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Chapter 6 Closing Observations

6.1 On Human Rights And Democracy

. . . What would Marx say if he were allowed to examine Soviet reality under the despotic Stalinist regime? He would probably say that it was temporary historical necessity on the glorious path toward a much better world. I heard such nonsensical arguments. Millions of Gulag slaves suffered but conflicts in today's Russia are just as real as in other industrial countries. . . .

6.2 On War And Peace

Soviet leaders in the post-Stalinst Soviet Union were certainly aware that their society was not better than many western societies, in terms of justice. Yet, they tried to impose it, with force, on other countries. What was the logic of this? Was it not simply an ideological cover for imperialism? They did not analyze Soviet reality, they claimed that it was "just, by definition." The slogan "peace with justice" was used by them as a synonym of "proletarian dictatorship."

Their international policy, and their "just wars," for example, in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan, were presented to the public as a fight for "just peace." Using the label "peace" for war was remarkable. Wars which they initiate are just; wars initiated against them are unjust, by definition. Peace they want is just, peace their enemies want is unjust. All this was consistent with the idea that the historical mission of the Soviet Union was to exploit internal contradictions in the fight for world-wide domination.

Guided by this idea, Bolsheviks brought down Kerenski's provisional government, established after the first 1917 revolution. According to Kolakowski (52), "the October upheaval in Russia was not, as we know, directed against tsarism, which had been out of existence for eight months, but against the only government in Russian history which, though not elected, had the right to claim that it represented the majority of the society, and which, although weak and not in control of the situation, had begun the process of building democratic institutions. That government emerged from the February revolution, from the disintegration of the ruling apparatus and the army. If the Bolsheviks achieved success and prevented the building of democracy in Russia, this was not only because they were better organized and were determined to take power by violence; it was also thanks to a series of fortunate (for them) accidents. In the course of few years, they created institutions which, in their despotic features, significantly outstripped tsarist rule in its last decade."

6.3 Interesting Speculations

How can we understand people who showed outstanding courage in conspiratorial work, revolution and civil war and who failed to resist their own destruction? That question is addressed in an interview between a historian A.B. Ulam and a political scientist G.R. Urban (24). There is no clear answer to this question, except for later times, when Stalin made himself irreplaceable. According to Khrushchev, the opportunity to replace the supreme leader existed in June 1941, after the country was invaded by Germans. Stalin was in shock and totally unable to function. Instead of trying to replace him, various Soviet leaders called on him urging him to snap out of it and to take hold of the reins of the country. And what about generals and marshals involved in the 1937 Tukhachevsky trial, and in other military trials? At that time, shortly before the nonaggression pact was signed with Germany, "3 of the 5 marshals, 3 of 4 full generals, all 12 lieutenant generals, 60 of 67 corps commanders, 136 of 199 of divisional ones were liquidated." Perhaps Stalin was trying to show Hitler that he had no military ambitions to attack him.

Another question has to do with morality. Lenin wrote: `We repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas or ideas that transcend class conceptions. In our opinion, morality is entirely subordinated to the interest of the class war. ... Communist morality is identical with the fight for the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat." But who was to decide what does or does not promote the victory of the proletariat? It was he himself. And later it was Stalin. Millions of innocents were eliminated under the banner of that morality. Why did the country accept it without resistance? No clear answer to this question is given.

According to Ulam, "Sergo Ordzhonikidze [Stalin's Georgian friend, a Politburomember since 1926] shot himself after his brother had been tortured and executed....Why did he shoot himself and not Stalin with whom he had a long personal conversation one day before his suicide?" Probably because he realized that by killing Stalin he would become a killer of the system to which his entire life was devoted. . . .

6.4 Stalinism After Stalin's Death

A party functionary, Aleksei V. Snegov, survived the camps and was released shortly after Stalin's death. According to (33), "Snegov was a Communist and a follower of Lenin. He believed that the return to 'Leninist norms' would bring about the regeneration of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]. This misconception was typical of many Communists of the older generation. Some of them honestly believed in such a possibility; others tried to talk themselves into believing it, for otherwise their entire life in the service of the Communist party would have seemed a senseless sacrifice. Still others thought that everything was in order, including the arrests of the 'enemies of the people,' the purpose of which was theoretically to purge the country of its ‘fifth column.' Only one mistake has been made in this process--their own arrest." Snegov became very active to promote rehabilitations and to restore the historical truth about Stalinism. But in 1967 he was expelled from the presumably regenerated party. Attempts to critically examine Stalinism were still treated as "antiparty activities" at that time.

