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Andy Walker

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"Did Leninism provide the theoretical basis for Stalinism?" Yes. Some revolutionaries argued that this would happen before the Russian Revolution took place.

When Lenin returned to Russia on 3rd April, 1917, he announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked those Bolsheviks who had supported the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories.



Julius Martov and most of the Mensheviks disagreed. As Marxists they believed that a revolution would only be successful when it had the support of the majority of the population. Stalin and Trotsky had also believed this before 1917 but allowed themselves to be convinced by Lenin’s arguments.



In the elections for the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917, the Socialist Revolutionaries (16,500,000 votes) did much better than the Bolsheviks (9,000,000). Lenin refused to accept the result and closed down the Constituent Assembly and imposed a military dictatorship. This was a system that Stalin inherited on the death of Lenin.


In her book, The Russian Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg explained why Russia would become a military dictatorship. Morgan Philips interviewed Luxemburg in a German prison in 1918


A slight little woman, she showed at once a powerful intellect and a quiet grasp of any given situation. She had heard about me and of the fact that I had taken up a strong stand against the Allied intervention in Russia. She proceeded to question me about the situation in Russia. I told her how the White Counter-Revolution had been beaten on the Volga and thrown back to Siberia, but that Lenin had spoken to me not long before with some apprehension of the possibility of Allied military support for the Russian Whites in South Russia, now that the Dardanelles and Black Sea were open to British and French warships. Then she asked me a question, the significance of which I did not appreciate at the time. She asked me if the Soviets were working entirely satisfactorily. I replied, with some surprise, that of course they were. She looked at me for a moment, and I remember an indication of slight doubt on her face, but she said nothing more. Then we talked about something else and soon after that I left.

Though at the moment when she asked me that question I was a little taken aback, I soon forgot about it. I was still so dedicated to the Russian Revolution, which I had been defending against the Western Allies' war of intervention, that I had had no time for anything else. But a week or two later I began to hear that Rosa Luxemburg differed from Lenin on several matters of revolutionary policy, and especially about the role of the Communist Party in the Workers' and Peasants' Councils, or Soviets. She did not like the Russian Communist Party monopolizing all power in the Soviets and expelling anyone who disagreed with it. She feared that Lenin's policy had brought about, not the dictatorship of the working classes over the middle classes, which she approved of but the dictatorship of the Communist Party over the working classes. The dictatorship of a class - yes, she said, but not the dictatorship of a party over a class. Later, I began to see that Luxemburg had much wisdom in her attitude, though it was not apparent to me at the time. Looking back, it seems that she was not so critical of Lenin's tactics for Russia. She did not want them applied to Germany. Alas, she never lived to use her influence on her colleagues in the Spartakusbund for more than a few weeks after I saw her.

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Leninism also provided the practical basis for Stalin and his policies - the use of terror, the one-party state, propaganda, the stifling of debate in the party, the 'we know best' attitude, all date from Lenin and his time as party leader. Many historians argue that Stalin was driven by the desire to achieve what Lenin had not - a communist revolution - without compromise and without giving in to other sectors of society. Of course some historians argue that Stalin was not a communist, he was a 'great Russian' - an old-fashioned Tsar if you like - who put country - Russia not Georgia - above everything else. Certainly Stalin was no great theoretician, like Marx or Lenin, but the jury is out on his Marxist credentials.

see http://www.burntcakes.com/resources/resource_191_5.html for a revision activity on Stalin and his achievements.

Edited by alf wilkinson

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when looking at the economics policies of the two i believe stalin was more hardline, yet also more realistic. Lenin created the system of huge farms worked by many labourers instead of simply returning land to the people. When planning economicaly in a communist state people tend to think more of what will be good for the economy as a whole and not with regard to standard of life therefore a lot of people were unhappy with lenins agricultural policy which was somewhat realistic, it may improve food output yet this does not necessarily mean that people support it. This just goes to show the purely theoretical basis of economics which does not allow for variables in the market. Stalin was very industrial minded as were most nations in the 30's and 40s. He was largely successful with helping russia catch up with the rest of the world as russia did not have an industrial revolution, they had fallen behind france in coal production and were also trailing in steel. stalin changed this and i dont think that lenins theories were the basis for this turnaround, lenin was more about agriculture and social economics.


