What is the nature of Stalin's role in the history of the Soviet Union? To what extent can Soviet history be seen as an outgrowth of his personality? To what extent can his personality be seen as the manifestation of the forces of the Bolshevik Revolution? Can in fact Stalin and the Soviet Union be dealt with separately? These questions are particularly important because the "answers" shape the way the past seventy-some years are viewed.
It is my contention that the nature of the Bolshevik Revolution presented the opportunity which Stalin seized to remake the Soviet Union according to his will. While his dictatorship was not planned by Lenin, and was not a direct continuation of the ideals with which the October Revolution was hailed, the "ends justify the means" relativist morality that Lenin sanctioned was certainly culpable in producing conditions favorable to Stalinization of the Soviet Union.
It is hard to say if a man like Stalin could have come to such great and terrible power without the October Revolution following in the wake of February revolution. Yet the circumvention of proper channels of power as instanced by the second revolution of 1917, and the call for the end of factionalism within the party, set a dangerous precedent for the seizing of power, and removed the possible checks dissent could have provided. Having established a dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin planted the seeds for a dictatorship over the proletariat.
Let us go through the first section of The Stalin Revolution compilation one article at a time. Beginning with Michal Reiman, it is to be noted that there was an opposition to Stalin, which must have been sizable considering the lengths to which Stalin went to extinguish it. However, as a result of Lenin's annointment of Stalin, though he repented later, in combination with the hard-line of the conflicting players, was to split the possible opposition coalitions, so they could be picked off piecemeal by Stalin. NEP was to play a shifting rallying point, which split moderates from the Trotskyist-Zinovievists, and was used by Stalin to wipe-up left over members of the opposition. This game of frame-up, which was to be taken to dizzying heights, was practiced after the GPU raided several opposition apartments and "created" an illegal print shop with ties to "certain bourgeois specialists" and a "White Guard conspiracy" out of several typewriters and a hectograph. After this, it became impossible for any opposition to justify its existence. There was only one Path, the one which Stalin was on.
Lenin had produced his rhetoric somewhat by the seat of his pants, which after his death was to prove highly dangerous in the conditions produced by the ban on factionalism. His writings and speeches became a new scripture, complete with all the opportunity for different readings, particularly considering his changes of opinion over time. Different factions appeared, all believing to be the true followers of Lenin. Each considered the others to be heretics, and all were in danger of falling foul of manipulators such as Stalin. Through his eventual development of the "short course", Stalin was able to remove all options of appeal to any ambiguous passages of either Lenin or Marx. These factors cleared the way for the less-than-sane economic policies mentioned in Alec Nove's piece.
"The Moderate Alternative" basically agrees with this view, detailing the seething controversies that brewed until Stalin decanted each one at a time. The article by Giuseppe Boffa details the way this process started, and the resulting ossification of theory into dogma. "The Socialist Drive" by Stalin himself gives an example of this very use of rhetoric.
It has been a historiographical position to conclude that Stalin was brought to the fore by the needs of a "backwater" to catch-up with the industrialized nations. Indeed, Stalin himself used this rhetoric to justify and increase the tempo of his "projects". Yet, at this point, it would seem clear that Stalin's policies did not bring the Soviet Union up to speed, but instead sent it down a blind alley. In fact, there is evidence that Stalin willfully ignored advice and other signs that he was on the wrong path.
Holland Hunter in his piece presents an economic analysis of the "optimal version" of the first Five-Year Plan. Even allowing for the fact that it did not, and could not, have taken into account certain unexpected economic "situations", this plan was impossible to achieve. Presuming that this is the same plan that Daniels mentioned in The End of the Communist Revolution, there would be no reason to expect that the initial Five-Year Plan could have been successful. According to that account, Stalin overrode the economist-designed plan and inserted his own targets and focus. Regardless, the plan featured a number of serious flaws, including disproportional growth and a disregard for "unaccounted costs", such as human suffering and environmental damage. Simply put, by focusing on producer goods (which is a large section of heavy industry) and military production over housing and consumer goods, the plans removed any intrinsic motivators for the increase of wealth. Without goods to buy, it is hard to convince farmers to plant more than they need, or workers to work any harder. Combined with "dekulukization", this program was clearly at counter-purposes to its touted aims. Additionally, it is a simple point of fact that consumer goods, as defined in an industrializing society, use cheaper input resources than does heavy industry, and frees up labor hours. If we consider the Bolshevik goal to have any reasonable connection to socialism, it would appear that increasing the workers' standard of living would be the first task, and to be achieved at the greatest "possible" speed. Clearly, this was not Stalin's goal.
So what was Stalin's goal? Power: raw and undiluted. Otherwise, his tactics make no sense. Even granting the need for armaments for defense, it is clear that the levels of targeted production, and even achieved production, were much greater than that required. Indeed, the plan introduced high levels of waste, and defective products (read more waste), production bottle-necks (too many gears, not enough casements), and otherwise counterproductive results. We can best understand the Five-Year Plans as conspicuous consumption on the largest scale: of labor hours, of resources, of capital, of human lives. In the grandest style, Stalin proved his place in the world via how much he could command. And it worked, not only to bolster his own ego, but to also convince outsiders. These successes were largely because such "inefficiency" was unimaginable, and, because of the presumptions made about what such figures meant. *
In the light of the Five-Year plans being self-aggrandizement on the largest scale, it is more understandable how the Soviet Union just -- shattered one day. It had a panoply of faults built-in from the earliest periods: periods which were the blueprints for latter contractors.
If we turn to "The Mobilization of Labor", we notice a number of results from the combination of a one-party state and a dictatorship. The Soviet workers found themselves in the unenviable position of being squeezed by a regime, backed by the rhetoric of liberating the worker. Having "lost their chains", they found themselves being strangled with them, by the very state that was supposed to serve them. Stalin had managed to co-opt all the phrases of proletarian frustration, and busily used them to press forward programs that could only increase the workers' suffering. Additionally, because of the nature of the Five-Year Plans, with unreasonable targets and poor praxis, more workers were needed, producing another incentive towards collectivization.
The rest of the articles support this line of argument, and, in fact, provide elements that I have used thus far. It becomes clear that an understanding of Soviet history requires the study of Stalin. His actions, as well as his will, transformed and deformed the USSR in the course of Westernization. Stalin's ghost still walks, as the shade of Stalinization, a spectre that the former Soviet Republics will have to exorcise in order to achieve any sort of normalcy.
Stalin and Stalinism are proof of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Lenin and the rest of the Bolsheviks are culpable for the resulting horror because they put into place systems and modes of thought that allowed, in fact demanded, that a figure like Stalin come to power. The One Party State, with No Deviations, is the perfect breeding ground for totalitarianism.
Return to non-fiction