Defending Stalin (If you had to)

Run a Totalitarian Kritik. Argue the term. Like here.

“I came here for an argument!”

“Sorry, it’s Getting Sent to the Gulag lessons in here”

Didn’t we have a thread about Nazis years ago that attracted stormfronters? God help us if the Tankies show up.

This term came up on twitter the other day and I had no idea what it meant. Someone defined it as “people who are sexually attracted to Thomas the Tank engine” :slight_smile:

An alternative tack is to reject the premise entirely, and assert a 1st Amendment right:

“Stalin was a murdering dictator with the blood of millions on his hands. Even in school, I cannot be forced to defend him, any more than I could be forced to defend Adolf Hitler. Fail me.”

No way to defend Stalin from charges of being a totalitarian, you say? Of course there is. Simply cite all of the numerous examples of times when he allowed - no encouraged - the Russian people to take their own initiative and make decisions for themselves.

Like what about the well-known time in 1935, when he ordered collective farms to set aside 35% of their lands to ‘use at their own discretion’ growing and selling foods on the market as a means to promote capitalism and improve food security?

Or what about the entire period between January 14 - 1936 through December 12, 1936, when he took the year off and allowed the Duma to govern the country?

I could go on and on. What’s that? Those never happened, you say? What, are you the pawns of lamestream history? Wake up sheeple! We live in a time when truth can be whatever is most convenient to say at the moment.

Another tactic the student could consider is to constantly interrupt or shout down the other students arguing the opposite view so that they’d never get the chance to make their case against.

Or you could try Stalin’s own tactic. Send out an email saying the debate has been rescheduled. Then when you show up at the correct time and no one else does, you win by default.

( I met Stalin’s daughter in Madison Wisconsin, quiet lady)

Oh please tell me it was at Harvest Fest!

I’ve read the page on Lavrentiy Beria. Usually, I’m pretty willing to play Devil’s Advocate but, for Stalin, just not interested.

When I took debate [and I just asked mrAru, who did debate also] one could be tasked to take an argument side that you disagreed with, but it was your task to follow the rules as stated - one time I had to defend putting slave labor into factories in WW2 Germany. [shrug - with a shortage of men to work factories because of military service, taking the political and criminal prisoners and using them as labor for building made sense in that timeframe and in those conditions, the German women were tasked to breed more good little soldiers and mommies, so someone had to do the work. ] I also defended equal pay for women, which I was working a real world job at the time and made it work for me.

If I were forced to represent this argument purely as a technical debate exercise, I would take a tack something like the below.

Basically, my angle would be that the Stalinist system was certainly totalitarian, no doubt. But Stalin himself was simply doing what was necessary, step by step, escalation by escalation, to maintain control of a stubborn country during the difficult process of modernization. He did not think of himself as a totalitarian, and he did not intend to actualize himself as a totalitarian leader. It’s just that the trappings of totalitarianism accumulated around him over the years as he was forced to find new and harsher methods of keeping the country’s shoulder to the wheel.

In other words, while Stalinism wound up being totalitarian by necessity, Stalin was not, personally speaking, totalitarian in his intentions. It’s an absurd hair to split, but I would attempt to split it.

Then I’d go take a long hot shower, and demand that the administration allow me to record a formal written protest to ensure that nobody ever looks back and misinterprets my position.

I gave this thread title a bad name, I think…as I understood her, the assignment wasn’t to find an excuse for Stalin. The question wasn’t “was what Stalin did a good thing”, or even “was Stalin justified”. It was simply “was he a totalitarian”, so I’d guess theoretically one could claim he wasn’t, while at the same time not excusing the things he did. (But of course, the only way I can see to do even that as we said upthread was to define totalitarianism so narrowly that no one ever qualifies). But I like what Cervaise said, I hadn’t thought of going that route (which is why I posed the question here).
It’s not my assignment though, I was just more curious what other people thought about the question because it seemed an open and shut case to me.

I’m still holding out hope that she misunderstood the assignment, but I won’t be seeing her for a few days. I’ll let you know what happens after I see her again.

I don’t think it is a “shrug”, at least not in a public school setting.

Could a public school require a Jewish student to defend the Holocaust as an academic debate issue, and give the student a failing mark if they refused?

Can a public school require a student of Urkainian descent to defend Stalin as “not totalitarian”, when part of Stalin’s totalitarianism was the starvation of over 3 million Ukrainians in the Holodomor, which is recognised as a genocide? And if the student of Ukrainian descent refuses, to give that student a failing grade?

Or a public school requiring an African-American student to take the pro-slavery position in a debate?

And I don’t think that the hair-splitting between “defending Stalin” and “was Stalin a totalitarian?” really works.

I doubt that. The things he did were inherently linked to the form of government. The Show Trials, the gulags, the purges of the officer corps, the Holodomor, none of that could have occurred without the totalitarianism of the USSR, and Stalin was at the centre of it. I don’t see how it is possible to separate the totalitarism from the horrible effects, any more than it is possible to do with respect to Nazi Germany.

If debate classes don’t have a moral component, and instead assume that any issue can be debated, that is horrible teaching for a public school. The real lesson is “whataboutism” and “everyone does something bad”, rather than technical debating skills.

I should probably have added—this isn’t even a debate class. It’s an AP European History class.

But before we get all outraged, I’m still hoping when I talk to her next we’ll learn that she misunderstood the assignment or something like that. The ‘debate’ is supposed to be today, but I probably won’t talk to her until next week some time.

Fair enough. But there is a difference between asking a student to research whether Stalin was a totalitarian, and requiring the student to take the position that Stalin wasn’t a totalitarian. The first is a history analysis; the second is an advocacy role.

I agree completely. I think it’s a terrible assignment.

Speaking as someone who taught AP Euro for 25 years and Debate for 35, I’d certainly hope she (or you) misunderstood the topic and “debate.” Otherwise the only “correct” response to the assignment, IMHO, is to refuse to do it on moral grounds. Then if an alternative isn’t provided by the teacher, take it to the school board. The assignment as you have presented it is patently offensive.

Thank you, Silenus. Glad to get your view on it.