Joseph Stalin’s application of Communism from 1922-1953 in the USSR had some differences and similarities to Karl Marx’s ideal interpretation of the theory in 1848 when the Communist Manifesto was published. Both, Marx and Stalin interpreted the Communist Manifesto in different ways. One difference between Stalin and Marx was that Stalin focused more on Russia’s national security and Russia’s communism rather than on world communism like Marx intended. Secondly, Stalin attempted to take control of and speed up Marx’s dialectic materialism process, which Marx argued would take place naturally over a longer time span. Marx and Stalin were similar in that they both believed in the overthrow of capitalists, and they both aimed for a dictatorial rule under Communism.
This topic is interesting and worthy of study because it allows one to view and understand the entire concept of Communism and how others, such as Stalin interpreted and applied it. Thus, different people understand and apply certain ideas in different ways, yet some main ideas remain analogous.
Marx’s ideas and theories are known as Marxism, or scientific socialism. His analysis of a capitalist economy and his theories of historical materialism, the class struggle, and surplus value have become the basis of modern socialist doctrine. After his death, these ideas and theories were revised by many socialists, such as Stalin, who developed and applied them in Russia (Carmichael 122). His analysis of capitalism, dictatorship, communism, and worldwide revolution greatly influenced society in general and especially Stalin’s Russia.
The Communist Manifesto (Manifest der kommunistischen Partei) is the declaration of principles and objectives of the Communist League (a secret organization of exiled German artisans and intellectuals), published in London in 1848. Written by Karl Marx in collaboration with Friedrich Engels, the Manifesto outlined Marx’s theory of history, prophecies and end to exploitation. It identified the Communists as the allies and theoretical vanguard of the proletariat (workers) and called for unity of all workers.
Stalin was the general secretary of state of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1922 until his death in 1953. This position gave him control over appointments and established a base for his political power. His historical legacy is extremely negative, although his policies transformed the USSR from an agrarian society into an industrialized nation with a powerful military arsenal. This transformation, however, was accomplished at the cost of millions of lives.
III. Differences Between Marx and Stalin’s Communism
One difference between Marx’s ideal Communism and Stalin’s application of it was that Karl Marx sought after worldwide revolution. He envisioned the abolition of all states and governments, and as a consequence, an end to war; however, Stalin solely revolutionized Russia. He stayed limited to one country which was a major flaw and difference between himself and Marx.
Marx intended for all workers of the world to unite and have a worldwide revolution. Although, Stalin did make attempts to spread Communism further around the world, he did not succeed in doing so. In regard to the German invasion, Stalin decided long before the defeat of Germany that “he would soon bend every effort so spread communism from Canton to Calais” (McNeal 98). This is one example of Stalin’s effort to spread Communism further; nevertheless, he focused only on the Soviet Union. McNeal further supports his comments by quoting one of Stalin’s speeches, “You need have no doubt, comrades, that I am prepared for the future, too, to devote to the cause of the working class, to the cause of the proletarian revolution and world communism…” (Stalin/McNeal 113). By that, Stalin meant that he intended to lead the world to a system of total communism.
As a totalitarian dictator, Stalin insisted on exercising supreme authority over the foreign policy of the Soviet state, and he at least attempted to do the same for the world Communist movement (De Jonge 99). His international policy was inevitably influenced by geographic, military, economic, and political considerations, but it was founded on two tenets of Stalinist Bolshevism. According to De Jonge, Stalin believed that the security of the USSR, the “base” of international communism, was the crucial short-term objective of the Soviet foreign policy and the world “proletarian” movement. He also believed that enduring security for the USSR and the proletariat could be obtained only through a realization of the universal, historic goal of communism: the establishment of a worldwide Communist order.
At times, the tension between the long term and the short-term objectives was acute, but Stalin seemed to have experienced tno difficulty in assigning priority to the current interests of the USSR. Stalin was primarily concerned with internal, Soviet issues, rather than external, world issues (Ulam 635).
In 1927, Stalin stated, “a period of new revolutionary upsurge” had started, which would presumably assure the eventual realization of worldwide Communism (Stalin/Tucker 168) . However, during the next fifteen years, he emphasized the short-term security of the Soviet “base,” which could hardly afford to risk overt support of foreign revolutions while it was undergoing drastic internal transformation, or, as during the war years, fighting for its own existence.
No major effort was made to assist the Chinese Communists, who were forced in 1935 to withdraw their battered forces to the Northwest, there to reorganize under Mao Tse-tung. Clearly, it would have been even more costly and risky to attempt to save the German Communists from decimation at the hands of the Nazis, who had come to power partly because the Stalin regime had ordered the German Communists not to join the Social democrats in opposing Hitler (Hingley 127).
