Saturday, January 2, 2010
Volkogonov on Stalin
Volkogonov believed Stalin was brutal, dictatorial, and poisonous to Russia. Going through Stalin’s personal papers within the archives, Volkogonov found ample evidence of Stalin’s murderous actions throughout his long reign. Stalin’s famous blue pencil gives direct testimony to dozens if not hundreds of individual as well as mass crimes.
But Volkogonov is particularly intent on demonstrating the extent to which Stalin merely carried on the traditions of the Bolshevik Party established by Lenin. As noted in an earlier portrait of Lenin, Volgonov argues that Stalin’s many disastrous decisions had already been taken by V.I. Lenin., who indeed was often Stalin’s patron notwithstanding his famous “testament” against Stalin’s rudeness and inordinate power within the Party machinery. Lenin had, after all, already made countless decisions, including the murder of the tsar and his family, without consulting even his peers within the Central Committee. No doubt Stalin increased the scale of crimes against Russian citizens, but Lenin had already resorted to all of Stalin’s tools, including censorship, police brutality, execution, arbitrary imprisonment, exile, secrecy, class oppression, etc. Of course, Stalin’s decision to purge the Party and military was done on a scale that might have shocked even Lenin. Lenin was certainly less paranoid than Stalin, at least in the early stages of his career. But had Lenin lived, who knows what he might have been capable of?
Again, as a patriot, Volkogonov is particularly appalled by Stalin’s incompetence during World War II. Having maintained the extreme form of political centralization established by Lenin, Stalin ensured (even without the purges) that his military leaders would not be able to act independently. But of course Stalin’s passivity in the face of German preparation for war, as well as his famous decision to disallow any form of tactical Russian defeat, cost Russia a great deal in the early phases of the war.
In the end, Stalin’s poor leadership cost the Soviet Union millions of soldiers and citizens, although Volkogonov does admit that Stalin gradually got the hang of military leadership, if only insofar as he eventually began to trust his military leaders. Toward the end of Stalin’s reign, the criminality of his regime did not dissipate. Having won World War II, an increasingly senile Stalin imprisoned countless Russian prisoners-of-war, built numerous palaces, surrounded himself with sycophants, brought about the Korean War, and eventually died in the midst of the Doctor’s Plot, probably a prelude to one more round of ruthless purges.