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Stalin Is Not Great - the Neo-Stalinist Revisionists Are Wrong

" ... lingering Stalinophilia now only serves to distort Russian history and Russia’s self-image of itself. It is time to put that mustachioed, medals-bedecked Halloween costume back into the cupboard."

Translator’s Foreword (Fluctuarius Argenteus)

And now for something completely different. Instead of snippets from larger works, here’s Egor Kholmogorov’s two-part takedown of the notion of “Stalin as a Russia national hero” merged into a single text.

The relationship between Russian nationalism and Neo-Stalinism is a torturous one. Modern Neo-Stalinism emerged in the early 2000s as one aspect of an anti-Yeltsinist and anti-Liberal consensus, an attempt to reconcile the Imperial and Soviet past under the banner of a broadly defined Russian patriotism and do away with the kind of historical nihilism that painted Stalin as the ultimate expression of a “millennium-old Russian yearning for slavery.”

Many, including the author of the article and its translator, paid lip service to this movement in their younger years.

Vladislav Pravdin – GREAT STALIN (1949). It is our joy that during the hard years of the war the Red Army and the Soviet people were led by the wise and experienced leader of the Soviet Union – the GREAT STALIN.

By approximately 2005, the movement had gone mainstream, and by 2012, it completely morphed into a cancerous outgrowth. The nerve of early Neo-Stalinist rhetoric was the belief that Stalin had made a U-turn from (((Old Bolshevik cosmopolitanism))), legalized some forms of Russian national consciousness, and generally put Russian history back on track (i.e., was not true Marxism, and it was good).

The Neo-Stalinism of The New Tens is virulently hostile towards the slightest hint of Russian patriotism and a positive appraisal of pre-1917 Russia, going as far as to condemn liking Alexander Nevsky and Peter the Great (both lionized under Stalin) as “Vlasovism” (oh the sweet irony).

Needless to say, this text provoked some gnashing of teeth in the Neo-Stalinist camp.

AK’s Foreword

After my takedown of Lenin, some people suggested that I extend it to Stalin. But what point is there when we have Kholmogorov? I agree with this 90%, down to the biographical details of my own modest (if still regrettable) quasi-Stalinophile sentiments of a decade ago.

This is something that afflicted many Russian patriots of that time, being part of a general rejection of the Russophobic narratives of the liberal elites. Support for Stalin became intensely tribal, and a means to troll those people. However, it has now gone on for far too long. That particular culture war is no longer relevant, and lingering Stalinophilia now only serves to distort Russian history and Russia’s self-image. It is time to put that mustachioed, medals-bedecked Halloween costume back into the cupboard.

Although we may quibble over some details – I had quite a few myself as I edited this – this piece may be considered to be as close to a Russian nationalist statement on Stalin as any.

If you appreciate these translations, please feel free to give Kholmogorov a tip here:


Part I: Pharaoh of the Plow and Atom


38% of Russian citizens polled by Levada Center put Joseph Stalin at #1 among the greatest heroes of Russian and world history. He is followed by Putin, Pushkin, Lenin, Peter I, Gagarin, Leo Tolstoy, Georgy Zhukov, Catherine II, Lermontov, Lomonosov, Mendeleev, and even Brezhnev and Gorbachev. The only non-Russians who made it to the top are Napoleon, Newton, and Einstein.

Well well well… This is an obvious disgrace. If trustworthy, it reveals that the average Russian doesn’t have the vaguest idea about the course of Russian and world history and the true importance of historical figures. To be fair, sociologists aren’t that far from the masses, mixing in the same poll politicians, generals, writers, and scientist, whose relative importance just can’t be measured by the scale. Essentially, this a list of the best-advertised personalities.

The absolute disaster here is that, in 2017, almost a good half our citizens are confident enough to place Stalin at #1 in Russian and world history. Of course, the Generalissimo here is playing the part of an epic or even mythological hero; the details and real achievements do not matter. For our people, Stalin is a byword for “a strong Russia to be reckoned with in the global arena.” And this strength acts as an acceptable rationale for everything else: millions of murdered Russians, from great scientists to common villagers, demolished churches and martyred priests, a completely fleeced countryside… Everything is pardoned and justified, following Isaac Deutscher’s formula“He found Russia working with wooden plows and left her equipped with atomic piles” (which is frequently misattributed to Winston Churchill instead of this obscure Trotskyite and has “atomic piles” replaced with the “atomic bomb”).

