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    Distant Deeps or Skies Senior Contributor HistoricalDavid's Avatar
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    19 Jul 05
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    My Stalin essay.

    Using the sources below and your own knowledge, how far do you agree with the opinion (Source 5), that Stalin emerged as leader of the USSR because he was “agreeable to the majority.”

    Historiographically, Stalin’s ascent to power cannot be viewed merely with a mix of the different interpretations, but as an interlocking combination of all of them. His cunning and ruthlessness enabled him to manoeuvre and gain within the post-Revolutionary climate, and his opponents all suffered from unsuitable personalities to combat Stalin’s. These manoeuvrings were also specifically adapted to use the new party machinery and to exploit it; he did indeed change his ideas to suit the prevailing climate and to grant him ideological weaponry against his opponents, making him agreeable to the majority, but his increasing clout meant he could simply engineer a majority to agree with him. All this also took place in a Russia bereft of much democratic experience, with small urban proletariat and post-revolutionary trauma making the ascent of the Napoleon figure foreseeable, conditions best exploited by Stalin.

    His psychological profile is consistently described as Machiavellian and unhindered by flights of idealism or moral force. Even characterised even as early as 1926 by Leonid Krasin as possessing that “blending of grit, shrewdness, craftiness and cruelty,” Stalin was recognised by rival Bukharin (Source 6) as “an unscrupulous intriguer.” This is not to say that Stalin’s rivals were necessarily honourable; however, Stalin took the art of ruthless politicking to new heights, emphasised by Robert Conquest and Robert Tucker particularly as duplicitous. He tricked Trotsky into missing Lenin’s funeral, illustrating his willingness to abuse seemingly sentimental and grave affairs (Lenin being viewed very much as the father of the revolution). He had no genuine respect for others’ opinions, evidenced by his role in the suppression of Lenin’s last testament, which would have been the political ‘ruin’ described by Conquest (Source 1), and his brutal retaliation later against all of his opponents. This might be interpreted as a conviction in his own ideas; in fact, Conquest and Tucker’s mention of duplicity perfectly describes the nature of the ideological historiographical approach. Stalin initially saw the NEP as conducive to Russia’s economic development, and together with Bukharin defended it against the “United Opposition” Party left of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky. Yet, when those had been eviscerated from the party by January 1928, Stalin turned on his former ally, attacking him and the very policies he had previously supported, in October 1928. By January 1929, he accused him of factionalism over his continued support of the NEP and thus had him removed from the state, further confirming his duplicitous reputation by appealing to Lenin’s memory; despite Stalin’s flagrant disregard for it earlier, Bukharin was nevertheless accused of failing to support the dead godfather before the Revolution; by shifting his ideology, Stalin not only cultivated an image as a “detached Leninist and guardian of [Revolutionary] doctrine,” as eutscher accounts (Source 5), he further confirms the savage psychological pronouncements of Conquest and Tucker, and also that of Deutscher; by appealing to the great memory of Lenin, Stalin calculatedly engineered himself, or rather his image, to be more agreeable. It is important to emphasise the nature of this judgment; it does not imply irrationality. Stalin calculated all his moves to be effective, and while his actions were scheming and Machiavellian, they toe to Deutscher’s line (Source 3) that Stalin appeared as a “man without personal grudge or rancour.”

    It was not merely to discredit Bukharin, accounted as a popular and charismatic but nevertheless weak theorist, that Stalin changed his ideology – in Bukharin’s ironically premonitory words of July 1926, indicating knowledge of Stalin’s savagery even before being ‘touched’ by it, “he changes his theories according to whom he need to get rid of next.” (Source 6) – but also a reaction to the increasing bitterness and economic failure the NEP was perceived as causing, and thus he could switch his ideology from rightism back to full-blown statism. Russian industry to be rapidly expanded, and her countryside forcibly collectivised from the previous freer policies of the NEP. Stalin is thus demonstrated as a morally unscrupulous exploiter of circumstances and ideas, but it is also important to emphasise the psychological factors of Trotsky, described by EH Carr (Source 2) as a “great intellectual,” but not as a great political leader, a weakness preventing him from exploiting Lenin’s last testament and failing to realise Stalin as more than the “great mediocrity of our party”; in part this is due to his intellectual arrogance, which in Deustcher’s judgment, could not tolerate the idea of the “shabby and inarticulate man in the background” (Source 3) as his rival. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky are all similarly negatively characterised. They were “an unsavoury careerist,” “bereft of any coherent goal,” too na´ve and blinded by love of NEP, an outspoken drunkard, and too much of a diehard trade unionist opposed to Lenin, according to the paraphrases of Chris Ward and Chris Corin. Thus the ‘heroic’ historiographical approach is not merely applicable to Stalin but also to the weakness of his rivals, steadily dispatched through a mixture of shifting ideologies and outright political machinations, as well as the skilful projection of a favourable image which did indeed make him appealing to a wide base, certainly by 1929. His despatching of rivals perhaps helped make him agreeable to a majority simply by eliminating all the alternatives, but this despatching required the right public words, and thus ‘adjustments’ and reactions to ideology and circumstances.

    In addition to exploiting the weaknesses of his rivals, Stalin was also particularly adept at taking advantage of favourable power and administrative structures in the new Soviet state, a fact seemingly acknowledged by his contemporaries in his nickname “Comrade Card-Index” (source 1); his capacity as General Secretary of the Party, as opposed to party leader like Lenin. It was viewed as an administrative job and hence bereft of power, but, coupled with his leadership of the Organisational Bureau (Orgburo) Stalin was in fact given a potentially powerful tool in that he controlled who sat on committees and who was admitted into the party. His ruthless personality again comes into the fore as he filled the Central Committee with his own supporters, with evidence aplenty for its success; Trotsky’s motion to criticise Stalin was defeated by his supporters, though also backed up by Zinoviev and Kamenev’s cliques, illustrating his process of opportunistic alliances which not only made him agreeable to the majority, but could also allow him simply to create the majority to find him agreeable if needed. This is a broad historical example of the lengths of irony to which Stalin was willing to go; a joke during his power days went, “Normally you look at the evidence and invent the charge; Stalin looks at the charge and invents the evidence.” In addition, intimidation could be brought into the fray to force the majority to find him agreeable. The swift marginalisation of his six rivals should provide evidence to contradict Deutscher’s comment (Source 5) that Stalin “never seemed to impose his views on his colleagues.” Stalin was capable and often employed brutally decisive, yet politically elegant, action using his administrative power to get rid of his rivals. There is one event which does provide a counterpoint; Stalin stood apart from the leftist squabbling between Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky, the latter’s loyalty to Lenin being questioned, the importance of such nostalgia and ideological sentimentality again illustrated. The development of Stalin’s administrative skills “overlaps with the party history approach” in Chris Ward’s terms as well. The original theory of Marxism posits a popular workers’ uprising to change the socio-economic situation by assuming the means of production themselves. Lenin, in an addendum, added the stipulation that an organisation of professional agitators, the Party, must act as the vanguard of the revolution, thus creating Marxist-Leninism and its specific Russian manifestation, Bolshevism. Such a theory is almost anti-Marxist in its anti-historicist need for active intervention in the much-vaunted historical process, and Lenin furthered this active view, as “organisation, discipline and centralisation” were key to unlocking the socialist paradise, according to Ward. An active, scheming character such as Stalin is poised to exploit this for his own ends; rather


    To be continued, analysing more historiography as well.
    Last edited by HistoricalDavid; 21 Feb 07, at 00:01. Reason: More of the essay posted

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