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Ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

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Title: Ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union  
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Ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Soviet Union

The ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was based on Marxism–Leninism. It was presented as an absolute truth for understanding social life.


Marxism–Leninism was the cornerstone of Soviet ideology.[1] It explained and legitimised the CPSU's right to rule, while explaining its role as a vanguard party.[1] For instance, the ideology explained that the CPSU's policies, even if they were unpopular, were correct because the party was enlightened.[1] It was represented to be the only truth in Soviet society, and with it rejecting the notion of multiple truths.[1] In short, it was used to justify CPSU rule and Soviet policy, however, this doesn't mean that Marxism–Leninism was used as a means to an end.[1] The relationship between ideology and decision-making was at best ambivalent, with most policy decisions taken in the light of the continued, permanent development of Marxism–Leninism.[2] Marxism–Leninism, as the only truth, could not by its very nature become outdated.[3]

Despite having evolved over the years, Marxism–Leninism had several central tenets.[4] The main tenet was the party's status as sole ruling party.[4] The [4] State socialism was essential, and from Stalin until Gorbachev official discourse considered private social and economic activity as retarding the development of collective consciousness and of the economy.[5] Gorbachev supported privatization to a degree, but based his policies on Lenin's and Bukharin's view on the New Economic Policy of the 1920s, and supported complete state ownership over the commanding heights of the economy.[5] Unlike liberalism, Marxism–Leninism stressed not the importance of the individual, but rather the role of the individual as a member of a collective.[5] Thus defined, individuals had only the right to freedom of expression if it safeguarded the interests of the collective.[5] For instance, in the 1977 Constitution Marxism–Leninism it was stated that every person had the right to express their opinion, but that opinion could only be expressed if it was in accordance with the "general interests of Soviet society."[5] In short, the amount of rights granted to an individual was decided by the state, and could be taken away by the state as it saw fit.[5] Soviet Marxism–Leninism justified nationalism, and the media portrayed every victory of the Soviet Union as a victory for the communist movement as a whole.[5] In large parts, Soviet nationalism was based upon ethnic Russian nationalism.[5] Marxism–Leninism stressed the importance of the worldwide conflict between capitalism and socialism, and Soviet press talked about progressive and reactionary forces, while claiming that socialism was on the verge of victory; that the "correlations of forces" were in the Soviet Union's favour.[5] The ideology professed state atheism, and members were not allowed to be religious.[6] At last, Marxism–Leninism believed in the feasibility of communist mode of production, and all policies were justifiable if it contributed to the Soviet Union's reaching that stage.[7]


In intellectuals, rather than by the working class itself.[8] The party was open only to a small amount of the workers, the reason being that the workers in Russia still had not developed class consciousness and therefore needed to be educated to reach such a state.[8] Lenin believed that the vanguard party could initiate policies in the name of the working class even if the working class did not support them, since the vanguard party would know what was best for the workers, since the party functionaries had attained consciousness.[8]

Leninism was by definition [8] He viewed the dictatorship of the proletariat, in contrast to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, as the dictatorship of the majority.[8] The repressive powers of the state were to be used to transform the country, and to strip of the former ruling class of their wealth.[8] Lenin believed that the transition from the capitalist mode of production to the socialist mode of production would last for a long period.[9] In contrast to Karl Marx, who believed that the socialist revolution would be composed of and led by the working class alone, Lenin argued that a socialist revolution did not necessarily need to be led or composed of by the working class alone, instead contending that a revolution needed to be led by the oppressed classes of society, which in the case of Russia, was the peasant class.[10]


Stalinism, while not an ideology per se, refers to the thoughts and policies of Stalin

