Thursday, January 16, 2020

Stalin’s Approach Shows Why Relying on Patriotism Alone Not Enough, Baunov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 13 – Patriotism for Stalin was an instrument for larger purposes, but now, when the Putin regime has failed to specify any larger purposes, it may play an evil trick on those who view it and Stalin as panaceas, undermining exactly what they hope these things will solve, Dmitry Baunov says.

            The Moscow Carnegie Center scholar notes that Stalin is today the hero for almost all groups in Russian society and argues that because of the uses to which he and his views are being put, it is critically important to investigate his period to understand how his system functioned and what problems its use now presents (

            Such an examination, Baunov suggests, shows that there are potentially serious problems ahead.

            A volume published in 2011 contains information about a meeting Stalin had with Georgian historians and party officials just two weeks after his famous toast to the Russian people in May 1945, a toast in which he praised the Russian people above all others and which many view as the basis for Russian nationalism to this day.

            But at his meeting with the Georgians, Stalin appears almost as “a duplicitous secret nationalist, the forefather of contemporary ‘Ukrainizers.’”  In the Soviet leader’s words, “the Georgians must find the most ancient roots which connect them with the great ethnoses of the past” because “Georgia is a European country independent economically and culturally.”

            In reality, Baunov argues, “the elevation of the Russian people (already from the 1930s) in front of one audience, and praise for the Georgians in another should have discredited both positions.” That is because “patriotism here is only an instrument tin the hands of something larger than the nation.” In Stalin’s case, that is the USSR.

            And that in turn means that Stalin’s arguments were consistent. He was saying that Georgia needs to attach itself to the Soviet Union “not as a nation but as an effective system.” The Soviet leader wasn’t trying to present himself as both a Russian nationalist and a Georgian one but as someone committed to a larger goal.

            At least one Georgian historian, Nikolay Berdzenishvili, understood that. Stalin, he said, “by nationality and not only by origin is a Georgian, by conviction, he is a communist, and by his practical activity, he is a statesman as the founder organizer of the Soviet state and the Soviet Union.” 

            Stalin was thus committed not to the Russian nation or the Georgian nation but rather to the creation of “the Soviet state apparatus of unprecedented power. Nationalism sometimes was a useful weapon in the hands of this apparatus;” and sometimes, an enemy that had to be fought. It was not an independent value to be accepted or rejected as such.

            That is why despite his apparent playing with nationalism, Stalin “had to maintain the ideological principle of class struggle” lest things get out of hand, a clear indication of the importance of having a larger schema to fit nationalism into but something that many now appear to have forgotten/

            This arrangement, Baunov continues, “corresponds to the stage of financial capitalism according to Hilferding: major business combines with the state and begins to strengthen ‘the nation,’ but not as a goal in itself but as an instrument in a large economic and political game. What is important is not the nation but capital and the corporation.”

            “In the USSR, power belonged not to business but to the nomenklatura, not to the owners but to the administrators.” And that gave the Stalinist and Soviet system its particular characteristics, the Moscow analyst says.

            But today, the Soviet system is no more, and “the Soviet elite has been transformed into capitalist masters. However in all this to the same degree, the Stalinist system and ‘Soviet’ nationalism can be if not repeated then simulated: only power will be held not by the nomenklatura but by the representatives of major capital.”

            And in that event, “nationalism will serve not the overgrown apparatus of the CPSU but the imperialist apparatus of ‘national’ business.  As usually, a tragic history will be repeated in the form of a farce.”   

            What does this mean? It means, Baunov argues, that “the desire for ‘a strong power’ and ‘patriotism’ (in general connected with nationalism) will not solve any problems.” Stalinism was about more than that because it grew out of a revolution in which other values were proclaimed as primary.

            “To make ‘something similar’ but without a revolution out of today’s realities means either to engage in a comedy or (in the best sense0 to build a banal imperialist power, uniting ‘nationalisms’ not in the interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat or nomenklatura but in the interests of big business.” 

            Stalin is thus not the model that many in Moscow now assume. He is far from the best guide because for his followers today, “he embodies abstract mastery of power but does not provide an explanation as to how it is to be achieved” or into whose hands such an aggregation of power will fall.

And it is those questions which will determine the future just as they have in the past.

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