You often see the philosophies of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin grouped together under the heading of communism. Both Marxism and Stalinism propose political and economic methods of achieving the goal of communism, but the means Marx and Stalin believed would best achieve that goal are different.
Merriam-Webster defines Marxism as “... a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society.” Stalinism is defined as “... the theory and practice of communism developed by Stalin from Marxism-Leninism and marked especially by rigid authoritarianism, widespread use of terror and often emphasis on Russian nationalism.”
The idea of socialism came into being after the French Revolution (1789-1799), when people became concerned that democracy could not exist if some people worked for a wage and those who employed them controlled all the wealth. The word “socialism” began to appear in 1827. For a time, socialists believed that the best way to make society better was to have ruling classes agree to and carry out changes that would help the workers.
In the 1840s, Marx began to argue that the only way for socialism to happen was for workers themselves to force the change. He wrote of a society where the workers owned the factories and farms where they were employed. Other elements of a Marxist society included free education, the abolishment of the army of the prior state, the right to vote and the right to determine representatives’ pay and recall them if necessary. Marx’s ideas greatly influenced Vladimir Lenin, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution.
After Lenin’s death, Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953. Although he claimed to be putting the ideas of Marx and Lenin into practice, he formed a dictatorship where he held all the power. He set aside Marx’s aim of the necessity of a worldwide revolution of workers and instead said that a communist Russia could exist surrounded by a capitalist world. To make Russia strong, he nationalized the farms and spent large sums on developing industry. Stalinism exacted a terrible toll on the people of Russia. Estimates of deaths range as high as 20 million.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about Marxism and Stalinism is that they are more or less the same thing. This could not be further from the truth. While Marx hoped to elevate the status of workers, Stalin repressed workers because he believed it was necessary for the good of the state. Also, you might have heard that these political and economic systems suppress the individual. While Stalin certainly did this, Marx believed socialism, then communism, are the best ways to achieve democracy for everyone.