Today, under former KGB spook Vladimir Putin, the older generation pines for Josef Stalin (and may have found him in the form of Vladimir). The proclaimed reason for wishing Uncle Joe was back is that Koba gave the populace a supposed sense of security.
But what kind of security? For the older generation, it probably means a time when Russians were not besieged by the burdens and consequences of personal freedom and the free market; where today the older generation scowl at entrepreneurs and the Russian mafia and a youth more interested in their iPods than social justice.
Knowing the terror Stalin imposed on his own people, one cannot simply dismiss the older generation’s memory as faulty. Rather they are probably taking the long view of history–what Lenin called making “omelets” with “broken eggs.”
Yes, Stalin murdered millions by starving the peasants–but the result was an industrialized economy. Yes, Stalin executed millions in his Purge Trial–but it created a “fascist-free” country. Yes, Stalin waged a Cold War against the United States—but the United States was trying to impose heartless capitalism on the motherland.
But these are not the true survivors of the period talking. One can see them in their aged twitchy features, their ears permanently cocked for the midnight knock on the door.
Survivors who themselves or their families were directly affected by Stalin’s terror policies remember a different past. Adopting a bottom-level approach one can see the true damage Stalin caused. One person for every 1.5 families in the Soviet Union, some 25 million total, were either shot or sent to the Gulag during Stalin’s rules.
Consider the case of Antonia Golovina, who at the age of eight was repatriated with her father and mother to a Siberian labor camp, a victim of Stalin’s Five Year Plan to industrialize the Soviet Union. As an adult, she joined the Party and hid her past in order to go to medical school.
But even these conversions did not guarantee security. The author of Konstantine Romanov, despite his membership in the state-run Writers Union, was unable to save his in-laws from being murdered for their “heresy” of Western tendencies. Many other families were similarly killed for “crimes against the state.”
Since diaries were among the first objects to be confiscated as exhibit A in secret police raids, there are few Winston Smith-like pronouncements (“Down with Big Brother! Down with Big Brother!”) One Russian citizen, very telling choosing to remain anonymous, said of the children in the Stalin ear, “We were brought up to keep our mouths shut. ‘You’ll get into trouble for your tongue’—that’s what people said to us children all the time. We went through life afraid to talk. Mama used to say that every other person was an informer. We were afraid of our neighbors, and especially of the police…Even today, if I see a policeman, I begin to shake with fear.”
That is the true horror of Stalinism, and it is even more horrible when one considers that many want him back.