Differences between Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, and Maoism
After Lenin’s death, one of the leading questions in Russia was the question of internationalism – should they follow the ‘international revolution’ policy or the ‘socialism in one country’ policy? Trotsky sided with the former position, while Stalin sided with the latter. Stalin was not opposed to the idea that the revolution was to be international, he only opposed the view that all countries in the world had to be follow the revolution more or less simultaneously, or indeed that some countries could not develop socialism independent of others being socialist. At least in the early stages of his rule, he closely followed Lenin’s position that revolutions cannot simply occur everywhere at the same time. Revolutions don’t just drop down from the sky:
‘I know,’ says Lenin, ‘that there are, of course, sages who think they are very clever and even call themselves Socialists, who assert that power should not have been seized until the revolution had broken out in all countries. They do not suspect that by speaking in this way they are deserting the revolution and going over to the side of the bourgeoisie. To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense.’ (Stalin on May 9th, 1925, The Results of the Work of the Fourteenth Conference of the R.C.P.(B.))
This position nevertheless stood in contrast to Trotsky’s emphasis on world revolution (and indeed also Marx and Engels’ position) who emphasised the global character of the revolution.
More importantly, what really defines Stalinism is his economic policy, which aimed to depart from previous economic policy established by Lenin (and which Stalin claimed was still far too close to capitalism). Stalin thus aimed to pursue speedy collectivisation and industrialisation, recording one of the greatest economic booms in history (the most conservative sources have low double digits in the 1940s, while the official channels state 10x increase between 1922 and 1940).1 That this policy was successful is almost beyond doubt, even if the numbers were exaggerated; but it was also costly (in human life terms). For this reason some refer to Stalinism as any doctrine that is overly authoritarian or has the potential of costing lives. The important note here is that one should not exclude the former (economic policy) from the latter (cost of lives) – to do so is to completely miss the point of Stalinism. That said, I am not arguing for Stalin’s policy (as some Marxists have done, like Frederic Jameson; nor am I condemning it, like most Ukrainians would do today. My aim is only to say that Stalin’s economic policy is what characterises Stalinism, and not simply the atrocities, which, though inevitable result of these policies, can be historically grounded in any ideology. Stalinism has everything to do with murdering, gulags, etc., but not as an isolated/insulated political move. To think so is to ignore every state’s history, where one will find all these without a mention of Stalinism at some dark period of their respective histories (US plantations closely resemble gulag working camps, but could not be further removed from Stalin ideologically; the same could be said of any European colonial power, for instance).
Maoism is a curious anomaly in the bunch, partly because China is still a communist state, and partly because it came with an experience of other communists before it, and so was able to adapt to what Mao thought would work best. Mao’s main contention rested on the view that the working class could not be a revolutionary vanguard (á la Lenin) – it barely existed in China at the time. Instead, the majority of China’s population consisted of peasants, so that the key role of the revolution should rest with them. Maoism is thus an adaptation of Marx and Lenin to the conditions of China – not the working class are exploited, but the peasants; ipso facto, not the working class are the revolutionary force, but the peasants. The strength of this deviation really depends on the reader. One could go as far as stating a complete negation of Marxism (after all, no working class); or it could simply mean a minor adaptation in the revolutionary process, while the Great Leap Forward (as Mao’s socio-economic policy) and the Cultural Revolution (as his socio-political policy) were meant to prepare China for the classless society.
One key note in Mao’s progression towards the classless society is his theory of New Democracy. Similar to Trotskyism, the idea is that there is no need to progress from a capitalist bourgeois society to an industrial proletariat society to a classless one. The first two stages can be overcome in one go (i.e. from China’s mostly agrarian population to one where the working class are in power). There is also an element of Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country’ policy, as Mao too advocated the possibility of an independent revolution. Mao equally held to the global character of the revolution, though (at least to my knowledge) very little was done to promote any revolutions outside of China; and he was also the cause of millions deaths as was Stalin (though again, this is not unique to Maoism).
Another key note is the somewhat obscure notice Mao made later in his life: the Three World Theory. The idea is that there are three types of world – the first world of superpowers (USA and USSR), the second world of powers siding with superpowers (Western European states for USA, others for USSR), and a third world of exploited states (basically the rest – Africa, Latin America, and Asia). Mao’s insight here is to divide the world not according to development (as we have today), or according to diplomatic allegiance or formal ideological similarities (like the US and UK Three-World Model). The idea is quite convincing at first, but it is underexplored in terms corroborating empirical data.
- For those looking for a source, you’ll have to consult the statistical yearbooks from USSR. There you would find the following data: 1922 – 1; 1940 – 11; 1960 – 50; 1965 – 68; 1970 – 99; 1975 -131; 1980 – 162; 1981 – 167. Do note that there are plenty of historians who would claim that these numbers are probably unreliable, that they were at a tremendous human cost, that they were despite Stalin, or all three of these points.