on 3 March 2004
This remarkable book studies the development of Stalin’s thought, using the evidence of his private library, the books he studied and noted. These were overwhelmingly Marxist in origin; none were by orthodox or conservative Russian thinkers. Stalin used only Marxist sources, especially Marx and Lenin, and never referred to writers in the old Russian, Tsarist, autocratic tradition. The book shows how Stalin’s thoughts and deeds were rooted in the revolutionary ideas of Marxism.
Stalin was a genuine and convinced Marxist, a moderniser, a Westerniser, who promoted huge advances in education, health and welfare. He accelerated industrialisation and collectivised agriculture, just as Marx and Engels had advocated. He used state centralisation, democratic centralism, to defeat feudal fragmentation and backwardness, as Marx and Engels had recommended to the Paris Commune of 1871. They supported the Commune as a dictatorship of the proletariat, not a parliamentary but a working body, executive and legislative at the same time. Stalin too always denounced the social democratic idea of a ‘peaceful transition to socialism’ through ‘bourgeois parliamentarism’.
The Soviet revolution did destroy the old landowning and capitalist classes by collectivising agriculture and taking ownership of the country’s industry. In response, those dying classes sharpened their struggle against emerging socialism in the 1930s, as Lenin had warned that they would, and they sought support both in the Party and from the enemy states surrounding the Soviet Union.
The idea of socialism in one country stems from the Communist Manifesto, which said that the working class of each country ‘must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie’, and also from Lenin. Ever since August 1915, Lenin defended the principle of socialism in one country, asserting that capitalism’s uneven development enabled the Russian working class to start to build socialism. By 1923, he was saying that the Soviet Union could create a ‘complete socialist society’.
The book’s last two chapters both focus on Stalin’s idea of revolutionary patriotism, directly descended from the Jacobins of the French Revolution. Stalin defended workers’ nationalism, the concept that each nation’s working class had to uphold the nation’s democracy, its honour and its sovereignty.