(s) of individuals, particularly "Anti-Revisionists". It is also used as a pejorative to describe politicians and political groups, Communist or non-Communist, who are perceived as particularly authoritarian or hard-line.

Stalinism's policies

"Stalinism" refers to the brand of communist regime that dominated the Soviet Union, and the countries within the Soviet sphere of influence, during the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The term 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 Socialist 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 industrialization of the Five-Year Plans. Sometimes, although rarely, the compound terms "Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism" (used by the Brazilian MR-8), or teachings of Marx/Engels/Lenin/Stalin, are used to show the alleged heritage and succession. Simultaneously, however, many people are professing 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 Marxism to achieve power.
From 1917 to 1924, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin often appeared united, but, in fact, their ideological differences never disappeared.
In his dispute with Trotsky, Stalin de-emphasized the role of workers in advanced capitalist countries (for example, he postulated theses considering the U.S. working class as bourgeoisified labor aristocracy). Also, Stalin polemicized against Trotsky on the role of peasants, as in China, whereas Trotsky wanted urban insurrection and not 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.

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, WWI 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.
Some historians believe that "Stalinism was a success, having fulfilled its historical mission to force the rapid industrialization of an undeveloped country". However, Robert Conquest disputed such 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 collectivization, famine or terror. The industrial successes were far less than claimed, and the Soviet-style industrialization 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 destalinization 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.
The notable exceptions were North Korea under Kim Il-sung and the People's Republic of China, under Mao Zedong. Kim simply purged the North Korean Communist party of de-Stalinization advocates, either executing them or forcing them into exile or labor 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. Albania 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, epitomized 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 draw parallels between Stalinism and the economic policy of Tsar Peter the Great. Both men desperately wanted Russia to catch up to the western European states. Both succeeded to an extent, turning Russia temporarily 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 bureaucratized 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 CLR James and the Italian autonomists, as well as unorthodox Trotskyists like Tony Cliff have described Stalinism as state capitalism, 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 inevitables effects of communism as a whole on human liberties. He writes thus than the concept of Stalinism has been developed after 1956 by western intellectualists so as to be able to keep alive the communist ideal.

Stalinism's relationship to Leninism

The relationship between Stalinism and Leninism is disputed. Some believe that Stalinism marked a fundamental break with the legacy of Lenin and Marxism-Leninism as has had been practised up to that point. Thus, the Great Terror during Stalin's rule was an aberration of the communist system, which resulted from Stalin's personal paranoia and his cult of personality, according to them. If only Lenin had been alive, those abuses would never have happened.
Others think that Stalin used and developed the political system built by Lenin and other Bolsheviks, and that Stalin was a real follower of Lenin, exactly as he claimed himself. They argue that it was Lenin who introduced Red terror with its hostage taking and concentration 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" Western authorities estimate that by 1924 the Cheka had executed more than 250,000 people. The number of labour camps increased from 80 in 1919 to 315 by 1923.
The radical methods of Stalin’s modernisation program were also not entirely 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. All workers were subjected to army style control. All those features can also be found in Stalin’s economic policy.
Finally, proponents of this view argue that the top-down, dictatorial government established by Lenin lacked essential checks and balances, and that this left the system open to abuse by ruthless politicians such as Stalin. In this view, Lenin's death left a power vacuum which allowed the most brutal of his successors to successfully gain power through manipulation and intrigue .


Further reading

  • Vincent Barnett, "Understanding Stalinism: The 'Orwellian Discrepancy' and the 'Rational Choice Dictator'," Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 58, no. 3, May 2006 (online abstract).
  • Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Goldmann
  • Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, Dietz, 1990
  • Philip Ingram, Russia and the USSR 1905 – 1991, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997
  • Lankov, Andrei N., Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinization, 1956. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press (2004)
  • Boris Souvarine, Stalin: A Critical Survey of Bolshevism, Alliance Book, 1939
  • Robert Service, Lenin: A Biography, Belknap Press, 2002 ISBN 0-330-49139-3
  • Robert Service. Stalin: A Biography, Belknap Press, 2005 ISBN 0-674-01697-1
  • Stalinism for all seasons: a political history of Romanian Communism
  • Allan Todd, The European Dictatorships: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003
  • John Traynor, Challenging History: Europe 1890 – 1990, Nelson Thornes Ltd, Cheltenham, 2002

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