Book Reviews

Dialectical and Historical Materialism by Joseph Stalin – Book Review

How do you review a book written by Joseph Stalin? Stalin was the Sovjet Union dictator after the death of Lenin until he died in 1953. When reading this short book, I was not looking for some pastime literature. I wanted to see if Stalin actually used the communist theories from Marx and Engels. It is sometimes said that Stalin wasn’t a real communist since communism wouldn’t imply a dictator, but as with all utopian ideologies, things never work out the way we want.

            The Sovjet Union was as much communism as Nazi-Germany was fascism. I think this is something we need to realize. Both the right and the left can go too far. Edging to the extremes is never a good option. Nowadays Stalin is still honored in Russia, which in my opinion is as troubling as alt-right people carrying swastika-flags. So, I set out to discover what philosophies drove the dictators of the twentieth century. I started with Stalin. I was not disappointed.

            Before I start, I want to say that in no way I want to discredit Marx or Engels by aligning them with Stalin. Marx and Engels wrote a critique of capitalism and tried to find a solution to the problems they were facing. Turns out those solutions only created a bigger problem. We can give the devil his due and say that Marx in no way would have intended the monstrosities which happened in communist regimes. Nonetheless, they did happen, and we need to be aware of the consequences that certain types of thinking can create.

            In this small book, Stalin explains his vision of historical materialism, which is a theory created by Marx in order to explain the evolution of history. Stalin quotes Marx, Engels and Lenin quite frequently and Stalin’s vision of communism is quite close to that of Marx. Stalin sees the dialectic as the opposite of metaphysics. Instead of looking at things on-their-own, we should look at things in relation to the things. Everything is always connected. Evolution in the materialistic view was always quick and radical. Instead of a slow evolution, there are a couple of culmination points where everything changes radically. This is how Stalin tried to advocate for the socialist revolution. The demise of capitalism couldn’t have gone through state reforms, which is what social democrats try to do, but only through a forceful revolution, which is what communists try to do.

            Stalin explains the five stages of history of how Marx saw his historical determinism. First there is the primitive commune, where every property is social and common property. Second, there is slavery, where the slaveowner possesses de production forces and the laborer. Third, there is feudalism, where there is the feudal lord which possesses the production forces, but not completely possesses the laborer. Fourth, there is the capitalist society, where the capitalist owns the production forces, but doesn’t own the laborer and has to give wages in order for them to work for him. The final stage is the socialist society, where the production forces are in the hands of the laborers themselves through the centralization of the state.

            This is quite a common narrative in communist literature and thus no surprise that Stalin uses it. The fact that his own society is the end-product of history gives weight to his whole rhetoric. This small book is used as the basis of Stalin’s philosophy which isn’t really far apart from Marx’s. Obviously in practice, the communist philosophy of Stalin wasn’t implemented in the way he said he would do it. Nonetheless, this book proves that Stalin was at least favoring the communist ideology and was a Marxist. It’s time we remember this, before we forget what a monster Stalin actually was.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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