Historian and author Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the historical significance of the life and work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn's birth.
United States


00:00:01welcome to EconTalk part of the library of economics and Liberty I'm your host Russ Roberts of Stanford University's Hoover institution our website is EconTalk. Org or you can subscribe comment on this podcast and find links and other information related to today's conversation will also find your archives where you can listen to every episode we've ever done going back to 2006 or email addresses mail at EconTalk. Org would love to hear from you
00:00:33today is December 10th 2018 and before introducing today's guests I want to encourage listings to go to EconTalk. Org EconTalk. Orgy and in the upper left hand corner you'll find a way to rainy or survey where you can both your favorite episodes of the Year tell us about yourself and your listing experience and out for today's guest historian and author Stephen kotkin of Princeton University where is the John P Burke when professor in history International Affairs co-director the program in history in the practice of diplomacy and director of the Princeton Institute for international and Regional studies is also senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover institution my many books is the author of a massive award-winning biography of Joseph Stalin Steven welcome to EconTalk thank you are topic for today is Alexander solzhenitsyn we're taping this on December 10th to day before Associates in a hundredth birthday if he were alive and we did two episodes earlier this year was Kevin McKenna
00:01:33the University of Vermont in the first Circle today's conversations based Loosely on an essay you wrote for the Times literary supplement on a number of recent books by in about socialism begin with his impact as in the story and it is written on styling among many others I know you thought and written about the role of individuals in history which is larger forces say common issue and nothing about history generally how would you describe substance its impact on history
00:02:02second most important after Stalin himself
00:02:06solzhenitsyn was able as a single human being to blacken the image of the Soviet Union
00:02:16even though he was prohibited from publishing most of his Works inside the Soviet Union they none the less appeared and spread usually underground sometimes through denunciations of him so he had a massive impact at home as well as abroad and this impact was devastating for the Soviet system many people believe the Soviet system had redeeming features for example Hitler Nazism was absolutely Beyond Redemption the Holocaust and Hitler did made it seem that if you said anything nice about the Nazi system you're apologizing for
00:03:00in the case of the Soviet Union people imagined that there was a better Revolution inside the Stalin regime somehow but 1917 was a pure better form of Socialism that had been usurped or degraded by Stalin's rule so I can prove the contrary he did it in a way that tens of millions of people were interested to read so that's an incredible accomplishment obviously we see it through his work at the reaction that he engendered as you say in the public as well as with Soviet leadership that'll be an interesting thought experiment to think about had he not had the courage to do what he did or had his work not survived not gotten outside the camp not been dispersed through various
00:03:57underground networks and then made it sway to the West would do you think Soviet history and world history would have been different if so how
00:04:06yes is the date we had about the Soviet Union it's much muted now it's hard for us to appreciate the Soviet Union has been gone for more than a quarter-century however while the Soviet Union still existed the debate about its reform ability it's redeemability
00:04:28and why we should have a talk with the Soviet Union and why maybe even the Soviet and American systems were evolving in the same direction in what was called Convergence Theory those two dates were really important to base and confusing entered into those debates with searing moral authority of having suffered long suffered under that system and he brought the voices of all who suffered under that system to the four in his work this achievement it was not Harold or anybody else yes there were many of the courageous people yes they were people right there at the Hoover institution like Robert Conquest magnificent books about the covering the truth of the Soviet Union
00:05:19however Saucony some did something more what he did was to show the Soviet Union was evil not just from the political point of view but from a moral point of view and he did it in a way that was persuasive
00:05:37yeah I find it fascinating of course in the twenties in the 1920s there were a lot of apologist believe or hope that the Soviets this was creating a new a new man a new human being a new system of a better system there people who lied on its behalf who covered it up who trusted the propaganda that was pumped out by that system and the lies that were told when people visited there right now I can't help but think of Walter to Randy is a shame. Piece of that story and a lot of Western intellectuals of course
