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That Time H.G. Wells Interviewed Stalin
April 24, 2014 8:53 PM   Subscribe

Wells: I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world . . . Stalin: Not so very much.
posted by the man of twists and turns (36 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Stalin-Wells Talk: The interview that defined the post-war British left
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:58 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I think we need to lobby Paul F. Tompkins to re-enact this entire exchange word for word on a future episode of the Dead Authors Podcast, with let's say Nick Offerman as Stalin.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:09 PM on April 24 [15 favorites]


Wow, that interview took place the year after the great famine of 1932/33 (the Holodomor). And Wells ends his fellationinterview with
I cannot yet appreciate what has been done in your country; I only arrived yesterday. But I have already seen the happy faces of healthy men and women and I know that something very considerable is being done here.
It's enough to make you puke.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:24 PM on April 24 [9 favorites]


Orwell frequently skewered HG Wells. (more)
posted by KokuRyu at 9:28 PM on April 24 [10 favorites]


It's enough to make you puke.

“It seems to me that I am more to the Left than you, Mr Stalin”
posted by KokuRyu at 9:32 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


"You, Mr Wells, evidently start out with the assumption that all men are good. I, however, do not forget that there are many wicked men. I do not believe in the goodness of the bourgeoisie." - Josef Stalin
posted by straight at 9:34 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Huh—I have that book, KokuRyu. You've just reminded me that I dearly need to finish it.
posted by KChasm at 9:40 PM on April 24


Orwell's "Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters" is full of little (and often very catty) little gems like that. A fantastic introduction to the mid-century.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:59 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


"Let us suppose it is possible, while preserving the capitalist system, to reduce unemployment to a certain minimum. But surely, no capitalist would ever agree to the complete abolition of unemployment, to the abolition of the reserve army of unemployed, the purpose of which is to bring pressure on the labour market, to ensure a supply of cheap labour. You will never compel a capitalist to incur loss to himself and agree to a lower rate of profit for the sake of satisfying the needs of the people."

The dude was a lot of bad things, but he was no dummy.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 12:00 AM on April 25 [7 favorites]


The dude was a lot of bad things, but he was no dummy.

Or maybe he said what he knew people wanted to hear in order to trick them. Psychopaths often do this.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:07 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


That still makes him no dummy.
posted by Gyan at 12:12 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


In modern industrialized countries, the state is always in charge of the economy-- the question is, who benefits.
posted by wuwei at 1:33 AM on April 25


This is a really fascinating interview, and changing a few names here there, is still extremely relevant today. I'm surprised that Stalin was that eloquent and insightful.
posted by empath at 1:36 AM on April 25


It's my understanding that Stalin did not officially speak English and would not therefore have spoken it with Wells. Some people have claimed he understood English a lot better than was let on officially but that's not really relevant here.
posted by Justinian at 2:00 AM on April 25


Read the link by the man of twists and turns - they had a translator, who also wrote everything down.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:52 AM on April 25


[Some comments removed. Three Blind Mice, you seem to be rolling out some elaborate "today's lefties"=Stalin troll-like effort here. Please just communicate without the games. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 4:33 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


Joseph S is also known to have wielded a fearsome blue pencil.
Joseph Djugashvili was a student in a theological seminary when he came across the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Bolshevik revolutionary. Thereafter, in addition to blowing things up, robbing banks, and organizing strikes, he became an editor, working at two papers in Baku and then as editor of the first Bolshevik daily, Pravda. Lenin admired Djugashvili's editing; Djugashvili admired Lenin, and rejected 47 articles he submitted to Pravda.

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."
posted by notyou at 6:08 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Compare to the brutal and vapid rhetoric of a similar interview with Hitler.
posted by empath at 6:32 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


This is a vivid reminder of how easily gulled socialists can be. Speak articulately, say some amusing things, and a highly-positioned intellectual like H.G. Wells will cheerfully ignore your murder of over eight million people, many of them simply for being the wrong ethnicity. One wonders if an author who'd similarly fawned over Hitler would be remembered (and linked to) so affectionately. One wonders why.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:37 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


This is a vivid reminder of how easily gulled socialists can be.

Stalin didn't fool Orwell. It is a reminder how easily gulled some socialists can be.

And why stop there ? A lot of people who were not socialists genuinely believed the recent conflict in Iraq was merely the first step in a campaign which would successfully bring democracy to every part of the Middle East.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 6:45 AM on April 25 [10 favorites]


Ha! Socialists are easily gulled? On one hand, sure, just as any other segment of the population, generally (save, maybe scientists who have a higher rate of skepticism). But, if you could be so damn easily gulled, maybe the US would have a strong socialist movement that was unified instead of splintered between 500 different factions. You act as if the Soviet Union was all slavering over Stalin, when there were many different factions.

