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The Left’s Problems with Stalin

This is from a pretty interesting piece by James Marson in the Guardian:

There are three ways that people justify Stalin. First, he was a “successful dictator” in the second world war and the industrialisation drive; second, his record wasn’t as bad as Hitler’s; third, his ideology was more palatable.

The “successful dictator” argument is more or less the line that the Kremlin follows, with its glorification of the victory in the second world war and glossing over of everything else. But it is ahistorical to separate the bad from the good – they are both part of one whole.


The numbers game ignoresthe often-quoted words of Comrade Stalin himself: “A single death is atragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Their ideologies may havediffered, but Hitler and Stalin shared one thing in common – both werewilling to sacrifice millions of individuals in the pursuit of theirvision of perfection or harmony. Human life became a pathway to futureaims; how many million sacrifices is indeed a statistic.

But whatdoes it matter to those who died what Stalinism developed into? Whatdoes it matter to the dead and their families whether they were starvedfor being kulaks,shot for writing “nationalist” literature, thus impeding inevitableprogress to socialist utopia, or killed for being Slavs and resistingthe Nazis, thus making way for a perfect racial empire? It is surelyless important why people were killed, than that they were killed. Thefact that the apparent aim of Stalin’s terrors – the socialist utopia -seems nobler to some than Hitler’s vision of racial perfection, canoffer no solace to those terrorised.

It is a bitter pill for someon the left to swallow that what Stalin did in the name of apparentlylaudable goals was horrific. Maybe some politicians are using theMolotov-Ribbentrop pact and comparisons between Stalin and Hitler tosmear the left and Russia. But to my mind, if the left, along with theRussian leadership, is still unwilling to face the horrors of Stalinismand the devastation it wrought across central and Eastern Europe, it issmearing itself.