Thursday, August 20, 2009

Was Stalin Paranoid?

Michael Kuznetsov posted the following comment in response to "RE: Russian indifference to 1991 Putsch.": Perhaps the most interesting issue in Michael's note is in regard to whether Stalin was Paranoid. After Michael's comments I'll take that up.


Thank you very much for your prompt response. You offer an interesting explanation, and I must admit that I did not expect a version like yours.

It shows how differently we (the Russians and the Westerners) would frequently regard one and the same fact.

I have long noticed that the words "paranoia" and "paranoid" are two favorable labels used by the Western mass media.
We Russians don't use these terms even toward our mortal enemies.

Of course, neither Stalin nor Hitler were paranoids. The both leaders possessed personal courage of the highest degree. Neither one was a miserable coward or a poltroon.
Not in the least.

Suffice it to say that in the louring morning of 7th November 1941, with the mortal enemy having already approached Moscow at a distance of only 15 miles, nevertheless, Stalin did intrepidly take a military parade in the Red Square to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Great Revolution as usual.
It was a feat of personal fortitude and most encouraging example for the troops.
Stalin had never left Moscow despite a real threat that the city might be captured by the Germans.

In reality, his concern about Hitler's life (after mid-1943) was that with the Fuhrer killed the German military circles might have concluded a separate peace with the United States and Great Britain.

As we can see, Marshal Stalin was a wise statesman.


What does the term Paranoid mean? The Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as follows: "unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful: you think I'm paranoid but I tell you there is something going on." And that is the sense in which I have used the term.

In my previous note, a note by the way that I wrote before reading the above note by you Michael, I referred to Polish and Czech fears of Russian attack as "paranoid." You will probably say that Russia has no intention of attacking Poland or Czechoslovakia but their paranoia is at least understandable because Russia has invaded them in the past. Their fears are not based upon real Russian intentions but upon how Russia treated them in the past. They are like the battered wife who buys a gun. The husband may protest that he is a changed man. He no longer drinks vodka and he brings his check home every week. But the wife remembers the last beating and is obsessively anxious, suspicious and mistrustful. She is paranoid on the subject of her husband. In my previous note I gave the drunken husband the benefit of doubt but she is probably not willing to do that.

Now as to Stalin, I accused him of being paranoid because of his obsessively anxious, suspicious and mistrustful fear of being assassinated.

Both Stalin and Hitler feared death, but not in the sense of being cowards. Here is Richard Overy on the subject (from The Dictators, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, page 22 "Hitler and Stalin were neither of them normal. They were not, as far as can be judged, mentally unbalanced in any clinical sense . . . They were men with exceptional personalities and an extraordinary political energy. They were driven in each case by a profound commitment to a single cause, for which, and for differing reasons, they saw themselves as the historical executor. In the face of such destiny, both men developed an exaggerated morbidity. Stalin had a profound fear of death, and as he got older feared what his loss might mean for the revolution he thought to protect. Hitler, too, became consumed by a fear that he would not live long enough."

On page 327, Overy writes, "Stalin was well aware of the possibility of murder. . . The arrangements for his personal security became . . . elaborate. Curtains had to be cropped to prevent anyone standing behind them unobserved. His official cars were heavily armoured and stripped of running boards to prevent assassins from jumping onto the side of the vehicle. It was said that Stalin never announced in advance in which bedroom he would sleep; rumours persisted that his food and drink was sampled before he touched it. He was heavily guarded by militia and security men and exposed himself seldom to direct contact with the public."

Anne Applebaum in her book Gulag, A History, on pages 474-5 writes, "Although sick and dying, Stalin was not mellowing with age. On the contrary, he was growing ever more paranoid, and was now inclined to see conspirators and plotters all around him. In June 1951, he unexpectedly ordered the arrest of Abakumov, the head of Soviet counter-intelligence. In the autumn of that year, without prior consultation, he personally dictated a Central Committee resolution describing a 'Mingrelian nationalist conspiracy.' The Mingrelians were an ethnic group in Georgia, whose most prominent member was none other than Beria himself. All through 1952, a wave of arrests, firings, and executions rolled through the Georgian communist elite, touching many of Beria's close associates and protégés. Stalin almost certainly intended Beria himself to be the purge's ultimate target."

"Stalin told a party meeting that 'every Jew is a nationalist and an agent of American intelligence.' Then, on January 13, 1953, Pravda . . . revealed the existence of the Doctors' Plot: 'terrorist groups of doctors,' it was claimed, had 'made it their aim to cut short the lives of active public figures in the Soviet Union by means of sabotaged medical treatment.' . . ."

In Political Paranoia: the Psychopolitics of Hatred, Robins and Post, on page 25 write, "To be sure, to convey a paranoid message effectively is facilitated by a paranoid disposition, a capacity for conspiratorial thinking, but extremely paranoid messages can be conveyed by individuals who are not gravely paranoid but reap political rewards that a paranoid appeal can bring. If their behavior does reflect a paranoid illness, it will eventually reveal itself when the leader pursues a policy that is irrelevant or contradictory to his political interests but consistent with his fantasies. Stalin, for example, revealed the paranoid dimension of his personality when he created the Great Purge (or Great Terror) of 1934-1939, a purge that was instituted after he had consolidated his rule and was no longer politically vulnerable. It was Stalin's desire to purge his own psychological demons that was being expressed."


There is a saying in America: "Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't trying to kill you." That is, while paranoia is usually thought to imply unreasonable fears, the full definition of the term doesn't preclude a sound basis for the paranoid fears. Hitler was paranoid in this sense. Overy states that there were 42 attempts on his life. His paranoia had a sound basis in reality. There really were people trying to kill him. And that was probably true of Stalin as well.

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