A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.
The concept of ‘great’ and Stalin
Recently while having a drink with my Royal Air Force friend at the Singapore bar of the club, we got into a discussion on the leaders of the 20th century. My friend Tom commented that the history of the last century cannot be complete without the mention of Joseph Stalin the leader of the Soviet Union from 1924 to 53. That's a pretty long time and during these three decades, Stalin left an enduring mark on world history. We must remember that a leader is considered great when the effects of his footprints are for the benefit of mankind and have changed the course of history. Thus we have the name of Genghis Khan who is titled the great. The great Khan went and killed thousands of conquered people, yet he is given the sobriquet ''great."
I would like to venture and say that in the western world, particularly in the United States it is very fashionable to condemn Stalin as a cruel dictator. Many writers and some men who have escaped from the Soviet Union write about his cruelty and his prison camps more popularly called the Gulags in Siberia. I think if one has to read about them it's a good idea to read the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) the Soviet writer but after going through them, I find most of his descriptions one-sided. As far as Indians are concerned, we have to judge Stalin with different yardsticks.
I will not mince my words when I say that Stalin right up to his death in 1953, was a strong exponent of the proletariat and he did not like people who bowed to the West like Mahatma Gandhi. When Gandhi died he did not even send a condolence message but that must be seen in the light of what Gandhi actually was. I will stick my neck out and say that Gandhi is actually a pro-British man. When he was in South Africa he carried out recruitment among Indians to join the British Army in the Boer War and the First World War. He was also awarded the Kaise-e-Hind medal which is the highest award given to an Indian during British rule for his loyalty. Stalin had his reasons of not accepting Gandhi as a leader. In contrast, he was not against Subhas Bose and facilitated his visit from Moscow to Berlin to meet Hitler in 1941.
A brief discussion about the word great is not out of place here and we must understand what great actually means. The title of Akbar is great and one wonders how he should be given this title because he attacked Chittoor in 1567 with a force of 60,000 and the opposing army was only 8000. it was a one-sided battle and after the war was over he massacred almost 4000 soldiers who were his POWs. In addition, he massacred another 22,000 Hindu citizens of the city of Chittoor and hundreds of Hindu women committed Jauhar. Akbar is given the title, the great and it means that this word has a different connotation for different people.
Rise of Stalin
Vladimir Lenin who spearheaded the famous October revolution of 1917 had two contenders for power namely Trotsky and Stalin. As per the reports available, Lenin never preferred Stalin and his preference was Trotsky. He was a very cruel man and despite being a Jew conceived the infamous Gulag and Concentration camps. He was also instrumental in the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family. God has his own way of retribution and ultimately he was murdered in 1940, by a committed communist Ramon Mercer.
When Lenin died in 1924 Stalin, came to prominence. This was mainly because, during the years of repression of the Czar, Stalin had remained in Russia, unlike Lenin who had gone away to Switzerland. Stalin was the better organizer and had grass-root support with the result he came to power, There is no denying the fact that by a simple method of an open public trial, he got all his opponents executed. He was a great showman and the trials of 1935-36 were attended by many western correspondents who went on to say that the trials were fair and square. I will say they were not fair and square because the defendants had been badly brainwashed that they agreed to their crimes immediately and were executed. Let us also accept the fact that along with this negative point of Stalin, he had the concept to take Russia forward. For centuries Russia was the sick man of Europe. It became worse when Tsar Nicholas II was in power. Stalin had a one-point agenda not only to remain in power but to see that Russia got back its old glory and he set about consolidating and creating the Russian empire.
Great empires as we know collapse. The empire created by Stalin did not outlive him by even four decades and collapsed in 1991, this was because no worthwhile successor was available of the caliber of Stalin to hold the massive Soviet Union together.
Most of the world leaders who are now classified as 'great' were not considered so when they were in power. Let us look at Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1815, after his defeat at Waterloo, he was the most hated man in Europe, and the Prussians were waiting to hang him from the first tree available, yet 100 years later, Napoleon is now given the title 'great'. There are two aspects of Stalin which we cannot ignore and that is the economy and his victory over Hitler, this cannot be replicated by any other leader in the world.
When Stalin took over in 1924, Russia was basically in an agrarian economy. He introduced the concept of five-year plans and despite what western writers say, intellectual thoughts and invention were given prominence in Russia so much so that the scientists and workers who worked under Stalin were able to produce some world-beating aircraft, launch man-made satellites, and intercontinental rockets. There was a time in the 60s when the Russian economy was really picking up but the foundation of it was laid by Joseph Stalin. To say that he enforced the economic progress of Russia at the point of a gun is trying to belittle facts of history. Nowhere has there been economic development if there is total repression. When Stalin died in 1953 he had laid the foundations of a great economic revival
Stalin and Defeat of Germany
Even if Stalin had done nothing on the economic front, his victory over Germany will remain for the next 500 years as the greatest achievement in Europe. If people have gone through books like William Shirer's 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Riech' the realization dawns that Hitler was one of the most formidable world leaders and had built up a mighty war machine. The Western powers just could not have stood against Hitler, if Stalin was not there. It was Stalin who took the main body blows of Adolf Hitler and basically this was because of ideological differences. Stalin marshaled the Red Army and one of the greatest achievements which I feel of this leader is with Germany just 30 miles from Moscow and his advisors insisting that he escape beyond the Urals, Stalin refused. At that moment with the guns flowing all around, Stalin decided to hold a victory parade in Red Square. I do not think anybody has given importance to this particular event despite it being the rallying point of the war. As Stalin took the salute in Red Square, the Russian soldiers and people realized that if their great leader was standing to fight and was not fleeing like a rat, there was no way the Germans could be allowed to enter Moscow and that is where the tide turned. Stalin was a shrewd judge of human resources and human behavior and in my opinion, he is the hallmark of a great leader. Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck commander-in-chief of the Indian army. has stated that a leader is one who drives his men to the end. This is what Stalin did and definitely, he fits the bill. The western writers are deluding themselves when they say they could have won the war without Stalin. It was just not possible and now historians like Major General JFC Fuller and Liddle Hart agree that stopping the hordes of Hitler is the one single event that must stand out in the 20th century.
The West cannot judge Stalin. George Bush and Lyndon Johnson unleashed wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The dropping of the atom bombs by Truman and American generals on defenseless civilians killing 200,000 people must take the cake as a war crime. This has been brought out by justice Radha Binod Pal at the Tokyo tribunal. He called the entire trial a sham and said that along with the Japanese leaders, the American generals should also be sitting here as war criminals. In contrast, the crimes of Stalin pale into insignificance. Yes! He was a brutal dictator, but the end result is a historical balance sheet as to the outcome. The concentration camps and imprisonments were there. However, history looks at the overall picture of pluses and minus and we can conclude that he was an extraordinary man. The balance sheet as far as Stalin is concerned has more plusses than a minus. The great expert on Russia George Kennan(1904-2005) made a statement while acknowledging that Stalin was a great statesman. He wrote "Stalin's greatness as a dissimulator was an integral part of his greatness as a statesman,"
Note; I have been tasked by a publishing house to write a book on Stalin and this article is the theme of the coming book.
I must also close with a line that Roosevelt, Truman, and Churchill who had met and dealt with Stalin had a very favorable opinion about him. More on that later.
2. Greatness of Stalin. https://www.northstarcompass.org/nsc1312/stalin.htm
3. GREAT STALIN And a reply to the anti-communist smear campaign- PROVASH GHOSH. https://www.marxists.org/subject/india/suci/great-stalin.pdf
4. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany- William L. Shirer.
© 2022 MG Singh emge