Photo of a calendar by RFE/RL .
Article by: Paul A. Goble
That is because the ways they chose to attack Stalin had the effect of separating the dictator from the horrific reality he created and making him into a mythical figure that his epigones like Putin could easily exploit by counting on the Russian people to be moved more by myth than facts.
The attacks on Stalin during Perestroika were undertaken to legitimize the new regime and at least initially to suggest that there really was a chance for “’socialism with a human face,’” Inozemtsev continues. That meant that the attacks on the past brought together both anti-Soviet and “completely pro-socialist” actors.
That meant, he argues, that “the condemnation of Stalin remained the condemnation of the Soviet past – and then with the end of the Soviet Union, this theme it appeared passed from the agenda” of the people and the powers, a process that set the stage for the ultimate revival of support for the late dictator.
Here is what happened, Inozemtsev says. First, Stalin was “separated from socialism (as a certain anomaly) and then from Russia (as a purely Soviet phenomenon).” That was “the main mistake of the anti-Stalinists” because it separated Stalin from Russian history and thus opened the way for his return as “an effective manager, the man who strengthened the state, and a major modernizer on the same level with Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and many other rulers.”
The liberals compounded their initial mistake by the policies they put in place in the early 1990s, policies that led to the de-industrialization of the country, the impoverishment of most of the population, and illegitimate privatization and massive elite corruption, all of which led to new demands for justice.
Moreover, this development “made radically more difficult any mobilization against totalitarianism and the country began to gradually to ‘slip back’ to the justification of its past, to a large extent because no positive program of action besides the neo-Buikharinite ‘enrich yourselves’ was offered.”
The worse economic conditions became, the fewer “antibodies” remained to protect Russia “against the Soviet dictatorship;” and the more often people began to say that the corrupt and the oligarchs ought to be shot,” the easier it became for there to be a new glorification of someone who did just that.
The anti-Stalinists also failed to open the archives completely and to digitalize them so that everyone could see the facts about the case. There was a chance for that in the early 1990s, but it was missed; and now Russians form their views about the past on the basis of selective quotations and myths that the regime offers.
That lack of access to the facts is becoming ever more important, Inozemtsev says, because in contrast to the period between Stalin’s death and the end of the USSR, there are far fewer people who remember on the basis of their own experience or that of their parents and relatives the crimes Stalin committed.
As a result, and with a powerful assist from Putin, “Stalin today has been transformed from a real individual into a myth, and the struggle with myths never was effective and therefore now is practically senseless,” Inozemtsev says.
And this means, he continues, “that the path to the revival of the Russian state as an insensible and greedy monster is open – and most likely will again be trodden until that moment when new generations feel on themselves all the force of that terror which always was the chief function of their rulers.”
As that tragic repetition of the past unfolds, Inozemtsev says, everyone needs to remember that they must hold accountable “not only those who carry out this terror but also those who by their own lack of understanding or some greedy reasons made possible the return of Russian autocracy.”
In this essay, Inozemtsev does not mention another contributor to this horrific rebirth: Western governments who despite their constant celebration of the positive role they played in 1991 and thereafter encouraged all involved not to focus on the past but to forget it and move forward. That too played a most negative role and helps explain the rise of Putin and Stalin too.