Stalin killed to prevent nuclear war?
March 6, 2003 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Was Stalin assassinated to prevent him from launching a nuclear attack on the United States? "'The circumstantial evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of non-fortuitous death,' said Jonathan Brent, a professor of Russian history at Yale University. 'And to support this further, we now have solid evidence, non-circumstantial evidence, of a cover-up at the highest level.'"
posted by mcwetboy (43 comments total)
The evidence on the assassination seems circumstantial, but it does make sense and if the article is correct about Stalin's plans to start more purges, thank heavens his inner circle had the courage to do what they did.

The view [that Stalin is a hero] seems to have popular support: One opinion poll of the Russian public last week found 53 per cent described Stalin's historical role as "absolutely positive" or "more positive than negative," and only 33 per cent took a negative view.

My God. The man was the moral equivalent of Hitler and Russians still believe he was good for their country?
posted by orange swan at 10:58 AM on March 6, 2003

On preview: what orange swan quoted.

So much for public opinion as an indicator of a leader’s quality. Interesting article--thanks.
posted by win_k at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2003

The man was the moral equivalent of Hitler and Russians still believe he was good for their country?

With the rise of neo-nazi groups and candidates in Austria and Germany, I'd be curious to see what the results of a similar but completely candid poll of Austrians or Germans would turn up in regards to Hitler himself!

I'm with OS on the circumstantial nature of the evidence. Why couldn't it have been revenge for an old purge or Kruschev making a power grab? There are too many what ifs.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:07 AM on March 6, 2003

It could even have been that Stalin did die of natural causes, with the death certificate fudging being a matter of some people trying to deflect any accusations of assasination.

I'd like to see them do an autopsy - but if his memory (and corpse! ewwww! in Canada we run a funeral train across the country, bury the remains six feet under, put up a plaque and that's the end of it) is so revered they probably won't. And Russia does have more pressing problems than finding out exactly what happened to their leader of fifty years ago.
posted by orange swan at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2003

It seems farfetched to me that the Russians ever believed that they had the capacity to destroy us so completely on a first strike that we couldn't still retaliate and destroy them. Stalin may have been a mass murderer but I don't think he was suicidal (or even crazy--just very, very evil). I have trouble believing that he was on the verge of ordering a nuclear attack.
posted by boltman at 11:25 AM on March 6, 2003

Good for the country, bad for the citizens. They aren't always the same thing.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:28 AM on March 6, 2003

So much for public opinion as an indicator of a leader’s quality.

That reminds me of an oldie but a goodie:

It is time to elect a new world leader, and your vote counts.

Here are the facts about the three leading candidates:

Candidate A: Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologists. He's had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whisky every evening.

Candidate C: He is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, doesn't smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn't had any extramarital affairs.

Which of these candidates would be your choice?

Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt

Candidate B is Winston Churchill

Candidate C is Adolph Hitler
posted by Cerebus at 11:43 AM on March 6, 2003

mcwetboy - Hmm....I though Stalin got Beria first! Interesting......*strokes chin*......rat poison? eewww. I think that's a cruel way to kill rats too. Maybe that was the point of the method - a wry, in-joke commentary on Stalin? I liked the way they dealt with Rasputin better.

Cerebrus - Good joke! Does that mean that the worst mass-murdering psychopaths are temperate and tidy?

Orange Swan - The worship of leaders, however horrible they may be, is instinctually driven. Bill Clinton recently acknowledged this, admonishing the Democrats that "It is better to be wrong and strong than right and weak."

Carl Sagan and Anne Druyan wrote tellingly about this instinct (instinctual deference towards the dominant figure - usually male - in a group or tribe present in most primates and in humans) in "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors".
posted by troutfishing at 1:18 PM on March 6, 2003

Remember, he did win WW2, against the Nazis, no less. That kinda stuff makes people think fond thoughts of you. If Stalin really was assassinated, I can only applaud the people who did it, that man really was an evildoer of the worst kind. And I think Stalin was crazy enough to start a new war.
posted by lazy-ville at 1:23 PM on March 6, 2003

It is better to be wrong and strong than right and weak

That's not what Clinton said!!! He said, "When people feel uncertain they'd rather have someone strong and wrong than weak and right." He was talking about Bush being strong but wrong. He wasn't suggesting that the Democrats follow Bush's lead, he wanted them to be strong AND right! He was telling them to get some fucking balls, not lose their brains in the process!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:44 PM on March 6, 2003

lazy-ville - true, Stalin did "win" WW2 against the Nazis. But his massive incompetence - in trusting his peace deal with Hitler and so not putting his army on alert before the launching of Hitler's "Drang Nacht Osten", as well as his paranoid purges of the Soviet officer corps (his slaughter of most of his trained and most capable officers) set the stage for the disastrous first two years of war on the eastern front.

