HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945

Lecture 21

 - Stalinism


One of the central questions in assessing Stalinism is whether or not the abuses of the latter were already present in the first years of the Russian Revolution. The archival evidence suggests that this is partly the case, and that even in its early stages Soviet Russia actively persecuted not just those who were believed to have profited unfairly, without laboring, but also non-Russian ethnic groups. Stalin, although not an ethnic Russian himself, was committed to the assimilation of national identity, and universal identification with the Soviet State. This commitment, coupled with his paranoia, lead to executions and deportations aimed at solidifying the state through exclusion of “undesirable” or politically suspect elements. Throughout years of economic hardship and violent purges, Soviet rhetoric consistently emphasized a glorious future in order to justify the miseries of the present. Such a future proved, in many ways, to be an illusion.

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European Civilization, 1648-1945

HIST 202 - Lecture 21 - Stalinism

Chapter 1. The Formation of the Leninist State: Democratic Centralism and the New Economic Policy [00:00:00]

Professor John Merriman: Today I want to talk about Stalinism, and, in doing so — fifteen years ago, lots of what we now know about the Soviet Union through its entire history we didn’t know, because the archives weren’t open. When the Soviet Union collapsed, fell apart, disintegrated in the early 1990s, gradually lots of the archives were opened. What I have to say today — I don’t work in the Soviet Union — draws upon the work of Peter Holquist. He used to teach at Cornell and now teaches at Princeton, and more recent work on Stalinism by Sheila Fitzpatrick. Let me just lay out the overview at the beginning. I sent around this morning — I didn’t get home until real late last night, so I sent along at about 12:30 in the morning various terms, but I forgot a couple — democratic centralism, right opposition, and Bukharin — but this stuff is all in the book. I hope you’re able to get that. I’ll do the same for next time.

The question remains: did Lenin inevitably lead to Stalin? That’s a hard one. I guess basically the structure of what morphed into the Soviet regime was set, the way that the Bolshevik party operated, even before taking power. The fundamental concept was democratic centralism. That is the way that the Soviet state became organized as a top-down way of making decisions and sending out relevant communication. In principle, it was supposed to involve debate at the highest levels. Then, once decisions were taken, then they were communicated through the Communist Party. But, of course, the sheer paranoia of Stalin — he was, as you know, a clinical paranoid. His paranoia led to the deaths of millions of people.

Debate itself became, as a concept under Stalinism, identified with anti-Soviet behavior. Essentially, what had begun as a popular revolution on behalf of working people — also, to an extent, on behalf of nationalities — became the dictatorship not of the proletariat, not of the proletariat but of the Communist Party, of the Bolshevik Party transformed into the Communist Party and the dictatorship of Stalin. Of course, as his paranoia increased the purges followed. The big show trials, some of which where people, Western communists went in, and sat and listened to hear people confess to having been in cahoots with Nazis, or with English royalists, or whomever, and confess to things that they certainly had never done not long before their execution.

One of the points to be made today is, following Peter Holquist, that the structure of the Stalinist terror — there were antecedents that one could see in the civil war, and in the period of Lenin’s domination in the early years of the Soviet Union. But very early on, the people who imagined that nationalities would have autonomy, those hopes were destroyed quite quickly. Stalin, he had been minister, or whatever they called the Commissar of Nationalities. The idea that workers’ self-management, self-control, control of the means of production, would be implemented in this new brave world was shattered rather quickly with strikes and protests by workers, smashed by the police, by the Soviet state.

The illusion would be perpetuated in the 1920s, and even in the 1930s, that this was a true workers’ paradise, and that everything was groovy. But the talk was always about the “radiant future.” Radiant was a word that they used a lot. I’ll talk more about this in a while. The future would be radiant. It would be glorious. But the sacrifices had to be made now, and they had to be made now to protect the revolution against the Americans, against the French, and against the British, and the powers of capitalism, etc., etc. Of course, as you all know, it never came to be. That’s the tragedy of the Russian Revolution. Well, more about this in a while.

