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The Depiction of Stalin between History and Mythology

Domenico Losurdo

Translated using the Portuguese edition of the book, often consulting the Spanish edition, not the original Italian edition.

Translated by David Ferreira

The Various Historical Sources in the Current Depiction of Stalin

However, it’s difficult for the current historiography to distance itself from the depiction of Stalin as an “enormous, shadowy, capricious and degenerate monster of man”―in addition, so lacking in intellectual and political capacity that he becomes the object of ridicule. With regard to mythology, it’s also necessary to search for its historical origin. It’s worthwhile to start with the author (Deutscher) who was just cited, who in other circumstances and in a different period of time observes: “In contrast to the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks don’t execute their Girondins”, namely, the Mensheviks, who were “permitted” and even “encouraged to leave Russia and set up their political center abroad."897 From there a harsh campaign is developed against the country first led by Lenin and later, for a longer period of time, by Stalin. Deutscher continues as follows:
It’s correct that Stalin meditated at length about the terrible French precedent and for a few years that dissuaded him from resorting to more drastic means of repression. More than once Stalin had expressed himself in that sense [...]. In 1929, he decided to exile Trotsky from Russia. One couldn’t yet imagine that Trotsky was to be captured, and much less put before an execution squad.898
With the opposition leader’s arrival in Istanbul, a new and more committed political center is formed, this time dedicated exclusively to exposing and denouncing all aspects of Stalin’s personality and actions. Fugitives like General Orlov can be put in that same context; fugitives who, in reaching the West, dedicate themselves to revealing the “Kremlin’s secrets”, earning a “enormous amount of money”, and presumably it’s a sum that’s greater for however much more sensational the revealed secrets are. Beginning with the Gorbachev years, these revelations are eagerly welcomed in the Soviet Union and are still today “one of the most important sources” for Western sovietology―these revelations, however, are a web of “lies."899

Obviously, we must not overlook the fact that the anti-Stalin campaign has its political center in the West. Its motivations had been previously clarified by Lloyd George, who, in the summer of 1919, observed that a united Russia, whether Bolshevik or not, constituted a threat to the British Empire.900 In other words, a wide part of public opinion (first British and later American) identify Stalin as the incarnation of a double threat, that represented communist agitation in the capitalist metropole, and especially in the colonies, and that represented a great power, now all the more dangerous and expansionist for the fact it inspires and leads a political movement represented in all parts of the world.

Which of the different political centers was the most implacable? At times, we get the impression that we are watching a competition. Soon after the pact of non-aggression between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, Trotsky lets out a type of victory cry: finally, it’s now evident to even the “professional apologists for the Kremlin” and Stalin, “the ‘pro-Soviet’ fools of all types”, those who had the illusion of being able to count on Moscow’s support in containing Nazi Germany’s expansion. Neville Chamberlain is especially targeted. Yes, the British prime minister, who by this time is denounced by Churchill for his policy of appeasement pursued in relation to Hitler, is sharply criticized by Trotsky for having fed illusions toward… Stalin! “Despite all his aversions toward the Soviet regime”, the British conservative leader “had tried to make an alliance with Stalin using all means”: a colossal example of naivety! Trotsky had repeatedly stated since the rise of the Third Reich that―despite all the rhetoric about the anti-fascist popular fronts―”the real objective of Stalin’s foreign policy was to reach a deal with Hitler”; now all are forced to recognize that the Kremlin dictator is “Hitler’s butler."901
This competition, seriously weakened by the epic resistance by the Soviet Union against the Third Reich, returns in force after the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU and the Secret Report. So Khrushchev accused Stalin of having deviated from Lenin? In fact―Orlov immediately increased  the dose, publishing an article that in its very title announces a “sensational secret”―the man who led the Soviet Union for thirty years was a secret police agent for the Tsarist regime, obviously prepared to liquidate the unlucky souls who learn of his unspeakable past. Still today a Russian researcher (Rogowin), a zealous follower of Trotsky’s, appears to cling to that revelation.902

