Monday, November 13, 2006

Marxism According to Stalin

Historical Context:

With the abdication of Nicholas II and the successful Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, a new, radical government was emerging in Russia. Influenced on Marxian principles and led by a radical revolutionary named Vladimir Lenin, this vast empire would soon be known as the Soviet Union. Lenin’s brilliance was acknowledged by all who came in contact with him and he soon would reach the highest stature of integrity a leader could achieve with his fellow Russian people. Yet, his tenure as a leading figure in the creation of a communist state was short-lived, and just seven years after he instigated the revolution, he died of a stroke in the early part of 1924. This led to a series of political infighting in the Bolshevik Party, where ultimately one man emerged as victorious and sole leader of the party: Josef Stalin.

Stalin’s ‘Revolution From Above’: Perversion of Marxism

Although Stalin claimed to be a Marxist, and indeed studied and wrote about Marxism in the years prior to the revolution, Stalin was anything but one. Through his programs and policies Stalin had managed to go against many of the aspects which contributed to the heart and soul of Marxist theory. Stalin’s Marxism consisted of a literal, somewhat distorted realization of this ideological philosophy in which his treacherous ambition clouded all rational judgment.

The persona of Stalin portrays an interesting psychological component to Stalin’s interpretation and execution of his version of Marxism. Early on in Stalin’s life, Stalin had developed an idealized image of himself, an image which displayed his search for glory and his need to triumph over his enemies.[1] Stalin envisioned himself as the next Lenin, and even adopted the name “Stalin” because of its meaning “steel one.”[2] For Marxist theory, the characteristic of a selfish hero amongst the proletariats was to its contrary. Indeed, Stalin’s vision for a new Russia came from his mentality of trying to “outdo” or “emulate” an exalted Russian hero of the past, whether it be Lenin or Peter the Great.[3] And as Stalin so notably makes clear to all, where Peter the Great had failed in his “revolution from above” Stalin would succeed. Stalin’s pretentious attitude and his own altercation of Marxism led him on a new project. This grandiose project which would ensue under Stalin’s self-idolatry reign was his “revolution from above.”

When Stalin rose to power after Lenin’s death, Stalin quickly parted into the Right camp of the Communist Party. The main difference within the two camps in the Communist Party was the belief in the world revolution was the only way to bring about a successful socialistic state. The Left of the party, where Stalin’s archenemy Leon Trotsky ideologically lay, believed that future Communist revolutions were a “precondition for building a completely socialist society in Russia.”[4] Yet Stalin offered a plan contrary to the Left of the Party. Stalin had believed that national modernization, not international revolution, was the primary objective of the Soviet Communist Party. He firmly believed that the Bolsheviks did not need European countries to ignite revolutions in order for Russia to have a successful proletariat revolution.[5] Trotsky and many in the Communist Party felt this was a betrayal of strict Marxist interpretation. In essence, Trotsky thought that the Old Bolsheviks were internationalists, and he began criticizing Stalin for having a dangerous sense of national chauvinism in Russia.[6] To almost any strict reader of Marx or Engel, Trotsky’ position seems to be most precise. In the Principles of Communism, Friedrich Engels proclaims “the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany. It will develop in each of these countries more or less rapidly…”[7] Here is evidence which suggests that even before Stalin was to come to power, his notion of “socialism in one country” was already contradictory of Marxist teachings.

So it followed that in 1927, Stalin utilized his slogan of “socialism in one country” to enact his Five-Year Plan. This plan essentially sped up the industrialization and development of heavy industry, and also the collectivization of the agricultural sector of the economy. The prevailing justifications given by Stalin were to help the Soviet Union become self-sufficient; to help the Soviet Union to become adequately prepared to defend itself; and to help the Soviet Union straighten out its own backwardness.[8] According to Stalin, ridding the farms of the semi-private commercial economy under the New Economic Policy (NEP) enacted by Lenin was vital to the socialistic state which Marxists had soon hoped to achieve.[9] Yet, the strict interpretation of Marxist-Leninist theory falls directly contrary to this notion of fast industrialization and collectivization. From this Marxist perspective, the mass collectivization of farms came entirely too early. Lenin had envisioned a state which was much more advanced in its technological output capacity and a state that had transpired culturally through a theoretical “cultural revolution” of socialism and even further, communism.[10] Stalin defended his position against the Old Bolsheviks by taking a Lenin quote out of context, and began criticizing his opponents, such as Trotsky, saying they cared less about Russia than about Europe.[11]

The drive and rationalization for heavy industrialization could only silence the dissenting and opposing masses if Stalin instilled fear within the Russian people. This fear was based on Stalin’s fabricated theory of a looming global war, for which the Soviet Union must be prepared at all times to protect its people. In his 1928 Central Committee speech, Stalin asserted that it would be “impossible to uphold the independence of our country without having an adequate industrial base for defense.”[12] The “war card” was only being used to exploit a political advantage over his foe Trotsky, and Stalin amplified this war scare over and over to all the people of the Soviet Union.
Again, we see a direct contradiction between the actions of Stalin and the writings of Marx. Besides the fact that Marx believed in no one man attaining absolute political power of the state, as Stalin was attempting to achieve, but Marx also was against the psychological manipulative part in which Stalin placed over the people. Marx pictured a state where there would be absent a ruler who seeks prey upon the masses only to place them under his control. Stalin completely threw Marxism out the window with his clever exploitation of the people for his personal gain and power. The exploitation was not one of labor, but of intelligence. The frame of reference for which Stalin sought to rule from existed only because of his ability to regulate his people to adhere to his word; this was the exploitation of the mind and heart of the people.

