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Topic: Stalin's Legacy  (Read 14864 times)
Reply #60
« on: November 15, 2010, 11:26:20 AM »
Elisabeth Offline
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Why is Stalin still such a mystery to professional historians? It's true, there's a great debate currently raging among historians about Stalin's motivations for assuming dictatorship. What were the external factors and what were the internal ones? Far from viewing Stalin monolithically as some kind of monster psychopath, most historians seem still to be wrestling with the implications of his politics and personality.  I just finished reading a review of Soviet expert Oleg Khlevniuk's latest book, Master of the House: Stalin and His Inner Circle , The Yale‐Hoover Series on Stalin, Stalinism, and the Cold War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). The reviewer, James Harris, makes the following interesting points about Khlevniuk's portrayal of Stalin's dictatorship:

"While the analysis excels in its explanation of how power came to be concentrated in Stalin's hands, it is on shakier ground when it explains why. Khlevniuk seems simply to assume that Stalin aspired to an unchallenged personal dictatorship. Of course, a study of Stalin's relations with his inner circle must explain the shift from the friendly collegiality of the late 1920s to the sycophancy that characterized the inner circle's relations with Stalin in the second half of the 1930s. On the surface of it, Khlevniuk has an open‐and‐shut case: Stalin achieved an unchallenged personal dictatorship by the late 1930s because that was his plan. Generally, what Stalin wanted, Stalin got. And yet, 'revisionists' such as Arch Getty and Gabor Rittersporn have developed and elaborated an alternative explanation across the last two decades. They have argued that Stalin and the inner circle were increasingly worried in the 1930s by evidence of hostility and resistance to their leadership at home and of the threat of invasion from abroad. Their fear came to infect relations even within the highest echelons of power. In their view, Stalin did not aspire to a personalistic dictatorship; it emerged as the relations of trust broke down, even at the highest level. Khlevniuk observes these fears, but they are hardly consequential in his analysis" (Journal of Modern History, September 2010, v. 82, no. 3, p. 766).
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Reply #61
« on: November 15, 2010, 11:43:47 AM »
Constantinople
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I think Stalin assumed control because he was more ruthless and ambitious than any of the other main condtenders and he knew how to play one person off against another.
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Reply #62
« on: November 15, 2010, 11:55:56 AM »
Elisabeth Offline
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I think Stalin assumed control because he was more ruthless and ambitious than any of the other main condtenders and he knew how to play one person off against another.

That's what I would think, too, and that's basic Soviet History/Politics and Government 1917-1936. But, you must admit, it doesn't really begin to explain everything or even anything very satisfactorily, does it? I mean, was Stalin this crazy psychopath (like Ivan IV, who took time out from governing Muscovy to have masses said for his victims, or Ted Bundy, who flunked out of law school during the height of his killing spree) or was he a rational, pragmatic ruler? This is an important question, especially since so many people here seem set on depicting Stalin as a psychopathic monster, whereas much of the current historiography indicates that he was not psychopathic at all, not compulsive but actually possibly (heaven forbid!) quite rational, pragmatic, and fully in charge (and therefore responsible) for what he was doing, even or especially during collectivization and the Great Terror.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2010, 11:59:38 AM by Elisabeth » Logged

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Reply #63
« on: November 15, 2010, 02:59:28 PM »
Petr Offline
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Stalin was clearly paranoid. But as Kissinger said about Nixon, "Even paranoids have enemies." There has been an interesting parallel drawn between Hitler's background (abusive father doting mother) and Stalin's background. So, there might be an aberrant psychological basis for his behavior at least in classical psychiatric terms. Frankly, I find it difficult not to classify him as a sociopath (mind you sociopaths can act quite rationally). I believe his ability to disassociate himself from the human cost of his actions (his signature is on countless lists of people to be shot as well as the order to murder the poor victims of the Katyn massacre among many others) with no evidence of any remorse (unlike the well known stories of some of the Tsars who punished themselves physically and suffered from feelings of guilt) is, in my view, not "normal" by any definition of the term.

