The first story in Foreign Affairs January/February 2006 issue concerns the ignorance and ambivalence of young Russians about the Stalin era. According to the Levada Center's polling since 2003, 20% of Russian adults would vote for Stalin tomorrow if he were running for President, "only 40% say they definitely would not". As the authors note, imagine the international outcry if Hitler were to poll similar numbers in modern Germany! "Only 28 percent felt that Stalin did not deserve credit for the Soviet victory in World War II" - this in spite of Stalin's pre-war provision of Hitler's panzers with oil, his aggression that eliminated Poland as a buffer state between Germany and the USSR, his purge of the Soviet officer corps that left only a handful of talented generals to pick up the pieces, and the resulting incompetence that led to millions of Soviet casulties in the vast encirclement battles before the tide turned in 1942-43. All of these are only Stalin's crimes related to World War II, not including the prewar Great Terror and the postwar anti-Semitic Jewish doctors plot.
One young Russian explained her positive response: Stalin's power would not be unlimited if he were alive today. Other educated Russians explained that looking back at the past was useless anyway.
One woman stated, "I think there's no point in turning back. If you look back all the time then we won't see the present or imagine the future."
A young man concurred, saying, "Stalinist times--that's a tired topic to keep beating to death. History must be studied, but to continually walk around and repeat 'repressions' 'repressions'- why?" He believed any interest in the topic was "purely the result of propaganda. Look, under Stalin people lived freely and well, just like right now under Putin."
Fortunately, a slight majority in the surveys supported erecting monuments to Stalin's victims, and attitudes towards Stalin are slightly more skeptical among the young than the old. The real question is what ignorance and distortions surrounding the darkest chapters of Russia's history mean for Russians now.
One answer, supplied by Yuri Mamchur Sr. in his talk at Discovery Institute last fall, is an intense hunger for the state to seize control of a nation that seems to be slipping into anarchy. When combined with xenophobia, Mr. Mamchur explained, there is a word for this mindset - fascism. This is why I found a recent article in the respected English-language journal Russia in Global Affairs from July/September 2005 so disturbing.
In Fortress Russia? the former Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, Mikhail Yuryev, discusses Russia's urgent need for economic autarchy to regain its status as a world power. The obsession with the futile pursuit of economic autarchy within arbitrarily defined geopolitical spaces or raum was the hallmark of fascist economic theory in the 1920s and 30s, culminating in Das Europische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft which was the economic counterpart to Hitler's military Fortress Europe and racial New Order. While popular history has overwhelmingly emphasized the racist and militaristic nature of first Italian and later German fascism, very few people have been educated about why Germany could have never hoped to have paid off its Versailles reparations due to post-WWI tariff barriers, or why so many French economists and intellectuals, even before Nazi occupation, embraced the fascist economic model. It is noteworthy here too, while comparing fascist ideas circulating in Russia today with those of the 1920s and 30s, that both Goebbels and Mussolini started their political studies as Communists, before turning to fascism for the salvation of their humiliated nations.
Here are some of Yuryev's quotes most eerily reminiscent of Hjalmar Schacht and his less famous but more influential partner in economic crime Walter Funk (both were tried at Nuremberg):
Economic growth is nothing more than an instance of autarchy. It does not take a Solomon to prove that a nation grows into a world power only after a period of isolationism. This happened to Rome before the Punic wars and to the United States before World War I...a turn to autarchy includes complex measures to discourage exports/imports, on the one hand, and the inflow/outflow of capital on the other hand...an essential move in this direction would be to declare the ruble unconvertable inside the country...
Of course nearly all of this is nonsense - the post-Civil War U.S. had tariffs for its manufacturing but also benefitted from trading with a world economy dominated by a free-trading British Empire, and the postwar surge of global productivity is another rebuttal to Yuryev's zero sum thinking. The most autarchic state in the world, after all, is North Korea, which also happens to be the most impoverished. Discouraging imports/exports and the flows of capital would mean that modern economic activity would effectively cease, or simply go underground and compound Russia's already enormous rates of tax evasion and rampant corruption.
On the surface Yuryev's declaration that the gold standard would be good for Russia is an exception to his otherwise fascist outlook, but Yuryev shows a complete misunderstanding of the pre-1914 success of the gold standard in creating an international currency market long before the Bretton Woods system so beloved by Lyndon LaRouche fanatics and the floating currency markets of today. Having gold in vaults was not what made the system work, but the confidence the gold standard gave international investors, particularly in the City of London, to invest the immense sums of capital needed to build the railroads that brought goods to market from the hinterlands of North America, India, and Latin America in the golden age pre-1914 economy, which saw fewer trade barriers than any era until the 1990s. Russia of course, has never had sufficient capital, and as a result, only a fraction of its immense natural wealth has ever been brought to world markets.
As our friends Franklin Cudjoe and June Arunga have documented on their blogs, ridiculous tariff and currency controls are a huge reason why Africans remain impoverished. Yuryev's proposal would only hasten Russia's apparent decline, and forestall any hope of averting national suicide. Without some economic revival, some glimmer of hope, how will Russians start reproducing again? And how can Russians regain that hope while looking back with nostalgia on an era of mass death and misery, whose demographic legacy continues to be felt today by the faces you don't see in Russian crowds?