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It’s no real secret that many Russians have a positive impression of Stalin; it was 49% in February 2013, insignificantly down from 53% in 2003. (This is not a view that I share). There are probably a few big reasons for this: (1) The mistaken notion that without him Russia would have remained in the age of plows, not rockets; (2) The relatively low corruption and perceived social justice in that time; (3) His role in securing victory in WW2, the latter of which carried away far, far more Russian lives than Stalinist repressions; (4) Last but not least, the liberal-promoted defamation of Stalin and associated efforts to equalize the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany; this is deeply repugnant to the majority of Russians – especially as while the majority did have someone die or go MIA in their families during 1941-45, many fewer had relatives sent to the Gulag for political crimes let alone shot – and as such there was a regrettable but entirely understandable angry reaction to such slanders in the 2000s.

What it is almost certainly not, however, is part and parcel of some “neo-Soviet revanchism” that seeks to forcibly reincorporate former territories into Russia (Russian nationalism today is primarily of the contemporary European kind that seeks to limit immigration in its moderate form, and expel ethnic minorities in its radical form). It’s certainly not because of some Putin imposed blackout on discussions of Stalin’s crimes; only retards who read neocon media would believe that. Nor is it something that is specific to Russians and the long-abused meme of their “yearning for a strong hand“. Because according to Levada polls, pro-Stalin sentiment in “democratic Georgia” is actually substantially higher than in Russia.

Russia Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia
Positive emotions 28 21 30 49
Negative emotions 23 37 35 19
+/- Ratio 1.2 0.57 0.86 2.6
Indifferent emotions 50 43 36 33

The table above shows the sum of positive emotions (adulation, respect, sympathy), negative emotions (dislike, fear, repugnance, hatred), and indifferent emotions (don’t know who was Stalin – 1% in Russia, 4% in Georgia, a remarkable 20% in Azerbaijan, refuse to answer) towards Stalin. Georgians have by far the most positive opinions towards him in net terms, and are also the least indifferent to him; while pro-Stalinists slightly outnumber anti-Stalinists in Russia, it also has the highest percentage of people who are indifferent to him.


“Stalin was a wise leader, who brought the USSR to greatness and prosperity” – 47% of Russians agree, 38% disagree; 69% of Georgians agree, 16% disagree.


“Stalin was a cruel and inhumane tyrant, guilty of the annihilation of millions of innocent people” – 66% of Russians agree, 20% disagree; 51% of Georgians agree, 26% disagree.


The strong hand theory: “Our people could never cope without a leader of Stalin’s calibre, who would come and restore order” – 30% of Russians agree, 52% disagree; 29% of Georgians agree, 47% disagree.


“Would you personally like to live and work under a national leader like Stalin?” – 18% of Russians want to, 67% don’t; 27% of Georgians want to, 60% don’t.


“Are the losses sustained by the Soviet peoples under Stalin justified by the great aims and results that were achieved in a short time period?” – 25% of Russians agree, 60% disagree; 28% of Georgians agree, 45% disagree.


Finally, a poll on how Ukrainians view Stalin: “Stalin was a great leader.” Not directly comparable with the polls in Russia and the Caucasus countries, but still, if you believe that Stalin was unequivocal ruin and evil, you are unlikely to say that he was a “great leader”; at the least, a positive answer implies some level of ambiguity. And as we can see a majority of Ukrainians in the east and south view him positively. Even from those from the center, who suffered most from the collectivization famines, more say he was a great leader than not. The only part of the country which definitely says he was not a “great leader” is the far west but of course it too has its own historical cockroaches.

Of course I have to stress that I don’t condemn Georgians for loving Stalin; the aim of this post is just to clear up some misconceptions that idiot Westerners have about how Russian Stalinophilia is somehow “exceptional” in the post-Soviet context and worthy of endless harping in the media. If I was a Georgian I too would probably love a countryman who administratively expanded the borders of Sakartvelo and subjugated those one hundred million Russkies up north under his heel. But it does also show the hilarious hypocrisy of Saakashvili who used to rant on about how Georgians are inherently more democratic-minded and historically responsible than Russians.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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While researching my article on Soviet economic performance relative to the US (it was bad), I came across this fascinating graph showing income inequality in the USSR since 1946.

As you can see, the 10% richest Soviet citizens in the first postwar year were more than seven times as rich as the 10% poorest. That is actually substantially higher than in many capitalist social democracies today: Czech Republic (5.2), Finland (5.7), Germany (6.9), Japan (4.5), Sweden (6.2). Russia’s current R/P ratio is about 13 IIRC.

And there’s lots of factoids that support this assertion:

(1) Stalin increased his own salary as General-Secretary from 225 rubles (until 1935), to 500 rubles in 1935, 1,200 rubles in 1936, 2,000 rubles by the end of the war, and a cool 10,000 rubles by 1947.

(2) While in the 1920′s there were strict limits on managerial salaries as a percentage of workers’, in 1929-1934 they were quietly lifted. In the 1920′s, the “Party maxim” was 175 rubles compared to average worker salaries of 50 rubles; whereas by 1937 the average manager-worker differential increased to 5:1 (higher than in contemporary Paris, where it was 4:1). This figure doesn’t include unofficial payments in envelopes and huge bonuses for over-fulfillment of the Plan.

