The Solzhenitsyn school of falsification
The Russia That We Lost
Directed by Stanislav Govorukhin
Screening on SBS 8.30pm August 25 and September 1
Reviewed by Doug Lorimer
The promo for this two-hour "documentary" issued by SBS publicist Valeria Paavonpera states that "Renowned Russian film maker Stanslav Govorukhin's influential 1992 documentary, on which Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a consultant, is an overview of pre- and post-revolutionary Russia, with particular emphasis on the Leninist period and the early 1990s, following the August 1991 coup". In fact, the program devotes very little time to the post-1991 period. But it is this period that is the political motivation for the film.
Toward the end, Govorukhin tells us that "Russia today has turned into a nation of thieves and beggars"; in opposition to the economic and cultural impoverishment of ordinary Russians by their present rulers' attempts to restore capitalism, there are calls to return to the policies of Lenin. Govorukhin's film is aimed at countering the idea that Lenin's regime and its policies might provide solutions to the social catastrophe now engulfing Russian society.
According to the SBS promo "In the two programs, his very personal interpretation events, Gororukhin goes about systematically destroying the cultural and historical myths created by the ruling Soviet party in the past 70 years". Indeed, in opposition to the cult of Lenin created by the Stalinist bureaucracy, Gororukhin — aided by the reactionary religious crackpot Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose pathological hatred of Lenin was first displayed in his 1976 book Lenin in Zurich — sets out portray Lenin as the "worst and cruelest autocrat" in Russia's history.
In order to do this, Govorukhin reduces the entire history of the Soviet era to the Stalinist terror, and attempts to attribute all of the crimes of Stalinism directly to Lenin. Thus at the beginning of this film, we're told that "in 1917 the Bolsheviks declared war on their own people" and that the result was "66 million deaths". This figure is arrived at by adding together the deaths resulting from the 1918-21 Russian Civil War (which is never actually referred to) and the 1922 drought-induced famine with those which occurred after Lenin's death in 1924, ie, those resulting from Stalin's forced collectivisation of the peasantry and purges of the 1930s, and the civilian and military losses suffered by the Soviet Union in World War II (which Govorukhin claims totalled 45 million).
To bolster his claim that Lenin was Russia's "worst and cruelest autocrat" Govorukhin conveniently leaves Stalin out of the picture — almost literally (Stalin himself is only mentioned and shown once in the entire two-hour film).
The crudity with which Govorukhin seeks to attribute Stalin's crimes to Lenin is at times simply breathtaking. Two examples:
- We're shown the prison where Lenin was held in 1895 and where he was able to write his book The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Then we're told: "But when he ruled the country this same prison became something very different. In the '30s the so called 'big house' — the local headquarters of the NKVD — was added to it. The things that happened here are notorious." Thus by a not-too-clever slight of hand in mixing together different periods of history, it is Lenin who is made responsible for the atrocities of Stalin's secret police.
- We're shown the house in a village on the Yenisey river in Siberia where Lenin was exiled by the Tsarist regime. Govorukhin then claims that Lenin observed that a fatal mistake of the Tsarist regime was not to supervise an enemy of the state. Continuing his commentary, Govorukhin says: "In power, he corrected that oversight and by the 20th anniversary of Soviet power [ie, 1937, when Lenin had been dead for 13 years — DL] the banks of the Yenisey where the party leader once took his ease had become one big concentration camp". Govorukhin does not bother to inform his viewers that the bulk of the prisoners held in these concentration camps were old Bolsheviks, the main victims of Stalin's purges. That would get in the way of his story.
Indeed, in making this anti-Lenin diatribe Govorukhin is clearly guided by the dictum: don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Thus he informs us that in the years 1918-19 "alone" 1.7 million people were "killed by the Bolsheviks". Not once does he mention that these were the years in which a civil war raged across Russia, that most of those killed were pro-Bolshevik workers and peasants — victims of the terror unleashed by the deposed Tsarist generals aided by the invading armies of all the major Western powers.
Govorukhin with so obsessed with discrediting Lenin that he not only falsifies history, he makes it nonsensical. Thus in the first part of the film we're told that Tsarist Russia was not a backward country of largely illiterate, land-hungry peasants but a modern industrialised nation ruled over by a benevolent and kind-hearted Tsar and ... in which the workers and peasants lived prosperous lives, in which "70 per cent" of the population was literate, in which education in the countryside was "free and compulsory", in which the peasants had, by 1911, become "completely and truly liberated" from feudalism, in which the Russian army was on the verge of victory over Germany in 1916.
Then Govorukhin informs us that a revolution occurred in February 1917 in which "the people rejoiced" at the Tsar's downfall and soldiers began killing their officers. Blinded by his pathological hatred of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Govorukhin fails to see that his narrative has become internally inconsistent: if Tsarist Russia was really like the romanticised image he portrays it as, why did "the people rejoice" at its overthrow?
Govorukhin's film is a monumental fabrication and smear-job from beginning to end. In terms of his distain for historical accuracy, Govorukhin would have made the author of The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Short Course) proud.