Stalinism, while not an ideology per se, refers to Stalin's thoughts and policies.[11] Stalin's introduction of the concept "Socialism in One Country" in 1924 was a major turning point in Soviet ideological discourse.[11] The Soviet Union did not need a socialist world revolution to construct a socialist society, Stalin claimed.[11] Four years later, Stalin initiated his "Second Revolution" with the introduction of state socialism and central planning.[11] In the early-1930s, he initiated collectivization of Soviet agriculture, by de-privatizing agriculture, but not turning it under the responsibility of the state, per se, instead creating peasant cooperatives.[11] With the initiation of his "Second Revolution", Stalin launched the "Cult of Lenin" and a cult of personality centered upon himself.[11] For instance, the name of the city of Petrograd was changed to Leningrad, the town of Lenin's birth was renamed Ulyanov (Lenin's birth-name), the Order of Lenin became the highest state award and portraits of Lenin were hanged up everywhere; in public squares, factories and offices etc.[12] The increasing bureaucracy which followed after the introduction of a state socialist economy was at complete odds with the Marxist notion of "the withering away of the state".[13] Stalin tried to explain the reasoning behind it at the 16th Congress (held in 1930);[13]

We stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which represents the mightiest and most powerful authority of all forms of State that have ever existed. The highest development of the State power for the withering away of State power —this is the Marxian formula. Is this "contradictory"? Yes, it is "contradictory." But this contradiction springs from life itself and reflects completely Marxist dialectic."[13]

The idea that the state would wither away was later abandoned by Stalin at the 18th Congress (held in 1939), in which he expressed confidence that the state would exist, even if the Soviet Union reached communism, as long as it was encircled by capitalism.[14] Two key concepts were created in the later half of his rule; the "two camp" theory and that of "capitalist encirclement".[13] The threat of capitalism was used to strengthen Stalin's personal powers, and Soviet propaganda began making a direct link with Stalin and stability in society, claiming that the country would crumble without the leader.[13] Stalin deviated greatly from classical Marxism when it came to "subjective factors", claiming that party members, whatever rank, had to profess fanatic adherence to the party's line and ideology, if not those policies would fail.[13]


Dictatorship of the proletariat

"Either the dictatorship of the landowners and capitalists, or the dictatorship of the proletariat ... There is no middle course ... There is no middle course anywhere in the world, nor can there be."

Lenin, supporting Marx's view of the state, believed democracy to be unattainable anywhere in the world before the proletariat seized power.[15] According to Marxist theory, the state is a vehicle for oppression and is headed by a ruling class.[15] He believed that by his time, the only viable solution was dictatorship since the war was heading into a final conflict between the "progressive forces of socialism and the degenerate forces of capitalism."[16] The Russian Revolution was by 1917, already a failure according to its original aim which was to act as an inspiration for a world revolution.[16] The initial anti-statist posture and the active campaigning for direct democracy was replaced, because of Russia's level of development, with, according to their own assessments, dictatorship.[16] The reasoning being Russia's lack of development, its status as the sole socialist state in the world, its encirclement by imperialist powers and its internal encirclement by the peasantry.[17]