(3) In the military, a lieutenant’s salary in 1939 was 625 rubles, compared to a colonel’s 2000 rubles. This was a higher differential than in France, where it was 2,000 francs and 5,000 francs, respectively. Or for that matter far higher than in today’s “oligarchic” Russia, where a lieutenant now gets 50,000 rubles and a colonel 75,000 rubles.

(4) The highest administrative salaries reached into the 10,000′s of rubles, e.g. the director of one Kharkov enterprise in the late 1930′s got 22,000 rubles. The chairman and deputy chairman of the Supreme Council got salaries of 25,000 rubles. These figures are 100x the salary of an average worker which was 250 rubles and a minimum industrial wage of 110-115 rubles.

Another interesting factoid I discovered was that the supposedly education-worshiping Soviet government made people pay for it from 1940 onwards. The 8th-10th classes of schools, as well as colleges, now cost 150-200 rubles per year to attend (10% of an average worker’s yearly salary), while higher education cost 300-500 rubles. This system was only removed in 1954.

So apart from the well-known features of Stalinism (repressions, etc) it seems to have also been a period of privilege – in which bureaucrats may have been very unsafe but did enjoy incomes that were unprecedented compared to the rest of Soviet history. Overall inequality wasn’t astoundingly high because private enterprise had been banned for the most part, but inequality within the actual state structure was; quite possibly, more so even than today. Needless to say it was also full of informal hierarchy in terms of privileged access to scarce goods – the 1930′s-40′s was a horrible period for Soviet consumers.

I wonder what Russian Stalinists who idealize the period would make of all this?

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
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Though Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890-1938) remains more famous for his contributions to the field of linguistics, his other great achievement was as one of the founding fathers of the Eurasian movement. Riding on the dark wave of disillusionment sweeping the world in the wake of the First World War, he penned the seminal essay Europe and Man in 1920 while teaching at the University of Sofia. You can read Европа и человечество in Russian at the given site (unfortunately I could not find an online English translation).

Which is a pity, because much of what he predicted really did transpire during the 20th C and remains as relevant as ever today. In my opinion, every Kremlinologist, every “Russia-watcher” and indeed every Russian should read it. This was one of the first modern works to seriously question whether Western civilization, or “Europe”, is the culmination of “historical progress” (the other major contemporary challenge was Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West). In this post I will present his arguments and draw on historical hindsight to confirm the historical validity of his theory.

First, Trubetzkoy asks, “Is it possible to prove objectively that the culture of the contemporary Germano-Romans is more advanced than all other cultures that exist or have existed on earth?”

European Cosmopolitanism as Romano-Germanic Chauvinism

The concept of “advanced” implies a belief in a “linear history”, along which “progress” is supposed to occur and culminate in some kind of end-point like “universal human civilization”. Yet according to Trubetzkoy, this entire ideology is nothing more than a product of a fusion of the experience of several Celtic and Germanic tribes and their interactions with Latin culture. In other words, the typical “European cosmopolitan” does not morally differ from the Prussian nationalist or the pan-German activist, in so far as the object of his chauvinism merely encompasses a larger human grouping, i.e. that of the Romano-Germans. The biggest difference is that unlike the narrow ethnic chauvinisms of parochial, chest-thumping European nationalists, this “Romano-Germanic chauvinism” insidiously cloaks itself in the banner of universality – the easier to draw in converts from non-European civilizations.

Instead, the idea of European civilization as the apogee of historical progress stems from the egocentricity that is common to all humanity, which can express itself in adulation of oneself, one family’s, one’s province, one’s country and in the European case especially – one’s entire civilization. Yet this linear view of history suffers from a fundamental logical contradiction:

We have already noted that acceptance of Romano-Germanic culture as the most perfect of all historical cultures is rooted in the psychology of egocentricity. In Europe the notion of the absolute superiority of European civilization is viewed as a fundamental principle which has been established more or less scientifically. But the scientific nature of the proof is illusory, since the understanding of evolution present in European ethnology, anthropology, and the history of culture is itself permeated with egocentricity. Concepts such as the “evolutionary scale” and “stages of development” are all thoroughly egocentric…

Even if we acknowledge that this conception of the relationship between reality and evolution is correct, we still will not be able to reconstruct the evolutionary process. To ascertain which evolutionary phase is represented by any given culture, we need to know where both ends of the straight line of world progress are located. Only then would it be possible to measure the distance separating a given culture from both ends of the scale and to determine its place in the evolutionary scheme. But we cannot locate those beginning and end points without first reconstructing the evolutionary scheme. The result is a vicious circle: to reconstruct the evolutionary scheme, we must know its beginning and end points, and to ascertain its beginning and end points, we must reconstruct the evolutionary scheme. The only way out of it is to discover in some suprascientific, irrational way that some particular culture is the beginning or end point of evolution.

Trubetzkoy then refutes a few other common arguments given as evidence of Europe’s superiority over all the other cultures of the Earth.

Why Europe is not the End of History

1) The Argument from Self-Evidence. This is a simple logical fallacy – what is self-evident to you, may not be self-evident to me. There are many examples of “savages” (yes, Trubetzkoy puts apostrophes round the world in a fascinatingly modern, PC-ish way) freely rejecting Western civilization and going back to their traditional ways of life.

2) The Argument from Military Superiority. Not only is this rather crude – after all, aren’t advanced Europeans supposed to eschew coercive violence? – but there are many historical examples in which ostensibly primitive nomadic societies destroyed great civilizations. All the civilizations of antiquity were ultimately extinguished by barbarians, including the Greco-Roman world that figures so prominently in European dreams of universal empire.