First of all, as backdrop to all of this, because of the civil war, and because of famine conditions, and because of just enormous economic hardship, trying to have a state — it was not clear how this could possibly be done. You’ve got a country with all these nationalities, which is basically still essentially a country of peasants, despite the industrial work in the Ural mountains, and in the mines, and in the town of Petrograd that became Leningrad, obviously, later. You’re going to know how to do this. The war itself, as in all of the countries that participated in World War I, had done enormous ravages. The Germans are fighting inside Russia, and the subsequent civil war that decimated large parts of the countryside left the country barely able to function. In 1921 and 1922, this is in what you’re reading, more than seven million people died of starvation and sickness during that period. Remember, the wars go on. The war against Poland goes on until finally the situation is resolved with the Treaty of Riga in 1921, which I don’t think is in your book.

Lenin implemented the New Economic Policy. As he and the other Soviet leaders grappled with a country in virtual collapse, he recognized that the ideology of communism, which called for the abolition of private property, private ownership, and the destruction of the free market, would have to be sacrificed for the future. You simply had to be able to feed people. You had to have peasants not hoarding what they produced, or waiting for higher prices. You needed to have a free market system, at least for a while, because of the fact that people resisted, which was what was called war communism, which was sort of a shock communist therapy that had proved not to really work at all.

So, the New Economic Policy is promulgated in March of 1921, and the features of it you can read about. Basically, the state maintains its centralized control over the economy, and there’s still centralized planning, but the NEP allowed peasants to use their land as if it was their own, and largely, in most cases it still was, and allowed them to market their products, and sell them at market prices in order to get food to people who needed it. Otherwise, they too would have died. The state maintained its control over heavy industry. But this is all going to be just a small retreat along the road to socialism. It succeeded. It succeeded. It works. Gradually the production of food reached prewar levels, and small-scale industrial production revives.

Another name I should have written on the board — I was so tired when I did all this last night — is Kulaks. Two groups of people who profited during this period, these two groups of people would, in the long memory of the communist leadership, get theirs during the Five Year Plan. The first are those people who, for example, were small merchants — not in size, but they sold products on the free market and did very, very well during this period of the New Economic Policy. They became known as NEP men. NEP is the New Economic Policy, and the NEP men were people who did well during this period. The other, and it’s a term, as we’ll see in a while, that became a term of denigration, and indeed could lead you straight to the gulag if you were lucky and weren’t executed before that, were Kulaks.

Kulaks basically were prosperous peasants. They were well-off peasants. During the period of the New Economic Policy the Kulaks, the people with land who had something to sell, did well indeed, because their goods fetched good prices and they did very well. With the gradual ending of the New Economic Policy, which sort of trickles to an end after Lenin, they would become targets in the mass collectivization campaign that accompanied the Five Year Plan, that is 1928 to 1933, and would be themselves victims of the purges as we’ll see. The tragedy of the Russian Revolution.

Chapter 2. From Leninism to Stalinism [00:12:25]

There’s a quote in there from — I guess it was somebody in the Red Army who said, “Did we do all this? Did we fight in the civil war? Did we try to save the revolution against some really basically horrible legions and the white armies during the civil war? Did we save the revolution in order to round up Kulaks, and put them in the middle of a field, and line them up in the middle of a field, and gun them down with machine guns to kill them? Did we do all of this to eliminate from the face of the earth these people who had, despite being relatively privileged, had struggled, and had managed to survive the whole thing?” Sadly, the answer is yes. It came to that.

The question is: To what extent was this automatically — was this part of the system from the beginning? I’ll give you some examples that Holquist cites in a minute. He says you can see this coming if you look at the first years of the Soviet people. Let me give you some examples of this. This is before the period where Stalin becomes a success. Stalin worked very hard to make it seem — as Lenin had one stroke and then another — Stalin tried to keep access closed to other people. He worked feverishly to make it seem that Stalin was the chosen successor of Lenin. There are some famous doctored photographs where Stalin has had himself inserted next to Lenin, in famous poses of Lenin, who was a pretty good speaker, but nothing like Trotsky. Trotsky, with Jean Jaurès, was the greatest orator of the entire period. But Lenin wasn’t too bad. Stalin literally had himself stuck into pictures where he would be there. He also took some of Lenin’s writings and sort of “updated” them to make it seem like the mantle was there.