00:06:14so pray to that they were they were eager to believe this something new and better was going on and then there came a time and you'll correct me if I'm wrong but it is there became an awareness somewhere between I would say 1935 and 1955 you'll be more precise that that's something was very rotten there that there was an incredibly oppressive regime that it abused its citizens in terrible ways and although a handful of people in a large rolls continue to apologize for the system or for Stalin most westerners turned against the Stalin why did it take so what's the independent contribution of say so she dances first hand accounts in the gulag archipelago that he collected his own story and that of dozens and dozens of other Zacks other political prisoners what was the extra impact of that literary achievement above and beyond what was somewhat well-known
00:07:16well known maybe we have to remember that the French Communist party was stalinist during the whole period of Stalin's Rule and even after Stalin died and was denounced we also have to remember that many people down played the Evil nature of the Ravine that is to say they would have acknowledged yes they were famines yes millions of people died but these were not intentional these were mistakes he's when I cord to the system the gulag where the labor camp otherwise known as the labor camps were millions of people were incarcerated offer for so-called political crimes
00:08:03this one up so big the numbers were exaggerated yes there were excessive but none the less even stalinism was not Beyond The Pale
00:08:14but it's also remember
00:08:17not in this confusing debate where some people defended stalinism once again rust just about nobody got away with defending the Hitler Z
00:08:29and that's confusing debate with some people including prominent people defended stalinism
00:08:35we also had a large number of people who saw a better Revolution inside the Soviet regime which maybe could be incorporated one Stalin die so Christian secret speech which denounced Stalin for his crimes was actually an attempt to rehabilitate the Soviets it harkened back to a pure version of the Revolution supposedly associated with Lenin and with leninism so that's how to increase chest term a degradation of the Revolution and therefore they would be a second wind a socialism with a human face or communist perform many people were newly attracted to the Soviet phenomenon upon Stalin's death in fact there was a split on the left between those who announced all
00:09:35continue to pray start with both sides shared was a belief in either the Stalin version of the Revolution or an original Lennon version of the Revolution as being historically necessary incorrect we forget those debates because now of course very few people will defend that history the same way context in which solzhenitsyn arrived and he started out
00:10:07he started out trying to figure how he could capture describe this reality and you are a couple of really important novels on the labor camps from first-hand experience and they stood the test of time in fact in 1970 he won the Nobel Prize in literature for these novels and we know them as one day in the life of Ivan denisovich we know the mess in the first Circle and of course Cancer Ward so it won the Nobel by tackling these dates but that wasn't a big impact yet the big impact came from the gulag archipelago which would be published not in the Soviet Union but abroad beginning in the early 1970s 7th 1973 after he had won the Nobel
00:11:02facbook was one of the main ways in which many people not just intellectuals but the mass readership the public kind of people who are Court any countries Democratic order those people began to see that the regime was rotten in its roots that there was no better Revolution inside the Stalin regime that Stalin's years of the 1920s through 1950s free we're no better or no worse than Lennon's 1917 coup d'etat in October 1917 Pages much longer than Warren peace longer than Homer's Iliad and odyssey combined and yet readable a page-turner in many ways
00:12:01this incredible achievement which was well-documented despite him having zero access to the secret archives of course today people like myself and other Scholars we can read access to those whatsoever he read published sources Soviet newspapers and other periodic Soviet books for his own life experience and the life experience of 226 are the political prisoners who he interviewed and whose stories are related in that magnificent three-volume Gulag archipelago the first volume as I set up which appears 1973 most people who are making these fine distinctions between leninism and stalinism between the original Revolution and it supposed aggregation
00:13:02what's so she needs to show which was it the gulag started years before Stalin
00:13:09and his despotism before Stalin was the sole ruler system was in place and it was in place from the beginning
00:13:18and it feels non-specialist in the area feels like it's even more than just the historical fact that there was a pressione before Stalin it's also at the Electoral corruption and impossibility of the ideals of the Soviet system just trying to through over and over again in this work I used to tell us before but nice teacher undergrads on the last class I would recommend a series of books I didn't think they might think of reading that I would recommend and Kirk son to read and for years over decade certainly in the eighties and at night a lot of the 90s I would recommend that they read the gulag archipelago
00:14:04just out a tribute to his courage it in writing that book that I felt like it morally he deserved for people to read that book I'd also would recommend an apple Palms book the gulag which is a very nice shorter version of the history and of course there's now a one volume version of the gulag archipelago that is your right on your S8 Associates approved up if I got to drive that right yes you mentioned some of the
