Russia using applause length as a measure of loyalty?

I read about this story years ago and probably forgot some of the details. I wonder if this was a true story. I tried searching on Snopes but got nothing.

The story goes, in Russia (I think it was Russia or the USSR), the leader, probably Stalin or somebody, once had a meeting with his generals. After Stalin spoke, the others rose to applaud. Seconds, then minutes went by, and the applause kept going. By now, it was getting to be ridiculous, but none of the generals wanted to be the first to stop applauding. Stalin realized this too, and scrutized them for any signs of stopping. Finally, one of the generals had enough and stopped, leading the others to stop and sit down. Stalin had that man killed.

Nice story, but did it really happen? Was it even in Russia? It sounds like some bizarre Cold War propaganda. :dubious:

Don’t know if it actually happened - but Stalin was, by all accounts, a monster. It’s also a matter of historical record that he did, indeed, purge many of his generals for (suspect or actual) disloyalty in the 1930s. This had serious consequences once the Germans began their invasion of the USSR. And let’s not forget, Stalin also killed millions of his own people.

So, even if this particular incident didn’t happen, Stalin certainly did a number of similarly brutal and capricious things - and many far worse besides. The only reason I would even doubt the plausibility of this specific incident is that I wonder who would have reported it - one imagines everyone else in the room would have been far too frightened to breath a word of it. However, it doesn’t sound even slightly out of character for Stalin.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn relates the anecdote in The Gulag Archipelago. It was not Stalin but a local party chief, and yes, the standing applause went on and on for some 20 minutes until finally someone sat down and stopped. He was subsequently sent off to the Gulag.

“Don’t ever be the first one to stop clapping.”

Sorry I don’t have the book handy but I do recall reading it. Perhaps a fellow doper can look up the precise passage.

No, not by all accounts. Stalin apologists have gone out of their way to compile quotes from reputable, non-Communist Westerners who actually met the man and described him as genial, humble, power-shunning, sincererly concerned for the good of humanity and his country, unaware of the extent of and/or opposed to his personality cult, etc. Years ago I found a few such articles on websites of various Stalinist political parties (most probably that of the CPCML, though I just checked their site now and couldn’t find anything relevant). No doubt the Stalin Society publishes something similar.

This YouTube video a short excerpt from a History Channel program (I know, I know) which briefly discusses the bell and shows its use.

Here is the quote from Solzhenitsyn:

I remember Robert Conquest telling a similar, but slightly different, story in The Great Terror, but I don’t own the book so can’t supply the details. There is also the famous incident of a phonograph record which was released of one of Stalin’s speeches, filling four records with the second side of the fourth record consisting entirely of applause.

Yes, it comes from Solzhenitsyn. Now, it is unfortunately true that many of Solzhenitsyn’s writings can’t really be confirmed. Record-keeping was poor, as it’s not like the party bosses wanted anyone know exactly what went on. But given that the state security and Party really did go looking for traiters (and somehow always found them during a purge), it’s entirely plausible. They wouldn’t be looking for actually traitors of course - just anyone they could charge to look good. They would pick people they did’t like personally, anyone who showed too much backbone, and anyone with even slightly “wrong” politics, even if they had been “right” at one time.

One would presume the official record they did keep of something like this, if there was one, wouldn’t say that so-and-so was sent to the gulag for being the first one to stop applauding. They would think up some better-sounding fake charges against him, and that’s what would go in the record.

Having a personal record such as a diary contradicting the official record would be a dangerous thing to do, if you knew the government sent people to the gulag for things like stopping applauding too early.

They wouldn’t really detail anything. They would just state that so-an-so was accused of these crimes (list the list). If there was a trial, they would get no defense; their lawyer would argue for the prosecution. And then they would go away to the gulag, which would eventually kill them unless they were tough, smart, or extremely lucky.

Not looking for fault, but this sounds pretty weak. “Actuallly meeting” somebody from another country doesn’t give one a picture of what one does, not in detail at least.

Just MHO.


And “stopped applauding too soon” probably wouldn’t be on the list.

Even if this did happen exactly as described, the records probably wouldn’t tell us whether it did or not.

Unless you can see into the soul of people you meet in person, as a former US president supposedly claimed he did with Vladimir Putin. For the rest of us, though, that’s not a terribly reliable guide to someone’s character. Sociopaths can be charming, when it suits them to do so. Non-Communist, reputable people can be taken in by charm like anyone else.

Well, it would say something like “Treason against the People’s Will” or something, of course. Wreecking and Hoarding were popular for a time, and being a Trotskyite was probably encoded in some incomprehensible name.

Walter Duranty was a famous, and very sad, case. Bush, at least, may have been exaggerating in the hopes of winning over the persistently distant, if not always hostile, Russian governemnt. Duranty at the least saw nothing he didn’t want to see, and probably fabricated things completely with his considerable talent.

Wow, I’m shocked, SHOCKED, at the apparent validity of this legend. :eek: To think that something like this happened in real life and not some fictionalize dystopian novel is sobering.

This reminds me of an old Russian ‘joke’ about Stalin I stumbled across lately…

“…one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

The applause story is also of course an extremely good analogy for the way in which a totalitarian state works, in general. Indeed, it is a good analogy for a lot of sheep-like human behaviour.

So good, that it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a parable that Solzhenitsyn made up from whole cloth. Not that it would surprise me if it had an element of truth either.

I recently read Simon Winchester’s biography of Joseph Needham. He was similarly deceived by the Chinese Communist government. It happens even to very bright people.

A lot of people like to think they couldn’t be deceived about someone’s character if they met them face-to-face. The sheer number of con artists out there testifies that that isn’t true for the vast majority of people.

Those could cover a wide range of things, though, not just stopping applause too soon.

Remember you could also get sentenced as a family member of an enemy of the people, and that adult sentences could be given to citizens as young as 12. Younger ones would be sent to orphanages run by the secret police.