Staunton, January 25 – Not long ago, a United Russia Duma deputy said that Russia and Stalin were “united” and criticism of the Soviet dictator and especially comparing him to Stalin undermines Russian statehood, the kind of statement that even CPSU conservatives under Brezhnev seldom permitted themselves, Aleksandr Tsipko says.
According to the senior Moscow commentator, “we will understand nothing about what is taking place in present-day Russia and how we live and breathe if we do not explain to ourselves why today things are permitted which were not permitted in the USSR after the 20th Congress of the CPSU” (ng.ru/ideas/2021-01-25/7_8065_name.html).
The Duma deputy who defended Stalin “is hardly a Stalinist,” Tsipko suggests. “And he hardly would like to live in Stalin’s times as he of course knows that had there not been Gorbachev’s perestroika and the disintegration of the USSR, he never would have been able to make his current glorious career.”
“But he is forced to work for the rehabilitation of Stalin not only to please Putin … but also in order yet again to show that United Russia today is together with the majority of the Russian people in its assessment of Stalin.” That represents a sharp departure from the situation in the 1960s as Tsipko recalls his own experience.
He was able to stand up and denounce the argument of a senior CPSU official in 1965 without suffering any ill effects career-wise and with that official in fact backing off from his line that “Stalin and the Soviet people are united.” Indeed, it turned out that this official himself was not convinced of what he said.
According to Tsipko, “Russian politicians who today insist on the rehabilitation of Stalin” don’t want “to revive the Stalinist political machine.” What they are about is something only in the realm of ideology. There they want to insist that “’Russia is not Europe,’” but in their lives, “they do not want to lose the benefits of European civilization.”
“Undoubtedly,” he continues, “in the USSR at the time of the thaw, which ended in 1968, the instinct of self-preservation, above all the preservation of the spiritual health of the nation was much stronger than in today’s ‘Crimea is ours’ Russia.” Soviet citizens then had clear memories of what Stalin had been like.
And because that was the case, Tsipko continues, “even leaders of ‘the Russian Party,’ for all their sympathies to Stalin did not risk saying what Aleksandr Prokhanov now says, that Stalin was an expression of the Russian idea.”
Now, “nostalgia for Stalin among ‘the deep Russian people’ is a protest not so much against the stupefying Russian poverty as a protest against the stupefying income inequality which was given birth to by the loans-for-shares actions of the 1990s.” And that means that behind this support for Stalin’s rehabilitation lies “hatred for bureaucrats” and deputies.
It is quite understandable, Tsipko says, that “those for whom Stalin and the Russian state are one categorically oppose the idea of the similarity of Hitlerism and Stalinism and the OSCE decisions which equates crimes the crimes against humanity committed by Stalin and the crimes against humanity committed by Hitler.”
As a result of these attitudes, many view those who speak the truth about Stalin’s crimes as somehow casting doubt on the great achievements of the USSR, the Moscow commentator says. In part, this difference from the 1960s reflects the passage of time: Russians in the 1960s remembered Stalin clearly; now, he is for most a distant figure of their national past.
A more important reason for this recrudescence of support for Stalin, Tsipko argues, is that “we did not decide to carry out decommunization to the end and continue to live in a country where Chapayev is a hero and Denikin and Wrangel are enemies of the people,” a failure that is especially striking given that the peoples of Eastern Europe made a very different decision.
But there is a larger problem and a larger cause: Since 2014, “it has become ever more difficult to find a basis for faith in the future, for faith in another, wiser and more comfortable Russia.” With a vision of a future, it is relatively easy to decide to condemn evil in the past; without it, that becomes much more difficult.
Instead, many want “to idealize their own past and find reasons to justify all that their ancestors suffered. Out of this has emerged the present situation, one in which everything in the past, including the crimes of Stalin, are our own Russian reality.” But those who promote this forget that by tying Russian statehood to Stalin, they are inflicting serious harm on it.
“What kind of statehood and who needs it if for its preservation one must starve millions of people and drive them into the GULAG? What kind of statehood if citizens must be reduced to semi-human state and be prohibited from knowledge about the truth of history?” Tsipko asks in despair.
“How can one respect a country and nation if it is not in a position to call a crime a crime and to condemn at the state levcel the leaders of the country who consciously destroyed millions and millions of people in the name of the class purity of a socialist society? How can one respect a state which during the war didn’t think about losses” assuming there would always be more children.
“I understand,” Tsipko says, “that for patriots of the Crimea is ours generation, there is no problem with the authority of the nation or how the Russian nation looks in the eyes of present-day European peoples. One must remember that the authority of a nation in a global world is not only a moral problem but an essentially economic one.”
By celebrating rather than condemning “an open sadist and murderer,” Russians are cutting themselves off from the rest of the world and alienating all those within the country who care about truth and justice. Ever more young people in Russia see no reason to remain there and want to move abroad. For them, “Russia has already ceased to be the Motherland.”
“Politicians who consider that talk about the similarity of national socialism is impermissible do not know that they are in the clearest way rejecting the inheritance of the great Russian philosophical thinkers. For all the representatives of Russian religious philosophy of the beginning of the 20th century, it was axiomatic that Lenin was not yet Hitler, but Stalin was.”
“And as soon as you begin to jail those few intellectuals who call for talking about the similarity of national socialism and Bolshevism, you must begin to burn the books of Nikolay Berdyaev, Sergey Bulgakov and Semyon Frank which were published in massive print runs during perestroika,” Tsipko says.
But perhaps some in United Russia will see a more immediate threat, one to their own power, from what they are doing, he suggests. By celebrating rather than denouncing Stalin, they have lost the respect of “practically all of the intelligentsia for whom truth and personal dignity are still dear.”