Another travel story at Voyages on the Left, called ‘Stalin, the Priest and the Donkeys‘. Meanwhile, I am writing a longer piece on Stalin and anti-Semitism (from Losurdo).
As you may or may not know, Russia has recently had elections, in which the ruling United Russia (ER) party was battered in the polls, and then a series of ongoing protests over the dodgy results. However, given the adage, ‘It does not matter how you vote, what matters is how they count’, the results look like they are actually far worse for the Putin-Medvedev bunch. As Israel Shamir reports:
Were the elections falsified? Independent observers reported many irregularities in Moscow; probably it was even worse elsewhere. It seems that the ruling ER party activists inserted many fake ballots, and probably skewed the results in their favour. A poll made by NGO Golos on the basis of a few polling places with no irregularities showed that the communists won big, while the ER almost collapsed at the polls. On the web, there are claims of massive distortions following the vote count. It is hard to extrapolate from the Moscow results to the whole country, but the Russians believe that the results were falsified. They are also tired of their Teflon rulers.
Official results versus popularly believed:
ER: 49% – 32%
SR: 13% – 17%
CPRF: 19% – 35%
LDPR: 11% – 11%
(CPRF = communists; SR = Just Russia, a breakaway from the communists; LDPR = Liberal Democratic Party of Russia)
Shamir concludes that even with the dodgy ‘official’ outcome:
The results were quite impressive and they point to great changes ahead. The Russians have said to communism: ‘Come back, all is forgiven’. They effectively voted to restore the Soviet Union, in one form or another. Perhaps this vote will not be acted upon, but now we know – the people are disappointed with capitalism, with the low place of post-Soviet Russia in the world and with the marriage of big business and government … The twentieth anniversary of the restoration of capitalism that Russia commemorated this year was not a cause for celebration but rather for sad second thoughts. The Russians loudly regretted the course taken by their country in 1991; the failed coup of August 1991, this last ditch attempt to preserve communism, has been reassessed in a positive light, while the brave Harvard boys of yesteryear who initiated the reforms are seen as criminals. Yeltsin and Gorbachev are out, Stalin is in.
All the same, the communists don’t have the guts of their predecessors and are overly keen to avoid a civil war. They’d also need to win over substantial parts of the army. Indeed, they ‘are ready to work with Putin any time. Can Putin change his spots and become Putin-2, a pro-communist president who will restore the Soviet Union and break the power of the oligarchs? He could certainly adopt some communist rhetoric and use the communist support. Judging by his recent utterances at the Valdai forum, he is likely to turn Russia leftwards’. Either that or it’s time for another Lenin.
(ht sk via tp)
For those interested that great film, Padenie Berlina (The Fall of Berlin), parts one and two are now available for download. And you don’t even need to agree to download the (possibly dodgy) software the site suggests. The film is unique, not only as the first film about the Second World War, but also because Stalin himself chose the actors, had a large hand in the script, and appeared in it himself.
To complete the circle, it also won the Stalin Prize, first degree. The world is a poorer place without the Stalin prize, so I suggest it be restored.
We really need to recover the good, positive sense of propaganda. Trashy commercial advertising simply shows that capitalists really have no idea. Take this piece celebrating Stalin’s return to the USSR after the fall of Berlin, when the Russians won the Second World War.
Gotta love Stalin’s coiffure and creaking boots. And stay with it, since the best bit is towards the end.
At last I have them: the Collected Works of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, or Stalin to his mates. I have always felt slightly bogus running a blog called ‘Stalin’s Moustache’ and not having the man’s works in hand. But now, after much sleuthing – for they are not as popular as they once were – I tracked them down in … Kansas. Of course, why did I not think of that earlier?
Update: of course, these works are well known in The Stalin Society, ‘formed in 1991 to defend Stalin and his work on the basis of fact and to refute capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him’. (ht jm)
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation has launched an anti-corruption website which will collect complaints from the public – and named it after Joseph Stalin.
