Stalin Redux

| May-June 2010

More than half a century after Stalin’s death, his image is being rewritten by bureaucratic apologists. Never mind that the first general secretary of the Communist Party presided over political purges and a period of government-sanctioned starvation that killed millions, reports the New Humanist (Jan.-Feb. 2010). Russian leaders are intent on positioning the Iron Curtain’s primary architect as an “efficient manager” and a master of industrialization.

The shift from fact to fiction is part of a broader push to boost patriotism by focusing on “positive history,” as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calls it. In 2007 then-president Putin successfully encouraged legislators to pass a law giving the state control over which textbooks are “recommended” and the power to decide who publishes them. This has produced books like the government-approved Modern History of Russia: 1945–2006, which dedicates more than 80 pages to industrialization during Stalin’s rule, while, as New Humanist reports, “a mere single paragraph describes the man-made famine in Ukraine in the early 1930s, when millions starved as food was confiscated from peasants reluctant to join collective farms.” Author Aleksandr Filippov was “invited” to write the book by the Putin administration and its education ministry, according to a 2008 essay in The New Republic, “making the textbook nothing less than an expression of Vladimir Putin’s view of Soviet history.”

Unfortunately, history’s dark spots are being whitewashed in the West as well. In an investigative report for the Washington Monthly (Jan.-Feb. 2010), Mariah Blake describes the conservative stranglehold over textbooks in Texas, where right-wingers on the state’s education board want to vindicate Joe McCarthy and give Caucasians credit for civil rights—proposed changes that could find their way into textbooks across the country.

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