That really is a good question, one that I will answer with this post.
I’ll start by saying that I have based my comparisons on fact as much as possible. American history textbooks are notoriously propagandistic, and rarely portray the enemies of the Bourgeois in a good light. Stalin died long before I was born, so I have no firsthand knowledge of how he actually ruled, or how he was perceived by the Soviet people at the time. I know that his reputation is mixed in Russia today, with some loving him, and some hating him.
So, I will make my observation based upon his published Works, and The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov. (This policy does not contradict my statements on Mao Tse-tung. For example, the Chinese invasion of Tibet is a matter of historical record – which the Chinese government itself acknowledges to this day. The failed “Great Leap Forward”, and the monstrous “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” are matters which the Chinese government details. Also, Mao’s Selected Works are a study in non Marxist-Leninist, Bourgeois opportunism, and are, by and large, forgettable.)
The first step I took in considering Stalin the theoretician came from The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov. Comrade Dimitrov often wrote down what Stalin said in private, and his diary is a valuable source for an historical examination of the Communist world prior to 1949.
Comrade Dimitrov quotes Stalin as saying: “But I am the only one dealing with all these problems. None of you could be bothered with them. I am out there by myself. ” This paints a rather lonely picture of Stalin. Comrade Dimitrov obviously had nothing to gain by fictionalising his private diary, so it should be clear that the quote is accurate.
In reading Stalin’s Works (the official volumes only going to 1934), it is obvious that he was a passionate and committed Marxist-Leninist and, though the tone changes after the death of Comrade Lenin, his writings remain orthodox. His pre-Lenin writings are particularly valuable, however, and should certainly be part of any Communist study.
His concept of “Socialism in One Country” (expounded after the death of Lenin) was seemingly denied by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Since Marxism is not dogma, but changes to fit the time, country, and situation, his theory is not faulty. I’ll discuss “Socialism in One Country”, and the “Permanent Revolution”, as well as the traditional Bolshevik position, in depth in a separate entry).
So, in my final analysis, I would state that Stalin was a great Marxist theoretician, and I would recommend studying the Works of Josef Stalin.