Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924), Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953), Nikita Khrushchev (1894– 1971), and Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931) are among the most important figures in the establishment and development of socialism as a major social, political, and economic system in the history of humanity. All of these men were instrumental in the history, progress, and the eventual demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), having played their roles in the events surrounding that nation at various points in its historical progression from its establishment to eventual end. Therefore, these men are of historical importance in the rise of Communism and Socialism as major economic systems in the world. However, historical documentation of the activities and opinions of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Gorbachev indicates that the four leaders had various points of disagreement on the role, nature, and execution of the ideals of Socialism, despite emerging from common ground. This divergence indicates that a theoretical discussion among the four, regarding issues of revolution, ideology, the economy, the involvement of the citizens in politics, and the types of sacrifices one should make to achieve a better society, would precipitate a range of outcomes both alike and unalike.
In a theoretical discussion, the four Soviet leaders may express a range of similarities and differences in their opinions regarding the issue of revolution. Distinct social, economic, and political situations establish the backdrop of each of the Soviet leaders’ ascensions into power and their exercise of authority upon gaining their leadership positions. Lenin led the Communist Party to power in Russia through a revolution in an attempt to implement the Marxist ideals of a classless, egalitarian society that was guided by the principles of voluntary cooperation (Kort 286). This goal indicates that the ideals of revolution would be important to Lenin. Additionally, he experienced relative ease in leading the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Party to victory in the revolution against the Romanov dynasty. In 1917, the revolution led by Lenin, through the participation of hundreds of thousands of tired and exasperated Russian workers, occurred with relative ease and speed that makes it remarkable when compared to other mass rebellions in the pursuit of social change (Kort 95). Furthermore, Lenin, despite being willing to use extreme force against the dissenters of his regime, decided to end the war. He applied communist policies to resolve the peasant wars of the 1920s to safeguard the ideals of the revolution (Valentino 102). These elements may further result in Lenin having a stronger opinion on the importance of revolution in achieving the reform goals when compared to the other three leaders of the Soviet nation.
In comparison to Lenin, Stalin would likely avail a differing set of opinion regarding the importance of revolution in enacting social change. Unlike Lenin, who ascended to the Soviet leadership in the wake of a revolution that had established a major power vacuum, Stalin was already a well-established and powerful member of the Bolshevik party when he became its leader. Stalin, upon the death of Lenin, rose to the top position in the party, which allowed him to consolidate his power greatly and purge the organization of any strong dissenters (Kort 189). Such actions and measures indicate that Stalin was not a proponent of popular revolution and, instead, primarily focused on amassing power for its own sake. However, the actions and policies enacted by Lenin aided Stalin’s rise across the political ranks in Russia. For instance, Lenin, while attempting to bolster the capabilities of the Bolsheviks, did not allow any significant criticism of his policies from within the party, and he instituted measures aimed at strengthening his authority, resulting in his regime failing to deliver on its promise of actual reforms (Kort 172). The results of such measures led to the transformation of the Russian Communist Party from a tool of delivering the goals of the revolution to a dictatorial entity focused on serving the power needs of its leadership.
Khrushchev and Gorbachev may also present a range of opinions regarding the role of revolution in a socialist nation. Nikita Khrushchev, after becoming the First Secretary of the Communist Party, instated a de-Stalinization campaign to introduce various reform agendas to satisfy the national need for change, including the demands for improved living standards, enhanced security, and better management of the party and state (Thomson 83). In response to these reform needs, Khrushchev emerged as a Soviet leader concerned with the welfare of the population, establishing him as a person who was conscious of the goals of the revolution. Similarly, Gorbachev identified the need of instituting reforms even at the expense of personal power, as indicated by his supposition that he could have remained at the helm of the Soviet leadership for much longer had he not enacted his reform policies (Thompson 83). These actions suggest that both Khrushchev and Gorbachev would have been relatively favorable to the idea of revolution as a tool for social change.
The four Soviet leaders also expressed a varying range of approaches regarding the issue of the communist ideology throughout their terms. Lenin, in his ‘April Theses,’ states that Soviet workers must guide the post-revolutionary government, with the socialist party dispensing all of the economic activities in the country to establish a regime of social control of production and distribution of the produced goods (Blaisdell 229). Additionally, Lenin called for the confiscation of all land estates, elimination of classes, police force, and the military; instead, the government was to dispense the control of these resources and execution of the services to workers and peasants directly (Blaisdell 229). Therefore, Lenin initially envisioned a situation where the workers and the peasants were adequately empowered, and they would control the means of production in the country. These sentiments indicate that Lenin initially focused on establishing a government guided by the principles of Marxism with the aim of implementing meaningful social reforms in the country. However, the subsequent actions of Lenin, through the implemented ‘Leninism’ policies, indicate a gradual shift from these early perspectives. As the leader of the Bolshevik faction, Lenin demanded the attainment and sustainment of absolute power, a goal that only a comprehensive dictatorial regime could attain (Kort 115). This aim indicated a shift in Lenin’s perspective, from building a government controlled by the workers in the country to the implementation of an authoritarian dictatorship that involved a few people holding most of the power and authority in the country.
