Stalin’s Year in Russia

Yuri Yemelianov

In 2009 Russian communists and those in Russia who cherish the memory of the Soviet past marked the 130th anniversary of Stalin. Two decades ago the attacks on the socialist order were accompanied by a noisy and slanderous campaign against Stalin. Practically all newspapers and magazines at that time published articles vilifying Stalin. The Soviet leader who died 35 years ago was a constant object of attacks in TV and radio programmes. All the troubles of Russia were explained by Stalin’s real and mostly imaginary misdeeds. The books published on Stalin at that time distorted the historical truth. The whole Soviet history and Stalin’s period in particular were depicted as a time of gloom and terror.

Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union many people began to realise the falsifications of anti-Stalinist propaganda. Some of them brought portraits of Stalin to the demonstrations and meetings of growing opposition forces. Yet even in November 1994 when an international conference on Stalin took place in a small room of the Moscow University it was attended mostly by representatives of foreign communist parties. (India was represented by comrade Vijay Singh.) Only small Communist groups of Russia were present at the meeting. Now on the 21st of December 2009 when the final event of Stalin’s anniversary celebrations took place in a big hall of Izmailovsky Palace, several thousands of people attended the meeting.

That change was a result of the gradual transformations of political moods in Russia. During the last two decades a great number of Russian people began to compare the decline of post-Soviet Russia with the achievements of Stalin’s time. While in 1990 only 9% of the participants of the poll made a positive estimate of Stalin nowadays the positive attitude towards Stalin increased to 40% of those polled. At the same time the share of those who have negative attitude to Stalin decreased to 25%. The rest failed to define their attitude.

Despite the domination of Anti-Soviet and Anti-Stalinist propaganda in the Russian mass media and schools the popularity of Stalin began to grow. At the end of 2008 during an Internet poll Stalin led among those outstanding figures of Russia who were chosen to personify ‘The Name of Russia’. The organisers of this poll nullified the results and organised a new one. And again Stalin became the winner. Then the TV made a programme ‘The Name of Russia’ which was shown every Sunday night during 12 weeks. The TV audience was urged to vote via telephone. During the show Stalin was vilified bitterly. There were obvious falsifications of the results of the poll. And yet Stalin’s name took the third place among the 12 public figures of Russian history.

The changed mood was reflected in the growing demand for true information about Stalin and the Soviet history. As a result many books were written and published which paid tribute to Stalin and his great positive role in the Soviet history. Not all of them were written by Marxists. Yet most of the present authors of books on Stalin recognise his great role in building a powerful state and in leading it towards victory over Nazi Germany and its allies.

The 130th anniversary of Stalin was an occasion for expressing the changed attitudes of public opinion. In the beginning of 2009 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation – the biggest and the most influential party of opposition – published its resolution on Stalin’s anniversary. According to this resolution the Party press published articles on Stalin’s life and activity. The chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Russia Gennady Zhuganov published a book called ‘Stalin and Modern Times’. Lectures on Stalin’s life and activities were delivered. The interest of this information was so vivid that sometimes a lecturer had to speak for several hours without stop.

In Moscow, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and many cities and towns of Russia conferences dedicated to Stalin took place. One of them was organised in Vologda, a city situated north from Moscow where Stalin was exiled before the October revolution.

The typical for Russia log-cabin situated at one of the Vologda streets was recently decorated by a marble plaque which states that here lived Stalin during his exile. Inside one may see a figure of Stalin made of wax. It represents the still young revolutionary reading a book at a table in a very small room. According to the police records during his one month stay in Vologda Stalin visited a local library 17 times and never went to the cinema-hall which was so popular at that time. Among the books taken by Stalin from the library were books on philosophy, economics, astronomy and mathematics. It is known that Stalin presented to some of his Vologda friends a book on the history of arts.

The museum dedicated to Stalin’s exile was visited by the participants of the conference ‘The Man and the Epoch’ dedicated to the 130th anniversary of Stalin’s birthday. The conference organised in the Vologda University lasted two days and was attended by scholars and communist leaders of Moscow, Leningrad, Vologda, Archangel, Petrozavodsk, Cherepovetz. The students and post-graduate students of Vologda University also took an active part in it. Many of them made their contributions during the conference.

The scope of the interventions embraced many topics. Speakers dealt with the economic and social transformations performed during Stalin’s time, discussed his role as a political and military leader. The popular Vologda writer R. Balakshin devoted his report on the songs of Stalin’s era. The reporter brought special attention to those popular songs which included quotations from Stalin’s speeches.

Many reports were illustrated with facts and figures related to the North European part of Russia of Stalin’s time. The report by historian S. Tzvetkov was dedicated to the analysis of letters written by citizens from Vologda oblast to Stalin and the latter's reactions to these letters. One peasant woman complained to Stalin about her material problems. Yet she invited Stalin to stay in her house situated in the Vologda countryside where he ‘may find a lot of wild berries and enjoy a good rest in the woods’. Another letter was from a teenage girl who told Stalin that her mother was unjustly expelled from the Communist party. Tzvetkov pointed out that soon the woman was restored to the ranks of the Party.

A worker Blokhin from a Voloda oblast wrote to Stalin in 1924 that he decided to change his surname and call himself Lenin. But his friends dissuaded him, telling that the name of Lenin is too important for Blokhin. Then, wrote Blokhin, ‘I decided to change my surname to Stalin’. Blokhin asked Stalin’s permission for the change.

Stalin answered to Blokhin. He said that he had no objections against his wish. ‘Now, – wrote Stalin, – you will become my brother.

It is especially pleasant for me since I never had a brother’.

The same atmosphere of fraternal relations between Stalin and the working people of the Soviet Union was illustrated in a documentary film made for Stalin’s anniversary and was shown at the conference. The film which highlighted the most important stages of Stalin’s life included unique cinematographic evidence of meetings between Stalin and working Soviet people in the intervals of Party congresses and other official events.

Later this film made by Helen and Michael Kostrikovs was shown at the meeting at Izmailovsky palace. The meeting was opened by the Secretary of the Central Committee of Russia D. Novikov. He pointed out that during the ‘Stalin’s enrolment’ campaign launched in 2009 over 10 thousand new members joined the Party. This increased the Party membership to more than 60 thousands. Thousands of communists were awarded a medal dedicated to the 130th anniversary of Stalin. The medal represents a replica of the ‘Order of Stalin’ which was made during the War. Yet at that time Stalin did not allow this order to be established.

The main speaker at the meeting was G. Zhuganov. In his report he brought forth eloquent facts about achievements of Stalin’s time and contrasted them with the decline of economic, social and cultural life of modern Russia.

Then the scene was occupied by the world-famous the Alexandrov Song and Dance Army Group. Under the big portrait of Stalin the performers sang the words from ‘March of Artillery men’: ‘Men of artillery! We heed the order of Stalin! The fatherland calls us!...’ The brilliant performance of the Group added to the atmosphere of enthusiasm shared by the audience.

It is clear that after decades of lies and slander the number of those who shared the good memory of Stalin and ideas of just and prosperous social order grow. It demonstrates that the successes of the anti-Communists are temporary and the cause of communism is invincible.

Click here to return to the April 2010 index.