As everybody knows who follows this stuff at all, Lenin was, in his final days, most concerned that comrade Stalin’s leadership was potentially very dangerous. He expressed those fears in the letter, if I remember correctly, written with a very shaky hand of a man who had a stroke, a very serious stroke, and who was close to death. He had his doubts about comrade Stalin, not exactly from the beginning. Also, it’s important to note that Trotsky — whom as I said the other day would finally be tracked down and assassinated in a garden in Mexico City — the differences between Trotsky and Stalin went beyond ideology. Trotsky, in what became known as the “left opposition,” that was pushing for more active instigation of revolutions in other places, and, ironically, was pushing even more for collectivization even early on. But it went more than that. There was a rivalry between two men who both were extraordinarily sure of themselves, and who thought that they were the person who should first save, and then lead, the Soviet Union.

Trotsky’s role in the Red Army as a strategist was extremely important. But there was more than that also. There was more than a small trace of anti-Semitism in Stalin. When he would refer to “cosmopolitan enemies,” and things like that. Cosmopolitanism was sort of a code word for Jews, for Jewish people within the party. There was more than that to that. Trotsky is expelled from the party, and then finally is tracked down and killed. Some of these that you know from reading Orwell, some of these factions and these differences play themselves out in this anticipation of World War II that was the Spanish Civil War. The followers of Trotsky are a very important faction in the Spanish Civil War. You know from reading Orwell the role of the Stalinists in all of this.

Just a few things before I turn to Holquist’s argument about how you can see some of the horrors coming early on. Let me just define Stalinism as a term. It’s a set of tenets, policies, and practices that characterize the Soviet government during the period when Stalin is in power. Stalinism lasts until Stalin finally dies — when is it? 1953. That is when Stalin dies. The beginning of the Five Year Plan, that is 1928 to 1933, is really the real beginning of Stalinism. You can anticipate some of this, as we’ll see in a minute. Stalinism not only takes a sort of democratic centralism of decision making, but what it does is it employs state coercion, and more than this, state terror, with the goal of transforming this still relatively backward society into a Soviet state that could sustain itself, that could build heavy industries. This was the obsession of Stalin and Stalinism, that heavy industries would have to be built, and that they would be built on the backs of the peasantry, who would lose their land and become industrial workers.

There’s a massive urbanization, as we’ll see, in the Soviet Union during this period. The obvious central characteristics of Stalinism, as you’ve already seen, are the abolition of private property, first of all, and the end of free trade, the end of the market. The market is to disappear. If you’re abolishing private property in a vast, vast state, in which two generations before you still had serfs, what you want to do from their point of view is collectivize agriculture. The massive collectivization of agriculture. This would, as you know, become a characteristic of the satellite states in Eastern Europe and Eastern Central Europe with varying degrees, varying degrees in those states. The economy is planned. It’s run in a centralized fashion and predicated upon mass industries, rapid industrialization. Part of this was the liquidation — not a nice word — of those “exploiting classes,” that is the bourgeois, the NEPmen, the Kulaks, the aristocrats, and the clergy. This involves deporting people to the gulags, or incarcerating them wherever they were, or incarcerating them in the gulags.

The purge, the terror, the political terror against alleged enemies, including those who disagreed with Stalin within the leadership of the Soviet Union. Thus, the purges that you can read about of the left opposition of Zinoviev and Trotsky, and Bukharin’s right opposition. With this comes the cult of personality. Stalin himself becomes, and I say this in quotes, “a czar-like figure.” There are still truck drivers in Russia who have pictures of Stalin in their trucks, and other people as well. This leads, obviously, to kind of half-baked political scientists’ interpretations, “Well, you have a czarist state. You have an autocracy. Inevitably it becomes another autocracy with a czar-like figure, the cult of personality of Stalin.” When you think of Mao’s China, and there the cult of personality, if anything, was even more than that with the Little Red Bookand all of this business.

