Marxist dictators are suddenly back in vogue as role models, according to the White House, and Joseph Stalin of Russia is an exemplar of the species. Uncle Joe helped preside over the first large-scale communist state after his role model, master revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, predeceased him. Stalin goes down as not merely one of history’s great murders, but also an exceedingly strange and diabolically paranoid tyrant. Close to none, suspicious of all, Stalin’s only real consistent “public policy” was torture and murder. In fact, noted genocide expert R.J. Rummel tolls Stalin’s victims between 55-70 million, right behind Chairman Mao’s 77 million – despite China having many more residents.
Joseph “Soso” Stalin, born Iosef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. He arrived on Dec. 21, 1879 in Gori, Georgia. His father Vissarion, whom Stalin despised, was a heavy drinking shoemaker, gone often from home. Joseph was very close with his mother, Ekaterina, and came to hate his father after watching the older man repeatedly come home drunk and beat his mother up. Vissarion regularly drank away the family income, too. Joseph was himself also often beaten, and came to instinctively loathe all authority. An unflinching boy, Joe was without compassion, and never known to cry himself. A childhood infirmity left Joe with a crooked left elbow. His short 5’3’’ or 5’4’’ stature may have fed an incipient Napoleonic grudge, according to Robert C. Tucker, in “Stalin the Revolutionary, 1879-1929.”
Stalin’s parents battled over his career, with Ekaterina determined to guide the bright lad into the priesthood, whereas Vissarion did not want his son rising above himself, insisting another shoemaker was needed in the family. Stalin’s father died by stabbing in a drunken brawl when the boy was eleven. Joe was sent to the prestigious Gori school, graduating at the top of his class and earning a scholarship to seminary. In 1894, at the age of fourteen, he enrolled in Tiflis Theological Seminary.
Unfortunately, the repressive Jesuit priest college brought out the worst in Joseph, and he turned to reading Darwin, Marx, Lenin and other revolutionaries, says Tucker. Stalin, by age 16, was a bitter rebel, according to Robert Conquest, in his “Stalin, Breaker of Nations.” Joseph dominated his group of boys, and would brook no opposition. Becoming involved in revolutionary propagandizing in the nearby town, he began to consider himself a Maxist by 1896-97. In 1899, Stalin was suspended for not sitting for exams, and then expelled, according to Conquest.
After leaving seminary, Stalin had the only regular job of his life, at the Tiflis Observatory, making meteorological measurements for a few months. Stalin had also assumed the nickname “Koba” from a novel about a young man rebelling against society’s restrictive norms. Stalin also began to study the core of the Marxist canon, and also the important works of Lenin, and other revolutionary masters. By 1902, Stalin had been arrested and sentenced to Siberia for revolutionary politicking, where he then easily escaped, establishing a pattern that became a normal part of the next few years. In fact, Joseph was arrested eight times, sent into exile seven times and escaped six times. He wasn’t able to make a getaway the last time, but was freed by the beginning 1917 Russian Revolution, according to Tucker.
As time passed, Stalin became more involved in Marxist activities, and came to the attention of Lenin, the Communist Party leader, who appointed him to the Bolshevik Central Committee in 1912. As Lenin weakened, other lieutenants rose, but Stalin was able to battle each, and through clever tactics, prevail, according to Heller and Nekrich’s “Utopia In Power; The History of the Soviet Union From 1917 to the Present.” Stalin was picked by Lenin to lead the forces at Tsaritsyn, during the Civil War. His conduct was appalling. He completely defied direct command by the leadership and ended up killing a great many of his own military men whom he accused of treason. He executed them by loading the accused onto a boat and simply sinking it with all aboard alive. This was in defiance of a direct command to do a careful examination of the defendants. Thus his character was revealed, according to Conquest.
Lenin had a stroke, dying in 1924. Stalin gave a funeral oration that seems clearly liturgical, revealing the pseudo-religious tone of communist dogma, according to Conquest. Lenin had realized profound defects in Stalin’s character, but his warning to remove Stalin from Party affairs came too late. There was no replacement for Lenin in the wings after the death, which set off a power struggle. For a few years various players battled against Stalin, like Trotsky and Bukharin. But the Platform affair gave Stalin an easy out, and he was eventually able to banish all his foes, according to Michal Reiman, in “The Stalin Revolution.” These men were then killed off, one by one, with the last being Trotsky, who was finally murdered in Mexico. Stalin had consolidated his power by 1929.