In other words, Stalin is seen by the Russian consciousness as the architect of our incredible grandeur, which was enabled by the tremendous industrial leap forward and Victory in the Great Patriotic War. This grandeur is enough to excuse his transformation of Russia into a hellish bloodbath of terror.

If we put mythological and epical thinking aside and deal with historical facts, is Stalin’s #1 place among the greatest personalities in world history, afforded by our compatriots and sociologists, in any way justified?

I have never been into anti-Stalinist hysterics. I even published multiple articles calling to refrain from cartoonish nihilism while evaluating Stalin’s contribution to our country’s Victory in the Great Patriotic War. I am an even stauncher opponent of identifying Russia with Stalin, of using Stalin’s horrifying atrocities as a pretext for erasing our national heroism and demanding “reparations,” “territorial concessions,” and other vile nonsense. I couldn’t care less about Stalin being distasteful to other countries and nations – the Russians are blameless before them.

What really concerns me is Stalin’s place in the history of the Russian people. And it is in this domain, no thanks to meddlesome “National Stalinists” who go as far as to put Stalin on icons, where the role of this historical figure is inflated to infinity and beyond. It now turns out that it wasn’t Stalin’s good fortune that the Russians stayed loyal to him during the military debacle of 1941, as he claimed himself in his famous Victory Toast. No, it was a great honor and mercy for the Russians on Stalin’s part, because he condescended to rule them, shoot them, exile them where they could plow permafrost, let them get slaughtered in Nazi encirclements, and starve them with famines. It turns out that we Russians are allegedly unworthy of Stalin, our Messiah.

This boundless and hypertrophied propaganda poisoning the minds of our countrymen is sometimes even more obscene than the cult of the Great Leader as it existed in his lifetime. To heighten Stalin’s pedestal, they keep placing more and more falsehood at its base, be it myths of a pathetic backward Tsarist Russia or new slander against victims of the regime, long rehabilitated by state security and never held in contempt by the nation or history. Even the greatest of victims, such as Nikolai Vavilov, are now dragged through the mud, and the most despicable of rogues, such as Trofim Lysenko, are now lionized for the sole purpose of keeping Stalin’s halo intact.

That is why we have to return to the question of Stalin the historical figure and not Stalin the myth, and inquire into the degree and character of his greatness.

The first foundation stone of Stalin’s pedestal is Russia's Industrialization. Allegedly, the very Russia that languished in backwardness under the pathetically incompetent Tsars made a huge industrial leap under Stalin, storming into global industrial leadership, beating Hitler, and becoming a superpower.

This claim is false in several respects. First, Tsarist Russia wasn’t backward either in industry or in military technology. The country was developing dynamically, and there is no reason to suggest she would have reached a lower level of industrial progress than the one attained by the USSR in 1939. When we were little kids, Soviet textbooks hypnotized us with diagrams of industrial development compared to “Russia in 1913”. And no one would pose the question: “Wait, if the revolution hadn’t happened, Russia would have simply frozen at 1913 levels forever?” And here’s another naïve question no one came to ask Soviet history teachers: “If Tsarist Russia was so industrially backward, where did her working class come from, with the Bolshevik Party as its self-proclaimed leadership?”

Russian industrialization began in the 1890s mostly thanks to the efforts of Count Sergei Witte, who was a follower of the great German economist Friedrich List, the theorist of the forces of production (a term later plagiarized by Karl Marx) and protectionism. An active ally of Witte’s was Dmitry Mendeleev, not only a famous chemist but also an economist who organized the Russian oil industry and also followed List’s principles of economic protectionism.

Enjoying the complete support of Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II, Witte achieved an impressive surge in industrial development. However, he was often criticized for overstraining the Russian peasantry to achieve said surge, which backfired with the unrest of 1905-06 that coincided with a cyclic crisis in the world economy. In 1909, Russia saw the start of a new economic boom and a new wave of industrialization overseen by Peter Stolypin.