The competition can take on the most unique forms. In 1965, Deutscher reflects on the evolution by the Menshevik leader Dan, who―patriotically blinded by the image of a Russia “triumphantly emerging from a catastrophic war, with the Third Reich prostrated before it”― ended up recognizing the historical correctness of the October Revolution, but also, unfortunately, the correctness of “Stalinism, with all its ideological perversions and violence." There’s only one excuse for that tolerance toward a “degenerated” and “corrupted” Bolshevism: the fact that “when Dan wrote some of these pages, the pro-Stalinist tide in the allied countries was very strong, especially during the immediate post-war period in the United States!”903 Fortunately, the information coming from the very capital of the Soviet Union, and from within that country’s very own communist party, refuted and ridiculed once and for all the naive and ill informed who had in some way or another consumed Moscow’s propaganda.

Only through this convergence of heterogeneous interests can one explain the paradox of a historiography that, while unceasingly denouncing the farcical nature of the trials carried out by Stalin in Moscow, has easily accepted the legitimacy of the trial conducted in different manners, first by Trotsky and later by Khrushchev!

897. Deutscher (1969), p. 498 and Deutscher (1972c), p. 216.

898. Deutscher (1969), pp. 498-99.

899. Khlevniuk (1988), pp. 23-27.

900. White (1980), p. 82.

901. Trotsky (1988), pp. 1256-59.

902. Khlevniuk (1998), pp. 25-26; Rogowin (1998), p. 531.

The Periodic Changes in the Depiction of Stalin

The depiction of the “enormous, shadowy, capricious and degenerate monster of man” is so widespread nowadays that we forget the contradictory history that preceded the rise of that image. We saw the acknowledgements directed at Stalin by illustrious statesmen, diplomats and intellectuals. The pages of his thirty years in government, today simply considered horrific, were in the past read very differently.

Nowadays it’s commonplace to identify the revolution from above, that radically changed the face of agricultural in the Soviet Union, as an exclusive product of ideological madness. But in 1944, even while revealing its terrible human costs, De Gasperi nevertheless expresses a fundamentally positive judgement on the “great economic enterprise” of collectivization of the countryside and industrialization, having been made necessary by the danger of war and by the “threat revealed in Mein Kampf."904

Nowadays, very few would dare question the thesis according to which the bloody and large scale repression realized by Stalin had been the exclusive product of his libido dominandi or his paranoia. However, between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, Malaparte had calmly spoken of the preparations for a coup d'état in Moscow and Stalin’s hesitation in counterattacking (supra, ch. 2, § 7). An authoritative German press organization went even further, and mocked the naivety demonstrated by the Kremlin dictator “in not sending Trotsky and his crew to the beyond."905 Around twenty years after the fact, Churchill himself at least indirectly evaluated the trials against Tukhachevsky and the other military leaders (it was a question of “a cruel, but perhaps not pointless, military-political purge”, that had eliminated “all the pro-German elements”) and, to a certain degree, that’s true even for the Moscow Trials (on the bench of the accused were seated Soviet leaders “full of jealousy toward Stalin who had ousted them”).906 This stance by the British statesman, champion of the struggle until the end against Hitler’s Germany, is yet more significant because it’s formulated in a polemic against Chamberlain, the protagonist of the policy of  appeasement. More radical or more explicit was the American ambassador to the USSR, Joseph Davies, who “continued to insist that there really was a conspiracy, that the trials were carried out according to the law, and that consequently, Soviet authority had been strengthened by it."907 In 1944, De Gasperi also stressed that the veracity of the charges directed at the anti-Stalin opposition was confirmed by “objective American intelligence."908

