(1/2) (by /u/supercooper25)
Stalin wasn’t a dictator, this is an outdated myth. Power was officially vested in the hands of various collective bodies of leadership such as the Supreme Soviet, the Presidium, the Sovnarkom, the Central Committee and the Politburo, all of which were elected, as was Stalin. He had no ability to individually make decisions and there are countless examples of him losing out to the majority if you look hard enough. I’ll give you three examples:
In fact, up until 1941, Stalin wasn’t even the most powerful individual in the country. I refer you to this quote from Sidney Webb:
Sometimes it is asserted that, whereas the form may be otherwise, the fact is that, whilst the Communist Party controls the whole administration, the Party itself, and thus indirectly the whole state, is governed by the will of a single person, Josef Stalin. First let it be noted that, unlike Mussolini, Hitler and other modern dictators, Stalin is not invested by law with any authority over his fellow-citizens, and not even over the members of the Party to which he belongs. He has not even the extensive power which the Congress of the United States has temporarily conferred upon President Roosevelt, or that which the American Constitution entrusts for four years to every successive president. So far as grade or dignity is concerned, Stalin is in no sense the highest official in the USSR, or even in the Communist Party. He is not, and has never been, President of the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Union Congress of Soviets-a place long held by Sverdlov and now by Kalinin, who is commonly treated as the President of the USSR. He is not (as Lenin was) the President of the Sovnarkom of the RSFSR, the dominant member of the Federation or of the USSR itself, the place now held by Molotov, who may be taken to correspond to the Prime Minister of a parliamentary democracy. He is not even a People’s Commissar, or member of the Cabinet, either of the USSR or of any of the constituent republics. Until 1934 he held no other office in the machinery of the constitution than that, since 1930 only, of membership (one among ten) of the Committee of Labour and Defence (STO). Even in the Communist Party, he is not the president of the Central Committee of the Party, who may be deemed the highest placed member; indeed, he is not even the president of the presidium of this Central Committee. He is, in fact, only the General Secretary of the Party, receiving his salary from the Party funds and holding his office by appointment by the Party Central Committee, and, as such, also a member (one among nine) of its most important subcommittee, the Politbureau.
All of that said and done, what IS true is that Stalin held a massive amount of influence over the party and the government, meaning that was de facto far more powerful than his official positions would suggest on paper. This DOES NOT mean that people were subordinate to Stalin due to fear of execution, what it means is that Stalin was an extremely well-respected ideological figurehead, and thus people trusted him and were more inclined to agree with him because of this. I refer you to this quote from H.G. Wells:
I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and to these qualities it is, and to nothing occult and sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy in Russia. I had thought before I saw him that he might be where he was because men were afraid of him, but I realize that he owes his position to the fact that no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him.
If I had to evaluate just how much individual power Stalin had, I’d say that during WWII, it was comparable to that of Winston Churchill, and actually considerably less than that of the United States President. I refer you to yet another quote from Sidney Webb:
Assuming that we accept the primary meaning of the term dictator, as it is defined in the The New English Dictionary — “a ruler or governor whose word is law; an absolute ruler of the state — and who authoritatively prescribes a course of action or dictates what is to be done” — Stalin is not a dictator. In May 1941 Stalin hitherto content to be a member of the Presidium, alarmed at the menace of a victorious German Army invading the Ukraine, took over, with the consent of the Presidium, the office a prime minister and Minister of defense, leaving Molotov as foreign Secretary; in exactly the same way, and for a similar reason–the world war–that Winston Churchill, with the consent of the house of Commons, became prime minister and Minister of defense with Chamberlain,…. Neither the prime minister of the British cabinet nor the presiding member of the Sovnarkom has anything like the autocratic power of the president of the USA, who not only selects his cabinet, subject merely to approval by a simple majority of the Senate, but is also commander in chief of the American Armed Forces and, under the Lend Lease act, is empowered to safeguard in one way or another, the arrival of munitions and food at the British ports. By declaring, in May 1941, a state of unlimited national emergency, President Roosevelt legally assumes a virtual dictatorship of the United States. He has power to takeover transport, to commandeer the radio for the purposes of propaganda, to control imports in all exchange transactions, to requisition ships and to suspend laws governing working hours, and most important of all, to decide on industrial priorities and, if necessary, to take over industrial plants.
Keep in mind that WWII was the very height of Stalin’s powers, it was during this time that he simultaneously occupied five different leadership positions: general secretary of the party, chairman of the Sovnarkom, minister of defense, chairman of the State Defense Committee and chairman of the Stavka (military high-command). Although this made Stalin very powerful, he still could not make decisions on his own, and he was entirely accountable to the body that elected him in the first place, namely the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. For the rest of Stalin’s tenure however, he was nowhere near as powerful as that. Up until 1930, the premiership, the presidency and the Politburo were all controlled by members of the Right Opposition (Rykov, Kalinin, Bukharin, Tomsky etc), so Stalin didn’t get his way at all. From 1930-1941, Stalin got his way in the sense that his political programme was being carried out, but he himself didn’t hold the positions of power, rather his allies like Molotov did. What’s important to note here is that the Soviet political system functioned in much the same way that western democracies do. Stalin got his way not because he was a dictator, but because his programme was supported by a majority in the parliament, and by extension the masses (see the 1927 party referendum, Stalin absolutely trounced Trotsky in a direct vote between the two) All positions of leadership were elected by representative delegates, who in turn were elected from their local Soviets, i.e. worker councils, and the people directly in elections. Contrary to popular belief, Stalin didn’t have the power to personally appoint anyone, all positions of leadership within the Communist Party were elected and ratified at the Party Congresses, attended by thousands of delegates representing millions of party members. What’s more, even if we accept that Stalin had complete control over the Supreme Soviet (he didn’t), we need to dispel the myth that the central government in Moscow had complete control over the country. Much like any western democracy, matters concerning union republics, autonomous oblasts, regions, municipalities and workplaces were handled by local governments, councils and trade unions, it is ridiculous to assert that Stalin had any influence over this.