Propaganda and Purges and the Death of Stalin

Here is a simple thought from Voltaire on the 66th anniversary of Josef Stalin's death: "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Of course, Voltaire was not referring to Stalin directly, since Voltaire passed away 200 years before Stalin was born. However, Voltaire's observation is apropos when we consider the effectiveness of Communist propaganda on public opinion during Stalin's lifetime.

The text in the following photo reads, "Народы чтут память вождя," which translates as, "The people honor the memory of their leader." The mourners in that photo were obviously staged for propaganda purposes, but still - few people who haven't studied Russian history fail to realize how many Russians loved Stalin, even though he put nearly three times as many of his own citizens to death as the Nazis.

Stalins-Mourners

Stalin's level of adulation was primarily due to the USSR's disinformation machine, which spent years elevating Stalin's cult of personality to epic proportions. For many Russians, Stalin was their hero, their savior, their loving parent, and the sole victor of WWII.

When I was studying Russian, I was once involved in a heated discussion with one of my instructors. (In Russian, of course). She had recently defected from the Soviet Union, and she had yet to learn some of the actual facts about her own country; she only knew the propaganda that she had heard in her childhood. All the other students in the class were backing my discussion points, when the instructor broke down and started crying while lamentably exclaiming, "But I'm Russian! I should know my own history!" All I could say was, "Yes - you should know your history. But you need to visit a library, because you've been deceived." (It's amazing that our group of students didn't get in trouble for making an instructor cry.)

Stalin

While it is inarguable that every industrialized nation - to include the United States - has used propaganda to further its respective agenda, Communist nations like the USSR (and a few of its Communist allies) used a two-phase approach of propaganda coupled together with purges in order to subdue their populations. Propaganda is, of course, the use of state-controlled media to feed a carefully-constructed narrative to the masses, and purges are used to: a) reduce the numbers of those who are too intelligent [and therefore a perceived threat to the state], and b) terrify those who are left alive into silence.

Propaganda and purges were used with particular effectiveness and ruthlessness in Stalinist-era Russia, the result of which was that the average Russian - the peasants, the hawkers in the streets, the poorly-educated, and the bulk of the population - actually believed the lies. And why not? The propaganda is all they knew from what little education they had, and there were no other sources of information. The press and the media were both controlled by the Communists, and those who possessed enough knowledge to put up an intelligent argument were either killed or imprisoned.

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While I may agree that the US and its allies have certainly used one form of propaganda or other, the "state" controls neither our press nor our media, nor have we resulted to purges in order to wipe out mass segments of a dissatisfied population. As a result, we have had both the knowledge and the freedom to say, "This president sucked," or "That president sucked," or "We should vote every member of Congress out of office and start over."

propagandademotivator

To clarify what I said earlier when I was discussing Communist purges, I wasn't referring only to Stalin's purges - I was also referring to Lenin's Communist purges, and Mao's Communist purges, and the North Vietnamese Communist purges, and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge's Communist purges, and Cuba's Communist purges, and the North Korea's Communist purges, and Eastern Europe's Communist purges, etc. It is a concrete statement of fact that in nearly every state where the Communists gained power during the 20th century, whole populations of people were eradicated. Communism has emerged as the single-greatest cause of deaths in human history; more than all the disparate diseases and wars combined.

And yet, whenever these purges are mentioned, some addle-brained miscreant who hasn't cracked open a history book will proffer a comparison to the "post-WW2 demonization of Communists in the West," which resulted in a handful of arrests for acts of treason or conspiring to commit treason, and a few deportations, and a few misguided defections to the East, and several pro-Communist Hollywood script writers losing their jobs. Let me be clear, if anyone thinks that the post-WWII Red Scare was anywhere near the level of a Communist purge, then they have not been paying attention to history. The documented deaths of over 100 million people during the Communist purges of the 20th century are a genocide of epic proportions. There is simply no comparison between the complete eradication of entire populations in the name of Communism and the meager number of arrests that were made during the Communist scares of the 1920s and 1950s.

For what it's worth, I learned the Russian language from teachers who had defected from the Soviet Union, and I learned first-hand of how they had suffered under Communism. Later, I was the translator for Russian defectors in Germany during the 1980s, and I heard their personal stories of why they were forced to flee for their lives. I met and spoke with several members of the Soviet Military prior to the fall of Communism, and learned of how atrocious their living conditions were. I learned Spanish from a woman who had defected from Cuba, and she told stories of her horrifying treatment by the Communists who ruined her country. I interviewed a man who had lived 10 years in a Communist gulag, where his only crime was fighting for freedom of speech. I attended Russian schools in Western Europe that were founded by and staffed with Soviet defectors, and I listened to their lectures on the many follies and failures of Communism. One of my Russian teachers had been a popular actress in the Soviet Union during her youth, and her husband was one of the Soviet Union's acclaimed directors... until they defected, and then their names were wiped clean from the pages of Russian history. She and I watched one of her movies together, where her name was stripped from the credits despite her appearance in the film, and her husband's name was removed as the director despite his work on the project. That being said, every other actor and actress involved in the film who stayed in the Soviet Union was dead - some were sent to gulags, some were arrested and never heard from again, and others killed themselves rather than continue to live under Communist rule.

These people whom I have mentioned were not faceless people from history books, these were actual Russians whom I befriended during a lifetime of studying the consequences of Communism and its caustic effects on society. If anyone cannot see the difference between the personal sufferings that I have described and the perceived injustices that were endured by a handful of people during our government's infatuation with chasing down Communists who had infiltrated Washington DC and Hollywood, then let me be very clear: those crimes are not equal in the annals of history. Charging someone with treason because they belong to organizations that are plotting to overthrow the country is not the same as killing millions of people because you disagree with their politics.

Returning to my earlier discussion of propaganda, here is an additional thought: I was physically present on the East German border when several people lost their lives attempting the flee their Communist captors. If Communist nations were lands of Golden Opportunity as Communist propaganda actively promoted, then why were people willing to risk their lives to leave those countries? If Communism had created Utopian Societies, then why did millions of people need to be slaughtered?

All of this discussion is academic, of course. Communism has emerged as the worst ideology to infect humanity in history, and anyone who believes otherwise merely stands to gain something from it.

Having taxed my readers' patience enough, I am reminded that it's time to watch one of my favorite movies: "The Death of Stalin."

Open-mouthed smile


UPDATE: This post is one of several that I had written, which I later discovered had never been set to "public."

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