To repeat the obvious, the Soviet Union was the dictatorship of the Communist Party, and the dictatorship of the Communist Party was the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, and the paranoia of Joseph Stalin. Now, ironically, Stalin, as I’m sure you know, was not Russian, even though the Soviet Empire, and it was that, was largely run in the interest of Russia and Russians. Stalin was a Georgian. He was from the country in which all these things have happened in just the last five or six months. He started out as a seminary student. He was expelled for reading Marxist tracts. Like a lot of these people, he took aliases, because he robbed banks to get money for the Bolshevik party. Stalin means in Russian “man of steel.” That was his alias. That wasn’t his original name. Remember, he’s a Georgian. As I just said, he becomes the administrator, the Commissar of Nationalities, but determined to snap the head off of the “hydra,” of the danger of nationalist revival in these states.

Communism, in theory, was antithetical to nationalism; although, ironically, as you all know, it doesn’t really work that way. There were strongly nationalist communist states that still retained — Hungary, for example, or Czechoslovakia that retained, even within the satellite nature, kind of a pride in trying to make it work even in 1968, as Dubcek, before the tanks roll into Prague, tries to make a human-faced socialism with a Czech and Slovak face. Of course, it doesn’t work. Through the whole period, as everybody knows, they execute millions of people. In World War II, the figures of the number of Soviets who die in World War II is about twenty-five million people. If you’re thinking about Stalingrad, and thinking about the siege of Leningrad, which goes on and on and on and takes a million lives, but within that twenty-five million, lots of those people are people who died in the gulags. They did not die from reasons of war. They died in the gulags, and many of them were executed for being a Kulak, or being a NEP man, or whatever.

Chapter 3. Societies of Exclusion [00:25:03]

Can you see this coming? Can one see this coming? Just a couple of points along the way. During World War I, states had increased their power, their ability to control what became sort of command economies to mobilize the resources of the state. In Russia in World War I, the imperial government, Holquist writes, “initiated a deportation of ‘the Jewish element’ — remember, the rabid anti-Semitism of the czar and Alexandra — “on the borderlines as ‘pernicious, harmful, and dangerous to the Russian people,’” and thus in wartime they are, just as in Italy. Italy went to war in part so that they had the idea that they could somehow make citizens Italian, feel themselves Italian. There is this nature as the war is being fought in Russia that you will increase the Russianness of the effort of the empire, even though all these other nationalities are involved, by excluding people, by excluding people.

They’re not excluding people by putting them up on the wall and shooting them. Nonetheless, the language is somewhat there. For example, they describe the Whites, who were a nasty group, many of them, and just nasty, bloodthirsty group, not all of them, but many of them. They describe the Jews as “microbes.” This is the Whites describing the Jews as “microbes” and Bolshevism as a “social disease.” The kind of disease metaphors, the next step is if you have a disease, if you have a cancer, you cut it out. You exclude it by cutting it out. The language of exclusion is already there. At one point the Soviets, in the very first part of the Soviet Union, began a program of what they called “dekazakhization.” They want to remove an entire Kazakh population, which they viewed as potentially disloyal to the revolution. But you can’t do that. It’s just too hard to do that when all these other things are going on, so they can’t do that. In the early years, the Lenin years, you still find these things.

In 1920, when there’s a campaign against banditism, that is bandits or people who don’t support the Communists — that term is often used, by the way, in France under Vichy, that the resistors are bandits, or they’re terrorists, etc. etc. Bandits become a dangerous epidemic. Again, the disease metaphor. They’re dangerous because they are. In 1920, Stalin informed Trotsky, Holquist found, that an order would soon come directing “the total extermination of the White officer corps.” Of course, total extermination is pretty strong language. That’s not just simply putting people in jail or in a re-education camp. That is getting rid of them. They create camps which were called “filter spaces,” where people could be kept until they had seen the light, etc., etc. They had all these White prisoners, some of whom executed, and the Cheka are the police who oversee all of this. That’s an obvious term.

