Posts Tagged ‘Tiflis’

Stalin, Ian Duncan Smith and Terror as Corporate Management Technique

January 28, 2014

Stalin

Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, aka Stalin: Thuggish Dictator of the Soviet Union

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Ian Duncan Smith: Thuggish Dictator of the Department of Work and Pensions

One of the other books I’ve been reading lately is Alex De Jonge’s biography of Stalin, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1986). During his career Stalin is estimated to have killed at least 30 million Soviet citizens – though the real figure may be a high as 45 million or over – through a series of purges and artificial famines as he transformed the Soviet Union into the military and industrial superpower that was to dominate half of Europe and challenge America for world mastery for the next fifty years. From his boyhood Stalin was a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

The son of a drunken, abusive father, who used to challenge his son to knife him when beating him and a hard mother, Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, grew up dirty poor in the village of Gori in Georgia, one of the countries in the Caucasus that had been absorbed into the Russian Empire. The family lived in one room of a two-room house. The other was occupied by their landlord. He was short, only 5’4” tall, with an elbow left permanently stiff through a childhood accident. The second and third toes on one of his feet were conjoined from birth, and his faced had been left pockmarked through smallpox. This and his family’s poverty gave him strong feelings of inferiority. He soon developed a deep hatred of anyone in authority above him, and his need to dominate and utter lack of any feeling for others were commented on by his fellow students at the Orthodox Christian seminary in Tiflis, in which his parents had enrolled him. One of them remarked on how he was never known to cry, and greeted the joys and misfortunes of his fellow students alike with a sarcastic smile. Most of all, the young Stalin already was alien to basic human altruism. He could not understand how anyone could act kindly or generously to another out of the sheer goodness of their heart, without some ulterior motive. At the seminary he joined a secret Marxist discussion circle set up by some of the other students. He managed to split this between his supporters and opponents through his absolute insistence that only his interpretation of Marx’s doctrine could ever be correct.

He was also already an advocate of absolute, ruthless personal government. One of the stories about Stalin’s time at the seminary is about an essay he wrote on the fall of Julius Caesar. The history teacher had set them the question ‘Why did Caesar fall?’ Stalin’s essay looked at the question from the perspective of the organs of state power, identifying weaknesses and filling in the gaps where these could be strengthened. He stated that Rome’s greatest dictator fell, because he had allowed another source of authority and resistance, the Senate, to continue uninterrupted. The provincial governors opposed him, because they feared his power more than that of the Senate. He also made the mistake of relying on the support of friends, rather than managers, who depended on him for power and who could be relied on to do his bidding. As a result, he was assassinated by his two friends, Brutus and Cassius. When he was asked if his essay was recommending absolute monarchy, he responded by saying that it did not. Absolute monarchy was the control of the state by a single personality. In Stalin’s view, his recommendations were the exact opposite: the strengthening of state power through a single personality.

Stalin was eventually thrown out of the seminary for reading forbidden
books, like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Marx. He demanded that the other members of the Marxist discussion circle should likewise resign, so that they could concentrate on revolutionary activities and propaganda amongst the people. They refused, offering the excuse that they didn’t want to disappoint their parents. So Stalin denounced them all to the seminary authorities, who threw them out anyway. On their expulsion, Djugashvili told them that they were now free to pursue their revolutionary activities amongst the people. After this, the young revolutionary became a kinto, the Georgian term for a semi-criminal street hustler. His revolutionary activities included a series of bank robberies used to fund the Russian Social Democratic Party, the parent Marxist organisation which produced the Bolshevik faction, that later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

So the pattern of Stalin’s personality and rule were present from his childhood: feelings of inferiority, hatred of authority, utter ruthlessness and a need to dominate others, with a predilection for absolute power and the willingness to use violence to obtain it.

I can’t remember if it was De Jonge’s book, but I do remember that in the 1980s the Sunday Express reviewed one of the biographies of the monster. This was done as yet another of the ‘real truth about an icon of the Left’ that the Right-wing press runs every now and again in order to discredit anyone, whose views are to the left of Maggie Thatcher. In fact, Stalin had been discredited long before the 1980s. He had been out of favour in the Soviet Union ever since the ‘Secret Speech’ of 1953, in which Khruschev denounced his ‘cult of personality’. Moreover, the old thug’s fiercest critics included not only non-Communist democrats, but also dissident Marxists like Roy Medvedev, an historian and author of Let History Judge, which exposed not only Stalin and his crimes, but also his henchmen. The book’s Russian title is, if I can remember correctly, B Dvortse Istorii, which literally translated means In History’s Court, which might have a slightly different shade of meaning. Medvedev was a democrat. He presented to Brezhnev a 12-point plan drawn up by himself and other leading Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov. Nevertheless, he was a Marxist, who founded the Socialist Party of Russian Working People in 1991 in opposition to the banning of the Russian Communist party after the coup against Gorbachev.