The other aspect of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan was the collectivization of all farms. While this decision proved to be disastrous for the Russian peasants, the most interesting factor surrounding his rationale is his actual interpretation of Marxist theory. Stalin had believed that expropriating the land of the peasants must be done so by a use of coercion from the state itself. He had taken what Marx said literally, and many in the Party believed, including Trotsky and Lenin, that this was not true Marxist teaching.[13] If we observe what Marx actually wrote on the subject, Stalin’s decision to collectivize the farms was indeed an aspect of Marxist teachings.
In the Communist Manifesto Marx proclaims “Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property…”[14] Marx goes on further and says “The proletariat will use its political supremacy…to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State…and to increase the total of productive forces rapidly.”[15] At first glance, it would seem that what Stalin actually did was exactly what Marx was preaching; that is, taking away private property which the NEP had given them and to centralize the production in the hands of the state, all the while attempting to rapidly overproduce heavy industry. However, if one were to take Stalin’s interpretation, it would mean one would have to ignore the foundation Marx had laid for this process to even come about. Prior to Marx declaring these statements above, he set the pre-requisite for this change to occur, which included the proletariat already in the position of the ruling class. Marx says “…the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, to win the battle for democracy.”[16] Not only had the Soviet Union not had a proletariat revolution, but the Soviet Union lacked the essential component in having one; they lacked an actual proletariat. For Stalin to being to collectivize and force the peasants off their private land, without the first step having been achieved in the transformation to a socialistic state, would mean disaster to any strict Marxist follower. Hence, it follows that Stalin had taken what Marx had said in the Communist Manifesto completely out of context; proof again that Stalin exploited the words and philosophy of Karl Marx.

In conclusion, Stalin warped Marxist philosophy in many ways which proved detriment to the existence of the Soviet state. His lust for power and his idealized image of himself made Stalin believe that he was above the proletariat revolutionary state, and this would play out in his authoritarian tactics of deceit and ruthlessness. With his “socialism in one country” mantra, Stalin enacted his Five-Year Plan to bring about a better Soviet Russia with heavy industrialization and farm collectivization. The coercion used to kick peasants off their farms was premature for Marxist –Leninist teachings, and he misinterpreted Marxist writings for the purpose of his own personal gain. Exploiting the masses in his need to stabilize a war defense mechanism for the Soviet Union, Stalin manipulated the Russian people to adhere to his despotic principles, something Marx only referred to as a transitional process against the bourgeois. In the end, Stalin took no part in true Marxist teaching, and for that the Soviet Union began its path toward authoritarianism and repression for the people under Stalin. Stalin’s Marxism was anything but true Marxism and for that, the people suffered.

[1] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin In Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 4.
[2] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin In Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 4.
[3] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin In Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 60.
[4] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin in Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 45.
[5] Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 114.
[6] Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 114-115.
[7] Friedrich Engels, “The Principles of Communism” Selected Works, Volume One, November 1847 http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/11/prin-com.htm (ACCESSED: October 26th, 2006)

[8] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin in Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 70.
[9] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin In Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 73.
[10] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin In Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 73.
[11] Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 114-115.
[12] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin In Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 74.
[13] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin In Power: The Revolution From Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990) 57.
[14] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Communist Manifesto” (1848) Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978) 490.
[15] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Communist Manifesto” (1848) Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978) 490.
[16] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Communist Manifesto” (1848) Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978) 490.

1 comment:

The Knight Formerly Known as Commie said...

Salutations Mike, I am intrigued that you have returned to this subject a second time... long since then I have abandoned communist ideology (circa September 2006) for a number of reasons. For one thing, a fundamental flaw with Marxism is the original Marxist postulate that the Proletarian Revolution would start in the developed world (Britain, France, Germany, USA, etc.) where material conditions (i.e. economic circumstances) would cause such revolution. Lenin however, disagreed and started his revolution in Dark Age Russia. Every single communist revolution has been in a previously "3rd world" nation. In retrospect, this actually seems to make more sense, as Marx and Engels' belief that revolutionary socialism would begin in prosperous nations is simply absurd. What usually happens is the capitalists agitate for more capitalism, but the working class agitate for better livelihood, so the ruling elite compromises and reforms (hence welfare). It is the third world which is more desperate and thus willing to violently overthrow a proto-capitalist system. There are of course several other reasons why I renounce Marxism, probably too many to go into detail here and now. In short, Communism as envisioned by Marx and Engels is too abstract, disconnected, esoteric, silly, naive, and absurd to work. It simply will not get to the starting line. Marxism-Leninism on the other hand, is in principle better than Marxism, because it is more practical and at least has gotten to the starting line in different forms, but then it was an enormous failure, and a revision of classical Marxism anyways. In any sort of utopian revolutionary scenario, one of two things happen:

1) The "revolution" fails. It is crushed externally or internally and absorbed by the established or an alien power. It is thus not a true revolution but a "rebellion" or "revolt."

