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Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Sunday Literary Supplement: Stalin Back in Vogue in Putin's Russia

Paul Goble reports:

Books about Joseph Stalin are becoming ever more numerous and their publication ever more profitable in the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin, a development that is prompting his most devoted followers to revise, reprint and extend the Soviet dictator’s collected works. In an article posted online this week, S. Yu. Ruchenkov says that those devoted to Stalin’s memory are not doing so for the money but rather to ensure that everyone will be able to overcome the distortions of Stalin’s record that have been introduced by his detractors.

Stalin’s own works, which ran to only 13 volumes at the time of his death, included far from all of what he had written, Ruchenkov notes, because the Soviet leader believed that his works should serve the propagandistic goal of leading the of the USSR upward toward communism. But now, as more and more archival material has become available and as so much time has passed, Ruchenkov argues, history demands that those who appreciate Stalin republish the volumes issued in his lifetime, re-issue additional ones released in the late 1990s, and extend the series as more materials are located.

This effort was begun in 1997 by Moscow State University professor Richard Kosolapov, who oversaw the publication (with Ruchenkov’s assistance) of the three volumes – no. 14, 15, and 16 – that had already been assembled during Stalin’s lifetime but not published because of his death and of three additional volumes as well. The first three were selected according to the same principles and formatted in the same way as the 13 volumes published prior to 1953 and covered many of the most important events in Soviet history between 1934 and 1953. The last three covered a wider time frame and included many documents Stalin himself had chosen not to publish. Tragically in the view of Ruchenkov, “there was no place for the achievements of the leader of the country in the pre-war 1930s and for the Supreme Commander in the country of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev.” But now under Putin, there is not only a place but an expanding market for his works. Because Russians now have direct access to Stalin’s works, he continues, they will recognize that he was “the bright representative of the new Bolshevik type of leaders who led the struggle of workers, peasants and soldiers with the landowners, capitalists and their protectors abroad” and not the monster he is often made out to be.

In volume 20, which is devoted to Stalin’s role in the first period of the Russian Civil War, Ruchenkov says, “more than half of the documents will be published for the first time.” And a planned volume 21 will be devoted to Stalin’s role in the defense of Petrograd (St. Petersburg). Future volumes will carry Stalin’s story further and undermine the lies of both Western- oriented liberals who see him only as a brutal dictator and contemporary Russian “patriots” who have overturned most of the Soviet leader’s legacy and “bow down” before priests at Christmas and Easter. But because many of the volumes published in the late 1990s are now out of print, Ruchenkov continues, he and his colleagues are issuing a second edition of numbers 14 through 16 as well as a series of “solid collections” of specialized materials by and about Stalin.

One of these volumes will focus on Stalin’s negotiation with the Germans that resulted in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, an accord whose associated texts – known to most as “the secret protocols” – have been, in the opinion of Ruchenkov falsified by liberal historians. “For the first time,” he writes, Russian readers will be able to familiarize themselves with “adequate Russian translation of this most important historical document” and they will learn what really happened during the war with Finland and during the first days of the German invasion of the USSR. Moreover, the second edition of volume 14 includes Stalin’s personal orders to Yezhov and Beria concerning “the theme of repressions.” Not surprisingly, Ruchenkov says, “the personal directives of the leader” to these heads of the security services were not published during his lifetime.

But despite all the materials that Ruchenkov reports that he and his colleagues have gathered, there are clearly many more he and they have not seen. A large number of documents remain in the FSB’s Central Archive, and the leaders of that security agency have “politely refused” his requests to examine and make use of it. Consequently, despite the volumes already published in the two series, “The Organs of State Security in the Great Fatherland War” and “Stalin and the Lubyanka” – which was overseen by Aleksandr Yakovlev, who Ruchenkov describes as that “vile rascal” – much of Stalin’s legacy is unlikely to get into print anytime soon. But as important as the revised volume 14 is, Ruchenkov continues, “the real pearl of the publication” series he is overseeing will be the revised and expanded volume 15 that is devoted to the war years, the time of his most titanic efforts on behalf of the Soviet people.

The second edition of volume 16 will also be significantly revised and enlarged, he says, including previously unpublished materials from the presidential and Politburo archives. It will thus provide the fullest picture yet of Stalin’s role at the start of the Cold War and in relations with other countries in the socialist camp. At the end of his article, Ruchenkov provides information on how those who want it can order volume 14 electronically for only 200 rubles (8 U.S. dollars) plus shipping – and how they can get it for even less if they order at one time six copies for their friends and associates. Clearly, Stalin’s cause lives on in the minds of some – but it has been infused with the most up-to-date principles of modern marketing, something the late Soviet dictator would likely have viewed as a contradiction in terms.

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