3) The Argument from Childishness / Bestiality of “Savages”. Since most Europeans depict “savages” as either childish or bestial, this implies that they are at a lower stage of cultural development. However, Trubetzkoy shows this argument goes both ways. Basically, when two radically different cultures meet, their acquired traits are so different as to be horrifying, or hilariously, mutually incomprehensible. The only qualities they are able to recognize in the Other are inherited traits, i.e. those that all mammals and all children possess.

This is why when two radically different cultures encounter each other, their perceptions of the Other will range from viewing them as children, deserving of patience and benevolence, to viewing them as animals, deserving of enslavement or extermination. (It is interesting to note that during American consultations with former Wehrmacht officers after the Second World War, when the US was planning for a third with the Soviet Union, the Germans frequently described Russian soldiers in terms including irresponsible, lazy, cruel, bestial, morose, instinctual, etc, i.e. undeveloped humans / animals with no civilization).

Trubetzkoy also pointed out that even in some highly-stratified societies, different classes also have great difficulties in understanding each other’s habits, and instead tend to simply their behavior to a mix of mammalian and childish characteristics from their intrinsic sense of egocentricity. This happens especially often in civilizations where there is a great cultural rift between social classes, e.g. in Tsarist Russia between the Europeanized, French-speaking aristocracy and the Russian peasantry.

4) The Argument from Intelligence. Again, this is an egocentric argument which offers only a narrow definition of “intelligence”, based on one’s suitability for living in an industrial civilization (hence qualities like logic, numeracy and literacy are emphasized). However, the “savage” doesn’t need any of this nonsense. As long as a hunter-gatherer possesses all the qualities that his tribe values – excellent hunting and observation skills surpassing those of the most able European hunters, remembrance of the tribe’s vast repository of folklore, from social customs to botanical knowledge, etc – then he is as fit for his purpose, surviving in a natural environment, as any European is adept at surviving in his industrial environment. And that is all that matters.

Trubetzkoy concludes that there can be no objective proof of the superiority of Europeans over any other world culture, including that of its myriad “savage” tribes, because they rely only on one arbitrary, egocentric criterion when comparing various cultures to one another: ” What resembles us is better and more perfect than anything that does not resemble us… Rather than a ladder we obtain a horizontal plane; rather than the principle of arranging peoples and cultures according to degrees of perfection, we obtain a new principle of the equal worth and qualitative incommensurability of the cultures and peoples on this earth”. As such, Trubetzkoy answers the first question in the negative.

The Impossibility of Assimilation without Annihilation

Second, he asks: “Is it possible for any nation to assimilate in toto a culture created by another nation?”

Here he draws on the work of the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, who argued that all cultures are defined by “the uninterrupted emergence of new cultural assets” – legal codes, political structures, scientific ideas, artistic styles, etc. These cultural assets accrue by way of two sources – invention, which is the product of the indigenous culture, and propagation, which is imitation of other cultures. When newer cultural assets clash with older, more established cultural assets, there ensues an ideological duel logique for supremacy.

This struggle goes more smoothly when the cultural asset is acquired through invention, because it is a product of the indigenous culture and can therefore more easily reach a synthesis with older cultural values; whereas propagation, stemming from a foreign culture, requires the forcible repression of contradictory elements of the indigenous culture. And even when propagation is successful, the older cultural elements still remain embedded deep below in the collective spirit of that civilization, making complete assimilation with the foreign culture a quixotic endeavor.

Not that assimilation is impossible – but that would require a full-scale “anthropological merger”, much like how the Prussians merged into Germany, the Hyksos into Egypt or the Manchus into China, or indeed how a scattering of Slavic, Finno-Ugric and Turkic tribes merged into what would become a united Russia. But for all practical purposes, the answer to the second question is again in the negative – full assimilation into a foreign culture is impossible for a nation without its degradation into mere “ethnographic material”, i.e. loss of all prior forms of cultural identity.

Westernization is a Sisyphean Endeavor

Trubetzkoy’s third question is: “Is the assimilation of European culture good or bad?” He begins by pointing out that though the non-assimilated Europeanized nation (or what Samuel Huntington calls a “torn” country – prime examples include Russia, Japan and Turkey) will have a higher number of cultural assets and hence a higher number of potential cultural inventions than the typical Romano-Germanic nation, these potentialities will never be realized since most will perish in the conflict with older, indigenous values.

Most inventions perish in mutual conflict with or in clashes with the older cultural assets they oppose; and the greater the number of potential inventions, the longer and more bitter will be the struggle for recognition (Tarde’s duel logique). It turns out that the cultural work of a Europeanized nation is carried out in conditions far less favorable than in those found in a native Romano-Germanic nation. The former must grope about in various directions, spending its energies on efforts to coordinate elements from two diverse cultures, efforts that for the most part lead to nothing; it must seek out homologous elements in the store of assets from two cultures, while a native Romano-Germanic nation moves along a well-worn path, looking neither to the right nor left and concentrating its efforts on the coordination of elements from a single culture – homogeneous elements bearing the familiar stamp of its own national character.

This results in a very limited cultural output due to contradictions between indigenous and Western influences. Furthermore, not only is Westernization “extremely difficult and hemmed in by obstacles”, but is also a “thankless undertaking”, since all indigenous inventions, as well as most mixtures of Romano-Germanic and indigenous traditions, will be rejected by Europe because of their taint-by-association with non-European values.