He was psychotic. Sure, he was crazy enough alright.
posted by troutfishing at 1:45 PM on March 6, 2003

Pollo - I stand corrected. Well put.
posted by troutfishing at 1:46 PM on March 6, 2003

Troutfishing - here's an article re: the Clinton speech from earlier this week. (Wash. Post)
posted by Pollomacho at 1:51 PM on March 6, 2003

By the way, the reason I jumped on that is because the Right have been using the misquote as fodder all week and its driving me batty!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:52 PM on March 6, 2003

Ahhhh - I didn't know. Anyway, thanks for the 'real thing'

*thinks...I'm thirsty...mmmm - Diet Coke!*

Anyway, back to Uncle Joe........

It's like a friggin' psychotic ganster flick, only with millions and millions of corpses.
posted by troutfishing at 2:05 PM on March 6, 2003

I love how no one has mentioned Saddam and historical lessons.
posted by stbalbach at 2:13 PM on March 6, 2003

troutfishing: I agree about Stalin's incompetence, in fact we Finns can thank that incompetence for our freedom.
posted by lazy-ville at 2:35 PM on March 6, 2003

That's funny, Cerebus - though my thought on reading your list was "well, that's an easy choice: A sounds like a typical politician, B must be a pretty good guy, and C is an obvious fraud"...
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2003

I haven't read it, but Martin Amis's Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (Salon review/Guardian Unlimited interview/obligatory Amazon link) is supposed to be a great book about Stalin.

"One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic." - Josef Stalin
posted by kirkaracha at 3:15 PM on March 6, 2003

The Russians, while a little behind on the nuclear side of things, were not that far behind to make an attack on the west completely out of the question. Remember that Russian troops far outnumbered those of the West, and also were in positions right up through to central Germany, well withing range of Paris and London, which was quite a strong position for the USSR to have, giving them quite some leverage against the US.
posted by dazed_one at 7:11 PM on March 6, 2003

in djilas' 'conversations with stalin' he reports stalin anticipating wwiii with pyschotic glee, not nuclear strike per se-the details were as yet unformed-but for stalin there was no doubt about eventual war with the west.
posted by quercus at 7:33 PM on March 6, 2003

I know one person who worked in nuclear targeting and overall nuclear weapons strategy (on the US side) who is - in a quiet, low key way - perhaps almost as psychotic as Stalin was (although not a vicious killer with millions of bodies in the closet)....had nuclear war broken out, well.........hundreds of millions of corpses.......

Both Cold War camps came close, it now seems, to obliterating the world on several occaisons. I'm glad to hear there were saner heads (even the vicious Beria!) on the Soviet side who put Stalin down.

Lazy-ville - does that mean that you Finns are commissioning a statue to the "gloriously incompetent Stalin, to whom we owe our freedom"? Come on now....give credit where credit is due - Incompetent, vicious, paranoid thugs deserve recognition too!

St. Balbach - I think no one here has explicitly drawn out the Saddam - Stalin comparison because of the difference in the respective scale of the two thugs' crimes. Globally, Saddam is a "once or twice in a decade" thug while Stalin was a "once or twice in a century" monster. Essentially they are no different but for the difference in body counts. But isn't that one of the crucial indices of evil, the "body count"?

Saddam, the amateur novelist, likes to think of himself, it seems, as good - and misunderstood as well. He's a vicious killer, (painfully misunderstood, of course) whom circumstances have not allowed to evolve into a Stalin. I'd be willing to bet that Stalin would have called himself, and his works "necessary". But "Uncle Joe" was grotesquely detached from his victims - whom he apparently thought of as a statistical abstraction......not unlike Eichmann.
posted by troutfishing at 8:46 PM on March 6, 2003

Maybe part of the reason the Russian people regard Stalin as a hero is that he turned their country from a falling great power into a rising superpower, gave them decades of explosive economic growth while the rest of the world floundered in depression, saved their country from Germany, saved everybody elses' countries from Germany, and created stability, equality, and hope where there had previously been only decay, inequality, and despair.

He came to a backwards, isolated, and failed nation, and left it one of the two most powerful in the world. There's something to be said for that. And that's also why there's no fair way to compare Stalin and Saddam -- one made his country great, the other made it starve.

There's also something to be said for him being a mass-murderer.

But from the point of view of a Russian, he did so much good, its easy to see how it might outweigh the bad.
posted by Ptrin at 9:12 PM on March 6, 2003

Duck, and cover@!!

