Stalin is the only reader who had authors he ordered killed – 06/03/2023 – João Pereira Coutinho

I’ve always had a morbid curiosity about the library of dictators. Morbid because I know I’m going to find rubbish, not refined works by refined authors. But I insist on my literary masochism.

Years ago, I wrote in this Sheet about Hitler’s library. The old Adolfo would have about 16 thousand volumes. 1,200 survived today in the United States. But an analysis of the collection and the notes he spread across the pages allowed us to reconstruct the character’s mind. Conclusions?

Hitler was a bad reader. Not just because of the junk he consumed (occult works, spiritualism, Madison Grant’s racist prose, Otto Dickel’s low-level nationalism), but because he liked to cannibalize the work of others to reinforce his base prejudices and delusions.

A good reader is an omnivore, who likes to swim where he can’t walk, driven by idle curiosity. Hitler’s curiosity was nil because fanatics lack curiosity or imagination.

We can say almost the same thing about Stalin. On the 70th anniversary of the tyrant’s death, I decided to take a look at his library through a recent book by Geoffrey Roberts (“Stalin’s Library”, Portuguese edition by Ziggurat). I strongly advise.

Stalin beats Hitler in quantity: he would have 25,000 books, periodicals and pamphlets. But later, when we see the list, we confirm that Stalin’s world was as narrow as his head.

A few concessions to the Western novel and historiography aside, the library is overwhelmingly Soviet, that is, post-1917. Poetry, not even seeing it (ditto for Hitler). In terms of languages, we have Russian and Georgian, nothing more.

And, in the authors’ gallery, we find the usual fauna: Bolsheviks, various Marxists, socialists. In descending order, Lenin takes the cup; then comes Stalin himself, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Marx, Kamenev, Molotov, Trotsky, Kautsky, Engels, Rykov, Plekhanov, Rosa Luxemburg. Originality?

Just one: Stalin is perhaps the only reader who had authors he had ordered assassinated on his bookshelf. I imagine this is the wet dream of many literary critics.

But it is when we open the books and confront Stalin’s underlining and annotations that the affinities with Hitler become manifest. With regard to the saints in his shrine, there is never a word of discord, of doubt, of hesitation. Texts by Marx or Lenin appear immaculate.

As Geoffrey Roberts recounts, Stalin’s fidelity to the canon was so intense that, many times, in political discussions, the dictator had the habit of taking a volume of Lenin from the shelf and proclaiming: “Let’s see what Vladimir Ilyich has to say on this question “. A televangelist wouldn’t say it better.

As for enemies, real or imaginary, marginalia was generous with sarcasm and rudeness. A revealing example of Stalin’s “forma mentis” comes from reading Karl Kautsky, that “renegade” who committed the supreme heresy of criticizing the sect. For Stalin, Kautsky was a “fool” for suggesting that human knowledge is always limited and provisional.

Was not. The Marxist-Leninist catechism was the last word – and only on matters of detail, more for convenience than substantial disagreement, did Stalin deviate from the rails.

Deep down, and like Hitler, the books served to reinforce previously adopted dogmas, which takes us to a territory that is no longer political or philosophical, much less “scientific”, but religious.

There are several authors who have always looked at Nazism and Communism as “secular religions”: eschatologies that mimic the old Christian religion, replacing only the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the race or of the proletariat. Hitler’s and Stalin’s library and reading habits confirm this.

Needless to say, both left a following. I am not talking about the most obvious followers – neocommunists or neo-Nazis.

I speak of a part of the contemporary left and right, closed in their cognitive bubbles, with their beliefs constantly reinforced by the “echo chamber” (echo chamber) of social networks.

That’s how I see them: little Hitlers and little Stalins, without the world, without openness to the world, without curiosity for the world, each one with his own faith. Or, as in the joke, to each his own feces.

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