October 19, 2009

Profiles in Communist Tyranny: “Uncle” Joe Stalin

Following up on my previous post on Pol Pot

Now I am not saying that anyone has said recently that they admire ol’ Uncle Joe, but he is historically a big big player in Statist Thought. Surely in all the Mao, Castro, Chavez, and Che lovers out there someone fondly remembers the good times everyone had while ol Uncle Joe was strolling around. Plain and simple, Boys and girls, Communism fails completely every time, it is not superior to the way our Nation was founded. This is longer than I like, but there is just too many good times had by all to shorten it any more.

Joseph Dzhugashvili “Stalin” was born on 18 December 1878 to a shoe maker in the town of Gori, Georgia. At seven, he contracted smallpox, which permanently scarred his face. By age twelve, two horse-drawn carriage accidents left his left arm permanently damaged. At sixteen, he received a scholarship to a Georgian Orthodox seminary, where he rebelled against the imperialist and religious order. Though he performed well, he was expelled in 1899 after missing his final exams. The seminary's records suggest he was unable to pay his tuition fees. Shortly after leaving the seminary, Stalin discovered the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Marxist revolutionary (Paging van Jones, Van Jones please answer the white courtesy phone). He became one of the Bolsheviks' (Acorn?) chief operatives, organizing paramilitaries, inciting strikes, spreading propaganda and raising money through bank robberies, ransom kidnappings and extortion. Stalin temporarily resigned from the party over its decision to ban bank robberies. In defiance he conducted a large raid on a bank shipment resulting in the death of 40 people and then fled to Baku. In Baku, Stalin organized Muslims in partisan activities, including the murders of many right-wing supporters of the Czar, and conducted protection rackets, ransom kidnappings, counterfeiting operations and robberies. Because of his activities Stalin was captured and sent to Siberia seven times, but escaped all but the last of these exiles. After release from once such capture, in April 1912 in Saint Petersburg, Stalin created the newspaper Pravda from an existing party newspaper. He eventually adopted the name "Stalin", from the Russian word for steel, which he used as an alias in his published works.

Stalin helped Lenin evade capture after Lenin’s first failed attempt at revolution; smuggling Lenin to Finland. Stalin then assumed leadership of the Bolsheviks. After the jailed Bolsheviks were freed to help defend Saint Petersburg, in October 1917, the Bolshevik Central Committee voted in favor of an insurrection. On 7 November, Stalin, Lenin and the rest of the Central Committee coordinated the so-called October Revolution.

In the years following Lenin's death, Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union. It is notable that Lenin thought Stalin was very ill tempered and before his death advised the central committee against appointing him as the General Secretary. The rest of the party suppressed Lenin’s writing on the subject and Stalin became the General Secretary in 1922 and remained so until his death in 1953.

Stalin immediately launched a command economy, replacing the New Economic Policy of the 1920s with Five-Year Plans and launching a period of rapid industrialization and economic collectivization. The upheaval caused by his policies in the agricultural sector disrupted food production, resulting in widespread famine.

During the late 1930s, Stalin began to purge the Communist Party of people that he perceived, or were accused of, sabotage, terrorism, or treachery; in practice this was anyone or any group that displeased him in some way. The accused were to be investigated for no more than ten days, with no prosecution, defense attorneys or appeals, followed by a sentence to be executed "quickly." This purge became known in later years as the Great Purge or Great Terror. Somewhere between 4 and 10 million people were executed as a result of Stalin’s policies throughout his reign. At the time, while reviewing a list of people to be shot, Stalin reportedly muttered to no one in particular: "Who's going to remember all this riffraff in ten or twenty years time, No one." Throughout World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia and elsewhere. By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition. After the brief Nazi occupation of the Caucasus, the entire population– more than a million people– was deported without notice or any opportunity to take their possessions. Deportations were often by cattle truck, and hundreds of thousands of deportees died en route and any more died in the forced labor camps. A total of 350,000 “foreigners” were arrested and 70% were executed. Many Americans who had immigrated to the Soviet Union during the worst of the Great Depression were executed, while others were sent to prison camps or gulags. Continuous persecution in the 1930s resulted in the near-extinction of the Russian Orthodox Church, many churches had been leveled, and tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns were persecuted and over 100,000 were shot. During World War II, the Church was allowed a revival as a “patriotic organization”. Concurrent with the purges, efforts were made to rewrite the history in Soviet textbooks and other propaganda materials. Notable people executed by the government were removed from the texts and photographs as though they never existed. Gradually, the history of revolution was transformed to a story about just two key characters: Lenin and Stalin.

In 1939, Stalin, fearful of Hitler as a result of the Soviet invasion of Poland, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. After Germany violated the pact in 1941, the Soviet Union joined the Allies to play a large role in the Axis defeat, at the cost of the largest death toll for any country in the war. Afterwards in contradiction of agreements made at Allied conferences, Stalin installed communist governments in most of Eastern Europe, forming the Eastern bloc, behind what was referred to as an "Iron Curtain" of Soviet rule. This launched the forty years of the Cold War.

Stalin made serious and often ridiculous propaganda efforts to better his public image, and a cult of personality was constructed around him. Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after him and the Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were named in his honor. He fabricated or accepted ridiculous titles for himself such as "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," and my personal favorite, "Gardener of Human Happiness.” At the same time, he insisted that he be remembered for "the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people." This egomania reached new levels during WWII, with Stalin's name included in the new Soviet national anthem. Stalin became the focus of literature, poetry, music, (mmm mmm mmm Uncle Joe Stalin) paintings and film, exhibiting fawning devotion, crediting Stalin with almost god-like qualities, and suggesting he single-handedly won WWII. (where have I seen some of this stuff recently?)