00:14:37love is interactions with regime in passing I want you to talk about the roller coaster of his relationship with the Soviet leaders in what begins and some sense with his imprisonment after returning is the bedroom from where we're so we use it you suffer such silence hands he's then somewhat rehabilitated by Kershaw then he's on the outs again so he has this incredible up-and-down relationship with sorry and at the same time it seems like much of time the authorities don't know what to do with him and and have Unleashed him with the fact that they didn't anticipate so I get to feeling and tell me if I'm wrong the crew straw thought he was using Associates in to advance his own political aspirations in in putting down silent but eventually he just lost control of that
00:15:29you're right shows reason with somebody who served in the Soviet Army in World War II that swept into Poland and then Prussia oddest way to Berlin
00:15:48and then after that he was arrested for some industry comments about Stalin
00:15:56which were normally would be considered harmless but in such a regime as the Stalin regime or considered a political crime and so he was sentenced
00:16:08sent to the gulag of the labor camps
00:16:13by the way we should acknowledge that it was solzhenitsyn's who made that word Gulag widespread in multiple languages including English
00:16:23of course he was released eventually and cruise ship like you said did see him as an instrument in this D stalinization cruise ship was denounced during Stalin's crimes and excessive not announcing for example collectivization of Agriculture where millions of peasants died in Warrensville in the survivors if he was not announcing the state-owned and Statewide so-called planned economy he was not that I've seen the Communist party's Monopoly on Power and the censorship on the Publix he was announcing that is Chris Jeff was announcing Stalin's arrests and execution executions of loyal communist country
00:17:11and so it was a kind of keep the system but get rid of the accessories and for that the denunciation of the camps that one could see in solzhenitsyn does not look like an important instrument that Khrushchev could use someone Fact one day in the life of Ivan denisovich was approved by Khrushchev for publication in the Soviet Union and it's a story about one of the labor camps were Loosely based on so she needs his first-hand experience
00:17:46however solzhenitsyn soon enough as you alluded to ran afoul of the authorities and was something that the regime did encounter first of all it was very determined and resolved
00:18:01he was Resolute unlike a lot of the intellectual class for Wanted let's say Shavers Apartments Awards a better life recognition a mass audience wasn't against
00:18:19those aspects of a literary life but he was after much more he was after the truth he was writing not because he needed to become famous but because he believed in a different moral Universe opposed to the Soviet regime and the Soviet regime was supposed to be about nationalism and incorporating a so-called Brotherhood of people's he hated marxism-leninism and Revolution and the Soviet regime of course was officially atheist and attempted to suppress Christianity and destroyed thousands of churches also attacking mosques and synagogues
00:19:13operation was hanging from a different moral Universe with a different set of beliefs and he was not as susceptible to the blandishments that many people in the inteligencia who complained about the regime that many people were susceptible to she was very difficult to handle for the Soviet review have the secret documents KGB documents in politburo documents about solzhenitsyn which were published the number of years ago as the soldier nice and files which shows exactly as you suggested that the regime did not handle him you say for example Dimitri twisty enough
00:19:59who was Leonid Brezhnev Minister of Defense Brezhnev was the head of the Soviet Union following Khrushchev for 18 years during the from the mid-60s through the early 80s his ministry of Defence Demetrius Tina found a polyp your meeting said that if we try to organize a denunciation of social needs
00:20:22in our organizations meaning in all the party cells across the country it might not turn out the way we owe for the way we watch in other words they were afraid that's all she needs to know that his belief system and his written works could spark not a pro-soviet consolidation but in fact critiques of the Soviet Union from a Russian Nationalist and from a Christian conservative point of view and so yeah he was trouble for them trouble in a big way they had a lot of issues don't get me wrong so is it nice and wasn't the only one that had economic issues Russ which of course you understand well they had Eastern Europe which was in Revolt
00:21:11Soviet Satellites of Eastern Europe which was supposed to be a security belt that they acquired in World War II but instead had become a source of vulnerability like in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 the so-called Prague spring have multiple vulnerabilities but somebody like cells you need some they had no answer for and he was only a single individual and had they feared him and they didn't know what to do finally they bundled him onto a plane and deported him to the west where he lived the next 20 years of his life beginning yes beginning in the early 70s and so this life in the west however which is also an important subject we must remember the road in Russian for the audience back on
