Rehabilitating Stalin

Bryan MacDonald posted an interesting thread on Twitter today, which serves as a useful indicator of why it’s worth following RT as well as other more ‘mainstream’ journalistic outlets and why the former can occasionally provide a welcome counterpoint to the latter.

Those who follow Russia-related news will be aware of the regular complaints of the Western press that Vladimir Putin is working day and night to rehabilitate the memory of Joseph Stalin. I’ve dealt with this issue before, pointing out what egregious nonsense it is.  Unfortunately, my influence on public debate appears to be approximately zero, so the idea that Putin is busy promoting Stalin continues to gain traction. As Bryan points out, both The Washington Post and The Guardian have recently run stories on the matter. Let’s take a look.

First, The Washington Post published an article entitled ‘Putin’s Dangerous Campaign to Rehabilitate Stalin’.  Despite the headline, the article struggles to find real evidence to back its claim that Putin ‘aims to position himself’ as ‘Stalin-lite’. The best it can come up with is some alleged parallels between the two (they are both ‘strong men’), and the following:

Putin’s most direct discussion of Stalin came in a 2017 interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone. Putin compared Stalin to Oliver Cromwell and Napoleon Bonaparte, saying that “Stalin was a product of his time,” which can be understood as excusing his flaws.

Well, I suppose that it could be understood that way if you’re absolutely determined, but it’s not a lot to go on. Despite this, the article concludes:

increasingly, the Russian president is actively rehabilitating the Soviet dictator’s record, working to paint him as a strong leader who saved the world from fascism. The goal is to bolster Putin’s own “strongman” leadership style in the eyes of ordinary Russians.

And then we have The Guardian, which this Wednesday produced a piece with a remarkably similar title: ‘Vladimir Putin’s Russia is rehabilitating Stalin: We must not let it happen.’ This subtly shifts the blame for neo-Stalinism from Putin himself to Russia as a whole, but nevertheless holds the regime guilty for allowing Soviet nostalgia to re-emerge. For, according to author Irina Sherbakova,

Vladimir Putin’s rise to power came accompanied by a new version of patriotism relying on ‘heroic’ and ‘bright’ aspects of the Soviet past. An image of Stalin as a strong leader who had ensured victory in the second world war and led a Soviet superpower re-emerged. Television propaganda again worked hard to create that image. The millions who perished in waves of political repression were pushed to the margins of collective consciousness.  … Putin may be a focus of much concern across the world, but in Russia, it is obvious to many of us that our country’s return to democracy will be impossible as long as we fail to condemn Stalin and the system he created.

Speaking of a ‘return to democracy’ in Russia may strike some as a little odd. I’m guessing that Ms Sherbakova is thinking fondly of the 1990s. But that’s just by way of digression. The more important questions are whether the Post and the Guardian are right that a) Stalin is being rehabilitated in Russia, b) this is the fault of the Russian state, and of Vladimir Putin more personally, and c) allowing the possibility of any ‘heroic’ achievements by the Soviet state – most notably victory in the Second World War – inevitably leads to a whitewashing of Soviet repression. Fortunately, in his Twitter thread Bryan points us to a document which provides an answer, namely a statement issued yesterday by the Permanent Commission on Historical Memory of the Council of the President of the Russian Federation. It’s worth translating this in full:

We have heard that monuments to I.V. Stalin are being constructed in towns in Russia.

Those of our fellow citizens and those political forces, who are prepared to forget and even justify the death and deprivation of freedom of millions of our compatriots, incite both bitterness and sympathy. Those who were victims of political repression, the deportation of peoples, collectivization, and the Holodomor, were often the best in the country. These repression are firmly connected to the name of I.V. Stalin.

And those who erect monuments voluntarily or involuntarily justify these repressions. These fellow citizens of ours are also victims of that regime: they’ve lost their sense of sympathy for our deeply suffering country.

We do not call for the establishment of monuments to I.V. Stalin on private plots of land to be banned. But civil servants of all levels must know that it is impermissible to allow state or municipal land or buildings to be used for this purpose. Such acts not only contradict morality and respect for our deceased, innocently suffering predecessors, but also contradict official state policy.

As is noted in the Concept of State Policy on the Immortalization of the Memory of Victims of Political Repression, confirmed by the Government of Russia on 15 August 2015, ‘Attempts to justify the repressions by the particular circumstances of the time or generally to deny them as a fact of our history are impermissible.’

