Ideology and System-Building: the Experience under Lenin and Stalin

  • Graeme Gill
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


Most scholars of ideology have distinguished between two different types of belief systems. These have been accorded various labels, including ‘pure’ and ‘practical’ ideology (theory and thought), ‘doctrine’ and ‘ideology’, and ‘fundamental’ and ‘operative’ ideology.1 The distinction which these labels reflect is between a body of philosophical principles and assumptions about the nature of reality and of historical change on the one hand, and on the other a set of tenets which are designed to link these principles and assumptions with existing reality by constituting an ‘action program’2 through which the adherents seek to realise those principles and assumptions in action. The more fundamental principles and assumptions combine together to constitute a social theory which has as its principal characteristic an explanatory orientation. The ideological tenets will be drawn from the body of social theory, but they will tend to be much less complex than the principles from which they spring. Indeed, one of their chief characteristics will be to rationalise or simplify the complex propositions of the social theory so as to enable them both to be understood and acted upon by those who may not have the philosophical training or insight to get to grips with the social theory as a whole.


Social Theory Class Struggle Ideological Position Socialist Revolution Political Form 
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  1. 1.
    These terms come from, respectively, Franz Schurmann, Ideology and Organisation in Communist China ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968 )Google Scholar
  2. V. Zaslaysky, ‘Socioeconomic inequality and changes in Soviet ideology’, Theory and Society, vol. 9, no. 2 (March 1980)Google Scholar
  3. and Martin Seliger, The Marxist Conception of Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. They are discussed further in Ray Taras, Ideology in a Socialist State: Poland 1956–1983 (Cambridge University Press, 1984), ch. 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 2.
    The term comes from Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, Ideology and Power in Soviet Politics ( New York: Praeger, 1962 ), p. 4.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    For discussions of Trotsky and Lenin, see Baruch Knei-Paz, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978 )Google Scholar
  7. and Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought, Vol.2: Theory and Practice in the Socialist Revolution ( London: Macmillan, 1981 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 5.
    Their letter is reprinted in Ann Bone (ed.), The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution. Minutes of the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) August 1917-February 1918 ( London: Pluto Press, 1974 ), pp. 89–95.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    For example, see Nogin’s declaration to VTsIK on 4 November 1917. This is reprinted in John L. H. Keep (ed.), The Debate on Soviet Power ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979 ), pp. 77–8.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    See Lenin’s comments in Sed’moi ekstrennyi sezd RKP(b). Mart 1918 goda. Stenograficheskii otchet (Moscow, 1962) pp. 11–16.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    For an official statement of this turning towards the East, see Bukharin’s speech to the XII Congress: Dvenadtsatyi sezd RKP(b) 17–25 aprelya 1923 goda. Stenograficheskii otchet (Moscow, 1968), pp.264–71. For Lenin’s view, see his ‘Luchshe men’she, da luchshe’, Pol. sob. soch., vol. 45, pp. 401–6.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    The best study of this is Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution. A Political Biography 1883–1938 ( London: Wildwood House, 1974 ).Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    I. V. Stalin, ‘Ob osnovakh leninizma’, Sochineniya, 13 vols. (Moscow, 1947–53), vol. 6, pp. 106–7.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    See his ‘K itogam rabot XIV konferentsii RKP(b)’, Sochineniya, vol. 7, pp. 113–16. It is spelled out at greater length in ‘K voprosam leninizma’, Sochineniya, vol. 8, pp. 60–75. The original statement of autumn 1924, which was amended in the way discussed here, was significantly watered down in reprintings of the text of Stalin’s original address. See Robert H. McNeal, Stalin’s Works. An Annotated Bibliography (Stanford University Press, 1967), pp. 110–11.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Articles 1 and 12. Also see Stalin’s ‘O proekte konstitutsii Soyuza SSR’, in his Sochineniya, Tom 1 (XIV), ed. R. H. McNeal (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1967), pp. 149— 50.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    For one discussion of this, see Neil Harding, ‘Socialism, society and the organic labour state’, in Neil Harding (ed.), The State in Socialist Society (London: Macmillan, 1984), esp. pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    Finally written in July-August 1917, this was designed as a response to what Lenin saw to be the erroneous veiws on the state of Kautsky and Bukharin. See Marion Sawer, ‘The genesis of State and Revolution: Lenin and left Marxism’, The Socialist Register 1977 (London: Merlin Press, 1977), pp. 209–27. Compare with Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought, vol. 2, ch. 6.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    See, for example, Stalin’s reports to the 14th and 15th Congresses: XIV sezd Vsesoyuznoi kommunisticheskoi partii (b) 18–31 dekabrya 1925g. Stenograficheskii otchet (Moscow-Leningrad, 1926), pp. 27–8, and Pyatnadtsatyi ezd VKP(b). Dekabr’ 1927 goda. Stenograficheskii otchet (Moscow, 1961), vol. 1, pp. 43–53.Google Scholar
  19. 34.
    For an explicit statement of the party’s task to lead the move into socialism, see Stalin’s report to the XVI Congress. XVI sezd Vsesoyuznoi kommunisticheskoi partii (b). Stenograficheskii otchet (Moscow, 1931), pp. 47–8.Google Scholar
  20. 37.
    For a general discussion, see Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983 ).Google Scholar
  21. 38.
    On the political aspects of this in the 1920s, see Graeme Gill, ‘Political myth and Stalin’s quest for authority in the party’, in T. H. Rigby, Archie Brown and Peter Reddaway (eds), Authority, Power and Policy in the USSR ( London: Macmillan, 1980 ), pp. 98–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 40.
    For an ideological justification of Stalin’s position, see K. Popov, ‘Partiya i rol’ vozdya’, Partiinoe stroitel’stvo, January 1930, pp. 3–9.Google Scholar
  23. 41.
    T. H.Rigby, Communist Party Membership in the USSR 1917–1967 (Princeton University Press, 1968), pp. 52–3. The number of people who entered the party was actually greater than these figures indicate because of the high levels of membership loss during the period.Google Scholar
  24. 46.
    Despite the claims of some. See for example, Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism (Oxford University Press, 1978 ), vol. 3, p. 41.Google Scholar

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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1988

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  • Graeme Gill

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