The Guardian 30 March, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Shield and Sword Shock and Horror

Sun April 3 ó Sat April 9

In early March newspapers in Britain and Australia (and no doubt elsewhere in the countries of what used to be called "the West") went to the trouble of reporting the opening of a restaurant in Moscow.

It was not the quality of the fare on offer that made this opening newsworthy in the eyes of the bourgeois media. It was the name of the restaurant, its theme and indeed its very raison díÍtre that aroused their concern.

Shield and Sword was the motto of the Soviet security service, initially called the Cheka, later the GPU and still later the NKVD (Peopleís Commissariat of Internal Affairs) and the KGB. The restaurant was opened by the grandson of an NKVD officer.

According to The Sunday Times, in a report by its Moscow correspondent Mark Franchetti, the restaurant is decorated with Soviet security services memorabilia including a letter signed by Stalin, a portrait of Lavrenti Beria and a bust of Leninís very reliable associate Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka (the Extraordinary Commission to Combat Sabotage and Counter-Revolution).

The waitresses apparently wear Soviet-era green and white Interior Ministry uniforms, complete with shoulder straps.

If it was a matter of just one restaurant, the Shield and Sword would be no more than an aberration, to be treated with scorn and ridicule by papers like The Sunday Times. But it is not just a matter of one restaurant.

Far from being a clever use of "retro" nostalgia as both decoration and sales gimmick (as capitalists would do), the Shield and Sword is evidence of something much deeper and more significant.

The bulk of the Russian masses are, as The Sunday Times itself admits, "poverty-stricken [and] disillusioned by market reforms and Western values". The realisation that they were better off under Soviet rule is making itself felt more and more.

Anti-Communist and especially anti-Stalin propaganda in Russia makes that in the West look insignificant. Yet in a recent poll, fully a quarter of all respondents said they would vote for Stalin if he were standing today.

Mark Franchetti, describing a Communist demonstration in Moscow, something that is rarely reported in our "free press", calls it "a red sea of hammer-and-sickle flags". He interviews a 33-year-old lawyer, Yuri Vassilyev, to make the point that itís not just old people who carry portraits of Stalin in demonstrations.

The increasing numbers of young people who take part are a worry for the capitalists of both Russia and the West. As Vassilyev tells Franchetti, "After years of lies about him [Stalin], the truth is coming out".

May is the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Fascism, and Western commentators are in a right old state because of the number of proposals within Russia to erect statues to Stalin, the countryís wartime leader.

What Franchetti calls "a plethora of books seeking to burnish Stalinís image" have also been published in Russia in recent months. One is by the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov.

But it is not just Communists who are now giving Stalin a good rap. There were ceremonies last December to mark the 125th anniversary of Stalinís birth, and at one of these, notes Franchetti, the Speaker of the Duma, Boris Gryzlov, not only spoke but praised Stalin "as a leader who had done much for his nation".

Gryzlov, it should be noted, is "a close ally of President Vladimir Putin".

All these moves have been greeted with shock and horror by propagandists of the capitalist world.

These propagandists and the political leaders of the main imperialist states ó USA, Britain, Germany ó are applying all the pressure they can on the Russians to make them drop their proposals for statues and other forms of recognition of Stalinís war-time leadership.

We can only conjecture at the extent of the diplomatic and other behind-the-scenes pressure being applied. Certainly the propaganda offensive in the bourgeois media is clear enough.

Curiously, they have gone to the trouble of resurrecting Mikhail Gorbachev from well-deserved obscurity to declare that he is "shocked" by the assessments of Stalin being advanced by Gryzlov and others. This is presumably for foreign consumption, since no one in Russia gives a toss what Gorbachev thinks about anything anymore.

The Sunday Times even trotted out British historian Norman Davies, "author of Europe: A History", to aver that "the War is the only good thing the Russians have to report after 75 years of Communism". A statement of such monumental silliness makes one wonder just how reliable Europe: A History could possibly be.

Davies should interview some of those "poverty-stricken Russians" Franchetti mentioned. They could tell him of a few benefits of Communist rule which they used to enjoy and would like to be able to enjoy again.

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