Stalinism is a brand of political theory, and the political and economic system implemented by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. Leon Trotsky described the system as totalitarian, and this description has become widely used by critics of Stalinism.
Stalinism as political theory
The term "Stalinism" is sometimes used to denote a brand of communist theory, dominating the Soviet Union and the countries who were the Soviet sphere of influence, during and after the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The term used in the Soviet Union, and by most who uphold its legacy, however, is "Marxism-Leninism", reflecting that Stalin himself was not a theoretician, but a communicator who wrote several books in language easily understood, and, in contrast to Marx and Lenin, made few new theoretical contributions. Rather, Stalinism is more in the order of an interpretation of their ideas, and a certain political system claiming to apply those ideas in ways fitting the changing needs of society, as with the transition from "socialism at a snail's pace" in the mid-twenties to the forced industrialization of the Five-Year Plans. Sometimes, however, the compound terms Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism, or teachings of Marx/Engels/Lenin/Stalin, are used to show the alleged heritage and succession. Simultaneously, however, many people professing Marxism or Leninism view Stalinism as a perversion of their ideas; Trotskyists, in particular, are virulently anti-Stalinist, considering Stalinism a counter-revolutionary policy using Marxism as an excuse.
Stalinists believed he was the highest authority on Leninism, after the death of Lenin, in 1924, often emphasizing that Leon Trotsky did not join Lenin's Bolshevik party until 1917 and arguing that Trotsky did not believe Lenin's contributions regarding the need for a vanguard party. From 1917 to 1924, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin often appeared united, but, in fact, their ideological differences never disappeared.
In his dispute with Trotsky, Stalin de-emphasized the role of workers in advanced capitalist countries (for example, he postulated theses considering the U.S. working class as bourgeoisified labor aristocracy). Also, Stalin polemicized against Trotsky on the role of peasants, as in China, where Trotsky wanted urban insurrection and not peasant-based guerrilla warfare.
The main contributions of Stalin to communist theory were:
Stalinist political economy
The term "Stalinism" was first used by Trotskyists opposed to the regime in the Soviet Union, particularly to attempt to separate the policies of the Soviet government from those they regard as more true to Marxism. Trotskyists argue that the Stalinist USSR was not socialist (and certainly not communist), but a bureaucratized degenerated workers state—that is, a non-capitalist state in which exploitation is controlled by a ruling caste which, while it did not own the means of production and was not a social class in its own right, accrued benefits and privileges at the expense of the working class. Stalinism could not have existed without the prior overturning of capitalism by the October revolution, but it is notable that Joseph Stalin, himself, was not active in the October revolution, advocating a policy of collaboration with the Provisional Government, rather than seizing power.
Building upon, and transforming Lenin's legacy, Stalin expanded the centralized administrative system of the Soviet Union during the 1920s and 1930s. A series of two five-year plans massively expanded the Soviet economy. Large increases occurred in many sectors, especially in coal and iron production. Society was brought from decades-long backwardness with West to one of near-economic and scientific equality within thirty years, according to some statistical measurements. Some economic historians now believe it to be the fastest economic growth ever achieved.
Because of the prestige and influence of the successful Russian revolution, many countries throughout the 20th century saw the politico-economic model developed in the USSR as an attractive alternative to the market economy system, and took steps to follow the USSR's example. This included both revolutionary regimes and post-colonial states in the developing world. After Stalin's death in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev repudiated his policies, condemned Stalin's cult of personality in his Secret Speech to the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, and instituted destalinization and liberalisation (within the same political framework). Consequently, most of the world's Communist parties, who previously adhered to Stalinism, abandoned it and, to a greater or lesser degree, adopted the moderately reformist positions of Khruschchev. The notable exception was the People's Republic of China, which under Mao Zedong grew antagonistic towards the new Soviet leadership's "revisionism", resulting in the Sino-Soviet Split in 1960. Subsequently China independently pursued the ideology of Maoism; Albania took the Chinese party's side in the Sino-Soviet Split and remained committed to Stalinism for decades thereafter under the leadership of Enver Hoxha.
Some historians draw parallels between Stalinism and the economic policy of Tsar Peter the Great. Both men desperately wanted Russia to catch up to the western European states. Both succeeded to an extent, turning Russia temporarily into Europe's leading power. Others compare Stalin with Ivan IV of Russia, with his policies of oprichnina and restriction of the liberties of common people.