The quote above is telilng "I seem to be more left than you, Mr. Stalin"... That's not really such a shocker, Stalin was considered the "center/middle". Trotsky was "left" and Bukharin was "right".
posted by symbioid at 6:48 AM on April 25


One wonders if an author who'd similarly fawned over Hitler would be remembered (and linked to) so affectionately. One wonders why.

One wonders whether one really has to wonder why people think fondly of the man who wrote The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The War of the Worlds, and don't even know of an interview that was obvious gibberish even at the time. One wonders whether.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:02 AM on April 25 [8 favorites]


remembered (and linked to) so affectionately

Also, it's H.G. Wells interviewing Stalin. Even if Wells was a bootlicking galoot, it's historically interesting and absolutely worth linking to.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:08 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Stalin: In speaking of the impossibility of realising the principles of planned economy while preserving the economic basis of capitalism, I do not in the least desire to belittle the outstanding personal qualities of Roosevelt, his initiative, courage and determination. Undoubtedly Roosevelt stands out as one of the strongest figures among all the captains of the contemporary capitalist world. That is why I would like once again to emphasise the point that my conviction that planned economy is impossible under the conditions of capitalism does not mean that I have any doubts about the personal abilities, talent and courage of President Roosevelt.

I found that aside funny. It's like the Soviets really thought they would eventually win in the 1930s, so they wanted to keep the rhetoric toned down a bit.
posted by spaltavian at 7:23 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


This is a vivid reminder of how easily gulled socialists can be.

In comparison with the pro-capitalist right? They aren't even gulled; they have been purchased.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:36 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Adolf Hitler drained his cup as if it contained not tea, but the lifeblood of Bolshevism.

1. I am having a lot of trouble with that image. I imagine if you were draining " the lifeblood of Bolshevism<" you would be swigging it from a cup made out of the skull of Marx and cackling darkly in your mountain lair, which seems like a terrible way to drink tea.

2. That interview is really something. Thanks, empath!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:38 AM on April 25


This is a vivid reminder of how easily gulled socialists can be. Speak articulately, say some amusing things, and a highly-positioned intellectual like H.G. Wells will cheerfully ignore your murder of over eight million people, many of them simply for being the wrong ethnicity.

Did he ignore it or just not know about it?
posted by empath at 7:57 AM on April 25


What the world needs now is an Oprah Winfrey Vladimir Putin interview. I bet he would do it if she let RT do the intro film montage and we could watch Vlad for two minutes driving an F-1 car, flying a MIG, riding a horse with his shirt off, &c.
posted by bukvich at 8:32 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I'd suck up to Premier Kim in an interview if it meant I would receive first-class treatment during my visit to Pyongyang.

Perhaps both men here were skilled sociopaths, saying what the other wanted to hear.
posted by Renoroc at 8:48 AM on April 25


There's a fair dose of ahistorical hindsight in this thread. 1934 was well before Orwell became an outspoken critic of Stalin. Wells was attacked by many on the English left for being too critical of Stalin in the interview.
posted by yoink at 9:29 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


One wonders if an author who'd similarly fawned over Hitler would be remembered (and linked to) so affectionately.

PG Wodehouse?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:32 PM on April 25


Metafilter: I do not believe in the goodness of the bourgeoisie.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:59 PM on April 25


This is a vivid reminder of how easily gulled socialists can be.

This is a vivid reminder of how easily people invested in their political ideology can find themselves making silly generalizations about the people who disagree with them.
posted by straight at 4:20 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


PG Wodehouse

It is a gross distortion to suggest that Wodehouse "fawned over Hitler." He never made a pro-Hitler or pro-Nazi statement in his life, so far as I know.
posted by yoink at 5:58 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Wells: Cromwell acted on the basis of the constitution and in the name of constitutional order.

Stalin: In the name of the constitution he resorted to violence, beheaded the king, dispersed Parliament, arrested some and beheaded others!


Nice. I like when people debate Cromwell. He's like a Rorschach for historically-minded politicos.
posted by meehawl at 5:16 PM on April 26


"My picture of that interview is of a man struggling with a gramophone. The reproduction is excellent, the record is word-perfect. And there is poor Wells feeling that he has his one chance to coax the needle off the record and hear it -- vain hope -- speak in human tones." (J.M. Keynes on the Stalin-Wells interview)
posted by verstegan at 2:15 PM on April 27


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