MOSCOW (Oct. 26) — Documents uncovered this month in a museum near here reveal that Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator widely viewed as architect of the Cold War and butcher of millions of his own people, had considered himself “just an entertainer.”
“People take me way too seriously,” the tyrant responsible for the Iron Curtain and purges that destroyed Russian society for decades told an interviewer from Access Stalingrad shortly before his death in 1953. “Especially my opponents, or at least those who are still alive.”
Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with unchecked cruelty from 1924 until he died some 30 years later. Though his nation helped defeat Nazi Germany in World War II, he is more remembered among historians for the ruthless elimination of all political adversaries, and purges that killed as many as 20 million of his own citizens and exiled untold millions more to Siberian work camps.
“What I wish people would remember me for instead is my love of the ‘old soft shoe,’” Stalin said of the dance form closely related to tap, but performed in soft-soled shoes with no metallic heels. “I’ll take an old Gershwin standard over the pogroms and the forced collectivization of farms any day.”
Stalin defended much of his record of terror and at the same time downplayed its significance. Even as far back as the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917, the hated autocrat said his role in the rise of Communism was frequently misinterpreted. He pointed specifically to his backing of the Red Army of Vladimir Lenin against the White Army.
“I’ve shown over and over again that I have a deep-seated hatred of the White Army, and of White culture,” Stalin said. “I’m not saying I don’t like the White Army. I’m saying they have a problem.”
He dismissed widespread impressions that he was a racist by saying “of course I prefer Caucasians. I am, after all, from the region of the Caucasus mountains.”
Stalin also told the interviewer that other famous despots of the mid-twentieth century were equally misunderstood, and that all of them “just wanted to put a smile on the face and a spring in the step” of their peoples, even though that effort sometimes also included a knife between the shoulder blades.
“Adolf Hitler — I knew him as Glenn — he was a magnificent ventriloquist,” the late General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee said. “Even without the moustache, you could barely see his lips move. And Benito Mussolini (his friends called him Sean), he could amuse thousands of his fellow Italian Fascists with a magic act that was, quite simply, marvelous.”
Stalin said that even Imperial Japan’s wartime leader, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, was a simple performer who liked nothing better than staging his hypnosis act, during which he could make a volunteer from the audience cluck like a chicken while the rest of the crowd left to wage kamikaze warfare against the Allies’ Pacific Fleet in defense of the emperor.
“In private, he was just a regular guy, a real goofball,” Stalin said. “Mao called him a maniac, though he was technically more of a megalomaniac.”