Stories of many other rehabilitated prisoners are also described in (33). One of them is about Feodor Shults, a party member since 1919, arrested 1937. His also became active in trying to share information about Soviet concentration camps. For this Shults was put into a mental institution. Another story is about a writer, Alexei Y. Kosterin, a defender of the Chechens, the Ingush, and the Crimean Tartars, who had been unjustly deported from their native lands. For these activities Kosterin, an old Bolshevik who had spent seventeen years in the Gulag, was also expelled from the presumably regenerated party. The story of Major General Petr Grigorenko, is also worth reading. Mental hospitals, in these years, were often used to punish and silence dissenters. Soviet psychiatrists “even invented a special disease, the existence of which is hard to prove ... 'creeping schizophrenia.' " Many young enthusiastic protesters, as documented in the book, were punished by long-term sentences for "anti-soviet agitation and propaganda." For many years, remnants of Stalinism persisted. How could it be otherwise? Those who executed Stalin's policy for decades were still in power; they were trained to be brutal.

The system created by Stalin, and inherited by his successors (Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, etc.) was in no way controlled by the working class, but rather by a new class named nomenclatura (top leaders of the ruling party, government, military and secret police). The system consisted of mutual support groups interested mainly in preservation of power, privileges and relative stability. These people acted in the name of the proletariat but their access to material goods was like that of wealthy capitalists in western countries. Collective leadership was emphasized, after Stalin's death. In practice, however, it always degenerated into dominance of a single individual.

6.5 Some Statistical Data

The population of inmates, in prisons and camps, decreased by one order of magnitude, after Stalin's death. But in 1979 it was still 0.65 % of the total population (31). That figure is significantly higher than what it was before the proletarian revolution (0.13%) or what it was, at the same time, in the USA (0.12%). In other words; the percentage of prisoners in 1979 was still more that five times higher than it was in Russia before communists started building a "better world."

An interesting statistic, from the same period, has to do with food supply. About 28% of the Soviet agricultural production was from small private plots of private citizens. These plots represented less than 1% of the cultivated land. Collective farms continued to operate very inefficiently. Deplorable consequences of Stalin's brutal policy of collectivization--liquidation of kulaks as a class--were obvious but the official attitude toward private ownership continued to be negative. Private property not controlled by the government, according to communist ideology, is dangerous because it generates bourgeois tendencies. It was tolerated but not supported. Another interesting observation, found in the same book, is that "six decades of atheistic propaganda have been unable to eradicate the human need for faith in God, for religion." The fraction of people who considered themselves believers was said to be close to about 13%. It is probably very much higher in Russia today.

6.6 Aryan Domination And Proletarian Dictatorship

It is remarkable that the two most destructive ideologies of the 20th century were conceived in a highly civilized country, Germany. Marxism, which subsequently became the ideology of the Soviet Union, was based on the idea that the proletarian dictatorship would lead to social harmony. Hitlerism, the ideology of the Third Reich, was based on the idea of race superiority. The world, according to Hitler, would be better without Jews and other inferior races. Stalin and Hitler viewed themselves as agents of historical destiny. Moral reservations against mass killing, according to them, were totally irrelevant. Morality had to be modified to make killing possible. Both “final solution" ideologies were rooted in the concept of supremacy of one group of people over another. For Hitler it was the idea of Aryan supremacy; for Marx, Lenin and Stalin it was the idea of proletarian supremacy. The concepts of supremacy and domination are not consistent with the concept of social harmony. Were Hitler's Nazi state and Stalin's Bolshevik state deplorable aberrations or were they precursors of what may come in other forms?

6.7 An Odd Interpretation of Stalinism

In browsing the Internet I became aware of interesting contemporary Russian attempts to rehabilitate Stalin and Beria. The authors, such as Yuri Zhukov and Iurii Mukhin, are probably members of The Communist Party of the Russian Federation. They claim that Stalin was not the supreme ruler of the party and the state, that the blame for horrible things that happened in the Soviet Union, such as GULAG, massive executions and other secret police injustice, should not be placed on Stalin and Beria. The blame should be put on local party secretaries, such as Nikita Khrushchev and Robert Eikhe.

The authors also claim that executed top Red Army officers, such as Tuchachevski, were guilty of conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet system, that nearly all Crimean Tartars drafted to the Red Army deserted and enlisted in German anti-Soviet military units, that what was reported by Khrushchev, in the famous speech denouncing Stalin, was nothing but lies, etc. etc. Khrushchev himself, they claim, conspired to overthrow the Soviet Union in the 1930s. But he outmaneuvered the secret police and deceived the party by implementing terror with exceptional zeal.

