“What's the time now in Moscow?” (D. Ćosić in the novel The Sinner) is one of the best metaphors for international Stalinism. The time in Moscow did, indeed, change continually and unforeseeably in rhythm with the super-despot's twists and turns, while all the other communist parties set their own clocks in tune with the Kremlin's (until the Yugoslav communists began, so to say, asking “What's the time now in Belgrade?”).
Stalinism was a somewhat diffuse phenomenon. A long time ago I put forward some conceptual and other distinctions for it, relying on the specific example of the Yugoslav Communist Party (YCP). In the following paper, I will elaborate once more and revisit my earlier observations on the topic.
From the time of their inception, communist parties in Eastern Europe were for almost three decades in opposition, underground, under foreign occupation, and not in power, as was the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The former were able to realize their full Stalinist potential only after assuming total control of the state in their countries. One should also not underestimate the difference between the Stalinism of the YCP during the anti-fascist and civil war, and revolution (1941-45), on the one hand, and the ruling Stalinism in Yugoslavia once that Party assumed power. Furthermore, Stalinism in power was one thing and the Stalinism of the communist parties in Western democracies was another. Parliamentarism lay at one end of the Stalinist spectrum, while totalitarianism was at the opposite one.