Stolypin’s approach was much more merciful to the peasantry than Witte’s. The countryside stopped being an economic donor and became a full-fledged partner, reaping the benefits of industrialization together with urban areas. The Great War, despite extreme conditions, gave an even greater boost to Russia’s military and industrial development. It was the Bolshevik Revolution, as well as the ensuing “War Communism” and Civil War, which caused the terrible desolation that almost plunged the country into a new Stone Age. As a member of the Bolshevik leadership, Stalin was directly responsible for that.

Evidently, to endure as a Great Power (and, consequently, protect the Bolshevik dictatorship from being deposed by a foreign invasion), Russia couldn’t stay at the rock bottom where Bolshevism had flung her. Hence the idea of resuming industrialization, now under a new Communist management and based on Communist ideas. Stalinism didn’t attempt anything new here, because industrialization had already been running for a quarter of a century under the Tsars and was in any case supported by all rival Communist factions. Stalin’s contribution to industrialization is limited to inventing a new method, not based on strong-arming the countryside (as with Witte) or robbing it blind (as proposed by Trotsky and Pyatakov).

Stalin’s industrialization was powered by the physical eradication of the Russian countryside via forced collectivization, punitive expeditions, mass exile, famine, and terror. Yes, this method of industrialization had been previously unknown to the wider world and could be perfectly dispensed with, as demonstrated by Tsarist Russia. But can the invention of cannibalism be considered a contribution to the culinary arts? Probably not.

To Stalin’s credit, he was very successful in simultaneously bleeding the country dry to gain funds for industrialization with exploiting the vicissitudes of the global market. The Great Depression engulfed the entire world, flooding the market with cheap imported machinery and tractors, as well as jobless American engineers. In this respect, Stalin’s industrialization turned out to be cheaper for the USSR than if it had happened at the peak of the global business cycle. But let’s not forget that Russian bread and Russian exports also became cheaper. To turn a profit, Soviet industrialization needed not just cheap labor, but a slave-like one, spurred by a famine stemming from Stalin’s 1930-31 attempts at monopolizing global grain exports. As grain prices kept falling during the Great Depression, the Soviet Union was forced to increase export volume and thus physically decimate its own citizenry with starvation and terror.

In 1929, the Soviets exported 1.3 million metric tons of grain worth $68 a ton, earning $88 million. In 1930, the exports amounted to 4.8 million tons worth $45 to $60 a ton, netting a marvelous $288 million in profits. However, in October 1930, grain prices on the world market collapsed. After completely fleecing the peasantry and exporting 5.2 million tons, Stalin earned a paltry $72 million. At the same time, a mass urban exodus from the countryside required greater grain procurements for the domestic market as well. Combined with plummeting grain harvests in 1931-32, this would lead to a terrible famine, now appropriated by Ukrainian nationalists under the name of “Holodomor” and “genocide” (in reality, the Kuban and Volga regions didn’t suffer any less).

Stalin’s great contribution to industrialization consisted of employing slave labor, not in a Bronze Age or plantation economy, but in an economy of the Industrial Age, a feat hitherto unknown to human history. Stalin surpassed the kings of Egypt because the Pharaohs used slave labor to build the Pyramids only in Soviet textbooks. In reality, the work teams of peasants that took part in those colossal construction projects were well remunerated and had decent working conditions by Ancient Egyptian standards. Stalin demonstrated that Southern slave owners could compete with the industry of the Union if only they had abandoned their paternalistic views of their slaves and sent them, overseen by cruel taskmasters, to build factories, roads, and mines…

Low labor costs, achieved through extreme coercion and terror, did make the USSR capable of undertaking projects that hadn’t been considered economically viable in Tsarist Russia, such as the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, dependent on both Kuznetsk coal and Urals ore. When capital was the main factor of production, such projects wouldn’t have made a profit. The historical Russian model of industrialization was capital-intensive: the Morozovs, Ryabushinkys, Tereschenkos, Putilovs, Konovalovs and other tycoons invested in costly machinery, often more advanced than in neighboring Germany. Based on this trend, the Russian-American economist Alexander Gerschenkron wrote of the advantages of “economic backwardness,” that is, a belated industrialization.