As a Georgian, Stalin wasn’t Russian, and his later name variation gave him the ridiculously macho cognomen of “Joseph Steel.” His false stories of origin and family name reveal a lifelong propensity towards dishonesty, marring his entire existence. Stalin was, according to an associate, “...the epitome of mistrust, in whom reason, slyness, truth, and falsehood were interwoven.” Even in seminary, he was described thus: “his character emerges as demonic, egotistical, and capable of cunning…,” according to Conquest. Writes Richard Pipes, in “Communism,” “There is no doubt that Stalin displayed symptoms of clinical paranoia, megalomania and sadism…” He once said, “I trust no one, not even myself.”
His arrogance was shocking, and without boundary. Conquest describes it at the Tsaritsyn debacle, saying “Psychologically, it is astonishing. Once again Stalin is shown as – openly – exhibiting a manic, even on the face of it, self-defeating egotism. His conviction that he could judge a situation better than the professionals was to be with him all his life – not only as to military science, but in physics, biology, and other fields, and always to the detriment of his own plans.” Shades of Chairman Mao, here. The ascension of a supreme egoist, who fails by his own arrogance, and whom lacks all scruples seems a given in every communist regime.
Stalin was also convinced he had supreme understanding of military matters and battle strategy, despite never having served in the armed forces because of his gimpy left arm. He also had a stunning affinity for murder, and considered it to be the very best answer to any problem in particular, saying “Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem.”This was due, in part, to having a very cruel nature and being without owning the least sense of concern for others. Stalin seemed to attribute an almost mystical importance to the act of murder, and appears to have sought it out as if it was, in its very execution, a curative for all that ailed society.
All in all, Stalin remained a religious-minded person his entire life, despite his radical atheism. He stated, “I believe in one thing only, the power of human will.”His narrow, categorically driven thinking, a remnant from his seminary days, was merely heightened by his self-study of history and Marxism. His world-view was medieval, according to Norman Cohn, in his book “The Pursuit of the Millennium.” Stalin had a Chilliastic, or apocalyptic view of the world that fits perfectly into Eric Voegelin’s description of the diseased psyche of neo-Liberalism, so intent on ushering in a secular paradise, no matter what the cost in human lives, as described in his “The Political Religions.”
Stalin decided the economy must be given a quick upgrade, and so he launched his Five-Year Plan, announced in 1929. Pipes describes how this put the entire economy under state control. The government promised if the people worked hard to meet the goal of tripling production, the outcome would be an increased standard of living for all. Neither took place. Instead, Alec Nove, a specialist in the early socialist Russian economy declared, “1933 was the culmination of the most precipitous peacetime decline in living standard known in recorded history.”
Much cost of industrialization was provided by printing additional currency, new taxes, and the export of grain and even art. But this was not enough, so Stalin decided farmland must be appropriated. Much like Mao, Stalin decreed that collectivization of all farms was necessary for the creation of modern Russia. This was done by eliminating the Kulaks, being the farm owners, either by deportation to the hinterlands, or by entry into concentration camps, and their property then confiscated. The poorer farm workers also lost everything, and became, functionally speaking, land-based slaves of the state, according to Pipes.
Like Lenin before him, and Mao after, Stalin created a forced famine to break the backs of the poor farmers. In a single year, 1932-33, the artificial famine killed between 6-7 million peasants in the Ukraine, North Caucasus, and Kazakhstan. Enough food was grown to easily keep all alive, and even export some, but instead—almost all grain was shipped out while the growers starved to death. The military was used to stop peasants from leaving affected areas. This policy achieved a short-term spike in income, but destroyed Russian agriculture for decades afterwards, writes Pipes.
