Stalinism: Inheritance and Legacy
In the aftermath of a natural catastrophe men characteristically raise metaphysical questions, seeking to account for God's way with man. The Great Terror, a catastrophe of the magnitude of the bubonic plague, was a wholly man-made catastrophe. Inevitably it raises political questions concerning both the relationship between the individual and the collective and the relative influence of leaders and cultural movements on the course of history. What made the Great Terror so diabolical was not simply that it was engineered by a cruel despot but that it was executed by an efficient bureaucracy. The merging of ruthless coercion with routine bureaucracy is the framework through which this period of Soviet history will be explored. Differentiating Stalin from Stalinism is a difficult but useful approach.
Was the suffering inflicted on the Soviet people mainly a result of the particular personality of Josef Stalin, or was he himself swept on by a more powerful movement of forces? Was Stalinism inevitable, or at least normative, given the nature of Bolshevism or even Marxism? Or, given the lofty idealism of the founding revolutionaries, did Stalin constitute a complete abrogation of communism? In the words of Seweryn Bialer, "did Stalin create an 'ism'?," was he the "passive agent of inexorable tendencies unleashed by the October Revolution of 1917 or the creator of a separate tradition?" 1 Many historians contend that Stalinism cannot be understood as a whole; rather, its various aspects must be approached separately. This chapter will present some of the theories on the origins and nature of Stalinism. While these approaches seek to trace the roots of Stalinism,