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Stalin's birthday and Russian intellectuals:

15 years later, Soviet dissidents' record a shambles

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    As 2004 draws to a close, we can celebrate the 125th birthday of Stalin on December 21, but we can also look at the 15 year record of Russian Liberalism in power. In 1989, the critics of Stalin and the Soviet Union finally won open victory with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

    In 2000, Soviet-era dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn deigned to meet with Russian President Putin for three hours.(1) Meanwhile, polls show that 21% of Russians consider Stalin to have been a "wise leader,"(2) while a larger portion has an overall positive view of Stalin. The Russian people are chewing on this issue somewhat as evidenced by various polls over the past two years. Ranging from 36% up, the Russian population finds Stalin to have had a positive role. One poll placed Stalin's positive approval at 53% of Russia.(3)

    Since that percentage is higher than any percentage for any Liberal leader recently or for phony communist Zyuganov, we are not surprised that Zyuganov placed a wreath at Stalin's grave on the 125th birthday of Stalin, December 21 2004. Zyuganov is just jumping on the bandwagon while continuing to mutter Liberal bromides about Stalin. So it seems that 15 years after the creation of open free market capitalism in Russia, communism is not "dead" and in fact, the real communist leader of the Soviet Union after Lenin still stands tall despite the huge blitz of Western and bourgeois Russian propaganda.

    In the long Cold War from the end of World War II to 1989, the Western media put forward a simple and ignorant message, one seemingly echoed by dissidents within the social-fascist Soviet Union. Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov were the biggest name dissidents who sought to make the Soviet Union openly capitalist instead of state-capitalist. Their courageous but uninformed message was to copy the West economically and thereby enjoy Western freedoms, but life has not turned out to be so simple.

    The economy

    "It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development" Solzhenitsyn said at Harvard, June 8, 1978.(4) Actually, what the West did was convince Russia to adopt a system promoting even more Russian alcoholism and an early death for men and death from exposure and starvation among senior citizens. In November, the Washington Post admitted: "The average Russian male born in 2002 will live to be 58.5 years old, a slight improvement from the 1994 figure of 57.6 years and down from 64 years in the mid-1980s. In terms of life expectancy, Russia ranks 122nd in the world, at the same level as Guyana and North Korea."(5) We can be sure that if that drop in life expectancy had happened under Stalin still living in the 1990s and 2000s, there would be hundreds of books published in the West declaiming the millions murdered by him. The difference is that Stalin doubled the life expectancy of his people and did it in a time of horrible war while Russia of today lives in relative peace and with the benefit of the industrialization completed by Stalin.

    The Russian economy has not recovered from its suicidal turn from the road of Lenin and Stalin. Khruschev and Brezhnev brought economic stagnation while Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin brought outright economic regression. In 1990, the GDP per capita in Russia was $3817 and by 2001 it was $2669 (in 1990 dollars which means the statistic is adjusted for inflation).(6)

    This is nothing new to MIM, because we always said that Khruschev and Brezhnev brought about capitalism and the business cycle. However, the economic facts firmly rebut people such as Solzhenitsyn who came up with easy "theories" about abandoning alleged socialism and copying the West for economic gains.

    Imprisonment rates

    After four years in the West, Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave a speech at Harvard that openly recommended a turn away from the Enlightenment and a return to Christian spirituality. In the same speech he intended to level some criticism against the West, but even then it was apparent that Solzhenitsyn's grip on reality was weak.

    To his credit, he noted with surprise that Western journalists conform to underlying trends in profit-making dictated by a few owners of the media, not intellectual pursuit of truth. He also said that criminality was higher in the United $tates than in the Soviet Union of the time.

    Of criminality, Solzhenitsyn said there "is considerably more of it [in the United $tates--ed.] than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society. (There is a huge number of prisoners in our camps which are termed criminals, but most of them never committed any crime; they merely tried to defend themselves against a lawless state resorting to means outside of a legal framework)." This statement hid an important misconception of the Soviet dissidents, one that was contrary to the interests of most Soviet people, who now enjoy Amerikan-style murder and imprisonment rates.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn's fiction works on the Soviet gulag system loom large in Amerikan thinking about not just Russia but many other countries that Amerikans fear. Solzhenitsyn catered to Amerikan nationalism that believes other countries are more dangerous and backward to live in. Thanks to Solzhenitsyn, most Amerikans know more about other countries' prisons than their own. This sort of Amerikan nationalism may be nicer than open "Aryan race" chauvinism, but it is in some ways more blinding: people who believe they live in a "free country" readily dismiss any facts about prisoners and prison conditions.

    Historical imprisonment rates in selected countries, per 1000 people

    Year U$A Russia Poland Bulgaria
    1952 1 10-100?* N/A N/A
    1980-1986 4.3 2.7** 2.0 1.6
    1994 5.5 5.8 N/A 1.0
    2001 6.9 6.7 2.1 1.2
    *According to the State Department of 1952.
    **Figure for the entire USSR, not just Russia.

