You are probably familiar with Joseph Stalin and Communism. However, the way Stalin implemented the idea of communism is surprisingly different from what you may know about that ideology. Stalin's implementation built one of the most effective cults of personality while changing the foundations of pre-revolution Russia. 

Get started Sign up for free
Stalinism Stalinism

Create learning materials about Stalinism with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents

    This article will inform you about Stalinism, its history, and its characteristics. Through it, you will learn the ideology of one of the most prolific dictators in history and the beginning of the most giant experiment of socialism in history.

    Meaning of Stalinism

    Stalinism is a political ideology that follows the principles of communism, especially Marxism. However, it is oriented toward the ideas of Joseph Stalin.

    Although Marxism inspired Stalinism, these political ideas differ. Marxism seeks to empower the workers to create a new society where everyone is equal. On the contrary, Stalinism repressed the workers and limited their influence because he considered it necessary to slow their development so that they would not obstruct Stalin's goal: to achieve the nation's welfare.

    Stalinism reigned in the Soviet Union from 1929 until Stalin died in 19531. Currently, his rule is seen as a totalitarian government. The following table briefly describes its most relevant characteristics:

    The state took over all the means of production, including forcibly taking land from its owners2

    Total control of the national economy.

    Centralisation of the economy through 5-year plans.

    The rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Economy, through factory reforms, forced peasants to become industrial workers.

    Political participation required membership in the Communist Party.

    Absolute control of the media and censorship.

    Censorship of experimental artists’ expression.

    All artists were obliged to recreate ideological content in art under the trend of realism.

    Surveillance and persecution of government opponents or possible government saboteurs, carried out by the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs.

    Imprisonment, executions and forced confinement of opposition to the government.

    Promoted the slogan “socialism in one country”.

    Creation of a state of absolute power.

    Extreme repression, violence, physical attacks and psychological terror against anyone questioning the government.

    Table 1 – Stalinism's relevant characteristics.

    Stalinism is also known for the government's control over the economy and its extensive use of propaganda, appealing to emotions and building a cult of personality around Stalin. It also made use of secret police to suppress opposition.

    Who was Joseph Stalin?

    Stalinism Joseph Stalin StudySmarterFig. 1 – Joseph Stalin.

    Joseph Stalin was one of the dictators of the Soviet Union. He was born in 1878 and died in 19531. During Stalin's rule, the Soviet Union emerged from its economic crisis and backwardness as a peasant and workers' society to become a world power through its industrial, military, and strategic advances.

    From a young age, Stalin was called to revolutionary politics and became involved in criminal activities. However, after Lenin died in 19243, Stalin overcame those who would be his competitors. His most significant actions during his administration were redistributing agriculture and executing or forcibly disappearing his enemies, opponents, or competitors.

    Vladimir Lenin founded the Russian Communist Party and was the leader and architect of the Soviet state, which he ruled from 1917 to 19244 when he died. His political writings created a form of Marxism that detailed the process from the capitalist state to communism. He led the Bolshevik faction throughout the Russian Revolution of 19174.

    In the early days of the Russian Communist Party, Stalin oversaw violent tactics to achieve financing for the Bolsheviks. According to him, Lenin often applauded his tactics, which were violent but compelling.

    Ideology of Stalinism

    Stalinism Stalinism Ideology StudySmarterFig. 2 – Drawing Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

    Marxism and Leninism were the basis of Stalin's political thought. He adapted its principles to his particular beliefs and declared that global socialism was his ultimate goal. Marxism-Leninism was the official name of the political ideology of the Soviet Union, which was also adopted by its satellite states.

    Marxism is a political doctrine developed by Karl Marx which stands on the concepts of class relations and social conflict. It seeks to achieve a perfect society where everyone is free, which the workers would accomplish through a socialist revolution.

    This ideology states that to change a capitalist society, you would need to implement a socialist state that would gradually transform it into a perfect communist utopia. To achieve the socialist state, Stalin believed a violent revolution was necessary, as pacifist means would not accomplish the fall of socialism.

    Leninism is a political ideology inspired by Marxist theory and developed by Vladimir Lenin. It expands the process of transformation from a capitalist society to communism. Lenin believed that a small and disciplined group of revolutionaries would need to overthrow the capitalist system to establish a dictatorship to guide society into dissolving the state.

    Stalin succeeded in rapidly industrialising Russia. He opened factories and more industries, developed more means of transport, boosted domestic production in the countryside, and forced workers to work more than they usually did. Through these radical policies, he turned Russia into a country that could compete economically with capitalist countries. However, some of these measures came at the cost of widespread famine.

    To fight the opposition, Stalin rules through coercion and threat. He stayed in power for so long by abusing his position through fear and mass manipulation. His time as a leader is tainted by the death of millions in concentration camps, torture chambers, and police aggression. This table shows some fundamental characteristics of Stalinism5:

    Marxist-Leninist ideas

    Radical Economic Policies

    Socialism in one country

    Terror-based government

    Table 2 – Fundamental characteristics of Stalinism.

    “Everyday Stalinism” is a book by Sheila Fitzpatrick that describes the everyday life of Russian workers during this period. It helps understand the cultural changes and life of commoners at a time of severe repression.

    Stalinism and Communism

    While most consider Stalinism a form of communism, there are some areas where Stalinism departs from Communism and Classical Marxism. Arguably the most significant of these is the Stalinist idea of socialism in one country.