Then there was a radical change, but the weakness and the inconsistency of the image of Stalin  given to us first by the Cold War and then by the Secret Report begin to emerge from the research by a growing number of scholars. In some ways one witnesses an evident turnaround. Let’s take the Great Terror. Alongside the other leading political figures we’ve already encountered, even a fervent admirer of Trotsky’s, namely Deutscher, in 1948 thinks the Moscow trials are more or less credible. In his opinion, Kirov’s assassination was in no way staged by the regime. The long tradition in Russia that “dared to attack the autocracy with bombs and pistols” had returned to influence the young communists. “Was not Lenin’s brother, by chance, among the conspirators who had tried to kill Alexander III? The textbooks depict those martyrs and those heroes with a romantic halo: that’s how the sacred shadows of the past now reappear to arm the more impatient anti-Stalinist Komsomols." The “ideas of revolutionary terrorism” had expanded to the point of constituting “a  state of mind widespread among the youths” and arming the hand of Kirov’s assassin.909 Still in 1949, Deutscher recognized certain “psychological truth” in the Moscow Trials in general, and also a factual truth with regard to the execution of Tukhachevsky in particular. Regarding the latter event, while certain sources speak of a set-up by the Nazi intelligence services, “numerous anti-Stalinist sources argue, however, that the generals had in fact plotted a coup d’état”;910 in either case, Stalin’s paranoia or his libido dominandi wouldn’t play any role.

It must be added that a few years later, an American historian unmoved by the revelations of the Secret Report and who continued to have sympathy for the anti-Stalinist opposition, defined by him as “the consciousness of the revolution”, wrote: “What Bukharin stated in his guilty confession, and what’s known from other sources, makes a good part of what was revealed in the trial appear plausible, despite the suspicions provoked by the nature of those trials."911

Nowadays it’s the very scholars of Trotskyist orientation who are calling attention to the civil war unleashed within the Soviet leadership and demanding the opposition’s recognition for having promoted by all means the overthrow of the Thermidorian regime imposed by the traitors of the revolution. It’s significant that this turn also affects Trotsky’s group of followers, who in their time had dedicated themselves, more than anyone else, to denouncing the Moscow Trials as a pure and simple farce.

With regard to the leadership of the USSR, both on the eve and during the Second World War, Deutscher’s evolution is particularly tortured and remarkable. We already came across his quite flattering portrait in 1948 of Stalin as a war leader (supra, intro, 1). In 1956, writing in the immediate wake of the Secret Report, without much trouble Deutscher believes the “revelations” according to which in the days following the start of Operation Barbarossa, Stalin had retreated in paralysis to “his dacha, unresponsive and angry”, only to later, giving into the demands and pleas from his colleagues, return to lead the country and to conduct a war by “drawing fronts and lines attack on a globe." The only criticism Deutscher offers to Khrushchev and his circle is that they hadn’t followed the recommendations already put forth by Trotsky in 1927, in other words, of not having understood “the duty of toppling Stalin, in order to conduct the war in a more efficient way and guarantee its final victory”!912 Ten years later, returning to this subject, Deutscher writes: “I’m not willing to accept the so-called Khrushchev ‘revelations’ without reservations, particularly his statement that during World War II [and the victory over the Third Reich] Stalin had only played a practically insignificant part."913 It must be said that more recent historical research goes further  than this partial and timid reconsideration.

Regarding the thesis of the oppressed nations, we’ve already encountered the radical and positive innovation of affirmative action put into practice in the USSR to the benefit of national minorities (supra, ch. 4 § 9). But now it’s worthwhile to read the evaluation recently made by another American historian:
A new consensus is emerging, on the basis that, far from being the “killer of nations” familiar to Western history and the history of nationalism, the Soviet government takes on an ambitious, complex and prolonged effort to construct ethnically defined nations within a unified state at the political and economic level. With the aim of encouraging this “springtime of Soviet nations”, the Soviet state conceded juridical and political equality with Russians to the peoples of the former empire [...]. On these new national territories it reserved a privileged place for the languages of the national minorities, even when the Soviet ethnographers had to create an alphabet for local dialects, because they had never taken on a written form. That policy of promoting an autonomous national culture went as far as trying to assimilate Russians; Soviet government employees and administrators had to learn the languages of the nations where they worked.914
A French historian on Central Asia, Olivier Roy, comes to the same conclusions; favorably cited in an essay published in The New York Review of Books, he summarizes the current outlook on that  region as follows: they are solid and functional states that can assert themselves if they know how to “intelligently” take advantage of their Soviet “inheritance." “The crafters of Moscow’s national policy [...] codified languages (sometimes creating new alphabets for them), built national parliaments, national libraries, and instituted a policy of affirmative action in favor of ‘local cadre’." It was “primarily and especially Stalin” who stood out among the protagonists of this enlightened policy. How far we are from the Cold War thesis formulated by Arendt, according to which Stalin had deliberately disorganized and disarticulated “nationalities” with the aim of creating conditions favorable for the triumph of totalitarianism! An author, who was earlier a leader of the anti-Soviet ‘dissidents’, states his admiration for the Soviet Union (and Stalin) for its national policy in the following emphatic terms: “In the decades of Soviet rule, and in its solution to the national  question, the positive elements were so numerous that it’s difficult to find a comparable example in the history of humanity."915