00:22:07he not only wrote open letter to the Soviet leadership all his novels all his political tracts and interviews and speeches they were directed at his homeland he was trying to effect change at home even when he live those 20 years in Exile in the West
00:22:29do you think you find it surprising
00:22:33I just didn't kill him obviously Stalin would have killed him if he done what he would have would have become he kill people for far less than that do you find it do we know anything about those internal debates about whether that was talked about or considered
00:22:52the regime changed
00:22:54when Stalin died in 1953
00:22:58it was still the same regime obviously and it was still the same people in power just Stalin was gone
00:23:07but the ability to enact Mass violence on their own people had diminished it had diminished in part because of external changes in the world but also because of internal changes yes they could still execute some people yes they could still organized for example accidents car accidents to get rid of people have the same wherewithal either ideologically or even their own determination to just wipe people out and so what they began to do instead was a combination of internal Exile which it always been practiced but now was practiced more in lieu of executions and what they called prophylaxis which was to try to preempt people like solzhenitsyn
00:24:07what is an intimidating them or seducing them with offers of goodies so that change in tactics by the KGB marks a change in Soviet Society from uneducated third or fourth grade education for the most part on average to completion of high school education completion of college education and plus we said external changes in the world so there was no longer Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy and hirohito's regime in Japan and so the ability to just kill people in large numbers because they were dissidents they disagree with you they criticize you what sort of lost by the regime and so they did so she needs and what they did to many other people
00:24:58call Sledgehammer Bukowski for example Andrei sakharov for example they tried to banish them internally and cut them off from the public
00:25:09it worked in many cases it didn't work in the case of Cross Key it didn't work in the case of soccer off and obviously it didn't work in the case of social needs but they were except many other people with broken as we would be probably in such circumstances
00:25:30a major piece with the regime or they simply were trying to survive 2 had families that had Lively hoods not everyone could be so she needs to Sahara for Bukowski new policy of internal deportation silencing and or prophylaxis preemption worked to a very great degree against the dissident movement it just didn't work against somebody like Soldier needs she get the idea of shortly from reading in the first Circle and I would say just just screams out from the man that for so there's the moral courage that you that you alluded to earlier but there's also a another Advantage she had I thinking in standing up to the regimes
00:26:21threats and blandishments which was he appears to believe very deeply and the Redemptive nature of suffering and I'm curious if in his youth or his upbringing or his personal experiences before the end of the camps other than the fact they know he's a big fan of Dusty Esky to also I take believed in the Redemptive power suffering I'm curious if we have any hints as to what made him so distinctive so strong so powerful in in not being broken
00:26:57there's a determination there which has to be attributed in part to personality
00:27:04just goes back to your earlier question R Us about had there been no Soldier needs maybe things would have turned out the same
00:27:14maybe somebody else would have stepped up and played this role in history as for example history select people for certain roles and this was a role that needed to be played and if it hadn't been for so she needs someone else would have been found well I have to say that writing about Stalin I don't believe that Stalin's personality was absolutely crucial it took a person like Stalin to impose this system and stabilize it the way he did at those colossal human cost and I see very few if any people besides Stalin inside that regime as horrible as those other people were
00:27:58as long as you they took on human life as they did I see very other people with that same combination of resolve and scale that Stalin brought to the immense task of building socialism as he called it that is the same posing that system in the opposite direction is a similar unique personality that combination of moral values Beyond corruption as well as resolve and determination no matter how much he suffered sulfonation discovered a lot of Russian philosophy and Russian authors that is to say that literary figures over the course of time partly it was in Soviet education to begin with for example figures like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
00:28:58brought back into the curriculum under stop partly it was looking as he did for unorthodox figures that were not part of the official Soviet schooling many of them he discovered only when he got out to the west and he could read the emigration and full for example when he worked at the Hoover institution library and archives or he worked for weather and a great Publications that were sent to him or preserved in different locations besides the Hoover one
00:29:32I'm so he discovered reinforcement of use that he had developed partly on his own through growing up in that country and just partly because he was looking for a value system beyond the Soviet one even while he was still there
