In the midst of the frenetic enthusiasm of the collectivisation drive, Stalin published his famous article, ‘Dizzy with Success’. It called on comrades not to get carried away with enthusiasm, not to run too far ahead and damage the process. At one point, even village church bells appear:

I say nothing of those “revolutionaries”—save the mark!—who begin the work of organising artels by removing the bells from the churches. Just imagine, removing the church bells—how r-r-revolutionary! (Works, vol. 12, p. 204)

While working through this material, it is becoming increasingly clear that Stakhanovite enthusiasm is the framework in which the waves of purges of the 1930s should be understood. These purges are not merely cynical eliminations of rivals, nor are they merely the manifestation of fears (both real and unreal) of plots to overthrow the government. They are a major dimension of Stakhanovite enthusiasm, in which people threw themselves with extraordinary energy into the revolutionary changes taking place. The upshot is that those who lagged behind or who actively resisted the process became the focus of another and more negative dimension of that enthusiasm.

Stalin icon 24

Strange how “Blue Skies in Beijing” is not a headline. If you believe international reports, Beijing is constantly shrouded in impenetrable smog, like being inside a cigarette. To be sure, it can get pretty bad on some occasions, but it can also be clear, crisp and sunny. Like now. I’ve been outside running each day, sucking in the air with pleasure.

As I settle into Beijing for a while, with much peace and quiet and opportunities for writing (and the pleasure of being in a country where the government is mainly the Communist Party), I have been enjoying my favourite restaurant. I treat myself to a meal there once or twice a week, while mostly eating in the dining halls.

One of the pleasures at this little eatery concerns some of the dishes. These include:

Husband and wife lung slice

Thread jujube in Sydney

Boiled salt bath chap

Sneak liver pointed

Beijing heaving

Needless to say, the only way to find out is to order them – in Chinese characters, as is the custom here.

Stalin and women: this conjunction usually evokes salacious details of Stalin’s somewhat active life as a young man, leaving a number of offspring across Russia. But in this he was no different from many other young Georgian males.

Far less known is the way he came to see, later in life, the importance of socialism for women. On many occasions, he addressed women’s congresses, let alone framing the Constitution of the USSR (1936 revision) to address explicitly equality of the sexes. Article 132 of what has been called an ‘affirmative action’ constitution reads:

Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured to women by granting them an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.

They often struggled to live up to ideals expressed and often acted hypocritically, as Alexandra Kollontai points out, but you can’t fault the ideals. Needless to say, the USSR is usually written out of the history of feminism – as with so many other matters. As the constitution was in its final stages of being formulated, Stalin addressed a gathering of collective farm women shock workers. His speeches at earlier women’s congresses may have been somewhat patronising, but here the issue of socialism and women gains clear expression:

Comrades, what we have seen here today is a slice of the new life we call the collective life, the socialist life. We have heard the simple accounts of simple toiling people, how they strove and overcame difficulties in order to achieve success in socialist competition. We have heard the speeches not of ordinary women, but, I would say, of women who are heroines of labour, because only heroines of labour could have achieved the successes they have achieved. We had no such women before. Here am I, already 56 years of age, I have seen many things in my time, I have seen many labouring men and women. But never have I met such women. They are an absolutely new type of people. Only free labour, only collective farm labour could have given rise to such heroines of labour in the countryside. (Works, vol. 14, p. 85).

This picture comes from the gathering itself:

Stalin and women 17 (320x271)

Not a few posters were produced on a similar theme, such as this one for the actual congress:

Stalin and women 16 (219x320)


And more:

Stalin and women 15 (320x220)

Stalin and women 12 (320x242)

Stalin and women 06 (320x162)

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)

More snippets as I near the end of my reading of Stalin’s works – not a task too many take on, assuming all manner of positions without reading what the man himself wrote (and edited). The first concerns ‘Bolshevik grit’ – strong nerves and stubborn patience:

These people, apparently, forgot that we Bolsheviks are people of a special cut. They forgot that neither difficulties nor threats can frighten Bolsheviks. They forgot that we had been trained and steeled by the great Lenin, our leader, our teacher, our father, who knew and recognised no fear in the fight. They forgot that the more the enemies rage and the more hysterical the foes within the Party become, the more ardent the Bolsheviks become for fresh struggles and the more vigorously they push forward. (Works, vol 14, p. 74)

Comrade Joe seems to have been a man of more talents than one might imagine. From time to time, he offers observations on nothing less than queer theory. For example:

Is it not strange that our theoreticians have not yet taken the trouble to explode this queer theory? (Works, vol. 12, p. 154)

This is actually somewhat ambiguous: does he wish to debunk queer theory, or does he encourage queer theory to ‘explode’ assumed positions?

Molotov 09a