    United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report (Oxford University Press) (for the years 1991, 1992, 1993 and 2000).
    2001 figures from British Home Office,

    The truth is that the imprisonment rate in Russia has doubled since the days of Soviet dissidents, and may soon triple. Yet, dissidents express their satisfaction despite all their years of talk about the evils of excessive imprisonment. This tells us something about the dissidents, namely that progress for them is praise for their pro-capitalist speeches, not greater freedom. The exploited and oppressed who continue to follow these Liberals jump from the frying pan into the fire.

    Although some Liberals such as chess player Kasparov talk about communists as if it were still the 1980s or 1930s, more typical is Vladimir Bukovsky imprisoned 12 years under social-fascist Brezhnev. While the imprisonment rate has exploded in Russia, he believes Russia has progressed: "It will never go back all the way to Brezhnev's time. History doesn't repeat itself so precisely." (7)

    Famous dissident and another physicist Yuri Orlov told the Associated Press in November that Putin's huge electoral victory may have paved the way for what he would consider retrogression, but overall, "Russia today is different."(7)

    Even BBC admitted that despite his criticism of Putin, Solzhenitsyn is a "firm supporter" of Putin.(8) In turn, Putin campaigned for president with poster images of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn.

    Going openly capitalist increased the imprisonment rate in Russia--the opposite of freedom. Today, the imprisonment rate of U.$. Blacks in Louisiana is vastly worse than the imprisonment rate in northern Korea--and Louisiana is not in a state of war with its neighboring states or the world's superpower, the United $tates.(9)

    Percentage of U.$. males ever experiencing federal or state prison (excluding jails) and their life time chances of going to prison based on year born

    1974 1979 1986 1991 1997 2001
    % of males who ever experienced prison in their lifetimes 2.3 2.4 2.8 3.4 4.3 4.9
    % of males born that year expected to go to federal or state prison in their lifetimes 3.6 4.1 6.0 9.1 10.6 11.3


    In reply, the irrational say that crime went up and that prisoners today deserve their imprisonment in Russia and the United $tates while they did not deserve it under Stalin and phony communist Kim in northern Korea today; although in the case of some like Khodorkovsky, the Liberal descendants of Solzhenitsyn would say they did not deserve their imprisonment even today.

    So to put it in Solzhenitsyn's language, in 1978 prisoners were spiritually deserving, but the more numerous prisoners of say 1998 are not spiritually deserving. To be a prisoner of an openly Soviet system is a virtue while being a prisoner in a capitalist system is an evidence of criminality according to Solzhenitsyn. In other words, Solzhenitsyn speaks purely for the bourgeoisie, but he does it in the guise of Christianity and in a way completely compatible with Franco fascism in Spain for example. When it's good for capitalism, Solzhenitsyn criticizes imprisonment, while we communists believe the long run goal is to do away with imprisonment by eliminating its causes. We find little excuse for the poverty-related imprisonment seen in the united $tates.

    In 1952, the year before Stalin died, the U.S. State Department published imprisonment rates that compared the Soviet Union in World War II with the United $tates in (relative) peacetime, and not under occupation or threat of occupation. The 1952 statistics on the united $tates "show that there is an average of one person out of 1,000 imprisoned. . . . If the U.S.S.R. had the same ratio of prisoners to population it would have 200,000 prisoners rather than 2 to 20 million."(10) If we read this State Department statement carefully, it is defending a 0.1% imprisonment rate against a 1% imprisonment rate. The article is talking about the same things that made Solzhenitsyn famous.

    In 1952, the united $tates was killing millions of Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War and doing so with the justification that the Soviet Union might have 1.8 million more prisoners than it should. Yet it was in a way a fair question as to whether everyone in Soviet prison had been a Nazi collaborator or whether there needed to be some mass releases of prisoners. The Stalin government was indeed discussing this.

    The authors of the 1952 State Department article on Soviet prisons should step forward to condemn the united $tates now. As of 2003 statistics, the United $tates imprisons 5 people per 1,000 instead of just 1 for a total of over 2 million prisoners if we add in jails. That means that in 50 years time since the State Department condemned the Stalin era Soviet Union, the united $tates has had a five-fold increase in federal and state imprisonment per capita. In fact, the United $tates even left the Soviet Union in the dust for imprisonment, because after World War II, the Soviet rate decreased, while the U.$. imprisonment rate increased. Only since Russia has gone openly free market capitalist and copied the United $tates has Russia been in the running for world's number one prison-state.

    By the time Solzhenitsyn was speaking at Harvard, the united $tates had already passed the imprisonment rate of the Soviet Union. While the State Department of 1952 used to brag about a 10 times better imprisonment rate than under Stalin in war time, today, the U.$. imprisonment rate of Blacks is 3.4%, more than three times higher than the lower end estimate of imprisonment in the Soviet Union that the State Department was talking about. In other words, as far as Blacks are concerned, they already live with the Stalin depicted by the State Department, but now Stalin is in the White House.

