Baku, March 27 – Many commentators in Moscow and the West explain the rising popularity of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in Russian society as a reflection of the continuing importance of paternalistic values there and to present this phenomenon as a single unified whole that threatens the future of the country.
But in an analysis posted online this week, Aleksandr Sobkov not only dismisses the “paternalist” explanation but argues that various groups in Russia today have constructed mutually exclusive myths about him that almost certainly preclude the formation of a unified pro-Stalin front in the future.
And because that is so, the Moscow commentator suggests, those who are disturbed by Stalin’s renewed popularity would do well to focus on these various parts rather than on a whole – one that is just a mythical as the images of Stalin each of these groups now has created (http://grani.ru/Society/History/m.134872.html).
Paternalism, he argues, is an entirely inadequate explanation for the current upsurge in popular approbation for Stalin. That concept denies to the individual and indeed to society as a whole “any independent status” and makes everything that happens the result of the will and actions of the government.
Moreover, as traditionally understood, paternalism involves regimes “that put themselves above such criteria as justice which ‘simple people’ think about” and that “the government exists in order to do great deeds and not in order to do something for the little people.”
“To deny the presence of survivals of paternalistic consciousness in contemporary Russia is, of course, wrong,” he says, but “to exaggerate the strength or rootedness of these survivals of the past is a mistake as well” because “Russian society a long time ago ceased to be traditional” and its members have their own interests.
Consequently, he continues, one must look at how various groups in the population view any particular individual or event like Stalin and Stalinism. If one does that, it becomes clear that “each group has its own Stalin, one very much mythologized and quite far from the historical Stalin” and from the images of him other groups have.
In each case, the group “selects and absolutizes one side of the activity of Stalin in correspondence with its own value orientations” and ignores everything else about him that does not fit into that framework. The Moscow analysts give three examples of groups with very different reasons for backing Stalin.
First of all who may be called “the extreme left” are those on “the extreme left” for whom Stalin is still “’the proletarian revolutionary,’ the continuer of Lenin’s work, the defender of the disposed, a fighter against social inequality, who was leading humanity to a society free from oppression.”
But in supporting Stalin for that, members of this group “do not notice that he created a cruelly hierarchical system” in which those above ruled arbitrarily and often viciously over those below and in which no one was ever able to feel secure. And such supporters also ignore the human cost of Stalin’s successes.
The second group of contemporary “Stalinists,” he continues, includes “the Russian great power patriots, supporters of the black hundreds and fascists. For them, Stalin saved Russia from the destructive activities of “’Judeo-Bolshevism’” and restored the Russian Empire.
According to members of this group, Stalin’s repressions were not errors or crimes but rather “’a mobilization technology’” that promoted “a severe asceticism and spirit of self-sacrifice” in the population. And his continuing purges were thus “the best means of running a society for all times.”
They ignore Stalin’s rhetoric about equality and human progress, dismissing it as a kind of “opium for the people,” because members of this group do not believe in “freedom, equality and brotherhood.” For them, there is only “a will to power, to domination, to putting down everyone else. An eternal boot on the face of the enemy.”
The third group is in some ways the most interesting and the most frightening, he suggests. Made up of those who made their way in the difficult years of transition from communism, they too have “found their own Stalin,” a figure whom they view as “simply ‘an effective manager’” who was able to run a highly complicated state at a difficult time.
This is “the Stalin of the football fans. A completely bourgeois Stalin, and any party worker, who had to be shot because he did not catch the latest change in the general line of the party was simply someone who had proved unsuccessful like some old crone found in the metro.”
These are the basic views of the three most significant Stalinist groups within the population, Sobkov argues, but he then inquires: what about Russian officials in the Kremlin? What kind of mythologized Stalin do they have in mind when they talk about the Soviet leader and the system he created?
On the one hand, Putin and his entourage are committed advocates of many of the ideas of the great power patriots. They believe in the primacy of the state as a historical actor, and they thus do not want to dwell on things like Stalin’s crimes that would raise questions about their general approach.
But on the other hand, Sobkov insists, they aren’t yet prepared to so control the discussion of the past that only one version of Stalin will be available. Instead, they propose that any discussions of him or other leaders not feature “an excess of emotional moral assessments.”
In short, Putin and his entourage have a foot in each camp and are not willing to plump for only one of them. But because that could open the way for a rapprochement of these three groups and create the broad-based Stalinist camp that does not now exist, this approach could in the end threaten Russia’s future far more than any one of them.