A COMPARISON AND CONTRAST OF MAXIMILLIEN ROBESPIERRE AND JOSEPH STALIN Throughout European history, there have been infamous political leaders who have left unfavorable marks on their nation’s past. Two of the most terrible of these leaders were the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the French Revolutionary Maximillien Robespierre. Although the two men were apart of completely different generations and different nationalities, their characteristics as politicians and as leaders were similar in many ways.
Their brutal disregard for the lives of their countrymen when trying to gain complete power, along with their hatred of religion and the practice of it while in control of their respective nations were both seen as dark periods of European history. During the years prior to the French Revolution, the monarchy had complete control and was strictly controlled by the wealthy. The most powerful non-royal individuals were members of the Conservative Party and supported the monarchy.
The minority in those days was the Liberal Party, which consisted of those who were in support of democratic rule and were opposed to the monarchy. As the Revolution commenced, however, the power shifted and the Liberals began gaining independence from the monarchy. As this occurred, a small political club known as the Jacobins began meeting. This small group gradually grew in size and influence and as they became more in favor of liberal ideals, the older conservative members left, leaving the leftists in control.
Robespierre used this as his platform to power in French politics as he was able to express his feelings and soon became the leader of the Jacobin Club (1). The Club soon became the leaders of the Revolution and Robespierre called for the execution of the king in order to save the Revolution. Once the king was out of the equation, Robespierre found himself in control of the Revolution and eventually the French government itself. The Bolshevik Party, like the Jacobins, rose from obscurity and became the central party of the Soviet government (2).
When Lenin formed the party off of Marxist ideals, it was merely a worker’s party. But after Lenin came to power, the Bolsheviks took control of the government and literally became the government. When Stalin took over, the Bolshevik Party was now the Communist Party and would stand sovereign over the Soviet Union for over fifty years. The French 1st Estate consisted of the clergy and was very pivotal to the start of the Revolution. The 1st Estate received high equal representation with the 2nd Estate of nobility and they always voted together on every issue.
Many times this kept the 3rd Estate from advancing themselves in rights and freedoms they so desperately wanted. When the 3rd Estate gained control, many were completely against the 1st Estate because they kept them in their unwanted submissive state and would not be beneficial to Enlightenment ideals. Therefore, Robespierre, in his attempt to maintain the spirit of the Enlightenment in his new government, outlawed all forms of religion (3). Stalin, in compliance with the Communist ideology and the views of Lenin, had a great distaste for religion.
Karl Marx, on the subject of religion and God, said that religion was the “opiate of the masses” that gave them false hope and kept them in subjection to their rulers. The Russian government under the new Bolshevik Party rule had grown increasingly more secular. When Stalin took control of the Party he maintained the Party’s policy on religion and the practice of it (4). From Stalin’s time of power until the fall of the Soviet Union, as they became more and more of a secularized society as a whole, the practice of Christianity or any other religion was under great risk of life to accomplish.
Some of the worst years in Russian history are marked by the Great Purge of Stalin’s administration. In order to rise to power and to maintain that power, Joseph Stalin had millions of his own people slaughtered. He punished citizens like the Ukrainians who opposed him by starving them to death and destroying their crops, creating a man-made famine for them. He created gulag prisons where bloody executions were done daily for the “benefit” of the Party and their Party’s “Boss” (Stalin). The final death toll on the Soviet people by their own leader, not including those killed during WWII, is not truly known.
It is estimated that anywhere from 15 to 20 million were killed by Stalin or in a result of his legislation (5). Robespierre’s time in power brought similar destruction to his own people as well. In order to ensure “public safety” and to keep the goals accomplished by the Revolution from danger, Robespierre began what is now called “The Reign of Terror” (6). Anyone even suspected as being a threat to the new French government was murdered. This included anyone who Robespierre said was a threat or who he wished to be done away with. All his political rivals and anyone who got in his way were ut to death by the guillotine. His police force rounded up absolutely anyone who they believed were going to hurt the new government in some way and had them killed. By the end of his Reign of Terror however, the system that Robespierre had created to sentence prisoners accused of treason to death became his downfall, as he himself was guillotined for treasonous accusations. At the end of Robespierre’s rule, the estimated casualties range from 20,000-40,000 French citizens (7). Both Stalin and Robespierre came to power young and during passionate revolutions in their countries’ history.
Both Russia and France were in the process of casting away the old monarchies and making way for the new governments that were to be run by the people. However, when both of them took power, the reality of the situation changed completely. Both of them murdered countless numbers of their own people that they were supposed to be protecting and leading, outlawed the practice of religion in their country, and grew increasingly more power-hungry until all form of democratic governmental system was discarded for dictatorship.
The only real difference in these two men is that Robespierre, unlike Stalin, was destroyed by his own system and his brutal reign was ended prematurely. Stalin, however, controlled the Soviet Union until his death and his Communist Party ruled over Russia with an iron fist for over the next fifty years. The world is still affected today by Communism, a system which was first spread by the Soviet Union and its dictator Joseph Stalin.