At first sight, there appears to be very little in common between Ian Duncan Smith and Stalin. Stalin was, after all, essentially a poor street thug, who cleverly manipulated others to make his way to the very top of Soviet hierarchy. IDS is like the rest of the cabinet, a creature of privilege, who owes his position to the British class system. Nevertheless, the two share certain psychological traits in common and their management styles are very similar. In the introduction De Jonge discusses Stalin’s style of government, and rebuts the suggestion that it is somehow strange or unusual in the West. It is in the traditions of democratic government. However, it is much less unusual, and even common, when it is compared with the aggressive and ruthless management style of some company directors. These also rule by fear, though this is simply that of being sacked, rather than being sent to a forced labour camp or shot in the back of the head by the NKVD. Such chairmen are also unwilling to take advice, capricious, and surround themselves with sycophants willing to do and say anything to gain promotion, including stabbing each other in the back. And like Stalin, these company directors can turn their corporations into highly efficient, successful companies. De Jonge states

‘At first sight the country over which he and they ruled strikes Western observers as alien, as indeed it is when judged by the standards and practices of Western political democracy. However, when considered from a different point of view, much that may seem strange at first sight will strike the reader as surprisingly familiar. My interest in Stalin began many years ago, when I was in a position to compare what I knew of him with the atmosphere in a large British corporation, ruled by a chief executive who believed in management by terror. Everyone, fr4om the board of directors to the lift man, existed under the continuing threat of dismissal without warning, while sackings appeared to occur on a virtually random basis. The chairman set ambitious targets based on his intuitions, seldom listened to advice and never admitted he had made a mistake. He was surrounded by an entourage of sycophants who passed his management style down the line, subjecting their own subordinates to the same kind of bullying, with the result that the corporation operated in a terror-laden miasma of politicking, backstabbing, misrepresentation of personal achievement and the sophisticated ‘management’ of company news. Nevertheless, the technique got results, and while the chairman’s intuitive methods produced some spectacular failures, they could also be spectacularly successful. It was a world in which the dangers were colossal, but in which the rewards were commensurate with the risks.

For many years I had supposed this style of management to be unique and that those who had had the misfortune to know it were exceptionally unfortunate. However, I have come to understand that in the world of the nontenured, administration by fear, with the firing squad replaced by instant dismissal, is closer to the rule than the exception. Indeed, it appears to be the norm for any organization in which the administrators are not accountable to those under their authority and in which there is no job security. Academics tend to tr4eat STalin’s Russia as a savage and alien society that requires sophisticated analytic techniques to understand it, because tenure protects them from that perpetual threat of job loss that, with all its attendant office politics, drawn daggers and smoking guns, is part of the fabric of most peoples’ daily lives. They fail to appreciate that Soviet reality ‘begins at home’.

Now this reminds very strongly of IDS’ DWP. Let’s see, run by a bully, who governs by his own intuitions untrammelled by facts? Check. An atmosphere of fear of dismissal, with the subordinates passing this down the line to those under them? Check. Carefully managed news? Definitely check. Backstabbing? Absolutely. Furthermore, like Stalin the ultimate use of terror is the benefit sanction, in which the victim is denied state support. You can compare this to the artificial famines Stalin and his subordinates created during collectivisation, and which devastated the Ukraine in what has become known as the Holodomor. And people are similarly starving in Britain through Smith’s policies, and have died as a result. See the blog entries by Stilloaks, Mike, The Void, DEAP and Jayne Linney for this.

As for the personal psychology of the two, like Stalin IDS also appears to have an inferiority complex. There is, after all, considerable doubt whether he was actually an officer in the British army. IDS also seems to share Stalin’s intellectual vanity. Stalin became General Secretary of the Communist Party as the other Bolsheviks thought that he was too thick to present much of a threat. They believed that a Napoleonic dictator would arise after the Revolution to rule by fear. Unfortunately, they looked in completely the opposite direction, and thought it was Trotsky. Trotsky was, after all, the head of the Red Army during the Civil War, and was a far more sophisticated thinker than Stalin. And so they were looking in completely the wrong direction, while Stalin was under their noses carefully using his position to throw out anyone, who was not absolutely loyal to him. From being a thicko, who didn’t properly understand the niceties of Marxist doctrine – in the 1930s he was still supposed to be taking lessons in Dialectal Materialism – Stalin suddenly became the greatest genius of all time and all humanity, who not only understood Marx thoroughly, but had also personally solved certain problems in Plato. IDS similarly claims an intellectual ability he doesn’t possess. He has, after all, claimed to have a degree from an Italian institute of higher education, which actually doesn’t issue them.

As for spin and backbiting, it was IDS, who appears to have blamed one of his subordinates for his own mistakes. He regularly refuses to release the figures on how many people have died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, and delayed appearing before the Work and Pensions Committee for as long as possible. Like Iosip Vissarionovich from Georgia, he also believes himself to be above the law.

And like Stalin, IDS personally likes to appear surrounded by armed thugs. When he appeared before the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed policemen, who kept their guns trained on the public gallery, including disabled visitors and their carers. So IDS also has the old brute’s absolute contempt for the poor and most vulnerable in spades.

There are, however, some differences between the two. So far, Ian Duncan Smith and Cameron are not following Stalin in demanding mass arrests, and deportations to forced labour camps, although there are extremely ominous signs of something like them in Osborne’s plans to expand workfare. But the main difference is in success. Stalin was ruthless, but he turned the Soviet Union into the world’s second superpower. During the 1930s the country had an economic growth rate of something like 30 per cent. Vast industrial combines, such as those in the Donbass, virtually appeared overnight. The Tories, on the other hand, have consistently wrecked Britain’s industrial, manufacturing base. Osborne is claiming that we are well on the way to recovery, but this is only through a very clever manipulation of the statistics.

So IDS and his Tory party comrades have all of Stalin’s defects – the murderous ruthlessness, with absolutely none of the old psychopath’s capacity for turning the country into an industrial giant. And this is the man, who, as head of the Department for Work and Pensions, is in charge of the lives of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Way back in the 19th century liberal Russians cried ‘Who can be happy in Russia?’ Under Cameron, the question can be put this side of the Baltic. ‘Who can be happy in Britain?’