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Understanding stalinism—the ‘Orwellian discrepancy' and the ‘rational choice dictator'

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This discussion article examines the logical bases of the arguments often encountered in the literature that compares Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism. It analyses the ‘Orwellian discrepancy' between Marxist ideals and Soviet reality, the comparative differences in numbers of people that were murdered by the Stalin and Hitler regimes, and the distinction between ‘murder' and ‘execution' that is sometimes applied to the actions of the two tyrants. It then examines the notion of Stalin as a ‘rational choice' dictator who, through the use of state-sponsored terror, was simply ensuring the survival of his regime, and suggests that a better model for Stalin's government would be that of ‘pseudo-rational choice irrationality'. Arguments that imply that ‘Team Stalin' should not be seen as a totalitarian corporate form of government because of some attempted reforms and recently revealed institutional complexity are also considered. It concludes by reaffirming the importance of understanding human belief and intellectual factors to a comprehension of historical development.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Middlesex, UK

Publication date: 2006-05-01

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