    Socialism in one country abandons the classical idea of the world socialist revolution to focus on building a national socialist system. It arose because the various European revolutions in favour of communism failed, so they decided to seek the strengthening of communist ideas from within the nation.

    Those sympathetic to socialism in one country argue that these ideas are centred on opposing Leon Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution and the communist left's theory of global course.

    Leon Trotsky was a Russian communist leader who allied with Lenin to overthrow the Russian government to establish a communist regime. He commanded the Red Army during the Russian civil war with great success. After Lenin's death, he was ousted from power by Joseph Stalin.

    Stalin put forward the idea in 19245 that this ideology could be successful in Russia, which contradicted Lenin's version of socialism. Lenin focused on the political circumstances for establishing socialism in Russia as he believed the country did not have the right economic conditions for socialism following the devastation of the First World War.

    For this reason, Lenin concerned himself with the finances of the country and their improvement to create a base to construct a socialist economy. While initially, Stalin agreed, he later changed his mind, expressing his thoughts in the following manner:

    If we knew beforehand that we were not up to the task [of building socialism in Russia on our own], then why did we have to make the October Revolution? If we have achieved it for eight years, why shouldn't we reach it in the ninth, tenth, or fortieth year?6

    The unbalancing of political forces changed Stalin's thinking, which gave him the courage to confront Marxist ideas and express his opinion on establishing a socialist system.

    History and Origin of Stalinism

    Throughout the rule of Vladimir Lenin, Stalin established influence within the communist party. After Lenin's death, there was a struggle for power between him and Leon Trotsky. Ultimately, supporting key communist leaders gave Stalin the edge over Trotsky, who went into exile while Stalin took over the government.

    Stalin's vision was to reinforce the revolutionary socialist model by bringing Russia out of its economic recession. He did so through industrialisation. Stalin added the element of surveillance and regulation to prevent political opponents from hindering the socialist state.

    "The Total Art of Stalinism" Is a book by Boris Groys about the history of Soviet art at this time. It contains several references to the culture around Stalin during his rule.

    Between 1929 and 19417, Stalin established five-year plans to change the Russian industry. He also attempted the collectivisation of agriculture, which ended in 19368, when his mandate became a totalitarian regime. These policies, along with the approach of socialism in one country, developed into what is now known as Stalinism.

    European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.

    The European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Stalinism, also known as Black Ribbon Day, is celebrated on August 23rd, honouring the victims of Stalinism and Nazism. This day was chosen and created by the European Parliament between 2008 and 20099.

    The Parliament selected August 23rd because of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a pact of non-aggression between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, signed in 193910, when the Second World War was beginning.

    The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact also split Polony between the two nations. It was ultimately broken by the Germans when they launched Operation Barbarossa, which consisted of an invasion of the Soviet Union.

    Stalinism - Key takeaways

    • Stalinism is the political thought and ideology that follows the principles of communism but is oriented toward the ideas of Joseph Stalin.

    • Joseph Stalin was the dictator of the Soviet Union between 1929 and 1953.

    • Stalinism as an ideology is a form of communism but deviates notably due to the policy of socialism in one country.

    • Stalinism was developed through Stalin's policy during his time in power.

    • The European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Stalinism is celebrated internationally on August 23rd in memory of the victims of Stalinism and Nazism.


    1. The History Editors. Joseph Stalin. 2009.
    2. S. Fitzpatrick, M. Geyer. Beyond Totalitarianism. Stalinism and Nazism. 2009.
    3. The History Editors. Vladimir Lenin. 2009.
    4. S. Fitzpatrick. The Russian Revolution. 1982.
    5. L. Barrow. Socialism: Historical Aspects. 2015.
    6. Lowe. The Illustrated Guide of Modern History. 2005.
    7. S. Fitzpatrick, M. Geyer. Beyond Totalitarianism. Stalinism and Nazism. 2009.
    8. L. Barrow. Socialism: Historical Aspects. 2015.
    9. Von der Leyen. Statement on the Europe-Wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. 2022.
    10. M. Kramer. The Soviet Role in World War II: Realities and Myths. 2020.
    11. Table 1 – Stalinism's relevant characteristics.
    12. Fig. 1 – Losif Stalin ( by Unidentified photographer ( licensed by CC-Zero (
    13. Fig. 2 – Marx Engels Lenin Stalin Mao Gonzalo ( by Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) ( licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (
    14. Table 2 – Fundamental characteristics of Stalinism.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Stalinism

    What is the total art of Stalinism?

    "The Total Art of Stalinism" Is a book written by Boris Groys about the history of Soviet art.

     How did Stalin come to power?

    Stalin rose to power after Lenin's death in 1924. He assumed his position in the government after clashing with other Bolshevik leaders such as Leon Trotsky. Stalin was supported by some leading communists, such as Kamenev and Zinoviev, to achieve his power.

    What was Stalin's key focus when he came to power?

    Stalin's idea was to strengthen the revolutionary socialist model as much as possible. He established the concept of "socialism in one country" to build a socialist system.

    What is a everyday Stalinism summary?

    In brief, this book looks at life in the Soviet Union during Stalinism and everything that Russian society went through during that period.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What was Stalin's inspiration for his political model?

    Which years did Stalin rule as the leader of the Soviet Union?

    Which of these are principles of Stalinism?


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Politics Teachers

    • 10 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner