Remembering Stalin on the 70th anniversary of his death

A few years ago, the editor of Arena, a Melbourne magazine which called itself “the voice of the Australian Left” asked me to write a feature on the euthanasia activist Philip Nitschke. I would be taking a rather dim view of his activities, I said. “Great, mate,” he replied. “Can’t shovel enough of it onto that bloke.”

I wrote the article, which was long and not just dim but dark, and soon afterwards found myself timidly entering the Arena Christmas party. It took me a while to locate the dingy-looking workingman’s pub in a bohemian quarter of Fitzroy. But inside there were splendidly polished wood floors, boutique beers and fried tofu, the signature decor of what Australians call Chardonnay socialism.

I bought a beer and the editor introduced me to two of his comrades as “our token Catholic conservative who’s just written a brilliant feature on euthanasia”. Without seeking any more detail, the comrade on my right immediately volunteered, “Euthanasia, that’s a good thing. I remember me poor old Dad, he was pretty crook, so I called the doc and had a word and he gave him a needle and that was that.”

Perhaps it was the unsteadying influence of the beer, but I was ill-prepared for this conversational gambit. So I fell to conversing with the comrade on my left, who was 60+ with his grey hair tied back in a long ponytail. It turned out that he was the one of the last of Melbourne’s unreconstructed Stalinists (Joseph Vissarionovich was a much-misunderstood thinker, it seems). He waxed eloquent about the merits of Fichte, a German philosopher of unfathomable obscurity whose complete works he had just finished reading in order to understand Marx better.

Believe it or not, there still exist admirers of the Father of Nations. I discovered a Marxist blog which declared last year that “Only a handful of people in world history have been vilified and demonized as much as Joseph Stalin.”

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953. Perhaps a few quotes from “the Leader of Progressive Humanity” are in order to dispel ignorant suspicions that he might not have been a monster.


* * * * * * * * * *

“If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”
Often attributed to Stalin, although he may have been quoting an earlier author. This version comes from a 1947 article by the popular syndicated newspaper columnist Leonard Lyons in “The Washington Post”. He was referring to the Holodomor – the great famine in Ukraine in the early 1930s.

“My greatest pleasure is to choose one’s victim, prepare one’s plans minutely, slake an implacable vengeance, and then go to bed. There’s nothing sweeter in the world.”
Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2008

“The Communists base themselves on rich historical experience which teaches that obsolete classes do not voluntarily abandon the stage of history. Recall the history of England in the seventeenth century. Did not many say that the old social system had decayed? But did it not, nevertheless, require a Cromwell to crush it by force?.”
Joseph Stalin and H. G. Wells, Marxism vs. Liberalism: An Interview (September 1937)

“Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”
Joseph Stalin and H. G. Wells, Marxism vs. Liberalism: An Interview (September 1937)  

“I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how.”  
Said in 1923, as quoted in The Memoirs of Stalin's Former Secretary (1992) by Boris Bazhanov [Saint Petersburg]  

“Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.”  
As quoted in The Memoirs of Stalin's former secretary (1992) by Boris Bazhanov [Saint Petersburg] (in Russian)  

The Pope! How many divisions has he got?  
Said sarcastically to Pierre Laval in 1935, in response to being asked whether he could do anything with Russian Catholics to help Laval win favour with the Pope, to counter the increasing threat of Nazism; as quoted in The Second World War (1948) by Winston Churchill vol. 1, ch. 8, p. 105.

I know that after my death a pile of rubbish will be heaped on my grave, but the wind of History will sooner or later sweep it away without mercy.  
Said to Molotov in 1943, as quoted in Felix Chuev's 140 Conversations with Molotov Moscow, 1991.

God is on your side? Is He a Conservative? The Devil's on my side, he's a good Communist.
Said to Winston Churchill in Tehran, November 1943, as quoted in Fallen Eagle: The Last Days of the Third Reich (1995) by Robin Cross, p. 21  

"Death solves all problems. No man, no problem."
About executing supporters of Trotsky. Robert Conquest, Stalin: Breaker of Nations (1991) page 79


Note: quotes as vivid as these tend to be recycled in a historical game of Chinese whispers. We’ve done our best to track them down to a reliable source.


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