The Bolsheviks blew the old Russian industry to smithereens. However, the Great Leader and the Great Teacher successfully triumphed over the laws of economics. The leading economic factor in Soviet industrial projects, in Soviet circumpolar canal-digging and railroad construction, was labor. Slave labor. The profitability of most industrial projects soared, as a train full of Gulag convicts acted as a replacement for costly machinery, which was doubly economical: money was saved on both expensive equipment and maintenance for the workers themselves.

Stalin sought to apply the same principle of making labor the main industrial factor while lowering the importance of capital everywhere, including science. Sharashkas and threats of arrest turned out to be a better stimulus for scientific progress, in the short run at least, than German sausages and American mansions with swimming pools. Alas, biology is different from mechanics: Vavilov couldn’t get wheat chromosomes to vernalize even at gunpoint, which ended in his elimination and the rise of Lysenko, who promised to impose Stalinist labor discipline even on plant life…

Is enriching global economic thought with the principle of forced labor superiority to the capital enough to make Stalin the greatest person in history? I don’t think so. Russia used to have its own model of industrialization, which had produced excellent results and created an industrially developed economy integrated into the global economic system. Of course, it wasn’t without its failings, and had patent elements of financial dependence. But didn’t the USSR have the same kind of dependence on foreign credit, both during and after the industrialization, though only working harder to conceal it? Professor Katasonov’s calculations reveal that all profits from Soviet exports, all the gold pillaged from the Church and the general populace, all the money made from art sales couldn’t pay for the equipment imported by the USSR. This meant that the Soviets were systematically dependent on foreign loans, which Stalin himself acknowledged on multiple occasions in his correspondence. In this respect, the Great Leader merely differed from the Tsar in hiding his debts from the masses.

World War II caught Stalin’s Soviet Union in the midst of an incomplete industrialization, dependent on foreign imports in many types of machinery, up to the eyes in debt, with a part of the populace – oftentimes the intellectually and economically superior one – exterminated or jailed, and with a unique slave-labor driven industrial economy. Any organic path of Russia’s development, especially Stolypin’s, would have given Russia much better historical prospects.

But perhaps the Stalinist Soviet Union developed some kind of unique technology that was beyond the powers of old Russia? Nope. Stalin did bequeath us the proverbial atomic piles, using slave labor and nuclear espionage to save the billions of dollars spent by the USA on the Manhattan Project, which the Soviets simply didn’t have. God forbid me from chastising Stalin for that act of espionage – actually, it was one of his greatest and most innocent achievements that cost only two human lives (the Rosenbergs) and saved millions of them.

However, Stalin kept dreaming of Soviet battleships for the entirety of his reign, but the USSR never managed to complete its large warships program. The naval contribution to the defense of Leningrad in WWII consisted of Gangut and Petropavlovsk, two Tsarist battleships built by Admiral Grigorovich and paid for by a Duma browbeaten into submission by Stolypin. Soviet aircraft carriers at that time were also a complete impossibility.

The story of Stalin’s fighter planes turned into a tale of endless anguish for engineers, constructors, and pilots, which the Great Leader himself confirmed by mass imprisonment of the apparatchiks responsible for the wartime aircraft production (the so-called “Aviation Affair”). The same thing happened with bombers: It would suffice to mention that the Soviet Tu-4 was a reverse-engineered copy of the American B-29.

These examples have nothing to do with the myth of Russia’s backwardness. Quite to the contrary: Russia, by virtue of NOT being a backward country and having amassed a huge intellectual and technological potential, could survive the emigration and mass murder of scientists and engineers and the savagery of the slave labor system, and advance to new technological horizons. However, almost all of these new horizons were revealed to us by “old-schoolers.” The most prominent of the Soviet scientists involved in the nuclear and missile projects came almost exclusively from the ranks of the “enemy class” of the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia, receiving their education either before the Revolution or in the 1920s, when the old foundations of education hadn’t been completely ruined. Without these human resources, Stalin wouldn’t have had a shot at leaving Russia with atomic piles. The same atomic piles, however, could well have been developed by the same date by a Tsar Alexey Nikolayevich or Mikhail Alexandrovic h…

By the way, about those plows that Stalin “found Russia” with. Indeed, Stalin took Russia with wooden plows… from Lenin. And Lenin had grabbed Russia by the neck after she had lost her Tsar, under whose rule she had been a country with automobiles, armored cars, Sikorsky airplanes, early aircraft carriers, battleships and tank blueprints. And the truth is that Stalin took Russia from Lenin with plows and left her with the same implements. The plow was in use in 1953 just as in 1924, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (the sokha, the Russian light wooden plow, is better suited to certain soil types than heavier plows). All in all, measuring the trajectory of Stalinism in terms of plows and atomic piles is a gross oversimplification.

