Stalin’s NYT obituary

6 Mar

Published 57 years ago today. It’s hard to imagine any remotely mainstream American publication taking a comparably admiring view of Stalin now. Aside from some very marginal communist organizations’ newsletters, Zizek in his more provocative moods, and the tragicomic KFA, I’ve only ever seen Stalin reviled in contemporary Western discourse.

Brian Leiter sensibly judges that the “freshness of the memories of the horrors of WWII no doubt explains the generally favorable tone of the obituary.” But it strikes me as strange that the ongoing Korean War, which claimed around 40,000 American lives, didn’t cast a darker shadow on Stalin’s legacy, especially given that he never ceased striving to perpetuate that conflict.

A quick Google search reveals that a surprising number of still honored figures of the 20th century also penned reverent reflections in the wake of Stalin’s death. Among them are Jawaharlal Nehru, who wrote

He was great in his own right, whether he occupied office or not, and I believe that his influence was exercised generally in favour of peace. When war came he proved himself a very great warrior. But from all the information that we have had, his influence has been in favour of peace even in these present days of trouble and conflict.

and W.E.B. Du Bois,

Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. He was simple, calm and courageous. He seldom lost his poise; pondered his problems slowly, made his decisions clearly and firmly; never yielded to ostentation nor coyly refrained from holding his rightful place with dignity. He was the son of a serf but stood calmly before the great without hesitation or nerves. But also—and this was the highest proof of his greatness—he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate.
His judgment of men was profound. He early saw through the flamboyance and exhibitionism of Trotsky, who fooled the world, and especially America. The whole ill-bred and insulting attitude of Liberals in the U.S. today began with our naive acceptance of Trotsky’s magnificent lying propaganda, which he carried around the world. Against it, Stalin stood like a rock and moved neither right nor left, as he continued to advance toward a real socialism instead of the sham Trotsky offered.

I’m not really interested in moralising about these unfortunate attitudes regarding Stalin–primarily (but not only) because I’m uncertain about the extent to which the severity of Stalin’s crimes and atrocities were known outside the USSR in 1953. I will say, however, that I’m of the opinion that, pace Dr. Du Bois, just as he was presciently right about Hitler, Trotsky was pretty much on the money–err, capital–here:

Leon Trotsky, Stalin’s brilliant and defeated adversary, regarded him as an intellectual nonentity who personified “the spirit of mediocrity” that impregnated the Soviet bureaucracy.


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