Stalin’s Mind
Posted on March 3rd, 2017

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

Joseph Stalin was one of the main architects of creating a collective trauma in the Soviet Union. His actions and policies brought immense suffering to the people. The aftermath of Stalin’s repression still impacts the post Soviet Society. However despite all the negative consequences Stalin is still remembered in Russia as a great hero who saved the Soviet Union from Hitler’s Fascist aggression and transformed the country in to a super power. The Stalinist past still shapes the Russian society today (Gouldner 2009). A survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment in 2012, suggested that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin has remained widely admired in Russia and other former Soviet nations (The Moscow Times, 2013).

Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953 ruled the country with an iron fist. According to Professor Harold Shukman of all the dictators the world endured in the twentieth century, Joseph Stalin was unquestionably the mightiest. Nisbet (1986) describes Joseph Stalin as a low-born revolutionist and bandit from early years, successor by sheer ruthlessness to Lenin as absolute ruler of the Soviet Union, liquidator of the Kulak class in the Ukraine, purger of his own party and totalitarian to the core.

Joseph Stalin’s political strategy to construct socialism is known as Stalinism. Stalinist policies in the Soviet Union included: state terror, authoritarianism, rapid industrialization and the theory of socialism in one country, a centralized state and collectivization of agriculture (Bottomore, 1991). According to Gouldner (2009) Stalinism is historically analyzed as a regime of terror in furtherance of a property transfer which utilized a personal dictatorship and a burgeoning bureaucracy.
Many Soviet and the international politicians observed certain abnormal traits in Stalin’s character. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin saw Stalin as a rude unsympathetic person. Leon Trotsky noticed Stalin’s unstable emotions. Nikolai Bukharin identified his insatiable desire for power disregarding moral values. Among the international politicians Winston Churchill become aware of Stalin’s coldness when he laughed and joked about the killing of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Kulaks while dining with him in 1942 at the Yalta conference. The Yugoslav Communist politician Milovan Đilas perceived inappropriate humor, sycophancy, vulgarity and extreme manipulativeness in Stalin.

Mental capacity of Joseph Stalin was questioned by the Soviet and the foreign experts. Dr Vladimir Bekhterev detected paranoid symptoms in Stalin in 1927. Stalin’s physician Dr. Alexander Myasnikov who treated him in 1953 believed that atherosclerosis of the cerebral arteries caused abnormal behavior and impaired judgment in the Soviet dictator. There are a number of theories that intensely discuss Stalin’s terrorizing behavior and long lasting paranoia. As indicated by Birt (1993) paranoia often begins during childhood in a situation in which the child feels both dependent on and threatened by the father. Birt (1993) further states that severe emotional ambivalence that Stalin experienced in his childhood may have caused lasting impact on him.

He worked with the Bolsheviks. But unlike Lenin or Trotsky, Stalin had no profound theoretical knowledge in Marxism. Stalin was famously weak in his Marxism on a personal and interpersonal level (Amadon, 2011). He was not a revolutionary hero either. However he was a pragmatic activist and was highly manipulative. Stalin was able to win Lenin’s trust. He had organizational skills and worked with an iron will. He knew the importance of terror in achieving the goals and defending the Revolution. Stalin used ruthless measures during the Russian Civil War earning a fearsome name.

Stalin encountered series of identity crisis throughout his life probably due to insecurities that vastly affected him. In his young days he adopted the name Koba -a Georgian fictional hero. According to Lerner (2014) Koba -the name of hero from the1883 novel, The Patricide by Alexander Kazbegi. Stalin very liked this book and he used the name as pseudonym). then Stalin (man of steel), Thovarisch Stalin (Comrade Stalin), Velikiy Stalin (Great Stalin), nash Velikiy Vozhd’ (Our Great Leader) and finally Otets Narodov (Father of the Nation). He was troubled by his Georgian heritage ruling the Russian masses. He spoke Russian with a thick notable accent.

Between the late 1920s and the early 1950s, one of the most persuasive personality cults of all times saturated Soviet public space with images of Stalin. A torrent of portraits, posters, statues, films, plays, songs, and poems galvanized the Soviet population and inspired leftist activists around the world (Plamper, 2012). For Communists of the old guard, the Stalin cult was probably something of an embarrassment. Yet in their eyes too, he was becoming a charismatic leader, though of a somewhat different kind than for the broad public. Stalin’s public image in the 1930s, like the Tsars’ before him was that of a quasi-sacred leader, font of justice and mercy, and benevolent protector of the weak; he was often photographed smiling paternally on shy peasant women and children (Fitzpatrick, 2000).
Joseph Stalin’s economic plans swallowed human lives in gigantic proportions. His actions weakened the Red Army and it gravely affected the Winter War with Finland in 1939. He miscalculated Hitler’s intensions. Stalin disregarded reports from the Red Army military intelligence. On 3 April 1941 Churchill sent a message to Stalin, informing him of Hitler’s intention to invade the Soviet Union. Stalin was receiving similar warnings from various sources, but shrugged them off as attempts by Britain to sow discord between him and Hitler. A former Czech agent in Berlin, code-named ‘Shkvor’, reported to Soviet intelligence the concentration of German troops along Soviet borders. Stalin read Shkvor’s report and wrote on it in red pencil, ‘English provocation’. He ordered the NKVD to assassinate Shkvor (Brackman, 2003). Although Stalin found enemies everywhere he failed to see his biggest enemy. He thought that he could ally with Hitler. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union Stalin went in to despair. He abandoned all his work and hid from the public eye. Paradoxically, the war years were psychologically the most normal time during Stalin’s rule: for once, the country was not fighting ‘enemies of the people’ who were figments of his imagination (Brackman, 2003).