Overall, the caricature of Stalin made first by Trotsky and later by Khrushchev no longer enjoys much credibility. From the present day research by eminent scholars, beyond suspect of having indulged in the “cult of personality”, emerges the portrait of a politician who rises and secures the positions of power in the USSR primarily for the fact that he widely “surpasses his competitors” when it comes to understanding how the Soviet system operated;916 a leader of “exceptional political talent” and “enormously gifted”;917 a statesman who saved the Russian nation from annihilation and enslavement, thanks not only to his astute military strategy, but also his “masterful” wartime speeches, speeches that are at times authentically “brilliant”, that in tragic or decisive moments manage to encourage national resistance;918 a figure who doesn’t lack qualities when it comes to theory, as demonstrated by the insight with which he dealt with the national question in his writings from 1913, and the “positive effect” of his “contribution” to the linguistic question, among others.919

Certainly, they rightly stress at the same time that this recognition is not an absolute moral judgement; however, the Secret Report’s complete lack of credibility is by now clear. There’s not a detail in it that’s not contested today. Take the report of Stalin’s supposed psychological collapse in the days immediately following the start of Operation Barbarossa: according to the analysis we’ve already seen from two Russian historians (of anti-Stalinist orientation, of course), it’s an “episode” that is “totally invented” (supra, ch. 1, § 2), and that―a French historian insists―is in “complete contradiction” with the testimony and documentation that increasingly comes to light.920 But it’s not a question of a single episode, however significant it may be. Also with regard to the so-called doctors plot: “Khrushchev crudely and deliberately distorted the truth."921 Yes, he “took great  liberty with the truth."922 This observation made (this time by a British historian previously cited) regarding “Stalin’s wartime leadership” is generally useful: “To get to the truth, it’s necessary to look beyond the Western polemics of the Cold War, as well as the circumstances of de-stalinization in the USSR."923

