Military


Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili / Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

J.V.Stalin, 30 January 1947
The Washington Post, Loose-Leaf Notebook by Leonard Lyons, Page 9.
This is probably the most chilling quotations attributed to Stalin, even though there is no direct first-hand evidence that he actually said it. The writer Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970), author of All Quiet on the Western Front, one of the best-known novels dealing with the Great War, is said by some to have coined the phrase in his novel The Black Obelisk (1957). The earliest attestation is in the writing of Kurt Tucholsky from 1925 "The death of a person: this is a disaster. A hundred thousand dead: this is a statistic!" - attribuated to a French diplomat [Gesamtausgabe, Band 7, Text 136, page 375].

After Lenin's death, two conflicting schools of thought regarding the future of the Soviet Union arose in party debates. Left-wing Communists believed that world revolution was essential for the survival of socialism in the economically backward Soviet Union. Trotsky, one of the primary proponents of this position, called for Soviet support for permanent revolution around the world. As for domestic policy, the left wing advocated the rapid development of the economy and the creation of a socialist society. In contrast with these militant Communists, the right wing of the party, recognizing that world revolution was unlikely in the immediate future, favored the gradual development of the Soviet Union through NEP programs. Yet even Bukharin, one of the major right-wing theoreticians, believed that socialism could not triumph in the Soviet Union without assistance from more economically advanced socialist countries.

Against this backdrop of contrasting perceptions of the Soviet future, the leading figures of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) -- the new name of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) as of December 1925 -- competed for influence. The Kamenev-Zinov'ev-Stalin troika, supporting the militant international program, successfully maneuvered against Trotsky and engineered his removal as commissar of war in 1925. In the meantime, Stalin gradually consolidated his power base and, when he had sufficient strength, broke with Kamenev and Zinov'ev. Belatedly recognizing Stalin's political power, Kamenev and Zinov'ev made amends with Trotsky to join against their former partner. But Stalin countered their attacks on his position with his well-timed formulation of the theory of "socialism in one country." This doctrine, calling for construction of a socialist society in the Soviet Union regardless of the international situation, distanced Stalin from the left and won support from Bukharin and the party's right wing. With this support, Stalin ousted the leaders of the "Left Opposition" from their positions in 1926 and 1927 and forced Trotsky into exile. By the end of the NEP era, free debate within the party thus became progressively limited as Stalin gradually eliminated his opponents.

The tradition of tight centralization, with decision-making concentrated at the highest party levels, reached new dimensions under Joseph Stalin. There was little input from below. The party elite determined the goals of the state and the means of achieving them in almost complete isolation from the people. They believed that the interests of the individual were to be sacrificed to those of the state, which was advancing a sacred social task. Stalin's "revolution from above" sought to build socialism by means of forced collectivization and industrialization, programs that entailed tremendous human suffering and loss of life.

The early 1950s were the period of the most ruthless oppression in the East European satellites. The war in Korea caused still greater emphasis on the priority of heavy industry than normal Communist dogma would require. This led to an upward " revision " of output targets in 1951 for the Czechoslovak and Hungarian FiveYear and the Polish Six-Year plans. The standard of living of the working class declined from an already low level, whereas everyone had previously expected a substantial rise. Pressure on the peasants was increased. In Czechoslovakia and Hungary collectivisation was pushed ahead, in East Germany it was begun. In Poland and Rumania there was still little collectivisation, but the demands of the State for farm produce, and the various forms of persecution of alleged "kulaks" became more severe.

These years were also a period of intensified terror within the Communist Parties. In Hungary the purge of alleged " nationalist deviationists " continued after the execution of the main victim, Laszlo Rajk, in September 1949. During 1951 many prominent Communists who had had no love for Rajk, and who had shown themselves to be anything but nationalists, were imprisoned and tortured.

In the early 1950s, Stalin, now an old man, apparently permitted his subordinates in the Politburo (enlarged and called the Presidium by the Nineteenth Party Congress in October 1952) greater powers of action within their spheres. (Also at the Nineteenth Party Congress, the name of the party was changed from the All-Union Communist Party [Bolshevik] to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.) Indicative of the Soviet leader's waning strength, Secretary Georgii M. Malenkov delivered the political report to the Nineteenth Party Congress in place of Stalin. Although the general secretary took a smaller part in the day-to-day administration of party affairs, he maintained his animosity toward potential enemies.

On 4 March 1953 Radio Moscow announced that Stalin was in critical condition as a result of a stroke on the night of 1-2 March. When Stalin died on March 5, 1953 (under circumstances that are still unclear), his inner circle, which had feared him for years, secretly rejoiced.

During his quarter-century of dictatorial control, Stalin had overseen impressive development in the Soviet Union. From a comparatively backward agricultural society, the country had been transformed into a powerful industrial state. But in the course of that transformation, millions of people had been killed, and Stalin's use of repressive controls had become an integral function of his regime. How Stalin's system would be maintained or altered would be a question of vital concern to Soviet leaders for years after him.

In 2005 several sociological agencies have conducted surveys on Russians' attitudes towards his personality and deeds. The opinion turns out to be split almost equally. According to Bashkirova & Partners, 47% of respondents believe that Generalissimo Stalin played a positive part in the country's history, while 43% viewed his role negatively to varying extents. At the same time, the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM,) has discovered that 50% of Russians are still influenced by Stalin's personality cult and only 37% condemn his activities. The VTsIOM pollsters noted that the share of those who give Stalin an absolutely positive assessment has increased by 4%.

In addition, VTsIOM asked a provocative question: Does today's Russia need a politician like Stalin? The results showed that society was divided into two camps: 42% want to see "a new Stalin" in the Kremlin, while 52% were against the idea. There are more "neo-Stalinists" among older people: 60% compared with 31% among the younger generation. Yuri Levada's Analytical Center wanted to learn what Russians thought about the possibility of unveiling monument to Stalin by the 60th anniversary of VE-Day. The survey showed that 37% of respondents thought it necessary, while 29% supported the idea and 28% were indifferent. Most Russians did not approve of a proposal to give Volgograd its former name, Stalingrad (changed in 1961), with 61% against and 23% in favor.

A complex character whose favorite piece of music was reportedly a record featuring dogs howling along to an orchestra and who frightened one of the last reporters to interview him by drawing dozens of ferocious wolves on a scrap of paper, Stalin's philosophy can perhaps be best summed up by a quote from the man himself: "I trust no one, not even myself."




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