Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stalin’s Great Terror Wasn’t So Bad, Putin TV Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – The evolution in official Russian treatment of Stalin continues. He is no longer a tyrant nor is he an effective manager who may have occasionally exceeded the bounds of the acceptable. Now, the late Soviet dictator is being refashioned into a great leader without modification who is unjustly attacked by the opponents of Russia.

            An indication of this latest shift came on Friday night during Roman Babayan’s talk show on Russian central television which was broadcast under the title “1927: Remembering Everything” ( and reviewed by Irina Pavlova at

            As the US-based Russian historian points out, the Moscow television program was timed to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the February-March 1937 plenum of the Bolshevik Party’s Central Committee, an event which “is typically considered as the beginning of the Great Terror.”

            Babayan’s show was “shocking,” Pavlova continues, because it shows that despite all the available documentation about what happened in the late 1930s, Russians “know practically nothing about it” and are prepared to accept the line, offered by “liberal historian” Yury Pivovarov that 1937 was simply “a quarrel among the ruling group.” 

            Unfortunately, she continues, there is nothing surprising in the fact that “these people even today do not understand what took place, do not see in the arrests of governors, siloviki, and entrepreneurs signs of the very same Great Terror which occurred in 1937 and do not include in this picture the arrests of ordinary Russian citizens and dissidents.”

            And when one individual in the audience, Yan Rachinsky of Memorial, attempted to raise these issues, he was told by the host to shut up because the human rights activist supposedly was only going to present what foreign governments that have given his organization money want him to say.

            To provide a corrective to this latest Moscow re-write of the history of the Soviet past, Pavlova offers a summary of an article she published in Grani a decade ago about the Great Terror, adding some comments about why this misunderstanding of Stalin’s actions is particularly dangerous now (

            The February-March 1937 plenum “marked the beginning of the visible part of the Great Terror,” that is, “the mass destruction of the party-state bureaucracy.” But “this is only part of the truth” about that event, and that “half truth” is leading some now to say that “’it would be good to repeat’” what Stalin did against corrupt figures like Dmitry Medvedev.

            In 1937, the historian points out, “the people also supported the powers that be” at meetings organized by those powers. But “there was also an invisible part of the Great Terror which began in August 1937, a far more massive effort directed at “cleansing” the country of “so-called anti-Soviet elements, including simple people.”

            “No one understood why this happened,” Pavlova says. “Just like today, the powers were absolutely untouchable. No one knew” what the secret police chiefs were saying behind closed doors or what the regime was deciding at Politburo meetings.  And they didn’t see it coming because it was carried out “under the cover of the election campaign to the Soviet parliament.”

            “The Russian powers that be and society in essence have little changed from the times of 1937,” she argues, “even though open borders and the Internet provide incomparably greater opportunities to find out and understand one’s history.” For a brief time at the end of the 1980s, that happened, but “it quickly dissipated to nothing.”

            “No one took responsibility for the crimes. No one undertook a real attempt to condemn the policy of state terror. The historical lesson wasn’t drawn. And as under Stalin, society did not understand the nature and consequences of terror,” just as society now, to judge from this television program, does not understand these things either.

            As a result, what has happened in Russia is the restoration of “the exact same closed mechanism of power with the secret adoption of decisions.” Legal methods of fighting corruption, imposing control on officials and replacing them simply do not work in that kind of system.

            And this has an even more tragic outcome, Pavlova concludes.  “The political technologists, publicists, and ‘opposition figures’ who serve the powers that be are now testing the reaction of society to the recipes of 1937 for ‘cleansing’ the country.”

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