Sample Research Paper on Communism: The Transition from Leninism to Stalinism

Research PaperPolitics
Apr 18, 2022

A research paper is a type of written coursework that comprehensively discusses a topic using information from scholarly sources . The kind of discussion varies depending on the goal of the writer, who may seek to inform, persuade, or advance an argument. This sample research paper discusses the transition from Leninism to Stalinism in the Soviet Union.

The early years of the Soviet Union’s existence are marked only by the revolution that took place in Russia led by Vladimir Lenin, but also by the eventual rise of Joseph Stalin into power. Although the Soviet Union remained communist, there is a marked difference between the policies and approaches implemented by Lenin and those enacted by Stalin. This leads to the definition of two distinct ideologies that dominated early Soviet history: Leninism and Stalinism. This in turn led to the identification of a transition period that saw the country’s shift from Leninism to Stalinism. While the existence of these two ideologies is accepted, there is far less consensus regarding the question of whether or not Stalinism was a natural progression from Leninism. In other words, was Stalinism the continuation of Leninism, or was the former a departure from the latter? As Leon Trotsky stated, “in a formal sense Stalinism did issue from Bolshevism” (Trotsky, 1937). While it may be that this statement holds water, it still must be examined. A comparison of the two ideologies and the methods they utilized reveals that many of Stalinism’s features had been in place back in Lenin’s time, particularly the socialism in one country policy, the use of terror to shut down dissent and opposition, and the stifling of democratic processes. Moreover, Stalin enacted policies that were already planned by Lenin and made modifications to existing ones as deemed necessary by prevailing circumstances.

The Socialism in One Country Policy

Stalinism as a natural continuation of Leninism can be seen in Stalin’s upholding of the policy of “socialism in one country”. One of the misconceptions about the communist revolution in Russia was that its leaders sought to spread communism beyond Russia’s borders. On the contrary, Lenin preferred the establishment and strengthening of socialism within the country’s borders. Hence, when the Russian Revolution erupted partly due to Tsar Nicholas II’s disastrous involvement in the First World War , one of Lenin’s major moves upon assuming power was withdrawing Russia from the conflict. Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to withdraw but lost a great deal of territory including much of Ukraine to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the same time, however, a communist revolution was brewing in Ukraine, which would have succeeded had Lenin supported the revolutionary forces. But Lenin did not assist this revolution (Orlovsky, 2020). This decision demonstrates his policy of focusing on the internal reinforcement of socialism rather than outward expansion. For Lenin, ensuring the viability of socialism in Russia was more important than spreading it across the world.

Similar to Lenin, Stalin preferred focusing on socialism in one country. Stalin’s first years as the new leader of the Soviet Union were also attuned inward rather than outward. His stance on the matter extended beyond his initial years. For instance, Stalin wrote in 1938 that the victory of communism in other countries would only be possible through the work of the workers in those countries (Stalin, 1938). This statement by Stalin implies that he intended to continue the internal reinforcement of socialism and a refusal to actively promote it in other countries. Even his signing of the non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939 is indicative of the policy’s continuation.

Use of Terror and Suppression of Democratic Processes

Apart from upholding the socialism in one country policy, Stalinism also proves to be a continuation of Leninism through its use of terror to shut down opposition and dissent. The Bolsheviks’ takeover of the government was not unwelcome and was in fact successful due to the support of the majority of the population. But the process of establishing communism did not come without opposition. For one, some opposed the new system and clung to Russia’s imperial form of government. For another, some welcomed Lenin’s regime but disagreed with its methods. In response to the first group, Lenin brutally crushed all those who sought a return to the old system. Russia’s elite, composed mostly of the wealthy land-owning nobility and aristocracy, was stripped of their power and possessions, triggering a massive wave of executions and immigration not unlike that of the French Revolution . Even the Tsar and his entire family were not spared as they were executed in July 1918 (Orlovsky, 2020). The brutal manner by which Lenin dealt with the former ruling class was his way of ushering in the new system.

