“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Old Joe Stalin

As the Bush Administration attempts to rehabilitate itself in the last few days of its existence, Vladimir Putin has in his vainglorious KGB style, been corrupting truth for ten years. The Russians, who have never met a dictator or despot they could not adore are outdoing themselves in a remarkable flight to the dark side but really, Joseph Fucking Stalin?

Reagan was right when he called them the Evil Empire. Soviets re-packaged as Russians, are still dangerous, still self-destructive and still toxic to their neighbors.

This story confirms my long held suspicions. The Cold War never ended, it paused. No wars ever end without vanquish and triumphalism. The KGB defector, Igor Gouzenko said it best in "The Fall of Titan", "the only thing a communist understands is a cocked gun up to his head."


The sinister resurrection of Stalin


The Soviet leader’s triumphant imperialism is the key to his rehabilitation under Putin, believes Anne Applebaum.

Who is the greatest Russian of all time? In the unlikely event that you answered “Stalin”, you would be in good company. One of the 20th century’s most horrific dictators has just come third in an opinion poll conducted by a Russian television station. Some 50 million people are said to have voted.

Myself, I have some doubts about the veracity of this poll, particularly given that the television station in question is state-owned, and therefore manipulated by the Kremlin. Also, first place went to Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince who defeated German invaders – and an ideal symbol for the Putinist regime, which prides itself on its defiance of the West. Second place went to Piotr Stolypin, a turn-of-the-century economic reformer who, among other things, gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia – another excellent symbol for the “reformer with an iron fist” label to which both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev aspire.

Both seem too good to be true; neither had ever before seemed like candidates for such an august title. Had the poll been completely free, I expect Stalin would have come in first place. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the government, media and teaching professions in Russia have spent a good chunk of the past decade trying to rehabilitate him – and not by accident.

All nations politicise history to some extent, of course. But in Russia, the tradition of falsification and manipulation of the past is deeper and more profound than almost anywhere else. In its heyday, the KGB retouched photographs to remove discredited comrades, changed history books to put other comrades in places where they had not been, monitored and tormented professional historians. Russia’s current leaders are their descendants, sometimes literally.

But even those who are not the children of KGB officers were often raised and trained inside the culture of the KGB – an organisation that believed that history was not neutral but rather something to be used, cynically, in the battle for power. In Putinist Russia, events are present in textbooks, or absent from official culture, because someone has taken a conscious decision that it should be so.

And, clearly, a decision has been made about Stalin. In a recently released, officially sanctioned Russian history textbook, in public celebrations and official speeches, the attitude towards him runs something like this: “Mistakes were made… errors were committed… but great things were achieved. And it was all worth it.”

This public portrayal of Stalin is highly selective. The many, many millions who died in the Gulag, in mass deportations or in mass murders are mentioned only as a kind of aside. Stalin’s purges of his closest colleagues and revolutionary comrades are given short shrift. The terror that made people afraid to speak their minds openly, that made children turn their parents in to the police, that stunted families and friendships, is absent from most contemporary accounts. Even Stalin’s programmes of industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation – which modernised the country at enormous cost to the population, the environment, and Russia’s long-term economic health – are not dwelled upon.

Instead, it is Stalin’s wartime leadership that is widely celebrated, and in particular his moment of imperial triumph in 1945, when Soviet-style communism was imposed on Russia’s western neighbours. In that year, Eastern Europe became a Russian colony and, more to the point, Stalin negotiated as an equal with Roosevelt and Churchill.

Annually, Russia’s May celebrations of the anniversary of victory in 1945 grow more elaborate. Last year, they included several thousand Russian soldiers dressed in Soviet uniforms, waving the Soviet flag and singing Soviet songs. Major pieces of weaponry were paraded across Red Square, just like in the old days, to enormous applause.

Books about the war have also now become a major publishing phenomenon in a country that, up until a few years ago, hardly published any popular history at all. Most major bookstores now have a war section, often featuring books like one I picked up in Moscow a few months ago. Entitled We Defeated Berlin and Frightened New York, it is the memoir of a pilot who describes the joy of bombing raids and revels in Russia’s long-lost power to frighten others.

Even more significant is the role that the celebration of the Soviet Union’s imperial zenith now plays in a larger narrative about recent Russian history, namely the story of the 1980s and the 1990s. Famously, Putin once said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, presumably larger than either world war. He, along with the Russian media and the current Russian president who echo him, now considers the more open discussion of the Stalinist past that took place during Gorbachev’s glasnost to have been a distraction, a moment of national weakness. More to the point, they openly attribute the economic hardships of the 1990s not to decades of communist neglect and widespread theft, but to deliberate Western meddling, Western-style democracy and Western-style capitalism.