00:29:53I'm so his education in the broadest sense his upbringing his intellectual trajectory is a really big story and we have some pretty good biographies with try to trace this but even sold some mystery remains about the person about this combination isn't cooling it right of moral force and just in general stubbornness or political result as well as we have to acknowledge that other people share this including some who are not famous who died in the camps alongside him or who survived the camps as invalids or will not great writers and so couldn't transmit their stories the same way that he could we all want to make him seem to be one person among 300 million but none the less
00:30:53he speaks for those others who are less eloquent and even those courageous others he stands out against that background
00:31:02in the novel in the first Circle which we've talked about here in those episodes I mentioned earlier I think therefore chapters
00:31:10that relate to Stalin and there it's quite might see some editors would have cut them they don't add a lot to the pot directly there sort of a they could be interpreted I don't think this is correct but they could easily be interpreted as an Indulgence on the part of so she can send to get it off his chest to satirize and and poke fun at Stalin his worker Stalin is I would say Stalin as egotistical buffoon as Petty child as insecure on phone to read and I was also struck watching the movie that came out recently the death of Stalin which I watched with some of these I have to say I didn't find it funny it's supposed to be a comedy short of a comedy it's the dark is kind of humor it it did paints Barry and Kristoff and
00:32:10survivors of solemn self as well as sort of comic book Keystone Cops in apt blundering this way and that and what are your thoughts on on first ocean since portrait of Stalin and and the movie if you have any thoughts on it
00:32:35it's tough what do you do with a car like stalling when the evil is so immense scale it's just unfathomable and you yourself suffer directly under him
00:32:47Sasha needs his portrait of Stalin is not really successful except as an exercise in kind of psychological Revenge
00:32:57diminished as Stone as he said he makes stalling out to be a nothing or nobody
00:33:05and in some ways it was solzhenitsyn's
00:33:10criticism or joking about Stalin that put him in the gulag in the first place that launched all of what happened including the cells need some successful blackening of that regime at its roots and so in some ways they in the first Circle returns to that 1945 episode
00:33:34however it is an integral to the novel and it isn't a successful portrait however understandable is psychologically sometimes we forget that evil is also human that Stalin was a human being that Hitler was a human being and that the more we understand them as humans 2 scarier their evil becomes doesn't mean we justify them doesn't mean we validate then we make excuses for them but it doesn't able us to reach a level of understanding and was not interested
00:34:11at all in moral or political or geographical terms of reaching an understanding of Stalin's character he was just interested in countering Soviet propaganda and belittling this figure who had been inflated we had been
00:34:30if your chick yellow cheese movie The Death of Stalin
00:34:34you know she is a great film director and many people find the film entertaining and of course it is very clever
00:34:44and there are moments that I found a funny not the whole movie but many moments which were I thought hilarious at the same time and also I'm not afraid to engage in satire when it comes to even something as monstrous as the Stalin regime
00:35:07Brooks dated for the Hitler regime Charlie Chaplin did it or Hitler it can be very effective
00:35:17however what are the problems with you know she is that just likes those Soldier needs his portrait
00:35:25I'll stall in in in the first Circle that can make you feel good but to portray that regimes operatives those around Stalin when he died Bay Area mollenkopf Molotov Khrushchev cognevich to portray them as idiots as venal corrupt politicians like we would find I don't know in in the urban political machine of any major city graft and bribes Avers to portray them as corrupt and venal in that way and then is not very intelligent is to mess of course how that system could have Arisen in the first place and Howard should a function if everyone was so stupid and if everyone was merely corrupt the Soviet regime never would have happened the people who ran
00:36:25Soviet regime would not Geniuses but they weren't buffoons they were blancard ideologically but they were effective administrators in a dictatorial regime in a story away and saw the film for me. Short as a portrait of the reality there
00:36:46I do recognize it once again as an entertainment and it may be harsh to judge it in historical terms rather than as a piece of entertainment however as a piece of entertainment at full shorts for me precisely because you can do such Tire well of a regime that big but it's a little one-dimensional ultimately he does this about a democratic Western political system the u.s. system the British system it works much better the stakes are lower because the political system doesn't matter as much and also because they don't have that monstrosity. Evil on a mass scale that these officials perpetrated by which cells have done better with his stalling but I acknowledge that he probably derives some pleasure from being able to ridicule stall and Prince