Various factors may have precipitated the shifts in the leadership goals of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. For instance, the party anticipated that the resistance to the ideals and policies of war communism would primarily emerge from the wealthier citizens; instead, the majority of the peasantry formed the greatest opposition to the redistribution of the products of their labor (Valentino 102). This miscalculation primarily resulted from the fact that the peasants were the ones who suffered the most from the requisitioning efforts of the Bolsheviks since the regime effectively consumed a significant proportion of their meager resources. Lenin anticipated strong support from the agrarian peasants, since his regime promised them access to farming land; he thought that the tradition of collectivism among the peasantry would make them more compliant to a socialist regime (Defronzo 46). The resultant conflicts would force Lenin to undertake a number of concessions that undermined the ideological foundations of the Soviet Republic.
By 1921, with the elimination of the trade unions from industrial management, the abolition of factions within the Party, and the enunciation of the ‘New Economic Policy’ (NEP) with its concessions to the individual profit motive, the Communist leaders had completed their adaptation of a late-industrial program to early-industrial conditions. The occasion for the introduction of the NEP, which indicated a reversal of several ideological and practical goals of socialism such as allowing the practice of limited private enterprise, was a growing state of economic crisis and mass dissatisfaction, coming to a head in armed rebellion against the Soviet regime (Valentino 103). This policy indicated a key ideological retreat by Lenin’s government.
Stalin would continue the ideological revisions of Leninism principles. Stalin began reinforcing his position within the Communist Party well before the demise of Lenin, utilizing the flaws and failings of the Leninist policies, alongside the political weaknesses of his opponents, to his own advantage (Kort 184). Therefore, from the onset of his leadership of the country, Stalin exhibited an ability to manipulate doctrine to make it accord with pragmatically decided action. He extensively utilized the political tools implemented by the Lenin regime to purge the party of any potential opponents to suppress the occurrence of any meaningful internal criticism and rid himself of any serious opposition (Kort 185). These elements allowed Stalin the ability to institute the absolute right of the party to pass definitive judgment on any question, leading to the establishment of totalitarian thought control soon after the achievement of his personal rule in 1929.
Stalin further did not believe that the position of Russia in the pre-World War II era could allow the country to support meaningful Socialism revolutions around the world. Unlike Bolsheviks such as Trotsky, Stalin held the view that rather than pushing for Socialist revolutions in other countries, the Soviet Union should focus on enhancing its own industrial and agrarian capabilities to entrench its ability to defend itself against potential capitalist interventions (Defronzo 51). This cautiousness indicates that Stalin was more interested in the pragmatic goal of developing and controlling a country with superior industrial and technological ability rather than in the general ideological perspectives of Socialism.
Stalin’s desire for enhanced industrial and technological capabilities in the Soviet Union resulted in shifts in the way the regime handled their approach and management of the workers and the farmers, who formed the basis for the initial socialist revolution. Stalin’s drive for rapid industrialization resulted in the government demanding increasingly greater proportions of peasant production to trade for the capital resources required in the establishment of industries (Defronzo 52). This diversion of assets resulted in severe food shortages in the country, leading to suffering and death among the people. Additionally, Stalin’s drive for increased industrialization resulted in the subjection of the industrial workers to harsh conditions, restriction of the freedoms of labor unions, and a general decline in the living standards of the populace due to the insistence on heavy industry over consumer production (Defronzo 52). These decisions indicate that Stalin was not a true adherent to the collectivist ideals developed from the Marxist ideology.
The post-Stalin era contained a varying range of ideological approaches in the leadership of Russian Socialism. Scholarly reviews indicate that far from embroiling the true edicts of Marxist ideologies, a succession of ineffective economic policies has led to the entrenchment of corruption that has resulted in a small group of business elites enriching themselves at the expense of the country (Aslund 64). This trend has resulted in the extensive pilfering of public resources, in opposition to the communist principles. Daniels posits that the promise of the communist utopia in actuality failed within months after the Revolution rather than with the fall of the USSR in 1991 (34). A series of ideological reversals and the drive for increasing political powers among the socialist leaders are among the main causes of the collapse.
Therefore, in a discussion among Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev, one would expect them to avail a range of opinions regarding various aspects of socialism, drawing from their experiences with the ideology. While the four led a party that had a common origin, they evidently took differing approaches in the implementation of its founding ideals to diverse outcomes. Their experiences with the implementation of the socialist mandate in the Soviet Union are likely to influence their approaches in the theorized discussion.
- Aslund, Anders. ‘Russia’s Collapse.’ Foreign Affairs, vol. 78, no. 5, 1999, 64.
- Blaisdell, Bob. The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings: Marx, Marat, Paine, Mao, Gandhi, and Others. Courier Corporation, 2003.
- Daniels, Robert V. ‘The End of the Yeltsin Era.’ Dissent, vol. 46, no. 1, 1999, pp. 34-39.
- DeFronzo, James. Revolutions and revolutionary movements. Routledge, 2018.
- Kort, Michael. The Soviet Colossus: Lenin’s Russia. Routledge, 2010.
- Valentino, Benjamin A. Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century. Cornell University Press, 2004.