Stalin's Legacy to Liberals

18 Julio 2005
Boris Kagarlitsky

Stalin's Legacy to Liberals
Boris Kagarlitsky
The Moscow Times, 25 March 2003

As March winds down, so does the flood of publications devoted to the 50th anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death on March 5, 1953. It comes as no surprise that fans of Generalissimo Stalin have churned out reams of praise for their idol. But the innumerable articles that have appeared in the liberal press are a worthy object of analysis, if not psychoanalysis.

The feature common to all these articles is their hysterical tone. Regardless of who wrote the article or where it appeared, the thrust is the same: The number of Stalin's supporters is growing, and their dream is to rehabilitate the late dictator.

I find it amazing that none of these authors seems to wonder why anyone would still admire Stalin, much less want to rehabilitate him, after 50 years of government propaganda aimed at exposing the horrors of Stalin and Stalinism. After tens of millions of dollars have been spent in this effort, after thousands of hours of television programs and untold tons of newsprint. The reputation of the "Leader of Peoples" had hit rock bottom by the end of the 1980s. But in post-Soviet Russia, his popularity has rebounded. Our intellectuals put this down to Russia's rotten society and repulsive people. But our ideologues would do well to take a closer look at themselves. They might just find that they're part of the problem.

Stalin ordered the murder of millions of people. This is an historical fact that even the dictator's admirers no longer deny. But why do liberals constantly talk about "tens of millions" of victims? Why do they throw out totally absurd numbers when the real numbers are more than terrible enough? You'd think that Stalin's actual crimes were bad enough. This need to exaggerate Stalin's crimes, to swell them beyond all imagining, demonstrates the deep-seated psychological problem that afflicts Russia's liberal commentators. Why are 10 million victims not enough? Why the compulsion to promulgate the lie about 50 million victims?

The murder of a single innocent person is a crime. From the moral point of view, Stalin would have been guilty even if he had executed only Nikolai Bukharin and Grigory Zinovyev. As Dostoevsky wrote, all the happiness of the world isn't worth the tears of a single child.

The point is that Stalin is discussed not in moral or historical terms, but from the standpoint of political expediency. Under Stalin everyone knew for a certainty that the White terror was bad and that the Red terror was good.

In an attempt to secure some measure of moral justification for their own position, our liberals cast their opponents not merely as criminals (in our heart of hearts we know that we are no different), but as monsters, agents not simply of evil, but of absolute evil. The battle against such evil in and of itself justifies us in committing any and all crimes, and resorting ourselves to evil.

This is the logic behind the current campaign to expose Stalin. The Red terror is now evil simply because it is Red. The foul deeds of General Augusto Pinochet, or ordering tanks to fire on parliament, are nothing compared to the Gulag. Starving masses in Africa and our own freezing pensioners don't even count. After all, they're dying not behind barbed wire, but in freedom.

They must constantly recall the horrors of Stalinism in order that people appreciate their current good fortune and the blessings of our remarkable democracy.

When the time came to deal with political rivals, Stalin and his henchmen did not merely declare them to be enemies. They declared that anyone who strayed from the party line was sprinkling broken glass in the workers' sour cream, blowing up mine shafts and derailing trains. All of this nonsense was necessary to provide "moral" justification for the terror. This was the practice that Trotsky famously denounced as the "Stalinist school of falsification".

Unfortunately, many contemporary ideologues of Russian liberalism graduated from the same school. It is an irony of history that Stalin himself has posthumously been "victimized" by his own methods.

There is a certain historical justice in all this. But it's a shame that our society is still a long, long way from escaping the tyranny of falsehood.

Copyright 2003 The Moscow Times