00:37:44yeah I would make a distinction between the two in the following way between the between socialist and supporter of Stalin and the movie portrait in the death of Stalin movie and I don't know if this is accurate or not but in in the movie I will not let there be no spoilers here but the opening scene I found quite quite powerful and and creepy it's a concert saying it did capture some of the try to be humorous about it but it did capture some of the other abject fear of the people had him being on the wrong side of town and in a try to be within work for me aesthetically but a try to temper the buffoonery with periodic gunshots people being just elocuted in the in the background of the film which which is an interesting way to try to deal with what we're talking about but the reason I found this is pork rib or effecting and more effective is that while he did belittle the man
00:38:44we had the rest of the book and the rest of the book is about the utter horror and human to basement that Stalin was was perpetrating on on his fellow citizens and so I thought that contrast was quite powerful and I found it quite I think it went too long but I didn't find that but it wasn't just a psychological exercise you know a catharsis in my view but that's some that's neither here nor there let's let's let's move but I just want to get that on tell me why do you think there's a renewal of interest in Social dancing as you point out historically credibly important but at the same time as you point out this avadian been gone for over a quarter of a century historical lessons
00:39:40it seemed to be no longer relevant I disagree but many would argue that there's no threat of labor camps as you say there wasn't even the threat of mass imprisonment or execution after after the death of Stalin on the surface You could argue so she's just a storical curiosity important figures struggled and shows the courage of one man yet I think it's more than that
00:40:07Yo Yo Honey Singh is going to stay relevant Russ and the reason he's going to stay relevant is because if not just the system that Scott not Justa cars that he described which are now hopefully dead and buried the way Stalin is dead and buried
00:40:30but because he tapped into something larger he talked into this organized our politics when countries have different cultures one of the things we've discovered about globalization in about integrating the world economically is that countries still have their cultures and their identities and let these matter and that people often welcome economic integration but not necessarily at the expense either of their own well-being economically of what they value in cultural terms and identity terms and so sore Neeson was ahead of the curve in speaking to those issues he was arguing many years before the Soviet regime fell
00:41:26at the West could not universalize itself that the institutions which made the West what it is and from which solzhenitsyn benefited tremendously living in Freedom only private property publishing without censorship he understood those values but he didn't think every country's history tradition and culture was amenable combination that package was amenable to the same institutions that countries had National Traditions National institutions which had to be taken into account and so the post-soviet for him which I said he was thinking about well before the Soviet regime collapsed in 1991 was a matter not of westernization for say
00:42:21he wanted some measure of local rule local self-rule democracy at the local level but he wanted to marry that with a strong centralized power in Russia because he felt it that was part of the Russian tradition he wanted a spiritual renewal in Russia he wanted to Country based on morality not solely a predominantly based on the law
00:42:50she wanted many things which people in the west didn't understand and was one of the reasons behind his difficult reception having been hailed as this great courageous dissident who helped black in the Soviet regime he was then seen as a bizarre nineteenth-century reactionary figure who criticized the west and its values and institutions it didn't understand the West affect the kind of liberal condescension
00:43:23the attempt to impose a single world you or single political system across the globe which Racine backfire in our lifetimes that was something so nice and worried about and he presaged and so he became a figure
00:43:42hidden well Wichita post 1991 post 1990s in fact mood and Russia and his works are assigned in high school in Russia Today by the official Federal correction in Russian he can be read in the west the same way that we read Holocaust literature we of course hope that's something like that never happens again what happened to the Jews under Nazi rule but yet we still read the Holocaust literature and it still speaks to us because it's about who we are and what we value and the kinds of moral choices in difficult moments on the roof are carrying or totalitarian regimes speaks to that in the west even as he speaks to a Russian version
00:44:37of majority a Russian version of national Traditions inside. Country to not everybody is going to use inside Russia today and we wouldn't expect nor am I suggesting we accept them all incorrectly I'm merely suggesting that it's an important part of the conversation and he's a major figure even 10 years dead now honest 200th anniversary of his birth and he's a major figure for us we don't live in Russia we have different Traditions here but it's a major figure for us because we're struggling with this
00:45:17globalization cultural divide cultural identity attempt to understand people who are left out Left Behind have a different point of you get rid of the condescension towards them why was brexit important what's the Trump
