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The transition from Leninism into Stalinism

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 25, 19100 at 19:46:07:

It has become a commonplace to assert that Leninism 'naturally flowed' into Stalinism. While once an assertion of McCarthy-era Cold Warriors, during this contemporary time of rightward triumphalism, quasi-socialist quacks also say this. I would like to address this ERRONEOUS assertion with some passages from historian Robert C. Tucker, a historian anything but sympathetic to Lenin or communism.

In his Stalin in Power: the Revolution from Above, 1928-1941, Tucker inquires:

There is no question about Stalin's political ascendancy at that time [1929, more than five years after Leninís death]? But was he a dictator?(1)

Tucker continues:

If a dictator or autocrat may be characterized as a political leader who can decide policy questions arbitrarily and without the likelihood of significant opposition from within the regime he heads, much less from the society at large, Stalin at the onset of the 1930s was not yet a dictator.(2)

Let us look into the matter:

The willingness to voice critical views or to oppose Stalin had its source in the political culture of the regime in which he has risen to supremacy... It was Lenin who established the role of a political leader standing in a highly authoritative yet nondictatorial relation to the rest of the ruling group. Lenin did not determine policy by autocratic fiat, but rather by gaining majority assent to his policy positions in the Central Committee and its smaller subcommittee, the Politburo. If his views usually prevailed it was because his advocacy of them generally proved persuasive, and also because of the immense personal authority that he enjoyed. Important policy issues were normally resolved through a process of debate in which the members of the high party councils, meeting in closed session, were free to express their own views and oppose those of others, including Lenin, until the questions were settled by majority vote. To this extent Lenin's legacy in party decision making is correctly expressed in the Soviet phrase 'collective leadership.'(3)

Dictatorship by party, in Tucker's view---not dictatorship by a single person. Conclusion:

The upshot is that an anomalous situation existed in the party-state at the turn of the decade.(4)

It should go without saying that in order for an anomalous situation to come about, the previous situation must be DIFFERENT.

None of this is an attempt to deny that the Communist Party, under Lenin's leadership, did not centralize the state unduly. Of course it did, and history has condemned that as the great failing of the Bolsheviks. The precipitating factors for this tragic development, of course, were an under development of industry and an overdevelopment of peasant proprietorship in Russia---all acerbated by the general miscalculation made by the Bolsheviks regarding the likelihood of other communist revolutions occurring in Europe (especially in the industrially developed nations) in the wake of World War One's material and political instability.

(Let us acknowledge that the earliest capitalist forms of state were every bit as harsh and autocratic as Stalinist Russia---owing, in part, to the commensurate scarcity inherited from the undeveloped productive forces of society at that time.)

All this said, it would be a mistake to characterize Leninism with Stalinism. The latter was SIGNIFICANTLY different. The latter was clearly un-Marxist (consider the material and social stratification of Soviet society after Lenin and consider the institution of piece wages after Lenin---two features of Stalinist society not dissimilar from capitalist society). And, most importantly, the latter REQUIRED YEARS OF POLICY UPHEAVAL.

There was nothing 'natural' about Stalinism. Indeed, Lenin's final writings pointed toward the need to deal with what he called the 'bureaucratic ulcer' of the Soviet state.(5) Lenin's deeds pointed toward a decentralizing tendency by his opposition to Trotsky on the trade unions (Lenin insisted that they must NOT be subordinated to the party, as Trotsky advocated) as well as initiating a state body (Rabkrin) to oversee instances of bureaucratic abuses.

And, last but not least, Stalin purged the Communist Party of every original Bolshevik. If nothing else, that speaks volumes about ideological discontinuity.



1. Tucker, Stalin in Power: the Revolution from Above, 1928-1941, Norton 1992, p. 120.

2. Ibid., p. 120.

3. Ibid., pp. 120-1, emphasis added.

4. Ibid., p. 127, emphasis added.

5. Lenin, 'Report on the Political Work of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.),' Collected Works volume 32, Progress Publishers 1965, p. 190.

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