An important question that has been asked by historians is whether Stalin or Lenin had the biggest effect over Russian history. It is a difficult question to answer because both of them played such important roles in Russia’s history:
In 1928, when Stalin took complete control of the nation, Russia was possibly hundreds of years behind the other large nations in terms of society and technology. Stalin replaced New Economic Policy with his own economic programmes known as the Five-Year Plan. In the first Five-Year Plan (1928-1932), central planning replaced market systems, and a strict state-controlled regime dominated the Soviet economy until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Although Stalin had many formidable achievements they must be set one major disadvantage. Although a high industrial output was indeed achieved under Stalin, very little of it ever became available to the ordinary Soviet citizen in the form of consumer goods or facilities – a considerable proportion of the national wealth was taken by the state to cover military expenditure, the police apparatus, and further industrialisation. It is also arguable that a lot of industrialisation would have come about in any case by means less savage under almost any regime as an alternative to Stalinism.
From the moment Lenin came to power, his aims in international relations were twofold: to prevent the formation of an imperialist front against Soviet Russia, and even more importantly, to inspire amateur revolutions abroad. In his first aim he largely succeeded. In 1924, shortly after his death, Soviet Russia had won the recognition of all the major world powers except the United States, however his hope of the formation a republic of soviets around the world failed to happen, and Soviet Russia was left isolated in hostile capitalist encirclement.
Lenin’s revolutionary genius was not confined to his ability to divide his enemies; more important was his skill in finding allies and friends for the lowest classes of Russia. Stalin’s political ability went beyond tactics, as he was able to channel massive social classes, both to meet his economic goals and also to expand his personal power. Stalin was the first to recognise the potential of bureaucratic power, while the other Bolshevik leaders still feared their revolution being betrayed by a military man. Lenin always opposed a one-man system, this is shown by his revolutionist ideas when freeing Russia from tsarist dictatorship, and was never hungry for more personal power (unlike Stalin).
If the Bolshevik Revolution is the most significant political event of the 20th century, then Lenin must be regarded as the century’s most significant political leader. He has been regarded as both the greatest revolutionary political leader in history, as well as the greatest revolutionary thinker since Marx. Lenin’s firmness on merciless destruction when it came to anyone opposing the Bolshevik dictatorship led many observers to conclude that Lenin, though personally opposed to one-man rule, nevertheless unwittingly cleared the way for the rise of Stalin’s dictatorship.
Stalin has arguably made a greater impact on the lives of more individuals than any other figure in history. But the evaluation of his overall achievement still remains, decades after his death, a highly controversial matter. Historians have not yet reached any definitive agreement on the worth of his accomplishments, and it is unlikely that they ever will.
Although I think that Lenin was the greatest revolutionist, I believe that Stalin should have the title as ‘most important man in Russian history’. I say this because although Lenin led the way for Stalin and broke Russia free from tsarist command I feel that without Stalin’s severe totalitarianism leadership Russia wouldn’t be that nation that it is today.