Stalin’s paranoid defense grew more and more. He saw spies, saboteurs, foreign collaborators, Trotskyites, etc everywhere. Stalin feared his own shadow and trusted no-one, even him-self. He increasingly withdrew from official functions and he muttered menacingly to his close associates that it was time for another purge. (Hachinski, 1999) His list of enemies became extensively long. His rational thinking was obscured by fear and paranoia.
During the Stalinist period intelligentsia were exposed to reprisals. Stalin executed thirteen Jewish intellectuals who were academics, writers and poets active in various cultural realms. The Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky became disillusioned with Stalin’s repressions committed suicide in 1930. Stalin banned Boris Pasternak’s novels and poems condemning it as anti-Soviet literature. Pasternak’s partner Olga Vsevolodovna Ivinskaya who was an editor at “Novy Mir” magazine was arrested in 1949. She was sentenced to five years in prison. Olga became the main inspiration for the character of Lara Antipova in Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested in 1945 for criticizing Stalin in a letter. He was sent to a Gulag. Solzhenitsyn described his personal experiences in Lubianka –the central Soviet political prison– through Innokentii Volodin in The First Circle. Interrogations started in late February 1945 with the obligatory sleepless nights, bright lights, the box, and total isolation from other human beings. Solzhenitsyn’s eight-year camp experience opened his eyes to the reality of the Soviet Union’s economic foundation, of which prison labor made up a third (Fedyashin & Kondoyanidi, 2009). In the later years Solzhenitsyn vividly described the victims of the infamous political Article 58” and exiled inhabitants of the Kolyma. His books: the Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich are testimonials of Stalinist horror.

Stalin’s neurotic traits were known to the professionals as early as in 1927. The Great Russian Psychologist Vladimir Mikhailovic Bekhterev (1857–1927) was ordered to examine Josef Stalin in December 1927 during the First All-Russian Neurological Congress in Moscow (Kesselring, 2011). Vladimir Bektharev found psychopathology in Stalin. Bekhterev said only one word paranoiac” (Antonov-Ovseyenko, 1981). Vladimir Bektharev’s diagnosis of Stalin was paranoia. After making this diagnosis Bekhterev had less than 24 hours to live. He died mysteriously and without a post mortem his body was cremated. His family members suspected foul play (Lerner et al., 2005).

The Kremlin doctor – Professor D. Pletnev knew Stalin for a long time. According to Professor Pletnev Stalin was vindictive and had a strong tendency to adventurism and delusions of persecution (Lerner, 2014). Professor Pletnev was arrested in 1937 on Stalin’s orders. He was tortured and his tormentors forced him to sign a false confession stating that he was involved in the murder of Maxim Gorkey. Pletnev was shot in 1941 in Medvedevsky forest.
In the later years some prominent Soviet psychiatrists suggested a number of other definitions of Stalin’s malady: ‘paranoid schizophrenia, delirious condition, derived from paranoid psychopathy, heavy psychopathy’, placing Stalin in the category of ‘epileptic-psychopaths’ During a panel discussion a psychiatrist stated that Stalin was ‘cruel, devoid of any feeling of pity, completely amoral, easily excitable. I personally consider [his condition] a psychical monstrosity, a moral depravity. It is an anomaly but not a sickness.’ Another psychiatrist reminded the audience of Hamlet’s ‘method in the madness’, adding that Stalin was afflicted with ‘megalomania of a limitless scale (Brackman, 2003).

The Western Professionals too analyzed Stalin’s behavior. Robert Tucker in his authoritative biographical study of Josef Stalin suggested that Karen Horney’s theory of neurosis can be used to explain his grandiosity and insecurities (Tucker, 1990, pp. 3-5; Glad, 2002). Karen Horney held that neurosis originates in emotional insecurity. The neurotic forms an unrealistic ideal of what the person should be which is separated from the actual innate capacities and the concrete circumstances of the person and traps the neurotic in an impossible task (Gudan, 2007). Stalin suffered emotional insecurities since his young days. Following his emotional insecurity Stalin fixated on a narrow view and had apathy, isolation, arrogance, increased fear and suspicion.
Professor Russell V. Lee of the Stanford University Medical School wrote: In Russia there was Joseph Stalin, the man of steel and ruthless slayer of millions of his own people; completely devoid of scruples of any kind, he was a sociopath, a moral imbecile, and in complete control of Russia (Lee, 1974).
Stalin had a mind of a murderer. Stalin was allegedly involved in many murders on a personal basis even before the October Revolution. He meticulously planned the assassination of Leon Trotsky in 1940. After the Moscow Trials it was inevitable that Stalin should make a desperate effort to kill Trotsky. Trotsky was the man Stalin feared and hated most. Stalin’s determination to get rid of Trotsky must have increased ten-fold after his pact with Hitler and after war was declared. Envy, hate and desire for revenge play a large role in his make-up (Goldman, 2010).

