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Joseph Stalin

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After Stalin

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Study Questions

Discuss the origins of Stalin's Marxist political philosophy.

Stalin adopted Marxism while in the Seminary, and remained committed to it (at least officially) all his life. It was not uncommon for young men of the intellectual class, or "intelligentsia," to adopt revolutionary ideologies in the repressive climate of Tsarist Russia, and Marxism, named for the German thinker Karl Marx, was the most influential of these ideologies. In brief, Marx declared that human history was determined by class warfare. In an industrial society, he claimed, the triumph of the middle class, or bourgeoisie, was followed by the rise of a proletariat, or laboring class. Wealth, in this world-view, was concentrated in bourgeois hands at the expense of the ever-more-impoverished working class--an intolerable situation that would inevitably lead to revolution and the establishment of the "dictatorship of the proletariat." This in turn would prelude a utopia in which all class distinctions would be abolished, and with it poverty itself. The appeal of Marxism lay in its claim to being scientific: it claimed to have discovered the objective "laws" of history, in which revolutions could be accurately predicted given certain conditions. Unfortunately, this notion of Marx's "infallibility" would lead to disastrous consequences, as it forced an all-or-nothing adherence; Marxist regimes were driven to follow disastrous policies, for to repudiate one point of the ideology was logically to repudiate it all: Stalin's Five-Year Plan and collectivization horror figured most prominently among these deadly disasters.

Why did the Revolution of 1917 succeed?

The Russian Revolution was a two-part phenomenon. The fall of the Tsars, in March 1917, was simple to explain: Nicholas II was a weak-willed monarch, his advisors had prosecuted the war badly, the populace detested his German wife, and Russia was long overdue for political reform. Few observers were surprised when protests toppled the Tsar and ushered in a nominally representative government. What is less easily understood is how this Provisional Government was, in turn, toppled by a Bolshevik coup in November 1917--and more to the point, how Lenin and his followers managed to hold power over such a vast area as Russia. Several answers may be suggested: first, there was great sympathy for socialism and Marxism among the Russian people, sufficient enough to give the Bolsheviks a broad base of popular support that eluded the Provisional Government and the Whites (the opponents of the "Reds"). Second, the war against the Reds was mismanaged--several times, the Whites had an opportunity to topple Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but they alienated the peasantry with atrocities and more importantly, failed to achieve a united command among their leaders. This blundering contrasted sharply with the smooth internal administration of the Bolsheviks, who found a great organizer and military leader in Trotsky, and who showed a surprising resilience. They had, in a word, more discipline than their opponents, and it was discipline that won the civil war.

Analyze Stalin's rise to power in the 1920s.

Like any incredibly successful politician, Stalin was lucky. He was lucky that Lenin died when he did, because otherwise Trotsky's position in the Soviet state would have become so strong as to withstand his attack. He was lucky, too, that he was not ousted immediately after Lenin's death, as Lenin's Testament had advised. But he also showed an amazing ability to play his opponents off one another until he was powerful enough to stand on his own: first, he allied with the "Leftists," Zinoviev and Kamenev to diminish Trotsky's power; then, with Trotsky's star in eclipse, he turned on the "Leftists," forming an alliance with Bukharin and the other "Rightists" to defeat Zinoviev and Kamenev and drive them out of the Communist Party. All the while, Stalin was building up his own base of support, so that within a year of the elimination of the "Leftists" he was ready to challenge, and defeat, Bukharin and take over supreme power himself. His enemies failed because they never understood that his motivations were different from theirs--while they cared about principles and policy, all that mattered to Stalin was power.

Essay Topics

Discuss the political climate in Russia during Stalin's youth.

Why did Stalin ally with Hitler in 1939? Was the Nazi-Soviet Pact a sound strategic choice?

Discuss the ideological roots of the persecution of the kulaks.

How did Stalin maintain and reinforce his own power in the 1930s?

In what ways was the Cold War a natural corollary of Stalin's will to power? How was it an extension of Marxist ideology?

What was the difference between the New Economic Policy and the Five-Year Plan? Which was more successful?

Discuss Stalin's life in the context of this century. How will he be remembered in the future?

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Another Resource

by Liam_Carter, September 02, 2014

I found this other more userfriendly and interactive timeline of Stalin http://histolines.com/timeline_character.php?charname=Joseph+Stalin+

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