In this article Stalin's behaviour is argued to be the result of a calculated and fanatical strategy. Stephen Kotkin's book 'Stalin' is referenced, and the suggestion is that criticism of Stalin as insufficiently Communist stems from his political rivals. That in public and private he consistently used Marxist-Leninist language to justify policy, and that ultimately his policies were genuine in principle.

But why would that in itself explain the sheer brutality of his decisions? I would like to know whether there's any evidence to suggest a specific reason for his political violence.

I suspect that being an Old Bolshevik, Stalin never stopped thinking about his country in the paranoid and violent context of the Civil War. Consequently he always considered the existence of the USSR to be perilous, and thought brutal violence was necessary to defend the revolution.

This might also align with his decision to end Lenin's New Economic Plan; and thus return to something more like War Communism. It may also explain why his successors like Krushchev became considerably less brutal, as in their minds the existence of the USSR was a given.

However, I have no evidence to support this idea, and would like to know if any evidence exists to explain the logic behind Stalin's brutality? Why he considered violence on such a scale to be so necessary? Judging by what he actually said on the subject?

All Soviet leaders were Marxist-Leninist Communists, but each one had a different tolerance for violence as a political tool. The question is why Stalin's behaviour was so extreme compared to his successors, and importantly what evidence is there to describe how he justified this?

  • Absolutely this is not an answer, but I will post it. Perhaps Stalin had paranoid mind and at the same time he also wished best destiny for its country and its people. When he became the head of USSR he definitely realized only country that is able to defends its own borders can has a right to exists. That's why he performed some strange actions (f.e. prior to a few months of WWII lots of officers in Red Army had been arrested and shot down) the main goal of which are to destroy political opponents and to show the whole world that new country USSR is under authority of the strong leader. Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 13:40
  • And one note else: there are no any document that could exactly describe why Stalin has been so brutal in his actions. Anyone of us is able to find documents which are written by historian which had tried to explain motivation of Stalin's actions. But such documents will contain information that is based on verdicts and conclusions of historians. But in these documents will no one word by Stalin itself. Sometimes, history science can make wrong verdicts and conclusions. All we can get about Stalin's brutality - are only our supposing. Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 13:43
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    Lacks basic research, Milovan Djilas on Stalin forex. Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 14:25
  • Perhaps it would be reasonable to ask whether Stalin's policies differed in any significant degree from those of the average Communist leader,
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 17:28
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    @jamesqf That would just tell us what is typical of leaders like Stalin and Mao, it would tell us nothing about why they did what they did. Stalin was especially brutal compared to his successors, so it seems a worthwhile thing to try and understand how his thinking differed so much.
    – user17846
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 20:26

3 Answers 3


One part of why Stalin was so brutal may also come from Russian history and outside forces. To this day, one of the reasons Russia expands its territory and contends with such a autocratic government is to protect itself from Western control and intervention. There was the Great Game, a proto-Cold War where the United Kingdom tried to use India to spread its influence to the territories neighboring Afghanistan and Russia, the French invasion of Russia in 1812, and the attack by the German Empire during World War I. Stalin, like many other Russians before and post-World War II, was obsessed with protecting Russia from any perceived future invasions by the West and establishing other Marxist-Leninist states to protect the Soviet Union. Stalin learned of Marxism from reading various sources and establish a particular version of socialism/lower stage communism I wrote about previously: a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' like what Karl Marx wrote about in his work Critique of the Gotha Program.

He established a command economy when the New Economic Policy implemented policy temporarily established a market economy not only because it is part of Marxist socialism, but because it would be able to protect the USSR from being affected by the market economy of Western capitalist nations. Stalin even saw a foreigner threat from other non-Marxist socialists, calling them "social fascists" and calling those who stood in the way of the dictatorship of the proletariat corporatists. To Stalin, these groups were strengthening capitalist nations like the United States and preventing proletariat revolutions that would lead to socialism, and eventually the final stage of communism.

Stalin also believed that if the dictatorship of the proletariat released its grip too soon if the face of the capitalist West, they would "end up being controlled by the most reactionary elements of their community", returning right back to capitalism & a market economy that would make Russia a puppet of foreign forces.

tl;dr Stalin's brutality was somewhat based on a logic that the dictatorship of the proletariat was the true method to Communism and that he was surrounded by enemies — enemies who wanted Russia to turn to capitalism. Russia had to deal with invasion and interference from Western nations before, so Stalin — to some degree — saw his brutality as a counterbalance and a way to purge those who were seen as too subservient to Westerners (and by extension, capitalism).