One consequence of this is that a Westernizing nation “borrows its evaluation of culture from the Romano-Germans”. Cultural imports will always exceed cultural exports, creating a dependency relationship. And these cultural imports must always be implemented, regardless of how jarring or unwholesome is the resultant clash with indigenous traditions – “it must accept without protest everything that genuine Romano-Germans create and consider valuable, even if it conflicts with its national psychology and is poorly understood”. (This basically defines Russia’s unsuccessful attempts to create a Western free-market economy in the early 1990′s, which was carried out by ideologues and hijacked by insiders).

This has several very deleterious consequences. First, national unity degrades and there arise intense class conflicts and genealogical struggles in the Westernizing nations because of the big differences between various social groups in their degree of Westernization – “social, material and professional differences are much greater in Europeanized nations than in Romano-Germanic nations precisely because ethnographic and cultural distinctions have been added to them”. (Again, one could cite as an example the culturally ultra-stratified Tsarist class system).

The destruction of national unity and belief in oneself leads to a national inferiority complex – because the standard of comparison is with the West, and because the Europeanized nation is in a constant state of cultural backwardness, this results in low levels of social morale and lack of patriotism. The unfortunate nation is either dominated by, or is forced to take up a subordinate, dependent position relative to the Romano-Germanic nations – even though the latter aren’t really as good or talented as they present themselves:

Any nation that does not reject its “backwardness” quickly falls prey to some neighboring or distant Romano-Germanic nation, which then deprives this “backward member of the family of civilization nations” of its economic, and later its political, independence; it begins to exploit its prey shamelessly, bleeds it white, and transforms it into “ethnographic material”. But the nation that wishes to struggle against the law of eternal backwardness confronts an equally unhappy fate. To guard itself against threats from abroad, a “backward” Europeanized nation must maintain parity with the Romano-Germanic nations, at least in its military and industrial technology. But since… a Europeanized nation is unable to to innovate as rapidly in this area as native Romano-Germans, it must generally restrict itself to borrowing and imitating foreign inventions. Its backwardness continues to exist even in the area of technology. But in this case, despite certain chronic delays, the technical level is more or less uniform, and the difference from the Romano-Germanic consists rather in the lower intensity of industrial activity.

Not only do intense attempts to catch up with the West result in permanent, self-reinforcing backwardness (because their powers of indigenous innovation are hemmed in by structural obstacles, hence their forced spiritual dependency on the West), but they are also looked down upon by Westerners – either a) for not Europeanizing far enough, or b) deceitfully repressing their “true nature” under a European veneer. As an example of the latter, George Kennan in his The Marquis de Custine and his Russia in 1839 (1971) quotes the 19th century French travel writer and famous “Russophobe”:

I don’t reproach the Russians for being what they are; what I blame them for is their desire to appear to be what we [Europeans] are… They are much less interested in being civilized then in making us believe them so… They would be quite content to be in effect more awful and barbaric than they actually are, if only others could thereby be made to believe them better and more civilized.

This simultaneous outreach towards the West, and the West’s rejection of it, evokes a tendency in the Europeanized nation to sporadically overcompensate by making leaps into the future in Sisyphean attempts to overtake the West, but this only leads to exhaustion and long periods of stagnation.

The Marquis de Custine and his Russia in 1839 (G. Kennan, 1971) quotes the19th century French travel
writer: “I don’t reproach the Russians for being what they are; what I blame them for is their desire to
appear to be what we [Europeans] are… They are much less interested in being civilized then in
making us believe them so… They would be quite content to be in effect more awful and barbaric than
they actually are, if only others could thereby be made to believe them better and more civilized.”

Europeanized nations, finding it impossible to keep pace with the Romano-Germans and so gradually falling behind, try to catch up from time to time by attempting long leaps. Such leaps distort the entire course of historical development. A nation must cover very quickly a distance that the Romano-Germans covered gradually and over a much longer period of time. It must skip several historical rungs and create overnight, ex abrupto, what arose in Romano-Germanic nations as a result of a “series of historical changes”. The consequences of such “leaping” evolution are terrible. Every leap is followed by a period of apparent (from the European standpoint) stagnation, when it is necessary to bring order to the culture, to coordinate the results achieved by a leap in a particular area with other elements of the culture. During this period of “stagnation”, the nation again falls even farther behind. The histories of Europeanized nations are always characterized by brief periods of apparent “progress”, alternating with more or less protracted periods of “stagnation”. In destroying the wholeness and the unbroken incrementalism of the historical process, such historical leaps also disrupt tradition, which is already fragile in a Europeanized nation.

Let us emphasize: unbroken tradition is a prerequisite for normal evolution. Leaps and jumps create a temporary illusion that the “common European level of civilization” has been achieved, but they cannot advance a nation in the true sense of the word. Leaping evolution wastes national energies, which are already overburdened owing to the very existence of Europeanization. Just as a person who, in trying to keep pace with a speedier companion, will become exhausted and collapse after resorting to long jumps to catch up, so a Europeanized nation will perish after choosing such an evolutionary path and squandering there its national energies. And all of this will happen while faith in oneself is lost, and without the sustaining sense of national unity which was destroyed long before by the fact of Europeanization.

