Stalinism refers to the ideology that Joseph Stalin conceived and implemented in the Soviet Union, and is generally considered a branch of Marxist–Leninist ideology but considered by some historians to be a significant deviation from this philosophy.[1] Stalinist policies in the Soviet Union included: rapid industrialization, Socialism in One Country, a centralized state, collectivization of agriculture, and subordination of interests of other communist parties to those of the Soviet party.[2] When used in its broadest sense, the term "Stalinist" refers to socialist states comparable to the Stalin-era Soviet Union (i.e., those characterized by a high degree of centralization, totalitarianism, the use of a secret police, propaganda, and especially brutal tactics of political coercion). According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "Stalinism is associated with a regime of terror and totalitarian rule." [3]

The term came into prominence during the mid-1930s, when Lazar Kaganovich, a Soviet politician and associate of Stalin, reportedly declared, "Let's replace Long Live Leninism with Long Live Stalinism!"[4] Stalin initially met this usage with hesitancy, dismissing it as excessively praiseful and contributing to a cult of personality.[4] In the Cold War-era United States, Stalinism took on a decidedly more negative meaning, akin to what the New York Times dubbed "red fascism."[5]

Critics of Stalinism consider it a caricature of socialism and a deviation from the original philosophy of Marxism–Leninism.


Stalinist policies

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Stalinism usually denotes a style of a government rather than an ideology. The ideology was Marxism-Leninism; this reflected the fact that Stalin himself was not a Communist theoretician, in contrast to Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, and that he 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 the ideas of Marx and Lenin, 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-1920s 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.

Poster "Study the great path of the Lenin-Stalin Party"

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 style of governance that used vaguely 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 Leon Trotsky, Stalin de-emphasized the role of workers in advanced capitalist countries (for example, he considered the U.S. working class as bourgeoisified labour aristocracy). Also, Stalin polemicized against Trotsky on the role of peasants, as in China, whereas Trotsky's position was in favor of urban insurrection 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 or that proclaims itself to be a socialist state while taking the above measures. Personality cults are also common to all Stalinist regimes. Nicolae Ceaușescu, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-Sung and Stalin constructed cults of personality that use propaganda to identify the current regime as heroic or benevolent.[citation needed]

Soviet puppet Sheng Shicai extended Stalinist rule in Xinjiang province in the 1930s. Stalin opposed the Chinese Communist Party, and Sheng conducted a purge similar to Stalin's Great Purge in 1937.[7]

Stalinist economic policy

At the start of the 1930s 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 felt 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."[8] 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.[9]

According to several Western historians[citation needed], Stalinist agricultural policies were a key factor in causing the Soviet famine of 1932–1933, which the Ukrainian government now calls the Holodomor, recognizing it as an act of genocide. However, there is still considerable debate in other countries as to whether or not the famine can be recognized as genocide.[citation needed]


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 positions of Khrushchev.

A few of the notable exceptions were North Korea under Kim Il-sung, the People's Republic of China, 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 Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) under the leadership of Khrushchev, various groupings of dissident party members left to begin pre-party formations based on their specific interpretations of 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 Organization, 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.[10] Under Mao, the People's Republic grew antagonistic towards what they saw as 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.

The Socialist People's Republic of Albania took the Chinese party's side in the Sino-Soviet Split and remained committed, at least theoretically, to Hoxhaism, its brand of Stalinism, for decades thereafter, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha. Despite their initial cooperation against "revisionism," Hoxha denounced Mao as a revisionist, along with almost every other self-identified Communist organization in the world. This had the effect of isolating Albania from the rest of the world, as Hoxha was hostile to both the pro-USA and pro-Soviet spheres of influence, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, whom Hoxha had also denounced.

The ousting of Khrushchev in 1964 by his former party-state allies has been described as a Stalinist restoration by some, epitomised by the Brezhnev Doctrine and the apparatchik/nomenklatura "stability of cadres," lasting until the period of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some historians and writers (like German Dietrich Schwanitz[11]) draw parallels between Stalinism and the economic policy of Tsar Peter the Great, although Schwanitz in particular views Stalin as "a monstrous reincarnation" of him. Both men wanted Russia 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 the Terrible because of his policies of oprichnina and restriction of the liberties of common people.