Stalin could disconnect himself from warm human emotions. Stalin’s ability to psychologically cut himself off from individuals who had once seemed to be close to him was one of the sources of his cruelty (Glad, 2002). He drove his second wife Nadezhda Allilueva to commit suicide. He had shallow feelings for his son Yakov from his first marriage. When Yakov became a POW during the Battle of Smolensk in 1941 Stalin did not make any attempt to release or comfort him. Yakov committed suicide at the Sachsenhausen death camp in 1943. Stalin’s malevolent attitude towards his other children affected them detrimentally. Vasily Stalin died of chronic alcoholism. Svetlana Allilueva (Lana Peters) defected to the West in 1967.

Stalin was a self centered person and an isolated character who had no value in friendships. He could harm his close associates without any personal feelings. One refinement of Stalin’s sadistic cruelty was to reassure personally some of his colleagues and subordinates that they were safe to the extent of toasting their “brotherhood,” and then have them arrested shortly afterward sometimes the very same day (Fromm, 1973, p. 285; Glad, 2002). Sergo Ordzhonikidze was one of his old comrades. But Stalin gave Sergo only two options: either to denounce Nikolai Bukharin and testify against him or to commit suicide. After removing Yagoda Stalin appointed Yezhov as the NKVD chief showing him friendship and brotherhood. He was known as Stalin’s faithful friend. In December 1938 Yezhov was removed accusing him as an enemy of the people. Yezhov was shot in 1939. Stalin made his old Georgian friend Alexander Egnatashvili as his personal bodyguard. He served Stalin with utmost loyalty. He disappeared somewhere in 1953. He was probably shot on Stalin’s orders.

Stalin was troubled by delusions of conspiracy and feelings of victimization. He saw enemies everywhere. He suspected Red Army Marshal Vasily Blyukher was a Japanese spy and he was killed in 1938. He thought the Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, was an American agent. He constantly accused Beria for being an English spy. He thought that his personal physician Professor Vinogradov was an agent of British intelligence. Stalin fantasized the doctors’ plot in 1953. General Vlasik, the head of Stalin’s bodyguards was arrested on false charges in connection with the Doctors’ plot. As Khrushchev recalled, Stalin “instilled in … us all the suspicion that we were all surrounded by enemies” (Khrushchev, 1970, p. 299; Glad, 2002). Trotsky intensely documented Stalin‘s unstable moods and mood swings. According to Trotsky Stalin had unpredictable moods. Lazar Kaganovich one of the main associates of Joseph Stalin remarked: he was a “different man at different times … I knew no less than five or six Stalins.

Stalin also had all the signs of what was described recently as ‘hubris syndrome (Owen & Davidson 2009; Kesselring, 2011). As clarify by Owen & Davidson (2009) extreme hubristic behavior is a syndrome, constituting a cluster of features (‘symptoms’) evoked by a specific trigger (power), and usually remitting when power fades. The key concept is that hubris syndrome is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.

Some experts suspect malignant narcissistic syndrome in Joseph Stalin. According to Glad (2002) Stalin’s behavior could be explained through the malignant narcissistic syndrome. His extreme lack of empathic ties is evident in his destruction of people who had been in his inner circle without evident remorse. Stalin exhibited the classic symptoms of narcissism with strong additional elements of sadism and paranoid tendencies. The latter trait quite probably also concealed an element of inferiority and personal cowardice (Retief & Wessels, 2008).

Stalin was pathologically fascinated by death. He saw deaths in his family and later in the society that he lived. He saw death as a perfect remedy for all social maladies. He publicly stated yest’ chelovek – yest’ problema: net cheloveka – net problemi” (“[there] is [a] person; [there] is [a] problem: [there] is no person, [there] is no problem.”) He thought that death solves all problems. For Stalin deaths of millions became merely statistics.

Stalin transformed the Soviet Union in to a nuclear superpower. Under his leadership the country made tremendous economic, industrial, educational, scientific advances. But the social cost was extremely high. He stirred fear psychosis in the society deporting massive numbers of people to the Gulags and also killing millions. His slave army built canals, hydro dams, railways and cites and finally perished in to oblivion. The Soviet society achieved its glory via blood and sweat of the millions of innocent people. The psycho social consequences of Stalin’s reign impacted the later generations. The aftermath still echoes in the post Soviet society.

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