Time heals - all wounds!
posted by crunchburger at 9:20 PM on March 6, 2003

Ptrin: maybe the Soviet people accomplished those things despite Stalin?
posted by turbodog at 9:46 PM on March 6, 2003

Ptrin - Stalin also played a key role in discrediting socialist ideology (in the eyes of much of the world, if not in Russia...). One could apply your "he did so much good" comment to any great tyrant in history.

I think it is a feature of human memory that we humans have, as a species, evolved the mercifull trait of quickly forgetting the bad while long remembering the good. Stalin had a few Solzhenitsyn sized warts, I vaguely recall.......what were they exactly? hmmmm.....
posted by troutfishing at 9:46 PM on March 6, 2003

ptrin-in my opinion, you underestimate Russia pre-Stalin and overestimate it post-Stalin. Perhaps Stalin managed to brutalize his dogteam into an Iditarod victory, but most of them dropped dead at the finish line, and the survivors aren't ready for another race for a long time to come.
posted by quercus at 9:57 PM on March 6, 2003

Mass purges. Mass graves. Mass murders. Stalin seemed to like masses -- as long as they weren't religious. Too bad he didn't grow one in his cerebellum at an early age, eh?

Yes, I hate Stalin, just like every other Westerner with a functioning brain stem.


turbodog: yes, perhaps. But compare the Soviet people under Stalin to those same people under the Tsars. From a progress/accomplishment standpoint, he was one hell of an improvement.

troutfishing: yup, he was a wacko asshole with a lot of guns and an active trigger-finger.

quercus: you're right, to a point. Lenin's NEP and sweeping, progressive, egalitarian social reforms were crushed by Stalin's paranoia, conservativism, and general bungling. But the effect of Stalin's industrialization cannot be overestimated -- compare what Stalin did to the "shock therapy" of the 90's. The USSR's economy grew by leaps and bounds under Stalin's watch, while the entire Western world fell into the worst slump in memory. And his armies defeated Germany and liberated Europe with no help from Britain or America till the Russians were counting the days to Berlin.

Let me reiterate, though: if I were living in Russia right now, I would have cast my vote in that negative 33%. But despite all our huffing and puffing, I think everyone here can see why Stalin is still almost worshiped by many.
posted by Ptrin at 10:39 PM on March 6, 2003

Ptrin, I'm not even breathing hard.

50 pages into the Gulag Archipelago I was convinced that Stalin was one of the most evil persons ever. Why just one, much less many or most, Soviets could have worshipped him is unfathomable to me.

While, it's true that the USSR didn't get a 2nd front until June '44, that's a far cry from "with no help from Britain or America till the Russians were counting the days to Berlin."

And Stalin/USSR "liberated Europe"?. It really goes without saying that what the USSR did to eastern Europe post-WW2 was anything but liberation.
posted by turbodog at 11:19 PM on March 6, 2003

"But the new study by Russian and U.S. historians argues that he appears to have ingested warfarin, a powerful and flavourless rat poison that thins the blood and causes strokes and hemorrhages."

"Warfarin, eh?"

Mayhaps Ol' Uncle "Warfarin'" Joe got a taste of his own medicine, the rat.
posted by Dunvegan at 11:34 PM on March 6, 2003

How ironic.
posted by hama7 at 11:34 PM on March 6, 2003

Stalin seemed to like masses -- as long as they weren't religious.

On a BBC documentary I saw a few days ago it was claimed, by a descendant of his, that Stalin had received confession after a crisis of confidence following the German invasion, and again on three other occasions in the '40s.
posted by misteraitch at 1:33 AM on March 7, 2003

I'd be curious to see what the results of a similar but completely candid poll of Austrians or Germans would turn up in regards to Hitler himself!

If I were German or Austrian I'd be really offended by that. Let's see what he did for those two countries - oh yes, destroyed them and dragged their names through the mud.

Good for the country, bad for the citizens. They aren't always the same thing.

The citizens are the country. They are if you're a communist anyway.
posted by Summer at 3:48 AM on March 7, 2003

It's far too easy to be simplistic about Stalin. He both destroyed and saved Russia. The question isn't, to me, whether he was good or bad for Russia, he was clearly a tyrant of the worst kind. The question is whether he was necessary because one thing is for certain, if he hadn't transformed the economy of Russia the Nazi's had far, far worse lined up for the Russian people than Stalin could ever imagine. Stalin had at least a strong Russia as his aim, and even he understood he needed a population for that. The Nazis wanted land for themselves, not mouths to feed.

