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Tyrant, mass-murderer ... editor.
October 15, 2013 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Stalin's Blue Pencil (via).
Djugashvili (later Stalin) was a ruthless person, and a serious editor. The Soviet historian Mikhail Gefter has written about coming across a manuscript on the German statesman Otto von Bismarck edited by Stalin's own hand. The marked-up copy dated from 1940, when the Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany. Knowing that Stalin had been responsible for so much death and suffering, Gefter searched "for traces of those horrible things in the book." He found none. What he saw instead was "reasonable editing, pointing to quite a good taste and an understanding of history."

Stalin, captioner [some NSFW]. (via, some NSFW)
posted by the man of twists and turns (21 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's... a rather strange piece. At least I found it so. It's certainly interesting to look at Stalin's work as an editor, but I didn't like the elaborate attempt to use it as an overarching analogy (or something) for his entire career; it seems to trivialize the historical horror he brought about. I mean, Hitler (as we all know) started out as a would-be artist, and it's interesting to look at his architectural drawings and speculate about what they might reveal about him, but would we accept an attempt parallel to this to talk about his rule as part of his artistic career? "Hitler began drawing on a grand scale when he invaded Poland; his vision included it as part of a landscape even more daring than Turner..." I dunno, it makes me queasy. But maybe it's just me.
posted by languagehat at 5:18 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


He was also Photoshopping ahead of his time: Picture 1 : Picture 2
posted by stbalbach at 5:19 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The desire to put an end to the otherwise interminable editorial process is perhaps why Stalin's victims in the Great Purge—the presumed worst enemies of Marxism-Leninism—were called "revisionists." No one may edit the editor.

Hah! Great article. Thanks for posting.

I find both Stalin and Hitler to be highly unrelatable as human beings so any attempt to shine light over their private and mental lives is interesting because it makes them just enough human to learn from.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:31 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bookmarking this for writer complaints about heavy-handed editing.
posted by notyou at 5:43 PM on October 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


It would be really nice to believe that people who do horrible things are horrible in all aspects of themselves, pure monsters, and that the capacity to do horrible things- call it depravity, call it evil, call it what you will- is a property of monsters and not hiding in each one of us.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:47 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Blue pencil (wikipedia) was preferred for editing due to its non-reproducibility, apparently. Stalin seems to have kept up the habit of using it in household notes, doodles, execution orders, meeting notes, map notation, diplomatic agreements - all kinds of documents and correspondence.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:02 PM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Blue pencil (wikipedia) was preferred for editing due to its non-reproducibility, apparently.

It's still used for that purpose.
posted by tychotesla at 6:24 PM on October 15, 2013


...an understanding of history.
"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Well he certainly didn't repeat history, he came up with something uniquely horrible.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:54 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I seem to recall that Stalin actually fared reasonably okay in the "Poetry Written by Dictators" episode of the Sunday morning college radio poetry show that I listened to years ago. Dictators can be good at evoking vivid images and cutting out inessentials.
posted by ovvl at 7:41 PM on October 15, 2013


Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. Pokes giant holes in the image.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:16 PM on October 15, 2013


That's... a rather strange piece. At least I found it so. It's certainly interesting to look at Stalin's work as an editor, but I didn't like the elaborate attempt to use it as an overarching analogy (or something) for his entire career; it seems to trivialize the historical horror he brought about. I mean, Hitler (as we all know) started out as a would-be artist, and it's interesting to look at his architectural drawings and speculate about what they might reveal about him, but would we accept an attempt parallel to this to talk about his rule as part of his artistic career? "Hitler began drawing on a grand scale when he invaded Poland; his vision included it as part of a landscape even more daring than Turner..." I dunno, it makes me queasy. But maybe it's just me

I think they tell a lot. Stalin was a writer, Hitler, a visual artist and performer. Hitler was not a good writer. Mein Kampf is turgid. His famous "Second Book" was never published because it gave the whole game away--the whole basis for the Second World War is in there and he accepted advice to not publish it in 1937.

And Stalin was no great speechifyer--Russian wasn't his native language, after all. But their ways of controlling the bureaucracy were also indicative. Stalin had his hand on everything and wrote a lot of the important things out himself. His letters ran the government.

Hitler was not a minutiae guy--well, until the war got underway and he started diving in deep to the military effort. But he basically played underlings off each other most of the time and focused on only those things of personal interest. In a sense, he was a dilettante. Stalin was a professional revolutionary who fought for years and robbed banks. He personally obtained most of the cash the Bolsheviks lived off of until the revolution. He was a worker and controlled much via constant correspondence.

