Staunton, July 2 – Paradoxically, Russian anthropologist Aleksandra Arkhipova says, many of the same things that are behind protests against the Putin regime are also behind the new cult of Stalin among broad swaths of the population: a sense of injustice, stagnation and the impotence of the current regime to change things.
Since 1998, she writes, “new fewer than 132” Stalin statues have been put up across Russia, two-thirds of which have appeared in villages and most as a result of popular activism rather than at the direction of the state despite what one might call “the ‘soft’ state reconstruction of Stalinism” (inliberty.ru/blog/2616-Stalin-bez-stalinizma).
According to Arkhipova, “behind this stands either ‘a low-level party resource’ (a local cell of the KPRF) or a group of residents of a city not united by party. More rarely, but also encountered, are cases when the idea of a memorial [to Stalin] and its implementation belong to a single specific individual.”
In many cases, those who want to put up such memorials are opposed by the authorities, and “this means that there exists some internal cause which is forcing people, at great risk to their reputations, to spend their time and resources on the erection of a bust of the leader or the creation of ‘a memory corner.’”
“For the supporter of liberal views, interest in this problem ends approximately at this point – ‘they’ve put up a monument, everything is clear’ – but for an anthropologist the conversation is only beginning. What stands behind this idea … besides reaction to the soft rehabilitation of Stalin in official discourse?”
Surveys show that since 2014 Russians feel that they are suffering from extreme injustice and a difficult life and that “there do not exist any present-day means of solving these problems.” Hence, they look back to anyone they believe could do so, regardless of the way he did. And it is this search that leads many to Stalin, the anthropologist continues.
Indeed, she says, Russians across the board often talk about Stalin’s “’concern’” for people, “a basic feature of an ideal super-paternalist stage which is concerned about you and others unlike the present-day state” which “many of our informants” say isn’t concerned about the population as a whole.
Thus, “the more people feel the lack of the concern for themselves from the present-day state, the more appear conclusions of the kind ‘but Stalin was concerned about Soviet people,’a view of the “father” figure that is reinforced by the rise of new anecdotes and the belief in many myths about his reign that are simply not true.
There is a sense that Stalin knew how to get things done and thus could solve the problems of today, something many Russians do not believe the Putin regime is capable of. And many also believe that Stalin never allowed the stagnation which has arisen because he constantly changed cadres while Putin allows people to remain in place without fear.
“If [Stalin] could build factories throughout the country in a decade and exile whole peoples, then those problems which are now in [Russia] he could also resolve and easily too. Stalin’s cruelty in the solution of problems is in a paradoxical way the key to the solution of their contemporary analogues.”
“The most important thing,” Arkhipova argues, is that “everyone measures his daily experience by references to Stalin,” and that means that the striving for justice in the minds of many can only be addressed adequately by the kind of cruelty that Stalin brought to the rule of the country.
Such popular appeals to Stalin are becoming “a universal response and a possibility of constructing ‘the position of the strong’” on behalf of the population. And thus, unexpectedly for many, this Stalin, “’a Stalin without Stalinism’ turns out to be an indirect form of protest” against the current regime rather than a basis of its support.