From Leninism to Stalinism: A Logical Progression
The question of whether or not Stalinism was a logical continuation of Leninism is a difficult one. Stalinism did take significantly more drastic measures than Leninism did. There were differences in policy.
But in spite of these, Stalinism still found its basis in Leninism. Even Trotsky, a friend of Lenin and a staunch opponent of Stalin, grudgingly admits that “Stalinism did issue from Bolshevism” (Trotsky). Stalin’s policy of socialism in one country, his use of terror to eliminate opposition, and his suppression of democracy and the soviets were all characteristics of Lenin well before they were characteristic of Stalin.
Although some of Stalin’s policies were different from those of Lenin, what difference Stalinism did show from Leninism were either policies which Lenin had called for but never put into action, or logical continuations of Lenin’s original principles, but modified to suit the demands of the time. One of Stalin’s main focuses was on the concept of “socialism in one country” – that is, the focus on the betterment exclusively of his own country rather than on the international communist revolution. “Socialism in one country” began with Lenin.
In 1918 Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Livtosk, which pulled Russia out of WW1 and surrendered much of the Ukraine to Austria-Hungarian forces (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). At this time, there was a revolutionary movement in the Ukraine composed of peasants and workers known as the Makhnovist movement. This group needed only the support of Lenin and Russia to launch their own socialist revolution. However, they were not given this support (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). Clearly, Lenin’s focus was on the well-being of Russia rather than the International Communist Movement.
He was focused on Socialism in One Country. Lenin’s actions, compromising his political ideals for the sake of peace, would later be echoed by Stalin when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler on August 23, 1939. In addition to a focus on socialism only within his own country, Stalin also focused on a concentration of governmental control of industry and agriculture. This policy, originated by Lenin under the moniker of state capitalism, was a clearly established goal of Leninism well before Stalin implemented it.
Lenin said that “Socialism isnothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people” (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). It is clear that his idea of socialism was one of governmental economic control. Moreover, Lenin fully intended for this plan to be implemented. He said that “If we introduced state capitalism in approximately 6 months’ time we would achieve a great success” (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). As the government gained more and more control over the economy, Lenin felt it necessary to defend his actions.
He published an article in April of 1918 in which he stated that “Unquestioning submission to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of the labor process… the revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labor process” (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). In addition to demonstrating the Leninist ideal of state capitalism, it also shows that Lenin viewed absolute governmental authority as necessary, a policy that would be further instituted during the totalitarian rule of Stalin.
One aspect of Lenin’s state capitalism was the forced collectivization of agriculture. In article six of his “April Theses,” Lenin called for “Nationalization of all lands in the country, and management of such lands by local Soviets of Agricultural Laborers’ and Peasants’ Deputies” (Russian History 1905-30″). In 1929, when Stalin forced collectivization onto the agricultural workers, he was simply putting Lenin’s concepts into action. Lenin had had the original idea, and had felt it was a necessary action, but he had been unable to put his plan fully into effect.
Stalin was able to take a previously incompletely implemented Leninist policy and put it into action. In their attempts to bring the workers under governmental control, Leninists were willing to take drastic action. In May of 1918, a new decree stated that only one third of industrial management personnel could be elected, the rest being appointed to their positions. In April of 1920, Trotsky stated that “Deserters from labor ought to be formed into punitive battalions or put into concentration camps” (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”).
Arguments have been raised which state that Lenin’s New Economic Policy is a demonstration of the fact that Leninism’s goal was not one of total governmental control. However, the New Economic Policy was only instituted by Lenin when it became absolutely necessary for the survival of Russia, and even then it was only intended to be a temporary measure before returning to state capitalism. Despite the temporary nature of the New Economic Policy, it was still viewed by many leading members of the Communist party as being too drastic a departure from Leninist doctrine.
