.. .. ” Compare and contrast the ideologies and the political and economic practice of Lenin and Stalin. Every state is based upon and driven by some ideology. Imperial Russia was based upon autocratic absolutism for over 400 years. Following the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, a new era dawned upon Russia.
For the next 36 years she would be in the hands of two men that would attempt to apply a new, vastly different creed in ruling and transforming this country. Vladimir Ilich Lenin, as the leader of the Bolshevik party, ruled Russia from October 1917 till his death in January 1924. He was succeeded by Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, who also ruled until his death in March 1953. Both men claimed to ascribe to the broad ideology of Socialism and Marxism; both were to develop their own versions – later to be called Leninism and Stalinism; both were to attempt to practically apply their respective ideologies whilst attempting to deal with a plethora of prevailing conditions such as internal resistance and civil war, economic collapse and foreign invasion. This paper will examine the similarities and differences between both the ideologies, and the actual economic and political practice, of Lenin and Stalin’s beliefs. A significant historiographical issue to be aware of in the comparison of Lenin and Stalin is that between the two, Lenin was by far the greater political theorist and ideologue and yet had much less effective time, 6 years, to put his ideas into practice . Stalin on the other hand, was much more a man of action who produced comparatively far less written material, but who exercised his power for almost 30 years.
Also Lenin had the unique opportunity to oversee the installation of a new order from scratch whereas Stalin came to power with the foundations of the new state already laid and therefore had the responsibility of continuing the work already begun. As such any comparison then, will be somewhat uneven as we will compare not only actions to actions, but in Stalin’s case, his actions to Lenin’s theory as well as to speculation, as to what Lenin may have done in practice, if he had lived longer. The main aspects of Lenin’s ideology were outlined in a number of written works, the most important of these were: “What Is To Be Done” (1902) and The State and Revolution (1917). In “What Is To Be Done?” Lenin presented the idea that although the Russian peasantry was a potential revolutionary force, it was not capable of developing a revolutionary consciousness of its own. Marx had regarded revolutionary class consciousness to be the natural and spontaneous product of the life experience of the working class .
Lenin, by contrast, concluded that “class political consciousness can be brought only from the outside”. Without the assistance of the revolutionary intelligentsia, he argued, the working class could only develop a “trade-union consciousness” . Lenin’s solution was a revolutionary vanguard party that would come not from the peasantry or proletariat, but from the bourgeoisie and be composed of mainly middle class intellectuals. (Strangely enough he seemed to fit this criteria quite snuggly!) This party, he postulated, would have to be a small, closely knit, highly centralized, highly disciplined, conspiratorial and quasi-military organization of professional revolutionaries. It would have to be a fighting organization composed of men totally dedicated to the destruction of the old and the establishment of a new social order .
Lenin said, “Give us an organization of revolutionaries, and we will turn Russia upside down!” Also amongst the core principles of Lenin’s vanguard party would be the use of violence as an instrument of policy. Lenin stipulated the need for smashing and destroying the bourgeois state and was not shy in saying in reference to class enemies (a term applied to priests, Imperial Army officers, large and small businessmen, landowners and anyone else who opposed his brand of socialism), that “one has to beat their heads in without mercy.” In this respect especially, as will be shown, Stalin was to be in complete concordance with Lenin. The aspect of Lenin’s ideology, from which Stalin was to later most significantly differ and diverge from, was that regarding international socialist revolution. In 1915 Lenin published two pamphlets, “The Collapse of the Second International” and “Socialism and War”. These were followed in1916 by his second major ideological work – “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”. The main thrust of these works was that, as exemplified by the war, capitalism was in crisis and that now more than ever there was a need for revolution not just in Russia, but across all of Europe.
Lenin wrote, ” To the question, ‘What would the party of the proletariat do if the revolution placed it in power in the present war?’ we answer: ‘We would propose peace to all the belligerents .. all the oppressed, and those who do not have equal rights .. And we would also raise in rebellion, the Socialist proletariat of Europe against their governments. ” It was Lenin’s hope that once it had occurred in Russia, revolution could and should spread to the rest of Europe, with Communist Russia playing a leading role in the process. This was to remain a contentious issue amongst the Bolsheviks until well after Lenin’s death and was to engender a serious rift between Stalin and Trotsky, ultimately leading to the latter’s demise.