The Joseph Stalin Anti-Corruption Committee Website was launched on Friday and is only available in Russian. The site is illustrated with portraits of Stalin and slogans from the 1930s, such as, “We should work in such a way, that comrade Stalin would thank us!”
“Our main goal is in creation, not destruction – to fight corruption with the aim of maintaining the country, not breaking it into parts. The work is difficult and subtle. Those who are ready to do it are welcome to our ranks,” the introduction reads.
The idea of the website is to recreate the all-Russian “black list”, where anyone could submit a report on violations and crimes. Communist party members who work at different levels of the legislature have promised to use their powers to check the information.
“Our task is to make any civil servant involved in dishonest actions to feel with his skin that the information about his operations can become known to the whole country at any moment,” the website reads.
So far, the site is filled with news reports about corruption crimes and simple financial violations in various government structures.
The project has the clear aim of garnering the support of voters at the December elections for the State Duma. The Communist party has traditionally built its policy on anti-corruption measures and the issue forms the backbone of its criticism of the parliamentary majority party, United Russia. In spring, the communists suggested that Russia approve the 20th article of the UN Convention on Countering Corruption, which considers any sharp rise in the wealth of a civil servant a crime if the individual fails to prove that its sources are legal. The Russian parliament has yet to consider the bill.
Fighting corruption is a popular issue in Russia both with the authorities and the opposition. Young lawyer Aleksei Navalny shot to nationwide fame after accusing state-owned corporations of corruption and tax evasion. However, no criminal cases resulted from the accusations, while Navalny himself was taken to court for slander.
Those of you who know me may recall an occasional comment, ‘Stalin’s day will come’, said half in jest. To be sure, Stalin has not had a good time in the minds of those who write the history books. Madman, butcher, paranoid dictator, responsible for countless deaths, proponent of the personality cult (his own), the only realistic contender with Hitler for the most evil man of the twentieth century. The right puts him forward as the logical outcome of communism; the left shies away, arguing he was an anomaly. So what is there to defend?
Let me be clear, Stalin made plenty of mistakes, from Lysenko to the Moscow trials, but was also responsible for at least two significant achievements – apart from studying theology (he was unable to sit his final exams since his parents couldn’t pay the fees).
The first was the collectivisation drive in the early 1930s. Collectivisation? Yes, since it was unfinished business from the revolution.
For the sake of the ‘civil’ war and the need to get the Soviet economy kicking, as well as come up with the bare modicum of grain needed to ward off the worst of the famines produced by the ‘civil’ war, Lenin relinquished his desire for collectivisation. So, when the NEP was winding down in the late 20s, Stalin issued an order in 1927 that collectivisation was to restart. Why? Grain production was falling short by about 20 million tons, needed to feed Russia itself, largely due to old peasant methods of agriculture that were becoming increasingly inefficient. However, the order was ignored and the shortages got worse, kulaks (rich peasants) began stockpiling grain and pushing up the prices, so the next year Stalin announced collectivisation would be enforced. In response, the peasants burned crops and barns and killed their animals. Stalin followed Lenin’s path for a short while, allowing small-hold production to continue. But in 1932 he lost patience and ordered full enforcement. By the end of the year, 67% of farms were collectivised, but peasants continued to burn crops and stockpile. Famine got worse in 1932-3, so now Stalin really got the shits: he rounded up the kulaks and used that tried and true Russian method of more than two centuries – he sent them off to populate (and perish in) Siberia. Meanwhile, by 1939, 99% of Russian farms were collectivised, modernised and were using machinery.
So was it a failure? Let’s look at the following statistics:
In 1928, 73 million tons of grain were produced.
In 1933, at the height of the struggle, 69 million tons were grown.
However, by 1937, the yield was 97 million tons.
In other words, on the eve of the Second World War, production had increased by more than 24 million tons, or by about 33%. It needed a man with a bite as strong as his bark to get it done. Along with the massive reorganisation of industrial production, this put the USSR in a very strong position to resist Hitler’s attack in 1941.