903. Deutscher (1972c), pp. 221-22.

904. De Gasperi (1956), p. 17.

905. Broué (1991), p. 578.

906. Churchill (1963), pp. 320-21.

907. Taylor (1966(, p. 159.

908. De Gasperi (1956), p. 17.

909. Deutscher (1969), pp. 508 and 510.

910. Deutscher (1969), pp. 540 and 542.

911. Daniels (1970), p. 144.

912. Deutscher (1972b), pp. 19 and 32-33.

913. Deutscher (1969), p. 12 (the introduction, dated October 11th, 1966, the second edition of Stalin’s biography).

914. Payne (2001), p. 8.

915. Caryl (2002), p. 29; Arendt (1989a), p. 442; Zinoviev (1988), p. 101.

916. Khlevniuk (1998),p. 367.

917. Medvedev, Medvedev (2006), pp. 369-71 (also N Werth and R. H. McNeal, cited in the postface by the editor).

918. Roberts (2006), pp. 94 and 109.

919. Graziosi (2007), p. 87; Medvedev, Medvedev (2006), p. 242.

920. Fontaine (2005), p. 60.

921. Medvedev, Medvedev (2006), p. 30.

922. Fontaine (2005), p. 61.

923. Roberts (2006), p. 374.

Contradictory Motives behind Stalin’s Demonization

Arendt’s thesis―that for a long time had been undisputed in the West and uncritically repeated time and again―that sought to prove the unbreakable attraction, in spite of everything, between communist “totalitarianism” and Nazi “totalitarianism” using these words: “the only man for whom Hitler has ‘unconditional respect’ was the ‘brilliant Stalin’”; moreover, “we know from Khrushchev’s speech to the Twentieth Party Congress that Stalin trusted in only one man, which was Hitler." It is so evident that, despite all the warnings, “he refused to believe that Hitler had broken the treaty” until the very end. To confirm this, Arendt again cites the Secret Report, or to be more precise, “the version of Khrushchev’s speech provided by the American state department."924 Against that affirmation, which was based on an evidently politicized speech that was certainly not concerned with historical rigor, one could counter with the well documented analysis according to which in post World War II Hungary and Eastern Europe, Stalin “only trusted” in Jewish cadre, who are in fact called upon to construct the framework for a new state apparatus (supra, ch. 5, § 10). As one can see, the antithesis with respect to Hitler couldn’t be more clear.

But let’s dwell on the fragility of the ideological theme treasured by Arendt and ruling ideology. Recently a reversal of positions has been witnessed. A few years ago, authoritative and ideologically relentless anti-communist scholars insisted on depicting Stalin as an insatiable expansionist, ready at the opportune moment to attack Germany itself, with whom it maintains a pact of non-aggression. To make that case, they specifically cited Stalin’s speech to the military academy graduates; in order to be brief, I’ll cite the summary found in Dimitrov’s diary: “Our peace and security policy is at the same time a policy in preparation for war. There’s no defense without offense. It’s necessary to prepare for war."925 It’s May 5th of 1941, the same day that Stalin meets personally with the highest officials of the party and state, in evident preparation for open battle with the Third Reich. The substantial development of Soviet military industry had been promoted by Stalin in preparation for an offensive war, against which Hitler sought to defend.926 That thesis, incessantly pushed by historical revisionism, can be easily refuted by referring to something cited by an author who is among the most prominent members of that historical and ideological current: by the beginning of May, 1941, General Antonescu, who will end up taking power in Romania, informs his German  allies that “the factories around Moscow had received the order to relocate their machinery to the country’s interior."927 Moreover, the Nazis were desperately looking for a casus belli. The spy chief, Admiral Canaris, writes in his diary: “General Jodl informed me that they are very concerned by the unusual and forgiving Soviet behavior in relation to us, and [...] partly joking, added ‘if those individuals (the Soviets) continue to be so accommodating and letting everything go, it will have to be you who organizes an incident that starts the war’."928 Debunking revisionist historians’ latest weapon of argument, this testimony unequivocally proves who is the aggressor. Secondly, it clarifies that it was Stalin’s very own behavior, condemned by Khrushchev, that made the Third Reich nervous.

The new accusation against Stalin found its immediate consecration in the mass media that, with the aim of giving it more credibility, didn’t hesitate to bring up the speech from August 19th, 1939; a prominent sovietologist commenting with righteous indignation: while he prepared to send the loyal Molotov to Berlin to finish the non-aggression pact, Stalin had already elaborated, with repugnant cynicism, a plan for aggression and sovietization of all of Europe, including Germany, at the opportune moment.929 In reality, this is a serious historical falsehood (supra, ch. 1, § 3). But that isn’t the important point. The revelation of this new treacherous act by Stalin could have been the moment to reconsider the thesis developed by Arendt―with credit also to Khrushchev’s report―about the close relationship between the two highest incarnations of “totalitarianism." But none of that took place!

Historians on the concentrationary universe rightly denounce the subsequent severity experienced in the Gulag and “the super exploitation of the prisoners” that reaches its horrible apex after the “breakneck growth of the economic plans of 1940-1941” (therefore, during the time of the non- aggression pact), when Soviet leadership, in preparation for war, ignore any other consideration in accelerating to the maximum the completion of plans “of great strategic and economic importance”―like, for example, the construction of airports, aircraft factories and industries essential for the war effort.930 In light of this, the commonplace accusation made by  Arendt becomes ever more grotesque, and yet it continues to be obsessively repeated: it’s necessary to always prove that Stalin had blind trust in Hitler! The ruling ideology, therefore, easily makes use of the most contradictory statements and accusations: what matters is that they are defamatory. The tendency to drift from history and into political mythology is clear.