Stalin had learned the only way to keep a tyrannical socialist empire in order was to foment crisis. After the forced famine ended, he moved on to sheer terror. Stalin had one of his greatest backers, Sergei Kirov, assassinated, because of jealousy and fear of having a rival. He then used this as an excuse to launch the Great Terror, a purge almost unequaled in human history. This was an attack against the entire population. Party membership was no defense, and neither was being apolitical. At the peak of 1937-38, huge numbers of innocent citizens were rounded up, claims Pipes. Said Stalin, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”
The ruling Russian bureaucracy, the so-called Politburo, would call individuals in and give them a couple-minute trial in front of a troika, aka a tribunal. No defense was allowed and then the defendant was sentenced to death, exile, or was sent to a concentration camp for hard labor. At the height of the Great Terror, the Politburo would simply send quotas for the number of citizens it wanted murdered to each district. For instance, on June 2, 1937, a quota was sent out calling for 35,000 Moscow residents to be brought to these fictitious trials, and 5,000 of these pre-ordered shot. Then, in July 1937, each region was given a quota of 70,000 persons to be brought to trial and then shot immediately afterwards, says Pipes. Many were simply picked out of crowds, or grabbed walking down the street, by zealous secret policemen.
The more educated, and often Party members, were chosen because they were considered likelier to become critics of the state. Various sensational crimes were invariably charged, such as espionage, terrorism, or attempting to restore capitalism. And of Stalin’s original group of competitors to replace Lenin, all the rest coincidentally died during this time. Pressure was put on the general populace to inform on each-other’s activities. Many people were rounded up and tortured for confessions, normally made up on the spot to stop the torment. During the period of the Great Terror, between 1932-39, probably ten million innocent people were killed. And all the orders were signed by Stalin, himself, according to Pipes. In short, Stalin used the Great Terror to liquidate all his enemies, reduce the numbers of potential future competitors to his crown, and also completely eviscerate all dissent in the society at large.
One of the most remarkable elements of Stalin’s reign was his sending of prisoners to the Kolyma region of Siberia to mine for gold, other precious metals, and even uranium. At first, men were sent to this coldest region of Russia to mine in the interest of making money for the state. But the camps quickly degraded into simply another place for Stalin to dispose of humans he did not want. The trip to the camps by ship, by itself, killed many prisoners. And the typical lifespan of someone sent there was about 9 months, such was the grueling work schedule, temperature, and smallness of diet. And when these men died, they were not buried, but simply tossed outside to be eaten by wild animals.
Yet, this diabolical hell became even worse for some persons. In the astounding short, true story, “Kolyma Streetcar,” Elena Glinka recounts how ships of female political and criminal convicts were occasionally sent to camps in the Kolyma region, and released to the men and guards. The miners, half-starved and exhausted by the work-schedule and almost degenerated into animals, would take a break. They would herd the unknowing women into a mess hall, and then spend days gang-raping them until they all died from shock. Overall, no less than 3 million innocent persons died in the Kolyma region concentration camps. But many more persons were pointlessly eliminated in the entire Gulag Peninsula Russian concentration camp system.
All the incredibly cruel and willfully stupid acts by Joseph Stalin cannot be recounted here. But Uncle Joe goes down as yet another failed, heartless, egotistical, bloodthirsty, unjust, rude, and functionally illiterate Marxist tyrant. Stalin killed many of the best people in society out of fear, which had especially bad results when Russia was attacked by Nazi Germany, as most of the experienced Red Army officers had already been executed in the Great Terror. He was also a horrific economic planner, because he had no training and was too vain to admit he needed any, and so his centrally planned economy was a perpetual under or non-performer. Like a true Marxist, he hated capitalism, once saying, “America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.” But more than anything, Stalin’s idea of killing as way to building a better society was a contradictory and devilish vision that utterly destroyed the heart of Russia for generations, and from which it has yet to recover. For these reasons, and many more, Stalin should never be held up as a leader by any person insterested in democracy, justice or human rights.
Kelly O’Connell is an author and attorney. He was born on the West Coast, raised in Las Vegas, and matriculated from the University of Oregon. After laboring for the Reformed Church in Galway, Ireland, he returned to America and attended law school in Virginia, where he earned a JD and a Master’s degree in Government. He spent a stint working as a researcher and writer of academic articles at a Miami law school, focusing on ancient law and society. He has also been employed as a university Speech & Debate professor. He then returned West and worked as an assistant district attorney. Kelly is now is a private practitioner with a small law practice in New Mexico. Kelly is now host of a daily, Monday to Friday talk show at AM KOBE called AM Las Cruces w/Kelly O’Connell
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