In fact, this argument now lies at the heart of the current Russian leadership’s popular legitimacy. Summed up, it goes something like this: communism was stable and safe; post-communism was a disaster. Putinism, within which Medvedev fits naturally, represents a return at last to the stability and safety of the communist period. Cheer for Stalin, cheer for Putin, cheer for Medvedev, and the media will once again be predictable, salaries will be paid on time, Russia’s neighbours will be cowed, and Russia’s leaders will, once again, negotiate on equal terms with the leaders of the West.

Besides, the more people take pride in the Stalinist past, the less likely they are to want a system that is more genuinely democratic and genuinely capitalist – a system in which the Russians might, for example, vote their president out of power, or hold a street revolution of the kind that brought down corrupt, post-Soviet governments in Georgia and Ukraine. The more nostalgia there is for Soviet-era symbols, the more secure the KGB clique is going to be.

None of which implies that the current Russian government is itself Stalinist either. As the recent election of Medvedev proved, Putin does not need that level of repression in order to stay in power. Too much violence might even threaten his legitimacy which is, as I say, based on an implied guarantee of stability and safety.
Nor was this rewriting of history ever inevitable. Despite the clichés people often spout about Russians invariably leaning towards authoritarianism or dictatorship, Russia was never condemned to celebrate this version of history.

On the contrary, a future government could, instead, rediscover the legacy of Russian liberalism at the beginning of the 20th century or even the legacy of the Russian dissidents, who in the 1960s and 1970s essentially invented what we now call the modern human rights movement. Every country has a right to celebrate some positive elements of its past, and Russia is no exception. But that Putin and his colleagues have chosen, of all things, to celebrate Stalinist imperialism tells us a good deal about their vision of their country’s future.

Anne Applebaum is the author of 'Gulag: a History’ (Penguin)


  1. Before


    Beginnings of Photo shop.


    Stalin died four days later, on March 5, 1953, at the age of 74, and was embalmed on March 9. His daughter Svetlana recalls the scene as she stood by his death bed: "He suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance. Then something incomprehensible and awesome happened. He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse upon all of us. The next moment after a final effort the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh."

    Svetlana, who was kind of nasty herself, means something like inner light, or some such, in Roosian, I believe.

    I always thought ol' Joe had a vision of the devil at his death.

  2. I know it's out of style, but it occurs to me that the idea of a malignant spirit, or a devil, or the idea of possession, might be as useful a psychological notion as, say, a superego.

  3. The Israeli army announced yesterday the creation of its own YouTube channel, through which it will disseminate footage of precision bombing operations in the Gaza Strip.

    This is a good one, especially at the end when the ammo dump begins having secondary explosions which are an especially good indicator of a hit.

  4. Bobal: I know it's out of style, but it occurs to me that the idea of a malignant spirit, or a devil, or the idea of possession, might be as useful a psychological notion as, say, a superego.

    That would be like saying phlogiston is a useful notion for chemistry. Going backward. The whole possession idea came about when people who had a real dysfunction in their brain, purely physiological, were seen by terrified onlookers to be under the control of evil spirits. And when Jesus healed their minds, they even said he "cast out devils". To equate demons to some humans, such as the one who killed six million Jews, would be an insult to demons.

  5. Aha, I get it. If you post more than one link per post on the Belmont Club, Wretchard has to approve the article before it appears. Nothing personal.

    RNC draft rips Bush's bailouts

    Ralph Z. Hallow


    Republican Party officials say they will try next month to pass a resolution accusing President Bush and congressional Republican leaders of embracing "socialism," underscoring deep dissension within the party at the end of Mr. Bush's administration.

  7. December consumer confidence drops to all-time low
    Ellen Simon
    Consumer confidence hit an all-time low in December, dropping unexpectedly in the face of layoffs and deteriorating markets for housing, stocks and other investments.

    The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index fell to 38 in December from a revised 44.7 in November. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the index to rise incrementally to 45.

    The separate Present Situation index, which measures how respondents feel about business conditions and employment prospects, fell to 29.4 in December from 42.3 in November. It is now close to levels last seen after the 1990-1991 recession.

    "Deepening job insecurity and falling asset prices are outweighing any optimism consumers may have derived from falling gas prices," said Dana Saporta, U.S. economist at investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort.

    The unemployment rate hit a 15-year high of 6.7 percent in November and economists expect additional job losses in the first half of 2009.