00:45:37presidency his election in the Electoral College what did it reveal it revealed that a large part of the country was on her that their voices warrant being her ask what Trump revealing us with brexit revealed in that's what I sent with salsa Nation Sports home once again we're not necessarily solving those issues that will reveal the politics may be fake but what I'm suggesting is the sentiments are real and those sentiments are worthy to be for us to have and so she needs and fits into that debate here in the US just as he fits in in Russia has to go back to the if you haven't heard at the
00:46:21episode we did with a llorar mazzoni and it supposed to Virtua nationalism which is kind of shocking you kind of it's easy as a western or certainly is an American to think that the triumphal March of democracy and capitalism is going to sweep the world there's some signs that that is a long-term Trend but now there's some sign said maybe not so much as you point out Associates and took a lot of criticism in 19 in the 80s for being a reactionary for being a Christian for being a nationalist in particular which is what we're really talking about this this tension between nationalism and universalism when you called globalization or universalism and he's also been accused do you think I might have heard that claim
00:47:12he was not
00:47:16that's a really spurious charge believe that religion was the primary determinant of a civilization
00:47:28why did he think that Russia had a separate identity because of Eastern Orthodox Christianity
00:47:35what a book about the Jews in Russia called 200 years together and it was about how Jews and Russians were different civilizations once again because of religion
00:47:47we can argue that he's wrong that religion is not the primary determinant of a civilization I'm not suggesting that we accept that argument I'm only suggesting that that was the argument he made and that was the reason he differentiated between Russia's and Jews even though they had lived two hundred years together because Russians join a Jewish joined the Russian Empire it after or as a result of the partitions of Poland when Paul and was swallowed up at the end of the eighteenth Century that's when Russia the Russian Empire the czarist Empire acquired a large Jewish population which it did not have a before the late 18th century and so very very idea that they're separate civilizations because of religion does not constitute a few sentences why I agree with you but yet when I when I said we can do a book club in the first Circle some of my readers on Twitter and listeners knowing I'm sure where should how could you do this he's an Antiques
00:48:47I might be where I don't think we think he is a nice am I glad to hear you were great but I still could enjoy in the first Circle just like I enjoy the brothers Car mounts office in magnificent Buckeye I don't think it was so friendly to choose but it's not really that sucks monologue from snots okay let's turn toward
00:49:10what's closer talk about Stalin a little bit it's my impression
00:49:16that his reputation on the streets of Moscow and elsewhere in Russia is on the rise that's what we hear in the media is that true she having something of a comeback reputationally
00:49:33Stalin will always be a major figure with a positive as high positive as well as negative used in Russia reason is pretty simple Russ he won the war
00:49:49Stalin was in power during World War I the greatest war and recorded history against that Hitler regime and he was on The Winning Side
00:50:01you can argue that they wanted to Spiced out not because of stuff
00:50:06you can argue that he contributed nearly to defeat
00:50:11and that if it hadn't been for Stalin maybe they wouldn't have to fight the war in the first place or certainly they wouldn't have suffered that level of casualties you can make all sorts of arguments and qualifications about Stalin's role in that war but you cannot take away the coincidence the fact that he was in power during the war and so therefore being on the winning side of the greatest war in history will always make Stalin a figure to be at least partially admired in that culture in addition he seen as someone who stood up to the West
00:50:51who created a nuclear-armed superpower who helped divide the world with Churchill and Roosevelt and then with other leaders who succeeded Churchill and Roosevelt in the u.s. how ever the same people who have this partial or even more than partial admiration for stalling many of them know the crimes he committed the monstrosity of his Rule and they still none the less have these feelings of admiration for him
00:51:25but it's because they're ignorant that they don't know the truth that if we could just tell him how many people perished in the famines that they would back off of their positive use of Stalin Stalin was For Better or For Worse a very major historical figure perhaps the greatest historical figure in historical terms not a moral terms in that culture and so it's impossible to do away with him inside after Stalin died in 1953 he was still the most significant personality in that culture and part of cruise ships failure upon attempting to succeed start as the ruler of the Soviet Union was that he couldn't he couldn't fill Stalin shoes he couldn't be style installing
00:52:22where patron-client I thought they were teacher and disciple and so we shouldn't expect a Christian would be on that same level but that's kind of the point I'm making Stalin was on a very solid was on a level different from most politicians For Better or For Worse