His real personal military record is slightly different. When the Bolsheviks moved to establish a sphere of influence in Central Europe, starting with Poland, Stalin was commander of the southern front. He was determined to take the Polish-held city of Lviv. This conflicted with general strategy set by Lenin and Trotsky, whose priority was the capture of Warsaw further north. Trotsky began The Battle of Warsaw, but Stalin refused to redirect his troops from Lviv to help. Consequently, the battles for both cities were lost. Stalin was blamed and he returned to Moscow and resigned his military commission. Later in his career, Stalin was to compensate for the disaster of 1920. He would orchestrate the exile and eventual death of Trotsky, secure Lviv in the Nazi-Soviet pact, execute Polish veterans of the Polish-Soviet War in the Katyn massacre; ensure the failure of the Warsaw Uprising with a loss of around 250,000 Polish lives; establish the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe; and at Yalta, demand that Lviv be ceded by Poland to the Soviet Union.

During his reign Stalin vastly increased the scope and power of the state's secret police and intelligence agencies. Stalin saw no difference between espionage, communist political propaganda actions, and state-sanctioned violence, and he began to integrate all of these activities within the NKVD. One of the best examples of Stalin's ability to integrate secret police and foreign espionage came in 1940, when he gave approval to the secret police to have Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.

Stalin's also moved to force collectivization of agriculture. This was intended to increase agricultural output, to bring the peasantry under more direct political control, and to make tax collection more efficient. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, and it faced violent reaction among the peasantry. In the first years of collectivization Stalin estimated that industrial production would rise by 200% and agricultural production by 50%, but these estimates were never met. Stalin blamed this unanticipated failure on kulaks (rich peasants; middle class), who resisted collectivization. Those officially defined as "kulaks," "kulak helpers," and later "ex-kulaks" were to be shot, placed into Gulag labor camps, or deported to remote areas of the country, depending on the charge. Archival data indicates that 20,201 people were executed during the year of De-kulak-ization.

The two-stage progress of collectivization — interrupted for a year by Stalin's famous editorials, "Dizzy with success"and "Reply to Collective Farm Comrades" is a prime example of his capacity for tactical political withdrawal followed by intensification of initial strategies.

Famine affected the USSR as a result of the farm programs. The death toll from famine in the Soviet Union is estimated at between five and ten million (this is separate than the deaths from his “purges”). Stalin repeatedly refused to release large grain reserves that could have alleviated the famine, while continuing to export grain; he was convinced that the Ukrainian peasants had hidden grain away, and strictly enforced draconian new collective-farm theft laws in response. The facts are stark: 1.8 million tons of grain was exported during the height of the starvation - enough to feed 5 million people for one year, there was widespread use of force to prevent starving peasants from fleeing the worst affected areas, and the indifferent refusal to import grain or secure international humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering suggest Stalin intended to use the starvation as a cheap and efficient means to kill off those deemed to be "idlers," and "thieves.” In 1933 workers' real earnings sank to about one-tenth of the 1926 level. While it is generally agreed that the Soviet Union achieved significant levels of economic growth under Stalin, the precise rate of growth is disputed. It is not disputed, however, that these gains were accomplished at the cost of millions of lives.

Science, art, and literature were under strict ideological control by Stalin and his government. There was significant progress in "ideologically safe" domains, owing to the free Soviet education system and state-financed research. But, scientific research was hindered by the fact that many scientists were sent to labor camps or executed. Under the Soviet government people benefited from social liberalization; Girls were given an adequate, equal education and women had equal rights in employment, improving lives for women and families. The increase in demand due to industrialization and the decrease in the workforce due to World War II and Stalin’s purges generated a major expansion in job opportunities for the survivors, especially for women.

On 1 March 1953, after an all-night dinner in his Kuntsevo residence with interior minister Beria and future premiers Malenkov, Bulganin, and Khrushchev, Stalin did not emerge from his room, having probably suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body some time in the night.

Although his guards thought that it was odd for him not to rise at his usual time, they were under orders not to disturb him. He was discovered lying on the floor of his room at about 10 p.m. Stalin died four days later, on 5 March 1953 at the age of 74. Officially, the cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was preserved in Lenin's Mausoleum until 31 October 1961, when his body was removed from the Mausoleum and buried next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization undertaken by Khrushchev.

Stalin and his supporters have highlighted the notion that socialism can be built and consolidated by a country as underdeveloped as Russia during the 1920s. Indeed this might be the only means in which it could be built in a hostile environment. In 1933, Stalin put forward the theory of aggravation of the class struggle along with the development of socialism, arguing that the further the country would move forward, the more acute forms of struggle will be used by the doomed remnants of exploiter classes in their last desperate efforts – and that, therefore, political repression was necessary.

Historians working after the Soviet Union's dissolution have estimated that death toll of Stalin’s various policies, famines, and other means not including WWII is a staggering approximate 60 million.

Again, I am not trying to draw direct parallels between Stalin and anyone in our current administration. I am trying to illustrate the things that Statist policies have always resulted in. There are similar although obviously no where near as drastic tactics being used by our own government today to stop debate and ram legislation down our throats. Communism ultimately failed and Stalinist Communism failed miserably. It was not because he was not smart enough and certainly not because he was not ruthless enough. It is not about how to structure the policies that fails…the policies fail no matter what. Socialist theory does not work because any theory of government that is based on one stirring up envy between groups will never work. Ever.


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