Stalinism is the political regime named after Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union from 1929–1953. It includes an extensive use of propaganda to establish a personality cult around an absolute dictator, as well as extensive use of the secret police to maintain social submission and silence political dissent.
Like many other "-isms" it can be used as a pejorative term when referring to nation-states, political parties, or the ideological stance(s) of individuals, particularly "Anti-Revisionists". It is also used as a pejorative to describe politicians and political groups, Communist or non-Communist, who are perceived as particularly authoritarian or hard-line.
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, whereas Trotsky wanted urban insurrection and not peasant-based guerrilla warfare.
The main contributions of Stalin to communist theory were:
Stalinism has been described as being synonymous with totalitarianism, or a tyrannical regime. The term has been used to describe regimes that fight political dissent through violence, imprisonment, and killings.
Fredric Jameson has said that "Stalinism was [...] a success and fulfilled its historic mission, socially as well as economically" given that it "modernized the Soviet Union, transforming a peasant society into an industrial state with a literate population and a remarkable scientific superstructure. Robert Conquest disputed such a conclusion and noted that "Russia had already been fourth to fifth among industrial economies before World War I" and that Russian industrial advances could have been achieved without collectivization, famine or terror. The industrial successes were far less than claimed, and the Soviet-style industrialization was "an anti-innovative dead-end", according to him.
The notable exceptions were North Korea under Kim Il-sung and the People's Republic of China, under Mao Zedong. Kim simply purged the North Korean Communist party of de-Stalinization advocates, either executing them or forcing them into exile or labor camps. Under Mao, the People's Republic 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, which still largely supported the legacy of Stalin and his policies. Albania took the Chinese party's side in the Sino-Soviet Split and remained committed, at least theoretically, to its brand of Stalinism for decades thereafter, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha. The ousting of Khruschev in 1964 by his former party-state allies has been described as a Stalinist restoration, epitomized by the Brezhnev Doctrine and the apparatchik/nomenklatura "stability of cadres," lasting until the hyper-revisionist Gorbachev period of glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s and the fall of Soviet communism itself.
Some historians draw parallels between Stalinism and the economic policy of Tsar Peter the Great. Both men wanted Russia to leave the western European states far behind in terms of development. Both largely succeeded, turning Russia 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.
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, although not owning the means of production and not constituting a social class in its own right, accrued benefits and privileges at the expense of the working class. Left communists like CLR James and the Italian autonomists, as well as unorthodox Trotskyists like Tony Cliff have described Stalinism as state capitalism, a form of capitalism where the state takes the role of capital. Milovan Đilas argues that a New Class arose under Stalinism, a theory also put forward by various liberal theorists. Some in the Third Camp use bureaucratic collectivism as a theory to critique Stalinist forms of government.
Some analysts like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Mortal Danger: Misconceptions about Soviet Russia and the Threat to America consider the use of the term "Stalinism" is an excuse to hide the inevitable effects of communism as a whole on human liberties. He writes that the concept of Stalinism was developed after 1956 by western intellectuals so as to be able to keep alive the communist ideal.
Supporters of the view that Stalinism emerged from Leninism point to a number of areas of alleged continuity. For example, Lenin put a ban on factions within the Communist Party and introduced the one-party state in 1921 - a move that enabled Stalin to get rid of his rivals easily after Lenin's death. Moreover, Lenin used to purge his party of “unfaithful” Communists, a method used extensively by Stalin during the 1930s.
Under Lenin’s rule fear was used to suppress opposition. For that function the Cheka was set up in December 1917. Felix Dzerzhinsky, its leader, exclaimed with some enthusiasm: “We stand for organized terror – this should be frankly stated”. Western authorities estimate that by 1924 the Cheka had executed more than 250,000 people.
The radical methods of Stalin’s modernisation program were also not his invention, they were mainly the further development of Lenin’s war communism. This policy was characterised by extensive nationalisation, the forceful grain collection from the countryside and harsh direction of labour. Labour discipline was draconian and lateness and absenteeism were punished severely.