Using Russia as an example, the red Bolsheviks – as well as their rabidly free-market, pro-Western Bolshevik descendants, the Russian liberals – are excellent illustrations of this entire phenomenon. Both tried their best to leap into the future of the West, which was perceived to be socialism in 1918, and free-market utopia in 1991 – yet both failed and were destined to fail because of the deep conflict between these Western values and indigenous Russian traditions. After a traumatic time of troubles, the contradictions were finally resolved in both cases: Stalin by returning Russia to its autarkic, authoritarian past-and-future within a socialist framework, and Putin by melding Tsarist and Soviet traditions with select borrowings from Western economic and political thinking. In both cases, the apostles of Westernization – the old Bolsheviks and the free-market Bolsheviks – were politically purged.

The Tragic Inevitability of Westernization

Yet although assimilation is impossible without a full anthropological merger, it is structurally impossible to refrain from trying to Westernize, in a tragic, Sisyphean manner. Either you slip into backwardness and come under Western colonial domination – or you acquire its military technology, industrial technics and the socio-political setup needed to maintain them – and thus paradoxically, you become even more “Western”, than what you tried so hard to prevent!

Whenever Europeans encounter a non-Romano-Germanic nation, they bring to it their goods and their guns. If the nation shows no resistance, the Europeans conquer it, making it a colony, and Europeanize it by force. If the nation considers resisting, then it must acquire guns and the latest European technology. To do this, it is necessary to have factories and plants and to master the European applied sciences. But factories are inconceivable without the European socio-political order, and the applied sciences are unthinkable without the pure sciences. Consequently, in order to resist Europeans, a nation must assimilate contemporary Romano-Germanic civilization in its entirety and succumb to Europeanization voluntarily. To resist or not to resist – in both instances, Europeanization appears unavoidable.

What is to be Done?

Trubetzkoy emphasizes that socialism is just the latest expression of egocentric European pretensions to universality, rather than the road to salvation from European spiritual tyranny. As it relies on “militant cosmopolitanism” for its propagation, global socialism is only possible in the context of “universal Europeanization”.

Once such a new world order is created, its champions will have to remain “armed to the teeth” to protect it – “The first order of business for the European socialist states would be to impose this system everywhere by fire and sword and then to exercise great vigilance to prevent apostasy”. The class system will not wither away; instead, a new stratification will appear based on professions, which will again be more pronounced among the Europeanized peoples than amongst the Romano-Germanic world.

This prediction of his seems to have been borne out by reality. The Soviet Union possessed a structurally militarized economy from the late 1930′s, and true to form, a new class system did indeed set in, especially during the era of stagnation (zastoi) from the 1960′s – in itself, yet another phenomenon he accurately predicted would follow in the ebbing of the revolutionary spirit. And ironically, the Germans – the modern progenitors of linear history from Hegel to Marx – made much better socialists than Russians. The German Democratic Republic was the richest and perhaps the least corrupt of all the nations in the socialist bloc, and even today many East Germans pine for its return.

Trubetzkoy in the end suggests careful borrowing of certain aspects of Western culture and the creation of a global bloc to combat European cultural imperialism as the solution to sufferings of the Rest under the domination of the West.

… One of the principal conditions for the inevitability of Europeanization is the egocentricity that permeated Romano-Germanic culture. One cannot expect that they will correct this fatal flaw themselves, but Europeanized non-Romano-Germanic peoples can purge European culture of egocentricity entirely during the process of assimilation.

This means that a) the intelligentsia of non-Romano-Germanic nations must realize, at an instinctual level, that Europe is no universal utopia, nor is it desirable to discard their own cultures in the service of a European chauvinism masquerading under the cloak of “world progress”, “end of history” and other lofty concepts, and b) if they do that, then Western imports “no longer have the detrimental effects discussed above and will actually enrich their national culture”.

Saying this is much easier than implementing it in practice, as Trubetzkoy himself points out. According to him, the elites of many non-European nations fell under the “hypnotism of Romano-Germanic egocentricity”, and while they originally planned only to acquire the most essential things (foremost, military-industrial technologies), with time they became seduced by the false gods of the West and succumbed to it (the преклонение перед западом, or “kneeling before the West”, that Soviet ideologues warned against).

For instance, though Peter the Great initially wanted to acquire only military and naval technologies from the “Germans” (AK: at the time, all Western Europeans were called “Germans” in Russia), he eventually got too carried away, even though “nonetheless, he realized that sooner or later Russia would acquire everything she needed from Europe and that she should then turn her back and develop her culture freely without trying to emulate the West”. But his vision was forsaken after his death, and the rest of the Tsarist age was taken up by the “demeaning aping of Europe”. He points out that Japan since the Meiji Restoration experienced a similar process of cultural submission to the West.

However, he is adamant that whatever the difficulties, the struggle must continue – “Compromises must be ruled out: If it’s to be war, then let it be war.”

Without the support of Europeanized peoples, the Romano-Germans will not be able to continue the spiritual enslavement of the whole world. Quite simply, upon realizing its mistake, the intelligentsia of Europeanized nations will not only stop helping the Romano-Germans, but it will try to thwart them, at the same time opening the eyes of other peoples to the true nature of the “benefits of civilization.

In this great and difficult work to liberate the world from spiritual slavery and from the hypnosis of the “benefits of civilization”, the intelligentsia of all the non-Romano-Germanic nations that have set out on the path to Europeanization or are planning to do so must act together in the spirit of full cooperation and agreement. They must never lose sight of the true problem and not be distracted by nationalism or by partial, local solutions such as Pan-Slavism and other “pan-isms”. One must always remember that setting up an opposition between the Slavs and the Teutons or the Turanians and the Aryans will not solve the problem. There is only one true opposition: the Romano-Germans and all the other peoples of the world – Europe and Mankind.

