On the Question of Sin: Stalin and Human Nature

Roland Boer


This article deals with one aspect of Joseph Stalin’s unrecognised contribution to redefining human nature. The larger whole of such a redefinition was what may be called an Augustinian awareness of the depth and pervasiveness of evil. The specific aspect on which I focus is the question of sin within that larger whole. The key distinction concerning sin is between the detection of sin in others and in oneself. While the former was relatively easier, the internal process was the more difficult, for it entailed the need for ‘criticism and self-criticism’ – that is, admission, confession, repentance and, where necessary, punishment. The surprise of this emphasis, in which sin is understood in relation to the socialist project and the party, is that the personal dimension of sin was a new departure in a Russian Orthodox context, providing one element of the development of a socialist counter-tradition. The focus of this study is relatively rare in our times: careful and detailed attention to Stalin’s texts and thought.


Joseph Stalin; human nature; sin; Augustine

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391