Examples from the civil war, in Holquist’s words, “show the project of fashioning society by excising particular elements was an intrinsic aspect of Soviet power from the very beginning.” But it’s not on the scale that would come later. There are lists of people drawn up in the early 1920s that would be used in 1937 and 1938, during the Great Purge. So, when the campaigns of collectivization, which are bloody, which are massacres, come along, the dekulakization campaign, get rid of the Kulaks, in 1929-1930, becomes on a more urgent and more paranoid scale. This is the kind of stuff that we now know from the archives. A memorandum from March 15 1931 states that with regard to the Kulaks, the goal of deportation from all regions was “to totally cleanse them of Kulaks.” Another, slightly earlier, in February, calls for them to be “immediately liquidated. We will exile the Kulak by thousands and when necessary shoot the Kulak breed. We will make soap of the Kulaks. Our class enemy must be wiped off from the face of the earth.” Strong language.

Thus, in 1930, more than 20,000 Kulaks were sentenced to death. Many more are gunned down when they protest. And they protest. They kill their animals rather than turn them over to the commissars. They burn their harvest. They burn their farm. These are “weapons of the weak,” as my dear friend, Jim Scott in the political science department, would call it. Weak indeed they were. They’re confronting these enormous military forces. But they fight back. They fight back. They just don’t go down in a heap without fighting.

One of the interesting things about this is just as one of the key trends in the end of the nineteenth century is the origins of sociology — intellectual trends, the idea of counting, and figuring, and thinking about contemporary society, Max Weber and all that. Really important stuff, positivism and all of this. These kinds of censuses developed way before all this. The first really accurate census in France, outside of municipal ones, is in 1941. But what they do is they use sort of modern tools of censuses, surveys, and questionnaires, to get information on the entire population. You’d better be damn careful when you write down who you are on one of these forms. When they say, “Who is your grandfather?” “What did your grandfather do?” What are you going to write? You can’t write down he was an industrial worker if he wasn’t. What if he’s a Kulak? What if he’s a noble? What if he’s an Orthodox priest? You’re guilty by association. Once a Kulak, once a clergyman, once an aristocrat, by class identity you are guilty. You are guilty.

They used the censuses of 1926, and 1937, and the last one before the war of 1939, as a way of deciding who should get passports and who shouldn’t get passports, and who should be sent off to wherever. By 1934, twenty-seven million people in the Soviet Union had been monitored and given state ID cards. The French, you had to have an ID card, also, to go from one department to the next, to go from Marseilles to Nice you had to have an internal passport. What they do, it’s the same state thrust, except that it has a murderous outcome. If you’re classifying people, if you’re counting people, if you’re registering people, this is way before “the quiet violence of the computer,” as Michelle Perrot memorably put it. The outcome is very different. They use archivists. Some of my friends were archivists. They’re not going to be doing this kind of thing. These are French archivists. But they’re using archivists who are fearful for their lives.

If you’re an archivist with writing and reading skills, you’re potentially an enemy of the state, because you’re from the wrong social class. They say, “We want to look at your archives. We want you to find out who’s in what category in your region.” You better do it. Archivists in 1939, according to Holquist, identify 108,000 enemies of the people. Once you’re classified as an enemy of the people, baby you’re toast. That’s it. You’re toast. Sheila Fitzpatrick is a wonderful historian. She was one of the first to study what she calls “the extraordinary everydayness” of Stalinism. What was life like in a place where the only way of getting anything, and potentially the only way of surviving, is your relationship to a bureaucratic figure? Stalinism, the essence of state collectivization, of state totalitarianism, is you have to have this enormous bureaucracy. It’s the bureaucracy that calls the shots.

