A Chinese perspective on the Stalin revival in Russia

In the process of writing a second article for the flagship Chinese newspaper, the People’s Daily (first article here), I am working my way through a journal called Marxist Studies in China. It’s published by the Institute of Marxism in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Some articles leave, shall we say, a little to be desired and some are real gems.

The journal also carries regular pieces by Russia specialists, one of them called ‘Why Is the Stalin Debate Raging Again in Russia?’. This is from 2010 and the debate has by no means abated. The authors identify four main positions: left-wing communists hold high the banner of Stalin and seek to march to a new socialist society; right-wing liberals want to uproot the legacy of Stalin and hold faith in liberal democracy and capitalism; the moderate conservatives affirm Stalin’s achievements but criticise his methods; and the patriotic faction, which seeks to avoid the political polarisation and borrow from Stalin’s experience for a new modernisation of Russia today. Guess where Putin and the United Russia Party stand?

The question remains: why is Stalin the topic of so much debate? Apart from long-term reasons, the authors focus on the Great Recession in parts of the world from 2008. Despite Russia’s stabilisation fund and Putin’s efforts to strengthen the management of major industries, the underlying problem is a fundamental shift in Russia’s economic situation. It has become primarily an exporter of raw materials as the basis of its economy. This makes it particularly vulnerable to global trends. So calls began for a new modernisation of Russia. And when did the last economic modernisation take place, turning an economic backwater into a superpower? Under Stalin’s watch. No wonder that Stalin is the topic of so much interest in the search for a new modernisation. Indeed, the authors suggest that ‘a new Stalin will come soon’.

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4 thoughts on “A Chinese perspective on the Stalin revival in Russia

  1. The debates about Stalin and his place in history started in 1956 when he was accused of crimes and never actually stopped. In my opinion, it is a complicated phenomenon and Stalin himself doesn’t really matter to people who are arguing about him. Essentially, the debate about Stalin is the continuation of a very old debate between pro-Western and nationalistic factions of Russian intelligentsia, which started in 1840s and sill continues. Is Russia a part of Europe and Western civilisation, or is it a unique country to which the rules common for the rest of the world cannot be applied? Debate about Stalin is just another reincarnation of this old polemic. It also had its own waves or periods: the first period, when Khruschev accused Stalin of crimes and pronounced the return to Lenin and ‘Leninist norms’. The second period in 1980s, when the debate about Stalin and Soviet history in 1930s was used to destroy communist ideology and Soviet system itself. And the new period in 2000-2010s, when this polemic isn’t really about Stalin, but Putin and his regime. I understand this is kinda clumsy and not well-written, but this is the best I can write now. I am afraid that you as a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language will get the wrong perspective. For example, the ‘modernisation’ you mentioned is an obvious faux: Putin’s regime, unlike Stalin’s, proved to incapable of doing anything like that. It’s been 15 years now, and Russian industry is still in ruins while country survives on selling oil and gas, its own natural wealth. If you compare Putin to Stalin, he could only be a very bad and laughable copy of the original.

    1. Yes, thanks for this. The article I mentioned is by a Chinese Russian specialist and her concern is with the third period you mention. Her point is that Russia had not been ‘modernised’ under Putin’s rule and that it relies on selling raw materials. In other words, Russia has in a sense been demodernised and the concern is whether Russia can and will be remodernised. It does not see Putin playing much of a role in all of this.

  2. When current leaders fail to deliver, it is often the case that people will look back to times when things were better for all, with stronger leaders, and greater influence. Many here often bang on about Churchill in the same way, but they were happy to see the back of him in 1945.
    Regards, Pete.

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