Staunton, March 6 – No one under 70 can have any direct memories of Stalin who died 65 years ago this week, Sergey Shelin says; but unlike other figures in Russian history and in other countries, the Soviet dictator is not a figure of the past but rather very much one of the present.
That is possible in large measure because what Russia under Vladimir Putin has now is “a new edition of Stalinism,” one based on the idea of an empire and on a conservatism without roots but rather created, as Stalin’s was, to fit the needs of the Kremlin. Indeed, what Russia now has in that regard, he says, is “a parody on a parody” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2018/03/06/1687047.html).
For “the overwhelming majority of Russians” today, “Stalinism is viewed not as something receding into the past but as part of the present.” That is not because the authorities promote him in their propaganda of because no one had adopted a law against the propaganda of Stalinism, Shelin continues.
And it is not so much about Stalin as about Russians because “nowhere else does Stalin play the role” that he does in Russia. “In the other parts of the empire which he at one time ruled … Stalinism can be or not be part of state propaganda [positively as in China, negatively elsewhere], but everywhere he is viewed by the masses as something receding into the past.”
“Today’s Stalin is a profoundly Russian ideological asset.” Despite his Georgian roots and accent, Stalin is “a phenomenon of imperial rather than ethnic content, a key figure of the metropolitan center but not the provinces.” And in that regard, Stalin offers two “unique” features that continue to matter.
On the one hand, he created an empire the likes of which had never been and never will be again; and on the other, he produced “an invented conservatism,” the set of attitudes about the links between past and present that continue to resonate to this day, Shelin argues.
The first of these does not require discussion: it is self-evident. But the second is so unusual that it does. Stalin created and Putin is extending “a conservatism without roots,” of state-defined “bindings that combine into a single whole a multitude of stylized innovations about the past.”
“Stalinists say,” the Rosbalt commentator says, “that Stalin did away with Bolshevik internationalism and restored the former Russian life with its traditions, religion and culture.” But that is nonsense: “Stalin did not restore but destroyed to its foundations this former Russian life” in all its aspects.
According to Shelin, “Stalinism as a regime begins with collectivization, with the destruction of the old peasantry” and his turn toward patriotism in the middle 1930s was not accompanied by the rehabilitation but rather the final destruction of those from the old order, including the church and the bureaucracy, who had somehow survived until then.
Stalin showed himself totally uninterested in the real past; he was concerned only to create a present without roots that would support his rule. Shelin argues that “today’s buffoon conservatism is a direct and logical heir of the Stalinist variant,” one of the reasons that Stalin remains so alive to this day.