In 1906, a 27-year-old Joseph Stalin went to church and married a beautiful woman named Kato Svanidze, whom he had met two years earlier. According to those familiar to the couple, their relationship was a happy one that brought out a soft and loving side in the future Soviet dictator. To Stalin’s further delight, a son was soon born.
Tragedy struck the next year. Kato came down with typhus and succumbed that winter. Stalin was so grieved that he threw himself in her grave at her funeral service. Fearing what he might do to himself, his associates confiscated his gun.
Fifteen years later, the Russian Empire had collapsed and Stalin had become a prominent communist revolutionary. By 1922, the Bolshevik faction led by Vladimir Lenin had won the civil war and established a communist dictatorship across the territory of Russia.
For Lenin, injured in an assassination attempt and in poor health from his wanton lifestyle, the last two years of his life was the process of his physical deterioration. Delegating more power to his revolutionary cabal, the derelict leader suffered his final stroke and died in 1924.
‘A Grey Blur’
Stalin, who took power in the political struggle after Lenin’s death, differed from more flamboyant dictators of his era, such as the bombastic Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. In 1917, a non-Bolshevik communist had remarked that he was like a “grey blur,” and this view was shared by other revolutionaries, who generally found Stalin unremarkable.
According to late Sovietologist Robert Conquest, Stalin had only an intermediate understanding of communist theory. He was not given to revealing his thoughts and did not stick out among “the talkative politicians of the time.”
But while his grasp of Marxist theory was mediocre, Stalin possessed a good memory and a keen understanding of psychology. In a system that rejected constant morality or even notions of utility, Stalin attacked and marginalized his Bolshevik peers one step at a time until he was in an unforeseen position of strength. In his work “The Great Terror,” Conquest termed this a “coup d’etat by inches.”
In his battles with the so-called “Right Opposition” led by top Bolsheviks like Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin found it expedient remain faithful to failed communist economic policies of the civil war and criticized the semi-capitalist “New Economic Policy” that Lenin had temporarily instituted to recover from the disaster.
In his insistence on establishing a planned economy, or what Hoover Institute economist Paul Gregory called an “administrative-command system,” Stalin not only defeated the opposing wings of the Bolshevik leadership, he also conformed with the political spirit of the Marxist movement.
In “The Political Economy of Stalinism,” Gregory posits that the Bolshevik Party’s core ideological position determined its opposition against capitalism as an “anarchy of the market.”
The desire to control the myriad aspects of economic activity, combined with the creed of struggle inherent to Marxism, made totalitarian dictatorship inevitable.
It was in this ideological climate that Joseph Stalin, a hardened criminal and intellectually gifted romantic twisted personal tragedy, could thrive. Upon the death of his beloved Kato many years earlier, he had said: “with her died my last warm feelings for humanity.”
Where most governments, including authoritarian regimes, legitimize their rule with appeals to law, tradition, religion, or nation, the Marxist idea of dialectical materialism dispensed with these idealisms, as demonstrated in the brutality that the Bolsheviks had visited upon millions of people in their road to power.
Karl Marx believed a proletarian revolution could only come about through violence. In 1875, the philosopher severely chastised a political program in his native Germany that advocated the gradual development of socialism, calling the approach “revisionist.”
Lenin’s Bolsheviks treated their fellow communists and socialists with similar disdain. Key to the Bolshevik victory was their temporary manipulation, usurpation, and ultimate eradication of less radical or less well-organized leftists, including the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries.
In true Marxist dialectical fashion, Stalin prevailed over his enemies in the Party, including military commander Leon Trotsky, who had played a critical role in the Bolshevik cause. Of the central figures in the Soviet leadership at Lenin’s death in 1924, by the end of 1940 every single one of them was dead on Stalin’s orders.
‘Spare the Cause, not the Individual’
For many communists and other revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Russian Revolution presented a liberating break from the authoritarian Czarist monarchy. Marxism, egalitarianism, and social struggle seemed to them appropriately progressive for the industrial age.
In the early stages of Bolshevik rule, many radical social programs were pushed out in fields such as employment, art, education, and sexuality. Such early movements matched the ideas set forth in the Communist Manifesto and other Marxist writings. The nature of man lay in his economic relations. Outside of this, traditional concepts of religious faith or moral restraint could reflect only the social constructs—in Marxist theory, the “superstructure” of an exploitative economic “base.”
Such iconoclastic endeavors occurred at the same time that the communists actively burned churches, murdered priests, and executed wholesale people who belonged to groups deemed exploiters or capitalists.
In this lens, the fruits of communist revolution, under both Lenin and Stalin, are easy to understand. Toppling Russia’s legal republican government led to the Russian Civil War, which claimed as many as 12 million lives. In the over two decades of Stalin’s rule during peacetime, between 20 and 40 million people died of manmade causes, be they famine, the dreaded gulag system of forced labor camps, or a simple bullet to the head.
It is a fundamental irony of communism that the fate of the early Russian iconoclasts was, in many cases, to be executed by the secret police or worked to death in Stalin’s gulag system. The ideology rejected the constraints of abstract authority, such as God or family, only to erect absolute tyranny in the name of revolution, and place a deified representative of the Communist Party at the top of the hierarchy. In the Soviet Union, this deity was Stalin, around whom the Communist Party built a powerful cult of personality.
“Don’t spare the individual; spare only the cause,” Stalin once said. This adage evidently held true for himself and his family, as it did his tens of millions of victims.
“Listen, you are not Stalin,” the leader once told his son Vasiliy. “Even I am not Stalin. Stalin is Soviet power. Stalin is what is written about in the newspapers and what is in the portraits.”
Communism is estimated to have killed at least 100 million people, yet its crimes have not been fully compiled and its ideology still persists. The Epoch Times seeks to expose the history and beliefs of this movement, which has been a source of tyranny and destruction since it emerged. Read the whole series at ept.ms/TheDeadEndCom
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.