Monday, February 24, 2020

Stalinist Revival Reflects Not Just Kremlin Efforts but Also Experiences of Russian People, Zavolsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – Many analysts point to Vladimir Putin’s effort to promote the rehabilitation of Stalin as sufficient explanation for the increasingly widespread neo-Stalinism in Russian society, but historian Domety Zavolsky argues that the experiences of the Russian people at a minimum inclined them to have a more positive attitude of the Soviet dictator.

            In an APN essay, he argues that Stalin not surprisingly has become popular as the most obvious and consistent opponent of both the disasters of the 1990s many associate with democracy and the “boring Brezhnevism” that preceded and opened the way to their appearance (

            “If twenty years ago someone had predicted that in the future ‘Soviet’ would mean ‘Stalinist,’ everyone except for a miniscule number of Stalinists at the time would have looked at him as at some kind of liberal slanderer,” Zavolsky says.  “In fact, at the start of the 1990s, everything and everyone in Russia was Soviet.”

            Consequently, to describe something as Soviet was not to distinguish it from much else.  Only after the Russian people and their situation ceased to be almost completely Soviet, he continues, could people say what it was. “Few could explain what was non-Soviet if there had not been the demise of the Soviet.”

            According to Zavolsky, “only liberal propaganda” suggested that “Soviet” and “Stalinist” were one and the same thing.  Russians on the basis of their own experience in the 1960s through the 1980s knew very well that the Soviet system at its end was not the system it had been at the time of Stalin’s death in 1953.

            But they knew something else as well, he suggests. They knew that what the Soviet Union had become in those decades ultimately led to its collapse and to the disaster in their minds of “the wild 1990s.”  And while they blamed Khrushchev, Brezhnev and especially Gorbachev for that, they began to look further back – to Stalin.

            He was viewed as a bulwark of stability who won the war and so on, and he was not guilty as far as most Russians were concerned with taking the steps that his successors did that landed their country and themselves in difficulty. As a result, they increasingly made Stalin part of this positive view of the Soviet past even as they remained negative about his successors.

            “Stalin became fashionable namely because he was not part of the rotting Soviet officials” they had known and hated in their youth, but rather “an alternative to them.” They were thus ready to listen to Vladimir Putin when he promoted a more positive view of Stalin and Stalinism.

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