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The Posthumous Peregrinations of Joseph Stalin
June 8, 2004 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Stalin's Funeral "The crowds were so dense and chaotic outside that some people were trampled underfoot, others rammed against traffic lights, and some others choked to death. It is estimated that 500 people lost their lives while trying to get a glimpse of Stalin's corpse." The string quartet playing at Stalin's graveside wept openly - for Sergei Prokofiev, who died the same day and hour as Stalin. Stalin was first interred next to Lenin, under glass. But five years later, it was time to physically remove Stalin from a place of honor. "Stalin had been a dictator and a tyrant. Yet he presented himself as the Father of Peoples, a wise leader, and the continuer of Lenin's cause. After his death, people began to acknowledge that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of their own countrymen."
posted by stonerose (34 comments total)

 
Uncle Joe, y'all are my homie, and I will mourn you until I join you!
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:37 AM on June 8, 2004


hmmm, i know there is a reason for this post, some kind of insight or parallel, but it's so early in the morning for me it's escaping me.

hmmmmm.
posted by efalk at 8:47 AM on June 8, 2004


I just can't understand how this man could have been so widely revered for so long, not only in Russia, but outside of it as well. It speaks volumes of just how tightly woven the cloak of propaganda was, I suppose, and the fact that no Soviet could speak ill of Stalin without threat of being murdered.

But, to a lesser extent, this kind of thing happens in the West as well, despite its vaunted freedom of speech. When I read about how revered the British Kitchener of Khartoum was, it drives me mad.
posted by orange swan at 8:50 AM on June 8, 2004


Thank you for the Prokofiev link. That was a fascinating read.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 8:52 AM on June 8, 2004


I was being facetious in my above post if anyone is concerned that I really ran in a posse with Stalin. I despise all evil dictators. Actually, I used to like Pol Pot, but then I remembered that I wear eye glasses.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:56 AM on June 8, 2004


Stalin was first interred next to Lenin, under glass.

Mmm. Peasant under glass.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:06 AM on June 8, 2004


Mmm, octobersurprise, do you have something to tell us about your username?
posted by orange swan at 9:20 AM on June 8, 2004


OMG octobersurprise has the Best. Occupation. Ever.
posted by stonerose at 9:23 AM on June 8, 2004


I just read Martin Amis' Koba the Dread and it was really good and I recommend it for people who want to dig deeper (but not too deep) on Stalin. Thanks for the post stonerose.
posted by vito90 at 9:37 AM on June 8, 2004


I have read Koba the Dread. Amis does have some interesting insights on why Stalinism was seen as benign for so long. There is a photo in that book that I will never forget.
posted by orange swan at 9:45 AM on June 8, 2004


If I may add to the pile... There was an article posted to arts and letters daily recently on Stalin's love of movies.
posted by clockwork at 9:46 AM on June 8, 2004


Poetically, in light of clockwork's link, there is a movie called "Stalin's Funeral."

Anybody seen it? Dobbs, I'm looking at you!
posted by stonerose at 9:52 AM on June 8, 2004


A substantial minority of Russians still think very well of Uncle Joe.

Some of these even acknowledge that he killed a lot of people. "So what?", they say, "He turned Russia into a great industrial power."

Humans just like brutal strongmen.

It's a monkey thing.
posted by troutfishing at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2004


There are far, far better books to read on Stalin and Stalinism. Amis is a good writer, but he's basically ranting here: "Hey, you guys, I just discovered Joe Stalin was a really, really bad guy and we were all fools to think socialism was OK! And guess what, some of my old pals still think it's OK, and they don't realize Stalin was just as bad as Hitler, and they make jokes about Communism they wouldn't dare make about Nazism! You hear me, Chris Hitchens? I'm talkin' to you!

MeFites are advised to please avoid piling onto the subject or the messenger.
posted by languagehat at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2004


"I'm your wicked uncle Joe, don't
squirm or you're off to the Gulag,
as I fiddle about, fiddle about....
Fiddle about."

posted by troutfishing at 10:03 AM on June 8, 2004


languagehat - I wasn't drinking coffee, good thing for that.
posted by troutfishing at 10:05 AM on June 8, 2004


Stalin's continued repute comes mostly as a result of his not being so much a Communist Party Secretary (his official title) but more of a latter-day Czar.

When seen in this light one can easily say that he was the Czar who most moved Russia forward into the industrial age, and hence the reputation.
posted by clevershark at 10:34 AM on June 8, 2004


clevershark - spot on. The Tsars killed a lot of people too (maybe not as many as Stalin, but......) so - Russians were used to that sort of thing.

A good friend of mine went through one of the top Russian studies depts in the US and the (not to be named) dept head told him one day, confidentially, "Russian history sucks. It's really depressing." (my words).

That no news to most of you out there. I hope things are now starting to turn for the better.
posted by troutfishing at 10:58 AM on June 8, 2004


Well, Reagan was no Stalin. I'm embarrassed at the parallel. Am I also embarrassed at the distribution of wealth right now in the U.S., and this idea that it would "trickle down"? You betcha. So, I'm not mourning.

I am respectful of Reagan standing up to the Soviets though. People who are against war shouldn't be allowed to vote. How's that for inflammatory? War is how Democracy was born, Democracy is perpetuated, and Democracy survives. Anyone who doesn't think so should go live for a little while in a place that isn't a Democracy, start a blog, and tells us how it turns out.

