Thursday, April 18, 2019

Russian Identity without Stalin Possible; Soviet Identity without Stalin Not, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 18 – “To imagine Russian identity without Stalin is easy,” Dimitry Savvin says, because “strictly speaking Stalin has no role there. But Soviet identity without Stalin is simply unthinkable. He is its founding father, the creator of all victories and in general everything around.”

            In reaction to the Levada Center poll showing that ever more Russians have a positive view of the Soviet dictator, the editor of the Riga-based Russian conservative Harbin portal argues that the new figures are no surprise but must be clearly understood rather than continue  to be misunderstood and misused (

            The Putin regime has pursued a policy of “open re-sovietization” for more than a decade, Savvin says, and thus it is no surprise that Russians have come around to a more positive view of the man who dominated so much of the Soviet period.  And thus it is a mistake to write this off as some do to a rise of stupidity among them.

            According to the Russian commentator, “every state and nation has its own myths, its own heroes, and of course its own founding fathers.” These things are selected from various possibilities, and consequently, it is only necessary to specify what identity is connected with Stalin and what his role was in the formation of this identity. That isn’t too difficult.

            But getting in the way of doing so, Savvin says, are “two old errors.” On the one hand, some people want to exclude Stalin from their understanding of the Soviet system. And on the other, some want to take him out of the Soviet context and insist he is one of a long line of Russian leaders. Neither is appropriate.

            Many who make the first error are representatives of “so-called ‘Russian liberalism’ of the 1990s” who are “a genetic continuation of the Soviet generation of the 1960s” and who believe that Lenin’s project was good and that Stalin perverted it – and consequently, the Soviet system can be treated as everything minus Stalin. 

            But anyone who is honest can see that Stalin continued what Lenin began and that if one has sympathy for the revolutionary romanticism of Lenin one is driven to accept Stalin whatever one claims, the Russian nationalist commentator argues.

            The second error, prominently associated with Vladimir Putin, is to think of Russian history as one continuous stream and thus to treat all of its rulers as manifestations of that continuity from Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great to Aleksandr III to Lenin to Stalin and “to Comrade Putin” himself.

            But Stalin, like the other Soviet leaders, was not a Russian leader, and his system was not a Russian system, Savvin says.  And insisting on his deification and that of his system is to celebrate Sovietism but not Russia and its history. The Soviet system was alien to Russia, and those who want to go back to it want to restore an alien system not a national one.

            “Soviet identity is not a form of Russian identity,” Savvin continues. “There are completely different phenomena. More than that, Soviet identity was always constructed on a denial of Russian identity.” Promoting the one is thus to undermine the other, and that must be understood.

            According to the Russian commentator, “the Soviet system was a Stalinist system and not anything else. Stalin really was the continuer of Lenin. But if Lenin only sketched the main parts of communist totalitarianism, Stalin developed and strengthened them.” Still worse, instead of breaking with Sovietism, Russia still lives “within the coordinates laid down in Stalin’s time.”

            The state and administrative borders which were marked out by Stalin’s hand, the hand of a genuine Russophobe,” Savvin says, remain in place. As do the education al system … the entire system of state administration … and of course, the cadres which ‘decide everything’ are themselves the products of the system which Stalin and no one else built.”

            It is thus no surprise that Putin is restoring Stalin and Sovietism, but no one should confuse this with Russia and Russian national identity.  Those two sets of things are antithetical. 

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