Is Putin the new Stalin?

Chavez dead today – sadly. The remembrance yesterday of Stalin’s death, 60 years ago. Once again the issue is the veneration of the revolutionary leader. Familiar themes emerge with Chavez once again: the bodily health of the leader becomes a major focus; fears concerning the viability of the project emerge after his or her death; the forces of opposition line up, especially the USA, seeking to exploit what is perceived as an opportunity to overrun the place in question.

But here I’m interested in Stalin, or rather what was written about him yesterday. Three stories did the rounds, reappearing here and there. The most breathtaking was an effort to attribute to Putin and his henchmen the increasing popularity of Stalin in the Russian Federation. Of course, it can’t be due to any genuine appreciation of the man. Let’s see what Putin is supposed to have done:

1. Putin is responsible for school textbooks that speak of Stalin’s ‘effective management’ during the 1930s program of industrialization.

2. He has been behind a campaign to return to name of Stalingrad to the city of Volgograd, the site of the battle that turned the tide of the Second World War.

3. He praises Stalin’s achievement of expanding Russia’s territory in the form of the USSR, describing the dismantling of the USSR under Gorbachev as a major disaster.

4. He has failed to condemn Stalin’s repressions, murders, gulags, failures at the Olympics, and pretty much every other sin in Russian history.

So is Putin the new Stalin? Hardly, since it is clear that he is responding to both the increasing popularity of Stalin among the population, and the growing popularity of the Communist Party under the leadership of Gennady Zyuganov.

However, when the articles in question do note the widespread popularity of Stalin, they fall back on an old trope: the natural propensity of Russians to superstition. This was a line used in response to the veneration of Lenin after his death, and we find it here with all manner of icons of Stalin, signs of the cross, lighting candles in churches, and beliefs in Stalin’s mystical powers. Can’t have people really appreciating the man.


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