weird


By the early 1930s, Klara Zetkin was suffering from the heart problems from which she would soon die. In the meantime, she needed injections of camphor to raise her blood pressure. On the occasion of one such injection, the nurse administering the stimulant began to prepare her left buttock. Zetkin instructed the nurse to find another site on her body. ‘That one’, she said, ‘belongs to Dr Zamkov’.

In December, 1933, Stalin did an interview with a correspondent from The New York Times. Already there is a glimmer of the potential for the cooperation between Stalin and Roosevelt in the Second World War, although his comment on United States solipsism still seems to apply.

Roosevelt, by all accounts, is a determined and courageous politician. There is a philosophical system, solipsism, which holds that the external world does not exist and the only thing that does exist is one’s own self. It long seemed that the American Government subscribed to this system and did not believe in the existence of the U.S.S.R. But Roosevelt evidently is not a supporter of this strange theory. He is a realist and knows that reality is as he sees it (Works, volume 13, pp. 284-85).

Indeed, a little earlier a certain Colonel Robins from the United States, also in an interview, expressed a strong wish for the two countries to work together.

I am not a Communist and do not understand very much about communism, but I should like America to participate in, to have the opportunity of associating itself with, the development that is taking place here in Soviet Russia, and I should like Americans to get this opportunity by means of recognition, by granting credits, by means of establishing normal relations between the two countries, for example, in the Far East, so as to safeguard the great and daring undertaking which is in process in your country, so that it may be brought to a successful conclusion (Works, vol. 13, p. 277).

Makes one wonder what might have been possible instead of the Cold War.

Recently I visited New York – the first time in 15 years – and had the pleasure of sitting next to an American man travelling with me from Beijing to New York (over the north pole). We talked for a little and then he asked me what I do in China.

‘Teach’, I said.

‘But what you teach?’ He asked.

‘Marxism, philosophy and religion’, I said.

‘Marxism? What’s Marxism?’ He said.

‘Karl Marx …’ I said.

‘I’ve never heard of him’.

I sat pondering the long shadow of that alcoholic, Joseph McCarthy.

One of curious pleasures of getting older is that I become more and more optimistic, about life, the world, everything. However, this is not as it should be. Men my age tend to become cranky, realising that they are actually mortal. So what should I do? I am pondering the need to practice becoming a cranky old man. They say you need practice something new only for a month before it becomes a habit.

In the midst of the foi furieuse of the Stakhanovite period, when everything was being made anew at extraordinary speed (and with massive disruption), the government of the USSR felt keenly the lack of trained specialist in all areas of work. So in an address to metal workers, Stalin observes:

People must be cultivated as tenderly and carefully as a gardener cultivates a favourite fruit tree.

A slightly different image of the man who is charged with callously slaughtering millions, drooling while doing so. A little later, in an address to graduates from the Red Army training centre, he tells this famous story to illustrate his point:

I recall an incident in Siberia, where I lived at one time in exile. It was in the spring, at the time of the spring floods. About thirty men went to the river to pull out timber which had been carried away by the vast, swollen river. Towards evening they returned to the village, but with one comrade missing. When asked where the thirtieth man was, they replied indifferently that the thirtieth man had “remained there.” To my question, “How do you mean, remained there?” they replied with the same indifference, “Why ask – drowned, of course.” And thereupon one of them began to hurry away, saying, “I’ve got to go and water the mare.” When I reproached them with having more concern for animals than for men, one of them said, amid the general approval of the rest : “Why should we be concerned about men? We can always make men. But a mare … just try and make a mare.” (Animation.) Here you have a case, not very significant perhaps, but very characteristic. It seems to me that the indifference of certain of our leaders to people, to cadres, their inability to value people, is a survival of that strange attitude of man to man displayed in the episode in far off Siberia that I have just related.

Works, vol. 14, pp. 48, 77-78.

Stalin unknown 10 (Siberia) (320x236)

For some reason, strenuous exercise on a real scorcher of a day is very addictive. Each summer I feel it. The mercury climbs above 35 degrees (in the shade), the humidity weighs like a hot blanket, and the sun beats down. I have an uncontrollable desire to get out: sprint up the steep hill nearby a few times; run for an hour; push weights for an hour more. At the end I am a rag, soaked and pouring with sweat. My head feels like it is about to burst from the heat. But I love it. Afterwards I feel cool in the heat, my mind is sharp, and I feel serene with the world.

Most people would probably not know that the Communist Party of the USSR (Bolshevik) also had a policy on amputation. Stalin elaborates on the policy in 1925:

We are against amputation. We are against the policy of amputation. That does not mean that leaders will be permitted with impunity to give themselves airs and ride roughshod over the Party. No, excuse us from that. There will be no obeisances to leaders. (Voices: “Quite right!” Applause.) We stand for unity, we are against amputation. The policy of amputation is abhorrent to us. (Works, volume 7, p. 401)

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