Stockholm syndrome is a term used by psychiatrists specializing in the study of terrorism to describe how a hostage falls in love with their captor. One could not find a better example of a group version of this syndrome than in Russia today.
March 5th marked the 64th anniversary of Josef Stalin’s death, and scores of elderly Russians are already laying wreaths on the grave of the ruler who murdered 20 million of their countrymen. But this admiration goes beyond the aged; a recent survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment reveals that Stalin remains widely admired in Russia.
This admiration tracks back to the Russia of 1953. Soviet citizens lined up in funeral processions honoring the embalmed dictator for miles.
But this admiration was not exclusive to the East. American journalist I.F Stone gushed over his death and faulted leaders for not honoring Stalin:
“Stalin was one of the giant figures of our time, and will rank with Ivan, Peter, Catherine and Lenin among the builders of that huge edifice which is Russia. Magnanimous salute was called for on such an occasion…It is difficult to pursue dignified and rational policy when official propaganda has built up so distorted a picture of Russia. Many Americans fed constantly on the notion that the Soviet Union is a vast slave labor camp must have wondered why the masses did not rise now that the oppressor had vanished.”
This characterization of Stalin as a “great man” was voiced four months after his death by Winston Churchill. The former Prime Minister stated that “Stalin never broke his word to me.” Churchill’s sentimentality about Stalin so alarmed the Eisenhower administration that they refused Churchill’s idea of a summit conference with the Soviet Union out of fears that “Winston might give away the store.”
Predictably, in the Daily Worker, British Communist Harry Pollitt wrote an obituary that would prove chillingly prophetic:
“[Stalin had] written golden pages in world history whose luster Time can never efface; indeed, with the advance of years their grandeur and nobility will increase.”
Stalin’s “valiant” spirit did indeed live on, and not just by the Russians laying wreaths on his grave today. For the rest of her life, Lillian Hellman, surely one of the most unattractive specimens American Stalinism has produced, told her circle that she believed “Stalin had been right.”
Even today, his spirit is celebrated or, to be more precise, exonerated. Grover Furr, an American author of the book Khrushchev Lied, asserted that there is no proof Stalin committed any crimes during his reign. Leftist filmmaker Oliver Stone, in his HBO documentary Secret History, praised Stalin for “saving the world” during World War II by defeating the Nazi war machine. Stone even has gone so far as to try to “walk in Stalin’s shoes to understand his point of view.”
Sandi Cooper, a historian at CUNY in a speech introducing a Professor of Women’s History, praised “Old Joe Stalin” for “what he was trying to do.”
They should be ashamed, for they don’t even have the dubious luxury of being his literal victims and succumbing to the powerful temptations of Stockholm syndrome. But they are no less in thrall to his Cult of Personality. They need to believe as much as the Russians that Stalin was worthy of admiration.