Russia: a country with an unpredictable past

I don't remember who coined the phrase from the title of this article, but its veracity has been confirmed once again recently. The first part of a new history coursebook for secondary schools, the teacher's book "History of Russia 1900-1945", was presented on the teachers' conference in the Russian Academy of teachers' training, writes newspaper Vremya. The book was written by a group of authors led by Alexander Filippov, who had already written "History of Russia 1945-2007", which caused a lot of controversies last year because of its one-sided interpretation of recent events and glorification of the politics of Putin and "United Russia". The following is the translation of some excerpts from the article in Vremya by Anatoly Bernshtein.

"The attention of the students should be concentrated on the explanation of the motives and logic behind the actions of the authorities", write the authors. So, the book is basically the history of the authorities. Here are some uncommon ideas which my grandchildren will probably have to learn: Russia never lagged behind other countries, it only fell behind in the things that "were not a part of the Russian civilization, but borrowings from outside". In 1914-1917 the Great Russian revolution, modeled after the Great French revolution, took place in Russia. The bolsheviks were guilty in the beginning of the Civil war, while the Whites "in a number of occasions represented a pro-fascist alternative to bolshevism, and had the chances to implement a nationalist model in the future". The famine in the Soviet villages in 1920s-1930s was not a result of the actions of the Soviet state, but it "was caused both by outstanding weather conditions and by the incomplete collectivization". The social structure built in the USSR by the end of the 1930s was no socialism or capitalism, but the industrial society. The pact of Molotov-Ribbentrop was a response to the Munich agreement. The entry of the Soviet troops to Poland was the liberation of Ukraine and Belorussia. The Winter war with Finland was won by the USSR who reached its goals. The USSR, probably, was preparing the preemptive war against Germany, but "Stalin assumed that he should wait for the concentration of the enemy's army for aggression, to make the planned strike look as justified self-defense, but in the summer of 1941 such plan was not yet possible". The initial defeats in the war were caused by strictly objective reasons. The mass deportations in the course of the war should be discussed with "special restraint and caution".

An even more obvious task of the book is the justification of the mass repressions in the Stalin's period. So, recognizing the fact of the mass executions of the Polish prisoners of war in Katyn by NKVD, the authors comment: "It was not only the matter of the political advisability, but also a response to the death of many thousands of Red army soldiers in the Polish prison after the 1920 war, which was initiated by Poland, not the Soviet Russia".

While in the Soviet schoolbooks the mass repressions were either hushed up or presented as a distortion of the general policy of the communist party, this book tried to give "rational" explanations to the extermination of millions of people by the Soviet regime:

It is important to show the two components of this problem. The first one is an objective force. The resistance to the Stalin's policy of accelerated modernization and his apprehension of losing control over the situation was the main cause of the "great terror". Being the only political party, VKP(b) was also the only way of getting feedback for the leaders. At the end, under the influence of the growing oppositional attitude of the Soviet people the party became environment where various political and ideological groups and trends were formed, and was losing its integrity. For Stalin it was a threat of the loss of leadership and even physical elimination (as the results of the voting on the 17th congress of VKP(b) had shown). It was also a threat of the general political destabilization. The high activity of various emigrant organizations increased his apprehension. The usage of the "fifth columns" by external forces in other countries (Spain being the best example) was thoroughly studied by the Soviet leaders. Besides, Stalin had good reasons to consider the military leaders who started their career during the Civil war Trotsky's adherers. Before the war, facing the choice between the competence and the loyalty, Stalins chose the loyalty of the army's officership and bureaucracy in general. The negative attitude among the military leaders could not be neglected. It was especially important considering the threats of terrorism against the country's leaders. The assassination of S.Kirov catalysed these processes. The ideas of the party's right wing (Bukharin and others) were popular among the party functionaries and it was necessary to oppose them both ideologically and politically. Stalin did not know whence the strike will be blown and so he attacked all known ideological groups and all those who did not support him without reservation. The second component of the matter was subjective, it was explained by the dogmatism of the bolshevist ideology and the personality of Stalin himself.

Now, what conclusions do the authors make of all this?

So, it is important to show that Stalin acted in accordance with the historical situation, acted (as a manager) on a fully rational basis — as a protector of the system, a consistent proponent of the transformation of the country into a centrally managed industrial society, as the leader of the country staring in the face of a large war.

The rational terror, the authors write, was stopped as soon as Stalin understood that the integrity of the society is not threatened anymore. And then Lavrntiy Beriya, another effective manager, began yet another project: "The terror served the goals of the industrial development: NKVD organized planned arrests of engineers and specialists necessary to solve the defense problems and other tasks in Siberia and the Far East. Terror became a pragmatic tool to solve the economic problems."

Understanding that the scales of the repressions cannot be explained by the logic of "rational management", the authors propose to review the number of the repressed people: "It must be determined clearly who may be considered repressed. We think it would be correct to include in this number only those who were sentenced to death and executed". By using this new formula, the authors refuse to recognize those who died in Gulag as victims of the repressions. This position contradicts the law of the Russian Federation "On the rehabilitation of the victims of political repressions", adopted by the president of Russia on 18 October 1991, which defines the term "repressed" as including those who were deported and removed, deprived of citizenship, exiled and so on.

No comments: