Stalinists: No criticizing Dear Leader on his birthday


Y’okay, I take it humor is out of the question as well?

Whatever is to be made of this?

The Russian Communist Party asked the nation Monday for a daylong moratorium on criticizing Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as they celebrate his 130th birthday.

Despite overseeing political purges and widespread famine that killed millions of Soviet citizens, Stalin is still embraced by many Russians nostalgic for Soviet times.


“We would very much like for any discussion of the mistakes of the Stalin epoch to be silenced today, so that people could reflect on Stalin’s personality as a creator, a thinker and a patriot,” Communist deputy parliament speaker Ivan Melnikov said on the party’s Web site.


Stalin – born as Josef Dzhugashvili on Dec. 21, 1879 – was among the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution, and maneuvered to discredit his rivals and consolidate control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after the 1924 death of its first leader, Vladimir Lenin. Stalin ruled with an iron fist until his own death in 1953, having unleashed brutal purges which killed millions of people. Millions more died in a famine triggered by his brutal collectivization of agriculture and confiscation of grain to fund the frenetic industrialization drive.

His legacy of repression and persecution, however, only became fully known in Russia after the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, lifted the taboo against criticizing Stalin as part of the 1980s perestroika campaign of political and economic reforms that precipitated the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse.

A core of followers, mainly elderly people educated before perestroika, nevertheless upholds that Stalin was a valiant leader whose iron grip on the nation was needed to ensure security and industrial growth.

Funny, that’s just what the Repugs say about Dubya. Everyone else, however, thinks he’s a dangerous buffoon about whom the best thing to say is “Thank God he’s out of power now!”

However, Stalin wasn’t a buffoon, and certain salient facts reflect that:

Most Russians – 54 percent – have a high opinion of Stalin’s leadership qualities, according to a survey released Friday by state-run polling agency VTsIOM, while only 23 percent rate his personal character traits as below average. The survey questioned 1,600 people nationwide Dec. 5-6 and gave a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Putin, like the Communists, has made efforts to rehabilitate Stalin’s image, lauding his drive to industrialize the Soviet Union and his victory over the Nazis as deserving of respect despite the human cost.

“In my view, you cannot make one gross assessment,” Putin said during his annual live radio and TV call-in show on Dec. 3. “Any historical events need to be analyzed in their entirety.”

True enough. And yet, the Stalin years of cold war and famine were a driving force for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev, both of whom lost family members to it, according to Richard Rhodes. Not only in terms of perestroika (economic reform), but also glasnost (openness, specifically freedom of speech.) Both were deeply upset by the needless starvation of millions, and also by the Stalinist régime’s hush-hushing of the fact. One good outcome of glasnost is the following, which we certainly would not have heard back in the day:

Some have criticized Putin’s drive as an effort to whitewash history and paint Stalin in a positive light in order to justify the Kremlin’s own growing power and retreat from democracy.

Even President Dmitry Medvedev has taken a more critical stand against Stalinism – a sign that the issue is still debated both among Russia’s political elite as well as its populace.

“It is impossible to imagine the scale of the terror inflicted on the people of our country,” Medvedev said in his video blog on Oct. 30, the day commemorating the victims of Stalinist repression. “I am convinced that no national development, no success, no ambitions can be achieved at the price of human suffering and death.”

The remarks represent perhaps the Kremlin’s strongest condemnation of Soviet repression since Putin, Medvedev’s predecessor, became president almost a decade ago.

The leader of the opposition Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, warned against reading too much into Medvedev’s more liberal rhetoric. “This statement had appeal on the day of remembrance, but he has never followed with any actions or a united program of de-Stalinization in the government,” Mitrokhin said Monday.

Not only Medvedev’s critical stand on Stalin, but Mitrokhin’s criticism of Medvedev’s more-talk-than-action approach, would have been impossible to imagine back then, right?

Maybe Putin is right about Stalin deserving respect for defeating the Nazis, although I’d say it was Russia’s harsh climate, more than anything else, that stopped Operation Barbarossa cold. But I will give credit where it’s due: Stalin knew when to stop being buddy-buddy with the crappy PFC from Austria, and to switch allegiances in due course.