I'm STILL reading about WW2, and if anyone thinks that war isn't part of government, well, isn't reading any history this week.
posted by ewkpates at 11:09 AM on June 8, 2004


ewkpates, where the hell did that come from?
posted by stonerose at 11:16 AM on June 8, 2004


OK, let's say that War is how Democracy was born, Democracy is perpetuated, and Democracy survives.
How does it follow from this that _every_ war is right?
posted by yoz420 at 11:17 AM on June 8, 2004


Every war isn't a good idea. But "give peace a chance" is a crock. "Give multilateral negotiations a chance" maybe. But Hitler or Stalin or [insert name of nutty dictator type who kills people] appeasement is a dishonest, uninformed kind of nut cakery.

Uhh, stonerose, uh, like your post about people liking a crazy dead leader the like same week that Reagan dies is totally a like, what? Coincidence?
posted by ewkpates at 11:26 AM on June 8, 2004


I second the recommendation for Amis' Koba the Dread.
posted by Voivod at 12:21 PM on June 8, 2004


"Uhh, stonerose, uh, like your post about people liking a crazy dead leader the like same week that Reagan dies is totally a like, what? Coincidence?"

Indeed. There should be a moratorium on posts about crazy dead leaders until Reagan has been dead for at least 2 weeks.
posted by spazzm at 2:41 PM on June 8, 2004


But Hitler or Stalin or [insert name of nutty dictator type who kills people] appeasement is a dishonest, uninformed kind of nut cakery.

Saddam containment worked. Mutual deterrence worked. Diplomacy has worked a lot in the recent past (China and that plane), and further back. Reagan (since his name came up--don't know why ; > ) did Saddam enrichment, let alone appeasement.
posted by amberglow at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2004


I recommend Dmitry Volkogonov's books on Lenin and Stalin for those interested. Volkogonov was the Colonel put in charge of releasing information from the Soviet Secret Archives by either Gorbachev or Yeltsin (I forget right now off the top of my head). Anyhow, he had access to a great deal of information about both men that had never been released before. His books are written for a Russian audience (but available in translation) and are specifically intended to deconstruct the myths surrounding both men that survive in that country. They're good stuff.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:24 PM on June 8, 2004


Yes, Volkogonov actually knows what he's talking about. Also, Simon Sebag Montefiore's new Stalin : The Court of the Red Tsar widens the scope of inquiry to the henchmen who made the whole thing work -- we tend to forget that even the most authoritarian dictators need help to run their countries. And of course Ulam's biography is still the classic.

But of course if what you're interested in is a good old-fashioned Stalin-bashin' party, Amis is yer man.
posted by languagehat at 4:03 PM on June 8, 2004


If you have something to post about Reagan, please post about it here in lieu of making a new post.
posted by shoos at 4:15 PM on June 8, 2004


Uhh, stonerose, uh, like your post about people liking a crazy dead leader the like same week that Reagan dies is totally a like, what? Coincidence?

Of course it's not a coincidence. We all have state funerals on the brain. But even I don't think Reagan was crazy - non compos mentis even while in office, and perhaps a touch immoral, but not crazy, and not Stalin-evil. In fact, I guess this post is partly a backhanded compliment towards Reagan. (Yeah! It's my tribute!) But mostly, it's just offered as a small means of placing current events in some sort of perspective.

I'm fascinated by how quickly (and yet incompletely) Stalin's cult of personality was dismantled by Khruschev. It's an interesting lesson in the vast differences among Soviet and American societies, especially as we ponder what use will be made of the dead Gipper. Here is a neat little remembrance that traces the peregrinations of Stalin through the mind of one Soviet citizen.
posted by stonerose at 4:41 PM on June 8, 2004


Reagan, Reagan.....he was no Stalin.

So why must his spectre shuffle through this perfectly reasonable thread discussion ?

Let the dead rest in peace, I say!

Lets talk "Uncle Joe".
posted by troutfishing at 10:25 PM on June 8, 2004


Avid pipe smoker that I am, I'm told that Unca Joe preferred Edgeworth slices (a pretty nice burley) in a briar pipe. And now I'm wishing I had some Edgeworth to rub out.
posted by alumshubby at 1:02 AM on June 9, 2004


Thanks, stonerose!
posted by octobersurprise at 9:14 AM on June 9, 2004


"Isaiah Berlin was a gift from the gods."

INSIDE STALIN'S KREMLIN: An Eyewitness Account of Brutality, Duplicity and Intrigue.

Robert Conquest
Research Fellow

Expertise: Russian and world politics and history

posted by clavdivs at 10:52 AM on June 9, 2004


Saddam containment worked - for who? Mutual deterrence worked - for who?

This idea that "If I don't get shot, then it's a good deal all around" is THE PROBLEM. Containment and appeasement always work great for those people who aren't the sacrificial lambs of that containment or appeasement.

Stalin KILLED people. Saddam KILLED people. Hitler KILLED people. If it's next door, someone should do something. If its "over there", hey that's okay.

WTF? Read a book! "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Uhhh, like, evil something, and like good men, uhh, nothing.
posted by ewkpates at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2004


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