“Stalin didn’t walk away into the past. He dissolved into the future.”
– Charles de Gaulle.
“I am not a European, but a Russified Georgian-Asiatic.”
– Joseph Stalin, 1937
“History is not the theatre of happiness.”
The first time Churchill met Stalin, at the 1943 Tehran conference, he noted Stalin’s sharp intellect and embodiment of an “Asiatic” personality. Churchill seemed both to admire Stalin and to be appalled by him at the same time, although neither sentiment prevented them from developing a good rapport. He seemed to view Stalin with a certain kind of morbid fascination, to see Stalin as a 20th century equivalent of Ghenghis Khan. Stalin himself might not have objected so much to such a comparison, except that he was a far more cool-headed and far-sighted strategic thinker than Ghenghis Khan.
What influence does the Asiatic aspect of Stalin’s personality and his strategic vision have on the process of world-history (or rather, in Hegelian terms, “World-History”) as it is ongoing today?
I have always interpreted de Gaulle’s famous quote regarding Stalin as quite Hegelian, even if de Gaulle had not intended it to be. It encapsulates both a sense of the Hegelian concept of “determinate negation” and also a sense of Hegel’s concept of “the World-Historical Individual.”
This concept of “the world-Historical Individual” refers to Hegel’s belief that certain individuals, certain subjectivities, are configurations of deep and powerful historical forces, in such a way that through this subjectivity, the trajectory of History itself is somehow altered.
– Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, etc….
The important thing to note is that, in Hegel’s view, such a “World-Historical Individual” never understands his real historical mission. He is not the real agent of history. He is merely an unwitting instrument of history. His subjectivity is both a configuration and a receptacle of historical forces whose depth, power and complexity neither he nor any of his contemporaries can possibly understand.
In his own mind, he is simply solving or attempting to solve the practical political problems of his own time.
History (or “logos,” or “providence,” or “Geist”) itself acts through him. He himself will never understand how.
So this is why the Hegelian “World Historical Individual” always does far more than he ever intended to do, or understood himself as doing.
Think about the lasting effect of Stalinism for geo-politics in the 21st century. By this I mean not only thus far in the 21st century, but also quite probably for the remainder of the 21st century.
Think about the ripple-effect which the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union continues to have on Eurasia. Think about the new infrastructure which was built on the Eurasian land-mass between 1928 and 1953. Think about the industrial cities in the Urals.
Would China’s contemporary Belt and Road initiative even make sense as a geo-political and economic plan today if Stalin had not rapidly industrialized the Soviet Union beforehand?
Given the Soviet Union’s geographical centrality in Eurasia, didn’t the industrialization and infrastructural interconnection of the Soviet Union have to happen first, before the rest of the Eurasian land-mass could become economically integrated?
So Stalin did far more than he ever intended to do, or ever understood himself as doing. He believed that his historical mission was to industrialize the Soviet Union and transform it into a superpower.
His real historical mission was far greater than that.
His real historical mission was to initiate the palingenesis of Eurasia.
In other words, we are ONLY NOW BEGINNING to see Stalin’s historical legacy come to fruition. The 21st century is the Eurasian century.
De Gaulle was right – Stalin didn’t walk away into the past. He dissolved into the future.