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Was Stalin a Communist?

Discussion in 'World History' started by Winner, Sep 26, 2013.

  1. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    I am not joking or trolling this forum with this question.

    I am asking it, because the more I read about how the USSR operated in international politics, and what Stalin views concerning matters of diplomacy and power relations were, it seems to me that Stalin was rather a totalitarian leader; the ideology seems entirely secondary; I'd use the simile of a hypothetical atheist Pope - he doesn't believe in God and knows that most of what the Church teaches is nonsense, but he is more than willing to pretend that he does in order to stay in charge of this enormous power structure.

    So I guess I will ask this way: do you think Stalin really believed in Communism and its cause, or was he simply cynically (or pragmatically) exploiting the ideology as a basis for his own personal power or, more generally, the power of the USSR as a state (if he saw the two as separate)? What arguments do you have for your view?
     
  2. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    If I understand your position correctly, you're asking if Stalin would not have risen, or tried to rise, through the ranks of another political organization were he able to do so, and simply used the communist party as his tool of choice to get to power, because it was there?

    If that is your proposition, then no, I don't agree with it. It seems clear from a very early point, that Djugashvilli was moved to join the Bolshevik faction out of political conviction. He worked for many years in a rather obscure part of the country, doing local organizing and agitation, long before he was recognized by Lenin, or brought into a higher fold of the party. He was not always a leader, but he rose to become one because of his efficacy. He had a penchant for getting things done, and quickly, and Lenin particularly liked him because of his very impoverished origins (although we obviously know that Lenin was not a chauvinist about this quality in people) and in particular, his conviction to the communist cause and to Bolshevism. So unless he was willing to dedicate years of his life to obscure low-level party work as part of his planned meteoric rise to power, and was able to hide from Lenin his non-communist political beliefs, then he must have, at least until the death of Lenin, been a communist.

    A better question would be: was Stalin a good communist? This is a more apt question because, having determined that he was in fact a communist and not simply an opportunist who latched onto whatever would give him power, we can then examine just how closely his behavior, ideas, and policies resembled both communist theory as well as the political realities of Sovnarkom/USSR once it came into being.

    It is my opinion that he was not. A communist is internationalist, anti-chauvinist, and progressive. Stalin was nationalist, chauvinist, and conservative.

    This is not entirely his fault. The Russian Empire was a large agglomeration of nationalities who could not be expected to simply give up their ethnic identities (or at least the political identities tied to and defined by that ethnic identity) in favor of greater human unity, such as communists would generally prefer. This pragmatism is best expressed in Marxism and the National Question, which I don't regard as being particularly Marxist, but nonetheless useful for the Bolsheviks in coming up with a coherent policy regarding the several dozen ethnicities under their rule. Had the USSR and Stalin come to be in the US or Great Britain instead of Eastern Europe, where the ethnic national problem is not so acute, then he probably would have never written that book, and probably not needed to.

    He was chauvinist not merely in the classic sense, that is, in his dealings with and regards for The Fairer Sex, but also in his attitude toward other countries and ethnicities. Stalin clearly thought of himself as better than women - he abused both his wives, and was very crude when he disagreed with other women like Nadezhda Krupskaya, Alexandra Kollontai, and later Ana Pauker - but he also saw Russia, and Great Russians, as being at the top of the socialist totem pole. It was Russia who had conquered Capital, and was leading the way forward to socialism, and all must follow Russia's lead. And within Russia, it was the Russian language which took precedent over all others, and ethnic Russians who benefited the most from his policies. During the Leninist period, the attitude was one of brotherly leadership, that the Russians were the most developed of the peoples in the former Empire, and so they had a duty to help the more backwards areas and peoples, like the Uzbeks and Turkmen, for example, to come up to speed with where they were. It was not intended to be a lasting hierarchy, but rather the extending of a hand downward to lift the others up. This part of Stalin's personality is best manifested in his dealings with Eastern and Central Europe post-war, where the idea of separate paths to socialism was almost fully disregarded, as much as the Soviets could get away with doing. However, one can see this policy at work also in the dealings with communist parties throughout the interwar period. The Twenty-One Conditions were created to allow a common ground of understanding for the coordination of communist parties in what was then still believed to be an immediately imminent world revolution. This was the guiding principle of the Third International, and perhaps understandably so. But Stalin took it a step further, with the so-called Third Period, when moderate leftists became the principal enemy to be combated. The Twenty-One Conditions never disallowed the existence of other leftist parties who did not adhere to the Conditions, it simply did not allow them membership in the Third International. But Stalin turned this on its head and disallowed cooperation with any leftist party not a member of the International; indeed, slandering them as non-communists and "social fascists." To him, the only communists were ones who took their direction and emulation from Moscow, from the Russians, who had crafted the only correct way to fight capitalism as well as to build socialism. This is chauvinism at its finest. And it is not in line with the attitudes of most other Bolsheviks, including Lenin, who defended the Russian Revolution precisely on the principle that Stalin decried: the Russian situation was unique, and the Russian (here meaning residents of the Russian Empire) proletariat would find its own way to socialism, such that Germans like Luxemburg and Kautsky could not rightly criticize their path, for they failed to understand the necessities and realities of the Russian Situation.