Marx, similar to Lenin, did not care if a bourgeoise state was ruled accordance with a republican, parliamentary or a constitutional monarchial system since in essence this did not change the overall situation.[18] These systems, even if they were ruled by a small clique or ruled through mass participation, were in the last analysis all, by definition, dictatorships of the bourgeoise who by their very nature implemented policies in defense of capitalism.[19] However, there was a difference; Lenin, after the failures of the world revolutions, argued that this did not necessarily have to change under the dictatorship of the proletariat.[20] The reasoning came from wholly practical considerations; the majority of the country's inhabitants were not communists, neither could the party reintroduce parliamentary democracy since that was neither in sync with their ideology and would lead to the party losing power.[20] He therefore concluded that "The form of government has absolutely nothing do to with" the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat.[20] Bukharin and Trotsky agreed with Lenin, both claiming that the revolution had only destroyed the old, but failing completely in creating anything sort of new.[21] Lenin had now concluded that the dictatorship of the proletariat would not alter the relationship of power between men, but rather "transform their productive relations so that, in the long run, the realm of necessity could be overcome and, with that, genuine social freedom realised."[22] It was in the period 1920–1921, that Soviet leaders and ideologists began differentiating between socialism and communism, hitherto the two terms had been used interchangeably and used to explain the same things.[22] From then, the two terms meant two different things; Russia was in the transition from capitalism to socialism (referred to interchangeably under Lenin as the dictatorship of the proletariat), socialism being the intermediate stage to communism and communism, the last stage.[22] By now, the party leaders believed that universal mass participation and true democracy could only take form in the last stage, because of Russia's backward state.[22] In early Bolshevik discourse, the term dictatorship of the proletariat, was of little significance, and the few time it was mentioned, it was likened to the form of government which had existed in the Paris Commune.[22] However, with the ensuing Russian Civil War and the social and material devastation that followed, its meaning was transformed; from commune-type democracy to rule by iron-discipline.[23] By now, Lenin had concluded that only a proletarian regime as oppressive as its opponents could survive in this world.[24] The powers previously bestowed upon the Soviets were now given to the Council of People's Commissars, the central government, which was in turn to be governed by "an army of steeled revolutionary Communists [by Communists he referred to the Party]".[25] In a letter to Gavril Myasnikov, Lenin in late 1920 explained his new reinterpretation of the term dictatorship of the proletariat;[26]

"Dictatorship means nothing more nor less than authority untrammelled by any laws, absolutely unrestricted by any rules whatever, and based directly on force. The term 'dictatorship' has no other meaning but this."[26]

Lenin justified these policies by claiming that all states were class states by nature, and that these states were maintained through class struggle.[26] This meant that the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union could only be "won and maintained by the use of violence against the bourgeoise".[26] The main problem with this analysis is that the Party came to view anyone opposing or holding alternate views of the party as bourgeoise.[26] However, the worst enemy remained the moderates, which were 'objectively' considered to be "the real agents of the bourgeoise in the working class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class".[27] In short, bourgeoise became synonymous with opponent and with people who disagreed with the party in general.[28] These oppressive measures led to another reinterpretation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and socialism in general; it was now defined as a purely economic system.[29] Slogans and theoretical works about democratic mass participation and collective decision-making were now replaced with texts which supported authoritarian management.[29] Considering the situation, the party believed it has to use the same powers as the bourgeoise to transform Russia, there was no other alternative.[30] Lenin began arguing that the proletariat, similar to the bourgeoise, did not have a single preference for a form of government, and because of that dictatorship was acceptable to both the party and the proletariat.[31] In a meeting with party officials, Lenin stated that (in line with his economist view of socialism) that "Industry is indispensable, democracy is not", further arguing that "we do not promise any democracy or any freedom."[31]


The Marxist theory on imperialism was conceived by Lenin in his book, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism (published in 1917).[32] It was written in response to the theoretical crisis within Marxist thought, which occurred due to capitalism' recovery in the 19th century.[32] According to Lenin, imperialism was a specific stage of development of capitalism; a stage he referred to as state monopoly capitalism.[32] The Marxist movement was split on how to solve capitalism' resurgence and revitalisation after the great depression of the late-19th century.[33] Eduard Bernstein, from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP), considered capitalism' revitalisation as proof that capitalism was evolving into a more humane system, further adding that the basic aims of socialists were not to overthrow the state, but rather to take power through elections.[33] On the other hand, Karl Kautsky, from the SDP, held a highly dogmatic view, claiming that there was no crisis within Marxist theory.[33] Both of them, however, denied or belittled the role of class contradictions in society after the crisis.[33] In contrast, Lenin believed that capitalism' resurgence was the beginning of a new phase of capitalism; this stage being created because of a strengthening of class contradiction, not because of its reduction.[33]