In his speech at the opening in the centre of Moscow of the grandiose ‘Wall of Grief’ – a memorial to the victims of political repression, our head of state V.V. Putin said that, ‘When talking about the repressions, death and suffering of millions of people, there can be no justifications of these crimes.’

We believe that our children and grandchildren, through dialogue and joint interpretation will reach a common assessment of an era which was tragic for Russia, and for all the peoples of the 20th Century Soviet Union – an era of revolutions, wars, repressions, but also heroic accomplishments of the people, the most important of which was victory in the Great Patriotic War. In the meantime, we cannot allow the desecration of the memory of the victims of the past century.

In answer to our questions above, what this makes clear is that a) yes indeed, there are moves afoot to rehabilitate Stalin, but b) the Russian state isn’t too fond of these and is pushing back against them, and c)  it’s perfectly possible to take pride in the Soviet victory in the Second World War while condemning Stalinist repressions – the idea that celebration of wartime victory inevitably morphs into rehabilitation of Stalin simply isn’t true.

Of course, a statement from a more or less unheard-of commission on historical memory isn’t quite the same as a statement from the President himself. One might object that such commissions are just sops which the state provides to establishment liberals to keep them happy. Nevertheless, if senior officials seriously objected to what was being said in their name, one imagines that they’d soon put a stop to it. And the message is pretty clear, and underlined by reference to both official state policy and Putin’s own words. Wouldn’t be great if the Washington Post or The Guardian could pick up a story like this and write about it, rather than publishing yet more articles about how Putin is rehabilitating Stalin? And if they don’t, can they really complain if we have to turn to RT to find out about it?

30 thoughts on “Rehabilitating Stalin”

    1. Pardon my not having added in the above that Putin on more than one occasion has condemned the collective WW II Soviet government punishment of the Crimean Tatars, adding that Crimea should cherish its multiethnic dynamic.

      Compare that stance to Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Dzhemilev, who is on record for advocating the ethnic cleansing of the Russian majority in Crimea.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “I have to admit, I respect Memorial’s work. “

        You repsect those who had been lying about Russian/Soviet history and continue to do it to this day while refurbished by the countries and private interests that hate Russia? The same foreign agent Memorial, which members are notorious liars and pedophiles?

        Why, LeaNder, given that you admit for working for “human rights” NGO, I’m totally unsurprised!

        Like

      2. The same foreign agent Memorial, which members are notorious liars and pedophiles?

        using a pars pro toto argumen concerning the currrent US pedophile case here?

        Notorious liars? All of them, genetically? or just concerning influence in world politics? And if so, when do you feel that influence started?

        Like

      3. “using a pars pro toto argumen concerning the currrent US pedophile case here?”

        No, stating the facts. IMHO, 9 years in prison is not enough for him.

        “Notorious liars? All of them, genetically?”

        I said nothing about “genetically” – I said they are liars. Why are you putting words in my mouth, LeaNder? I also said nothing about their (i.e. Memorial’s) “influence in world politics” – only attempts to exert it in Russia, which earns them the classification of foreign agents – and according treatment.

        “And if so, when do you feel that influence started”

        Since the start of their activity in the USSR/Russia. Isn’t it obvious?

        Now, I have to repeat myself, LeaNder. Why do you respect notorious liars and pedophiles from the Memorial?

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      4. Now, I have to repeat myself, LeaNder. Why do you respect notorious liars and pedophiles from the Memorial?

        From an irony alert perspective: That’s what liberals do, they defend all type of liars, pedophiles and worse.

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      5. Ok, Lyttie, I will use this from now on to signal interest in dialogue vs polemics in all its variations.

        I intuitively understood from the start, somehow, vaguely, that Karelia may be a sensitive issue, may have been much longer. That, I admit, I do not understand to the extend I would need to, to judge,

        But in pretty much the same way, I would need to be able to read the court papers of both cases and the curiously aligned case to jugde.

        I am aware “us” Germans left multiple similar mass graves in the East (from our perspective). The Sondertruppen accompanying the Wehrmacht took care of that.

        I did in fact stumble across a photo on the made wonder.. Yury Dmitriev sitting next to a wooden crate filled with sculls. Photo op? On the surface great photo. But respecting the dead? One skull staged next to others, crate neatly filled, some bones vaguely visible on the photo’s left hand corner. Hamlet crossed my mind.