The entire world today has rejected insularity and backwardness. It is also increasingly rejecting the West – though Stalinist Russia was the initial spearhead of the reaction of the Rest, the anti-Western revolution is now more global more mature, more embedded, its clearest manifestation being in the rising economic, military and cultural power of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China). Nearly a century hence, and Trubetzkoy’s vision of a World Without the West is slowly, almost stealthily, coming into fruition.
(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Scott, JohnBehind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel (1941)
Category: history, Soviet Union, Stalin; Rating: 5/5

Fear and Fervor under Stalinist Industrialization

The Great Depression of the 1930’s, with its iconic images of well-dressed bourgeoisie in soup lines and gaunt figures with hopeless eyes from the Dust Bowl, challenged the prior American consensus that their system of liberal democracy and free markets was the pinnacle of social and economic organization. Upon graduating from a radical educational program at the University of Wisconsin, John Scott had few permanent job prospects. Coupled with the legacy of his family’s freethinking, non-conformist background, youthful wanderlust and socialist sympathies, he obtained a welder’s certificate at a General Electric plant at Schenectady and set out to discover Soviet civilization – Steffens’ wave of the future, Sloan’s ‘country with a plan’ and in his own pseudonym’s words, ‘the place where there is work to be done is now among the workers themselves’.

The book is a fascinating compendium of observations of Soviet proletarian life in the 1930’s from the point of view of an idealistic but objective American fellow traveler living and working in the model city of Magnitogorsk. He successfully bridged the polar Western views of the USSR of the times, which ranged from the Scylla of the right who claimed it produced nothing but ‘chaos, suffering and disorder’ to the Charybdis of the Communists who held it up as a panacea. His thoughts on this are well worth quoting in full, especially because of their resonance today:

In talking with people in France and America I was impressed by the interest in the Soviet Union and the widespread misinformation about Russia and all things Russian. Everyone I met was opinionated [aren't we all lol!]. The Communists and their sympathizers held Russia up as a panacea…Other people were steeped in Eugene Lyons’ stories and would not concede the possibility that Russia had produced anything during recent years except chaos, suffering and disorder. They dismissed the industrial and material successes of the Russians with an angry wave of the hand. Any economist or businessman should have been able to see that the tripling of pig-iron production within a decade was a serious achievement, and would necessarily have far-reaching effects on the balance of economic and therefore military power in Europe.

In this book review article, I’ll expound on some his observations and ideas, and prior assumptions and elisions, about industrialization, daily life and politics under Stalinism.

Following the economic and humanitarian disaster of ‘war communism’ during the early Civil War, the New Economic Policy was pursued in the mid 1920’s in which the state controlled the commanding heights of the economy while allowing private initiative in agriculture, light manufacturing and services below. Towards the end of the decade, however, Stalin assumed more power and used it to push the idea of ‘socialism in one country’ – the suppression of consumerism in favor of massive investments into heavy industry. Russia was ‘fifty to one hundred years behind the advanced countries’, and could either make good this gap in ten years or get crushed, as the ‘backward are always beaten’. Opponents were purged and Stalin embarked on state-backed defensive modernization (in the footsteps of Ivan IV, Peter the Great and late Tsarism); Magnitogorsk, where the iron ore deposits are so rich they distort the Earth’s magnetic field, was to be a poster child of a broader movement to build up a strategically invulnerable military-industrial complex powered by indigenous resources.

Collectivization and the lure of higher wages drew the labor power needed to build the foundations of the industrial base, while primary exports (grains, oil, lumber, etc) paid for the capital and foreign specialists. The workforce was further augmented by the economic emancipation of women (e.g. as crane operators, where dexterity had a premium over physical strength), engagement of ethnic groups (bringing Central Asians into the modern world and even attracting immigrants from Pilsudski’s Poland) and tight controls over energetic and technically skilled, but potentially politically unreliable elements like the ex-Tsarist “prisoner-specialists” and kulaks. Despite the hunger – in the early 1930’s food was rationed due to the collectivization famines, and was for the most part nutritionally and in caloric terms inadequate), persistent cold (up to -40 degrees Celsius in winter), sub-par accommodation and the poor skills of peasants suddenly turned workers (which meant that machines were used inefficiently and in ways that depreciated them rapidly), the impressive industrial plans were mostly achieved.

This was done at a high human cost – safety measures were minimal and bred a fatalist attitude, while at a more general level society suffered from consumer scarcity amidst (relative) producer plenty. The above considerations, as well as the recovery of agriculture in the wake of mechanization and electrification, eliminated shortages of basics (e.g. food stopped being rationed by the mid 1930’s) and labor rights were more honored. If anything, however, the cult of meeting and exceeding the plan metastasized, as illustrated by the emergence of the Stakhanovite movement. With technology diffusion complete and the arrival of full-scale totalitarianism by 1937, foreign specialists left and production suffered as much of the top management was purged (ironically, the NKVD turned out to be some of the best wreckers). The hysteria subsided after 1938, as the country entered a phase of further industrial development and structural militarization in response to the emergent Nazi threat.

