Friday, May 1, 2009

Returning to the Good Old Stalinist Days

The above article was written by Paul Goble and posted on his web site, May 1, 2009. It’s title is “Duma Draft Law Against Rehabilitating Fascism Dangerous Nonsense, Moscow Commentator Says.”

Here are a few snippets from the article :

The subject draft legislation imposes penalties “on those who express a different view on the history of World War II.”

“. . . the draft legislation is ‘a historical stupidity.’ Instead of focusing attention on Nazism, the bill has the effect of focusing attention on the Soviet past and especially on the Stalinist period. . . .”

“Doesn’t this remind you of something?” Ikhlov [writes] . . . the USSR operated a totalitarian terrorist regime. But making a hero out of it is in no way prohibited.” Instead, President Dmitry Medvedev has again made November 7th, when the Soviet state was founded, a national holiday. . .”

“. . . the bill is a piece of “political theater,” intended to make propaganda points rather than become part of the rule of law, and one that appears set to serve as “a false pretext for dimwitted censorship and idiotic conflicts with the neighbors” of the Russian Federation.

“On the one hand, the law contains a large number of assertions about the legal standing of the Russian Federation which are simply untrue, including the remarkable and absurd suggestion that “the

Russian Federation is the continuer [rather than legal successor] of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”
“And on the other, this bill could lead to absurd cases in which leaders of neighboring states – Ikhlov cites the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Estonia – are charged with violating the law, convicted by a Moscow court – since that is where their embassies are – and where the sentence is enforced by Gazprom cutting off the gas to their countries.

“Despite these problems, Ikhlov says, the bill is likely to be passed by the Duma and signed by President Medvedev because no one in the Moscow political establishment will want to say anything that their opponents could and would construe as a defense of the totalitarianism of another state. Defending such a system at home, of course, is another matter entirely.”


Maybe we ought to go back and revisit the belief of the early 1990s that the West won the Cold War. Here in the US we see legislation being proposed (that will surely be passed) moving us toward a European-type Welfare State. And here in this article we see that Russia is lusting for the leeks and garlics of Egypt. It misses the good old totalitarian days when someone in leadership told them what was right and what was wrong.

The Totalitarian Temptation is potent The world must have thousands of individuals who think their nations would be perfect if only they were in charge and making all the decisions. Well, Russia is heading in that direction. Maybe Ikhlov is wrong when he denies that the Russian Federation is a continuation of the USSR. Russians, many of them, long for the good old Soviet days. They admire Stalin. They aren’t willing to repudiate the USSR period of Russian history. Beyond that, they are now making it against the law to disagree with the official (Russian) version of World War II. What precisely is that official version? Does it mean that Gorbechav was right when he said NKVD soldiers killed the Polish Officers at Katyn? Or will the official version of that incident be that of Y. I. Mukhin as found in his book Katyn Detective?

It is true that much of Medieval History, for example, is not to be trusted because the victors always got to write them. Norman Cantor describes the progress of the study of Medieval History in his Inventing the Middle Ages. Nothing before 1900, he tells us, is to be trusted, but from then on many historians, with a desire to present truth accurately and fairly distinguish themselves. Cantor provides a bibliography in the back of his book listing the historians he believes are to be trusted. That is, historians that seek to provide truth and not a partisan position.

This is not an easy matter even when an historian is striving to be objective. R. G. Collingwood in his The Idea of History provides insight into the challenges a modern historian faces. Everyone is “prejudiced,” or as Collingwood puts it has a “constellation of presuppositions.” The historians job is to recognize his own presuppositions, own up to them and then strive to prevent their interfering with his pursuit of the truth.

Collingwood prescribes the criteria and Cantor describes the results, but their writings are applicable only ito societies where an historian can follow his own conscience. There will always be historians who don’t want to follow their own consciences, or don’t have a highly developed sense of morality, but an historian can if he choose behave honorably. No one in a Liberal Democracy is denying him the right to speak his mind.

But let us look at societies that aren’t free. Look at most of the Middle Eastern nations. There are famous cases where individuals attempted to speak out but were arrested, beaten and sometimes executed. We hear about the Islamic Moderate, but where is he? He is in hiding afraid to speak out because he doesn’t live in a free society. And after the Cold War we assumed that Russia who choose to be free. Who could imagine that the majority of Russians would want to return to a non-free Totalitarian Society?

Ikhlov treats as a joke the new legislation that makes it a punishable offense to disagree with the Official History of the Second World War. But I have read about many totalitarian regimes and don’t think it’s funny.

Political Scientists and historians tell us that only in a free society where entrepreneurs flourish do you have the technical innovations necessary to produce the great economic strides advanced (free) societies make. No one in leadership is in a position to dictate to the entrepreneur as to what he will invent, create, or discover. Leaders are bureaucrats which by definition means that they are inferior when it comes to such matters. This is true of military matters as we know from studying World War II. Stalin made some colossal blunders. He was like Hitler, a mediocre war leader, but nevertheless in total control of his nation’s war effort. More people were killed by Stalin’s blunders than were killed by all fighting forces in World War One. How is the official Russian History of World War II going to clean that up? Short answer: lie.

And if Russia is committed to a non-free totalitarian system where there is little innovation and few entrepreneurs, how shall it keep up with the free societies of the West? Short answer: spy on them.

I hope Ikhlov is right and this legislation will be seen as a joke and embarrassment, but I know there is a strong desire on the part of a sizable segment of the Russian population to return to the good old Stalinist days when things were “better” than they are now. Good luck, Ikhlov. Let’s hope they don’t arrest you.

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