Of course, he could always justify his actions in Marxist terms but the random nature of the slaughter belied any application of "scientific Marxism". As he eliminated each class of threats (first Trotsky and then the "left", the "right", the Army, old party cadres, Kulaks, members of the bourgeoisie and upper classes, critics and all other possible threats to his leadership position or popularity among the masses (whether real or perceived, actual or potential), and all relatives of all the foregoing), with each step in the consolidation of his power his view of himself as the indispensable leader solidified and became inflated.  Being an atheist, however, he could not claim that he was doing "God's will".  Instead, his self-delusion was of a more practical nature. I think towards the end he truly began to believe his "press clippings". I also think he, like Hitler, suffered from feelings of inadequacy and inferiority which gave rise to an element of revenge (he did not have the oratorical skills and flashy intelligence that the early Bolsheviks had plus he had terrible complexion which made him sensitive about his appearance, had a squeaky voice and had difficulty speaking in public), although he had an abundance of street smarts and was a good judge of people, in particular their weaknesses.             
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Reply #64
« on: November 15, 2010, 03:02:45 PM »
TimM Offline
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Quote
In a nutshell. Stalin was the most evil montrous mass murderer in the history of planet earth. He caused untold misery, starvation and suffering to tens of millions of his own people. This is the only legacy of Stalin.. The man was a shame and a disgrace to Russia. Anyone trying to glorify him should have their head read

I couldn't have said it better myself.  As for the misguided fools who glorify this monster, they belong in the same category as those the glorify Hitler, namely the nearest sanitarium.
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Reply #65
« on: November 15, 2010, 04:42:29 PM »
Elisabeth Offline
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Stalin was clearly paranoid. But as Kissinger said about Nixon, "Even paranoids have enemies." There has been an interesting parallel drawn between Hitler's background (abusive father doting mother) and Stalin's background. So, there might be an aberrant psychological basis for his behavior at least in classical psychiatric terms. Frankly, I find it difficult not to classify him as a sociopath (mind you sociopaths can act quite rationally). I believe his ability to disassociate himself from the human cost of his actions (his signature is on countless lists of people to be shot as well as the order to murder the poor victims of the Katyn massacre among many others) with no evidence of any remorse (unlike the well known stories of some of the Tsars who punished themselves physically and suffered from feelings of guilt) is, in my view, not "normal" by any definition of the term.

Of course, he could always justify his actions in Marxist terms but the random nature of the slaughter belied any application of "scientific Marxism". As he eliminated each class of threats (first Trotsky and then the "left", the "right", the Army, old party cadres, Kulaks, members of the bourgeoisie and upper classes, critics and all other possible threats to his leadership position or popularity among the masses (whether real or perceived, actual or potential), and all relatives of all the foregoing), with each step in the consolidation of his power his view of himself as the indispensable leader solidified and became inflated.  Being an atheist, however, he could not claim that he was doing "God's will".  Instead, his self-delusion was of a more practical nature. I think towards the end he truly began to believe his "press clippings". I also think he, like Hitler, suffered from feelings of inadequacy and inferiority which gave rise to an element of revenge (he did not have the oratorical skills and flashy intelligence that the early Bolsheviks had plus he had terrible complexion which made him sensitive about his appearance, had a squeaky voice and had difficulty speaking in public), although he had an abundance of street smarts and was a good judge of people, in particular their weaknesses.

I think you have summarized Stalin's personality quite well, Petr. I agree that he was probably a sociopath -- I actually haven't seen any literature arguing against such a thesis. Sociopaths are not the same as psychopaths, although they are often confused in popular culture. Sociopaths can be highly organized, able, even brilliant people who succeed at most everything they do -- they just lack any kind of soul or conscience. They are not by any definition "insane," not even necessarily compulsive or obsessive, unlike psychopaths. Most sociopaths who have been studied by psychiatrists belong to the criminal class, but it's estimated that a large percentage of them never cross the path of the criminal justice system because they're far too clever and successful. So it goes without saying that sociopaths who would belong in Stalin's league of intelligence and ability have not generally been studied in any real depth, except in the historical literature, and that's problematic, of course, because with any historical figure the biographical material is all secondhand (and even his contemporaries had different ideas about what made Stalin tick).

P.S. The comparison, however oblique, to Nixon is very appropriate, in my opinion, because I have often wondered how someone with Nixon's tremendous gifts but paranoid personality would have fared as a Soviet leader. I suspect he would have been a lot like Lenin and Stalin, almost or equally as vengeful towards his political opposition as they were, and like them, justifying any kind of political violence with recourse to Marxist ideology. Like the Bolsheviks, Nixon was always a master of double think (to borrow an Orwellian term).

« Last Edit: November 15, 2010, 04:54:41 PM by Elisabeth » Logged

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Reply #66
« on: November 16, 2010, 07:37:17 AM »
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How anyone can compare Nixon to Stalin is beyond me. Its like comparing Mother Theresa to Hitler. ( Well not quite).  Nixon was a saint compared to Stalin.  So he was a liiar, so what ? All politicians are liars and most are paranoid.   
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Reply #67
« on: November 16, 2010, 08:02:59 AM »
Elisabeth Offline
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How anyone can compare Nixon to Stalin is beyond me. Its like comparing Mother Theresa to Hitler. ( Well not quite).  Nixon was a saint compared to Stalin.  So he was a liiar, so what ? All politicians are liars and most are paranoid.