    In this crisis potentially worse statistically than in Stalin-era war time, Solzhenitsyn contributed to the problem by saying about the united $tates in 1978: "The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless." As usual, there was no statistical basis for this observation, just pure Western propaganda-prejudice.

    A scientific approach needed

    This brings us to Solzhenitsyn's resistance to the Enlightenment as a whole. It's hard to argue with someone who is just going to say that Jesus does not get his due. It's obvious to intelligent people that such a formulation will have opportunist use in defending capitalism. It's a fraud as far as "spirituality" goes.

    In his 1978 speech, Solzhenitsyn criticized the United $tates for backing out of the Vietnam War in which it killed four million Vietnamese people while he simultaneously tried to claim that the Bolsheviks are guilty of mass lawlessness. To this, our readers may wonder which side is really worse, Solzhenitsyn's or ours.

    In reply, MIM says this: we are willing to measure the question. Our critics on the other side, the Soviet dissidents are unwilling and Solzhenitsyn is openly opposing the Enlightenment, so it is obvious that his side of the debate has more to hide in obscure and inaccessible screeds on Jesus, the Orthodox Church and any other mumbo-jumbo that can serve as an intellectual opiate.

    The measure of a prison-state in normal times is its incarceration rate. Choosing some other criterion to discuss the prison-state may very well represent simple cultural bias as in Solzhenitsyn's preference for imprisoning people to uphold Christian values instead of socialist ones.

    The fact that Amerikan prisoners are better off than Russian ones stems from the economy, and that is a separate question also worthy of study. For one, white Amerikan prisoners were better off than Russian ones before 1917 too, so it has nothing to do with communism. For two, by now, the simpleton dissident views that copying the united $tates's shopping malls would bring prosperity to Russia have proved false.

    As far as the economy goes, none of the leaders after Stalin has done as good a job in bringing about economic development, so it is not factually true that copying the West is the road forward. Russia has done nothing but copy the West more and more since Stalin and the result has only been more and more disastrous.

    The functioning of the economy and the state are the keys to understanding why the Soviet era dissidents have disappeared without a trace. Even the monopoly capitalist Associated Press article on Stalin's 125th birthday obliged itself to point out that the World War II veterans honoring Stalin in his hometown receive $6 a month as a pension from the state--not enough for food. It's quite an irony that Stalin left the Soviet Union in a condition equal to the united $tates in most regards except luxury goods production, but today the great free market Russia gives its pensioners $6 a month for saving their country from Nazi barbarism.

    In the ex-Soviet Union and China, it seems to be a favorite course of becoming well-known experts on politics and economics to study neither. While this is understandable in China's case, where the state steered youth into hard sciences and put a social-fascist party chokehold on other subjects, it is no longer acceptable in Russia. Solzhenitsyn was a fiction-writer, who loved to cite a book by an algebra teacher on socialism--Shafarevich. Sakharov was a physicist. Today, one of the handful of major Liberal leaders of the next generation is a chess champion named Garry Kasparov who literally believes history started coincidentally when chess did in its modern form--500 years ago. He is working to promote a more radical crackpot theory of history than promoted by Fomenko.(11)

    Easy ideas about Jesus, easy ideas about humyn rights that copy the West's and easy ideas even about the length of history itself--the intelligent of Russia have reacted badly to the social-fascism of the Brezhnev era. It's not enough to be intelligent. One must also put in effort on the question of economic development and the causes of crime and state formation--even if those subjects once seemed dominated by highly corrupt or boring people.

    In 1978, Solzhenitsyn said this: "In our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East." Yet, the Soviet bloc collapsed without the violence to overthrow it predicted by Solzhenitsyn and others in 1978. In 2004, it is already evident that the intellectual trends of Russia in the 1980s have not prevailed. Stalin's approval rating at 53% is one indication that communism is not "zero and less than zero."

    Kicked out of the Reagan administration for being too anti-Soviet, historian Richard Pipes himself noted for example that Solzhenitsyn "'is quite innocent of historical knowledge.'"(12)

    Facts are stubborn things. The decline of the Russian life expectancy under free market capitalism, the doubling of the imprisonment rate, the continued hold of Stalin on the mind of the Russian people--these are manifestations of the same knot of problems connected together in the subject of political economy--not religion, not chess and not physics.

    Solzhenitsyn did put his finger on something though. The Eastern intellectual badly betrayed the international proletariat in the 1980s. Yet, while the West tends toward an effete post-modernism and watered down Marxology in academia, we are sure that the East will once again give rise to the intellectual dragons Marx thought he would give birth to.

    3. ;
    A Houston Chronicle article mentioned a poll of 40% supporting Stalin 20Nov2004.
    4. tsyn/harvard1978.html
    6. World_development_and_Outlook,1820-2030.pdf
    10. "Forced Labor in the Soviet Union," U.S. Department of State Bulletin, Vol. 27 (1952) reprinted in Alex Inkeles & Kent Geiger, eds. Soviet Society: A Book of Readings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1961), p. 253.
    12. An excellent discussion of various reactionary views and how they divided over Solzhenitsyn: