10 Mar Remember Stalin and March 5
The Father Has Died!
On March 5, 1953, “the heart of the comrade-in-arms and continuer of genius of Lenin’s cause, of the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, has ceased to beat.” This announcement of Iosif Stalin’s death came on the radio the next day.
I did not hear it personally because our radio was off. My grandmother did not want it to sidetrack from my homework or from our conversations. When my mother rushed into the house, there was not a trace in her of after-work irritation. She started skipping around the table, clapping and chanting “The Father has died! The Father has died!“ As though on cue, my grandmother raised her eyes to the ceiling with a passionate “Thank God!” Then my dad arrived, eyes happy.
For the first time in my seven years everybody was in high spirits, even though the radio played only sad music—it did for the next three days. But nothing could be more disorienting that my dignified mother, in her wet galoshes, skipping and clapping and chanting, or more bewildering than the joy at someone’s daddy passing away.
To my questions, the adults responded with the usual mouth-locking signal – what occurred within our four walls stayed within our four walls. My grandmother splurged on a sponge cake, a treat reserved exclusively for my birthday because of shortage of eggs.
Smiling Not Allowed For Three Days
Well, the sight that greeted me in school the next morning was anything but festive. My classmates sobbed and wiped their noses with their sleeves. And each of them wore a black band on their left arm. My mood, still animated by the sponge cake, sunk. The teacher said in my ear, “Don’t you know that Comrade Stalin passed away?” However, I only knew that someone’s dad had passed away but didn’t know whose.
My mind did not connect the honorific Father of All Nations with The Father in my mother’s chant. Neither did I draw an equal sign between Stalin and the “murderer” in the adults’ conversations. For me, Stalin was just a name in the newspaper and on the radio and a face on posters, paintings and statues but not anyone relevant.
The teacher warned me not to smile for three days and to wear a crepe-band for three days. When I did smile, a classmate reported my transgression. And worse: at home I was told that no black fabric for the arm band was available.
Everyone in school, red-eyed, clustered in front of the wall-size painting in the lobby because it depicted a little girl presenting a bouquet of wild flowers to Stalin. Had someone noticed earlier that he and the girl were almost the same height it would have turned out badly for the painter. Bringing attention to the fact that Stalin was five-four would qualify as treason.
Gardener Of Human Happiness
But back to that radio announcement. The description of Stalin in it was abbreviated, to say the least. He was so many more things! Generalissimo, Father of all Nations of all Times, Coryphaeus of Science, Brilliant Genius of Humanity, Genius of All Times and Peoples, Great Architect of Communism, Gardener of Human Happiness. And The Best Friend of Athletes!
Also, Stalin singlehandedly shuffled around entire ethnicities and eliminated the farmer class in favor of collectives. He kept his finger on the pulse of arts and sciences. Because otherwise how would one know what to read and what to watch? Or that cybernetics and genetics were reactionary pseudo-sciences and whores of capitalism?
Add to this the management of execution lists of the top brains of the country. Quite a task even if they handled only a tiny portion of the 40 million executed or sent to camps or into exile. And before you get up in arms about this number, consider the plus side: the Soviet Union badly needed free labor to create its mighty industry. So there!
Amazingly, Stalin, until his last day, found the time to darn his threadbare long johns. No wonder, every day the lights were on until 3 a.m. in the window of his Kremlin office.
Surviving Stalin’s Omelet
One Soviet poet characterized Stalin’s 30 years as “half the country brown nosers—half the country informers; half the country convicts—half the country under convoy; half the country criminals—half the country wardens; half the country imprisoned—half the country not yet.”
Be it as it may, Stalin’s anxious destitute subjects near-universally subscribed to the simple truth: an omelet presumed the breaking of eggs. As he threw himself in the path of spies and enemies of the people, the population felt that no sacrifice was too big for a helmsman who knew exactly what eggs to break and how many. His slogan “Life has become better, life has become happier!” fell on fertile ground.
It has since come to light that The Father had suffered a stroke days before March 5 but his inner circle, too terrified for words, could not force themselves to enter his room unless summoned.
Upon the news of Stalin’s demise, the orphaned country wept and strangers embraced in the streets. So many people yearned to glimpse the body that hundreds were trampled to death.
Genius of Humanity Today, Tyrant Tomorrow
In that monolith crowd, had anyone envisioned that Stalin’s successor and the head of his funeral committee would label him a tyrant in 3 short years and in another 5 years throw him out of the Mausoleum? If so, one word from that person and he would have been torn to pieces. Literally.
And so it went: every Soviet dictator was blameless and the only way to remove him was to wait until he died. That is, with the exception of Khrushchev who managed to merely get fired.
But how do you remove him from hearts and minds? You can’t. Not for generations.
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