HS2202 Twentieth Century Europe

Week 6 Communism and Stalinism

How to use this handout

We will be working our way through parts of this handout in class. You can later use the paper copy or the online version to follow up some of the points discussed in class.


Today's topic covers

In analysing these issues as deeply as we can in the time available, I want us to examine some of the different interpretations from different historians that are included in the reading list as well as trying to develop our own perspectives on the topic.

By doing all these things we will be contributing to the learning outcomes of this module and helping you to prepare for the class test.


I will define Communism, for today's purposes, as the ideologies, programmes, policies and actions of communist parties.

I will define Stalinism as the ideology, programme, policies and actions associated with the period 1922 - 1953 when Stalin was General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.

Tasks for Students
Write down your own definition of 'communism', making it rather more precise than mine.
Write down your broad understanding of the term 'Stalinism'.

Compare your definitions with this source:

xrefer http://www.xrefer.com/search.jsp

The Role of Stalin 1922 - 1941

As General Secretary

Importance of this organizational role in ensuring that supporters in key positions.
Stalin also used position to eliminate opposition - Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin
In 1925, at 14th Party Congress Trotsky removed as war commissar
In 1926, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev ousted from Politburo
In 1927, at 15th Party Congress, Trotsky, Zinoviev and followers expelled from the Party.

Norman Pereira (1992) says that the millions of workers/peasants who entered the party between 1917-21 were the basis of Stalin's support

'For these people Stalin was a role model, while the other top leaders were either too cosmopolitan and intellectual, or simply alien. It was his closeness to the unlettered masses which constituted Stalin's great and often misunderstood strength.'

Norman Pereira (1992) 'Stalin & the Communist Party in the 1920's' History Today Vol. 42, August p.17

Forced Collectivization

In January 1929, Mass colectivisation announced suddenly by Stalin without any preparation.

Alec Nove (1975) in Stalinism and After London: Allen & Unwin, says that Collectivisation changed lives of 50% of people
It was claimed by Stalin that majority of peasants joined collective farms voluntarily - a lie - official line was that force was not used - but targets could not be met without it.
Collectivisation carried out by predominantly urban party machine
Stalin alowed no exemptions - local party officials who tried to defend local peasants were removed or arrested - their successors were more ruthless - millions died of hunger - nothing appeared in press or official histories - it is said that Stalin's wife, Allilueva, killed herself as protest
In 1933, Stalin claimed that workers' living standards rising all the time and anyone who denied this was an enemy of Soviet power.

Julian Cooper (1977) says

'This economic and social transformation in immensely difficult circumstances was achieved at a heavy cost in terms of human life, sacrifice and privation, and also shattered hopes and illusions about the ease of building socialism and catching up with and overtaking the capitalist world.'

Julian Cooper (1977) To Catch up and Overtake: Soviet Industrialisation 1929-41 Socialist Europe No 2 p. 3

Rapid Industrialization

1st Five year plan of national economic construction approved in April 1929 at 16th Congress of Soviet Communist Party
May 1929 Adopted at 5th Congress of Soviets
In 1928, half the economy was in private ownership - by 1940 the private sector was negligible In 1929 the Soviet Union was predominantly agricultural - industry made up 43% of the economy - by 1937, industry made up 53%
3 million workers in industry 1928 - 6 million in 1932 - 8.3 million in 1940
The working class (those in industry, construction & state farms) grew from 7 million to 20 million 1928 - 1940.
In 1913, Russia's share of world industrial production was 4% - in 1937 it was 10%

(Figures from Julian Cooper above)

The Great Terror

When the Communist Party Congress met in 1934, the Leningrad secretary, Kirov, wasprominent. In a secret session,according to Alec Nove, Congress voted to change Stalin's title to 'secretary'
Later in the year, Kirov wasmurdered - Stalin ordered mass arrests, deportations & summary executions.
The Great Terror was unleashed in 1936 - leading party members, top officers of armed forces, managers, scientists, engineers & intellectuals, people with contacts abroad and foreign communists resident in USSR arrested, tried, executed or deported to labour camps- leading party members who protested failed to move Stalin - many committed suicide or were themselves arrested.
Nove says that revolution from above had caused so many hardships that Stalin feared revenge from below - coming war might give that opportunity - he could be deposed for any military failure.
In some ways, terror was revenge of semi-educated low level officials against intelligentsia.

