Stalin And The Macho Cult of Mass Murder

History tells us that purges, show trials and other sadistic state policies were integral to the birth and expansion of the Soviet Union. But a new book focuses on how Stalin helped form the unique “boot and leather jacket-wearing” character of the Bolshe

Gulag prisoners working to build the White Sea-Baltic Canal (Wikipedia)
Gulag prisoners working to build the White Sea-Baltic Canal (Wikipedia)
Peter Merseburger

BERLIN -- The Kronstadt rebellion in Russia in 1921 did not mark the beginning of Stalinism, as some mainly left-leaning historians would later claim. But it did mark a peak in a bloody campaign of terror without which the Revolution could not have prevailed.

The winner of this rebellion, according to Jörg Baberowski, a Berlin-based historian of Eastern Europe, could only be the force that was prepared not only to overthrow but to exterminate the opposition. In his new German-language book, Verbrannte Erde (Scorched Earth), Baberowski argues that Stalin based his reign of terror on the culture of war, thus creating a "permanent civil war by other means' that in the 1930s made mass killings a basic tenet.

What is new about Baberowski's account is not his coverage of the gruesomeness that characterized the birth and existence of the Soviet Union: starvation in Ukraine that claimed nearly two million victims, the deportation of entire ethnic groups, the Gulag Archipelago, the show trials, and the purges that would ultimately destroy the Communist Party. Verbrannte Erde stands out instead for its attempt to sketch the collective character of fascist men and the murdering type.

Unlike the intellectual Socialists, Baberowski writes, the "boot and leather jacket-wearing" Bolshevik revolutionaries projected an "aura of manliness and decisiveness." Stalin's inner circle, recruited from the working classes, consciously cultivated a "proletarian cult of manhood." These players spoke a language of violence rather than ideology, the author explains. It was a "macho cult of killing and murdering, primitiveness and malignancy" that supposedly marked them as "men of action."

Remorseless and manipulative

Baberowski goes back to Stalin's native Georgia, where friendship and honor did not have the same connotations as they did in the tsarist empire. Stalin admired the leaders of robber bands, fighters who obeyed their commanders unconditionally, archaic fighting societies where banishment or death were the punishment for betrayal.

According to the author, Stalin's understanding of domination was somewhat akin to the Mafia's, and he forced those in his inner circle to carry out his every order unquestioningly.

Stalin, Baberowski writes, met all the criteria of the typical psychopath: he was manipulative, with no conscience, incapable of remorse or empathy. It was this psychopathic personality structure that not only unleashed such massively destructive forces but also bound other psychopaths and sadists to him – violent men who publically acted out "the macho cult of killing" wearing army boots, uniforms, military insignia, and pistol holsters. These men viewed empathy or even tolerance with detestation.

"Nobody," Baberowski writes, "ever saw Stalin without his boots or army cap." Even when faced with economic issues, the tyrant could usually "only imagine terrorist solutions' – such as building the White Sea-Baltic Canal linking Petersburg with the Barents Sea that cost tens of thousands of lives.

The canal was constructed by Gulag prisoners without the use of modern technology – no earth movers, steel, concrete or cranes – just bare hands, shovels and wood. It was one of the largest forced labor projects in history.

Baberowski's book is neither a history of the Soviet Union nor of Stalinism. It sticks to one subject: Stalin's control through violence. It is a bloody tale indeed, focusing on torture, violence and hideous excess, Stalin's despotic character, and an analysis of the Soviet system of terror in the 1930s and 1940s.

And as such, as a history of terror with millions of victims at all levels of Soviet society, terror that bit into every aspect of Soviet life until Stalin's death, Verbrannte Erde is one of the most alarming and frightening accounts of a century that had no shortage of butchers and atrocities.

Baberowski doesn't put much stock in attempts to place Stalinist excess in a historical context. He prefers Sigmund Freud's idea that idealistic motives sometimes serve as a kind of curtain for forces of destruction. To him, the Stalinist era is about a lust for violence, pleasure at destruction, enjoyment derived from quelling and humiliating. "We must see Stalin as a happy person, who rejoiced in the agonies of soul he caused his victims," the author concludes.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Wikipedia

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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