What do psychopaths think of Joseph Stalin

Stalin's rule : Terror without borders

It is not often that a scientific work begins with the admission of having to revise one's own point of view. Jörg Baberowski, Professor for the History of Eastern Europe at the Humboldt University in Berlin, explains it straight away. “There are supposed to be historians who hold onto opinions all their lives and raise them to the rank of eternal truths,” he writes on the first page of his new book, “Scorched Earth. Stalin's rule of violence ”, and the electrified reader is taken on the path of rejecting all those hypotheses that claim any historical meaning or even want to save it in the decades-long tyranny of Stalinism. Baberowski leaves no teleological back door open, not the vision of the “new man”, not of communist equality, not even that of the “negative dialectics” of modernity. Instead: "Stalin was the author and director of the millions of mass murder." And: "Only in a state of emergency could a psychopath like Stalin let his malevolence and criminal energy run free."

This is a lot of stuff - at least for those readers who see Stalinism as an unattractive but ultimately necessary stage of development in the Soviet Union because they want to see it. But those who have dealt more closely with the history and everyday life of Stalinism, especially this everyday life and especially in the late thirties, must feel like the clappers of any party meeting in the episode that Baberovsky quotes from Solzhenitsyn, that one who don't stop clapping at Stalin's name for minutes until the party secretary finally does it - and is promptly arrested that same night. Baberowski is no longer clapping along.

It is impressive to see the knowledge with which he pursues his own refutation. Above all, it affects the school of thought that has dominated the past few decades, which understands Stalinism as a dictatorship of modernization and ascribes “social conflicts” and even the “Great Terror” of 1937/38 as an accompaniment to the spread of completely new layers within Soviet society. However, it turns out that such Stalinism fails without Stalin before the declaration of terror.

"The Bolshevik rule turned into a despotism in which the dictator's arbitrariness structured the everyday life of the functionaries and their subordinates," summarizes Baberowski: "From there it spread into all areas of life." How this spread took place and how it spread the highest will was made can be proven since the archives were opened. First of all, Baberowski does away with the claim that there was “Stalinism from below”: “On the contrary, we have to imagine a weak state whose representatives enjoyed the staging of permanent chaos and violence because this was the only way to gain their claim to rule constantly remembered. ”There was resistance, so great that the collectivization of agriculture led to a veritable civil war. The terror was "above all a response to the inability of those in power" to "enforce their total claim".

How this enforcement was made has become known in the past few years in an abundance of research achievements. Basically, however, it has always been known. Just reading the stenographic minutes of the two Moscow show trials in 1937 and 1938, which the Soviet government had published in several languages ​​to justify a shocked world public, would have been enough to recognize the mad world of Stalinism with its terrible consequences. But in the perspective in which Baberowski sums up the current state of knowledge, the staccato of crimes takes on an even more haunting quality.

But how did Stalin manage to concentrate this omnipotence on himself? Here, too, Baberowski does not dwell on lengthy explanations of communist ideas, as, incidentally, has been and is revered in a glorifying way by the Western European left. In 1922, Stalin, who advanced to General Secretary, created a network of supporters and favorites in the party, which was shaped by civil war, and which proved to be vastly superior to the ideologically savvy old Bolsheviks, headed by Bukharin as the supposed “darling of the party”. Willingness to use violence became the signature of the new elite of officials. "Stalin's absolute power grew out of the boundlessness of terror," sums up Baberowski logically after the first 250 tormenting pages of the portrayal of the network of relationships and denunciation that the dictator had spun, and the judgment that Stalin's rule was based "on the mafia model “, Confirmed as well as even exceeded. Last but not least, this includes kinship liability, which Stalin - as of all people, the Bulgarian Comintern boss Dimitrov, noted in his diary - announced in a long toast on the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution: "To the annihilation of all enemies, yourselves, theirs Kinship - until the end! "

Nazi ideology, with its racial madness, has been described as deeply nihilistic. But it is precisely this nihilism that characterizes Stalinism. Perhaps the most depressing chapters of this depressing book are those that describe the - far less known - late Stalin era after the victory in the “Great Patriotic War”. Poverty, hunger, neglect prevail, even in the middle of Moscow; for which Baberowski opens up a wealth of sources. Finally, the Stalinist terror ends abruptly because the dictator dies and the political heirs are tired of mutual murder. It is precisely in this that the end of Stalinism reveals its nihilistic character, which consisted of nothing other than the self-preservation of a terror machine once it was set in motion.

However, the terror did not start with Stalin. It was Lenin himself who set up the first concentration camps, the core of the gulag system, to which more than two and a half million people were supposed to be subjected at the same time, not counting the millions of ex-prisoners living and vegetating around the camps. On the Solovetsky Islands far in the north, not only priests and intellectuals were imprisoned, but also the rebel sailors from Kronstadt in 1921 who wanted to defend the principles of the “proletarian revolution”. Richard Buchner makes reference to this unfortunate tradition of terror, which does not belittle Stalinism as a mere deviation from the “correct” doctrine, in his no less material-saturated book “Terror and Ideology. On the escalation of violence in Leninism and Stalinism (1905-1937/1941) ”(Leipziger Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2011. 544 pp., 44 €). Buchner, who studied in Moscow as early as 1967/68, later taught at the Eastern European Institute of the Free University of Berlin and is now 71 years old looking after the Potsdam NKVD memorial, has put together a collection of horror that only underscores Baberowski's illusionary view.

What is neglected by Baberowski about the fixation on violence in all of its monstrosity, which leads to the edge of intellectual comprehension, is what was created in the Soviet Union at the same time as the years of terror. No matter how much everyday life must have been an everyday nightmare, and not only in the years of the “Yeshovshchina” of 1936/38, factories were built up from the ground, houses pulled up, tractors sent to the fields, art and culture - as if ideologically twisted anyway - not to talk.

The fear of the ubiquitous gulag dominated doings and dreams. There was life in fear, but it was also a life in the midst of and in spite of fear. A book of its own is needed to describe this, but one that takes precise note of the new work of the Berlin historian. It revises an earlier position by establishing a new one that research can no longer go back.

- Jörg Baberowski:
Burned earth. Stalin's rule of violence. C.H. Beck, Munich 2012, 606 pages, 29.95 euros.

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