Before I get to that, however, let us look at the political situation. By the late twenties, Stalin was still following Bolshevik policy outlined by Lenin: avoid violence and allowing the peasants to keep small-hold farms and use old methods. In opposition were Trotsky and Zinoviev, who urged collectivisation. But now Stalin outfoxed the left opposition, taking over their policy with gusto. They were left with no room to move, and many Trots ended up getting behind Stalin on this one.
What about the war? I have already posted on this, but now a few more details. We can thank the man with the fried egg on his forehead, Gorbachev, for this one, since he opened the archives to foreign historians. Since then, they have been rewriting the history of World War II, since the Soviets kept far better records than anyone. Up until then, three factors had influenced the understanding of the war. First, Churchill in his ‘history’ had played down the Soviet involvement, arguing that the war was won on the western front (Churchill appropriately won the Nobel Prize for ‘literature’ – it was largely a fabrication). Second, western historians relied on what the German generals told them. Good move that one, since we got fables about the Russian rabble, unarmed soldiers, machine-gun fodder and so on. And they stressed Hitler’s mismanagement, the size of the Red Army, and that their supply-lines were too long. Incidentally, the USA employed former Wehrmacht officers to provide them with information on the new Cold War enemy. One of them, Franz Halder, was Hitler’s chief of the Army General Staff from 1938 to 1942 and was complicit in the effort to wipe out Jews, gypsies, gays and communists. After the war, he was head of the project on the USSR in the US Army’s Historical Division. And for his wonderful contribution, John F. Kennedy gave him the Meritorious Civilian Service. Third, Krushchev is at fault here as well, since in his famous speech in 1956 he blamed Stalin for everything, with the result that Soviet historians came up with their own version of the war: despite Stalin’s idiocy, the good, solid Russian people won the war on their own.
All of that is now so much rubbish. While the Left has been focusing on politics and avoiding Stalin, the war historians have been providing a completely different picture of Stalin during the war. David Glantz, Mark Harrison, Nikolai Litvin, Anthony Beavor, Catherine Merridale, Rodric Braithwaite, Omer Bartov, Wolfram Wette (who has showed that German officers in general and not merely the SS freely engaged in murder and genocide), Christopher Browning, Saul Friedländer, Richard Overy, Evan Mawdsley, Geoffrey Roberts and Norman Davies – all have been using the wealth of material now available.
The result: it was Stalin’s war and he won it. Over 400 divisions battled on a 1600 km front for four years, compared to 15 each for the Germans and allies on the western front at its most intense. 88% of German military dead fell on the eastern front, and the battle that broke the Wehrmacht was Kursk, in July and August of 1943. Here the Russians showed everyone how to beat a blitzkrieg – with a meticulously planned, flexible and in-depth defence. By comparison, the British, American, Australian, Canadian etc contribution on the western front was a sideshow.
However, Stalin didn’t start off well, trying to run the whole show himself, misjudging German attacks in 1941 and 1942, and launching ineffective counter-attacks. Then he sat back, puffed through a few pipes full and had a good think. The result was a transformed man: he called on his most creative generals, engaged in extraordinary efforts to rally the people, and became adept at high diplomacy. For example, at the end of the war at the Yalta Conference (4-11 February, 1945), he had obtained information that the good Winston Churchill didn’t mind and tipple or three. So Churchill was plied with grog, got plastered, and Stalin got a very good deal indeed.
Meanwhile, back in 1942, a well-organised, equipped, supplied and trained Red Army began winning battles, from Stalingrad onwards. They waged increasingly sophisticated ‘deep operations’, namely, rapid, multiply-arms advances that pushed deep into the Wehrmacht’s rear, inflicting creative and utterly debastating defeats, much greater than any army in the war. And the responsibility for these stunning succcesses was Stalin’s. He fostered and was part of a dynamic, flexible and innovative team, discussing, debating and planning each move. So much so that historians now use phrases such as ‘awesome military achievement’ and ‘greatest military victory in history’.
Maybe Stalin’s day has come.