Starting in 1934 (until the latter part of WWII) Stalin felt obliged not only to avoid any assault on the capitalist world, but even to seek collaboration with various non-Communist powers, however costly to the immediate interests of foreign Communist parties. In 1934-35 this collaboration involved entry into the previously much despised League of Nations and contraction of a defensive alliance with France, and then a general order to foreign Communist parties from a “united front” with other working-class groups against the Fascist threat. Once Stalin achieved personal supremacy in the USSR, he attended no more meetings of the Comintern executive committee, which was a support of the Communist International in forming a popular front against the rise of fascism in Europe.
In order to exercise continuous security of the USSR, in 1939, Stalin signed the Soviet non-aggression pact with Hitler in August 1939. This Nazi-Soviet pact was according to Stalin in the best interest of the national security. However, in June, 1941, when Hitler broke the pact to invade the USSR, Stalin was obliged to turn to Britain and the United States for assistance. Thus, here, Stalin emphasized the short-term goal of security far more than the extension of communism on a world scale (Hingley 129).
Stalin’s sincere Bolshevik interest in defending Soviet Russia led many people to conclude that Stalin was no longer interested in world communism. In 1945, Stalin did not carry off any coup in France, Belgium, or Italy, despite the strength of the Communist parties of these countries. When both parliamentary tactics and violence in the streets showed that the Communists could not take power in these countries without Soviet intervention – and the risk of war – Stalin cautiously avoided overt aggression (McNeal 131).
Thus, Stalin and Marx differed in that Stalin only revolutionized Russia, staying limited to one country. According to Marx’s ideal theory to work, however, there must have been a worldwide revolution. Perhaps, because his theory wasn’t applied correctly, the was no end to war since there was no abolition of all states and governments. Worldwide revolution versus revolution in Russia is a major difference between Marx and Stalin.
Marx implies in the first section of his Manifesto that as the proletariat increases in number and political awareness, heightened class antagonism will generate a revolution and the inevitable defeat of the bourgeoisie. The logic of capitalism, to seek ever greater profit, will constantly revolutionize the means of economic production, which “sets in motion sociohistorical forces that it can no longer control, thus ironically calling into existence the class destined to end its rule” (Hingley 210).
According to Karl Marx’s dialectic materialism (derived from Hegel), there were three stages of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis that would naturally occur in history. According to Marx, “Every stage is necessary, that is to say justified for the time and under the conditions out of which it arises; but it becomes invalid and forfeits its justification under new and higher conditions which gradually develop within its own womb; it has to give place to a higher stage, which in its turn will decay and persh…” (Ruehle 104). This meant that according to Marx’s ideology, Communism would inevitably become a way for society. Once the conditions of a people “worsened” and the gap between the proletariat and the bourgoisie increased in a Capitalist system, Marx anticipated that this system would revolutionize and overthrow the Capitalist system.
Stalin attempted to rush history. He attempted to do all that Marx alleged would happen gradually, naturally over a long, historical period, in only five years. He wanted to catch up to history. The Five-Year Plan was to cover the years 1928-33. The purpose of the plan was to increase the socialist sector of agriculture.
According to Ulam, this plan may have reasonably been expected to be completed in ten years. Nonetheless, Stalin believed the Soviet Union had to industrialize rapidly in order to strengthen the Communist regime and enable the country to defend itself against foreign enemies. The Five Year Plan, which was financed by exploiting resources in the countryside, resulted in the near collapse of the Soviet agriculture and the deaths of millions of peasants. Industrialization was achieved, but at great cost. This was not at all what Marx had idealistically envisioned in the Communist Manifesto (Carmichael 218).
IV. Similarities Between Marx and Stalin’s Communism
One major Marxist goal was the overthrow of capitalists. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx tried to analyze contemporary society, which he described as capitalistic. He pointed out discrepancies between ideals and reality in modern society: In developing productivity, various social institutions have been created that have introduced exploitation, domination, and other evils; the price humanity pays for progress is an unjust society.
Every social system in the past, Marx argued, had been a device by which the rich and powerful few could live by the toil and misery of the powerless many. Each system, therefore, was racked by conflict. He believed that the capitalist system was also flawed and going to destroy itself. He tried to show that the more productive the system became, the more difficult it would be to make it function: The more goods it accumulated, the less use it would have for these goods; the more people it trained, the less it could utilize their talents. Thus, capitalism would destroy itself.
The collapse of the capitalist economy would culminate in a political revolution in which the masses of the poor would rebel against their oppressors. This proletarian revolution would do away with private ownership of the means of production. The economy would then produce what the people needed, not what was profitable. Inequalities and coercive government would disappear.
