Every century requires an appropriately exclusive Russian devil
This article originally appeared at Fort Russ
So it would seem my recent post on Mozgovoy's assassination had hit a nerve. Or two, judging by the sheer number of comments and the disbelief contained within them. So here's the inevitable follow-up post on the Most Interesting Man in the World, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and what he represents. In my humble (oh, who am I kidding?) opinion, he's just what the title says. He's Stalin done right. He's Stalin updated to reflect the changed circumstances.
But first, let's talk about his illustrious predecessor, Iosif Vissaronovich Stalin and the situation the Bolsheviks inherited after Lenin's death:
That sounds about right, doesn't it? Let's keep in mind that's the context in which Stalin's and Trotsky's struggle for power is unfolding. Therefore, irrespective of Trotsky's (highly overrated, but that's another post) contribution as the leader of the Red Army during the revolution and the Civil War, the policy that he was proposing was nothing short of suicidal. Seriously, a policy of active promotion of a "world revolution" would likely mean Hitler would have plenty of willing allies in the West (up to and including both France and, especially, Great Britain) in his crusade against USSR. In other words, Stalin won the debate largely on merits, Trotsky lost for all the right reasons, except that he refused to accept his defeat--and that's what got ultimately got him and his acolytes killed off. The time for debate had passed, the time for action had come, but Trotsky was acting as if the CPSU was a big debating society even as Hitler was busy fashioning the Third Reich into a huge battering ram against the USSR.
Stalin's strategy was simple: industrialization, mass mobilization (with the purges, especially, serving as the big motivating factor, both as a stick and a carrot--let's not forget the promotion opportunities!) and, internationally, a combination of buying time, attempting to build a coalition, and demonstrating that the Red Army was a non-trivial adversary. Which it did in Spain and on Khalkhin-Gol. He succeeded in deflecting Japan's ambitions away from USSR, though failed (not really through his own fault) to securing a coalition against Hitler, which forced him, after Munich '38 which was really the last chance to stop Hitler from going to war, into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. A pact which, no matter what anyone in the West says, was not only justified by the circumstances but was also the natural response to the West's pathological unwillingness to regard USSR as an ally against Hitler, to the point that an reasonable observer might assume that maybe the West was viewing Hitler as an ally against USSR.
Was the strategy effective? Absolutely! We just watched the 70th Anniversary parade, didn't we? Was it costly? No question about it. Costly in terms of the human losses associated with the collectivization, the purges, but also in terms of USSR's inability to ratchet down Stalin's policies when they were no longer vitally necessary. It was that inability that ultimately undermined USSR's economy and the Soviet peoples' faith in the system. The strategy, cost and all, was justified by the circumstances, which also means that if the circumstances are different, the strategy has to be different as well.
Which brings us to Vladimir Vladimirovich. The situation is a lot like the 1930s. A worldwide economic crisis which motivates Western powers to get out it the old-fashioned way--through expansion, very much as Nazi Germany attempted in the '30s and '40s. But otherwise things are not entirely the same.
Starting with: NATO is no Wehrmacht. It is in no position to launch 300 divisions against the Russian mainland, in fact, unlike death-wish-driven Hitler, Western powers are positively terrified of fighting Russia on its own soil:
Entirely too many invincible Western armies had died on Russian soil to make that a palatable proposition for anyone today.
That being the case, while Russia is pursuing a very similar strategy today to that pursued by USSR in the '30s, it is ratcheted down to reflect the lesser nature of the threat. But on the fundamentals it is identical. Industrialization? Check. A slow-motion and bloodless purge? Check. Buying time? Check. Attempting to create a coalition? Check. Demonstrating the Russian Army is a non-trival battlefield adversary? I think that Crimea and the "Northern Wind" has done that job very nicely.
At the same time, there's no need to depart from Lenin's New Economic Policy/"commanding heights" approach to managing the economy which Russia has adopted after the 1990s. There's no need to collectivize and nationalize everything, given the difficulty of reversing the process (heck, even Russia's moviemakers understand the downsides of Stalinism!) There's no need to endow Putin with unchecked powers--he is quite simply what Stalin was supposed to be, a General Secretary who implements that which the Politburo has decided to do.
But there is a need for discipline. Unlike in the '30s, participation in Russia's current national security endeavors is optional--but should you opt to participate, you have to accept the iron discipline that comes with it. This is not a nature outing with live ammunition, after all. If you choose to be a cog in the machine, you have to turn in the direction you are ordered, not in the direction you think might be better because that's not up to you to decide. If you want to be like Trotsky and think you can turn the way you want to turn, thus endangering the entire machine and every other cog within it, be prepared to suffer Trotsky's fate. There were some comments, both on the blog and facebook, to the effect "how dare you compare Putin to Stalin!". Well, Stalin had people shot for transgressions far lesser than those of Mozgovoy. Let that sink in for a while.