Stalin, Josef

Stalin, Josef
(Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili)
   Born in Gori, Georgia, Josef Stalin was a Bolshevik revolutionary, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the second leader of the Soviet Union. His career spanned a tumultuous period in Russian and European history, and witnessed the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union, ultimate victory in World War II, and the exile or elimination of millions of people deemed opponents.
   Stalin’s political career began in 1898 when he joined the Russian Social Democratic Party, a decision that hastened his exit one year later from the Gori seminary where he had been studying Russian Orthodox Christianity. By 1903 he had joined the Bolsheviks, and soon began carrying out underground work for the banned party, the consequence of which was several periods of imprisonment and exile between 1902 and 1917. In 1911 he helped found the Bolshevik Party’s Pravda newspaper, and in 1912 he was co-opted to the party’s Central Committee. Although he played only a minor part in the 1917 Russian Revolution, Stalin, serving as people’s commissar for nationalities, was embroiled in military matters on a number of fronts in the Russian Civil War following the revolution, and subsequently made a member in 1919 of the inaugural Politburo. Having filled numerous bureaucratic party posts, with Vladimir Ilich Lenin ill, Stalin was appointed general secretary of the ruling CPSU in 1922, and used the wide-ranging organizational powers this position granted him to grasp firm control of the party organs and consolidate his power. Stalin’s hand was further strengthened in 1924 when he replaced Lenin as chairman of the Politburo, and suppressed the disclosure of the dead leader’s testament expressing grave doubts over his (Stalin’s) motives. Lenin ordered that, on his death, the presidency of the Soviet Union and the CPSU should pass to a collective leadership comprising key members of the party. However, the wily Stalin out-maneuvered those around him set to share power, with Lev Kamenev, Grigori Zinoviev, Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, and Sergei Kirov all sidelined by exile or worse. By 1928 Stalin’s position as sole leader of party and state was unassailable, and any doubts as to the security of his position were terminally extinguished with the advent of the purges in the latter half of the 1930s.
   Having developed such a rigorous hold on the CPSU, Stalin set about creating a command economy to expand his control over the Soviet Union. The “New Economic Policy” of the revolution was supplanted in 1928 with the first of Stalin’s “Five Year Plans.” The Five Year Plans aimed to bring about rapid industrialization through state guidance and heralded the collectivization of agriculture, justified by the Marxian concept of putting an end to the primitive accumulation of wealth. One result of this policy was repression, with kulaks (rich peasants) often sent to labor camps for “resisting.” Stalin constantly used repressive methods to sideline those he perceived as a threat to his position and program in this manner. He instigated the purges, using assassination, expulsion, and the infamous show trials of 1936–1938, in order to eliminate the bulk of the original Bolshevik Central Committee, and other governmental and military rivals. The leader molded ideology to justify such repression, suggesting in 1928 that maturing Soviet communism, in its intensification of the class struggle, had made party violence necessary, thus allowing the crushing of the Left Opposition and kulak peasants. Stalin created a cult of personality, bolstering his public image through intensive propaganda, and employing the Soviet secret police, in its various guises, to maintain dominance of party, state and country.
   Stalin was stunned when, in 1941, Adolf Hitler violated the Nazi–Soviet Nonaggression Pact and ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union. He became commander-in-chief of the military following the invasion, marshal in 1943, and generalissimo in 1945, eventually leading the Soviet Union to victory over Germany on the eastern front. Following the cessation of hostilities, Stalin anticipated that the United States withdrawal from Europe would allow Soviet dominance to prevail. When this hegemony failed to materialize, Stalin was forced to make a tactical shift, and duly went about transforming former satellite states in Central Europe into “buffer states” under the influence of Moscow. The chief result of this was the Cold War. Central to Stalin’s policy was his doctrine of “socialism in one country,” a belief that sat in direct opposition to the internationalism of Trotsky’s “permanent revolution,” and stressed that the construction of socialism was possible in the Soviet Union without socialist revolution elsewhere. The concept provided a theoretical justification for the collectivization of agriculture, the creation of a command economy, and state terror.
   Stalin’s contribution to the canon of Marxist theory is negligible. Absolute power rendered theory dispensable and ideas were only ever used to pursue personal goals. Where he did acknowledge ideology and theory, Stalin was guilty of a crass oversimplification of Marxian concepts, for example in The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik): Short Course (1938), which reduced MarxismLeninism to numbered, simply expressed points intended for memorizing. Elsewhere, he pursued the Leninist doctrine of a robust centralist party based on professional revolutionaries, and mixed appeals to Russian nationalism with a quasi-Marxist class analysis. He departed from Leninism in denying the crucial notion of an imminent “withering away” of the state. For Stalin, state power required enhancing not weakening, as the enemies of the Soviet Union would grow increasingly desperate as the battle for socialism intensified. A strong state was to be the only antidote to capitalist encirclement, and its “withering away” could only occur once all enemies had been safely eradicated. Following Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in 1956 at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, a period of de-Stalinization began. In 1961 his embalmed body was removed from Lenin’s mausoleum and relocated in a plain grave adjacent to the walls of the Kremlin, and the long process of outing the truths of the Stalinist regime began.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.