Marx emphasized the necessity of abolishing private property, a fundamental change in material existence that will unmask bourgeois culture, the ideological expression of capitalism in the second section of the Communist Manifesto.
Marx wanted a dictatorship because he believed that a communist society could only exist under such a government. Stalin was the dictator who made his role of General Secretary the most important role of the nation of Russia. Thus, Marx and Stalin’s ideas were similar in that they both supported a dictatorial government.
The proletarian revolution would lead to a system run by and for the people with a brief period of proletarian dictatorship. Forward development toward communism would proceed through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and could not do otherwise, for the resistance of the capitalist exploiters could not be broken by anyone else or in any other way (McNeal 40).
After World War II, the Soviet leadership in Russia was ruthless. Citizens’ activities were controlled under a suppressing autonomous dictatorship of Stalin, the leader who shaped and controlled the government of the USSR for over twenty-five years after Lenin’s death.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is the class alliance between the proletariat and the laboring masses of the peasantry for the purpose of overthrowing capital, for achieving the final victory o of socialism, on the condition that the guiding force of this alliance is the proletariat (Ulam 410). Communist rule was transformed from dictatorship to totalitarian dictatorship under Stalin.
V. Evaluation of Sources
A difficulty in objectively analyzing the differences and similarities between Marx’s theories and Stalin’s interpretation of them was the reliability of the sources that were used to judge each historical character. According to Davidson and Lytle’s definition of history in their book, After the Fact, history is “the act of selecting, analyzing, and writing about the past. It is something that is done, that is constructed, rather than an inert body of data that lies scattered through the archives” (Davidson and Lytle xxi). Thus, history is limited either by an incomplete factual record or by a selection of facts influenced by an ideology.
Selecting and analyzing certain sources is quite difficult because they are all subjective to a certain degree. For example documents written by Stalin opposition members who were directly involved in the Bolshevik Revolution are most likely skewed by personal sentiments and lack of objectivity. On the other hand, these primary sources such as Leon Trotsky’s biography of Stalin are extremely valuable in that they present straightforward and careful accounts of the events. Trotsky was a Russian Marxist, who organized the revolution that brought the Bolsheviks (later Communists) to power in Russia in 1917. He was also in opposition of Stalin and was ousted for this opposition.
In his biography, Trotsky gives a very critical portrait of Stalin and his Communist leadership. This adds to the historical study of the topic, but is limited in scope because Trotsky’s motive may be to try to rationalize his own actions and to rewrite a historical record. Additionally, when he wrote his book in the 1930’s, government documents were not available to the public. Thus, his account may be reasoning for his own actions, knowing that he can deny certain facts. Therefore, Trotsky’s account has great validity as a primary source, although due to his direct involvement in Communist politics in the Stalin Era, he may have hade some skewed perceptions. The absence of time and hindsight is a severe limitation in Trotsky’s argument.
Robert McNeal, on the other hand, a secondary source, may have a more objective view than Trotsky since he has the advantage of time and hindsight. His book, The Bolshevik Tradition, was published in 1963, ten years after Stalin’s death. This would give McNeal more access to historical documents than Trotsky, and result in a less subjective view of Stalin. In his recount of Stalin, he defends certain political actions of Stalin without giving alternatives.
Joel Carmichael is a former U.S. naval officer and author of Karl Marx, somewhat praises Karl Marx’s accomplishments in his biography published in 1967. However, he shows a very straightforward development of Marx’s ideas and explains how they were related to personal struggles, and he gives varying interpretations of Marx’s ideas. Carmichael also includes many primary quotes by Marx. This shows that the author is not completely one sided in representing theorist Marx. Hence, this biography is a somewhat reliable secondary source with important facts, although it is biased in praising Marx not showing alternate views of his accomplishments.
Therefore, all works used in compiling this document have some subjectivity that limit the actual account of facts and information. The various sources used are valuable, but are not necessarily reliable because they are date collected and interpreted by different people with various opinions.
In conclusion, there were four principal differences and similarities between Karl Marx’s idealistic theories and Joseph Stalin’s interpretation and application of them. Both, Marx and Stalin were similar through their belief in the overthrow of capitalism and a democratic dictatorship.
However, Stalin also misinterpreted some of Marx’s theories. Instead of a worldwide revolution, Stalin solely accomplished a communist revolution in Russia; additionally, instead of and making dictatorship eternal and allowing Communism to occur naturally, Stalin carried through his five year plan and tried to rush what Marx argued was a natural and inevitable process that would occur in history over a long period of time.