Stalin’s Legacy: Russia’s Cross or Salvation?

The 50th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death was certainly touched upon by the Russian mass media, which is quite natural by the way. The date is connected with the man whose name went down in history of the country for ever, no matter how each of us treats him. But the time has radically changed: the date would have been commemorated quite differently twenty years ago. As journalists think, now people are more interested to know what was going on in Stalin’s cottage in Kuntsevo and was it possible that some of his close confidants poisoned the Soviet leader.

However, now we can say whatever we wish about Stalin. But nevertheless, it is an obvious fact that there are more and more people who positively estimate the role of Joseph Stalin in the history of the state. According to the last opinion poll held by the Russian Center for Public Opinion (VCIOM), 53% of the questioned think that Stalin’s role in the history of Russia was great. Number of people who negatively estimate the role of the leader is almost twice as less and makes up 33%.

Certainly, we should interpret opinion polls concerning different problems rather cautiously. But this time results of the poll seem to be trustworthy. It is well known that in the minds of majority of the Russian population the name of Joseph Stalin is associated with order in the country. We often hear that all people were equal under Stalin, nobody stole and (this is one of the key arguments) prices were constantly reducing. At that, these cliches were knocked not only into the heads of older generations, but even of younger people. We should say that younger generations especially respect Stalin for the fact that in the times of his rule the Soviet Union was a super power respected and treated with fear all over the world.

Even in 50 years after his death, attitudes toward Stalin still can be divided into two poles: some people worship him and others hate. Arguments of admirers of Stalin’s genius are easily brought to nothing by his opponents. When the first say that Stalin won WWII, the latter retort that the cost of the victory was unpardonably high; admirers say that Stalin turned the USSR into an industrially developed country, but opponents emphasize that at the same very time when the country was considered industrially developed, millions of peasants were starving, and so on. It is strange but neither admirers, nor opponents of Joseph Stalin find it reasonable to consider each other’s opinions.

After all, as Stalin’s epoch is far away from us, disputes of this kind are getting infrequent. Even those people who sympathize with Stalin as leader of the state don’t hang his portraits in their apartments and don’t keep collected works by Stalin. Joseph Stalin is already treated as a semi-mythical hero by majority of Russians, he is positive for one part of the population and negative for the others. And this could be anticipated: this always happens with people who create a system of power that is convenient for themselves only. It is a proven fact that Stalin created exactly this system of power. Although he was a persistent revolutionary, but when he came to power he immediately started forming a monarchical system of government. Stalin was sure that only personal rule can be effective in such an enormous country as the USSR. Under these conditions strict obedience could be achieved one way only, when people are kept in awe. And Stalin started achieving the objective and persistently worked on it for several years.

At the same time, Stalin made it so that the whole of the Soviet bureaucratic machinery was under permanent tension during the period of repressions: it was not ruled out that any governmental official could be arrested any moment. But on the other hand, officials could also achieve very great success in governmental career that could be hardly possible under any other political regime. And instances of this kind were rather frequent.

Nevertheless, fear as basis of a political system couldn’t be effective for a long period. As soon as the leader died, his successors started violently destroying fundamentals of the system. Lavrenty Beria, the man who inspired fear into his party colleagues for many years, was the first who had to pay for his doings : he was liquidated not only as a dangerous candidate to the sole rule in the country, but also as personification of the fear with which the Soviet leadership had been bound within several decades.

After Stalin’s death the Soviet political system started slowly but inevitably degrading. The government understood perfectly well that methods used for industrial breakthroughs under Stalin were already exhausted. Certainly it was still possible to send millions of people to the GULAG camps, but the situation in the country was already different by that moment. Any attempts to suggest something new for modernization of economic and political system of the country and to bring it up to modern standards resulted in failure. The Soviet bureaucratic system created under Stalin and effectively operating in the years of his rule, stagnated once and for all after 1953, and any attempts of the Kremlin to revive it were useless.

Main problem of Stalin’s legacy was that citizens of the USSR, and further all Russians (and also people in other countries) are perfectly sure that force and compulsion are the most effective methods of maintaining order in the country. To all appearances, our country will have to deal with the problem many times.

Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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