Max Hastings, widely believed to be a reliable historian, belied that reputation by writing two self-refuting passages in one short article.
Reviewing Keith Lowe’s book about controversial war statues, Hastings talks about the Russians’ obsession with war memorials:
“To put the matter bluntly… Russia’s only indisputable successes since the Bolshevik Revolution have been Sputnik and victory in 1945. This makes it unsurprising that the Kremlin is driven to make much of the latter.”
I shan’t argue against the cited number of Russia’s post-revolution achievements, although some people might. But ascribing the country’s sacralisation of the war just to the dearth of other successes is too facile for words.
The war has been used by the Soviets and their heirs to rally the undernourished masses at home and to scare the overfed masses in the West. That’s why, every Victory Day, there are thousands of cars driving around Moscow with ‘We can do it again’ bumper-stickers. That’s why every Russian chieftain, from Stalin to Putin, has been dropping broad hints to the same effect: we ended up in Berlin once, we can do it again.
That theme is harmonised with detailed accompaniments. Thus Khrushchev was forever reminding Americans that the Soviet nuclear arsenal could annihilate the world many times over. And Putin’s mouthpieces like to talk about turning American cities into radioactive dust.
Hence the story of Russian war memorials and statues is quite a bit more sinister than Hastings fancies. It’s not just about a feeling of inferiority about an underachieving economy.
But that’s a minor glitch, although perhaps not so minor for a historian. What comes next is worse. For, writing about the continuing worship of Stalin in Russia, Hastings effectively refutes his previous statement: “Putin and many of his people still revere Stalin, who presided over a tyranny almost as murderous as that of Hitler.”
The very fact that an eminent journalist and historian felt called upon to slip the modifier ‘almost’ into that sentence, testifies to another success scored by Russia and her acolytes, one that towers above all others: a triumph of global brainwashing propaganda.
‘Almost’ suggests that, though Stalin’s tyranny was murderous, it didn’t quite manage Hitler’s body count. If that’s what Hastings believes, he’s ignorant. If he says that knowing it’s untrue, he’s a liar.
For Hitler is usually ‘credited’ with about 10 million non-combatant deaths. That’s less than half a million for every year he was in power. An awful, gruesome number, but one that doesn’t even approach Stalin’s hit list.
According to the most reliable calculations, between November, 1917, and March, 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, the Soviets murdered over 61 million of their compatriots. About 15 million were slaughtered on Lenin’s watch, before Stalin took over. That leaves the blood of 46 million on Stalin’s hands, a stain accumulated over roughly 30 years in power.
As you can see, ‘almost’ applies neither to the absolute number of victims nor to the murdering rate. So why is Stalin’s tyranny only “almost as murderous as that of Hitler” to someone who’s supposed to know better?
Both regimes, Hitler’s and Stalin’s, were socialist. The difference, at least in the PR sense, lay in the modifiers. Hitler’s socialism was national; Stalin’s, international.
It stands to reason that an ideology preaching the innate superiority of the Germans over everyone else would by definition have a rather narrow appeal. And whatever international appeal it might have had at the beginning (Britain’s Cliveden set springs to mind) didn’t survive the exposure of Nazi crimes.
To be sure, that line of thought, with the concomitant warm feelings about Hitler’s gang, could work elsewhere, with some other race or nationality replacing Aryan Germans. But wherever they come out of the woodwork, most neo-Nazis are perceived as ill-educated cranks, creepy-crawlies at the margins of society.
Admittedly, the margins are getting wider in many European countries, and this is worrying. Yet nowhere do neo-Nazi parties (sometimes called ‘extreme right-wing’ or ‘populist’) belong in the mainstream.
Not so their international counterparts, be it the oxymoronic democratic socialists or even those further to the left. These are definitely in the mainstream, and in fact one can go so far as to say that socialism is the dominant ideology throughout Europe, practised even by parties that describe themselves as conservative or Christian.
Unlike Nazi rants, the language of traditional, international socialism rings all the right bells. Equality, social care from cradle to grave, the state looking after its citizens, free everything (medical care, education, transport, you name it), disappearing divisions between the rich and the poor – you know the glossary as well as I do.
That happened to be the language spoken by the Soviets, mainly because they wished the intellectual and cultured mainstream in the West to get that feeling of kinship. Cultivation of ‘useful idiots’ in the West was Lenin’s declared goal, and it was pursued throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, and beyond.
One of the first acts of the young Soviet republic was to start a global radio service beaming basic socialist messages to an audience already primed to receive them. When Comintern was formed in 1919, it quickly became the biggest and most successful propaganda machine ever.
News of horrendous crimes being committed by the Bolsheviks was reaching the West, but it was dismissed as sour grapes on the part of the dispossessed capitalists and aristocrats.
When Khrushchev delivered that so-called ‘secret’ speech (it was immediately circulated to millions of party members and to Western wire services) in 1956, Soviet crimes could no longer be hushed up – especially since they continued, and not only in the USSR but throughout Europe, from East Germany and Poland to Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
At that point, the communist faction of socialism was, throughout most of the West, pushed into the margins too. But the warm glow emanating from those beautiful words about equality or some such left a residual effect. They continued to tickle the naughty bits of Western intellectuals, even those who sincerely repudiated their erstwhile affection for the Soviet Union.
That’s why so many respectable, anti-communist gentlemen still can’t suppress a slight wince when parallels are drawn between Lenin or Stalin and Hitler. After the wince comes the jerking knee, and the old reflexes kick in. Yes, of course both the Nazis and the Soviets were wicked, but surely the latter never touched the evil depths of the former?
Just like their pro-communist forefathers, Lenin’s useful idiots, the new anti-communist lot won’t be swayed by facts, such as those I mentioned above. Even if they don’t deny the accuracy of such facts (which is rare), they’ll still find some ‘yes, but…’ extenuating circumstances.
And even if they don’t, Hitler will forever retain sole possession of the summit of evil, out of reach for the “almost as murderous” Lenin and Stalin.
‘Almost’. One word. Six letters. Two syllables. And they say, to those able to listen properly, more than many a learned tome.