    In the Conference Board survey, those saying jobs are "hard to get" rose to 42 percent in December from 37.1 percent in November, while those claiming jobs are "plentiful" decreased to 6.2 percent from 8.7 percent.

    The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes decreased to 12.7 percent in December from 13.1 percent in November.

  8. I always thought ol' Joe had a vision of the devil at his death.

    If he did, I pity the poor devil.

    The Greatest Russian! Boy, that's a hell of a question. Makes the head start spinnin. Take out a couple of tiresome writers, and it just becomes an exercise in futility (absurdity?)

    Maybe if you went back to the Scythians.(?)

  9. Ad for Chicago Furniture Store: We Sell More Seats than the Governor.

    And, our "Senate Seat" only costs $1995.00.

    Ya gotta love this country.

  10. Cynthia McKinney, Green Party Candidate, Tries To Run Israeli Naval Blockade

    Quess I don't really have anything against Cynthia, other than she's nuts. How this stunt helps 'save the world' I haven't figured out.

  11. Senate democrats are refusing to seat Blago's Senate pick. It's all about the taint of corruption, you know. Have to think about the party's clean image, and all that. Now, if they'd just go ahead and demand an open election, as they ought to do, they might be getting somewhere.....

    Anticipating Ash--"what would your attitude be if it were a Republican seat, bob?"

  12. In 2006, some party members presented a resolution challenging Mr. Bush's plan to legalize illegal immigrants and enact a guest-worker program. Mr. Bush's lieutenants fought back, arguing that the party should not tie the president's hands on a policy issue, and the RNC capitulated, passing an alternate White House-backed resolution instead.

    This time, the backers of the new resolution say they will not be deterred by a fight, and say they have the numbers to pull off this rebellion.

    "We have enough co-sponsors to take this to the RNC floor" at the party's Jan. 28-31 annual winter meeting in Washington, Mr. Bopp said. "I will take it to the Resolutions Committee, but I intend to press this issue to the floor for decision."

    North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth said it's time for the RNC to end the disconnect between what the party platform says and what elected Republicans do.

    "It is time the party gets involved in policy issues and forces candidates to respond to the platform," Mr. Emineth said. "Frankly the way we view the platform is a joke. We work hard to drive our principles into the platform, then candidates ignore it."
    "For the past eight years, the RNC has been the political outreach of the White House," said Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen, another resolution co-sponsor who led the 2006 immigration fight and who opposed Mr. Bush's "economic policies promoting the 'ownership society' because they would eventually lead to the financial meltdown we are currently experiencing."

    "It is now time for the RNC to assert itself in terms of ideas and political philosophy," Mr. Pullen added.

    "If we don't do it now, when will we?"

  13. If it were a Republican Seat, Mr. Clean Jeans Obama would get someone's sealed divorce records open and...

    ...oh, wait, that's ancient history.

  14. Princess Kennedy said
    "You know"
    141 times, you know:

    John got a better education in the Navy than his daughter did at Harvard.

  15. 141 times?!

    Wow, rad, outta sight!

    Blows my mind!

  16. Mind Blown.
    Operation Complete.

  17. "Mr. Bopp, a social conservative who has served as counsel to pro-life groups, said, "We must stand for and publicly advocate our conservative principles as a party 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year."

    The RNC revolutionaries leave no doubt they mean to turn the committee into policy-producing and enforcing machine.

    "In the long run, we want to see this committee play an active philosophical-policy leadership role for the national GOP," Mr. Yue said.

    But it remains unclear whether the rules or the machinery exist for enforcing such a resolution on Republican elected officials."

  18. "Stalin is defending the Fatherland on the Western Front"

    "Hitler is building roads across Germany."

    "Mussolini is making the trains run on time."

    These are examples of the Royal Metaphor, a happier example which is "Queen Elizabeth II Is Caring For The Empire", metaphors where an individual is put for the whole.

    The Royal Metaphor is found in the religious world as well.

    "What is significant here is that religioius bodies do not effectively express any alternative of loyalty to the totalitarian state, because they use the same metaphors of merging and individual subservience."

    One is 'a member of the Body of Christ'.

    "And yet there are quite different ways of formulating the Royal Metaphor....Paul, for example, says that he is dead as what we should call the ego, and that only Christ lives within him.(Galations 2:20) This is the same metaphor, but the metaphor is turned inside out. Instead of an individual finding his fulfillment within a social body, however sacrosanct, the metaphor is reversed from a metaphor of integration into a wholly decentralized one, in which the total body is complete within each individual. The individual acquires the internal authority of the Logos, and it is this unity that makes him an individual. Paul's phrase "not I" means that he is not talking about any form of private judgment or any egocentric formulation of the metaphor. Private judgment is for dreams, where, as Heraclitus says, every man is his own Logos. Naturally what is expressed here is an ideal and not a permanent achievement, even for Paul; but then no permanent achievement is ever enough.

