Corbyn must learn from Stalin

Now that the possibility of a Marxist in 10 Downing Street is looming large, perhaps we should remind ourselves of the more endearing features of Marxism.

“Call yourself novelists, Mr Barnes and Mr McEwan? Well, I have news for you…”

First, a general point: Marxism tries to force society into the procrustean bed of a contrived political philosophy based on a monstrously fake view of human nature and reality in general.

Both human nature and reality tend to be stubborn: they resist the surgical procedures required to squeeze them into the bed of Procrustes, and they’ll never submit voluntarily.

Hence, for a Marxist government to hold on to power, it has to be totalitarian, meaning using unrestrained coercion to control every aspect of life – with every being the operative word.

Mention totalitarianism to most people, and they’ll have images of concentration camps flashing through their minds. Such images are true to life, and they are perhaps the most horrific pictures ever painted on the canvas of history.

But history isn’t a single canvas; it’s a kaleidoscope with multiple pictures. Thus there’s more, much more to fear from totalitarianism than just its satanic violence.

The first warning was sounded by that great anti-totalitarian in the early days of the Roman Empire: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

That means, in today’s parlance, fear Marxist totalitarians, for if they are unable to destroy the soul, it certainly won’t be for any lack of trying. We all know how they destroy the body, but their other aspiration is sometimes ignored.

Here the experience of people like me, those whose souls were subjected to totalitarian assault and somehow managed to survive, may prove instructive.

Now I was only five when Stalin died, but totalitarianism didn’t die with him. It was going strong when I left Russia 20 years later, and it’s still discernible today.

Let’s forget for a minute the 60 million victims massacred by the Bolsheviks (as if it were possible to forget that). Instead let’s just look at some more vegetarian aspects of totalitarianism, here illustrated by three stories.

The first one goes back to 1957, when I was first forced to study physics at school. Our textbook, produced when Stalin still ruled the roost, taught that nuclear physics was a “bourgeois science” and “the atom is the smallest and further indivisible particle of matter”.

Though my interest in natural science was tepid at best, even I knew that wasn’t so. Rutherford split the atom in 1932, and his discovery had been put to good use in Japan 12 years before my teachers were insisting that the atom was indivisible – but I did tell you that Marxism is all about fake reality.

Two other stories didn’t involve me directly, but their indirect impact was huge. For Comrade Stalin, along with other comrades both before and after him, took a hands-on interest in things that more or less circumscribed my life: art, history, literature, linguistics, philosophy.

Not so long ago I read a volume of correspondence between Stalin and his second-in-command within the Party, Kaganovich. The letters were exchanged in 1934-1936, a time when millions were starving as the country was feverishly preparing for war. Yet I was amazed to find that the two leaders devoted perhaps a third of their epistolary space to the arts, particularly theatre.

Knowing this, you won’t be unduly surprised by these two stories.

The first one involves the celebrated basso Mark Reizen, the Bolshoi star and a permanent fixture at Kremlin concerts, whose programmes were endorsed, and often dictated, by Stalin personally.

During Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” in 1948-1953, many of those Jews who weren’t executed or imprisoned were summarily purged from their jobs, which fate, unbeknown to Stalin, also befell his favourite singer, Reizen.

A few days after he was sacked by order of Kharchenko, Chairman of the Committee for the Arts, Reizen received a phone call from Poskrebyshev, Stalin’s secretary, inviting him to perform at the Kremlin that evening.

“I can’t,” replied the singer. “Why on earth not?” wondered Poskrebyshev. “Because Kharchenko fired me.”

Poskrebyshev swore and asked Reizen to wait by the telephone for a few minutes. He then rang back to tell the singer that Comrade Stalin would like to see him in the Kremlin, and a car would pick him up in an hour.

When Reizen walked into Stalin’s study, Kharchenko was already there, ashen and sweaty.

“Who’s this?” Stalin asked him in his heavy Georgian accent, pointing at the singer. “This is Mark Reizen,” replied Kharchenko, trembling.

“Wrong,” frowned Stalin. “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, Laureate of the Stalin Prize and soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre. Repeat.”

Kharchenko made a heroic effort to get the words out: “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, Laureate of the Stalin Prize and soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre.”

“Correct,” nodded Stalin. “And who are you?”

“I’m Kharchenko, Chairman of the Committee for the Arts.”

“Wrong,” said Stalin. “You’re shit. Repeat.” “I’m shit,” shouted Kharchenko with alacrity.

“Correct,” agreed Stalin, pointing at Reizen again. “And who’s this? Repeat.” “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist… [and so on],” mumbled Kharchenko, looking at Stalin but seeing barbed wire.

“Correct,” said his tormentor. “And who are you? Repeat.” “I’m shit.” This time Kharchenko made no mistake.

“Correct,” said Stalin again. “You can go.” When Kharchenko staggered out, the Great Leader said to Reizen: “Mark Osipovich, I look forward to your performance tonight.” Like Göring, Stalin reserved the right to decide who was and who wasn’t Jewish.

Another story involved similar vocabulary, but a different art: literature.

In 1946, Alexander Fadeyev, Chairman of the Writers’ Union, published a novel The Young Guard about the wartime Komsomol underground in the city of Krasnodon. Having read the novel, Stalin was unhappy: the role of the Communist Party didn’t come across vividly enough.

He summoned Fadeyev to the Kremlin and asked his lapidary question: “Who are you?” “I’m the writer Fadeyev.”

“Wrong,” said Stalin. “Chekhov, now that was a writer. And you’re shit.” He then ordered that the novel, that had already sold hundreds of thousands of copies, be rewritten.

From what I’ve heard, Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell don’t quite share their fellow Marxist’s keen interest in art. But, if they find themselves running the country, they should learn fast: Marxists can’t afford to leave any turn unstoned.

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