00:52:44now there are many people who detest all alive in Russia Today there are many people who cannot stand the name when they see someone wearing a Stalin shirt or or systolic memorabilia it's revolting to them that their stomach turns I'm not suggesting at the whole culture there is enamoured of Stalin but I'm also not surprised that is significant plurality still find some reasons to admire him for all that blood sugar
00:53:18are writing a biography of sound do you fish should you post the first two volumes is that correct too and they come to 2,000 pages so though I'm sure that it's a lot of footnotes and preferences is there one more volume plan or more than one and what's it like to spend that much time and that many pages with a person you view is a monster
00:53:45yeah yeah I do have one more volume schedule which I'm working on now which covers the period of World War II called War Stalin's death in the aftermath and I'm hoping that the next several years I can bring the that volume to conclusion and therefore the whole series 2 conclusion
00:54:07I spent now as you say a lot of time with Stalin
00:54:11and it is very troubling you see the evil on the pages on those documents you read with his pencil marks his check marks and pencil his underlying issue the orders to kill this person and that person to Port this whole nation it's it's it's hard to describe in words that experience and as you say over a number of years its cumulative at the same time for us if you're interested in power you're interested in how power Works hours accumulated how is exercise and what the consequences of exercising power on
00:54:52asthalin is really the gold standard is the gold standard of dictatorship no dictator has amassed more power than stalling exercised it with greater consequence mile didn't have a military industrial complex and of course the Hitler regime went up in Flames after only 12 horrible yes but only 12 years will Stalin lasted three decades in power it's and lessly fascinating but of course it is difficult on a day-to-day basis to continue to I know I'm inside his head in ways that I wasn't before I started this project I understand him his way of thinking I see why he made decisions he made and I see the consequences of those decisions in the lives of people and it it it hurts to see that and it hurts to understand that he didn't have to make those decisions
00:55:52I've been more magnanimous he didn't have to kill the people he killed his regime would have survived it wasn't under threat and so my job in a way is to convey from the inside from the original documents from a sense of deep empathy not sympathy but deep empathy in or understanding as we story install it and think of how that regime works and why it happened the way it did but no we're not writing this biography because we have an exemplary figure we're not teaching courage Fowler
00:56:34perspicacity magnanimity we're not teaching those values for which biography was originally invented for teaching the opposite of those things which potatoes are important lessons to
00:56:48I was close with how you close your essay on Sorensen
00:56:53you mention
00:56:55did many people complained about his personality of the best solution to the man he was bitter immature arrogant cetera my reaction to that is
00:57:07listen to camps he's entitled to all the bitterness and all the arrogance you got to cut him some slack and he wasn't just a prisoner who was good at writing it wasn't that lovely little thieves able to use the prison experiences to craft some novels and and unique historical documentation in the gulag was a genius he had an incredible Vision he pumped out the match one number words under circumstances that you and being should not have to to be in to start with and they're unbelievably entertaining like you said he would really like that's a page-turner so I don't really care
00:57:49if he's even vaguely normal I expect him to be a troubled and complicated person starts with an inserted that that sort of way of dismissing him it seems to me
00:58:01yes I wrote for the TLs to wish you were referring which is published this week my goal in that was first of all to make sure people understood that he was a great writer and that he will endure because he was a great writer not just because he had a political point of view or was a political figure was caught up in battling the Soviet regime he's a great writer and that's very important to acknowledge second thing is that our heroes are also complex people and the complexities are fine and we should be afraid of the complexities and as you say they don't diminish the enchantments
00:58:42just like I do with our anti-hero with Stalin
00:58:47show the complexity show the multiple Dimensions show that he had charm show the people loved him because he was a people person and focused on their lives even as he was ordering the executions of others that complexity is really important and for social needs on the other side I hero not an antihero we also owe him we owe him the respect of showing him and his full complexity and I think his achievement only gross when we do that
00:59:23I guess today is been Stephen kotkin even thanks for being part of EconTalk a great pleasure of us
00:59:35this is EconTalk part of the library of economics and Liberty former EconTalk so they can talk. Org where you can also comment on today's podcast and find links and readings religious today's conversation the sound engineer for EconTalk is Rich go yet I'm your host restaurant Burt's thanks for listening talk to you on Monday

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