Staunton, May 5 – Seventy-five years ago, Stalin launched his anti-cosmopolitan campaign to cut Russia off from the West by affirming its uniqueness and superiority, Tatyana Shishkova says. But that effort cost the country “the opportunity to be the future of all mankind” and “doomed the Soviet project to a slow death.”
The Russian cultural figure and commentator does not draw a comparison with Putin’s current efforts to boost Russian pride and isolate Russia from Western influence, but many of the readers of her article in the prominent Moscow newspaper, Kommersant, are certain to do so (kommersant.ru/doc/5338615).
“Today,” Shishkova writes, “we remember this struggle [at the end of Stalin’s time] by its most odious manifestations more or less captured in the well-known phrase, ‘Russia is the motherland of elephants,’” a reference to Stalin’s promotion of Russia as leading in everything without much regard for the truth.
But in fact, the focus of this campaign was “not a struggle for primacy of discoveries but a clarification of relations with the West as such.” The USSR came out of the war as one of the victors and expected to remain among them and have its contributions to the war effort respected. That did not happen and this generated resentment.
The West resumed its criticism of Stalin’s totalitarianism. It blocked his aspirations to take control of the straits. It did not provide the USSR with the aid it expected. And it even began to compare Stalin’s rule with that of Adolf Hitler, something completely unacceptable to Moscow.
Stalin viewed the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II as an indication that Soviet efforts to master the achievements of Western civilization had come to an end. Russia could stand on its own two feet and was more than ready to surpass the West and thus “was ready to free itself” from the influence of the West.
But the Soviet leader failed to see that what he was doing “actually contradicted the foundations” of his system. “The Soviet Union could not exist without the West,” either as a source of ideas and money or as a goal for the transformation of it into something like the USSR already was.
Consequently, by cutting off Russia from the West, Stalin also cut Russia off from its future, putting his system on track to disintegrate. Had his successors continued his policies, that end would have come sooner than it did; but they turned away from the anti-cosmopolitan campaign and kept the system afloat for a while longer.
It is impossible not to see parallels between this and Russia’s present under Putin and its future after he departs.