        *******
        concerning the pedophile(s) … I prefer to take no side.

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      6. “From an irony alert perspective: That’s what liberals do, they defend all type of liars, pedophiles and worse.”

        For a person pushing (IIRC) 70, you lack in ability to communicate your POW in the mature, understandable way. Instead of “trying into irony” (hint – no, you can’t, because you do it lamely), speak honestly and factually.

        “I intuitively understood from the start, somehow, vaguely, that Karelia may be a sensitive issue”

        Karelia is not an issue. Show us all, where did I ever mentioned Karelia? Why are you brining it up here? The discussion is about the foreign agent “Memorial” operating in Russia and your support of said organization.

        “concerning the pedophile(s) … I prefer to take no side.”

        […]
        […]
        […]

        Is this another case of “communications error” on your part, LeaNder? How can one not to take side on this issue, implying by doing so, that it is possible not to condemn the pedophile? How can one be “neutral” on this?

        Also (and this is becoming your trademark) you fail to answer my other questions, like – why are you putting words in my mouth, LeaNder?

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      7. For a person pushing (IIRC) 70, you lack in ability to communicate your POW in the mature, understandable way. Instead of “trying into irony” (hint – no, you can’t, because you do it lamely), speak honestly and factually.

        look, I have alread been outed as foreign agent. I am not sure I was understood there. Much less am I sure if I still want to be understood.

        IF navel gazing Americans cannot understand me, why should Russians? Thus strictly, I don’t need to support Memorial, in fact I never did, to be considered an agent:

        Years back I checked with some of my old timey colleagues at the agencies you hold in contempt. One of them remembered that his agency had once had you on their asset list under your true name. IMO you are an intelligence groupy still associated with some spookery and allowing them to use your name here. Amusing

        No doubt some of your humor escapes me, as this humor escaped me at the time.

        I’ll try to keep away from Paul Robinson’s comment section, which for whatever reason you seemed to dominate from the moment I took a closer look.

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      8. LeaNder
        “Thus strictly, I don’t need to support Memorial, in fact I never did…”

        Also LeaNder:

        “I have to admit, I respect Memorial’s work…”

        Same comment:

        “And I like Memorial. …”

        Me, asking you originally:

        “You repsect those who had been lying about Russian/Soviet history and continue to do it to this day while refurbished by the countries and private interests that hate Russia? The same foreign agent Memorial, which members are notorious liars and pedophiles?”

        Also me, next comment:

        Why are you putting words in my mouth, LeaNder?

        “No doubt some of your humor escapes me, as this humor escaped me at the time. “

        I wasn’t joking anywhere here.

        […]

        You sadden me, LeaNder.

        Like

    2. On a related note, this skewed accounting just came out:

      Interesting. You feel there is no place for cultural memory initiatives? Only in Russia or everwhere else? Like in the US of A?

      Both Irina Sherbakova and Monika Zgustova are translators and writers. Otherwise their biography is pretty different.

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      1. You apparently misinterpret the gist of that article, relative to my opposition to it.

        No, at all. You’re clearly followed Paul. Absolutely no doubt. And I find the argument very convincing too. But yes, there was this “but”. Partial déjà vue. One of Patrick Armstrong’s about NGO’s and human rights irritated me years ago elsewhere. … Full discovery, I worked for two. Highly different ones. (business association, one, the other human rights) … The latter are obviously involuntary agents of interest. 🙂

        And yes, fuller discovery I am not a fan of Gerald Steinberg’s–follow the money–NGO monitor. … But there you go, popped up on my head. And then there were two ladies too.

        Concerning Monika Zgustova:
        In the ‘Nineties, when the pro-democracy leader Boris Yeltsin was in power, this find was held to be significant. But this is no longer the case in the era of Putin, who declared just two years ago: “An excessive demonization of Stalin is one of many ways to attack Russia.”

        in my circles, but also in mainstream media (in new-speak, with the exception of Fox) “fake news”, Boris Yeltsin, I am afraid featured mostly as a easy to manipulate drunkard,

        Irina Sherbacova Check Google Wikipedia via google translate, is well known and honored here in Germany. She argues along that line for longer now. I have to admit, I respect Memorial’s work. Zzz below clarified for me a partial confusion. Weren’t there earlier narratives that suggested more right vs left authoritarianism? Nashi Youth movement, pro-Putin, compared to the Hitler Youth? Simple, different parts of Russian society, as Zzz seems to suggest.

