Roy Russia did exchange the Romanov Tsars for

Medvedev’s interpretation of Stalin’s motives indicates that Russia did
exchange the Romanov Tsars for the ‘Red Tsars’. He argues that Stalin did not
intend to build socialism. That Stalin was not working towards the creation of
a different political system suggests his actions were no different to that of
the Tsars, in neither nature nor purpose. He states “It was not out of love for suffering humanity that Stalin came to
socialism… He joined the Bolsheviks because of his lust for power.”1
He infers that Stalin adopted methods reminiscent of those under the Tsars as a
means of quenching his own thirst for power. Stalin was lacking in the
“convictions and moral principles” that made up “socialist doctrine”2.
He states: “Stalinism … is profoundly alien to
Marxism and Leninism”3.
This interpretation is convincing in its acknowledgement of Stalin’s diversion
from the route to communism detailed by Karl Marx, as evident in his
nationalization, as opposed to socialisation, of productive property, which
Marx believed was still in the realm of capitalist production. This suggests
that Russia did exchange the ‘Romanov Tsars’ for the ‘Red Tsars’ as Stalin was
not attempting to achieve communism.


However, limitations placed on Medvedev curb the value of his
interpretation. Medvedev had limited access to primary source material, as Let History Judge was written prior to
1991, when the secret archives of Central Committee of the Communist Party were
first made available for public study. His interpretation is further limited as
he was a dissident historian – he was expelled from the communist party in 1969
after Let History Judge was published
abroad. His book reflects thinking that emerged in the 1960s among Soviet
intellectuals who sought a reformist version of socialism. As a reformist he
would oppose the revolutionary socialism championed by Stalin, and fail to
provide an objective interpretation of Stalin’s policy. His negative perception
of Stalin is also limited as it can be attributed to personal experiences. As a
part of Stalin’s purges his father was arrested in 1938 and died in a labour
camp. This furthers the subjectivity of his interpretation.

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At odds with Medvedev’s interpretation sits
Richard Overy’s, which affirms that Stalin’s position stood for change and the
interests of communism. He states: ‘the defence of the first socialist state’
was “the consistent strand in all his activity”. He asserts that Stalin came to
see himself as “the one Bolshevik leader who could steer the way with
sufficient ruthlessness and singleness of purpose”. “His
unfeeling destruction of thousands of party comrades points to a man who used
the weapons he understood to achieve the purpose to which his life had always
been devoted …the overriding historical imperative to construct communism.”4
This interpretation is convincing as it acknowledges that strong leadership was
a necessary step towards communism in the context of Russia’s backwardness.


placed on Overy, however, reduce the value of his interpretation. His writing
on Stalin sits in comparison with the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany in his
book ‘The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany and
Stalin’s Russia’. This limits the value of his interpretation as he focuses
his study on Stalin in contrast with Hitler, who is a figure despised by all
perspectives. His main focus of study is also the Second World War, suggesting
that he may place more weight on the conduct of Stalin during the war as
opposed to his wider actions. Despite these limitations, Overy’s interpretation
is more convincing than Medvedev’s as it acknowledges the context in which
Stalin was acting. Overy acknowledges that there was reason behind Stalin’s
want of power, and that it was not just power for its own sake. Medvedev’s
interpretation is also less convincing as he states that Stalin lacked the
“moral principles” that made up “socialist doctrine”, and thus subverted
“Leninism”, yet Lenin stated that anything which hindered the “struggle for the completion of communism”5
was immoral. Medvedev thus contradicts himself because Stalin did have Leninist
morality, as all of his actions, regardless of their conventional immorality,
aided the struggle towards communism. This means he was not a ‘Red Tsar’.

1989, 600

1989, 596

1989, 872

Overy, 2005, p13

5 Lenin, ‘The Tasks of the Youth