12/29/2008

Uncle Joe or Mass Murderer?

"The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything"~Joseph Stalin


I see that Joseph Stalin has come third in an all time greatest Russian poll commissioned by Rossiya, one of Russia's biggest television stations.

Stalin was beaten into third spot behind Alexander Nevsky who fought off European invaders in the 13th century to preserve a united Russia and reformist Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, who was assassinated in 1911.

There has been widespread international unrest at "Uncle Joe's" supposed rehabilitation by the current Kremlin regime

Indeed the owner of the Television Station that commissioned this poll pleaded with viewers to pick a different candidate. It is for that reason that I believe the above quote is rather appropriate.

Stalin was one of the most controversial leaders of the 20th Century; many rank him on a power with Hitler due to his devastating purges of the 1930's.

Others view him as the undisputed leader of the Second World War after his country struck all the killer blows that led to the downfall of the Nazi regime.

I have to admit that the admiration that many on the left have for Stalin has never stood easy with me.

I have known members of my own movement who have considerable respect for this mass murderer. Indeed I know a well know Belfast SDLP Councillor who almost wants to have Big Joe's children with the amount of Stalin memorabilia in his office.

So the question that must be asked is who and what was Joseph Stalin?

There were some good points to Stalin and anyone who denies this denies a central part of his discourse.

Bearing the brunt of the Nazis' attacks, the Soviet Union under Stalin made the largest and most decisive contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II. 4 out of every 5 Nazi soldiers who were killed were killed by the Red Army.

It was for that reason that Big Joe was declared the Times Man of the Year in 1942/43.

Under the Stalin Soviet government people benefited from some social liberalisation.

Girls were given an adequate, equal education and women had equal rights in employment, improving lives for women and families.

Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which significantly increased the lifespan and quality of life of the typical Soviet citizen. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people universal access to healthcare and education, effectively creating the first generation free from the fear of typhus, cholera, and malaria.

Soviet women under Stalin were the first generation of women able to give birth in the safety of a hospital, with access to prenatal care.

Education was also an example of an increase in standard of living after economic development.

The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first near-universally literate generation. Millions benefitted from mass literacy campaigns in the 1930s, and from workers training schemes.

Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract. Transport links were improved and many new railways built.

Under Stalin's rule, the Soviet Union was transformed from an agricultural nation into a global superpower.

While all these advances are laudable I must ask the question...at what price?

At what price did the Soviet Union become a global superpower?

"The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic."

The above quote for me symbolises all that was corrupt and evil about Stalin, the fact that he was factually correct does not diminish the evil behind it.

His forced Agrarian policies at the start of his rule cost the lives of up to 10 million Soviet citizens. Progress, either political/economic or cultural can never be justified off the back of suffering.

His demented paranoia lead to the "Great" Purge of the 1930's when millions of Soviet citizens were wrongfully incarcerated or flat out executed at Gulag labour camps for purely political reasons.

Stalin's leadership was reinforced by a powerful cult of personality and in the 1950's Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's eventual successor, would denounce Stalin's rule and cult of personality, thus initiating the process of "de-Stalinization".

I have nothing but respect for the Soviet Union and the role they played in defeating Nazism through from my perspective this was achieved despite the role of Stalin not because of him.

His purges cost the country dearly and it wasn't until he left the war in the control of his General's that his country began to prosper against the Nazi enemy.

There are many things that I admire about the Soviet Union, not least its incredible anthem, however Stalin was not one of them.

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