2) The utopians/progressives/radicals succeed in their revolution, overthrow the old social order, and defend against external and internal threats, only to establish from their ranks a new oppressive hierarchy, usually just as bad, sometimes worse than the old one. This is the more common pattern. It happened in Animal Farm. To quote Mel Gibson's character in The Patriot: "Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?"

Anyways, though I am no longer communist or Marxist, I am still a socialist and as staunchly anti-capitalist as ever. (Though I am even more staunchly anti-communist. The communist ideology was more devestating to leftist/socialist/progressive causes than to capitalism.) Remember that there are various types of socialism, including market socialism. To explain the stance, consider the following.

The 2-D political compass seeks to eliminate the rediculous left-wing/right-wing paradigm that has plagued political science since the late 19th century. Instead, it uses a libertarian v. authoritarian line and an economic left (socialistic) v. economic right (capitalistic) line. I believe you are familiar with this. But this is insufficient. I propose using two dimensions for economic factors alone, with a third for personal/individual & social freedom v. authority. My reasoning is the implied belief that any possible economic system is either capitalist or socialist, no alternative. Except for one problem? WHAT ABOUT FEUDALISM? On such a scale, capitalists would probably call feudalism extreme left-wing because it is a state-owned command economy, whereas socialists would probably call feudalism extreme right-wing because it is a severely hierarchical discriminatory system. Thus economically the two dimensions should be egalitarianism vs. elitism and centralized ownership and control vs. decentralized ownership and control. The most extreme corner in the upper right would represent laissez-faire capitalism, a maximum of both socio-economic stratification and economic liberty. The most extreme in the upper left would be market socialism, an attempt to maximize equality and even distribution or sharing, but through voluntary means, using generally free markets rather than a central planning body. This attempt to reconcile the communitarian collectivism of the old left with individualistic personal responsibility and liberty of the market system is difficult to envision, but may some day work. The lower-left quadrant represents what I call "classical collectivism" and involves the sacrifice of market freedom (to a centrally planned system) in exchange for egalitarianism. The outer corner includes the communism of Marx and Engels. Finally, the lower right quadrant offers neither economic liberty nor equality, and is in its most extreme form characterized by state ownership and control of economy and hierarcically stratified, usually class or caste based distribution of wealth. Examples include neo-feudalism and state capitalism. So in short, the diagonal running from the lower left to upper right (communism to L-F capitalism) probably corresponds with the economic left-right scale. Market socialism probably would not fit well on such a scale. Likewise, in principle, the false dichotomy between liberty and equality should be dismissed as such! Afterall, what about the inverse, that if we have uneven distribution and stratification, then we have freedom (makes one wonder where feudalism and fascism fit in).

Anyways, back on topic. It is intersting as an ex-Marxist, how even in my days of idealistic communism, I thought the Soviet Union was an embarassment! It is almost funny, that you of all people would write something balanced enough that it does not blame Marx for Stalin. (Many right-wing ideologue types for instance would say, "well Stalin was bad but then again he was a pinko...") Indeed many things Lenin did were contrary to Marxist theory, but then he was only doing what he had to to make such an ultimately utopian theory to work. Most of the authoritarianism behind Leninism and Maoism it turns out has roots in the writings of Karl Marx and especially, Friedrich Engels. Stalin on the other hand, in his ego trip took things to a whole new level. As an outsider, I could see the Soviet Union for the failure that it is. My only regret concerning the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc is that there was a Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact there to fall. I wish the Soviet Union never fell because it never existed in the first place! Now there is only ONE Communist nation left, Cuba. And Fidel is half dead. I am kind of waiting for Cuba to say, "We give up! Americans come and buy some Che Guevara cigars, lighters, rum, t-shirts, action figures, shot glasses..." That would be funny. What have we learned from World Communism.

1. If you are a world power struggling through a frivolous, stupid, pointless imperialist tribal war, do not pull a Kaiser Wilhelm and smuggle a dangerous political figure into a third world nation on the brink of collapse. Especially if said third world nation has access to a large landmass or population.

2. Never trust the blueprints for an egalitarian humanistic society coming from two very bourgoisie, wealthy, priviledged intellectuals.

3. Nonviolent struggles are always better than violent revolutions, except in extreme situations.