From the Dickensian smokestacks of early industrial Britain to the smog-clogged Chinese metropolises of today, heavy industrialization was rarely benevolent to its founders. Although the sheer pace at which the Soviet Union industrialized was up till then unprecedented (e.g. pig-iron output trebled during the first two 5 Year Plans) and imposed heavy human costs, it was somewhat mitigated by the similarly unprecedented attention the regime paid to social matters. A trinity of basic sanitation, obstetrics and vaccination vastly reduced infant and epidemiological mortality in the USSR, the two prior leading causes of death (e.g. typhus was eliminated). Apartments began sprouting amidst the mud huts and wooden houses in Magnitogorsk by the mid 1930’s. Efforts were made to bring bourgeois culture like theater and ballet to the proletariatt. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that the immediate impact on salubrity should not be overestimated – even in the late 1930’s the infant mortality rate remained close to 200 / 1000 (for comparison, the equivalent rate for the US at the time was 60 / 1000), while even by Scott’s own estimates some 75% of Magnitogorsk’s population still lived in primitive izbas or zemlyankas.

Education was subsidized and highly encouraged, focused on Marxist-Leninist ideology (to promote political orthodoxy) and on the hard sciences (to build a strong, technically advanced state). Dogma was more prevalent in the simpler technical schools, where ‘every question had a perfectly defined answer’, since that is what it said in ‘the book’, foreshadowing Milan Kundera’s observation in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that totalitarian kitsch ‘gives all answers in advance’ and pre-empts any questions. Not surprisingly, the older dogmas of religion were ridiculed (but not actively persecuted, according to Scott). Nonetheless, these efforts paid off handsomely, giving the USSR a trained workforce to operate the new machines and armaments (even today, Russia has the OECD’s highest level of tertiary educational attainment for 55-64 year olds). However, as Scott mentions, many of the most capable elements of the ancien régime emigrated and were lost to the Soviet Union, while he fully ignores – as did the Soviet authorities – some impressive achievements in literacy and school enrolment during late Tsarism, including a literacy rate of 41% by 1913 and near universal primary enrollment.

The darkest aspect of life was the activities of the NKVD, the secret police. From 1937, denunciations (made out of spite or to cover one’s mistakes) began to be acted upon for increasingly trivial reasons, which were conflated to sabotage or anti-revolutionary activities – before, these minor offences had typically resulted in fines or demotions. There were very few acquittals and only a simulation of the rule of law, but few executions, so the wisest choice was confession. Scott attributes the purges to 1) concern about sabotage on the part of embittered elements of Tsarism, e.g. kulaks and White army officers, 2) spy-mania brought forth by suspicion of the fascist and overpopulated states of Germany, Italy and Japan, which had banded together in the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, 3) bad memories of Allied intervention during the Civil War, 4) the Bolshevik tradition of not tolerating dissent after a decision was reached and 5) Russia’s long secret police tradition (stretching to the Tsarist Okhrana and even Ivan the Terrible’s oprichniki). Although he does not whitewash Soviet crimes, he does seek to rationalize collective punishment – perhaps somewhat implausible, as a means of helping technicians and workers ‘appreciate and correctly evaluate human life’.

Although Stalinist industrialization was marred by fecklessness – although with time the workers did get more proficient, and from 1937 a pall of fear hung over Magnitogorsk’s managers, prisoner-specialists and politicians, there was a genuine collective spirit both in industry and on the farms. The USSR allowed a limited workers’ democracy in the factories, whose members could suggest productivity improvements and demand better labor conditions – although direct criticism of the Party or its paramount leaders remained anathema. Even many prisoner-specialists supported the Soviet power out of patriotic pride for what they were doing to modernize Russia, even if they should suffer for it personally. The system was meritocratic, with subsidized education, higher pay for educated workers and bonuses and social status for Stakhanovites. Stalin himself was regarded as a kind of beneficent Tsar, father of the nation, and a competent ‘captain of state’ like the propaganda posters portrayed him.

Scott is firmly pro-Soviet and swallows whole the Bolshevik propaganda about Tsarist Russia as a land of, in Trotsky’s phrase, ‘icons and cockroaches’ – an incomplete judgment which ignores that by 1913 Russia had the vast majority of children acquiring some primary education and Europe’s fastest industrial growth. Although glossing over the nastier aspects of Soviet power, to his credit Scott is unwilling to deny them altogether (unlike, say, Ilya Ehrenburg). And Westerners too frequently forget that the regime enjoyed genuine popular support and that Stalinist industrialization was fuelled not only by fear, but by immense enthusiasm and fervor too.

Despite his experiences and occasional doubts, Scott remained a true believer in the Soviet project, saying that he shared a belief with its people that “it was worthwhile to shed blood, sweat, and tears” to lay “the foundations for a new society farther along the road of human progress than anything in the West; a society which would guarantee its people not only personal freedom but absolute economic security.”

Finally, the decision to build a military-industrial colossus in the Urals was a strategic masterstroke – “The Russian people shed blood, sweat, and tears to create something else, a modern industrial base outside the reach of an invader – Stalin’s Ural Stronghold – and a modern mechanized army”. Not only did its arms’ factories play a vital role in the Great Patriotic War, the physical infrastructure built up there enabled the smooth redeployment of evacuated factories from the west. Stalin’s Ural stronghold ensured that in most key weapons system, the Soviet Union would outproduce Germany by several factors and crush its blood-thirsty millennial dreams. To this day, Victory in that most total and terrible of wars remains Stalin’s primary legacy in the eyes of most Russians, that despotic Messiah who led and ruled them like the God of the Old Testament.