However, let us not lapse into slander and calumny by claiming that all Stalin’s achievements came only as a result of cannibalism and mass destruction of his own citizens. After the war, many residential and industrial objects in the Soviet Union were erected by German POWs, following the same slave labor model. Some select citizens of the USSR whirled around Moscow in an Opel (rechristened Moskvitch) while sporting nice Carl Zeiss glasses. Stalinist industrialization got a new a material and moral resource: Victory. And that Victory is what our compatriots deservedly count as one of Stalin’s greatest achievements.

Can the victor in the greatest war in history not be named the greatest man in history? This is a story for our next article.


Part II: Stalin’s Toxic Gifts


So, let’s go back to Stalin as the “greatest person in Russian and world history.” This reputation – to the degree that it actually exists among the populace and wasn’t engineered by sociologists – dwells mostly upon the Soviet Victory in the Great Patriotic War. World War II being the greatest war ever waged by mankind, it seems reasonable and justified to hail the victor in this war as the greatest man ever.

There can be a lot of objections to this. First, the Great Patriotic War was just one part of World War II, won fair and square by the United States. The Americans, having lost the least amount of people by dint of replacing them with guns and dollars, using the Russians to do the bloody work, and stealing the thunder of their British allies, went on to become the masters of the postwar world order.

Even during the Cold War, the USSR was, for a long time, a mere challenger to American supremacy and not an equal contender. And we all know how this war ended for us. The US victory in WWII under President Roosevelt is undisputed. He died when their victory was a fait accompli, and President Truman took no new decisions of his own (Roosevelt would have probably nuked Hiroshima, too). But is Roosevelt the greatest person in history? Not quite! He keeps getting flak from the left and the right, even for his New Deal, even for his meager concessions to the Soviets in Tehran and Yalta. Even in the US proper, his ranking among top US presidents never rises above #2, and he usually occupies the #3 spot.

Regarding Russia, her greatest pre-1941 war was the Patriotic War of 1812, greatest by the stature of the enemy (Napoleon, one of the greatest characters in history), by the size and the power of his Army of the Twelve Nations, the tragedy of the fall of the Russian capital, the charity and sacrifice of the nobility, the merchant class, and the peasantry, the complete destruction of the adversary – in all these respects, the “thunder of 1812” was historically unparalleled. Who won this war? Alexander I the Blessed. To quote Pushkin’s lines, “he conquered Paris, he founded the Lyceum.”

But is this Emperor counted among the all-time greats of Russian history, according to Levada or whatever other polls? No. He is half-forgotten, his reputation destroyed by ignominious military settlements (still less outrageous than the Gulag), the infamy of Arakcheevschina (still not quite the Yezhovschina), the sin of patricide[1] (is it worse than Patria-cide?), the ridicule of other, much less flattering Pushkin poems[2]. And if it is ever to be proven that he was already been canonized by the Orthodox Church as a saint and revered by the common folk under the name of Feodor Kuzmich[3], this glory and grace would only be bestowed upon his second life, granted to expiate the sins of the first.

Stalin founded no Lyceum, he created the sharashkas, and, to paraphrase Saltykov-Schedrin’s History of a Town, “torched public schools and abolished (some of) the sciences.” He didn’t reach Paris but quite definitely conquered Berlin, a feat unseen since the days of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, God bless her memory. He lucked out with his enemy – Hitler wasn’t as great as Napoleon, but he was extraordinary vile towards the Russians and brought Russia untold devastation. Before the invasion, his generals fulminated with very clear instructions: “war crimes in the East are not to be considered as such,” “any cultural assets in the East do not matter.” Anyone who would stand between Hitler and the Russians and organize resistance was deserving of great praise.

