Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Better to be Feared than Loved?

There's long been a particular story about the terror of working under Stalin that I've tried to dig up unsuccessfully, but what do you know, it turns out Michael J. Totten was just the guy to give me the information I needed: it transpires that the Daily Telegraph has the story.

At a typical movie night with Stalin, when the showing was over, he would often ask: "Where have we seen that actor before?" He frequently asked actors who were playing him in films over for dinner: once he asked the best "Stalin", "How will you play Stalin?" "As the people see him," replied the clever actor. "The right answer," said Stalin, presenting him with a bottle of brandy.

After the showing, Stalin asked his favourite "fellow intellectual": "What will Comrade Zhdanov tell us?" Sometimes Stalin joked about the director, "If this one's no good, we'll sign his death sentence." Bolshakov rang the directors next day to tell them Stalin's comments without attributing them to anyone.

Bolshakov once authorised a movie for national release without asking Stalin, who was on holiday. At the next showing, Stalin asked him: "On whose authority did you release the movie?"

Bolshakov froze: "I consulted and decided." "You consulted and decided, you decided and consulted," intoned Stalin. "You decided." He then left the room in a doomladen silence. Eventually, his head popped round the door: "You decided right." (emphasis added)
Lucky guy that Bolshakov, and I'm only half jesting when I say so; take the following story, for instance, excerpted from Lawrence Rees and Ian Kershaw's War of the Century: When Stalin Fought Hitler.
...Stalin specialized in using fear as a factor of motivation. One historian describes it as `negative inspiration' — the idea that his followers had constantly to prove themselves to him. It was foolhardy in the extreme to criticize the system in front of him. One young Air Force general boldly stated, at a meeting at which Stalin was present, that the number of accidents in military planes was so high because `we are forced to fly in coffins'. Stalin replied: `You should not have said that, General,' and had him killed the following day.
Hitler was every bit as vicious a butcher as Stalin, but in at least one respect he was a lot better; where Stalin motivated through fear, Hitler did by commanding devotion, and if one were loyal to him, one had nothing to fear from him however grave one's other failings might have been (indeed, it was that very loyalty to incompetent cronies like Göring and Ribbentrop which did a great deal to sabotage his ambitions). Hitler never shot a general for daring to question his judgement, and even though he refused to listen to what they had to say, many of his generals did dispute his instructions vigorously, right up until the end of the war. In private conversation, the Führer could not only take jokes directed to himself, but even initiated such humor of his own initiative, even making caricutures of his person in which his prominent nose was made the butt of ridicule. To get oneself shot while serving under Hitler, as long as one was a committed Nazi, nothing short of flagrant, indisputable treachery seems to have been required.*

Of course, one could say that since it was Stalin who won the struggle between the two monsters, fear proved to be the better motivator in that case, but I'd argue that there were other factors in the balance which outweighed this particular issue. In particular, Hitler's racial contempt for Slavs who might have become allies, his arrogant refusal to prepare for a winter war, and his utterly insane provocation of America into open conflict, served to seal his fate regardless of anything he might have done differently in terms of management style.

*Yes, I know about the Night of the Long Knives, but that was the sole occasion on which Hitler initated a purge of that sort amongst his followers. Even then, it was very much at the urging of the German Army, which feared Röhm's ambitions for his SA; it took over a year of persistent pressure from senior army officers for Hitler to give the go ahead to the purge which did occur.