Remarks on the annversary of the death of Josef Stalin
Josef Stalin has the unique honor of being perhaps the only 20th century figure for whom the anniversary of his death, rather than his birth, is celebrated. March 5, 2003, marks the 50th anniversary of his death, and on that day in 1953 the entire world breathed a sigh of relief when the word came out of Moscow.
Yet Stalin did not die on that day, or at least his legacy didn't. The old Spanish joke was to say every day, "Franco is still dead". The Russian version was, "Is Stalin dead yet?", and the joke was still being told when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
During WWII Stalin discovered, if he didn't already know, that the best way to maintain political control over a country like the Soviet Union was to have an external enemy. Germany provided that enemy, but after it was defeated, Stalin needed to replace it, so he made an enemy of the West.
And it wasn't just for his domestic purposes. He knew that the only way to make the West a credible enemy was to be a real enemy for them, and he set out to become that enemy. He succeeded brilliantly, and the result was the Cold War, the wars in Korea and Viet Nam, and the death and suffering of millions of people.
When Stalin died, he left the Soviet Union in the hands of people with blood on their hands, because he only allowed such people to rise in his system of governance. The result was they were too guilty to immediately reform their corrupt tyranny, and knew no other way to maintain control. It wasn't until Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power, with the sponsorship of Yuri Andropov, someone who had not been personally blooded, that reform could come. Gorbachev first replaced the old Stalinists with his own breed of technocrats, then called for "perestroika" and "glasnost". Today, the Soviet Union is just something on old maps. It fell in a nearly bloodless revolution the likes of which no one could have imagined in the days that Stalin ruled supreme and Orwell wrote his classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
But we still have to ask, "Is Stalin dead yet?" The answer remains to be seen.
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