Let me put some of the points that are important. In getting by, who are apt to be the militants in all of this? Who are apt to be the true believers in all of this, the most loyal to the project of creating this new world, this new world that never came? The answer is young people, younger people. There were many cases of younger people denouncing their parents, being asked to denounce their parents. But the most militant and the most faithful were people who had not, who in the 1930s, for example, if they were twenty-five years old, they didn’t really remember the old regime. They didn’t remember the czarist autocracy. They are more likely to think that there’s nothing wrong with trying to decide who still has religious icons on their walls, whose parents religiously went to church. The young people were more apt to be the militants in all of this.

If you were a militant, what you did was you denounced class enemies, these Kulaks and the priests, members of the pre-revolutionary nobility, former capitalists. Again, once a capitalist, you are always a capitalist. Once a Kulak, you are always a Kulak. People who had been declared as “non-toilers,” that is people who are not really workers or really peasants, who are Kulaks, they are deprived of the vote, not that elections subsequently meant anything in the Soviet Union, as early as the constitution of 1918. These young militants undertake a war on bourgeois specialists. One of the problems with the campaign for rapid industrialization is they’re really torn. You need these bourgeois specialists, because they’re technocrats. They’re the ones that have to keep up the production count. They have to keep it up there. Then you go into this period and you say, “You can’t have a bunch of bourgeois specialists who are educated.” So, those people get liquidated, maybe not killed but get removed. Then they will bring in and replace them with peasants who sometimes had absolutely no education, which is not their fault at all.

Chapter 4. The Vision of the Radiant Future: High Hopes and Hard Reality [00:38:07]

The Soviets do educate people in this period. There’s a huge increase in literacy in this period. But they’re turning over important management positions within the Soviet Union, in this push for rapid industrialization, to people who can’t read and write, and really just don’t have the kind of finesse or the kind of ability to do it. That causes all sorts of problems. The bureaucracy is increasingly filled with people who are not competent, but are there because of their party loyalty. If you weren’t loyal to the party, there was nowhere you were going to go. How does this affect ordinary Soviet citizens? There’s constant propaganda, talk about the radiant future, that enormous sacrifices now will be worth it in the end. Marx, after all, said scientific socialism is going to take a long time. Thus, if you see these, and I’ve been in the Moscow subway a long time ago, but these sort of heroic murals of the Soviet worker, the Stakhanovite. Don’t write it down.

I think he’s in the book, but this guy, Stakhanov, was a guy who had apparently set a world record by extracting the most coal any human had ever done. It was basically made up. But he became this kind of image of hard work. I’ll tell you, you’ll see a lot of these art deco murals in Detroit, Michigan. Or, for example, I’m not making this as an analogy, but there was the equivalent under National Socialism, also, the idea of the German worker toiling away and all that, with the interests of the state. Basically it’s the idea that Russia could be moved by hard work out of backwardness toward this radiant future. It does keep people going. There’s always this contrast between “then,” the bad old days when these folks ruled — the NEP men, and the Kulaks, and the aristocracy, and all of that — and the inevitable future. The landlords were gone. There’s collective ownership of the means of production, so everything has got to be okay. The motto is, “The party is always right,” and you’d better believe it. The state shaped the way people lived. Part of it, those people lived through the purge. I’ll tell you a story.

I had this colleague a long, long time ago when I first came here who grew up in Moscow in the 1930s. His father was the Persian ambassador to Moscow. In the purges people were now seeing their parents, and people were being taken away in the night, and there were boots in the hall, and it was a pretty damn scary time to live. One day he was in this big school. He was in collège, middle school. He’s twelve years old, basically. He is sitting in one of these big buildings there, and the bell rings to go from one class to the next class. The bell rang and the guy who was sitting in front of him, a twelve-year-old boy, gets up. He puts his cartable down, his book carrier down, and he goes out. They’re on the fifth floor. He goes to the stairwell and he jumps over to his death, just like that. He stepped over the thing and fell. If you’re twelve years old you’re going to remember that kind of thing. He didn’t know, because you didn’t discuss such things, whether he had denounced his parents and felt badly about it, or whether his parents had been taken away and he didn’t have any idea where they were. This was one of the tragedies also.

