Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bloodlands: As if he were responsible for neither

A few more quotes from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Chapter 2 follows the consolidation of power by Hitler and Stalin in the 1930s and the trail of bodies in their wake. For Hitler this meant jail time to threaten potential competitors. For Stalin it meant eliminating hundreds of thousands of “enemies” (defined by the state at will). Snyder’s history is only to the late 1930s by this point and we’ve only had a hint of the body count that will accrue (even though we’re in the millions). A few quotes:
Part of Stalin’s political talent was his ability to equate foreign threats with failures in domestic policy, as if the two were actually the same thing, and as if he were responsible for neither. This absolved him of blame for policy failures, and allowed him to define his chosen internal as agents of foreign powers. … In these years, Stalinism thus involved a kind of double bluff. The success of the Popular Front [political parties outside of the USSR] depended on a record of progress toward socialism that was a matter of propaganda. Meanwhile, the explanation of famine and misery at home depended upon the idea of foreign subversion, which was essentially without merit.

The kulaks were returning to a social order that was traditional in many ways Stalin knew, from the 1937 census that he suppressed, that a majority of adults still defied the atheism of the Soviet state and believed in God.” (About that census that Stalin had suppressed, here’s from Chapter 1: “The Soviet census of 1937 found eight million fewer people than projected: most of these were famine victims in Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Kazakhstan, and Soviet Russia, and the children that they did not then have. Stalin suppressed its findings and had the responsible demographers executed.”)

This interpretation could only make sense to revolutionaries by conviction, to communists already bound to their leader by faith and fear. It took a special sort of mind to truly believe that the worse things appeared, the better they actually were. Such reasoning went by the name dialectics, but by this time that word (despite its proud descent from the Greeks through Hegel and Marx) meant little more than the psychic capacity to adjust one’s own perceptions to the changing expressions of Stalin’s will.

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