    In our day Simone Weil has found the traditional doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ to be a major obstacle--not impossibly the major obstacle--to her entering it. She points out that it does not differ enough from other metaphors of integration, such as the class solidarity metaphor of Marxism, and says:

    Our true dignity is not to be parts of a body....It consists in this, that in the state of perfection which is the vocation of each one of us, we no longer live in ourselves, but Christ lives in us; so that through our perfection Christ....becomes in a sense each one of us, as he is completely in each host. The hosts are not a part of his body.

    from "The Great Code: The Bible and Literature" Northrope Frye

    Beware the Royal Metaphor.

  19. Palin=Stupid

    ...and the absurdity of Uncle Ted (aka known as The Swimmer, The Molester, or The Mooch.)

    asking Clarence Thomas if he had ever rented a porno flick.

    ...imagine Orin Hatch doing the same with Barry Hussein, or the charming and lovely, Mrs. Obama,
    aka The First Ho.

  20. Beitbart TV
    Carolyn Says You Know 138 Times in NY Times interview.

    Tina Fey for Senator.
    The Princess was Barry's Choice to Choose VP Biden.

  21. Repeat the lie in a nice suit 1000 times over and over, and it becomes truth.

    Hitler and Stalin knew what's best for us.

  22. Well at least now the question is in the air, Who are the "Republicans", are they the elected officials, those that stand before the people, or are the real Republicans those that stay in the back room, smoking cigars from Dominica, while pontifficating on ideology?

    The self-selected vs the elected.

    It'll be a battle royale, if the RNC owns the mailing lists. If not, it's a whole lot of nothin' about somethin'

  23. No, amigo doug, FDR knew what was best, for US.

    Stalin and Hitler, they knew what was best for Europe.

    Funny that Ms Renee chooses to highlight the 6 million number tallied by the Germans as beyond demonic, while ignoring the 20 million plus that Uncle Joe toted to the Soviets tally.

    As most folks do, in America.

    A far greater holocaust befell Russia and its' empire of non-Soviets than touched the rest of Europe during the era of the Great Wars.

  24. The Islamic Society of North America was honored to have Rabbi Eric Yoffie speak at our annual convention in Chicago in 2007. As President of ISNA, I was proud that our community was so receptive to Rabbi Yoffie’s address and to this project that was to follow.

    Many of our members have been engaged in dialogue with members of the Jewish community at the local level. Many more have considered this engagement important, but have lacked the support to move forward.

    The American Muslim community is limited in its institutional resources – we do not yet have enough American born and educated religious leaders, education specialists and administrators, much less seminaries and research institutions, to meet other, more established religious communities on equal terms. What we do not lack, however, are Muslims all over America with a sincere desire to contribute positively to a vibrant, pluralistic and just American society.

    Dr. Ingrid Matson, President, Islamic Society of North America

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Similar to the 4,000 killed in the long war, versus the Mini-Holocaust of 40,000 innocent men, women, and children eliminated via the illegal invasion on GWB's watch.

  27. The Rebirth of the Stalin Cult

    We should recall--and praise-- our own George Washington, who probably really could have been King, and walked away from the opportunity.

  28. Well, unaware, but by common sense reasoning, ahead of the curve.

    The current battle of Gaza does have heavy Egyptian influences.

    As outlined here at the WaPo.
    Things began to sour when Hamas violently seized control of Gaza, but even then, Hamas enjoyed considerable domestic support -- and much goodwill externally. Then the movement turned down every legitimate offer from its nationalist PLO rivals and Egyptian mediators to pursue reconciliation, and support for it began to slip.

    Things got worse in November when a carefully planned national unity effort from the Egyptians failed because, at the very last minute, Hamas's leaders refused to show up in Cairo. Failure to accept this roundtable invitation greatly upset the Egyptians, and they and other Arab leaders scolded Hamas publicly. Omar Suleiman, the head of the Egyptian intelligence service who was organizing the meeting, termed Hamas's reasons for rebuffing the invitation "unwarranted excuses."

    Link Fatah and Egypt and allow the Egyptians the authority for defense of 'Palistine" in the west and Jordan the authority in the east.
    A geographicly divided CityState cannot survive, look and Pakistan/Bangladesh as an Islamic example of dysfunction of the concept even with large geographic areas and populations.

