Read this article to learn about Concept of Stalinism and De-Stalinisation in Contemporary Marxism!
What is Stalinism?
The term Stalinism is associated with Joseph Stalin’s name. Stalin was born on 21 December 1879 and died on 5 March 1953. It is said that Stalin died of an apoplectic stroke. The Stalinism generally refers “to the nature of regime which existed in the former Soviet Union under Stalin from the late 1920s, when he achieved supreme power, to his death in 1953”.
The term Stalinism was not officially used in Soviet Russia during the period 1920s to 1953 (when he died). Again, the Russian leaders did not use it at official level. It is, however, used in a pejorative sense to denote dictatorial, arbitrary, repressive manner of state administration.
Stalinism also means extreme form of in-toleration to opposite views. In a word, Stalinism was the embodiment of all sorts of absolute power, cruelty to opposition. It represents all sorts of in-toleration and accumulation all types of power in a single hand or single centre.
It is said that the concentration of all forms of power in a single centre or single man took place during the dictatorial regime of Stalin. But Stalin was not alone responsible for this. Extreme form of dictatorship was the brainchild of Stalin. But several others were closely associated with him. They were Stalin’s sycophants. With their direct help Stalin established cruel dictatorial rule in Russia.
In Russia Lenin established Bolshevik rule and later on it came to be known as Bolshevism. After Stalin ascended to power in the late 1920s he applied Bolshevism and forcefully introduced rapid industrialisation, socialism in one country, centralisation of power in a particular centre particularly state apparatus, the collectivisation of agriculture, the subordination of all communist parties to Moscow or Soviet or Russian Communist Party.
Stalinism also refers to Soviet Union as the political expression of the working class of the world. Stalinism also refers to ruthlessness, no recognition of honesty and morality, a personality cult. In the early years of his rule (1929-1933) Stalin propagated a theory which is known as “revolution from above”. By this doctrine Stalin introduced two principles one was collectivisation of agriculture. It means that there shall be no personal holding in agriculture.
All the agricultural land will come under collective farming and no individual person will be allowed to hold agriculture land. The collectivisation of land brought lot of misery and resentment to the individual peasants and small holders of land. But the dictatorship of Stalin did not allow the resentment to persist. This is another aspect of Stalinism.
Collectivisation of agriculture is regarded by many as the black spot of Bolshevik rule.
Another aspect of “revolution from above” is excessive emphasis on heavy industries.
Stalin’s view in this regard was Soviet Russia was surrounded by capitalist countries and they were making preparation for an onslaught against Russia, and he must make preparations to fight it away. For that purpose Russia must be self-depended in war weapons and heavy industry can enable her to be self-sufficient in the manufacture of war weapons.
Stalin was fully convinced that his policy or doctrine “revolution from above” could never be implemented without “extreme centralisation of power”.
This is Stalinism. In order to establish his absolute authority in all spheres of Russian society Stalin resorted to all forms of suppression of dissent in any form such as criticism or mere expression of different opinion.
The state administration particularly the bureaucracy the communist party all were made subservient to his will. The communist parties of other foreign countries were bluntly asked to be fully loyal to Moscow and loyalty to Moscow meant to be loyal to Stalin. In every respect Stalin’s word was final. Stalin’s policy meant arbitrary rule or decision. This is Stalinism. All foreign affairs were directed and dictated by Stalin.
Many old Bolsheviks (who were dissenters) were cruelly murdered or exterminated by his order. He was determined to clear his administration free of thorns or dissenters. In fact, he created a “Great Terror”. Stalinism was another name of annihilation of dissenters and rule of the country through terror.
A unique feature of Stalinism is Stalin created a strong “power elite”. Into this category or sector administrative, scientific, culture persons were included. Intellectuals were favoured by Stalin, but they had to pay a high price. These persons had no freedom. The first and most important condition of service was to support every decision or policy of Stalin.
There was every possibility of being arrested on any moment and even being exterminated. This is not a false allegation. A large number of intellectuals were brutally treated or murdered.
“No regime in history has cast down with such murderous ferocity so many of those whom it had previously raised”.
There was a time when Stalinism, murder, suppression of political dissension and ferocity all were put in the same group. It is also to be noted here that arbitrariness in administration was synonymous With Stalinism. Stalinism and democracy were opposite to each other. What Stalin thought was final and he did not hesitate to do it.
There was none to oppose him. But, however, Stalin in the thirties of the last century achieved marvellous success in economic, social and other sectors. It was Stalinism that raised the status of Russia to the rank of super-power as comparable with United States.
Is it true that Stalinism had only negative aspects? Definitely not. From the thirties to the end of the Second World War (1945) Stalinism could be viewed as symbol of success.
Soviet Russia was surrounded by a number of states who did not like Marxism or socialism. Not only this, these states made all sorts of efforts to destroy both Soviet Russia and, simultaneously, Marxian socialism. It was Stalinism that fought against these enemies and, needless to say, Stalinism attained partial success.
