In the Soviet Union, Poland, and other communist countries, everyone had to study Marxism-Leninism. We were taught that human history was a deterministic process, and that decisions made by communist parties were morally justified. Those whose relatives became victims of proletarian dictatorship were often told that mistakes were unavoidable on the path toward “our glorious future.” Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech exposing Stalin’s crimes, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books, were shocking and dramatic revelations about what was really going on.
Solzhenitsyn, by the way, was also a firm defender of communist ideas, before W.W.II. I understand this; like me, he too was a child of the Stalinist regime. But how can one understand western intellectuals who defended Stalin? They probably believed that the path of post-revolutionary development was chosen on the basis of open debates within the party leadership. This was certainly not true after the 1930s, once Stalin took control of both the party and the state. Ideology ceased to guide political decisions and became a means of justifying them. Western intellectuals accepted Stalin’s claim that class struggle naturally intensifies after revolution. This unjustified claim was used to explain terror; millions of kulaks (prosperous peasants) were either killed or sent to the gulag. Most Bolshevik leaders, including many of Stalin’s close friends, were executed as spies and enemies. The same was true for top Red Army commanders; 214 of 286 were executed. How many of them could possibly have been spies and enemies of the state?
“Historical necessity” made Stalinism seem scientific, while “Stalin knows best,” and its emphasis on infallibility, made Stalinism a kind of religion. That was only one of the contradictions within the Soviet system. Red Army soldiers, including those whose relatives were in gulag camps, reportedly chanted “for motherland, for Stalin” while storming German fortifications. Most of them knew about the dark aspects of proletarian dictatorship. That is another puzzling contradiction, as I wrote in (2). Even today, when Stalin’s atrocities are widely known in Russia, Putin seems to think that too much criticism of Stalin is in conflict with attempts to promote patriotism. In a June 2007 meeting with a group of history teachers, he said that those who criticize Stalin “cannot be allowed to impose a feeling of guilt on us.” An ongoing debate about a manual for history teachers in Russia indicates that this serious issue is far from resolved. According to (4), “Stalin’s crimes have not yet been confronted as they should be, because they raise insoluble questions as to who were the criminals and who were the victims during his rule.”
In capitalist countries many fighters for social justice, including my own father, were attracted to communism as a theoretical doctrine. The Soviet Union became the first country in which the communist theory was tried. But, contrary to expectations, no social justice was created. Under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union became a country of massive executions, gulag slave camps, suppression of national aspirations, etc., etc. As a physicist, I know that a theory contradicted by even one experimental fact must be either revised or abandoned. Who should be reexamining Stalinism? Those who still believe that proletarian dictatorship is the only solution to the problem of social injustice.
Here is what one reviewer wrote on that topic (referring to 1): “Sympathy for Communist ideals is alive and well in academia across the United States and Europe. Kowalski’s professor doesn’t want to talk about Stalin’s crimes because Stalinism is the reduction ad absurdum of Marxist Socialism and this professor along with many others still harbors hope for that system.”
1) Ludwik Kowalski; “Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist Regime;” Wastelond Press, Shelbyville, KY, USA (2008).
2) Ludwik Kowalski, OpEdNews article ”Red Army During World War II”
< h t t p ://csam.montclair.edu/kowalski/my_opeds.html >
3) Lawrence Keith Helm at
< h t t p :// w w w.lawrencehelm.com/2008/12/hell-on-earth-2.html >
4) Chekov, December 16, 2008, at
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