Stalinism | Definition, Facts, & Legacy (2024)

political doctrine


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Joseph Stalin

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Stalinism, the method of rule, or policies, of Joseph Stalin, Soviet Communist Party and state leader from 1929 until his death in 1953. Stalinism is associated with a regime of terror and totalitarian rule.

In a party dominated by intellectuals and rhetoricians, Stalin stood for a practical approach to revolution, devoid of ideological sentiment. Once power was in Bolshevik hands, the party leadership gladly left to Stalin tasks involving the dry details of party and state administration. In the power struggle that followed Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924, the intellectual sophistication and charismatic appeal of Stalin’s rivals proved no match for the actual power he had consolidated from positions of direct control of the party machinery. By 1929 his major opponents were defeated; and Stalinist policies, which had undergone several shifts during the power struggle, became stabilized. Stalin’s doctrine of the monolithic party emerged during the battle for power; he condemned the “rotten liberalism” of those who tolerated discussion on or dissent from party policies. Lenin’s pronouncements, except those uncomplimentary to Stalin, were codified as axioms not open to question. Persons opposed to these new dogmas were accused of treason to the party. What came to be called the “cult of personality” developed as Stalin, presenting himself as Lenin’s heir, came to be recognized as the sole infallible interpreter of party ideology.

More From BritannicaMarxism: Stalin

Basic to Stalinism was the doctrine of “socialism in one country,” which held that, though the socialist goal of world proletarian revolution was not to be abandoned, a viable classless society could be built within Soviet boundaries and despite encirclement by a largely capitalist world. Stalin, appealing both to socialist revolutionary fervour and to Russian nationalism, launched in the late 1920s a program of rapid industrial development of unprecedented magnitude. A “class war” was declared on the rich farmers in the name of the poor, and Russian agriculture was rapidly collectivized, against considerable rural resistance, to meet the needs of urban industry. The need for expertise and efficiency in industry postponed the egalitarian goals of the Bolshevik Revolution; Stalin denounced “levelers” and instituted systems of reward that established a socioeconomic stratification favouring the technical intelligentsia. Heavy industry was emphasized to ensure Russia’s future economic independence from its capitalist neighbours.

While socialist ideology foresaw a “withering away” of the state as the classless society became a reality, Stalin asserted that the state must instead become stronger before it could be eliminated. Stalinism held that the enemies of socialism within and without Russia would try to avert the final victory of the Revolution. To face these efforts and protect the cause, it was argued, the state must be strong. Power became more and more centralized in Stalin, who in the late 1930s launched a bloody purge of all those he regarded as even potentially dangerous to the Soviet state. As part of the struggle against those whom he considered political rivals, Stalin identified political opposition with treason and used this as a weapon in his struggle against Leon Trotsky and Nikolay I. Bukharin and their supporters. By February 1939 most of the “Old Bolsheviks,” those revolutionaries who in 1917 had begun the Revolution, had been exterminated. Millions more (estimated at from 7 million to 15 million) were sent to the forced-labour camps that Stalin made an integral part of the Soviet economy.

Three years after Stalin’s death in 1953, Soviet leaders led by Nikita Khrushchev denounced the cult of Stalin and the terrorism perpetrated by his regime; they saw Stalinism as a temporary aberration in Soviet socialist development. Others saw it as a brutal but necessary and inevitable phase of that development. Still others saw in Stalinism an irrevocable Soviet break with the ideals of the Revolution.

In 1989 the Soviet historian Roy Medvedev estimated that about 20 million died as a result of the labour camps, forced collectivization, famine, and executions. Another 20 million were victims of imprisonment, exile, and forced relocation.

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The Editors of Encyclopaedia BritannicaThis article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray.

Stalinism | Definition, Facts, & Legacy (2024)


What are the main points of Stalinism? ›

Stalinism included the creation of a one man totalitarian police state, rapid industrialization, the theory of socialism in one country (until 1939), forced collectivization of agriculture, intensification of class conflict, a cult of personality, and subordination of the interests of foreign communist parties to those ...

What was Stalin's legacy? ›

Under Stalin, socialism in one country became a central tenet of the party's ideology. As a result of his Five-Year Plans, the country underwent agricultural collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, creating a centralised command economy.

What were Stalin's goals and what did he do to achieve them? ›

- The rapid industrialization of Russia was Stalin's main goal. - Apart from keeping Stalin in power, he wanted the Soviet Union to become a developed nation in order to protect itself from military action. - Stalin worked tirelessly to bring the Soviet Union's industrialization to fruition.

What were Stalin's two main goals? ›

Expert-Verified Answer. Stalin essentially had two main objectives: he wanted the Soviet Union to be recognized as a great superpower and he wanted to be in complete control of politics.

What was Stalin's first goal? ›

In November 1927, Joseph Stalin launched his “revolution from above” by setting two extraordinary goals for Soviet domestic policy: rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture.

What was Stalin's main economic goal? ›

In 1928 Stalin introduced an economic policy based on a cycle of Five-Year Plans. The First Five-Year Plan called for the collectivization of agriculture and the expansion of heavy industry, like fuel extraction, energy generation, and steel production.

How did Stalin's life end? ›

Joseph Stalin, second leader of the Soviet Union, died on 5 March 1953 at his Kuntsevo Dacha after suffering a stroke, at age 74. He was given a state funeral in Moscow on 9 March, with four days of national mourning declared.

Why was Stalin so powerful? ›

In the Russian Civil War that followed, Stalin forged connections with various Red Army generals and eventually acquired military powers of his own. He brutally suppressed counter-revolutionaries and bandits.

What did Stalin call his daughter? ›

Were Stalin's plans successful? ›

In 1932, Stalin declared the plan a success even though some of its goals were not in fact met. For instance, total industrial output increased by 118% but not by 133% as planned.

What was Stalin's long term goal? ›

Stalin launched what would later be referred to as a "revolution from above" to improve the Soviet Union's domestic policy. The policies were centered around rapid industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture. Stalin desired to remove and replace the mixed-economy policies of the New Economic Policy.

What happened to Stalin's son? ›

After his father died in 1953, Vasily lost his authority, developed severe alcohol dependency, and was ultimately arrested and sent to prison. He was later granted clemency, though he spent the remainder of his life between imprisonment and hospitalization until he died in 1962.

What were Stalin's two choices? ›

This article analyses Stalin's two main decisions, to attack and to make peace, and the intelligence behind those decisions.

What goal did Stalin hope to accomplish? ›

What goals did Stalin hope to accomplish in the USSR with collectivization? He aimed to replace the traditional peasant-based agriculture with large collective farms that were run by the state and operated by peasants who pooled their land, labor, and resources.

What countries did Stalin take over? ›

Anxious to strengthen his western frontiers while his new but palpably treacherous German ally was still engaged in the West, Stalin annexed eastern Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Romania; he also attacked Finland and extorted territorial concessions.

How did Stalinism end? ›

De-Stalinization (Russian: десталинизация, romanized: destalinizatsiya) comprised a series of political reforms in the Soviet Union after the death of long-time leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, and the thaw brought about by ascension of Nikita Khrushchev to power, and his 1956 secret speech "On the Cult of Personality and ...

What is the meaning of Stalinization? ›

Definitions of Stalinization. noun. social process of adopting (or being forced to adopt) the policies and practices of Joseph Stalin. “many Hungarians refused to take part in the Stalinization of their country” synonyms: Stalinisation.

What did Lenin believe? ›

Leninism (Russian: Ленинизм, Leninizm) is a political ideology developed by Russian Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin that proposes the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat led by a revolutionary vanguard party as the political prelude to the establishment of communism.

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