Stalin is deserving of such praise, too. He managed to collect himself and lead the struggle, distributing his forces so that Hitler’s onslaught got bogged down in Russia’s expanse and failing to reach any Russian capital except Kiev. He evacuated and thus preserve the bulk of Soviet industrial production. The army that he assumed supreme command of experienced almost no defeats after November 1942 and led an unstoppable march to the Elbe. Stalin was prudent enough to make peace with the Russian people and unfurl the banner of Russian patriotism – quickly furled back up after the war but not as completely, since no one dared to derogate the Russians as brazenly as in the 1920s and 1930s. Stalin was shrewd enough while dealing with the Allies that the USSR ended the war with large, even somewhat excessive gains. It is historically disingenuous to deny Stalin these achievements, and it would be nothing but a parallel falsehood to the rising tide of diehard Stalinist lies, which provoked this essay in the first place.

If we are to speak of Stalin’s greatness in world history and Russian history, his halo needs to be knocked down a couple of notches. Who is to blame but the country’s political and military leader for allowing the claws of the German eagle to sink so deep into the chest of our eagle-turned-red-star? Who is to answer for the unthinkable casualties sustained by our army in the 1941 encirclements?

Of course, these losses can’t be deemed “excessive.” Modern calculations place Soviet and German irrevocable military losses at 11.5 million vs. 8.6 million, a ratio of 1:3 to 1. But what are these 3 million “surplus” dead if not the price paid for the chaos and incompetence reigning in 1941, especially in September and October, when the tide of the Blitzkrieg seemed to have been stemmed?

Yes, June 22, 1941, was a case of the Wehrmacht’s military luck, intensified by a vile sneak attack. Luck has its place in warfare. But the encirclements near Kiev and Vyazma, the siege of Leningrad, to say nothing of the crushing 1942 defeats, were less a case of German good luck than our own failures.

The more one reads documents and memoirs, the clearer it is that Stalin’s interference in warfare was incompetent, arbitrary, and short-sighted. He was intelligent, driven, obstinate, obsessive about details, and despotic, all great qualities for a general, but his mind was corrupted by Bolshevism, a belief that applying enough pressure is all it takes to achieve a result, and a resulting utopian mindset. His meticulousness often turned into nitpicking, and he would obsess over trivial details. In spite of the Neo-Stalinist mythology, his views were ideologically blinkered in many important questions. Given the conditions of a hyper-centralized system of military management, all of the Commander-in-Chief’s foibles, all of his idiosyncrasies and fantasies took their greatly magnified toll on the real command of warfare. Yes, Stalin was smarter than Hitler, but setting the bar for greatness so low would be embarrassing even for the Generalissimo himself.

“It is all well and good”, some might say, “and a lot of what you say might be true – but don’t forget, the winner takes all.

Perhaps a winner does take all, but it doesn’t make him immune to criticism for misusing his spoils of victory. An untold loss of life, devastation, suffering, the horror of POW camps, occupation, and terror should have given the Russians a right to sizeable reparations. Did Stalin give its due to the nation he called “great” in his Victory Toast? Let’s give an objective rundown of military gains and talk about Stalin’s diplomacy.

When you hear any talk of Stalinism as an era when Russia was a Great Power to be reckoned with, you should realize that World War II started, and started the way it did, only because the pre-war Stalinist USSR was a pariah state, a rogue state written off by everyone. Through Foreign Affairs Commissar Maksim Litvinov, Stalin kept proclaiming a policy of collective defense, trying to cobble together anti-Fascist coalitions. He waged a “proxy war” with the Nazis in Spain, which was such an ideological trash fire that many past Republican sympathizers had to admit that Franco, a rational nationalist with a strong vision of unity, was better than bloodthirsty Red psychos. Nothing revealed the truth about Red methods for the European Liberal Left and pitted former fellow travelers against the Soviet Union quite like the Spanish Civil War.

When, in 1938, an agreement regarding the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia was reached in Munich, no one bothered to ask the opinion of the USSR, an alleged “Great Power.” This pushed Stalin towards a reasonable and prudent idea: if you can’t side with hyenas against a wolf, you pit the wolf against the hyenas. In his 1939 pact with Hitler, Stalin attempted, without a major war or sometimes without a single shot fired, to restore the territorial losses of 1918: the Baltics, Western Ukraine and Belarus, and Bessarabia. He bungled with Finland but at least got Vyborg back. He also grabbed what hadn’t belonged to Russia but should have: Galicia and Bukovina (the latter would be cited by Hitler as a pretext for the invasion on June 22, 1941).

