Bolshevism and Stalinism

Bolshevism and Stalinism

Every great revolution puts forth, for debate by future scholars and partisans alike, a quintessential historical and interpretative question. Of all the historical questions raised by the Bolshevik revolution and its outcome, none is larger, more complex, or more important than that of the relationship between Bolshevism and Stalinism.

It is essentially the question of whether the original Bolshevik movement that predominated politically for a decade after 1917 and the subsequent events and social-political order that emerged under Stalin in the 1930s are to be interpreted in terms of fundamental continuity or discontinuity. It is also a question that necessarily impinges upon and shapes the historian’s perspective on a host of smaller but critical issues between 1917 and 1939. With only slight exaggeration, one can say to the historian of these years: Tell me your interpretation of the relationship between Bolshevism and Stalinism, and I will tell you how you interpret almost all of significance that happened between. Finally, it is or it has been—a political question. Generally, apart from Western devotees of the official historiography in Moscow, the less empathy a historian has felt for the Revolution and Bolshevism, the less he has seen meaningful distinctions between Bolshevism and Stalinism.

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Lima