The obligation to demonize, for whatever motive, manifests itself in other fields. Nowadays the black legend of Stalin’s antisemitism is unchallenged. But we’re not without a perspective that’s diametrically opposed. There’s the research by a journalist, an American Jew, who speaks of “Stalin’s fondness toward Jews”, to whom he entrusts the management of the concentration camps where  the Germans destined to be expelled from Poland are held. Thus, those who survived the “final solution” can avenge themselves in a terrible way and become the executioners of their executioners, all thanks to the Soviet dictator’s cunning and perfidy.931 He is also accused―in a book by an author closely associated with the military of the German Federal Republic―of having circulated “war propaganda” about gas chambers and the plan for the total extermination of the Jewish population by the Third Reich, with the aim of discrediting their enemies.932 It’s evidently in total contrast to the understanding of Stalin as an anti-Semite which is still widely accepted.

Finally, it’s also worthwhile to observe how the subject of Stalin’s “paranoia” was often handled in a contradictory way. One historian, who stands out for making that diagnosis, nevertheless stresses the role Beria was to have in the Soviet leader’s death.933 Certainly, one could say he had ended up being a victim of a climate he himself created; the fact would remain that, at least starting from a certain moment, the threat was real and no longer the product of a sickness induced fantasy. In addition: those who accused Stalin of being paranoid are sometimes figures and authors who, without providing any proof, claim he is responsible for the death of his closest collaborators, like Kirov and Zhdanov. Do they not resort here to the same attitude for which they condemn the dictator? But those questions and those problems aren’t even raised; what’s important is to highlight, in any way possible, the infamy of the communist and oriental despot.

924. Arendt (1989), p. 428-29, note 14.

925. Dimitrov (2002), p. 310.

926. Hoffmann (1995).

927. Irving (2001), p. 457.

928. Irving (2001), p. 456.

929. Strada (1996).

930. Khlevniuk (2006), pp. 263-77.

 Political Struggle and Mythology between the French Revolution and the October Revolution

In June of 1956, under the impression made by just having read the Khrushchev Report, Deutscher observes: “communists had for more than a quarter of a century bowed” before a monstrous tyrant, vile at both the moral and intellectual level; how could all of this have happened?934 Following that line of argument, he could have added: What had led illustrious Western philosophers and statesmen to pay tribute to that monster with approving and respectful statements and, in certain cases, even admiration? These questions are legitimate and even inevitable, but maybe they should be complemented by another: how could Deutscher have allowed himself to be affected by that behavior which he sharply condemned in 1956? Yes, after the end of World War II and on the occasion of Stalin’s death, he would pay tribute to the statesman who had made a decisive contribution to the defeat of the Third Reich and had built socialism in the USSR. In that period,  the abject and idiotic monster had not yet entered the scene, and therefore the doubts had not yet emerged over the enormous credit that he enjoyed, despite everything, for a long time. Maybe in 1956, Deutscher would have had a better response if he had asked a very different question: led by a “generalissimo” and by such a ridiculous political leader, how was the Soviet Union able to defeat the terrible Nazi war machine that had so quickly subjugated the rest of continental Europe? And how was the Soviet Union, starting from a position of extreme weakness, able to turn into a military and industrial superpower?

Yes, looking closely, with half of century of distance from Stalin’s death and the clamor of de- stalinization, it’s opportune to return to the question made by Deutscher to radically invert it: how did such a grotesque and absurd portrait like the one made by Khrushchev achieve the status of historiographical and political dogma? That dogma was even infused with new details, increasingly fantastical, following the revelations of the Secret Report that attributed to Stalin a blind confidence in Hitler’s respect for the non-aggression pact. Arendt, in the subsequent editions of The Origins of Totalitarianism, put together a theorem of the elective affinity between the two dictators, and that theorem identified an increasing number of points of contact and symmetries, until the two monsters become perfect equivalents in all aspects of their political action and ideology, including the consummation of a holocaust and anti-Semitic hatred.