Update: As someone pointed out in the comments, the Great Game wasn't entirely one-sided and Russia was also imperialistic to its neighbors during that time. However, from the Russian perspective, their actions were a necessary move to prevent Great Britain from controlling their neighbors and - by extension- indirectly influencing Russian policy. Meanwhile, the British -thanks to somewhat exaggerated accounts and reports - believed they needed to control Central Asia and influence Russia because Russia was planning to control India, something Russia had no intention of doing. My point was that this feeling that western powers like Britain were planning to control Russia & that having neighbors aligned with Russia could help to protect the nation's autonomy is a concept that stretches to before the existence of the USSR & influenced Stalin's attitudes.

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    The Great Game was not a one-sided affair. Both the British thought that Russians were going to invade India, and vice versa.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 8:52
  • @gktscrk Thanks for pointing that out. Edited my answer. However, the only reason I didn't add that originally was because I was pointing out how the Russian perspective of the Great Game helped to influence the brutality of Stalin and the Soviet regime. From the Russian perspective, their attempts to exert power over Central Asia were a counter measure to protect against Britain's attempts to influence the region. This is the perspective Stalin and the Bolsheviks were raised with the the perspective that would influence their policies in the USSR.
    – Tyler Mc
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 12:28


Don't confuse cause and effect - Stalin succeeded because he was the most brutal and ruthless Politburo member. Only someone even more brutal and ruthless could have succeeded in his place.

The certainty of dogmatic fanaticism requires no further justification; as it justifies itself.

.... Stalin, as Kotkin reveals him, was neither a dull bureaucrat nor an outlaw but a man shaped by rigid adherence to a puritanical doctrine. His violence was not the product of his subconscious but of the Bolshevik engagement with Marxist-Leninist ideology.

This ideology offered stalin a deep sense of certainty in the face of political and economic setbacks.

Stalin saw obstacles in his way, and removed them with whatever degree of force appeared necessary at the time. When the only possible direction is forward, no opposition can be tolerated.

Whatever went wrong, the counterrevolution, the forces of conservatism, the secret influence of the bourgeoisie could always be held responsible. .... Over and over again, Stalin learned that violence was the key to success. ....

But if he was sufficiently ruthless, all opposition ultimately melted away. ....

Stalin wasn't a dreamer like Lenin or Trotsky, which is precisely why he accepted the position of General Secretary of the Party; why the others were content to let him have the position; and why he ultimately proved to be master of them all. Stalin was the diligent, conscientious bureaucrat who plumbed the depths of the party organization for supporters; and always turned up with far more supporters than anticipated at every crisis of leadership.

All quotes from the article quoted in the original question.

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    If this is true, can you provide some evidence of things he said to that effect, rather than inferred? I haven't read the book mentioned in the article (I read the article), so I don't know if it provided direct quotations to that effect. And whether there was anything else published elsewhere in support or conflict.
    – user17846
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 15:38
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    @ubadub: "McCarthyist fear-mongering"? If you see flaws in my work, that's great - I might learn something. But please make the comments sensible and clear. As written above your comment is just a borderline insult. Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 14:56
  • @inappropriateCode what evidence do you want to get? There is no any evidence. As I have already said all information you can get about Stalin (it is true and for other people) are memories of those who had contacts with him. But this memories often changed by historian (to be honestly, not always deliberately). Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 14:57
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    @ubadub: If you know the subject so well, write up a better answer than mine. Who knows - you might actually earn some rep on this site beyond the association bonus. That is how this StackExchange works. And by the way, try reading who the author of each comment is, as I am not the author of all comments you seem to be think are mine. Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 17:54
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    @inappropriateCode: Lenin & Trotsky both disdained the paperwork and logistics of building a network of party supporters across the breadth of the Soviet Union. Stalin loved it. That is what I meant by dreamer. Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 22:58

Several possible reasons exist as to why Stalin was such a psychopath. One reason is he had absolute power. When you have a government in which one individual has total power without legal boundaries, that individual will become a monster, there's no way around it. Also, absolute rulers tend to be rather paranoid, after all, uneasy is the head that wears the crown. They're always shit scared of being overthrown, assassinated, etc.

Another reason ties into the previous one, and that is Marxism requires extreme authoritarianism to implement and keep on a national scale. This is because few people are enthusiastic about giving away all their possessions to some others they don't even know, so they have to be forced to relinquish such things. Moreover, when there's no reward for hard work, there has to be punishment for not contributing enough to the "common good". The hyper-authoritarian state is also required to make the workers biological drones, as the goal of the ideology isn't just equality, it's uniformity!

A bad childhood may have also contributed to Stalin becoming a horrific demon. Bad childhoods are one of the common denominators leading to the psychopathic tendencies of certain r-ists and unalivers, especially serial killers and mass shooters. Joseph Stalin's father reportedly beat him frequently, he grew up in dire poverty, etc.

An underlying mental illness could have played a role in Stalin's evilness. It's possible he had some kind of narcissistic disorder.

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