GULag memorial, Ust-Nera (Oymyakonsky Raion. Sakha Republic (Yakutia). Far Eastern Federal District) RUSSIAN FEDERATION
I’m going to piss off quite a few people with what I’m going to write now. However, let’s start with what Ron Chernow wrote of John D Rockefeller Sr:
What makes him problematic… and why he continues to inspire ambivalent reactions… is that his good side was every bit as good as his bad side was bad. Seldom has history produced such a contradictory figure.
That goes double for Vladimir Lenin and Iosif Stalin. In fact, the most utter evil and the most admirable good coexisted and interacted in both men. Firstly, let’s discount all White and Red propaganda. These men were NOT ogres; on the other hand, they weren’t angels, either. We can’t discount two men who ruled one of the most powerful nations on earth for a period of 36 years, that’s nearly two generations. For instance, Vladimir Lenin was a truly modest man in his personal life… he didn’t care for wealth and its trappings. He did love raw power… perhaps, overly-much (certainly, more than Stalin did, interestingly enough)… but he wasn’t corrupt or venal. Stalin enjoyed the perks of power to a greater degree than Lenin did (and was more corrupt), but he still didn’t reach the level of consumption or decadence of a prerevolutionary noble or of a post-Soviet oligarch.
The USSR of 1953 had many achievements over and above 1917 Tsarist Russia. Education had spread throughout the country in a mass literacy campaign. Electric power came to the villages. Universities and Institutes popped up all over the country. Medical care was free and available in the meanest settlement. Most of all, the country beat back an invader bent on genocide, conquest, and resettlement (much as in Manifest Destiny in the USA), and the destruction of the Russian kultura, narod, and kollektiv (I’m using the Russian words as they have overtones lacking in their English analogues). That is, the achievements of Lenin and Stalin are without doubt.
Yet, at the same time, in the same country, the greatest evil reigned. The state killed thousands of clergy and millions of believers, all in a grand experiment to extirpate religion. There was the heartbreak of Collectivisation, which led to millions more deaths. That’s where the fairy tale of the Golodomor started… in the reality of the suffering of the peasants at this time… but it was all over the USSR, not just in the Ukraine. There was no genocide… it wasn’t directed at “Ukrainians” as a people… it was an assault on a social class, and it so happened that there were many “rich peasants” in the Ukrainian steppe (but there were many such in the black-earth regions outside of the Ukraine, too). Yet, no matter, it was a tragedy, and millions died. Besides all that, Stalin and his henchmen were insecure as all get-out, which led to further bloodletting, including amongst the Party apparat. Need I even mention the reality of the GULag? If this wasn’t evil, then, what was it? That is, the barbarity of Lenin and Stalin is without doubt.
Yet… I’d say this. Solzhenitsyn was right… the period of 1914 to 1991 was a New Dark Age, and we’ve not yet shaken it off completely, yet. The West is still sick with the violence and brutality of that age. “Don’t worry if the drones kill civilians, they’re only wogs… they don’t count as much as real people”. In some ways, that’s WORSE than what Lenin and Stalin did. Indeed, whilst the USSR did convulse several times in periods of repression, suspicion and alarm brought on by constant subterfuge against the socialist state by Western capitalist states caused them. Yes… the USSR did have enemies… yes… they were surrounded on all sides by foes… yet, was such a reaction justified? I think of the title of Roy Medvedev‘s book… Let History Judge.
The inscription on this memorial in Hamburg reads, “On the night of 29 July 1943, 370 persons perished in the air-raid shelter on the Hamburgerstrasse in a bombing raid. Remember these dead. Never again fascism. Never again war”. … mass killing wasn’t a Soviet monopoly.
If we’re to “Let History Judge”, then, we must be fair. Is the West totally without blame? No… repression wasn’t solely on the side of the USSR. Ask an inhabitant of an American Indian reservation or a black person who lived in the “separate but equal” American South. Ask anyone who lived through McCarthyism. Ask any Japanese-American who found themselves in internment camps simply for being Japanese during World War II. Ask an Arab-American today, after all the Fox News propaganda. Ask the Coptic-Americans, who find themselves tarred for the actions of a single aberrant member of their community… one could go on, but you catch my drift. I could add, ask ANY American who’s been invasively searched by TSA goons simply because they wanted to fly to here or to there (remember, the TSA operatives don’t carry the burden of blame… those who gave the orders and lied to create the agency in the first place have such an onus upon their heads).
In short, the West’s shield is as marred and scarred… no one was left unscathed by the New Dark Age. Indeed, this entire period was one where “evil had its day”. If the USSR had the GULag, the USA had Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the USSR had the massacre of the innocents on its head (the killing of clergy and believers), then, Britain has the stain of Operation Gomorrah (the deliberate firebombing of civilians in Hamburg) on its head. NO ONE WAS INNOCENT. NO ONE.
I don’t think that it’s yet time to come to a proper judgement on Lenin and Stalin. The French believe that history starts a century ago… anything later is too close to the present to be viewed objectively, they think. I’ll say this though… they lived in an age of iron and blood, and they had their fair share of gore on their hands. On the other hand, they lived in one of the most fast-paced eras of technological development in history, and they brought the USSR forward into that new world.
I’d say let’s attend to George Orwell (a self-described Democratic Socialist):
It can’t be said too often… at any rate, it isn’t being said nearly often enough… that collectivism isn’t inherently democratic, but on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamt of. However, a return to “free” competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the state.
That is, the excesses committed by Slobberin’ Ronnie in empowering the One Percent are worse than anything committed by Lenin or Stalin (the latter merely killed you… Ronnie put you in chains for life). The same is true of Margaret Thatcher. It does make one think, doesn’t it?
The camps in the Kolyma, yes, they existed… but there was there was the bravery of the crew of Osoaviakhim-1, too. The Great Victory is a fact… but so is the Sorrow of Collectivisation. In fact, it’s a classic textbook example of “the wheat and the tares”. Since I didn’t condemn or praise these men, I think that many will vilify my submission. So be it… as Roy Medvedev and his brother Zhores said… “Let History Judge”.
Tuesday 2 October 2012