opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman
29 Mar 2015
Afghan Gratitude, American Folly

If you're looking for gratitude from the Afghans, President Ashraf Ghani is your man. When he appeared before … Read More.

26 Mar 2015
Ted Cruz and the Born-Again GOP

President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill making "In God We Trust" the nation's official motto, but his … Read More.

22 Mar 2015
Liberal Policies vs. Affordable Housing

Julian Castro is a smiling bundle of energy whose past includes being mayor of San Antonio and whose future … Read More.

Putin and Stalin: Revising Reality


In most countries, the future is impossible to predict, but the past doesn't change. In Russia, it's just the opposite.

President Vladimir Putin, when he is not busy restoring autocracy to a country that has known little else, has taken on the task of refreshing Russian history with a novel perspective — his own. He is on record lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." It was worse, apparently, than World War I, worse than World War II — worse, even, than the creation of the Soviet Union.

Last year, the president informed a group of history teachers that Russia "has nothing to be ashamed of" and that it was their job to make students "proud of their motherland." His government has tried to help by commissioning guidelines and books that present a more balanced picture of Joseph Stalin, described in one approved volume as "the most successful Soviet leader ever."

That sentiment could be taken as ironic — on the order of praising a slag heap as the most picturesque of its genre. In fact, Putin really wants to commend a dictator who, if he was not the most savage and destructive criminal of the 20th century, certainly ranks in the top three, with Hitler and Mao. The efforts at rehabilitation may be working.

One poll found that 54 percent of young Russians think Stalin was "a wise leader."

To reach that conclusion, you have to excuse or forget the biggest events of Stalin's quarter-century rule, which left vast piles of corpses. His first notable "achievement" was trying to raise agricultural output by forcing millions of peasant farmers into collective farms — while wiping out supposedly prosperous farmers whom he condemned as vicious class enemies. In what a Marxist scholar later called "probably the most massive warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens," hordes of peasants were killed or sent to Siberia.

The new textbooks suggest that Stalin's methods, though harsh, served the important need of bringing about economic progress.

But the collectivization drive brought on a famine that was one of the worst the world has ever seen.

In Ukraine, shortages were so severe that starving people were driven to cannibalism to survive — forcing authorities to post signs that said, "Eating dead children is barbarism." In combination with the mass executions and deaths in concentration camps, the famine cost more than 14 million people their lives.

But Stalin didn't attack only his class enemies. His allies were equally at risk. During the Great Terror of the 1930s, he launched a purge of close aides, officials as well as ordinary members of the Communist Party, secret police, diplomats and military commanders. This frenzy killed millions, many of them worked to death in the vast network of labor camps that became known as the Gulag Archipelago.

Putin's propaganda celebrates Stalin for winning World War II. But if not for his paranoia and gullibility, the war would have been far easier to win.

If Stalin's plans had worked out, the Soviet Union would not have stood against the Nazis. At the outset, he entered into an alliance with Hitler which allowed him to recover Russian land lost in World War I, annex various Baltic nations and swallow up a chunk of Poland.

His reward was to be double-crossed in 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Writes historian Paul Johnson, "Stalin, who trusted nobody else, appears to have been the last human being on earth to trust Hitler's word." In the conflict that followed, there is no telling how many soldiers died because the Red Army had been purged of its best officers by Stalin.

The new texts compare Stalin to Otto von Bismarck, the "Iron Chancellor" who unified Germany in the 19th century. But though Bismarck fought his neighbors on the battlefield, he didn't make war on his people. The latter habit is what distinguishes Stalin. If his record is grounds for pride, what could possibly be grounds for shame?

Putin's people deserve sympathy for the burdens the past has placed on them, but those don't justify his attempt to promote self-deception. Germans have proven it is possible to build a thriving nation without being blind to one's own history. Russians should respond to this campaign not with pride but with fear. If a government can justify what Stalin did, it can justify anything it wants to do.

To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at



0 Comments | Post Comment
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right: comments policy
Steve Chapman
Mar. `15
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31 1 2 3 4
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Authorís Podcast
Newspaper ContributorsUpdated 30 Mar 2015
Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 30 Mar 2015
Deb Saunders
Debra J. SaundersUpdated 29 Mar 2015

8 May 2008 Rejecting the Policy that Won the Cold War

11 Jun 2009 Baffled by the Economy

29 May 2008 Oil Prices and Economic Reality