Stalin, Putin and History

, by Afonso Morango

Stalin, Putin and History
source: pixabay

History is on the move again - Arnold J. Toynbee

Circumstances may reveal people’s abilities, but it is the choices they make that highlight character.

Joseph Stalin was born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili on December 18, 1878 (although he later invented a new birth date for himself: December 21, 1879), in the small town of Gori, Georgia, then part of the Russian empire. When he was in his 30s, he took the name Stalin, from the Russian for man of steel.

Stalin grew up poor and an only child. As a boy, Stalin contracted smallpox, which left him with lifelong facial scars. As a teen, he earned a scholarship to attend a seminary in the nearby city of Tblisi and study for the priesthood in the Georgian Orthodox Church. While there he began secretly reading the work of the German social philosopher and Communist Manifesto author Karl Marx, becoming interested in the revolutionary movement against the Russian monarchy.

After leaving school, Stalin became an underground political agitator, taking part in labor demonstrations and strikes. He was usually characterised as a talented politician and a convincing party comrade. This is how he fooled the other members of the Politburo - including Trotsky, who despite his intellectual brilliance, turned out to be an inept politician.

Before his death, Lenin had warned of the danger of Stalin’s rise to power and of his brutality in a letter that was hidden by the dictator himself for several years and only came to light during Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation process. Starting in the late 1920s, Joseph Stalin launched a series of five-year plans intended to transform the Soviet Union from a peasant society into an industrial superpower. His development plan was centered on government control of the economy and included the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture, in which the government took control of farms. Millions of farmers refused to cooperate with Stalin’s orders and were shot or exiled as punishment. The forced collectivization also led to widespread famine across the Soviet Union that killed millions. The forced labour camps and the millions of deaths, clearly visible in the scars of European memory, have left one of the greatest butchers in History.

Stalin was mainly responsible for the great Ukrainian famine of 1932-33. His motivation was economic and political. Having started in 1928-29, the process of forcibly taking grain from the peasants had as its main consequence the interruption of grain distribution. The following year, Stalin intensified the confiscation of Ukrainian peasants’ grain.

Vladimir Putin was born in the Soviet city of Leningrad in October 1952 and was his parents’ only surviving child. His childhood was spent in Leningrad, where his youthful pursuits included training first in sambo (a martial art combining judo and wrestling that was developed by the Soviet Red Army) and then in judo. After school, Putin studied law at Leningrad State University and immediately joined the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB. He was posted to Dresden in East Germany in 1985, after completing a year of study at the KGB’s academy in Moscow. He was recalled from Dresden to Leningrad just as the USSR was on the verge of collapse. Putin sees himself as the longed-for leader of post-Soviet Russia. While we are dazzled by our own modernity, Putin revives an ancient vision of history and the nation’s divine mission. The leader of an exceptional nation.

It is remarkable—almost hard to believe—that for 15 years there has not been a single substantive biography published in Russian, by a Russian, of President Putin. It is true that a few very incomplete books appeared in his first months as president. There is also, of course, Putin’s own autobiography, which appeared in early 2000. Attempting to write about Vladimir Putin is thus a challenge for many reasons.

Sitting alone at a white desk, Vladimir Putin listened in turn to government members, military and security chiefs addressing him from a podium, defending Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Days later, on 24 February 2022, history would once again see its course change at the hands of a dictator.

Putin has only one logic: the adversary is weak, he advances. The adversary is strong, he waits. He rarely retreats. He measures weakness, and when he senses it, he advances mercilessly. He is trying to shred Ukraine and his dream is to be the longest Russian or Soviet leader in power. He has already overtaken Leonid Brejnev, The Last Tsar, Nicholas II of Russia, and, according to constitutional changes, he will be in power until 2036, overtaking Stalin in a few years. Putin is trying to intellectualise the barbarity he is carrying out by repeating several times the idea of “one people” and other completely staple excuses and justifications. Curiously, Putin never mentions the great famine in Ukraine caused by Stalin.

The onslaught in Ukraine is just the latest development in a strategy that Putin has exercised since he became president - a strategy that is steeped in a very specific view of the world and of history; and one that goes completely unnoticed if we continue to look only at the surface of his actions. After the October 1917 revolution, Lenin set up a cabinet that became officially known as the Council of People’s Commissars, consisting of fifteen members, among whom were Trotsky and Stalin. Ten of the fifteen members of the Council of People’s Commissars were murdered during the Stalinist purges, including Trotsky, in Mexico, the result of a multi-year plan. Stalin did not hesitate to get rid of them as soon as he could no longer see any use for them. It was with this coldness and ruthlessness that he ruled the former USSR.

On this unfortunate date, the peoples who according to the UN Charter have an equal right to live on the earth in freedom see that Russia has placed the Military Order in great danger.

For the Russian dictator, Russia is nothing more than the City of God among the cities of men.

The last war of 1939-1945, whose imagined end was announced on a day of “joy and tears”, gave birth to Two Europes. The Old Continent was a new form of two identities. The Berlin Wall served as a visible red line, and the Eastern half was submissive to Soviet power and ideology until 1989.

Today the risks are worldwide. We are far from the time when, in the UN premises, a room with significant organisation was set up for meditation by all parts. Putin’s invocation of the Third Rome and trying with it the submission of the will of the Russian people, is the creation of an assumed violation of the principle that the earth is the abode of all men, and free.

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