And let’s face it, the Allies would probably have lost if the Soviets hadn’t been on side. Which makes me scratch my head all the more at the whole Cold War rationale that began its machinations even before the shooting war was over. Does anyone seriously still believe that Fat Man and Little Boy were only built to wring a surrender out of Japan? I’ve got another Richard Rhodes book to recommend that blows that notion clear out of the water, if you want to know the awful truth…

In the meantime, I think I’ll stick with democratic socialism, where the decision making is bottom-up rather than top-down. And I’d advise y’all to keep an eye on this dude, who seems to have his own rather Stalin-like traits…


Share this story:
This entry was posted in Teh Russkies, The WTF? Files. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Stalinists: No criticizing Dear Leader on his birthday

  1. Polaris says:

    A perverse trait found all over the world is the willingness of too many people to accept being abused and slaughtered by their own monstrous leaders so long as such leaders prevent or reverse enemy invasions.
    Putin was a KGB guy so I can see why he’d be a fan of Stalin.
    According to the biographies Stalin studied for the priesthood in his youth but something must have misfired somewhere along the line.

  2. Yep…he saw there wasn’t enough power in it.
    Mao was much the same–he “modernized” China at the expense of famine and mass death. Told people they should be making steel. Well, when you have as little iron ore as China does, guess what happens? No pots and pans left. And without proper mills, no workers for the rice paddies, either. Starvation was a foregone conclusion, but the Great Helmsman was too brilliant to see that. Too blinded by his own halo, I guess. And then he went the opposite direction culture-wise, and wiped out all the intellectuals because they thought too freely and were very likely to see through him and criticize him. If it were possible to cut off one’s nose twice to spite one’s face, Mao did just that.
    And yep, the Repugs are still demonstrating their blind willingness to take abuse, too. Just look at all the tea-party crazies out there. They’re not criticizing Obama for what they should be criticizing–his willingness to continue BushCo policies, even the worst, not modified but ratified. They’re seeing imaginary Reds under their beds, instead–and faithfully propping up the capitalists who, like Stalin and Mao, frankly don’t care if they starve.

  3. Manaat says:

    The issues surrounding the famine business in Maoist China is a little more complex. The economists Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze once showed that if you compare mortality in China during the Maoist period (basically, 1949-1978), the comparison is unfavorable to India, despite the Great Leap Forward famine and despite the fact that India did not have a major famine in the same period. Basically, even though China and India started with similar mortality rates in 1949, China managed to lower “normal” mortality rates very fast, which decreased constantly except for 58-61. India on the other hand did relatively poorly. Basically, the metaphor for India would be a slow mild perpetual “famine” of sorts , as opposed to the Chinese intense but much more short-lived GLF famine (something that China was before the Maoist period, although China also had periodically had the more intense “famines” throughout the 19th and 20th centuries). Also, most of China’s mortality gains took place mostly during the Maoist period (Life expectancy went from 39 years to 69 in about 30 years; there has been some improvement since, but much slower, life expectancy today is in the early 70s — I am not sure, I think it is 72 or 73 now. While slowing down at upper levels is normal and expected, I think the difference is still significant, a point Sen and Dreze also make).

  4. Manaat says:

    The H-man is inaugurating an “arepera socialista”.

  5. Re: mortality figures–I think the mitigating factor in Mao’s case was the “barefoot doctors”, who brought healthcare to people who essentially had none. The idea behind them was good–it was as quick a response to the looming needs of the countryside as could be had at the time, and could certainly be seen as a rudimentary precursor to Barrio Adentro (in which full-fledged doctors were deployed to the poorest neighborhoods in urban Venezuela). It is a good thing they were in place before the Great Leap Forward. But in the days of the misguided steel experiment, there was not much the “barefoot doctors” could do against famine and hardship. Longevity-wise, China is still about 10 years behind Japan and the west, so bringing more advanced medicine to rural areas will be what it takes to shift the balance. Still, those practitioners were a good start, and Mao is definitely superior over his predecessors in dealing with that need.
    If India didn’t have them, and still doesn’t, that could explain a lot about the mortality gap. I get the sense that India’s federal government is slower and more reluctant to take up such measures, even if they’re relatively modest, as the barefoot doctors of China were. Maybe the success of Venezuela and Bolivia at literacy programs and medical-care provision will finally make the Indian government sit up and take notice. If it doesn’t, it could end up with a violent revolution on its own hands.
    (Pooty-poot may be right about more than we think. It IS complicated, isn’t it.)