The first point that needs to be made in comparing Stalin’s ideological stance to Lenin’s, is that politics did not cease after the Revolution and Stalin was also a politician. Because Lenin in life, and more so in death, acquired god-like status as the new state’s liberator, leader and saviour, his heir had to be seen to pay him the due respects. Stalin went to great lengths to be seen as a strict follower of Lenin’s ideological principles. Thus, delivering Lenin’s funeral oration he said: “We Communists are people of a special mould. We are made of special stuff. We are those who form the army of the Great Proletarian Strategist, the army of Comrade Lenin.
There is nothing higher than belonging to this army .. In leaving us Comrade Lenin abjured us to hold high and keep pure the great title of member of the party. We vow to thee Comrade Lenin, that we shall honourably fulfill this thy commandment.” On numerous points Stalin fully concurred with Lenin. Service remarks that as a young Bolshevik, it was reported that Stalin reacted with great enthusiasm to themes of dictatorship, terror, modernity, progress and leadership in Lenin’s writings. Once in power he stressed that the party was the institutional cornerstone of the October Revolution.
This had been Lenin’s attitude in practice but not in his theoretical works. In 1924 Stalin gave a series of lectures on The Foundations of Leninism that gave expression to this. Probably Stalin’s most notable ideological contribution was The History of the All-Union Communist Party: A Short Course that was published in 1935. In A Short Course , Stalin presented his variety of socialism as a direct, scientific development of thought begun by Marx and Engels and continued by Lenin and through to himself. He presented his socialism not only as being pure, but as also the only acceptable variant of socialism.
In this work, Stalin can be seen as the ultimate ideological pragmatist. Unlike Lenin, who once he had crystallized his ideology remained a “true believer”, Stalin’s ideology also served an ulterior purpose of reinforcing his legitimacy and authority. Furthermore A Short Course was not just purely an ideological work but a political justification as its final chapter dealt with “The Liquidation of the Remnants of the Bukharinite-Trostskyist Gang of Spies, Wreckers, and Traitors to the Country”. Here Stalin presented himself as defender of the Faith against the “heretics” – in reality his political enemies. The most serious deviations in A Short Course was regarding Lenin’s beliefs that after the revolution a classless society would come into being and that the state would wither away . Stalin stated that although a new social and economic order had been built, there still existed 3 classes: the working class, the peasantry and the working intelligentsia eg. administrators, teachers. These 3 classes however, were not in conflict and had “non-antagonistic” interests and drew common benefit from the state’s provision of employment, education, health care, nutrition and shelter. Also, no indication was given that this social structure would change in the near future.
In respect to the withering away of the state, Stalin put forward his official line at the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1939: “Will our state be retained also in the period of Communism? Yes, it will be retained unless capitalist encirclement is liquidated and unless the danger of a military attack from abroad is liquidated also.” Given his obsession with power and the unlikelihood of either of these two preconditions becoming reality at anytime near to when he was speaking, it can be confidently said that Stalin had no intention of ever ushering in a stateless society in his lifetime. One of the most major points of doctrine where Stalin openly differed from Lenin was regarding the issue of Worldwide Socialist Revolution. As we have seen, Lenin believed that the Russian Revolution would spark off socialist revolutions across Europe. This did not occur and in December of 1924, Stalin proposed his idea of “Socialism in One Country “. This idea suggested that basically it was not necessary for the Bolsheviks to have International Revolution as a major policy priority and that the focus should be on peaceful coexistence with the West, whilst building a Socialist society at home. Once again, below this difference of ideology was a deep and confusing power play between Stalin and Trotsky . A number of sources speak of this as being the real reason for Stalin’s deviation. Stalin’s most renowned biographer Isaac Deutscher gives us some insight when he says: “His immediate purpose was to discredit Trotsky and to prove for the nth time that Trotsky was no Leninist. Searching in Trotsky’s past, the triumvirs came across the theory of permanent revolution. They started a polemic against it:; and it was in the course of that polemic that Stalin arrived at his formula [of socialism in one country]” and “Now the operative part of Stalin’s thesis of Socialism in One Country, the thing that was really new and striking in it, was the assertion of the self-sufficiency of the Russian Revolution.
