Friday, December 19, 2008

Stalin in Russian Ideology and Public Opinion

Professor Kowalski sent me a very interesting article by Professor Vladimir Shlapentokh of Michigan State University. Professor Shlapentokh’s curriculum vitae can be seen in the following: . Professor Shlapentokh’s “latest works” can be seen at

The subject article can be found at

The article is useful in providing the several views on Stalin and his “repression” that are current in Russia. As I approached the end I was almost annoyed that Shlapentokh hadn’t given any “weight” to the various views, but on page 14 he provides some statistics. “The Russian public is much more resolute in its recognition of the mass repressions than the Kremlin and its ideologues. According to the Levada-Tsentr, 89 percent of those who responded to the question (19 did not respond) in August 2007 characterized the repression as ‘a political crime which cannot be justified,’ while 11 percent believed that ‘the repressions were politically necessary and justified by history.’”

Despite believing this, “50 percent gave a positive assessment [of Stalin] and 49 percent a negative one. In another poll, 62 percent of the respondents said that Stalin’s role in Russian history was positive (38 percent, negative) and the number of people who think that Stalin’s personality and his actions are purposefully ‘painted black’ in today’s media is three times greater than those who think that Stalin’s actions are ‘sugarcoated.’”


Russia seems split down the middle much as we in the U.S. are, but not along the same lines. Apparently, many in Russia are pessimistic about their ability to become a viable democracy. Many long for someone to take charge and given them what they had under authoritarian rule. Many argue that Russia’s history militates against their ever becoming a democracy and this in large part justifies Stalin’s crimes. Yes, they were crimes, they seem to agree, but it was necessary for Stalin to commit them to avoid even greater crimes by others.

Professor Shlapentokh seems to imply at the end of his article that truth eventually will out: “By all accounts, the ambivalence toward Stalin will persist for a long time until the imperial complex stops playing such an important role in the public mind.” After reading this article, I am tempted to feel misanthropic about Russia’s future. Fukuyama’s “Liberal Democracy” seems to be making insuficient headway there; which leaves Huntington’s clashes as ongoing possibilities. Perhaps Russia doesn’t have the means to become the great empire that half of Russia longs for, but it does have the means to engage in clashes along the “fault lines” with bordering countries. It also seems, at least for now, to be willing to engage in such clashes.

1 comment:

Ludwik Kowalski said...

Here is what I posted yesterday at

on the same subject:

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My Stalin
Tomorrow is the anniversary of Josef Stalin’s birth. Born December 18, 1878, he was my idol, especially when I was a Red Pioneer in the Soviet Union. And now, as a retired 77 year-old American professor, I have published a short book about horrors of Stalinism (1),  It is dedicated to my father, a naive Polish communist who was arrested in Moscow (1938) and died in the gulag at the age of 36. Many of my contemporaries, in Russia and Poland, probably followed the same emotional path, from belief  to rejection.  

In the Soviet Union, Poland, and other communist countries, everyone had to study Marxism-Leninism. We were taught that human history was a deterministic process, and that decisions made by communist parties were morally justified. Those  whose relatives became victims of proletarian dictatorship were often told that mistakes were unavoidable on the path toward “our glorious future.”  Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech exposing Stalin’s crimes, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books, were shocking and dramatic revelations about what was really going on. 

Solzhenitsyn, by the way, was also a firm defender of communist ideas, before W.W.II. I understand this; like me, he too was a child of the Stalinist regime. But how can one understand western intellectuals who defended Stalin? They probably believed that the path of post-revolutionary development was chosen on the basis of open debates within the party leadership. This was certainly not true after the 1930s, once Stalin took control of both the party and the state. Ideology ceased to guide political decisions and became a means of justifying them. Western intellectuals accepted Stalin’s claim that class struggle naturally intensifies after revolution. This unjustified claim was used to explain terror; millions of kulaks (prosperous peasants) were either killed or sent to the gulag. Most Bolshevik leaders, including many of Stalin’s close friends, were executed as spies and enemies. The same was true for top Red Army commanders; 214 of 286 were executed. How many of them could possibly have been spies and enemies of the state?  

“Historical necessity” made Stalinism seem scientific, while  “Stalin knows best,”  and its emphasis on infallibility, made Stalinism a kind of religion. That was only one of the contradictions within the Soviet system. Red Army soldiers, including those whose relatives were in gulag camps, reportedly chanted “for motherland, for Stalin” while storming German fortifications. Most of them knew about the dark aspects of proletarian dictatorship. That is another puzzling contradiction, as I wrote in (2). Even today, when Stalin’s atrocities are widely known in Russia, Putin seems to think that too much criticism of Stalin is in conflict with attempts to promote patriotism. In a June 2007 meeting with a group of history teachers, he said that those who criticize Stalin “cannot be allowed to impose a feeling of guilt on us.”  An ongoing debate about a manual for history teachers in Russia indicates that this serious issue is far from resolved. According to (4), “Stalin’s crimes have not yet been confronted as they should be, because they raise insoluble questions as to who were the criminals and who were the victims during his rule.”

Stalin hid his personal involvement with the bloody nature of proletarian dictatorship, pretending to be on the side of justice and morality. Many of his victims believed that crimes against Soviet people were perpetuated without Stalin's knowledge while in reality he was involved in the day-to-day activities of “punitive organs.”  His signature appeared on numerous execution orders, which subordinates were often made to co-sign. Thus they automatically became partners in crime, probably for Stalin’s protection from future accusations. 

In capitalist countries many fighters for social justice, including my own father, were attracted to communism as a theoretical doctrine. The Soviet Union became the first country in which the communist theory was tried. But, contrary to expectations, no social justice was created. Under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union became a country of massive executions, gulag slave camps, suppression of national aspirations, etc., etc. As a physicist, I know that a theory contradicted by even one experimental fact must be either revised or abandoned. Who should be reexamining Stalinism? Those who still believe that proletarian dictatorship is the only solution to the problem of social injustice.

Here is what one reviewer wrote on that topic (referring to 1): “Sympathy for Communist ideals is alive and well in academia across the United States and Europe. Kowalski’s professor doesn’t want to talk about Stalin’s crimes because Stalinism is the reduction ad absurdum of Marxist Socialism and this professor along with many others still harbors hope for that system.”

1) Ludwik Kowalski; “Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist Regime;” Wastelond Press, Shelbyville, KY, USA (2008).
2) Ludwik Kowalski, OpEdNews article ”Red Army During World War II”
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3) Lawrence Keith Helm at
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4) Chekov, December 16, 2008, at
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