In the thirties and forties of the last century Stalinism gave “unconditional” support and helps too many communist parties of Asia and Africa and also the national liberation movements of these two continents. It was Stalinism that exacerbated the conflict between national liberation on the one hand and imperialism and colonialism on the other.
Today we, the people of the Third World states, are very much vocal against imperialism and colonialism, but simultaneously we must remember that for our stand in this field certain amount of credit must be given to Stalin or Stalinism.
If Soviet Russia were not a party of Allied powers in the Second World War, it would be difficult (if not impossible) for the Allied powers to defeat the Axis Powers (Whose members were Germany, Italy and Japan).
Again, there was a black spot on Stalinism when Stalin entered into a nonaggression pact with Germany in 1939. But Hitler’s attack against Moscow in June 1941 forced Stalin to be a part of Allied Powers and this step of Stalin practically changed the political and military picture of the Second World War. Twenty million Russians sacrificed their lives in the war.
Again, it was Stalinism that ensured special status for the East European states. Stalin fought a hard battle for the special status of Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. Stalinism was responsible for the division of Germany.
Meaning and Origin:
Joseph Stalin, the uncrowned king of communist Russia, or the generalissimo, died of stroke on 5 March 1953 and it is believed that De-Stalinisation starts after his death. De- Stalinisation literally means to oppose or obliterate the mischiefs of Stalin.
After his death in 1953 Nikita Khrushchev announced to the communist party of Soviet Union (or CPSU) that “the master of science and learning the supreme military genius, and altogether the greatest genius in history was in reality a paranoiac torturer, a mass murderer and a military ignoramus who had brought the Soviet Union to the verge of disaster”.
So we can reasonably hold that the term de-Stalinisation starts after the death of Stalin and the credit of coining the word should better go to Nikita Khrushchev. He was of opinion that the desideratum was to denounce the misdeeds of Stalin because these were the primary cause of his unpopularity and no one of Russia had the courage to oppose Stalin. Because any opposition to Stalin would be followed by unspeakable torture or even annihilation.
De-Stalinisation was never officially used by CFSU or the communist parties of other countries, though the word Stalinism was used at random. Officially the de-Stalinisation was used to denote correction of errors and distortions; to obliterate or overcome the cult of personality or popularly used personality cult that was forcefully introduced by Stalin.
It was also meant that the CPSU wanted to return to the Leninist era of party, politics and state administration.
Defining Stalinism Kolakowski says:
“Stalinism had been a series of regrettable errors committed by the irresponsible Generalissimo but had nothing to do with the system itself”.
Hence de-Stalinisation means the removal or correction of the mischiefs perpetrated by Stalin. Stalin fully controlled the Soviet system and guided it according to his sweet will. The interesting fact is that generally he did not criticise Lenin or Marx. Rather, he announced at the top of his voice that he was the truest follower of Lenin and Marx.
The proof at hand is The Problems of Leninism. Stalin created an image of his own as well as a system of Soviet administration to suit his own design.
In every matter such as administration, party or foreign relation Stalin’s decision was final. Not only this any opposition to his view or decision was dealt with maximum cruelty. Humanism, kindness etc. were not written in his dictionary.
History of Soviet Union or of the CPSU says that the process of de-Stalinisation started with the Twentieth Congress of CPSU in February 1956. The Twentieth Party Congress was a closed session. Though it was open to foreign delegates the decision of the Congress was not known to the outside world.
The key person of the Congress was Nikita the Khrushchev and it is believed that the process of de-Stalinisation was practically introduced by him with the introduction of a single phrase the removal of “personality cult”. Stalin was denounced or criticised by majority of the CPSU but the chief spokesperson was Khrushchev.
Although the contents of the CPSU were not known to the outside world, it is believed that at the Twentieth Party Congress he placed a detailed account of various misdeeds done by Stalin. The misdeeds are classified as crimes and paranoiac delusions/the torture, persecutions and murder of party officials.
In the judgment of Khrushchev, Stalin was mainly a criminal. Naturally any sympathy to him did not arise at all. He was openly denounced by Khrushchev and large number of party leaders followed him. Stalin was pointed as a blood-thirsty paranoiac. Khrushchev did not show any sympathy or respect to Stalin.
It is said that the misdeeds of Stalin were never a secret matter, they were known to the Western world. Even a sizeable section of the Soviet Party and communist parties of East European states were acquainted with those. But none had the courage to oppose them.
The central idea of de-Stalinisation is that his successors did not change everything that he introduced, but they put an end to all terror and repression. So we find that there are few aspects of de-Stalinisation.
Some of these are: the terror tactics of Stalin were discontinued. The concentration of power in a single centre was stopped. Collective leadership was introduced.
In Stalin’s time Moscow was the centre of international communist movement. The communist party of every country was forced to show loyalty to the CPSU. But de-Stalinisation does not mean to put an end to everything that Stalin introduced. He built up a system or state structure and his successors did not do way with it.
The chief objective of Stalin was to raise the status of Soviet Russia to the rank of superpower equal to the status of the United States. It is interesting that his successors continued it. Notwithstanding the numerous mischiefs done by Stalin, it may safely be said that the credit of erecting Soviet Russia as a superpower should go to him.