Was this return to imperial borders justified? It was. Did Stalin do well by this? Probably yes. Did those returned territories do any good for the Russians? Not at all. Stalin fixed the crimes and mistakes of Lenin, a fellow Bolshevik. He pushed the balance of Russian history from “in the red” to “zero.” Doesn’t sound much for a “great leader.”

But what happened to the regathered lands? They were turned into ethnic republics that easily “de-occupied” themselves in 1991. Only tiny tracts of borderlands were annexed to the Pskov Oblast. A once heavily Russified Vilna, recaptured from Poland, was given to the Lithuanian SSR. A Moldovan Republic was merged from Bessarabia and Transnistria, which is now on its way to fusing with Romania and dragging the Transnistrian Russians with it. However, Stalin’s most toxic and jinxed gift of all was Galicia. The entirety of Ukrainizing potential accumulated there over the course of Austrian and Polish dominance engulfed Soviet Ukraine and dragged it into the abyss of “anti-Moskalism.” Stalin could fight the Banderites however he wanted, but, in the national absence of a Russian idea in the USSR, with Ukrainism propped up by all means possible, it became inevitable that a Ukrainian identity would crystallize according to Galician precepts. Petro Poroshenko owes an enormous debt to Stalin, who enabled the Ukrainization of Ukrainizers.

All of these toxic gifts came with a terrible price, paid for by our people during the war. This price gave the Russians the right to expect even greater gifts, now destined only for the Russian people and no one else.

So what happened in reality? Pechenga, once the scene of St. Tryphon of Pechenga’s ascetic devotion, became Russian once again. Another restoration of what had been ours before. Carpathian Ruthenia, however, despite the pleas of Rusyn delegates to incorporate their land into the RSFSR, was not united with Russia and sacrificed on the altar of Ukrainization.

The rest was a gift to Poland, that backstabber who managed to reap three harvests from the same field. In exchange for restoring to Russia what Lenin had given away with the Riga peace treaty, they occupied, with Stalin’s consent, all of Eastern Germany, and expelled its ethnic German population, and gained highly developed industrial regions, and received the lion’s share of East Prussia, and got the Augustów district back from the USSR, and kept running around the world for 80 years complaining about the “Russian occupation” and demanding Lvov and Grodno back. Talk about stuffing the goose! And who kept feeding that pocket monster as a ploy to appease the British? Stalin, that’s who.

If there’s ever a World War III, it will start with a NATO blockade of Kaliningrad. And Stalin would be to blame for that, because he stripped the Augustów district from Belarus and carved up East Prussia in such a way that our communications with Kaliningrad stretch through Lithuania, always eager to block them entirely. Another toxic gift, because Stalin didn’t even believe that Prussia would not stay with the Russians forever. He wanted to trade it in exchange for German neutrality, which is why the first wave of Russian settlements there mainly consisted of exiles. As a result, it wasn’t really Stalin’s gift to the Russians but Adenauer’s: the West German Chancellor wasn’t swayed by the prospect of neutrality.

The same happened in the Far East. Stalin did the barest minimum of what every government of nationalist Russia would have done in a military grudge match against Japan: restoring the losses of the Russo-Japanese War and grabbing the Kuril Islands “for the trouble.” However, even those gains were left in a suspended and toxic state. Instead of strong-arming Japan into accepting the totality of our gains without further delay, the peace treaty question was dragged out until it blossomed into the mythical problem of the so-called Northern Territories. Toxic gifts, here we go again.

Let’s not forget the assets in Manchuria sacrificed in the name of solidarity with Red China – the Chinese Eastern Railway and Dalniy/Dalian, all the more frustrating because Manchuria’s specificities made it possible to give it a sui generis status profitable to the Soviets.

What could have been: Map of the “Future Europe” (not like Wilhelm II would have liked it!)

For the USSR, WWII resulted in lesser territorial gains that would have been plausibly claimed by Russia at the end of the Great War, which was “surrendered” by the Bolsheviks in Brest-Litovsk. Almost everywhere he would go, Stalin only picked up what had been squandered by Lenin. He failed to gain from a crushing German defeat even a half of what could have and would have been acquired by the Tsar. Under the Tsar, Galicia would have been incorporated into Russia under a Russian banner (to say nothing of the Turkish Straits). The few acquisitions of the Soviet Empire actually beneficial for the Russians, such as Kaliningrad, turned out to be this way almost by pure happenstance.