A lot of it is self-deception. These were very poor people. You believe in the radiant future. This is a very, very poor place. You saw these Stalin skyscrapers. There’s a big debate in Warsaw whether the one that’s there should be kept. You saw more literacy. You saw sometimes products on the market. But the deception was there. The great hopes were there. The reality was completely different. You would have bizarre things happen. Suddenly, you have state planning. For a while there were all these red female stockings on the market. That was supposed to be cool. You had a lot of Western visitors who had seen these same female red stockings, which were very much “in” in Paris and Berlin. But this wasn’t Paris and Berlin. This was Moscow. Suddenly, you have a lot of that. Someone thought, “Ketchup will look good to the outsiders when they come.” So, they start producing ketchup. There’s nothing to put the ketchup on.

The most ridiculous example I’ve ever heard is that they started producing lots of bathtubs, because people are waiting in line to get apartments, which was true until 1992. They’re waiting in line to get apartments, though things got a lot better after World War II, but still. If you’re going to have an apartment that is of progress, the radiant future, you’ve got to have a bathtub. So, they produce all these bathtubs, but they forget to produce corks or stoppers. So, for a long time you had people that were lucky enough to have bathtubs, but the water just runs out and they could show them off to their friends. It simply doesn’t work. But there is the illusion, and I’m going to have to end with this, because I went too long earlier. There’s more to say but there’s always more to say.

There was the illusion. There were lots of true believers and people who also wanted a radiant future. In the late 1960s, please, not the early ones, and the 1970s, we were all dealing with our ideology of the weak. I had an uncle who meant a great deal to me who was a communist. He was trained in Berlin as a psychoanalyst. He worked for a Communist newspaper, and he claimed to have know Georgie Dimitrov, the Bulgarian communist leader. He was a true believer always. At the end of his life he ended up passing, or having his wife pass Save the Will petitions. He was no longer a communist. But I remember when I was a little boy him telling me that the people trying to escape from communism were psychotic. That people trying to get over the wall in Berlin were psychotic for trying to leave this radiant future of a workers’ paradise.

There were a lot of true believers. These people, a lot of them, and I’m not dissing my uncle whom I loved deeply, and who meant a great deal in my life, and especially my aunt. They believed. People would go to these show trials and they would see people saying, “Yes, I was in cahoots with Romanian fascists,” or with Dutch fascists, or with Georgian nationalists, or something like that. They would admit to all sorts of things, possibly hoping it was going to save their lives. It didn’t. It never did. They were executed. Stalin executed them all. He executed the entire general staff practically of the army.

One of the most amazing things about the Second World War is how the Red Army not only survived but won, and retrained people. There weren’t any admirals left. There was nobody left. He killed them all. He killed them all. But people continued to believe. They believed. The whole phrase, maybe you’ve heard of the phrase, “a Potemkin village.” I guess that’s a good place to end — a Potemkin village. For example, if you’re watching an old TV western and you see a façade, you’ve got the bar, and you’ve got Miss Kitty, and you’ve got all of this, and a few people punching each other out; there’s nothing behind it. It’s just all a fraud. It’s nothing.

They would bring these visitors from the West in this brave new industrial world, and they’d see parts of towns that had been reshaped. They meet the first literate people in a family. It was very true. Some good things happened, too. But they were far outweighed by the bad things. But a Potemkin village would be, you’d go and you’d see this façade and you’d be whisked through. “This is where the children’s railroad will be.” “This is where the kindergarten is going to be.” It’s always the “going to be,” and it never happened. That, I suppose, is the tragedy of the Russian Revolution. Arguably, maybe, who knows, a good idea gone terribly, terribly bad.

[end of transcript]

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