Bifurcated Memory

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Thinking Allowed‘s Laurie Taylor has an interesting discussion with Mikhail Ryklin about the historical memory of Stalinism. Ryklin’s most recent work looks at Communist ideology as a “substitute” or “political” religion which “gave millions of people all over the globe an ultimate meaning.”  Indeed, Marxism, with its eschatological narrative based on the fall and rise of Man, class concepts of the Good and the Evil, and the importance of Revolution as the apocalyptic moment, stood as a secular replacement for the Christian religious narrative at the moment when liberal capitalism was in crisis.

And what is the state of Stalinism now? Ryklin argues that Stalin’s rehabilitation cannot be seperated from the Soviet victory in WWII.  Current so-called “Stalinists” are trying to explain the Terror with the Molotov thesis: Terror was necessary to rid the county of a potential Fifth Column in case of war.  As Molotov, the ever loyal and unapologetic Stalinist, told Felix Chuev in 1982,

It is interesting that before the events of the thirties, we lived all the time with oppositionists, with oppositionist groups.  After the war, there were no opposition groups; it was such a relief that it made it easier to give a correct, better direction, but if the majority of these people had remained alive, I don’t know if we would be standing solidly on our feet.  Here Stalin took upon himself chiefly all this difficult business, but we helped properly.  Correctly.  And without such a person as Stalin, it would have been very difficult.  Very.  Especially in the period of war. All around–one against another, what good is that?

As Ryklin adds, this thesis goes well with Russians’ split memory on Stalinism.  Millions perished, but the time was also a period of social mobility, perceived order, and most importantly, Russia’s victory over its external enemies.  “There are very different images of this time depending on what group in society your family belonged,” Ryklin tells Taylor.  The so-called revival of Stalin in the present is an appeal to this positive memory of period.

It’s an interesting discussion with a fascinating thinker.  Unfortunately, ten minutes just doesn’t do the Ryklin’s views justice.