The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin: A Study in Twentieth-Century Revolutionary Patriotism

The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin: A Study in Twentieth-Century Revolutionary Patriotism

The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin: A Study in Twentieth-Century Revolutionary Patriotism

The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin: A Study in Twentieth-Century Revolutionary Patriotism

Synopsis

This book presents a comprehensive analysis of the political thought of Joseph Stalin. Making full use of the documentation that has recently become available, including Stalin's private library with his handwritten margin notes, the book provides many insights on Stalin, and also on western and Russian Marxist intellectual traditions. Overall, the book argues that Stalin's political thought is not primarily indebted to the Russian autocratic tradition, but belongs to a tradition of revolutionary patriotism that stretches back through revolutionary Marxism to Jacobin thought in the French Revolution. It makes interesting comparisons between Stalin, Lenin, Bukharin and Trotsky, and explains a great deal about the mindset of those brought up in the Stalinist era, and about the era's many key problems, including the industrial revolution from above, socialist cultural policy, Soviet treatment of nationalities, pre-war and Cold War foreign policy, and the purges.

Excerpt

To write a book about Stalin’s political thought is a risky project. During the many years when I was occupied with it I was routinely treated to the ironic question: “Did he, then, have any political thought at all?” Decades after his leader’s death, Lazar Kaganovich said: “before anything else, Stalin was an ideological person. For him the idea was the main thing.” But the faithful Kaganovich, one of the Soviet leaders most responsible for the cult of Stalin’s personality, is not exactly an impartial witness. Few would agree with him that his boss had been a man of ideas. To focus a study of Joseph Stalin on his ideas is, therefore, a project of which the very relevance should be more or less shown in advance.

That the Soviet dictator was not a stupid man is generally taken for granted, but that political doctrine was essential for him is open to general doubt to no lesser degree. For most, including the present author, Stalin was above all a criminal and a mass murderer. There are admittedly a small number who still admire the great leader, but even they do not find his ideas his most significant heritage. Their idol was above all a great war leader under whose iron hand the Soviet Union was transformed into a superpower.

Stalin is mostly believed to have been a man of naked power who adapted his ideas at will whenever it suited him. From this perspective, he was a cynic, an opportunist and a shrewd pragmatist - perhaps a tactician of genius - but never a man of principle. To attempt to understand the logic of Stalin’s broader doctrines is therefore not worth the trouble. The effort is allegedly based on a fundamental misunderstanding, namely that Stalin’s thought had some kind of inner logic instead of being an accumulation of ad hoc adaptations. Stalin’s ideas were determined by the interaction of circumstance and his own power hunger rather than being an active element of their own, shaping actual policies. These ideas counted for little if it comes to understanding what actually happened in the USSR between 1928 and 1953, for they were determined by Stalinist reality instead of determining that reality. For example, is it not silly to assume that Stalin put into practice the idea of the kolkhoz because he was attracted to the idea of the socialist mode of production? Was his real point not rather to exercise better control over the peasantry?

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.