All the rest was a repetition of traditional Bolshevik truisms .. [It] represented a radical revision of the party’s attitude. But the revision was undertaken in a manner that seemed to deny the very fact of revision and to represent it as straight continuation of an orthodox line of thought. We shall not lead the reader farther into the thick of this dogmatic battle. Suffice it to say that Stalin did his best to graft it on to the body of doctrine he had inherited from Lenin.” It can be seen then, that in the area of ideology the main difference between Lenin and Stalin is that Stalin was far greatly inclined to subjecting purity of doctrine to political expediency.
It is true Stalin operated in an atmosphere that was a lot more highly charged in respect to his hold on power (as “Father of the Revolution” Lenin’s status was unchallenged) and with serious opponents like Trotsky, anything, even ideology could become a malleable weapon in the political battle. Certainly this would be something that Stalin would develop into an art form – one that peaked at the show trials of the mid 30’s. Every enemy was a “Bukharinite” or a “Trotskite” or some other political shade of heresy to the one true creed of Stalinism. We can only speculate how Lenin’s theorizing would have changed had he lived longer and possibly been faced with the challenges Stalin was. Ultimately the essential fact is that ideology is one thing and practice is another.
One is theory and the other is reality and THEORY rarely translates too precisely into REALITY. Let us now examine and compare how Lenin and Stalin put into practice, that what they preached. Lenin’s political practice was characterized by the elimination of all opposition and entrenchment of the one-party police state, the institutionalization of violence and terror as an instrument of policy, and the formation of the USSR as the successor of Imperial Russia. Alongside these he instituted the economic practices that became known as War Communism and the New Economic Policy. It did not take long for the true nature of Leninism to reveal itself in practice. As early as 27th October all anti-Bolshevik newspapers were closed down. On the 18th of January 1918, the freely elected Constituent Assembly met at the Tauride Palace.
In the Assembly the Bolsheviks held only 175 seats while their rivals, the Socialist Revolutionaries held 410. On the 19th the Assembly was permanently dissolved on Lenin’s orders by armed Bolshevik guards. Laver observes that Lenin told Trotsky that the dissolution of the Assembly, “Means a complete and frank liquidation of the idea of democracy by the idea of dictatorship. It will serve as a good lesson .. Only scoundrels and imbeciles can think that the proletariat must first win a majority of votes in elections” Likewise Maclean also quotes Lenin as saying in regard to the same matter that: “Now is not the time for parliamentary illusions!” It is clear from this that Lenin was in no doubt about the stance that the Bolsheviks would take to democracy and opposition.
There would be no power sharing with any other political groups and this included even other socialists who were not Bolsheviks. In this we see the beginning of the one party state. What followed soon after was all in the same spirit. December 1917 saw the creation of the All-Russian Commission for Suppression of Counter-Revolution, Sabotage and Speculation (shortened to its Russian acronym – CHEKA). The Cheka quickly became one of the main instruments of terror and coercion. By January the arrest, imprisonment and execution without trial of political opponents was commenced.
In response to a letter to a newspaper by his old friend and respected writer Maxim Gorky criticizing the Bolshevik actions, Lenin wrote: “As the State is only a transitional institution which we are obliged to use in the revolutionary struggle in order to crush our opponents forcibly, it is pure absurdity to speak of a Free People’s State. During the period when the proletariat still needs the State, it does not require it in the interests of freedom, but in the interests of crushing its antagonists.” One of the most defining characteristics of Lenin’s political practice was the use of violence. The ultimate expression of this was the formation of the Red Army that would conduct a ruthless Civil War against all opposition from 1918 to 1921. In terms of the political structuring, the new state used the various town and country Soviets as the organs of government. Each local Soviet elected delegates to the next level of Soviets – district, provincial, or republican. Supreme power was held by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which elected a central executive committee to exercise power between meetings.