The key to explaining that unique phenomenon can be found in the history of political mythologies. After Thermidor, the Jacobins are also put to the guillotine at the moral level. They become “those sultans”, “those satyrs”, who had nearly everywhere created “places of pleasure” and “places for orgies” in which “they gave into all excesses."935 In addition to sexual libido, what especially consumed Robespierre was libido dominandi, he was preparing to “get married to Capet’s daughter” in order to ascend to the throne of France.936 The accusation was undoubtedly sensational, but there was no lack of proof, they were even abundant: “the marriage certificate” had already been signed; moreover, in the house of the recently executed tyrant were found a “seal with the symbol of France” and the dynastic seal of the house of Bourbon.937 The execution or the murder of Louis XVI can now be seen in new light: the man responsible for that act had perhaps only intended to rid himself of a rival, he wanted to eliminate the obstacle that prevented him from ascending to the throne.

The moral decapitation of Robespierre was linked to the more specifically intellectual decapitation. During the Jacobin period, popular episodes―not promoted from above―of vandalism and revolutionary iconoclasm take place that targeted the symbols of the old regime. Such episodes continued to arise during Thermidor, this time having in mind everything that recalled the Terror. But the new rulers accuse the Jacobins of the following: out of hatred for the culture they were totally deprived of, they had planned to burn libraries, and they had already put that crazy plan into action. Over the course of various passages, the list of accusations grows ever larger and becomes  an ever more uncontroversial fact to the degree it loses all contact with reality. Boissy d’Anglas can subject the Jacobins to public derision by affirming:
Without a doubt, these ferocious enemies of humanity would have momentarily shown their villainy only under the light of the libraries burned, since they hoped that the darkness of ignorance would extend even further. Barbarians! They have set the human spirit back many centuries.938
The Jacobins had introduced mandatory schooling, and against them and against the French Revolution itself the counter-revolutionary propaganda did not tire in denouncing the hubris of reason, and on the contrary celebrating the beneficial function of “prejudice”; but in the ideological and political atmosphere of Thermidor, Robespierre and his collaborators are accused of having sought to spread “the darkness of ignorance." And the new accusation is made without even reconsidering the previous accusation: logical coherence is the last of their concerns.

Also with regard to the Terror’s number of victims, one witnesses a process similar to that which was just seen with the libraries. Again we turn to the words of the eminent scholar that we continue to follow here: “The numbers are not up for discussion: tens of thousands, hundreds  of thousands, they even speak of millions." In summary, it’s a matter of genocide, as denounced by the jeunesse dorée in their anti-Marseillaise anthem against “the drinkers of the blood of humanity”, “that anthropophagic horde”, “those terrible cannibals."939 It’s an accusation taken up and radicalized by the left. Soon after Thermidor, Babeuf speaks of a “process of depopulation” carried out in the Vendée by Robespierre, who goes as far as to pursue “the infamous, unprecedented political objective” of “wiping out the human race."940 That is how we witness a convergence between the extreme right and the extreme left of the political spectrum, both agreeing to depict Robespierre as a genocidal monster. However, that paradox doesn’t last long. It doesn’t take Babuef long to get to the real meaning of Thermidor: before the judges that were prepared to condemn him to death, in denouncing the desperate situation to which the popular masses are condemned, he appeals to Saint-Just and his ideals for everyone’s “happiness” and salvation from misery; on the other hand, he expresses his disdain for the “system of hunger” put into practice by the new rulers and classifies the Thermidorian Boissy d’Anglas as “genocidal” (populicide).941 That is how the charge of genocide undergoes a radical reversal: it no longer targets Robespierre, but his  victorious enemies.