Meanwhile, Lenin also had to crush any dissent among his ranks. As the government’s control over Russia grew wider and stronger, Lenin felt the need to ensure that his policies would push through unopposed. He demanded total submission from the people, explaining that complete cooperation was necessary for the success of the new system. For instance, as early as 1918, Lenin curtailed the democratic process by decreeing that a third of industrial management people would be elected, but the rest would be appointed by the government. Trotsky seconded this decree by reminding people that those who would oppose this plan would suffer severe punishment. Elections, when they occurred, were openly conducted under the watch of guards. This made the process inauthentic, as openly dissenting meant being marked for persecution (McMeekin, 2017). Other actions were also more drastic. For example, in April 1918, the Cheka raided anarchist centers in the city of Moscow. This resulted in the death of over 40 anarchists and the imprisonment of over 500 more (McMeekin, 2017). This pattern continued in the subsequent years. Anyone who expressed the slightest dissent was branded as anti-revolutionaries undermining the revolutions, which in turn gave the government an excuse to capture, imprison, exile, or even execute those who opposed. These methods reveal two important approaches to Leninism. The first is the enactment of laws that stifle democratic processes, thus transferring control to Lenin and the party. The second is the drastic shutdown of any dissent or opposition. Together, these approaches gave Lenin and the party sweeping power.

Stalin’s methods were not far off from those employed by his predecessor. Like Lenin, Stalin’s rule was marked by brutal and unrelenting suppression of opposition. Using policies designed to persecute dissenters put in place by Lenin, Stalin ramped up the efforts to quash criticism and revolts. According to records, Stalin’s rule resulted in millions of deaths and imprisonments. Between 1927 and 1929, around one million people were incarcerated or sent into exile after being accused of sabotaging or planning to sabotage the government’s efforts. In the 1930s, forced farm collectivization was ramped up. But this was opposed by many, particularly farmers who had established prosperous operations. Stalin responded by having between nine and 11 million people evicted from their lands. Another two or three million were also incarcerated or sent into exile for opposing collectivization. The years known as the Great Terror, which occurred from 1937 to 1938, saw around four to six million people forcibly transported to labor camps. Many of the charges and convictions were either fabricated or born of paranoia. Years earlier from 1932 to 1933, a severe famine that was partly punitive and disproportionately affected Ukraine resulted in the death of an estimated five to ten million Ukrainians, most of whom were peasants. Information was suppressed to prevent the world from finding out the truth (Keller, 1989). In 1940, around two or three million people were condemned to hard labor for breaking unreasonably tight labor laws. During World War II, around 10 to 12 million people were also repressed, many of whom were ethnic minorities who were driven away from their land. Finally, around one million were also arrested for political reasons from the end of the Second World War to 1953 when Stalin died (Keller, 1989).

While it can be argued that Stalin eclipses Lenin when it comes to the scope of suppression of dissent and opposition, there is an undeniable link between the approaches utilized by Lenin and those utilized by Stalin. The methods are patently similar, as both leaders relied on instilling fear in those who questioned and disagreed with the government as well as severely punishing those who dared. The mass incarceration of dissenters served as purges that removed all opposition from the government, thereby guaranteeing Stalin’s hold on power. Stalin’s actions, especially the nationwide system of oppression and suppression he utilized, was captured in the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose monumental work The Gulag Archipelago (1974) revealed the harsh reality of living in the Soviet Union at the height of the purges.

Conclusion

Taking into account the events that transpired during Lenin’s time and Stalin’s time as successive leaders of the Soviet Union, it is clear that Stalinism was a logical progression of Leninism. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire under Tsar Nicholas II, the Bolsheviks, headed by Lenin, established communism in the country that saw the collectivization of the means of production and the abolition of private property. But rather than pursue the expansion of communism to other countries, Lenin advocated a “socialism in one country” policy. This meant that the focus on strengthening socialism was inward rather than outward. At the same time, to ensure the primacy of socialism, Lenin quashed dissent and undermined democratic processes. This enabled him and his small circle to wield total power. Like Lenin, Stalin relied on the same methods when it came to policy-making and governance, albeit on a vastly bigger scale. Stalin crushed revolts and launched purges that resulted in the incarceration, exile, or execution of millions of people. The numbers were different, but the underlying mechanisms were essentially the same. Lenin’s approaches and methods served as a precedent for Stalin, who was but enforcing the same policies in far higher numbers.

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References

Keller, B. (1989, February 4). Major Soviet paper says 20 million died as victims of Stalin. The New York Times . https://www.nytimes.com/1989/02/04/world/major-soviet-paper-says-20-million-died-as-victims-of-stalin.html

McMeekin, S. (2017). The Russian Revolution: A new history. Profile Books.

Orlovksy, D. (2020). A companion to the Russian Revolution. John Wiley & Sons.

Solzhenitsyn, A. (1974). The gulag archipelago: An experiment in literary investigation . Éditions du Seuil.

Stalin, J. (1938). The final victory of socialism in the Soviet Union: Stalin's reply to Ivanov. https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/341390

Trotsky, L. (1937). Stalinism and bolshevism: Concerning the historical and theoretical roots of the Fourth International. https://stars.library.ucf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1056&context=prism

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