As part of a package deal involving these gains, the Russians got a bunch of freeloaders that had to be schooled in the ways of Communism and kept in line at gunpoint (East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia). And they had to be fed, fed, and fed once again. Exhausting the Russians under the burden of hangers-on in an incomprehensible Communist experiment is hardly a solid basis for greatness.

If we calculate the war losses of our nation and our more than modest gains, our victory was indeed Pyrrhic – as great as it was unprofitable. If it was indeed a historical comeback, it remedied not the historical faults of Tsarist Russia but those of Stalin’s mentor Lenin, who had wrecked historical Russia both morally and territorially.

Let’s give Stalin his due. He knew very well that he had started the war and had been rubbish at managing it. The Russians had every reason to give him the boot. He explicitly mentioned this in the Victory Toast: “A different people could have said to the Government: “You have failed to justify our expectations. Go away. We shall install another government which will conclude peace with Germany and assure us a quiet life.”

However, Stalin also considered the Russians’ understanding that “running away” from a world war, failing to complete it for a second time would be tantamount to ending our history as a great nation. This was evident to both people of intelligence and the national instinct of the masses. Even such a fervent anti-Communist as Ivan Ilyin wrote that a desertion similar to the one of 1917 was impossible, that one had to fight on and win. Stalin harnessed this resource of Russian prudence and patience to reap the laurels of victory. However, he failed to repay most of his “debts” to the Russians.

The war was barely over, but Marxist historians wasted no time in trampling all over the academic defenders of Russian Imperial legacy led by Academician Tarle. By Stalin’s and Zhdanov’s decree, the term “Russian nation-state” was almost completely purged from the historical idiom. Orthodox hierarchs were still needed for reasons of international diplomatic representation, but the persecution of the Church would make a comeback, including the closure of churches (bear in mind that most of the churches “opened under Stalin” were churches that reopened by themselves under German occupation, and churches reopened in Stalin-held territories were a drop in the ocean). Barely four years after the victory, state security boss Viktor Abakumov would torture those few Soviet apparatchiks who dared to have but a smidgen of Russian identity. Stalin would destroy his incredibly talented assistant Nikolay Voznesenskiy, ruining all chances of the USSR being led by an intellectually developed Russian person. In the USSR, a prison of the Russian people designed by Lenin and built by Stalin, they briefly opened a fresh-air shutter and then slammed it shut.

We, Russians, cannot elevate this man to the rank of the greatest genius in history while keeping a straight face. We cannot sell our memory – mutilated national livelihood, demolished churches, massacred priests and murdered scientists, engineers, and poets, our forefathers exiled to Siberia for refusing to give their last horse to Red activists – for a minute of Stalin’s “Victory Toast.”

Yes, we should be fair in our historical judgment and shouldn’t defame Stalin with the fantasies of the “children of the Arbat”[4]. But we also should, with even greater force and rage, be fair in the opposite respect: never cutting Stalin any slack for his horrifying sins, mistakes, cruelties, and injustices, never forgetting just how many eggs he broke to make his omelet.


[1] Alexander I is widely accepted to have been complicit in the palace coup that led to the death of his father Paul I.

[2] For instance, in the so-called Chapter X of Eugene Onegin, Pushkin described Alexander I as “a feeble and conniving ruler, a bald fop, the enemy of all work, crowned with glory by happenstance.”

[3] Legend has it that Alexander I, remorseful of his past misdeeds and faced with a profound religious crisis, feigned his own death in 1825 and fled to Siberia, where he lived as a starets (mystic hermit) under the name of Feodor Kuzmich (died 1864). The Orthodox Church officially canonized Feodor Kuzmich as a saint in 1984 but rejects his identification with the Emperor.

[4] Reference to Anatoly Rybakov’s 1987 novel Children of the Arbat (referring to a central Moscow street populated by high-ranking “Old Bolsheviks” after the revolution), a hallmark of Perestroika anti-Stalinism, where Stalin was portrayed as a one-dimensionally diabolical and sadistic figure.

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