Lenin did not know when imperialist stage of capitalism began, and claimed it would be foolish to look for a specific year, however he does assert it began at the beginning of the 20th century (at least in Europe).[34] Lenin believed that the economic crisis of 1900 accelerated and intensified the concentration of industry and banking, which led to the transformation the finance capital connection to industry into the monopoly of large banks."[35] In Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin wrote; "the twentieth century marks the turning-point from the old capitalism to the new, from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital."[35] Lenin's defines imperialism as the monopoly stage of capitalism.[36]

Peaceful coexistence

"Peaceful coexistence" was an ideological concept introduced under Khrushchev's rule.[37] While the concept has been interpreted by fellow communists as proposing an end to the conflict between the systems of capitalism and socialism, Khrushchev saw it instead as a continuation of the conflict in every area with the exception in the military field.[38] The concept claimed that the two systems were developed "by way of diametrically opposed laws", which led to "opposite principles in foreign policy."[39]

The concept was steeped in Leninist and Stalinist thought.[39] Lenin believed that international politics were dominated by class struggle, and Stalin stressed in the 1940s the growing polarization which was occurring in the capitalist and socialist systems.[39] Khrushchev's peaceful coexistence was based on practical changes which had occurred; he accused the old "two camp" theory of neglecting the non-aligned movement and the national liberation movements.[39] Khrushchev considered these "grey areas", in which the conflict between capitalism and socialism would be fought.[39] He still stressed that the main contradiction in international relations were those of capitalism and socialism.[39] The Soviet Government under Khrushchev stressed the importance of peaceful coexistence, claiming it had to form the basis of Soviet foreign policy.[39] Failure to do, they believed, would lead to nuclear conflict.[39] Despite this, Soviet theorists still considered peaceful coexistence as a continuation of the class struggle between the capitalist and socialist worlds, just not one based on armed conflict.[39] Khrushchev believed that the conflict, in its current phase, was mainly economical.[39]

The emphasise on peaceful coexistence did not mean that the Soviet Union accepted a static world, with clear lines.[39] They continued to upheld the creed that socialism was inevitable, and they sincerely believed that the world had reached a stage in which the "correlations of forces" were moving towards socialism.[39] Also, with the establishment of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and Asia, Soviet foreign policy-planners believed that capitalism had lost its dominance as an economic system.[39]

Socialism in One Country

The concept was developed by Bukharin and Stalin

The concept of "Socialism in One Country" was conceived by Stalin in his struggle against Leon Trotsky and his concept of permanent revolution.[40] In 1924, Trotsky published his pamphlet Lessons of October in which he stated that socialism in the Soviet Union would fail because of the backward state of economic development unless a world revolution began.[40] Stalin responded to Trotsky's pamphlet with his article, "October and Comrade Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution" .[41] In it, Stalin stated, that he did not believe an inevitable conflict between the working class and the peasants would take place, further adding that "socialism in one country is completely possible and probable".[41] Stalin held the view common amongst most Bolsheviks at the time; there was possibility of real success for socialism in the Soviet Union despite the country's backwardness and international isolation.[41] While Grigoriy Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Nikolai Bukharin, together with Stalin, opposed Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, they diverged on how socialism could be built.[41] According to Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev supported the resolution of the 14th Conference (held in 1925) which stated that "we cannot complete the building of socialism due to our technological backwardness."[41] Despite the rather cynical attitude, Zinoviev and Kamenev did believe that a defective form of socialism could be constructed.[41] At the 14th Conference, Stalin reiterated his position, claiming that socialism in one country was feasible despite the capitalist blockade of the country.[42] After the conference, Stalin wrote "Concerning the Results of the XIV Conference of the RCP(b)", in which he stated that the peasantry would not turn against the socialist system because he believed they had a self-interest in preserving.[42] The contradictions which would arise with the peasantry during the socialist transition, Stalin surmised, could "be overcome by our own efforts".[42] He concluded that the only viable threat to socialism in the Soviet Union was a military intervention.[43]

In late 1925, Stalin received a letter from a party official which stated that his position of "Socialism in One Country" was in contradiction with Friedrich Engels

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