Stalinism Without Stalin

By Tim Wall (October 27, 2011)

This weekend marks 20 years since Russia first officially commemorated victims of Stalinist repression, and will see poignant but low-key ceremonies of remembrance at the Solovetsky Stone on Moscow’s Lubyanskaya Ploshchad and elsewhere.

Yet more than seven decades since Josef Stalin’s original mass purges, has the country really come to terms with this dark chapter in its history?

Russia is not the only country having to face up to a history of political repression. But there still has been no proper public accounting ¬ either for the period of Stalin’s rule, or for the decades of Stalinism without Stalin that followed.

Millions of people still don’t have full access to the NKVD/KGB records that would tell them what happened, and the security services have provided no full explanation or apology for their role in the purges and the Gulag.

Historians who want to uncover the truth are too often hindered and harassed in their work, rather than given full access to the archives.

This rehabilitation is vital for the healing process. But so is learning the lessons, so that this totalitarianism nightmare is not repeated.

Yet the country’s media too often obscures the role of Stalin and Stalinism. Instead of honestly examining Stalin’s flawed war record, the media still tends to uncritically credit him for the victory ¬ as a way by proxy of honoring the 26 million Soviet citizens who died.

It’s true that, from time to time, the country’s leaders do acknowledge it was the Soviet people, not Stalin, who defeated Nazism.

The well-worn phrase “effective manager,” applied to Stalin, is a misnomer. How were the millions of lives sacrificed needlessly during the inept Five-Year Plans, and the massive attendant bureaucratic waste, an efficient use of the country’s human and economic resources?

Sadly, we still see the same bureaucratic disease persisting in Russia today. The tendency to obey orders passed down the power vertical unquestioningly, regardless of their merits, creates a situation where inefficiency, waste and corruption are legion.

Not only do we still have to hold a reckoning with Stalin, but also with the Stalinism without Stalin that continues to blight the country’s human and economic development.