Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stalin: Americans Confident, Others Not So Much

Time for another update on my WWII Political Leaders Opinion Survey. (Again, I’m providing these updates at the request of participants, but to minimize the biasness in the results since the polls are still open, I won’t be sharing data on the major questions. Please contribute if you haven’t already done so.) So far, more American respondents claim to be very familiar with Joseph Stalin than respondents from other countries. Is this due to a small sample size? Or are Americans just more confident about their knowledge of Russia’s dictators? My guess is both, but we’ll probably never know for sure unless I can get grant money for a real survey.*

Now for a brief word about history’s most famous Caucasian: Once upon a time, I took a graduate-level course in Marxian political economy. That opened my eyes firsthand to just how much Marxism resembles Christianity.

Very few self-identified Marxists ever purchase a copy of Capital (Vol. 1, 2, or 3**) let alone actually read it. Most prefer touchy-feely inspirational reading like The Communist Manifesto. Some, however, master the original languages, especially German, and spend many hours arguing over correct interpretation of the scriptures. There are “conservatives” and “liberals” when it comes to beliefs about how accurate Marx’s teaching were.

Some adherents promote orthodoxy, preferring intellectual discussion to actually doing anything, while others promote orthopraxy, creating piety movements loosely based on the theology but able to actually promote change in the real world. And yes, there’s a restoration movement advocating a return to “original” Marxism, while others follow the teachings of late-dating denominations and cult leaders. One cult leader, of course, was Stalin.

My professor, a traditionalist of sorts, would tease one of my classmates about being a “Stalinist.” A Stalinist is a Marxist who, rather than wait for eschatological promises to be fulfilled by the natural process of historical materialism, tries to bring about the kingdom on earth prematurely by his own works. Instead of achieving a communist paradise for the working man, he fights for a fiefdom controlled by the lucky guy on top (until he’s betrayed and killed). Purists don’t have much respect for Stalinists.

Although the idea of Stalinism nauseates me, I couldn’t but help but see my Stalinist classmate’s side of the debate. While the rest of the class (anthropologists, economists, and philosophers) planned on getting comfy desk jobs that would allow them to debate all day long on the intricate points of Marxism, he actually had a calling to preach the good news and initiate real change in the world. Scary, but admirable.

*I’m joking…really!
**I collected all three!