Stalin and Robespierre

The other day in class, someone mentioned that Stalin was similar to Robespierre in that the two men were radical leaders who used their positions to gain power. Robespierre was the leader of the radical Mountain, while Stalin was the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. After reading the section about Stalin’s rule, I realized that the two radical leaders were similar not only because of their leadership roles, but also because they each created a sort of  “Terror”. We saw in the Sherman reading “Dictatorship in Russia: Stalin’s Purges” that Stalin could have had any number of reasons for his “Terror” (referred to as his “purges”), but many of the reasons relate to Stalin’s desire to eliminate enemies of himself and of the Communistic government structure. Stalin executed or imprisoned people that he believed could lead to his downfall. Looking at the radical phase of the French Revolution from 1793-1794, Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety essentially did the same thing in executing, imprisoning, or trying enemies of the nation of France. While Robespierre’s Reign of Terror is very similar to Stalin’s purges, there remains one major difference between the two leaders: Robespierre was executed because people believed he was becoming too tyrannical, whereas Stalin remained in power. My question is: Why exactly was Robespierre organized against and executed while Stalin lived, even though their situations were similar? Is it because of the ideals of the time period, the rulers themselves, or perhaps another factor?

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3 Responses to Stalin and Robespierre

  1. Sam W says:

    One of the theories held by historians is that Stalin’s success in World War II led to his long stay in power. He was very effective as a wartime leader who led Soviet Russia to victory and he even regained territory lost in the Russo-Japanese War, which earned him praise. Robespierre was unable to gain popularity through a sense of national pride like Stalin. Stalin also used propaganda very well, attributing inventions like the airplane to Russia.

    Though it should be noted that in the 1960s (ten years after Stalin’s death) the Soviet government went through a period of “de-stanlinization”, in which reforms were passed, Stalin’s body was moved away from Red Square, and the city of Stalingrad was restored to its previous name of Volgograd.

  2. sweiswasser2015 says:

    Heather, I think you ask a fascinating question. I think another way of looking at it is to consider the state of government and the manner in which these two men seized power. After the Mountain took control of the National Convention, Ropesbierre used his position as leader of this faction to begin to start rising to power. What I think is key here is the idea that at this point, the Committee of Public Safety was coming into power and yet the governing body of France seemed to still have been slightly unclear. In Stalin Russia, however, Communism had already existed in Russia, so it was not like the French who were changing from a monarchy to a group of people to what could have been a tyrant. Russia was already communist when Stalin took control. So considering the state of government of the French vs. Russia, perhaps one could argue that their situation was not too similar.

    In addition, one must also consider the manner in which these two men seized power and inflicted terror among their people. Unlike Ropesbierre who was not the absolute ruler of France when he inflicted the Reign of Terror, Stalin sneakily rose to power by carefully plotting against a few of his allies (for example Kamenev and Zinov’ev) and then inflicted the Stalin Purges. The manner in which these figures seized power is essential to our answer of your question. As we saw in the Thermidorian Reaction, political instability makes rebellion and governmental-overthrow much easier. In the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s rise to power, however, communism was already in place and the Russian’s were at that point somewhat adept to having a single leader.

  3. Graham says:

    I think one possible reason is that Stalin successfully eliminated anyone who posed a threat to him, making it so that even if people wanted to kill him, they could not gather enough popular support, without fear of being killed themselves. Robespierre on the other hand, killed a large amount of people as well, but I do not believe he targeted people like Stalin did, and definitely not to the same extent as Stalin did.

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