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".[12]


Trotskyists argue that the "Stalinist USSR" was not socialist (and 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. Some in the Third Camp use bureaucratic collectivism as a theory to critique Stalinist forms of government.

Council Communism

Although worker's councils were politically significant in the earliest stages of the Soviet Union, they soon lost their power and significance as political power was concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The operation of the Soviet Union under Stalinism was almost entirely undemocratic, vesting absolute power into unelected bureaucrats. This was abhorent to council communists, who believe that workers' councils, or communes, embody the fundamental principles of socialism, such as workers' control over production and distribution. Indeed, some have described council communism as "socialism from below," which they counterpose against what they see as the "socialism from above" that was endorsed by Stalinism. According to this view, socialism from above is carried out by a centralized state run by an elite bureaucratic apparatus, whereas socialism from below represents the self-administration and self-rule of the working class.

Council communists described the Soviet Union as a capitalist state, believing that the Bolshevik revolution in Russia became a "bourgeois revolution" when a party bureaucracy replaced the old feudal aristocracy. Although most council communists felt the Russian Revolution was working class in character, they believed that the Soviet Union was a state capitalist country, with the state replacing the individual capitalists (an additional argument in favour of that was the continued existence of capitalist relations, as manifested e.g. in the New Economic Policy).

The core principle of council communism is that the government and the economy should be managed by workers' councils composed of delegates elected at workplaces and recallable at any moment. As such, council communists oppose the idea of an authoritarian "State socialist"/"State capitalist" planned economy such as in the Soviet Union. They also oppose the idea of a "revolutionary party", since council communists believe that a revolution led by a party will necessarily produce a party dictatorship. Council communists support a worker's democracy, which they want to produce through a federation of workers' councils.

Raised fist, stenciled protest symbol of Autonome, a left-wing anti-Stalinist movement influenced by anarchism, left communism, and the Situationist International.

Left communists like C. L. R. James and the Italian autonomists, as well as unorthodox Trotskyists like Tony Cliff, described Stalinism as "state capitalism" – i.e., a form of capitalism where the state takes over the role of capital. Milovan Đilas argues that a New Class arose under Stalinism, a theory also put forward by various liberal theorists.

Socialisme ou Barbarie

Socialisme ou Barbarie, led by philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis, was a radical Marxist and libertarian socialist group based in France that significantly developed the council communist tradition as well as laying the foundation for autonomism. Socialisme ou Barbarie harshly criticised the communist regime in the USSR, which it considered a form of "bureaucratic capitalism" and not at all the socialism it claimed to be. Philosopher Jean-François Lyotard was also part of this movement.

Situationist International

The Situationist International was a group of strongly anti-authoritarian Marxist theorists, influenced by the early 20th century avant-garde art movements in Europe, chiefly led by Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem. The Situationists were ruthlessly critical of Stalin and the Soviet Union, which they regarded as an oppressive undemocratic bureaucracy that was just as freedom-deprived as capitalist society, if not more so. The Situationists believed that Stalinist practices amounted to a complete rejection of Marxism, and that the hierarchy of power was identical in practice to capitalist society, arguing that a class of high-ranking bureaucrats and party officials had replaced the bourgeoisie. In contrast to Stalin's sprawling authoritarian and totalitarian state, the Situationists favored democratic workers' councils and workers' self-management intended to empower every individual equally and prevent anyone from centralizing power.


Anarchists like Emma Goldman were initially enthusiastic about the Bolsheviks, particularly after dissemination of Lenin's pamphlet State and Revolution, which painted Bolshevism in a very libertarian light. However, the relations between the anarchists and the Bolsheviks soured in Soviet Russia (e.g., in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion and the Makhnovist movement). Anarchists and Stalinist Communists were also in armed conflict during the Spanish civil war. Anarchists are critical of the statist, totalitarian nature of Stalinism, as well as its cult of personality around Stalin (and subsequent leaders seen by anarchists as Stalinists, such as Mao).

