Rational management of murder


A new textbook to guide teachers of history in Russia was presented this August at the Academy of Professional Development and Retraining for Educational Workers.

Since this new textbook seems to be of the same authorship as a textbook which gained notoriety a year ago, it is well to look back.

In June 2007, President Putin spoke approvingly to a conference of teachers about “certain positive moves” in the presentation of the country’s history in modern textbooks. One of the books that was understood to have gained his approval was by Alexander Filippov and colleagues and covered the period from 1945 to 2007 with the last chapters being dedicated to the period under Vladimir Putin.

The book was included on a federal list of textbooks for 2008-2009 in December 2007, however it appeared then that the chapter on the role of Stalin in history had been removed. Since this had presented the murderous tyrant as “one of the most successful leaders of the USSR”, many of us felt considerable relief. Plenty remained, however, to cause concern about the very specific view of modern history recommended for schools. It still attacks oligarchs and Georgia and praises Putin’s abolition of elections for the post of governors of the regions with these now being chosen by the Kremlinand the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The new book covers the period from 1900 to 1945, and “it is proposed that students’ attention should mainly be concentrated on explanations of the motives and logic of the regime’s actions.  As the author of the report on the new book says, “there is no history of people there”.

Back we are to Stalin. We quote:

“It is important to show that Stalin acted in a specific historical situation, acted (as a manager) entirely rationally – as the protector of the system, as a consistent supporter of the transformation of the country into an industrial society governed from a single centre, as the leader of a country which in the very immediate future faced a big war.”

According to the authors, the rational “Great Terror” ceased as soon as Stalin saw that a monolithic model of society had been created. That, they say, occurred by the summer of 1938. Later they speak of another peoples’ economic project under the leadership of another “effective manager” – Beria.

“Terror was designed to serve the objectives of industrial development. Following NKVD instructions planned arrests provided the engineers and specialists needed for defence purposes and other tasks in the Far East and Siberia. Terror turned into a pragmatic instrument for resolving people’s-economic tasks”.

“In the textbook one should undoubtedly assess the scale of repression during the years of the “Great Terror”. However for this one should clearly define who is meant when speaking of the repressed. It would seem correct if a formula appeared here which included only people sentenced to death and those executed. This will make it possible to avoid speculation on this subject where everybody is added to the number of the repressed, and not just once. (including those who lost their job for political motives, were expelled from the Komsomol and the Party, and so forth). And based on this large figure, people not understanding what is in question speak already of such a number of people killed”.

This would mean that the very considerable numbers of victims of deportation and labour camp prisoners who died hardly of natural causes could not be considered victims of repression.

This is in direct contravention of the Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression passed in the Russian Federation on 18 October 1991. 

Anatoly Bershtein reminds readers that the suggestion is that this extraordinary method of “counting victims” which violates both moral norms and the law should be published on a mass scale for Russian teachers and via them school students.

The terrifying sense that the terror of the Stalin regime is increasingly being justified can be seen in the mention of the Katyn Tragedy. While acknowledging that the Polish prisoners of war were executed in Katyn by the NKVD, the authors write that “this was not simply a question of political expediency, but also an answer for the death of many (tens of) thousands of Red Army soldiers in Polish captivity after the war of 1920, the initiator of which was not the Soviet Union, but Poland”.

All the quotes above are from Anatoly Bershtein’s article 

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