Stalin: A Purely Political Leader

In the preface to his profile of Stalin author Hiroaki Kuromiya mentioned that Stalin lived solely by politics, and that set him apart from other leaders who lived at times by politics, but not to the sole extent that Stalin did.  Stalin was, by all intents and purposes, devoid of any kind of human sentiment that would waver his beliefs both in his party and in himself.[1]  In fact, in many ways Stalin seemed unable to separate himself as a person from Soviet ideology and the party – seeing himself as the embodiment of the party as a whole.[2]  The meaning behind this introductory statement was illusive except for brief glimpses until chapter 6, which focused on Stalin’s leadership in WWII.  Then the concept of Stalin as the personification of the Soviet party and his political role in both offensive and defensive leadership really sunk in, highlighting both his insecurity with himself as well as his faith in the overall party as a political system that was, in fact, bigger than himself.

Despite the years of terror in which Stalin purged almost every potential rival from the party, including many who simply disagreed with his ideas or criticized his policies or plans, Stalin remained paranoid and insecure at the dawn of WWII.  Although he had signed a non-aggression agreement with Hitler and was confident (despite reports to the contrary) that the German army would not invade Russia, he undoubtedly felt increasing pressure on both the Eastern and Western fronts.  By aligning with Hitler, Stalin faced the potential for war with France and Great Britain.  On the other hand, Japan threatened the Eastern side of the Soviet empire.  Given this enormous amount of pressure combined not only with his deep-seeded insecurity and potentially false bravado, Stalin made (according to Kuromiya) the mistake of his life by failing to heed the warnings of his intelligence officers about the German advance.  The mistake was costly both in terms of human lives and in terms of territory and reputation.  Recognizing the magnitude of his error in judgement, it seems as though Stalin retreated into himself, rather than taking the gruff command he previously exhibited.[3]  What was particularly interesting was that Stalin, despite his elimination of his rivals and opposition, at some level believed that his mistake would cost him at the very least his freedom, if not his life – a fate that millions of others had suffered under his rule for far smaller offenses.  A failure on the part of the Red Army or of the Soviet people or of the government was a personal failure to Stalin, who typically exhibited extraordinary patience, cunning and intrigue to his advantage.  This was how deeply entwined Stalin believed himself to be as the leader of the government, the army and the Communist party – an all-powerful dictator for all intents and purposes who still felt the strain of shortcoming on a personal and political level.

[1] Hiroaki Kuromiya, Stalin: Profiles in Power, Harlow: Pearson, 2005, ix.

[2] Kuromiya, Stalin, ix.

[3] Kuromiya, Stalin, 151.