It would be interesting to make a comparative analysis of the mythologies that arise from the great revolutions. After October 1917, the Jacobin “drinkers of human blood” are substituted by the Bolsheviks who, according to refugees in the US from Soviet Russia, had invented and frantically used an electric guillotine capable of killing five-hundred men per hour. We saw the Jacobins branded as people who frequented “places of pleasure” and organized “orgies”; in October of 1919, the Hungarian communist leader, Béla Kun, is accused of having established “a harem with a lavish assortment” of women, where the perfidious and insatiable Jew could “rape and dishonor dozens of virgins of the Christian caste."942 Repeating this slander is a newspaper that will later become the official press organ for the Nazi party, but at that time, in expressing its horror over the events in Eastern Europe, shares an outlook that’s widespread in Western public opinion and on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, too, the Bolsheviks are synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity: In Russia they had introduced the nationalization of women, as charged by documents published with the authorization of President Wilson and as was described in rich detail by an authoritative newspaper like the New York Times; yes, every girl upon turning eighteen years old is forced to register in an “office of free love”, and then sadly turned over to a man arbitrarily chosen, and she is forced to suffer on her body and soul the governmental entity’s impositions.943

If the Jacobins are ‘barbarians’, even more so are the protagonists of the October Revolution, first classified as agents of imperial Germany (or the “Huns” and the “Vandals”, as Germans are defined by Entente propaganda during World War I), and later as the agents of Jewish internationalism, even more alien to true civilization, both for their geographic origin, as well as the support provided to the colonial revolts and to the peoples of color, just as Nazi propaganda insisted on repeating. Finally, while Robespierre is for some time accused by Babeuf of having wanted to completely “wipe out the human race”, Conquest is satisfied in blaming Stalin for organizing the starvation of the Ukrainian people.

The topics sketched out here are only modest suggestions for the future historian. In looking for the appropriate comparison for these political mythologies, it’s worthwhile, at any rate, to observe that Stalin was less fortunate than Robespierre: Yes, in Russia today there are popular demonstrations that raise his portrait, and the majority of adults have a positive view toward Stalin and see in him the “energetic leader” the country needed in such calamitous times. Among the ex-’dissidents’ we see Alexandr Zinoviev classify Yeltsin as the leader of a “criminal counter revolution” and a “colonial democracy”, and he makes a surprising overall evaluation of the history of the Soviet Union, including the three decades of the Stalin era: “Thanks precisely to communism, Russia was able to avoid even greater evils” and to realize, “in extremely difficult historical circumstances”, advancements that “only a cynical rabble can deny."944 In the West, however, including on the left, the charge of “Stalinism” can hit anyone who even dares to express any doubts or ask any questions. If anything, it’s in the “bourgeois” camp where we can catch a timid glimpse at some reconsideration. Just a few months after the overthrow of the Soviet Union, an authoritative Italian newspaper reported: “A million and a half people run the risk of not surviving the winter, for lack of food and medicine throughout the Soviet Union; a report by the International Red Cross has stated."945 Some time later, still analyzing Yeltsin’s Russia, a prominent political scientist, Maurice Duverger, pointed to the “falling average life expectancy”, whose responsibility fell on the privileged minority that had managed “to accumulate enormous wealth” through parasitical speculation―though not explicitly illegal―and he denounced the “true genocide of the elderly."946 If not a reversal, at least the charge of genocide is applied to all sides, with the condemnation of one  of the West’s heroes (Yeltsin), and with him the West itself, considered responsible for the tragedy that in no way took place in a situation of acute political and economic crisis, but after the Cold War itself had ended, at a time when, at least in the most advanced countries, shortages were only a distant memory.

It comes to mind the summary made by Edgar Quinet regarding the French Revolution: “The Terror had been the first calamity; the second, that which ruined the Republic, was the trial conducted against the Terror."947

931. Sack, (1993), pp. 53 and onward.

932. Hoffman (1995), pp. 154-55.

933. Montefiore (2007), pp. 370, 381 and 727.

934. Deutscher (1972b), p. 20.

935. Baczko (1989), p. 23 and note 11.

936. Baczko (1989), p. 10.

937. Baczko (1989), pp. 15-16.

938. Baczko (1989), p. 245.

939. Baczko (1989), pp. 244-45.

940. Baczko (1989), pp. 210-11

942. Diamond (1985), pp. 97-98.

943. Filene (1967), pp. 46-47.

944. Roberts (2006), p. 3 (on Stalin’s continued popularity in Russia); Zinoviev (1994), pp. 11, 17, 54
and 133.

945. Franceschini (1991).

946. Duverger (1993).

947. Baczko (1989), p. 191.

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