Nicholas I of the Russian Empire is described as an especially ruthless “Russian tsar” in my Encyclopedia Britannica. He became the emperor in 1825 after the crushing of the Decembrist uprising against absolutism, and he died (still the reigning emperor) 30 years later, in 1855.
Let me take poetry as a sample of culture. When Nicholas I asked Pushkin, the best-known poet in Russia, what he would have done had he been in St. Petersburg during the Decembrist uprising, Pushkin answered that he would have joined the insurgents, in agreement with his poems written after the suppression of the uprising:
In the depths of the Siberian ores
Preserve your proud patience,
Your deed will not be lost,
Nor will be your aspirations.
During the uprising, Nicholas I “exiled” Pushkin to his mother’s estate where the “exile” could read, write, hunt, and do whatever he pleased. In his poem, he addresses the nanny of his childhood, who was now taking care of the household:
Let’s have a drink, my dear friend
Of my miserable youth,
And the grief will go away!
Wherever’s the mug?
The heart will feel young and light!
Pushkin was killed in 1837 by the husband of his wife’s sister. Pushkin had challenged the man to a duel “to defend his wife’s honor.” When Pushkin was killed, the young poet Lermontov became famous due to his poem, in which he accused “the crowd at the throne” of Pushkin’s death.
But again, nothing graver followed for Lermontov except “an exile.” Incidentally, Lermontov died (in 1841) in a duel.
Absolutism regarded culture as a great endowment of its aristocracy, while those slave states which originated or resurged in the 20th century divided culture into (1) the development of the world’s best weapons; and (2) “propaganda,” that is, brainwashing. Ideally, to achieve the first purpose, the natural brains of slaves should be replaced by artificial brains able to develop the world’s best weapons and everything needed for their development.
As for the second purpose, the slaves are to receive brains whereby they would think that they are living in the best possible country, having the best possible social system and the best possible operators of that system.
However, such artificial brains have not been created, and it is not clear that they ever will be, and so slave state owners have to use their slaves’ natural brains.
Imperial states had at least one rule of inheritance of power: The emperor must be the previous emperor’s son, and the empress his daughter. In Russia after 1917, it was not clear why Stalin (and not Trotsky or Bukharin or Kamenev or Zinoviev) was to be the supreme leader up to his death. So Stalin killed them, and the brainwashing was that they were traitors, spies, and what not.
Hitler came to power because his party received a majority of votes in the Reichstag, since the Treaty of Versailles had left Germany defenseless, and Hitler was the most prominent opponent of the Treaty. But Hitler was in power for only about 12 years. When he had setbacks in World War II, an attempt was made on his life.
Mao stayed in power for so long because he was so ruthless to his possible replacements.
However, it is from Stalin’s life-and-death-in-power that I would like to recall two characteristic cases.
It is not all at once that art in Russia was replaced under Stalin by brainwashing.
In 1908, that is, about 10 years before the Soviet coup, there appeared in the Russian press the poetry of a poet named Osip Mandelstam, whom I consider one of the world’s greatest poets of the first half of the 20th century. Alas, while Russian music is familiar to every American lover of classical music, the translation of poetry has not been flourishing in the West.
When my son Andrei published in Britain a book of Pasternak’s poetry that he had translated into English, a British poet wrote in his review that for the first time he had understood what Pasternak was.
In 1933, Mandelstam wrote a page-long poem about Stalin. Never had Stalin been attacked with such courage, to say nothing of such genius. Stalin annihilated millions of slaves for their disrespectful whispers about him. But here was Mandelstam, a fearless witness to history, exposing a monstrous subhuman super-criminal.
It seemed that having read any four lines of the poem, Stalin would say through his teeth to his secret police: “Burn him alive!” or “Drown him in sulfuric acid!”
Instead, Stalin phoned Pasternak and asked him whether it was true that Mandelstam was a poet of genius. “Yes,” said Pasternak, “it’s true. But there is something else I would like to speak with you about.” “What is it?” asked Stalin. “About life and death,” answered Pasternak. Stalin hung up.
If Mandelstam is a poet of genius, he should not be killed — remember Nicholas I and Pushkin. Stalin was suddenly under the last wave of Imperial absolutism and its aristocracy. In 1937, Mandelstam was swept into a concentration camp, since this was a general human stream to death. But between 1933 and 1937 he was “in exile” (like Pushkin), living with his wife in Voronezh and writing there his immortal poetry.
My other reminiscence is also about Stalin — but dead. Beria, the chief of Stalin’s secret police, approached the corpse and proclaimed: “The tyrant is finally dead!”
Suddenly, it seemed to Beria that Stalin had moved. So he was only pretending to have died, to see the reactions of his subordinates when they believed he was dead and they did not need to pretend worshiping him any longer.
Sobbing, Beria fell on the deathbed next to Stalin, begging Stalin to forgive him, Beria, and sobbing more and more desperately.
The incident was told to several writers by Khrushchev under this title: “How the mice were burying the cat.” No! How slaves were burying their ruthless owner! In any case, as far as I know, this is the first time that the above fragment of the funeral of the ruthless slave-owner goes to print.
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