As a cynical former Economist journalist, Gideon Lichfeld, put it: “The truth is like a quantum superposition state: it is not one version or the other, but a strange combination of all them”. Now I don’t usually agree with Economist journos on Russia, but here I’ll make a big divergence. Though John Scott’s Behind the Urals undeniably suffers from a certain, pro-socialist bias, and sometimes engages in a near-absurd defense of Stalin’s purges, I nonetheless highly recommend it as a primary source on Stalinist Russia. The USSR in the 1930′s may not have been a utopia or anything remotely close, but neither was it the unadulterated Hell of deportations, famines and gulags painted by today’s Cold Warriors and their fellow travelers.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Stalin was the “most successful Soviet leader”.

Thus proclaims Filippov’s controversial textbook A New History of Russia 1945-2006 – a symbol of the Putin-inspired drive to rehabilitate Stalinism and steep the next generation of Russian schoolchildren in the glories of sovereign democracy. Right?

Unfortunately, there’s just a few problems with this kitschy narrative of neo-Soviet historiographic revanchism, as a cursory scan of the textbook reveals.

This phrase (along with Stalin as “effective manager”) is typically quoted so out of context by liberal critics of the Kremlin as to make their Soviet-era ideological counterparts proud. The full quotation goes thus: “On THE ONE SIDE, [Stalin] IS REGARDED as the most successful Soviet leader”…ie, by the 47% of Russians with a positive view of Stalin. It is immediately preceded by the qualifier that views on Stalin’s historical role are contradictory – a point that is emphatically made at the very start of the chapter in question. Furthermore, the next (and last) paragraph concludes with a list of Stalin’s sins – “ruthless exploitation of the population”, “large scale repressions” and the destruction of “whole classes such as landed peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie, the priesthood and the old intelligentsia”.

Since dark episodes like collectivization, political repressions and the Gulag are all covered covered in the textbook, its main sin is one of presentation rather than omission – the aim being to “rationalize” Stalinism within the larger narrative of Russia’s history and leave the final interpretation to the reader, instead of issuing blanket condemnation. As Filippov himself said in response to the ruckus over the textbook, “I was always annoyed by the belabored moralizing foisted on us in Soviet textbooks, and I wanted to avoid it…it seems I may have tried too hard”. And it’s not hard to see why; many people are as uncomfortable with the whole idea of “balance” when it comes to Stalin, as they are with, say, lauding Hitler for building Autobahns and overturning the “humiliating” Treaty of Versailles.

Yet speaking of whom, Hitler is probably unique amongst dictators in that he is near universally reviled after his death. He is hated by most Jews, Russians, Poles, British, Americans, and even the Germans he led to ruin. Furthermore, were it not for the crash industrialization (particularly of the Urals region) and social mobilization of the 1930′s forced through by Stalin, the USSR may well have lost the Great Patriotic War. This would have resulted in the partial extermination, Siberian exile and helotization of the Slavic and Jewish populations of eastern Europe, as envisaged under Generalplan Ost, Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme for conquering Lebensraum in the East. This explains why many Russians hold such conflicted and contradictory views on Stalin, the despotic Messiah who led and ruled them like the God of the Old Testament.

Every country needs a national myth. The settling of the West remains one of the staples of the US national myth – Andrew Jackson, ethnic cleanser of Indian-Americans, adorns the 20-dollar bill. The Bill of Rights overshadows the inconvenient truth that its inventors did not extend it to their slaves. After the melting of the Soviet ideological glacier, the Visegrad nations of east-central Europe, Ukraine and the Baltics got busy writing their own national myths. These myths were based on victimization under Russian occupation, which necessitated airbrushing prominent indigenous Communist collaborators and anti-Semitism out of their paintings of the past. Some would say this this is an unwholesome and ahistorical approach; others would note it is the surest way to imagine communities into reality.

Not surprisingly, for better or worse, a glorified version of the Great Patriotic War is fast becoming Russia’s national myth. It strengthens the Russian national identity, cleanses away the other manifold sins of Stalin’s regime and probably explains his enduring popularity amongst Russians, who cannot accept the one-sided portrayal (or smearing?) of him as a murderous tyrant propagated by meddlesome foreigners and unpatriotic liberals.

It would be great if history were to be left to the historians…but that will only ever happen in the fantasy world. Back on planet Earth, it is just another political grenade kicked around by all sides. How many critical journalists have actually read the controversial chapter in question, let alone the textbook itself, before commenting on it? Why do so many of them focus on sound bytes like Stalin as “effective manager” or “most successful leader”, with blatant disregard for context? Why is the textbook’s very limited print run and lack of official endorsement rarely mentioned and never emphasized?

Perhaps these journalists would be well served to reflect on these questions before launching on their next tirade about the incipient rehabilitation of Stalinism under Medvedev’s historical commission.

Or perhaps not. Ultimately, both viewpoints are correct, derived as they are from cardinally different but internally consistent worldviews. Filippov is both a neo-Soviet propagandist and the voice of the Russian people. It all depends through which prism you view him, and Stalin, and Russia. Which belief you want to believe in.

PS. You can read the full translation of the controversial chapter in question (Debates about Stalin’s Role in History) from Alexander Filippov’s history textbook A New History of Russia 1945-2006 here.

This was originally published at Johnson’s Russia List.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.