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I am not an historian but I think it is worth comparing the internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky with the narrow nationalism of Stalin. Stalinism was both a cause and a consequence of the isolation of the revolution in one country. His betrayal of the revolution in Germany and Spain and his eventual contemptuous dismissal of the Communist International made it more likely that the undemocratic bureaucracy in the USSR would remain in power.

The mere fact that Stalin found it necessary to assassinate, frame up or exile virtually every member of Lenin's central committee should give a little clue that there was some difference between Leninism and Stalinism.

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"Did Leninism provide the theoretical basis for Stalinism?"

Economically it did!

After coming into power a planned economy was one of the main aims. The state aimed at controlling industry and trade rather than implementing outright nationalization. Caution – the industry was allowed to continue functioning – more or less along the old lines provided management was under soviet supervision.

Why? The Bolsheviks disagreed among themselves about which form the new soviet economy was to take and some workers had their own ideas – many of those did not follow the formal Bolshevik ideas… (several workers were not Bolsheviks!)

Through the Land Decree (November 8th 1917) the Bolsheviks acknowledged what had already happened in many areas – the peasants got to take position of the land. Since the Bolsheviks had promised to redistribute the land to the peasants they now faced a new problem. The peasants had just taken position of the land and they now counted on it being their possession! Because of the huge population those plots became tiny and therefore inefficient. The struggle to construct a productive and prosperous agriculture in Soviet without offending the peasants became a continuing and insoluble problem.

In December 1917 it was obvious for Lenin and the Bolsheviks that they needed to progress faster. Lenin formed the ”Supreme Economic Council” (Vesenkha). The Council was established to supervise the economy and to operate nationalized enterprises. This was a first step towards a state controlled economy. During the period April-June the banks, mineral resources, industrial resources were nationalized. The banks, the war industries and full state control over grain trade belonged to these first areas of nationalization. Lenin also annulled all state loans by the earlier regimes – the annullation of all the foreign loans caused some strained foreign relations in the future.

The Civil War (1918-1921) is characterized by extensive nationalization, the temporary abolition of money as a measure of value, equalization of earnings and the direction of labor. This was a period of war, economic chaos, hunger + starvation and enormous hardship.

War Communism is reckoned to have begun at mid-1918 with the ”Decree of Nationalization”, making all large-scale enterprises liable to nationalization without compensation. In the following three years there was wholesale nationalization, grain requisitioning, extreme inflation and the virtual disappearance of a money economy, a chaotic decline of industry, rationing, hunger, and disease, a decline of urban population, a gradual subordination of the unions to the government, and a Civil War which demanded the dispatch of all available human and material assets to the fronts.

To be able to feed the towns during the civil war a large-scale requisitioning of grain on the countryside was necessary. In June different local administrations - the ”Committees of Poor Peasants” were formed. They were going to fulfill the needs of the urban population and the army. To make sure that the food supply was enough a decree of 1919 ordered the peasants to hand over to the State any grain surplus to what was needed for subsistence. In response the peasants simply reduced their production so there was no surplus. By 1921 only about half as much stock was kept and half as much land cultivated as there had been in 1913. Little food arrived in the cities, and the only prospect of a livelihood lay in the countryside. City workers in their thousands simply left and went into the country, to join the thousands of soldiers returning from the wars. The Government continued the confiscation of supplies, sometimes by military (CHEKA) force.

In March 1921, shortly before the Tenth Bolshevik Party Congress opened in Petrograd, the sailors of the Kronstadt naval base outside Petrograd, joined by some of the Red Army, refused to obey their officers and called for a new revolution that gave genuine freedoms - of speech, of assembly, of private trade. Trotsky decided firm action was needed - it took ten days before the rebels gave up. This outburst, together with the peasants active refusal to take part in the grain requisitioning, convinced Lenin of the need for change.

