Since the term “Stalinist” gets tossed around a lot these days, it’s probably time to take a look at the man who inspired the term:
We all know what he did as dictator, but unless you’re a fairly serious student of the Russian Revolution, you probably don’t know that before becoming the vozhd, his primary duty was … paperwork. Tons and tons and tons of paperwork.
His brief stint as a Red Army commissar was a disaster — he was, as you might expect, aces at having dissidents rounded up and shot, but his few actual military(-ish) decisions were widely blamed for the loss of important cities to the Poles. Here too, his decisions were all paperwork — in this case, refusing to countersign orders because they didn’t follow proper procedure. After the Civil War he was the “People’s Commissar for Nationalities,” hardly a glamour post (by contrast, Lenin’s heir presumptive, Leon Trotsky, was in charge of the Red Army … which he created from scratch). Even Stalin’s participation in the Tiflis Bank Robbery of 1907, the one “direct action” he was involved with, is disputed — his only known role was as an organizer.
In short, the guy was a pen pusher, and very little more than a pen pusher, up to the moment he seized power.
How, you wonder, could a mere bureaucrat pull this off? Not so hard, really:
His plan was simple and obvious: Build up an organization by inserting his loyalists into every possible post, while maneuvering to get anyone who opposed him transferred (or shot). The execution was even simpler: Meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Stalin didn’t seize power; he ground all his rivals down with sheer tedium. “Stalin” means “man of steel,” but he won by having a cast-iron bladder and a leather ass.
He who would drain the swamp must first gauge the tenacity of the dwellers therein.