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RUSSIA: Ivan the Terrible

In our discussion of Sergei Eisenstein, we mentioned his film "Ivan the Terrible", who seemed to be a prototype pf Soviet government through terror. I asked Cameron Sawyer in Moscow how Ivan the Terrible is viewed there. Cameron replies: "If anyone in Russia learned anything about governing from Ivan the Terrible, I am unaware of it. It is true that he was the first Tsar, and united Russia. But he was a bloodthirsty beast. He is remembered with a shudder. I believe the most vivid image of Ivan the Terrible in Russian minds may be Repin s magnificent painting called Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan: November 16, 1581, which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery, and which is an icon of Russian art. (See Click on the painting to get a full screen view of it.) The painting depicts Ivan cradling his murdered son s head, after murdering him himself. A historical incident. It is also said of Ivan the Terrible that after the construction of the Cathedral of St. Vassily on Red Square (which we call St. Basil s), Ivan was so impressed by its beauty that he had the architect, Barma, blinded, so that he could never create anything which might surpass. The story is said to be apocryphal.

But ties between Ivan Grozny and the Bolshevik terror are merely fanciful. The Bolsheviks did not need to reach so far back in history for a model; the Terror in France was much more apposite; they even appropriated the name (unashamedly!)".

Ronald Hilton - 3/21/03