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December 15, 2003 by AK

Hussein, Stalin, Hitler and Trotsky… An elite club

Gabriel Syme writes in Poor man’s Stalin:

Saddam Hussain is of the same breed as the monstrous Josef Dzhugashvili – a powerful, resilient, personally courageous, charismatic, megalomaniac and psychopathic dictator.

While comparing Bush to Hitler is plain stupid, comparing Hussein to Stalin trivializes the latter’s crimes. Hussein was just another dictator, of a kind that flourished in the 20th century throughout the Third World. Stalin was anything but just another, unless we count Qin Shi Huangdi, Genghis Khan, Tamurlain, Hitler and Mao among his peers.

But that despot did not possess inner power; he was neither personally courageous nor charismatic. His resilience will never really tested, for he destroyed in time anyone who might come close to challenging him as the leader. Paradoxically, it is possible to murder millions while being a decent friend, spouse and parent. Even in his private life, Stalin was despicable. Hitler, although quite capable of betraying a friend, was at least courageous and charismatic. Yet to compare Hussein to him would also be an understatement of the Holocaust and WWII. (Besides, Germany and Russia are, after all, great countries, while Iraq is not much of a country at all.)

It may be banal to compare Hussain to Stalin when there are still people who consider Stalin just a bit authoritarian but let’s face it, the man industrialised Russia and you can’t make an omelette without breaking…blah, blah, blah…

That some Americans and Europeans have a fondness for publicly professing imbecilities is but one of the West’s oddities; that a host of Russians still hold on to this delusion is indeed discomfiting. However, it would be a useful exercise to group Stalin’s actions into two sets: those of the ultimate tyrant and those of a Bolshevik dictator and Lenin’s heir. The two sets must intersect but should not be identical. To prove this, imagine Trotsky in Stalin’s place. Take collectivization: it would have proceeded under Leon’s rule, as ruthlessly as under Joseph’s. If Trotsky’s conduct in the Civil War is any indicator, the Gulag would still have been full of class enemies. But I don’t see him ordering an old friend beaten up and shot in prison, or half of the army’s senior officers exterminated. In the end, Trotsky would have been overthrown for being an imperfect despot.


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