I was telling a friend a rather embarrassing story of me telling a Georgian diplomat that of course I knew that Georgia was a country: “I know, Stalin’s home,” I said. To my surprise my friend launched into a speech that Stalin wasn’t really that bad. My friend is Chinese leading me to believe his communist upbringing influences his rather unorthodox opinion, at least for a westerner.
Then I read this article which describes how Stalin does not share the monstrous reputation of Hitler among many groups despite the fact that he too was responsible for millions of deaths. The article also mentions how Orwell’s Animal Farm had difficulty getting published due to Communist sympathies — sympathies that included the man of steel himself.
He had the blood of millions on his hands, yet Joseph Stalin has escaped Hitler-style demonisation, and even become a trendy pin-up. Why has history been so kind to this murderous leader, asks Laurence Rees.
A few months ago, when I was visiting one of our leading universities, I happened to see a poster prominently displayed in one of the students’ halls of residence. It was of Joseph Stalin.
Perhaps it was meant as a kind of ironic reference to something. Perhaps it was simply covering a damp patch on the wall. But, in any event, no one seemed to take much notice of it.
But imagine if instead of a picture of Stalin, there had been a picture of that other horrendous tyrant of the 20th Century, Adolf Hitler, hanging there? Think of the outcry.
Nor do most people in this country seem concerned that Stalin is currently on the shortlist to be named “Greatest Russian in History” in a Russian TV version of the BBC’s Great Britons. The final vote takes place in December. But once again, imagine if in Germany Adolf Hitler was in with a chance of winning the equivalent competition? The British press would be full of outrage.
It’s all symptomatic of a broader point. Which is that Stalin appears to have got off more lightly from the judgement of history – or at least the judgement of the British man or woman in the street – than he deserves. Stalin, after all, was responsible for the destruction of millions of people. His suspicion and paranoia condemned many wholly innocent individuals to torture and death.
Of Animal Farm, the article says:
One publisher during the war, who had initially accepted Animal Farm, subsequently turned it down after an official at the British Ministry of Information warned him off. The publisher then wrote to Orwell, saying: “If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators [Lenin and Stalin], that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships.
“Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.”