        Admittedly, maybe partly since we are both close to the same age? I feel closer to Irina Sherbacova then to Monika Zgustova, although I have a weak spot in my snowflake heart for people leaving Cechoslovakia post 1968 too.

        And I like Memorial. …

        Part of my circles:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunter_Demnig

        Like

      2. I clearly followed Paul with a Counterpunch article suggesting something that IMO is erroneous. At issue is how great the Stalin admiration and/or coverup of him in Russia?

        I gave examples showing that the pro-Stalin sentiment has been limited in Russia, giving clear counter-examples.

        There’re other factors to consider when assessing how “soft” (for lack of a better term) some (whether Russian or otherwise) are towards Stalin. The overall interest in historical matters has arguably dwindled for a number of reasons. Increased college tuition and pressing economic concerns have limited the appeal of focusing on history.

        Likewise, some of the fuzzy history getting propped discourages some from the field altogether, while misleading others into believing things like Pilsudski saving the world from Russia or downplaying Skoropadsky’s vision for a post Russian Empire entity.

        Related:

        https://www.eurasiareview.com/08042016-fuzzy-history-how-poland-saved-the-world-from-russia-analysis/

        https://www.eurasiareview.com/22052011-pavlo-skoropadsky-and-the-course-of-russian-ukrainian-relations-analysis/

        JRL doesn’t post “everything”, along with promoting some comparatively subpar material.

        Like

      3. [delete the one mis-posted above]

        “I have to admit, I respect Memorial’s work. “

        You repsect those who had been lying about Russian/Soviet history and continue to do it to this day while refurbished by the countries and private interests that hate Russia? The same foreign agent Memorial, which members are notorious liars and pedophiles?

        Why, LeaNder, given that you admit for working for “human rights” NGO, I’m totally unsurprised!

        Like

      4. Mikhail, I didn’t like both use Stalin in their argument, I deeply dislike that type of arguments. I definitively didn’t like it when my still best friend once called me a fascist. I assume it was about economics.

        I do have mixed feelings concerning some NGO’s reduced to foreign agents, fully aware that some may well be. 😉

        I do admit there is a grain, maybe more then a grain of thruth to it. The “juridical dean” that trained us nitwits on the respective German laws stressed the point that NGO’s were some type of state within the state from a pure legal perspective. Beyond the basic legal framework they had to obey they after all could give themselves their own inner laws.

        Straightforward goverment founders of dubious NGO’s
        Here: Germany
        https://www.ngo-monitor.org/funder/germany/

        I did support some Israeli/Palestine (terra incognita) NGO’s both directly and indirectly via their German based NGO supporters. I sponsored B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence both directly and indirecty via German NGO’s supporting them.

        Agent of undesirable interests.

        Like

      5. Oh dear:
        Mikhail, I didn’t like how both used Stalin in their argument
        truth to it

        Maybe I need spell checkers.

        ********
        Lyttenbourg give me some time, I have a serious IT problem. I’ll get back to you, though.

        Like

      6. oh, dear, back to laptop/software intrinsics:

        Straightforward goverment founders of dubious NGO’s
        I guess I did want funders not founders here. Founders might be relevant though in my upcoming response to Lyttie.

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      7. Why, LeaNder, given that you admit for working for “human rights” NGO, I’m totally unsurprised!

        glad I could help you to confirm your first impression.

        I am afraid none of those NGO’s works in Russia. The economical one by now admittedly has a Russian partner organisation.

        The human rights one is a pretty recent NGO. I doubt it will ever work in Russia. But who knows? Both can be called feminist organisations, I guess. The latter was founded during the war in former Yugoslavia. The founder a gynecologist was alarmed by news from there. I have the highest respect for her, maybe even more for one of the earliest women that worked for her. She delivered help to the region, since she is able to drive a truck. Down there she met women that told her girls locked up in a house, serving customers. They managed to plan and get some of them out of there. Otherwise, i freely admit I had mixed feelings. If you built up expertise, medical, psychological/trauma, social pedagogical for raped women as a “by- product” of war, you are basically a little humanitarian helper in let’s say the American War on Terrorism. And yes, in Afghanistan and Iraq they by now have partner organisations, Otherwise they are only in Africa. While more recently the issue surfaced concerning female refugees.

