Stalin's reputation as a ruthless master of deception remains intact


Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "Guardian"

Stalin's reputation as a ruthless master of deception remains intact

Fifty years after Stalin's death, one of the first western historians to document the violence perpetrated by the brutal leader describes how his demise saved citizens of the Soviet Union from greater suffering

Robert Conquest
Wednesday March 5, 2003
The Guardian

It is lucky for many - for the world - that Stalin did not live as long as Mao. His death in Moscow 50 years ago, in circumstances that are still dubious, proved a direct and immediate benefit to large numbers of people.
In the prisons, for example, the large group of physicians arrested in the "doctors' plot" and charged with conspiring to assassinate the Soviet leadership had confessed and faced execution. Their "trial" was due in a couple of weeks. The men were freed almost immediately after Stalin's death.
Other prospective victims who were saved by his death came from the political leadership, his old colleagues and comrades: Vyacheslav Molotov, whose wife, formerly Stalin's wife's best friend, was in jail, Anastas Mikoyan and others, all suspected of espionage for the US or Britain (or in Mrs Molotov's case, the Jews).
Stalin's last year, 1952, had been particularly brutal and even now the appearance of new material is shedding further light on the extremes of his regime. Stalin's officials oversaw the secret trial of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, the full text of which again only emerged in the 1990s. Execution of suspects followed months of torture, with one key suspect testifying that he had been severely beaten 80 odd times in the "interrogation".
It is only by chance that evidence of many of these violent acts survives. One of the most "Stalinist" acts of the period had been the murder of the leading Jewish actor and producer Solomon Mikhoels. Here again, the full story only came out in the mid-90s. The killing was done by a secret police team from Moscow, headed by the deputy minister, Sergei Ogoltsov.
The actor was crushed under a Studebaker, then his body was left in a side street and his death attributed to a car accident. Mikhoels was buried with honours. We have the details because, on Stalin's death, police chief Lavrenti Beria arrested the perpetrators, though they were later released and the case was hushed up.
But we now at last have their confessions, which include the detail that they were instructed to "put nothing on paper", one of them adding that this was always the rule in such cases. Which means, of course, that there must be much information about the regime's actions that will never be "documented". We have learned much in recent years, but much will remain beyond our grasp forever.
What of the mind behind all this? In his private life, if you can call it that, Stalin wanted adulation, was extremely touchy, but at the same time wished to appear the hearty comrade. All this informed the long, dreary soirees described by his daughter, with colleagues in constant fear. But in contrast, he is often described by foreigners as having charm - a word used by the Nazi negotiators in 1939, though HG Wells said much the same, and even Churchill felt it occasionally.
From the start, Stalin was noted for an extraordinary capacity to enforce his will, as is also said of Hitler. This is a characteristic little studied, and doubtless hard to analyse. The Old Bolshevik Fyodor Raskolnikov, rehabilitated under Khrushchev, and de-rehabilitated by his successors, saw Stalin as lacking "farsightedness".
The purge of the great majority of experienced red army officers was a huge negative, as was, in another sphere, the execution of many of the engineers newly trained to run the state-driven economy, the former for treason, the latter for sabotage. As a consequence, both army and industry had been gravely weakened by the second world war and this nearly produced disaster when Hitler invaded.
Historians have written that Stalin was a "consummate actor". When post-Soviet Russian historians saw that Stalin had deceived Roosevelt in crucial world war two negotiations, academics pointed out that this was perhaps not very surprising, since he had even managed to deceive Alexei Rykov, Lenin's successor as head of the Soviet government, who had served with him on the politburo in daily, close contact for over a decade - only to be shot later.
In fact, if we look back at Stalin, we see not only terror and ruthlessness, but - even more - deception. Not only in such things as the faked public trials, the disappearance of leading figures, of writers, of physicists, even of astronomers, but in the invention of a factually non-existent society. The British socialists Sydney and Beatrice Webb were taken in by the not very sophisticated trick of having meaningless elections, trade unions, economic claims and so on.
One major attribute of Stalinism was stupefaction or stultification. His subjects, or dupes, had to act as if they believed what the Kremlin was telling them in the press, on the radio. Anna Akhmatova, the poet, said that no one could understand the Soviet system who had not been subjected to the continuous roar of the Soviet radios at street corners and elsewhere. And, with all that, the effective banning of non-Stalinist thought, or its expression.
Even the wise physicist Andrei Sakharov, one of the finest minds of the generation, said later that he was deeply affected by Stalin's death; it took him years to break out of what he described as a "type of hypnosis" that had blinded him and so much of the population to the reality of Stalin's regime.
As one Russian scholar later remarked, "we wiped out the best and brightest in our country and, as a result, sapped ourselves of intelligence and energy".
Any comparison of post-Nazi Germany with post-Stalinist Russia throws up the obvious difference that one regime was totally destroyed and its ideas totally discredited. There was no formal process of de-Stalinisation in Russia; the disorganised breakdown of the Soviets left a detritus of both ideas and interests, which took decades to disintegrate.
Stalin's heritage today? He remains respected by a swath of what may legitimately be called reactionaries in Russia: nationalists - chauvinists. This might have surprised him, because Stalin was not Russian and did not even begin to learn the language until he was eight or nine. Those who remain devoted to Stalin often combine Stalinism with religion. How Stalin, the rebellious young theology student who went on to blow up the Cathedral of the Christ the Saviour, would have jeered.

Adulation - uwielbienie
Detritus – resztki
To discredit – dyskredytować
Dreary – sad, dull
Dubious - pelen watpliwosci
Farsightedness - dalekowzrocznosc
To jeer – to laugh at, drwić
Purge – czystka
To perpetrate – to commit
To stupefy – to make someone unable to think clearly
To stultify - ograniczać To sap – nadwątlać
To shed (light) - rzucac (swiatlo)
Soiree – an evening party
Stupefaction – otępienie, oszołomienie
A swath – a range of
Treason – betrayal, zdrada


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