    And finally, he was conservative, because of his retrograde social policies. This goes hand-in-hand with the above about chauvinism, but extends to other things as well, like the resurgence of the family unit, an attitude which was later mirrored in the 1950s United States, which held up high the atomic family as the foundation upon which the whole of society must be constructed. It should be apparent to any reader of Marxist literature that the family is a consequence of private property, and that its dissolution was as much sought by socialists as it was concurrently caused by capitalist social relations already. In the first decade of communist rule in Russia, this was the trend. Even if it wasn't very widespread, the foundational thought for the movement was being laid, with Kollontai as its standard-bearer. But with Kollontai's fall from grace and shipment overseas (she was given lots of diplomatic posts like ambassadorships, such that she became unable to exert any influence in the Zhenotdel (Women's Department) in the USSR. Stalin's statements about the highest importance of the family came in the early 1930s, when the USSR was deep into the process of industrializing itself, that is, rushing itself through the capitalist stage of capital accumulation, and while I cannot speculate on the causes of that retrograde action, I can nonetheless point to its contrary nature to what came before, and what communist thought on the subject was. Similar retrograde social polices came through, including a banning on abortions and birth-control and a near-banning on divorces, although the former can be explained by the great need for manpower in the Soviet Union, again a symptom of pragmatism rather than conservatism, but nonetheless a conservative force. The relationship between woman and her rights exists independent of its causes.

    So to conclude, I think it is apparent that Stalin was a communist and not simply an opportunist, and that throughout his career he was guided, although very often in a jaundiced way and to varying degrees, by those principles. However, this jaundice does not make him a particularly good communist, either. And as indicated, this may not be entirely his fault. We are, after all, all products of our environments, and Stalin throughout his life showed a loyalty to many of the Georgian social norms he would have been raised around, which can in some ways explain parts of the above, although certainly not all.
     
  3. red_elk

    red_elk Warlord

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    I think this is more like a general trend, any politic becoming a country leader has to employ much less idealistic and more pragmatic policies. Stalin's foreign policies were mostly a reaction to geopolitical situation in the world. At first, Bolsheviks counted on world revolution as an outcome of October Revolution in Russia, but later in 30-s, Stalin switched to "Socialism in one country" approach, intended to secure and strengthen first socialist state. This might be not fully compatible with internationalist ideology, but was perceived as a necessary measure at that time.
     
  4. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    Deducing inner motivations of such a political animal as Stalin can be quite difficult and speculative. He probably thought that increasing the power of USSR as a state and his personal power is the best way to advance the cause of Communism. Thus, he could rationalize that everyone who opposed him is a traitor to the USSR by definition. Even if Stalin himself was a complete sociopath, the Soviet elite in general definitely thought that way.

    Also notable that Stalin's post-war years saw a further degradation of his politics and, according to some observers, personality as well.
     
  5. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    Well, I am wondering how much of the Communist ideology really remained by the time he became the undisputed leader of the USSR. Even if he had started off as a convinced Communist, it seems to me that the higher he got, the less he cared about ideology.

    But I am really not very well informed about this, so I asked for the opinion of others.

    I am contrasting Stalin with the personality of Hitler, who had remained a perfectly ideological Nazi to the very end. Perhaps if he had been more cynical, as well as ruthless, Stalin would have found his match...
     
  6. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    Marx "call[ed] communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things", so from that perspective it isn't particularly relevant whether Stalin was absolutely cynical or absolutely committed. A point to consider.
     
  7. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    Hitler was more than willing to forgo certain ideological viewpoints when it suited his purposes. Less so than was smart, incidentally, but he was capable of putting his ideology aside when he felt it necessary, either to acheive a 'higher' goal, such as when he allowed half-Jews to compete for Germany in the 1936 Olympics, or to increase his own power, as during his internecine battles with the Strassers.
     
