Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Today’s Stalinists Love the Soviet Dictator for His Cruelty Not in Spite of It, Dragunsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – At a time when many Russians are pressing for the rehabilitation of Stalin, Moscow writer Denis Dragunsky says, it is important to note the difference between Stalinists of the 1960s and 1970s who “loved Stalin DESPITE the repressions” and Stalinists now “who love him precisely FOR the arrests, the camps and the shootings.”

            This is “a serious difference,” he argues, and it is one that should be taken into consideration by all those assessing a direction that the Kremlin is encouraging.  After all, an evaluation of Stalin that acknowledges his crimes is one thing, but a view that says he didn’t commit any is quite another (www.facebook.com/denis.dragunsky/posts/558160567542449).

            But as Khrushchev found out a half century ago, any discussions of Stalin inevitably become something more, including the relations between Stalin and Lenin, the legitimacy of the Soviet system as a whole, and the continuity of the Moscow-centered state with Russia’s Imperial past.

            Not surprisingly, the push to rename Volgograd Staliningrad and the appearance of the late Soviet leader’s picture on buses in St. Petersburg, to name but two of the current phenomena involving him have sparked similar discussions and debates that may ultimately be more fateful than those backing his revival might imagine.

            Last Friday, for example, Olga Dukhanina, another Moscow writer, asked visitors to her blog why members of Russia’s “liberal society” hate Stalin but don’t have the same feelings about Vladimir Lenin who was as bloody in his actions and who selected Stalin as one of his comrades in arms (unilevel.livejournal.com/759704.html).

            “In the final analysis,” she wrote, Stalin was “only ‘the Lenin of today.’”  But there are “no convulsions on Ekho Moskvy” about his memorials and “no one plans to call the Leningrad blockade the St. Petersburg blockade,” an obvious reference to the possible renaming of Volgograd as Stalingrad.

            It was “precisely Lenin,” Dukhanina said, who created the Soviet system. And he too was not distinguished by any particular loyalty to enemies … Blood under Ilich flowed no less than under his successor.” It was under him that the Cheka was created. And perhaps most significantly, “without Lenin there wouldn’t have been any Stalin. 
            Yesterday, Russia’s Rex news agency featured a number of responses by various Russians.  Among the most interesting of the comments came from Lev Vershinin, a political scientist, Rostislav Ishchenko, the president of the Center for Systems Analysis and Prognostications, and Sandra Novikova, a journalist (www.iarex.ru/interviews/33689.html).

            Vershinin said the answer to Dukhanina’s question was quite simple: Lenin destroyed the old elite and allowed a new one to come to power for which its members were grateful while Stalin required and was prepared to use force to ensure that the new elite work without ceasing for which they were not.

            Ishchenko suggested that “the activity of Stalin was directed at the strengthening of the Russian state (in the format of the USSR).” Moreover, “if one uses Putin’s terminology, Stalin was ‘an effective manager’” and ensured that Russia became a world power.  It is thus “not surprising that the enemies of Russia don’t love him very much.”

            But Novikova suggested that the reason for the differing assessments of Lenin and Stalin was even deeper. “Lenin was a leftist, a globalist, a destroyer, a Russophobe, and an anti-Christian.” Stalin in contrast was “a conservative, a state-thinking leader, a Russian of Georgian origin, and a former seminarian.”

            Lenin, the journalist continued, represents “the collapse of the state, the red terror, the civil war, war communism and the shameful Brest peace,” while Stalin is the embodiment of “the rise of his native country from the plough to nuclear and cosmic heights and its transformation into a super power.”

            Russia’s “Liberal democrats,” she conclude, “will never forgive Stalin” for that.” They will continue to view “the destroyers Lenin and Trotsky as ‘theirs’ … [but they will always view] Stalin as ‘alien.”

            In today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” commentator Viktor Shenderovich provides a more thoughtful answer to Dukhanina’s question but from the position of a liberal opponent of Stalin rather than one of the Soviet leader’s detractor (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=12642).

            According to him, the explanation for the horror people like himself feel regarding references to Stalin as opposed to their more accepting attitude toward Lenin is explained by historical distance.  On the one hand, Stalin’s reputation was destroyed more fully than Lenin’s by exposes like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelag.”

            And on the other, Lenin’s victims remain distant and typically nameless while Stalin’s “lived among us and still live their lives alongside us.  There is no family [even to this day] in which someone was not shot or exiled.” Consequently, Stalin’s crimes are much closer than Lenin’s and consequently have a greater psychological impact on those reflecting about both.

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