Staunton, October 10 – Russians may say that they have a positive view of Stalin – according to polls, more than half now do – but, despite the Kremlin’s promotion of the need for “a strong hand,’ there are no real Stalinists among them because both the state and society have changed and neither wants what real Stalinism was about, according to Aleksey Malashenko.
In “Nezavisimaya gazeta” today, the Carnegie Moscow Center scholar says that is obvious if one considers the three kinds of Stalinists one now encounters in Russia, Stalinists whose convictions are based on ignorance or misperceptions or hopes for something other than what the father of the peoples did (ng.ru/ideas/2016-10-10/9_stalin.html).
The first variety, he says, includes “those who sincerely believe in the Soviet utopia and that the system created by Stalin (not by Lenin) is the best model for organization society,” one that needs only certain “modifications” to be perfect. They think they experienced it in the late Soviet times, even though there was little Stalinism left then.
And if you tell these people that they are Gorbachev supporters, they become angry; but in fact, Malashenko continues, that is exactly what they are. Everyone needs to remember that Lavrenty Beria was “almost the first” to use the term perestroika and what the country might have become if that sexual predator and mass murderer had succeeded Stalin.
The people in this category, the Moscow writer says, are “for ‘a soft Stalainism,’ for ‘a Stalinism with a human face,’” not the real thing.
The second variety of Stalinist in Putin’s Russia includes those “who have not studied history and for whom Stalin is a misty and distant image of victory in the war and the creation of the atomic bomb.” They know nothing about collectivization or the GULAG and don’t want to know.
For them, Stalin is “something between Aleksandr Nevsky and Marshal Kutuzov. Indeed, the level of ignorance among such people is striking. One student recently told him that the population of Russia was 10 million; another didn’t know the year World War II began; and a third observed that “Stalin was like Ivan the Terrible who defeated Napoleon.”
Stalin for such people is “a certain attractive abstraction, a literary figure something like Harry Potter” into whom they can place all their hopes given that they know nothing about his real content, Malashenko says.
The third type of Stalinists in Russia today are the minipulators, people who see in him “an instrument with whose help they can achieve success in their actions … a useful level that serves as a re-enforcement of Putin’s authoritarianism although the president himself has not pronounced the name of ‘the leader of the peoples’ in vain.”
For those on the left, the situation is simpler; but even they have no interest in going back to full-blown Stalinism; and for all the others, making Stalin into a hero in no way means making him into a role model suitable for emulation in all details, as in fact Putin himself has demonstrated. Malashenko continues.
One of the major reasons that Stalin is respected by so many Russians is that “in contrast to the present” rulers of the country, he was “creative” and go things done, albeit by means that descended into nightmares. And the Soviet dictator, again unlike the current Russian one, gave the population hope that by struggling through they would achieve a better future.
“’Putinism,’” and one still must put it in quotation marks, Malashenko says, has not been marked by any particular creativity or provided a model of development that could lead people to believe in the future. Instead, Russia is mired in stagnation; and so not surprisingly, many look back to any period where it wasn’t.
Moreover, under Putin, the post-Soviet space “has disappeared as a description” of reality. In essence, it no longer exists. The Eurasian Union is rickety and ineffective, and in any case, it does not guarantee Russia unquestioned leadership. None of its members has recognized Crimea as Russian and none of them ever will.”
Unlike Stalin who had a vision of the future, albeit one undermined by the means he used to try to reach it, Malashenko argues that “the main task of the present leaders has been reduced to the preservation of their own power … This is their credo, and it is not Stalinist.” Stalin had an ideology; they don’t.
Moreover, “Stalin achieved power on his own.” His successor had it handed to him; and Stalin had a real competitor in Trotsky. Putin at best had Khodorkovsky as his “sparring partner.” For all these reasons and more, Malashenko says, Stalinism isn’t going to return any more than Stalin is going to come back to life.
The Russian people don’t really want it to; and the current Russian leader, for all his bravado, isn’t capable of doing even that.