Hitler-Stalin Pact 1939

In August 1939 the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed - agreed not to attack each other - divided Poland between them and Russia took back Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and part of Finland which had been lost in 1918.

The Third International 1919 - 1943


Formed at 1st Congress of Communist International March 1919 - 52 delegates from 34 parties.
Lenin wanted Soviet Union to lead international communist movement and communist parties to dominate international workers movement

The following were agreed

The Congress also urged workers of all countries to support the Soviet Union and to demand withdrawal of interventionist troops from her territory, recognition of the Soviet state, lifting of the economic blockade and restoration of trade relations.


Social-fascism - argument that the reformism of Social Democrats would make capitalism more acceptable to masses

Class against class - no joint action between communist and bourgeois parties

Theodore Draper in 'The Strange Case of the Comintern' Survey Summer 1972 argues that this policy was invented, not by Stalin, but by Jules Humbert-Droz, one of 3 secretaries of Comintern - instructed PCF not to support Socialist or Radical candidates on 2nd ballot in 1927.
No communist candidates elected on first ballot - Stalin wanted to change tactic then but H-D refused - PCF lost 11 seats & Left seats down - further decline in 1932 election due to same policy.
In Britain, CPGB argued in May 1929 electionthat that Labour Party was capitalist party - no communist candidates elected - overall vote only 10% of Labour's.

Popular Fronts - pressure from communist parties for anti-fascist alliances with Social Democrats and other democratic parties following Hitler's rise to power in Germany.
In 1934 the French Socialists and Communists made a pact - later endorsed by Moscow and by Comintern at 7th Congress in 1935.
Popular Front governments elected in France & Spain in 1936.

Paul Preston in The Popular Front in Europe History Today July 1986 argues that ordinary workers hoped for more social & economic reforms than Popular Front govts wanted to concede - bourgeois politicians disliked popular mobilisation - worried by land occupations in Southern Spain & strike wave in France & Spain of 1936.

Paul Preston also argues that the rigid policies of Comintern weakened the international workers movement - Stalin not really interested in Comintern & certainly not in revolution in rest of Europe

Helen Graham (1986) states

'In Spain, neither the Republic nor the strategy of the Popular Front failed: political and military defeat were the result of the fact that the national and international alliance systems which were the pre-conditions of victory never materialised.' Helen Graham (1986)'The Road to a Popular Front' History Today July p. 23


In 1943, Communist International dissolved by Stalin - probably to reassure the Soviet Union's allies in World War II.

Continuities and Discontinuities between Bolshevism and Stalinism

"One of the greatest lies maintained in the course of this century was the false identification between Stalinism and socialism. For decades the Stalinist bureaucracy of the Soviet Union suppressed the heritage of classical Marxism, while western historians and bourgeois ideologues used the crimes committed by the bureaucracy to discredit a socialist perspective.

Mehring Publishers http://www.wsws.org/shop/bookshop.html

"In offical ideology, it became obligatory to eulogize collectivization as a great accomplishment of Stalinist leadership. The bizarre discrepancy between official claims and social reality, uncharacteristic of original Bolshevism, was a major step in the progressive fictionalization of Soviet ideology under Stalin. It must have had a profoundly demoralizing effect on party officials, contributing to their apparently meagre resistance to Stalin's terror in 1936-39. If nothing more, it implicated them in the cult of Stalin's infallibility, which grew greater as disasters grew worse, and which became an integral part of the Stalinist system'.

Stephen Cohen 'Bolshevism & Stalinism' in Robert Tucker (ed) (1977) Stalinism : Essays in Historical Interpretation, p. 26 New York: W W Norton Ltd>

'Over-simplified and one-sided ideological representations come to form a protective fortification around the events; fortifications which later historians have to demolish.'

Julian Cooper (1977) To Catch up and Overtake: Soviet Industrialisation 1929-41 Socialist Europe No 2 p. 3

Tasks for Students

Explore this chronology of Soviet history, which has further links to short explanations.

Chronology of Soviet History http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/chrono3.html

Check out Stalin's dates

Stalin's Life and Career http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/12260.html

Fill in the gaps in your knowlege

The West Between the Wars http://www.wpunj.edu/~history/study/ws2/set11b.htm

Read official documents

Official Justification for Purges http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1936purges.html

Think about the views of an author

Interview with Robert C Tucker http://sun3.lib.uci.edu/racyberlib/Peace/interview-robert_c_tucker.html

URL: http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/hs2202-6.htm
Page created by Penny Welch November 2001

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