Pavlov, there's paranoia and then there's PARANOIA. Nixon's paranoia was pathological - he made even Othello look trusting by comparison. When you think of what a mockery Nixon made of the American government, our constitution, our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights -- and imagine this same personality in a political system and culture with virtually no institutional checks and balances to keep him on the straight and narrow -- well, I think you can envision the outcome. It would have been disastrous. Not nearly as disastrous as Stalin (I suspect) but probably just as bad as Lenin, which, won't you agree, was bad enough? Face it, Nixon had his own "hit list" of enemies, his designated targets for the FBI, CIA, and IRS -- not only ranking Democratic opponents but also (!!) rock stars like John Lennon. Nixon was basically a basket case. Granted, a brilliant basket case, but nevertheless a basket case. I guarantee it, he would have run amok as a leader of the USSR.

The whole point about the Soviet system as established by Lenin and his Bolshevik cohorts was that its only checks and balances on power were internal and personal to the ruling party, they were not formally institutionalized and made the underlying, integral law of the land. In other words, the government was above the law, such that the law even existed. So Lenin founded a political system, ironically enough, that was designed to bring out the very worst in people and particularly in political leaders. It heightened and exaggerated every existing character flaw in its politicians and probably even brought to the surface personal pathologies that might otherwise have remained latent in a democratic political culture with strong institutional controls.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2010, 08:20:27 AM by Elisabeth » Logged

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Reply #68
« on: November 16, 2010, 08:06:19 AM »
Constantinople
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Nixon was not quite Stalin but he didnt have unlimited power to prove that he could be.  He had no problem lying and no problem breaking several laws.  Like Stalin, he thought he was above the law.  
     As for Stalin, even in his youth he was prepared to go far past what other Bolsheviks and Mensheviks would.  There was an extremely brutal robbery he was involved in.  Stalin knew no boundaries but also knew he could not take on Lenin and win so he bided his tiime and then pounced.  As for detailed analyses of Stalin, there are several in depth biographies of him.  I think that to make him out to be better than we see him is to try and gild feces.   Stalin knew how to gain power in Russia and to hold onto it.  He didnt understand any of the major world leaders and he created a Russia that so much less than it could have been in every aspect from science to architecture to the arts and standard of living for all but the poorest vitizens.
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Reply #69
« on: November 16, 2010, 08:42:05 AM »
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How anyone can compare Nixon to Stalin is beyond me. Its like comparing Mother Theresa to Hitler. ( Well not quite).  Nixon was a saint compared to Stalin.  So he was a liiar, so what ? All politicians are liars and most are paranoid. 

I was not making a comparison (which of course is ludicrous) only repeating an observation which is somewhat obvious, i.e., that paranoids do have enemies. Constantinople was of course correct, making Stalin out to be anything but evil is to make a mockery of the concept. But the evil didn't stop with Stalin. As Tim so aptly puts it it was "Lenin and his thugs".  Stalin's entire entourage each had blood up to their elbows. Even jolly fat Nikita when he was party secretary in the Ukraine (and even after his anti-Stalin speech his anticlerical campaign) was responsible for  untold misery (I have always thought that parts of his autobiography were more than just mere self-justification but was a recognition of his sins as he was facing his maker). Given the opportunity anyone of Stalin's henchmen would have knocked him off (as long as they thought they could get away with it).  Even his right hand toady Molotov (I can't believe he didn't resent Stalin sending his wife to the Camps).  There are several recently published books that examine his entourage cf, "Stalin and his Hangmen" and all of them were opportunists with not a shred of morality among them. Nero's court couldn't hold a candle to the cast of characters that surrounded Stalin.  It was as if the Revolution had permitted all the vileness and evil to bubble up from the depths. An interesting question, is this evil always resident in the human soul and given the right conditions will manifest itself or was it peculiar to Russia (my own view is the former (viz., Nazi Germany) and not the latter but I have a rather pessimistic view of mankind). 
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Reply #70
« on: November 16, 2010, 09:08:25 AM »
Petr Offline
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The whole point about the Soviet system as established by Lenin and his Bolshevik cohorts was that its only checks and balances on power were internal and personal to the ruling party, they were not formally institutionalized and made the underlying, integral law of the land.