Social anarchism sees "individual freedom as conceptually connected with social equality and emphasize community and mutual aid.".[13] Social anarchists argue that this goal can be achieved through the decentralization of political and economic power, distributing power equally among all individuals, and finally abolishing authoritarian institutions which control certain means of production.[14] Social anarchism rejects private property, seeing it as a source of social inequality.[15] Social Anarchism political philosophies almost always share strong characteristics of anti-authoritarianism, anti-capitalism and anti-statism. As the Soviet Union under Stalin manifested itself as a strong centralized authoritarian state, Stalinism and libertarian socialism are almost directly opposed.

Democratic socialism

Peter Hain defines democratic socialism as a form of anti-authoritarian "socialism from below". in contrast to Stalinism and social democracy, variants of authoritarian state socialism. A significant current of the democratic socialist movement has defined itself in opposition to Stalinism. This includes George Orwell and the Independent Labour Party in Britain (particularly after World War II), the group around Marceau Pivert in France and, in America, the New York Intellectuals around the Partisan Review. These democratic socialists saw Stalinism as a form of totalitarianism in some ways mirroring fascism.

Hillel Ticktin / Critique

In the journal Critique (Journal of Socialist Theory), Hillel H. Ticktin argues that the new Soviet rulers found themselves unable to use the market to control and exploit the peasantry and workers. So, instead, they used vaste coercion, in the form of forced collectivisation, enabling them to both control the peasantry and to create an influx of new labour for rapid industrial expansion.[16] Unprecedented levels of repression prevented any collective resistance. But, with little fear of unemployment and little monetary incentive to work harder, individual workers were still able to resist management interference. Workers also indulged in less-productive working, absenteeism and alcoholism.[17]

This Stalinist system was neither socialist nor capitalist. Neither workers nor managers really controlled the work process and this created enormous inefficiencies and waste.[18] As long as industry kept expanding by using new labour from the countryside, these inefficiencies could be covered up. But - Ticktin says - once this labour source "dried up, as it did in the mid-1970s, the regime was doomed".[19] Ticktin also argues that the problems of post-Soviet Russia - which are exacerbated by the continuing decline of capitalism - show that Russia is still, essentially, a "disintegrating Stalinism".[20]

Relationship to Leninism

The historiography of Stalin is diverse, with many different aspects of continuity and discontinuity between the regimes of Stalin and Lenin proposed. Totalitarian historians such as Richard Pipes tend to see Stalinism as the natural consequence of Leninism, that Stalin "faithfully implemented Lenin's domestic and foreign policy programmes".[21] More nuanced versions of this general view are to be found in the works of other Western historians, such as Robert Service, who notes that "institutionally and ideologically, Lenin laid the foundations for a Stalin... but the passage from Leninism to the worse terrors of Stalinism was not smooth and inevitable."[22] Likewise, historian Edvard Radzinsky believes that Stalin was a real follower of Lenin, exactly as he claimed himself.[23]

Proponents of continuity cite a variety of contributory factors: it is argued that it was Lenin, rather than Stalin, whose civil war measures introduced the Red Terror with its hostage taking and internment camps, that it was Lenin who developed the infamous Article 58, and who established the autocratic system within the Communist Party.[24] They also note that Lenin put a ban on factions within the Russian 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, and cite Felix Dzerzhinsky, who, during the Bolshevik struggle against opponents in the Russian Civil War, exclaimed "We stand for organised terror – this should be frankly stated".[25]

