Power or Authority?

Something that I have been musing on since our discussion of Stalin’s cult of personality last week is the difference between power and authority and how these concepts were manifested in the beginnings of the Soviet Union.

I would define power as en essence that is projected outwards, implying a control given over the people that often results in their fear.  Authority is an essence more given from the outside, as in a ruler’s influence and their people’s subsequent respect.  After talking about the cult of personality, it became clear to me that Stalin was a manifestation of the latter idea, the essence of power, than that of authority.  The fact that he had to rely on propaganda to grant him legitimacy as the father of the nation is evidence of this.  His creation of an image that is all-knowing and infallible, and his reliance on the threat of the gulag and secret police to inspire correct action all stem from a need to control and manipulate the people through fear instead of aiming to gain their respect.  He never gives the people an opportunity to question him or rethink their loyalty to him, and he would punish them if they did.  It is this fear that kept him in control.

At the same time that Stalin was being feared by Russia, he also established a balance between power and authority in dealing with the national groups.  He “directed” them back to their old nationalities without providing much choice, but then Stalin allowed for those groups to maintain their traditions until they joined the Soviet Union.  This probably gave him authority among those people, since he was not imposing the Soviet ideal on them from the start, however he never would have held as much authority as the local rulers he set up to enforce the Soviet ideology.

The thing about ruling through power instead of authority is that it is short-lived and unstable.  Just as was the reasoning behind the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 in the first place, people will only live so long under oppression and fear.  Despite Stalin’s claim to be liberating the worker, he was just intimidating them into another hierarchal scheme, like his predecessors the Tsars, that would ultimately begin to be questioned and undermined.  I do not think he ever established and garnered true respect from the Soviet people in practice, though ideology would disagree.

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