One of the tricks of developing new positions within a tradition is to assert your fidelity to the tradition while building a new argument out of the old. In the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin, the tradition was named ‘Leninism’, and each of course claimed to be the faithful interpreter of that tradition. On the matter of revolution, Trotsky argued that only a world-wide socialist revolution would secure socialism. And he could quote Lenin in support of that position. The reality was clearly otherwise, so Stalin argued – again interpreting Lenin – for the viability of socialism in one country. But what did that mean? Battening down the hatches and looking inward?

No, it actually drew on the image of a ‘light to the nations’ from Isaiah 49.

Soviet Russia was to be ‘living beacon illuminating the path to socialism’, ‘a torch which lights the path to liberation from the yoke of the oppressors for all the peoples of the world’. Or, to borrow a New Testament image, it was to be ‘light from the East’ (Works Vols 4: 62, 408, 181-86). Practically, that meant support for the many anti-colonial struggles throughout the world, a position Stalin first developed as a consequence of the ‘national question’ (or better ethnic diversity) in the USSR.

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