Stalin and Beria, according to these Russian historians, were good communists trying to restrain abuses in the state of proletarian dictatorship (in the 1930s and after WWII). But local party secretaries, and other party apparatchiks, prevented them from introducing desirable reforms. I do not believe that such propaganda, presumably based on Soviet archives, can be productive in today's Russia; too many people affected by Stalinism, and their children, are still alive. But it can be productive in countries which never experienced proletarian dictatorship, especially if people know nothing about Soviet disaster. It is interesting that crimes committed against a large number of Soviet people, in the name of a faulty doctrine, are not totally denied; they are only reinterpreted, to shift the blame from communist ideology to overzealous party bureaucrats.

Who are the authors of new interpretations of Stalinism? For some reason I think of them as professional propagandists, probably trained to teach Marxism-Leninism at Soviet Universities. These are probably the same people who would tell me, “Unfortunately, one cannot make an omelet without breaking the egg.” And they would repeat that the omelet received by Soviet people is much better, and more plentiful than omelet received by working people in capitalist countries. They would quote what Engels wrote about miserable conditions of workers in England and insist that present situation is even worse.

Dedicated to the doctrine, such professors probably believe that the ideology of proletarian dictatorship, on which they were raised, is infallible and that interpretation of empirical data to fit the theory is their duty. In physics, which is my profession, it is usually the other way around; a theory that does not fit all known experimental data must be replaced by a better theory. Unfortunately, my data base is very limited, as far as information about Stalinism is concerned. Writings of those who survived Kolyma are more important to me than what is written by propagandists. On the basis of what I know, I hold Stalin responsible for killing my father, and other good people. Their suffering should never be forgotten.

6.8 Worl War II Great Contributions of the Red Army

The undeniable heroism of Soviet people was mentioned at the end of Sections 2.2 and 4.4. The more I think about Stalinism the more I am fascinated by it. On one hand it was a political system that killed millions of its own people; on the other hand it was an essential factor in the defeat of another tyrannical system, Naziism. It is not at all obvious that Hitler would have been defeated without the heroic contributions of the Red Army. Stalingrad was just as important as D-day.

It is clear to me that nearly every Soviet soldier had at least one family member who was either deported or killed by Stalin. And yet, many of them fought and died while chanting his name. How can this be explained? This question is asked by a British historian, Orlando Figes. The major factor, according to him, was relaxation of the party propaganda of class struggle. Surviving kulaks and their children became as important as poor workers (proletariat) and poor peasants. The same was true for surviving aristocrats and other servants of the tsarist government.

. . . .

Red Army soldiers on the left; a propaganda poster on the right. The lowest line in the poster was probably changed after Stalin's death. The original line was most likely "for Stalin," not "for honor, for freedom."

The slogan of class stuggle was replaced by the slogan of love of motherland. And Stalin was made an icon of Soviet patriotism. I remember war movies, and books, in which soldiers were shown running and crying "za Rodinu za Stalina" (for Motherland, for Stalin). Figes writes: "The new mood was summarized by Pravda when it argued, in June 1944, in sharp contrast to the Party's pre-war principles, that 'personal qualities of every Party member should be judged by his practical contributions to the war effort,' rather than by his class origin or ideological correctness." Poems and songs heard during the war reinforced a natural desire for revenge. All Germans had to be punished for Nazi atrocities. 

In other words, political and religious control was relaxed. Hundreds of churches were reopened during the war. Appeal to patriotism was reinforced by replacing the old national anthem (the famous International) by a new one emphasizing "indestructible brotherhood of Soviet people united by great Russia." It was also reinforced by replacing the Red Army insignia with old tsarist epaulettes, by popularizing old Russian heros, such as Suvorov and Kutuzov, etc.

But that was not all; Special Order #227 (issued on July 28, 1942) is also mentioned by Figes. That order, "Not a single step backward," was to punish "panickers" and "cowards." Special units were used to shoot soldiers who lagged behind or tried to run away from fighting. How important were these measures? According to the author, they turned out to be ineffective. Defections were reduced when battlefield camraderie naturally developed during the offensive. Some Soviet people would probably have been less patriotic if they had been aware of deportations of deportations of entire nations to Kazakhstan, during the war, as described by Professor 3 at the beginning of Chapter 7 below. 

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