How can we characterise Stalin's rule in the USSR? Was he an autocrat, a dictator or a despot? This book is the first attempt to systematically study the nature of the political leadership system under Stalin. It provides a series of studies from diverse viewpoints into this question by leading specialists in the field, who study the formal institutional structures of power, the informal networks of decision-making, Stalin's interrelationship with his immediate colleagues and the wider ruling elite, together with detailed case studies of how he exercised his rule in economic policy and foreign affairs. It draws on a wealth of new archival material, and hitherto unavailable accounts by those most closely connected to these various power centres. The work will be of interest to scholars and students studying the history of the USSR and of Communist systems in general and those interested in the nature of twentieth century authoritarian, totalitarian and despotic regimes.