It is possible, indeed probable, that the Russians would have reached a similar industrial capacity under another leader. Nothing like as quickly though, and they were only just in time as it was.
posted by vbfg at 4:35 AM on March 7, 2003

Stalin also played a key role in discrediting socialist ideology

I'm confused by this, what exactly does a psychotic totalitarian dictator have to do with the people's revolution and the uprising of the proletariat?

I'd be curious to see what the results of a similar but completely candid poll of Austrians or Germans would turn up in regards to Hitler himself!

If I were German or Austrian I'd be really offended by that.

Especially since you left off the first part of my statement: With the rise of neo-nazi groups and candidates in Austria and Germany... Fact is neo-nazi groups are on the rise in Austria and Germany. I wasn't making a judgement call about the German people as a whole, just I'd bet the numbers of those who felt Hitler had a positive role would be higher than we'd expect.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:58 AM on March 7, 2003

Pollomacho I think you're being incredibly presumptuous about the thoughts of the German and Austrian people. I don't claim to know any better than you do, but your facts don't add up.

There is not one single far-right representative in the German parliament. It's true that Jorge Haider managed to build a following in Austria, but as soon as he started to go off the rails the far-right Freedom party lost much of its support - it only gained about 10% of the vote in the last Austrian elections.

Far right minority parties are something a lot of countries have to deal with, especially countries with voting systems that allow minority parties to form coalitions. There will always be a minority in any country that is deeply xenophobic. However, even if the far-right did have a lot of popular support, I'd still argue that that doesn't give you any insight into how the public thinks about Hitler, who was not merely right-wing, but a genocidal nut.
posted by Summer at 9:00 AM on March 7, 2003

No, I don't have or claim to have any insight, but judging from how the uber-right in my own country (NSFW) view Hitler's policies as not all negative and reacting to Orange Swan's shock that ANY Russians would see Stalin in a positive light (since we know he's the moral equivalent to Hitler) and the fact that the Freedom party can even get 10% of the electorate in Austria or Edmund Stoiber can become the Bavarian Prime Minister, there is probably a larger number of Germans and Austrians than one would imagine that also view Hitler in a positive light (since he's more than just the moral equivalent)

I thought this was interesting from your article:

However, analysts say the weakness of Mr Haider's far-right party could make them an attractive partner for Mr Schuessel, since he would be able to dominate any coalition.

Wasn't that how the National Socialists viewed in the late 20's? It worked well for them.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2003

Pollomacho - I should have qualified that as "public perception of......."
posted by troutfishing at 10:48 AM on March 7, 2003

Turbodog, I'm trying as hard as I can to play devil's advocate here, but we seem to be ships passing in the night (or some less romantic metaphor).

A few more points to consider:

- At the time of his atrocities, most of the Soviet people thought that Stalin was innocent, and that corruption and evil underlings were responsible for the hell they were put through. "If only Uncle Joe knew..." was a common lamentation of the average Soviet citizen.

- Yes, Kruschev discredited Stalin. But then Brezhnev discredited Kruschev, and Gorbachev discredited Brezhnev, and Yeltsin discredited Gorbachev, and Putin made Yeltsin look like an ineffectual and dangerous drunk. You've got to believe in something.
posted by Ptrin at 6:40 PM on March 7, 2003

Hitler, who was not merely right-wing, but a genocidal nut.

Genocidal nut, yes. Right-wing, no, no, no. Just saying it over and over doesn't make it true.

(Also: Christian, no, no, no.)
posted by hama7 at 8:04 PM on March 7, 2003

hama7 - I don't buy the right/left schema at all. One axis? - clearly dumb. Two axes? - minimally adequate. BUT....... I can imagine three, four, or even more dimensions in the political/interpersonal realm.........
posted by troutfishing at 8:13 PM on March 7, 2003

Left and Right in a nutshell:

Extreme Left - The State "owns" Industry

Extreme Right - Industry owns the State

Hitler may have been the leader of the National Socialists but there was far from anything Socialist about his corporate ties.

The nutshell doesn't really work though, trout is correct in that it is far too simplistic a concept.

Oh and Hitler's anger at the church didn't stop him from seeking out their support nor did it stop him from calling for a Priest in his last days in the bunker.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:00 AM on March 10, 2003

About that "death of one Russian soldier a tragedy, the death of a million a statistic" thing...

During WWII Stalin not only decreed that there were to be no POW trades with the Germans, but that if anyone returned after having been a prisoner they would be executed. Russians were expected to commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner. Stalin's own son was captured by the Germans, and the Germans tried to arrange a trade. Stalin replied that he had no son by that name. The young man was later shot trying to escape from his POW camp.

Stalin also had his favorite daughter's (married) boyfriend shipped to Siberia.

The word "monster" comes to mind.
posted by orange swan at 10:05 AM on March 10, 2003

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