The executive committee in turn appointed a cabinet, the Politburo which was headed by Lenin. In the early days, a number of sources tell us that although the Party was dictatorial, Lenin was not a dictator in the Party and allowed some freedom of opinion and dissent within it. Laver states: “His practice was to allow free debate amongst colleagues, although he disliked bowing to a majority if he demurred on any particular issue.” Likewise Christian notes that: “In the early months after the revolution, the Party was loosely organized, debate and controversy were endless. Contacts between the center and the local Party cells were sporadic. And local Party officials frequently rejected, criticized or ignored orders from the center. At the center itself, the crucial decisions – especially over Brest-Litovsk – provoked bitter controversy and debate”.
This “liberal” situation was permanently changed by the demands of the Civil War. By the eighth Party Congress in March 1919, Lenin decreed in his seventh point that: “The Party finds itself in a situation in which the strictest centralism and most severe discipline are an absolute necessity. All decisions of a higher body are absolutely obligatory for lower ones. Every decree must be implemented .. In this sense outright military discipline is needed in the Party in the present epoch.
All party enterprises which are suitable for centralization (publishing, propaganda, etc) must be centralized for the good of the cause. All conflicts are decided by the corresponding higher party body.” As will be shown later, it was precisely in this Leninist trend of centralization that the true seeds of Stalinist dictatorship were sown. One of the most overlooked political legacies of Lenin, was the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a geopolitical entity on the 1st of January 1923. This was one rare issue where there was a practical disagreement between Lenin and Stalin in regard to a matter of policy, while the former was still alive. Stalin, who headed the People’s Commissariat for Nationalities, wished to deprive the Soviet republics of even their formal independence by turning them into autonomous republics within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR).
Under his model, Ukraine, Belorussia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would be part of an enlarged RSFSR. Service remarks that Lenin thought Stalin’s project smacked of Russian imperial dominance and his counter proposal was to federate the RSFSR on equal terms with the other republics. As we know it was this proposal that came to pass. Lenin’s first move in the sphere of economics was the decrees on land and on workers’ control of industry which abolished private property in productive resources (above all in land and capital), which had been the economic foundation of the old ruling group. These decrees effectively abolished the two basic classes of tsarist Russia – the landed nobility and the moneyed bourgeoisie. At this time the Russian economy which was in very bad shape, was further strained by the worsening civil war. This drastic situation necessitated drastic action from Lenin and the economic program he instituted became known as War Communism.
War Communism was characterized by increased central control of the economy, the nationalization of banks, factories and the abolition of private trade. In the country, where it was more difficult for the Bolsheviks to gain control, Lenin sanctioned the unrestrained use of violence. The forced requisitioning of grain for below market prices became state policy and this in turn led to terrible conflict with the peasantry. It was at this time that term “kulak” (literally “fist”) was coined for those peasants who refused to co-operate. It was the crime of being a “kulak” that was to cost over 5 million people their lives, most of them as we shall see, during the rule of Stalin.
By 1920 the civil war had seen a Red victory at the price of an economy in complete collapse. It took a rebellion at the Kronstadt naval base (that was of course viciously suppressed) to convince Lenin that the continuation of War Communism would lead to disaster. “The flash which lit it up reality better than anything else,” he called it. The response was something that would show, that even someone as obsessed with ideology as Lenin, would make popular concessions and even go against ideology, if it was expedient to do so. In March 1921, with the approval of the 10th Congress of the Communist Party, Lenin announced the introduction of what became known as the New Economic Policy (NEP).
The NEP was a retreat from the brutalities of War Communism and meant a partial return to capitalism. It was characterized by the abandonment of grain requisitioning, lowering of taxes and the resumption of local private trade. The government still controlled the “commanding heights” – large industry, finance, railways and foreign trade but many other areas were allowed back into private hands. A good comparison of a similar tactical retreat in Stalin’s time, can be seen in Stalin’s reopening of the churches in World War Two. For many years Stalin savagely persecuted the Russian Orthodox Church and actively encouraged militant atheism as state policy.