When Stalin abandoned the New Economic Policy, he was not abandoning a part of Leninism. Rather, he was banning a policy that even Lenin himself had not intended to be permanent, and that many people viewed as being a policy contrary to the aims of Leninism (Wood, p. 23-26). Stalin was also characterized by his strong suppression of opposition, which is once again a Leninist trait. A decree of the Sovnarkom on December 20, 1917 called for the creation of a commission “to persecute and break up all acts of counter-revolution and sabotage all over Russia, no matter what their origin” (“Russian History 1905-30”).
The decree further read that “measures [to be taken against these counter-revolutionaries are] confiscation, confinement, deprivation of [food] cards, publication of the names of the enemies of the people, etc” (“Russian History 1905-30”). While these actions were admittedly not as drastic as Stalin’s, they do represent a strong, forceful suppression of opposition. In addition, Stalin was in power after these measures had already proven futile. Given the ineffectiveness of these methods, a logical continuation of these policies would have been to increase the severity of the suppression.
In addition, other actions taken by Leninism were far more drastic. In a Cheka raid in Moscow in April 1918, 26 Anarchist centers were raided, killing or injuring 40 Anarchists and imprisoning over 500 more (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). Another feature common to both Stalin and Lenin was their attempts to eliminate any democratic or representative forms of government. This too was a continuation of a long-standing Leninist policy well before Stalin was in power.
Starting in 1918, in elections for factory committees, an approved list of candidates was created beforehand, and voting was done by a show of hands while a member of the Communist cell read the names and armed Communist guards watched on. Voicing opposition to the proposed candidates would result in wage cuts (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). Lenin’s suppressions were not limited to non-communists. As Stalin would later do, Lenin also worked to eliminate any possible sources of dissention within the Communist party.
In 1918 there was a faction within the party that was critical of the new policy of Taylorism, a system used to measure the outputs of the workers in the country. This faction was centered around the journal Kommunist. At a Leningrad party conference, the majority supported Lenin’s demand “that the adherents of Kommunist cease their separate organizational existence” (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). Three years later, the 1921 party congress issued a ban on all factions within the Communist party.
Speaking regarding one of these factions, the Workers Opposition, Trotsky said they had “placed the workers right to elect representatives above the party. As if the party were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship temporarily clashed with the passing moods of the workers democracy” (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). We can see the dark motivations behind Leninism’s banning of factions: to keep the democracy from interfering with the dictatorship. Well before Stalin was using his power to eliminate any who might oppose him, Lenin was carefully and thoroughly removing the opponents to his power.
In the trade union congress of April 1920, Lenin stated that in 1918 he had “pointed out the necessity of recognizing the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the purpose of carrying out the soviet idea” (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). This concept of a single absolute ruler that Lenin felt was so necessary was to become one of the points for which Stalin was later criticized. In setting himself up as an absolute dictator, Stalin was merely following what Lenin had said was necessary. Another aspect of Stalin’s suppression of opposition was his violent suppression of workers revolts and the soviets.
Stalinism crushed revolts in East Berlin in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, as well as many other, smaller revolts (“How Lenin Led to Stalin”). This policy would seem to contradict the Leninist ideal, in which the government was built for the workers, and a revolt of the workers would have been something that occurred only as a step towards a communist society. However, we can find this policy originating from Leninism. The Leninist government itself often showed strong opposition to attempts made by the workers to increase their power.
The first All-Russian Congress of Soviets, held in June of 1917, stated that giving full power to the soviets would have “greatly weakened and threatened the revolution” (“Russian History 1905-30”). In 1921, at the Kronstadt naval base, workers attempted to elect a soviet. They also issued a declaration which called for the reestablishment of the democratic soviets, and an end to censorship of speech and press. These actions were supported by the workers, the sailors, and many members of the Bolshevik party.
However, official Leninist forces stormed the base, killing many of the rebels who were unable to escape. Leninism had demonstrated that it was opposed to a representative government designed with the wants of the workers in mind. All of the defining policies of Stalinism were either policies that had originally being instituted by Leninism, policies called for by Leninism but not put into action until Stalinism, or else Leninist policies modified to fit the needs of the situation. Stalinism was a logical continuation of Leninism.