The picture captions are the most fascinating. You get the sense that he was as controlled by events as they were controlled by him. This jibes with his alleged "breakdown" in the weeks after the German attack. He basically freaked out and stayed in his house for three days. They came to him and asked him to get back to work. He did, and won.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:35 PM on October 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


-You know, Stalin was actually a really good man.
-Geddafuckouttahea Meatbomb, what are you talking about?
-Listen. One time near his dacha in Abkhazia he was out walking, and this little girl comes along the way towards him. As they are about to pass, he smiles and stops. Gets down on one knee and pinches her cheek, ruffles her hair.
-And so? He killed millions!
-And he could have killed her too, but he didn't!
posted by Meatbomb at 10:16 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's Godwin 2.0: "You know who else was a heavy-handed editor?"
posted by chavenet at 10:34 PM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


During his time editing Il Popolo d'Italia Mussolini was surprisingly relaxed about the Oxford comma, I hear.
posted by Segundus at 1:03 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every editor has totalitarian tendencies; it's not surprising that this totalitarian had editorial savoir-faire.
posted by Renoroc at 3:34 AM on October 16, 2013


Ironmouth, that's a really good point. I remember reading that much of how Stalin took power was by doing every bit of bureaucratic minutia that the other Bolsheviks thought was beneath them, and his careful editing certainly jibes with that.

It also relates, I think, to his superstitious terror and worship of writing– while Hitler thought cinema was the great art they needed to capture, Stalin retained a profoundly Russian commitment to the novel as the purest expression of human thought (it's actually kind of weird that the Soviets produced so many propaganda novels and so few great propaganda films, considering how low initial literacy rates were). Hence his fraught relationships with writers like Bulgakov, who he couldn't quite bring himself to simply kill the way he did everyone else.

The captions nicely capture the side of Stalin, and of the Bolshevik revolution, that doesn't get so much play in the West but is a very big element in Russia: the peasant vulgarity. For a lot of Russians, the revolution meant that the country was suddenly being run by fat-faced men who thought jokes about shit were the height of comedy; the pervasive crudeness and backwoods stupidity of the abruptly-elevated farmboys running the country is a constant theme in Russian memories of the revolution. And the image of the vozhd himself flipping through elegantly drawn nudes and writing dopey captions about wanking evokes that pretty well.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:56 AM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


> I think they tell a lot.

Oh, I agree. As I said, I thought the focus was interesting, it was the way it was written that bothered me.

> it's actually kind of weird that the Soviets produced so many propaganda novels and so few great propaganda films

Huh? They certainly produced more good propaganda films than the Nazis (and probably anyone else); I don't know what your criterion for "great" is, but pretty much everyone agrees Battleship Potemkin is in that category, and it's definitely a propaganda film among many other things.
posted by languagehat at 6:00 AM on October 16, 2013


True, Potemkin is great; I guess I think of more as a great film than a propaganda film. But when I think of state-sponsored propaganda, the Nazis evoke cinema (Triumph of the Will, Olympiad, The Eternal Jew), and the Soviets call to mind writing (Quiet Flows The Don, Ivan Bedny, Cement).
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:34 AM on October 16, 2013


Well, Quiet Flows The Don is not what I would call a propaganda novel, and there are a whole bunch of well-known (again, I don't know how widely you want to apply "great") propaganda films: serious ones like Strike, October, Old and New (aka The General Line), The End of St. Petersburg, Turksib, Zvenigora, Earth, Arsenal, and more comic/adventure/popular films that also inculcated strong political lessons like Adventures of Oktyabrina, The Devil's Wheel, New Babylon, Road to Life, of course Chapaev which everyone in the Soviet Union saw and practically memorized... I could go on, but the point is clear. I guess it's hard to really compare, because everyone brings their own mental lists and prior conceptions to the discussion. Aside from Triumph of the Will and Olympiad (I haven't seen The Eternal Jew), I can't think of any impressive Nazi movies, but that's probably because I've never studied them.
posted by languagehat at 7:22 AM on October 16, 2013


Oh yeah---I wouldn't describe any of the Nazi films as impressive (well, except Olympiad), while films like Strike, Earth and October are definitely great. But I'm thinking more of which medium was the leader's focus (and therefore less likely to produce actual great work). it always seemed to me that in terms of where the regime focused its propaganda efforts, the Soviets made novels the centerpieces of propaganda campaigns (and the thing Stalin wanted lots of input on), while the Nazis produced almost no novels of note and put major muscle behind turning UFA into a propaganda outlet. And considering how much more widespread literacy was in Germany than Russia, that was something of an eccentric decision.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:22 AM on October 16, 2013


> it always seemed to me that in terms of where the regime focused its propaganda efforts, the Soviets made novels the centerpieces of propaganda campaigns (and the thing Stalin wanted lots of input on)

But I think this is more your impression than historical fact. Stalin both loved movies (he suggested actresses and plot lines) and kept strict control of them (remember what Eisenstein went through with Ivan the Terrible!). Not arguing with you, just providing a different perspective. It's precisely because literacy was so low that Lenin called the cinema the most important art form for the Soviet Union and Stalin followed suit.
posted by languagehat at 5:08 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


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