However seeing the dire need of the people for true moral/spiritual invigoration after the Nazi invasion, he reopened the churches and even allowed the election of a new Patriarch. Stalin too, could be flexible if it was expedient to do so. Let us now examine the political and economic practices of Stalin compared to those of his “master”. “Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution.” – Lenin 1923 Although he was never to know it, Lenin had only picked at the tip of the iceberg with these words. After his death in 1924, Stalin began to ruthlessly consolidate his power using the post of Party General Secretary. This is because this post gave him the power to appoint and dismiss all Part functionaries. In the next few years he set about eliminating his rivals on various ideological grounds.
Trotsky was removed from the Politburo in 1926 and expelled from the USSR in 1929. Likewise Kamenev and Zinoviev were also expelled. In this instance we see the application of political tactics that were to characterize Stalin’s rule – the removal of opposition on trumped up charges of subversion, spying, sabotage and ideological heresy. The accused were demonized as enemies of the state. The secret police – NKVD, were given unlimited power and served Stalin in total obedience.
By 1930 Christian tells us, Stalin was already undisputed “boss” of Party and government. The greatest change came in 1934. According to Robert Conquest, writer of the definitive work on the period, The Great Terror – A Reassessment, before 1934 there was still some underground opposition to Stalin (eg. Mikhail Ryutin) and the Politburo as the highest organ of both Party and state could still overrule him. In 1934 with the shooting of Leningrad Party chief Sergei Kirov, Stalin launched an unprecedented campaign of terror to purge the party of all opposition. In the next 5 years under Stalin’s orders, the NKVD arrested and executed thousands of party officials.
Kamenev and Zinoviev were show trialled and executed. In 1937 Stalin moved into a position of complete dictatorship with the subjection of the Politburo to a special commission of which he was head and on which sat only the most loyal and fully obedient lackeys – namely Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and Yezhov. From this point until his death, Stalin’s power was absolute. As Maclean describes: “It was greater power than that exercised by Lenin or by any of his Imperial predecessors, power unquestioned and absolute, power ruthlessly used, power that reached out into the remote valleys of the Caucasus and Pamirs and across the frozen Siberian tundra, power supported by an active and ubiquitous secret police. ‘Imagine Jenghiz Khan with a telephone’ Tolstoi had said towards the end of his life. His prophecy had more than been fulfilled”.
On the political level Stalin certainly became far more powerful than Lenin was. Lenin was never an absolute dictator and mostly operated as leader of the Party but still within it. With him the dictatorship was of the party and not in spite of it. Stalin simply left the Party behind in a blaze of fear and terror. Eventually he hovered above it.
Unlike Lenin who was completely against his deification before or after his death, Stalin in life actively encouraged his “Cult of Personality”, that would later be so denounced by Khrushchev. In the main, the use of violence and terror is a major similarity in Lenin and Stalin’s political practice with the only difference being that Lenin used it mainly against external opponents while Stalin used it against everyone and on an infinitely greater scale. “One death is a tragedy,” he would say. “A million just statistics.” The best example of Stalin’s violent excess can be seen in his economic practice. The main events of Stalin’s economic practice were the 5 year plans, collectivization and industrialization.
In November 1929, Stalin published an article called The Great Turn. His main argument was that for the USSR to move into the modern age she had to industrialize and the agrarian problem had to be solved once and for all. His solution was to collectivize all agriculture and to destroy the “kulaks” as a class. Over the next six years the Russian and Soviet peoples endured a holocaust comparable to that suffered by the Jews in World War 2, one that would cost over 5 million lives. The language Stalin used was as evil as any denunciation of the Jews by Hitler: “To take the offensive against the kulaks means to deal the kulak class such a blow that it will no longer rise to its feet ..
Of course the kulak can’t be admitted to a collective farm. He can’t because he’s an accursed enemy .. ” History Essays.