  29. The German tally was far higher than six million, if you start counting in the other groups, commies, Christians, gyps, queers, Poles, Slavs etc. etc. etc. The list is extensive. I'm not exactly sure who comes out ahead in the derby of death. Things were unpleasant in the Orient, as well. But those figures aren't talked about much.

    Grenn Party Candidate Cynthia McKinney has been detailed by the Israelis, so I heard on the radio.

    Maybe they ought to just let her into Hamasland, let her make a total fool of herself.

  30. We are doing just that, bob.
    Or have you not noticed both Rush Limbaugh and the New Republic using the term "Washingtonian" to extend his legacy to those self-serving career socialists in the Federal government.

    That is how both the Left and the Right are redefining Washington, now.

    It is nauseating to watch, in real time, but there it is, none the less.

    McCain and Chris Matthews both described as "Washingtonians".

    Does Limbaugh dishonor George Washington on purpose? The speaker who always said "Words have meaning" knows what he speaks of and why.

  31. In Morocco, main protests against Israeli airstrikes- in the form of marches and sit-ins - went ahead in Casablanca, Rabat, Kenitra and Meknes with demonstrators demanding an end to the airstrikes and decisive action by the international community.

    The Singapore Foreign Ministry urged Israel and Hamas to exercise restraint and renew a truce that ended December 19.

    The Lebanese government decided Tuesday to donate 1 million dollars to support the people of Gaza. In emergency session, the cabinet also announced that Wednesday would be an official day of mourning in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

    Calls for Ceasefire

  32. detained, not detailed, she doesn't have a tail, far as I know....

  33. I'm down to listening to Coast to Coast these days, pretty much. Trying to check the political talk show addiction, now that the election is over. Besides, none of them followed the story of any possible problems with Obama's eligibility, so I'm with Donofrio, we have no constitution any longer. He's returned to poker, I'm going to start hitting Wampum Night, which is twice a week at the Casino. And the coffee is free.

    We're down to $1.30 9/10ths per gallon of gas now. This can't last. I'm trying to figure out how to store some. Used to have underground storage facilities, but that's long gone.

  34. This urgent letter is a request by your (and Mr. Obama’s) employers, We The People, for you to submit an OBJECTION to those votes being counted due to the Constitutional INELIGIBILITY of Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. to serve as POTUS:

    1. No proof that he was born on U.S. sovereign territory, as required by Article II of the U.S. Constitution (the posting of his forged & fraudulent Certification of Live Birth (C.O.L.B.) only proves fraud – and that he’s INELIGIBLE;

    2. No proof that he ever applied for U.S. citizenship, when reaching the age of majority, following his years as a citizen of Indonesia (this would make him ‘naturalized’, and therefore INELIGIBLE);

    3. No proof that he was born of two parents of U.S. citizenship, with both owing allegiance to and being under the jurisdiction of the U.S., as required by law and/or the Constitution, in order to be a ‘natural-born citizen’. (actually he has freely admitted the opposite to be true, and therefore INELIGIBLE);

    Open Letter

  35. This report, bob, is the most accurate looking piece of data I could quickly find.

    Stalin seems to lead Hitler by a tad, but Mao smoked 'em both.

    No doubt of that

  36. And YouTube is Google and Google is in Obama's camp.

    So draw the conclusions you desire.

    But the continued faux outrage over Google's activities, while they fund the infrastructure of the Elephant Bar, seems a bit, shall we say, discourtious.

  37. Bobal: Except that YouTube just pulled the plug on the IDF channel, in response to complaints from Hamas!

    Except they didn't, bobal.

  38. Mao had the advantage of a greater population pool to kill off, Rat, we have to take that into account, and think about making some proportional adjustments, just to be fair.

  39. In other words, what proportion of the total surrounding population did the tyrant kill off? Perhaps that is where the prize should be won. In such a contest, Pol Pot might score near the top.

  40. Trouble May Be Brewing Between "Pooty the Poisoner" and Medvedev

    Unca Joe would know how to handle this.

    "Medvedev? What Medvedev? Never heard of the guy. Show me a picture."

  41. "The speaker who always said
    "Words have meaning"
    Washingtonian has always been linked w/WASHINGTON DC in my mind and many others.

    You claim an ability to critique Limbaugh's show even tho you also claim not to have listened to it in over a decade.
    ...does not compute.

  42. Medvedev creeps me out at least as much as Putin, and he's younger, to boot.

  43. Read the occasional transcript, doug.

    That is all it takes to see the trend, rather than listening, daily

  44. This comment has been removed by the author.

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