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  1. Post cold war western propaganda rapidly degenerated into the most vulgar version of the ‘great man theory’ of history. Feels like a roll-back to the decisively pre-enlightenment world-view.

    Bin Laden! Saddam! Putin! Assad! Stalin! Oh how perfect, how harmonious this world would be if not for an occasional evil s.o.b!

    Like

  2. Stalin “reabilitaion” is “blow back” and “triggering of libs” and have “grassroot” sourse. Putin remark is answer to the question and opportunistic populism, he do not go openly aganist “iconic Stalin” person only to not alienate low class. But “iconic Stalin” is antogonostic to Putin and “Putin’s bourgeois regime”. Official The Victory is pathriotic but non-soviet and not stalinistic. “Putin’s regime” in general do not mention SU or Stalin or mention only in bad light because it’s antogonostic project. To clame opposite is unability to switch of from coldwar anticomunism and laughtable. It’s cognitive dissonance of western pundits.
    To call Putin Stalin-light is like to call Nicolay II Stalin-light it lose any meaning.

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  3. So, as you have demonstrated on repeated occasions with his sympathy for the Whites, and as Patrick Armstrong has also demonstrated, Putin is no rehabilitating Stalin.

    To which we may all say: Thank God!

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  4. Ha! Since when does the Washington ComPost ever try to DE-escalate tensions or otherwise print anything contrary to what the military-industrial-intelligence establishment wants printed, especially now that it is the personal propaganda rag of the world’s richest a-hole?

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  5. look Karl, I regret my responses on this blog entry, maybe I’ll regret this one too. I did reflect if I need to say sorry to Michael/Mikhail and Patrick, but decided in Michael’s case it would be too complicated* and concerning Patrick, I basically assume he he takes as he gives.

    * as you know we do have a split cultural memory, the Western buried beneath the cold war, the Eastern … legitmate desires to know and understand … vs a political present …
    **********

    the world’s richest a-hole?

    I don’t know how old you are. I am in my late sixties. Let’s say from 25 onwards about 40% of the books i read were English. When I moved to Cologne I had a bookshop on the corner, upstairs was this nice elder lady that managed to get me whatever I wanted in around the time the usual time span of the German distributive networks needed to get you a book from a German publisher. (Grossisten-Einzelhändler) … this lady was gone one day. Gone much earlier was another bookshop that offered the same service at Kaviar prices.

    Earlier I had asked my closest friend as teenager then in Seattle Washingon, if she could possible bring me a certain trilogy on her visit to back home Germany.

    She tried and found out over there it would have taken four weeks.

    I suppose not born in our system, the “ass-hole” initially may have been frustrated with the four-weeks-delivery system beyond bestsellers.

    *********
    Ok, maybe I shouldn’t do this. Seriously no harm meant. But is there a German/Swiss/Austrian word Hurer? Yes obviously there is Hure. But could there ever have been the male noun: Hurer?

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  6. Stalin is being used by the western propaganda as a weapon against Russia

    Countries must be allowed to make sense of their own history and leaders.

    Putin in the Financial Times interview mentioned Oliver Cromwell – and Napoleon both responsible for thousands of deaths but stairs are raised to them in their respective countries.

    I would also add Churchill – who is revered in the UK, but if you look at what he did in the then British empire – he was a racist murderer of millions. But the British think he is great and that is up to them.

    Stalin is used as weapon to beat the Russians with and to belittle their major victories in the Second World War.

    The west don’t care about dead Russians / soviet citizens who they pretend to cry over as victims of Stalinist oppression!!!!

    They just want to rewrite history and they want to state that Soviet Union were not the main reason that the Germans were defeated.

    We have even started seeing German papers writing that the Soviets did not really win battles on the eastern front!!!!

    Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union should not allow Stalin to be used in this way

    Putin gives an honest appraisal of him in the interview in the Financial Times and that is all that should be done.

    Russia should claim their own history and tell other to but out .

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  7. In a group tour of Moscow, the Golden Ring, and St. Petersburg in 2014, ordinary Russians I talked to (I’m moderately fluent, from long-ago 12-month Army training and refresher courses) volunteered, in all three places, bringing up Stalin themselves, as if we’d likely ask about him, almost a mantra: “He was probably a bad man, but he beat the Germans and freed the Church” He’s evidently revered for the latter in addition to the former (somewhat to my surprise).

    Like

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