Elizabeth you are correct in the broader context but of course, in a real sense the party and its "line" was the law of the land. There was an institutionalised system within the party resident in the party's "Control Commission" which was theoretically at least supposed to act as a check and balance.  It was Stalin's gaining control of this body (by being party secretary he gained the power of appointment) that facilitated his rise to power. Also there was the ideological party requirement of "self-criticism" (which became a ritualized meaningless exercise and the justification for purges, but in theory was supposed to ensure consistency with the party line). Looked at in its totality the party structure is a fascinating study in what happens when you have centralized power which is institutionalized with layers of bureaucracy. That Stalin was able to control this huge machine (remember it was not just the party but there was also a parallel government structure) with the degree of personal control he was able to exert is in a perverse way remarkable.  In that sense he was the ultimate apparatchik.   
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Reply #71
« on: November 16, 2010, 02:40:57 PM »
TimM Offline
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Of course, the big difference between Stalin and Nixon is that Nixon, corrupt as he was, he was stil answerable to the people.  He could be voted out.

Stalin, on the other hand, could not.  The only way you got rid of guys like him was either they stayed until they died, as Stalin did, or you rise up and overthrow them, like the people of Romania did to Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in 1989.
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Reply #72
« on: November 16, 2010, 04:05:55 PM »
Elisabeth Offline
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The whole point about the Soviet system as established by Lenin and his Bolshevik cohorts was that its only checks and balances on power were internal and personal to the ruling party, they were not formally institutionalized and made the underlying, integral law of the land.

Elizabeth you are correct in the broader context but of course, in a real sense the party and its "line" was the law of the land. There was an institutionalised system within the party resident in the party's "Control Commission" which was theoretically at least supposed to act as a check and balance.  It was Stalin's gaining control of this body (by being party secretary he gained the power of appointment) that facilitated his rise to power. Also there was the ideological party requirement of "self-criticism" (which became a ritualized meaningless exercise and the justification for purges, but in theory was supposed to ensure consistency with the party line). Looked at in its totality the party structure is a fascinating study in what happens when you have centralized power which is institutionalized with layers of bureaucracy. That Stalin was able to control this huge machine (remember it was not just the party but there was also a parallel government structure) with the degree of personal control he was able to exert is in a perverse way remarkable.  In that sense he was the ultimate apparatchik.

Personally I think apparatchiks like Stalin are highly underestimated. But you are perfectly right, Petr, I'm not actually arguing with your main points. All I am saying is that what few institutional controls existed in Lenin's new Soviet empire existed solely within the framework of the Communist party, and not within the framework of the larger nation itself. There was no law higher than the party and indeed the party's foremost leaders -- beginning with Lenin -- basically acted as if they were above the law. So obviously anyone who could gain control of the party per se -- especially its bureaucracy, as Stalin did quite ably and even brilliantly throughout the 1920s (more proof that he wasn't a psychopath but very functional) -- gained control of the entire government and indeed the entire nation. This was probably the major, fatal flaw in the Soviet political system, when viewed from the standpoint of Western democracies. Because it led not only to dictatorship (because to some degree Lenin was already a dictator before Stalin) but also to totalitarianism, for lack of a better term (actually, despite the current controversy amongst historians about this term, I can't think of a better one. The lucky historian who dreams up the next political catch-phrase to describe the SU will undoubtedly be the cynosure of the entire Slavic and East European Studies academic community.)

But doncha think sometimes that all these professional experts on the good old USSR are a tad too particular, too specialized, in their definitions of political systems? I mean, what exactly was the Soviet Union compared to the United States? What was Hitler's Germany? So what if the definitions of "totalitarianism" as outlined by Hannah Arendt and what's his name I can never spell it properly, Zbigniew Brzezinski, don't quite fit. It's probably still the closest fit we're ever going to get to the reality of these dictatorships. I mean, seriously, who's perfect? Was Dostoevsky perfect? Was Tolstoy? What the hell do these people want in terms of academic rigor -- frankly their standards seem over the top and at times even unreasonable to me.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2010, 04:33:04 PM by Elisabeth » Logged

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Reply #73
« on: November 16, 2010, 10:13:28 PM »
TimM Offline
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The USSR was a criminal state.  What was legal was whatever the thugs in charge, like Stalin, wanted to do.  He could slaughter millions and never see a day in jail because he WAS the law.
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Reply #74
« on: November 17, 2010, 08:16:59 AM »
Constantinople
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I think saying that Stalin was far worse than Nero means that  you havent really studied the reign of Nero.  He managed in 14 years to almost bankrupt the Roman Empire and was far more corrupt than Stalin.  However, Nero did not have the machinery to kill as many people as Stalin did.
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