During a few years (1921-1928) a New Economic Policy was introduced which primarily aimed at the peasants in an effort to regain their support and give them an incentive to produce more. Therefore

1. The requisitioning of surplus grain was ended and instead an agricultural tax introduced, to be paid in kind until 1923 and thereafter in cash. The amount to be paid was a fixed proportion of the surplus, hence the more that was produced, the greater the peasants share of his own surplus. In addition, this surplus could be privately traded and the peasant could by machinery, hire labor…

The ”New Economic Policy” (NEP) was not restricted to agriculture.

2. Industry and trade were restored in part to private enterprise, although the types of works and businesses in private hands tended to be small and local. The State retained control of what Lenin called ”the commanding heights” - heavy industry, the transport system, foreign trade and banking.

The third thing that needed to be restored was the

3. Currency. Lenin reconstituted the rouble and backed it up with gold, silver and foreign currency.

By returning to a private trade system the immediate problems were solved but at some time a fundamental reorganization would be needed. Soviet saw a considerable recovery in living standards and production levels. By 1926 in most production areas the economy had regained the 1913 output level. The NEP environment with its combination of market and planning had worked quite well, the peasants and the entrepreneurs had gained from it, but most other sectors of the economy were under fairly strict state control, so that the town worker could still be ordered where to go, and how much he could be paid and so forth, while the entrepreneurs and his country colleagues were free to produce as they liked. This paradox was unsatisfactory, not only on economic but also ideological grounds.

It was Stalin that in 1928 took a big step back towards the original idea of a planned economy;

In December 1927, the 15th party Congress ordered ”Gosplan” (the State Planning Commission - founded in 1921 to set up a single economic plan for the whole country) to draw up a five-year plan for development of the whole economy. All sectors within the Soviet economy were approaching a drastic change. The NEP economy was over. Stalin approved;

1. The Collectivization of Agriculture. The Congress ordered this transformation of agriculture and the destruction of the wealthy peasant class, the ”kulaks”. However, 1928 proved that a mild approach was inadequate. The quantities of grain reaching the towns was lower than ever (partly because of the low prices, fixed by the government). By the summer of 1929 Stalin had decided on a policy of compulsion, both in the destruction of the kulaks and in the creation of the collectives. ”We have passed”, he said in December, ”from a policy of confining the exploiting tendencies of the kulaks to a policy of liquidation of the kulaks as a class.” The winter of 1929-1930 was the worst period of forced collectivization. By March 1930 over half the peasant farms had been brought into collectives, from a mere 4% in October 1929. 25 000 Party officials, sometimes aided by police and army, did most of the work themselves, simply ordering the kulaks to comply. When they refused, the poorer farmers were ”encouraged” to seize the land, animals and equipment. To avoid this, the kulaks frequently burnt their own homes and crops and killed their animals. It has been estimated that about half the animal population of the Russian countryside died in this way between 1929 and 1933. The loss of human life was also enormous. Figures of this were not published, but it has been estimated that about 7 million people were either killed or deported to labor camps or new factories.

2. Industrialization and the five-year Plans. The rapid industrialization of Russia was always regarded as a major priority. Only when it had machines and materials could Russia be strong enough to defend itself against the continuing threat from the rest of the world, and act as the springboard for world revolution. ”Gosplan’s” officials produced extensive and detailed plans for every industry and area. Overall, the aim was to triple production in the heavy industry sector - coal, iron, steel, oil - and double it in other sectors. To help all areas of industry electrical output was to be increased six-fold. Plans for agriculture and social development such as the expansion of hospitals and education were also included in Gosplan’s strategy. The scheme was launched in October 1928. The campaign for industrialization was conducted as a war upon backwardness. ”Gosplan”, the high command, sent out its orders for levels of production to specific areas and they in turn translated them into detailed requirements for each plant. Plan requirements and achievements were published in the factories for all to see, and, as in wartime, constant propaganda urged the workers to ever higher efforts. There were medals, literally, for the highest producers and penalties for those who failed to achieve. Such constant supervision and threat put pressure on many managers to falsify figures and take short-cuts in production. Nevertheless, the battle had to be won and, especially in comparison with the achievements of Western Europe at the same time, it apparently was.

So economically Stalin did follow the ideas of Leninism!

Edited by Anders MacGregor-Thunell

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