Opponents of this view include revisionist historians and a number of post–Cold War and otherwise dissident Soviet historians including Roy Medvedev, who argues that although "one could list the various measures carried out by Stalin that were actually a continuation of anti-democratic trends and measures implemented under Lenin... in so many ways, Stalin acted, not in line with Lenin's clear instructions, but in defiance of them".[citation needed] In doing so, some historians have tried to distance Stalinism from Leninism in order to undermine the Totalitarian view that the negative facets of Stalin (terror, etc.) were inherent in Communism from the start.[citation needed] Critics of this kind include anti-Stalinist communists such as Leon Trotsky, who pointed out that Lenin attempted to persuade the CPSU] to remove Stalin from his post as its General Secretary. Lenin's Testament, the document which contained this order, was suppressed after Lenin's death. British historian Isaac Deutscher, in his biography of Trotsky, says that on being faced with the evidence "only the blind and the deaf could be unaware of the contrast between Stalinism and Leninism".[26] A similar analysis is present in more recent works, such as those of Graeme Gill, who argues that "[Stalinism was] not a natural flow-on of earlier developments; [it formed a] sharp break resulting from conscious decisions by leading political actors."[27]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ T. B. Bottomore. A Dictionary of Marxist thought. Malden, Massaschussetts, USA; Oxford, England, UK; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Berlin, Germany: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991. Pp. 54.
  2. ^ T. B. Bottomore. A Dictionary of Marxist thought. Malden, Massaschussetts, USA; Oxford, England, UK; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Berlin, Germany: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991. Pp. 54.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Montefiore, Simon Sebag (2004). Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Knopf. p. 164. ISBN 1400042305. 
  5. ^ Fried, Richard M. (1991). Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0195043618. 
  6. ^ "Marxism and the National Question"
  7. ^ Andrew D. W. Forbes (1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: a political history of Republican Sinkiang 1911-1949. Cambridge, England: CUP Archive. pp. 376. ISBN 0521255147. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  8. ^ Fredric Jameson, collected in Marxism Beyond Marxism (1996) ISBN 0-415-91442-6, page 43
  9. ^ Robert Conquest Reflections on a Ravaged Century (2000) ISBN 0-393-04818-7, page 101
  10. ^ Lankov, Andrei N., Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinisation, 1956 Honolulu:Hawaii University Press (2004)
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^
  13. ^ Suissa, Judith(2001) "Anarchism, Utopias and Philosophy of Education" Journal of Philosophy of Education 35 (4), 627–646. doi:10.1111/1467-9752.00249
  14. ^ Mendes, Silva. Socialismo Libertário ou Anarchismo Vol. 1 (1896): "Society should be free through mankind's spontaneous federative affiliation to life, based on the community of land and tools of the trade; meaning: Anarchy will be equality by abolition of private property and liberty by abolition of authority"
  15. ^ Ostergaard, Geoffrey. "Anarchism". A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Blackwell Publishing, 1991. p. 21.
  16. ^ Hillel Ticktin, 'The Class Structure of the USSR and the Elite', Critique No.9, p56-9.
  17. ^ Hillel Ticktin, Origins of the Crisis in the USSR: Essays on the Political Economy of a Disintegrating System, 1992, p12-13, 85-6, 117, 144; Hillel Ticktin, 'Theories of Disintegration of the USSR', in Paul G. Hare (ed.), Systemic Change in Post-Communist Economies, p158.
  18. ^ Hillel Ticktin, 'Towards a Political Economy of the USSR', Critique No.1, p27; Hillel Ticktin, 'The Political Economy of Class in the Transitional Epoch', Critique No.20-21, p16-18; Hillel Ticktin, 'Soviet Society and Professor Bettleheim', Critique No.6, p35, 43.
  19. ^ 'The Class Structure of the USSR and the Elite', Critique No.9, p61; 'Theories of Disintegration of the USSR' , p158-161.
  20. ^ Hillel Ticktin, 'Political Economy of a Disintegrating Stalinism", Critique Vol. 36, 2008.
  21. ^ Pipes, Richard. Three Whys of the Russian Revolution. pp. 83–4. 
  22. ^ "Lenin: Individual and Politics in the October Revolution". Modern History Review 2 (1): 16–19. 1990. 
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^ Pipes, Richard (2001). Communism: A History. pp. 73–74. ISBN 0-8129-6864-6. 
  25. ^ George Leggett, "The Cheka: Lenin's Political Police"
  26. ^ Deutscher, Isaac (1959). Trotsky: The Prophet Unarmed. pp. 464–5. 
  27. ^ Gill, Graeme J. (1998). Stalinism. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780312177645. Retrieved 1 October 2010. 

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