Staunton, June 28 – Continuing popular support for Joseph Stalin reflects “the irrational idolatry” of the state that the Soviet dictator promoted through his attacks on religion and expansion of the role of the political system and consequently cannot be overcome as many think by calls for repentance, according to a Novosibirsk scholar.
In an essay in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Sergey Dzyuba says that he came to this conclusion after recognizing that “all logical arguments had already exhausted themselves in arguments with Stalinists” and that the source of their passions must be sought in “the irrational” nature of their faith in the state (www.ng.ru/ideas/2010-06-28/9_religion.html).
Once one does that, Dzyuba continues, it becomes obvious why today’s supporters of the Soviet dictator remain so committed to him and his system. In the 1920s and 1930s, Stalin simultaneously destroyed much of the religious infrastructure of the Soviet Union while “sharply increasing the social functions” of the state.”
As a result, the faith that Russians had traditionally put in their religion was displaced onto the state. They no longer felt the need to pray to a transcendent God when the state supplied all their earthly needs. Indeed, Dzyuba writes, “In place of the former God, at the subconscious level appeared a new idol, on which everything depended, an idol in the form of the state.”
The parallels between religion and Soviet ideology especially in Stalin’s time have often attracted attention, but the full impact of this on the subconsciousness of Russians has seldom been fully explored, Dzyuba suggests. When it is, he argues, the ways in which Stalin and the state took the place of God become very clear as do the reasons for the survival of the cult now.
Those are rooted, the Novosibirsk scholar suggests, in the way in which Stalin acted. Unlike in the West where the power of the state rose and the position of the church declined, in the Soviet Union, this process was not “evolutionary” or “initiated from below.” Instead, in the USSR, it was radical and imposed from above.
(It is however interesting to note, Dzyuba observes, that “nevertheless even in Western countries has been observed something similar with regard to the appearance of new idols in mass consciousness,” as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn regularly pointed out when he was living in exile in the United States.)
Because of the way the Communist system imposed this change in the lives of those who lived under it, the scholar argues, “the fetishization of the state which took place under Stalin became the essential factor which influenced the political mentality of our compatriots for many decades ahead.”
“This explains a lot,” he says. It explains “why the people completely sincerely voted for the CPSU and did not especially regret the lack of real political discussions in society.” For the Soviet population, the government simply was beyond their ability to control, just like any divinity would be.
This reality even helps explain “why people so easily forgave the state for its shedding of the innocent blood of their fellow citizens – such a sacrifice is completely in the spirit of ancient pagan traditions,” traditions that Stalin in effect revived by destroying the influence of the church in the lives of Russians.
This “fetishization of the state” continues to be “one of the dominating factors in the political life of Russia” even now. It is shown in the mass support for United Russia, the party of power, “despite the absence of obvious achievements of the latter, the high rating of the leaders of the country, the obvious political apathy of the overwhelming majority of citizens” and so on.
It also helps to explain, the Novosibirsk analyst says, the current extraordinarily high interests of Russians in the victory of their sports teams abroad and, what is more serious for the future, “the high level of xenophobia in society, the hurrah patriotism of ‘Nashi’” and other groups.
But if the fetishization of the state is explicable in Stalin’s time because of the dramatic growth in the power of the state, the enshrining of an official ideology, and the destruction of religious life, now, Dzyuba says, “historical conditions are completely different and there is no objective base for the fetishization of the state.”
It is “difficult to say” what “this contradiction of tradition and reality will lead to,” Dzyuba writes, “but certainly not to anything good.”
“Contemporary Stalinists,” he sums up, “are simply people who deeply and emotionally have faith in the importance of the state as the organizer of the fate of people. For them, the state is the alpha and the omega, the idol, the holy cow, the guarantor and source of the satisfaction of all fundamental requirements of an.”
They are “people who had the subconscious level have created their own idol.” They deify Stalin as “the founder of this system of values,” as “the prophet of the new faith,” and consequently like any believers in any religious system, they cannot tolerate any attack either on him or on the state they believe in.
Many people argue that de-Stalinization will take place only after “general repentance” or the holding of Nurnberg-like trials. But Dzyuba says that his investigation suggests that such an approach “does not have any sense.” Repentance is “possible only in the framework of a specific generally-recognized religious ethical system,” he notes. And that is lacking.
“The ‘religion’ of the Stalinists and the statists who are close to them in spirit consists in bowing down to the state as an idol. This is neo-paganism in the purest form. And it is necessary to escape from it above all,” to go beyond “the shameful spiritual illness of idolatry.” If Russia does not do that, its citizens can hope for little good in the 21st century.
“When citizens finally come to the understanding that the state does not have a neo-pagan sacral significance,” Dzyuba concludes, “that it is above all only a social institute in their hands, that it is not they who must serve the state but the state them, then the supporters of Stalinism simply won’t remain in the country.”