  6. Manaat says:

    You’re no doubt right about the barefoot doctors (it’s a point that Sen and Dreze’s book also makes), there’s also the point that China did have a policy of the “iron bowl” guaranteeing a basic income for poor families, that helped. The reason for comparing China with India, rather than, say, Japan, is the obvious one that India is the most reasonable real world counterfactual if you want to assess China (exactly similar social conditions, similar mortality rates, both large countries with high population densities, similar internal diversity: India somewhat more than China in terms of ethnolinguistic and religious diversity than China, but still). India is extremely diverse internally, some states with social indicators close to firstworld, others as bad as/worse than, say Afghanistan. States with leftwing state govts or strong left movements tend to be better on this, e.g., Kerala; the worst being the so-called “Hindi Belt” or the “BIMARU” states (Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar) which skew India’s aggregate statistics downward (those are the most densely populated parts of India, and also given the area, also have most of India’s population). So yes …
    I will give Pooty a poot a little break on this. If I to make a historical judgment, admitting some nuance may be necessary. Some horrific dictators at some places and some times achieve important and positive things. It seems to me, for example that you simply can’t say that there is no difference between, say, Mao and Stalin on the one hand and Pol Pot and Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga on the other (all four were horrific, but the latter have absolutely no mitigating qualities). I don’t believe recognizing this difference is apologizing for the former, it’s just making a realistic historical judgment.

  7. Bingo–and thanks for the info on India, which is really poorly covered by the western media, surprise surprise. We only hear what corporatists want us to hear about India: economic powerhouse because they don’t have such damn high wages, blah blah. The part about starvation is mentioned only in passing, and then it’s made to sound like it’s the fault of the peasants for “choosing” to stay backward, with no mention made of who’s keeping them that way. Cui bono is the one question they’ll never learn to ask. And they will never, EVER mention that the states run by leftists are the ones doing best…
    I would never presume to compare Mao and Stalin directly with Pol Pot (who really was ideologically insane) or the African dictators (who really were/are just money- and power-mad.) The right-wingers do that to lump together anyone who is either leftist, non-white or both, in a really twisted effort to show that only white western capitalism can succeed. It’s nonsense, of course, and facile. There were genuine (and genuinely successful) efforts to modernize both Russia and China, and to provide for the citizens. The mad ideologues and power/money-crazed dictators made no real efforts on those fronts, which is why their countries wound up in such dismal shape.
    With Russia, “closed society” is often cited as the root of all the evil, but the real reasons are more complex: first, they had to remake their society from the ground up, which was a pretty monumental task in itself because the czars were, like Bismarck, not big on educating the peasants; then, they had to catch up to the west industrially, which also took a lot of doing; then came the crippling influences of the Cold War and the arms race. Scientists were funneled mainly into the war economy, to the detriment of environmental and agrarian needs. They certainly had no shortage of good brains, but the lopsided situation of US imperialism forced them to put those brains to unbalanced use, with the result that Russia now has a lot of pollution and is again lagging behind industrially to boot. And they’ve retained some of the worst holdovers from czarism, such as secret police. But they do have excellent aerospace technology–the biggest planes, with the longest flying range, and very reliable Soyuz spacecraft. The US hasn’t caught up to them there, and one doesn’t hear boo about that!
    And as for calling China “closed”, that’s a laugh. No country has gone more out of its way to attract foreign trade and do business with the supposed ideological enemy; it’s been that way since Marco Polo followed the Silk Road. If China is closed to anyone, it is non-elite Chinese. But the West? Ha! China isn’t communist now, and to what extent it ever really was, beyond a few “model communes”, I don’t know. But ever since Tricky Dick went over there, things have changed a lot. It’s got capitalism now, tonnes of it, but not democracy, which should demolish the wingnut argument that the former brings the latter in its train. It does not–and they’re all strangely silent about that!
    I notice that the wingnuts are also all dead silent on Ho Chi Minh, which is interesting considering how often they invoke the long-lost Vietnam war (again, stupidly) as “proof” that peaceniks cut the legs out from under “the troops”–forgetting of course that the biggest peaceniks of all WERE the troops, when they refused en masse to fight what they knew was an unjust war. (The Pentagon logged more than half a million desertions during Vietnam. That’s huge–it’s ten times the number of US troops killed!) When they mention Southeast Asian “communist” leaders at all, they invariably go for the safe, unequivocally nasty example of Pol Pot. Who, of course, wasn’t in charge of Vietnam. And who would probably not have come to power if the US hadn’t monkeyed around in Southeast Asia–just as there would have been no Vietnam war had the US backed Ho Chi Minh when he asked them to, instead of taking up where the French left off and backing all those obscene corruptos, like Diem. And interestingly, who would have remained in power if those nasty commie Vietnamese hadn’t invaded Cambodia in 1979–four full years after the US left Southeast Asia!
    I’m gonna go wayyyy out on a limb here and say he probably wasn’t very good at Marxism either; he was a shoddy student, which should give some idea of his degree of intellectual rigor, as well as why he went in for disastrous “simplification” measures, rather than going the industrial-modernization route of Russia and China.

Comments are closed.