  8. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    Well, this guy argues that he lost the war exactly because he *couldn't* put his ideology aside at crucial points in WW2. If he had put it aside, he might have won it. I tend to agree. Stalin, on the other hand, was perfectly capable of ignoring ideology (co-opting of the Orthodox Church, appeals to Russian nationalism, etc.) when he needed to in order to survive. This is partly why I am asking whether he even really believed in this stuff by the time he reached the top of the Soviet hierarchy.


    Link to video.
     
  9. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    It isn't a sign of lack of belief that one deviates from strict adherence to the tenets of that belief, unless the nature of those beliefs is absolute.
     
  10. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Perhaps. But Hitler also made decisions motivated by ideology that a) went against the recommendations of most of his generals and b) ended up being correct anyway. The ultimate, but by no means sole, example of this is his "stand fast" order after the Moscow campaign in 1941. Had Hitler followed along with the General Staff and let ideological concerns pass, at the very least the Wehrmacht would have yielded crucial territory for no reason and probably lost unnecessary casualties in a retreat. And it could very easily have gotten much worse, snowballing into a total Napoleonic disaster.

    The focus on Hitler and Hitler's decisions is largely an artifact of German commanders' attempts to whitewash their own errors and the institutional errors of the German military after the war. Men like Manstein chose to blame Hitler for failing to allow the Wehrmacht to fulfill its true potential - and in so doing, they did their best to separate Army from Party, arguing that Germany's soldiers were largely disinterested servants of the state and the nation, not Hitler's stooges and not willing participants in the Holocaust. This portrayal is, to put it lightly, badly skewed and nauseatingly self-serving.

    This isn't to say that Hitler didn't make military mistakes; of course he did. So did everybody else in the German military, in more or less equal measure. It's not unreasonable to argue that Hitler's strategic errors more or less balanced out with his successes.
     
  11. Tahuti

    Tahuti Writing Deity

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    Hitler's biggest missed chance was not invading Turkey, prior to the Soviet campaign and then immediately move on to conquer Soviet Azerbaijan and close the African theatre.
     
  12. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    Lolwut? How in the name of all that is holy is that supposed to have worked?

    "Hey, Stalin, I'm invading Turkey and effectively encircling you by establishing my dominance in the Zone of the Straights! Just don't lift a finger to stop me until I establish effective control over a decent mid-range military power, thus giving me the ability to cut you off from the Mediterranean and launch strikes directly at your Caucasian territories, okay!"
     
  13. red_elk

    red_elk Warlord

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    Could be an interesting turn of events, with both Turkey and USSR joining Allies in 1940 or 1941.
     
  14. Domen

    Domen Misico dux Vandalorum

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    I tend to agree as well.

    Without his ideology, he would have had a much greater support among the Soviet population, who considered Stalin as their main oppressor until 1941.

    It also seems, that the material effort to organize the Nazi death machine cost more than the actual profits from extermination.
     
  15. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    It would be nice to see Nazi Germany collapse far faster than in OTL. It might be unwise, however, to have the USSR penetrate Europe without having the US onboard to counterbalance it.
     
  16. Domen

    Domen Misico dux Vandalorum

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    That would have been possible in 1938, if France, Britain and Poland all stood united with Czechoslovakia.
     
  17. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    That is probably the biggest Nazi mistake in the war (aside from invading the USSR, I mean). If the German capitalized on the anti-communist feelings in the western soviet republics, they might have got millions of willing collaborators eager to destroy the Soviet regime, instead of millions of partisans plaguing the German army's rear areas.

    What profits were there in extermination? And please don't say "soap" or something disgusting like that. A far more profitable "solution" to the (non-existing) Jewish problem would have been to have them perform forced labour in factories or agriculture, instead of spending huge amounts of resources on their (entirely unnecessary) extermination. And they continued in this lunacy up until the very end of the war.

    Now imagine Stalin had stuck to the ideology so closely in his pursuit of the war; the Soviets would have lost.
     
  18. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    Don't forget the British have to not lift a finger too. Because nothing sounds more fun than invading across the Adriatic without control of the sea or air.
     
  19. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    And the Free French, the Iranians, and, depending on the time of the invasion, the Greeks. It's a ridiculous premise.
     
  20. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    I still totally did it all the time in Hearts of Iron. Especially as Italy.
     

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