Friday 12 April 2013

Stalinist Thatcher, or The Steel Man and the Iron Lady

The Inky Fool bids for power.
I once read that Stalin and Trotsky had two things in common: neither of them spoke Russian as a first language and neither of them was called either Stalin or Trotsky.

Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein and was brought up speaking Ukrainian. In 1902 he adopted the code name, or nom de guerre, of Trotsky, which he seems to have nicked from one of his gaolers. 

Stalin was born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili and was brought up speaking Georgian. After training as a priest he got into communism and adopted the code name, or nom de guerre, of Stalin, which means Man of Steel.

Margaret Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts, and was brought up speaking English, or as close as they get to that in Lincolnshire. She married Denis Thatcher and adopted the married name, or nom de guerre domestique, of Margaret Thatcher.

On January 24th 1976, a Soviet military propaganda outlet called Krasnaya Zvezda reported on the new leader of the British Conservative Party under the headline Zheleznaya Dama Ugrozhayet, which means Iron Lady Wields Threats. Zheleznaya means Iron and Dama means Lady.

The article claimed (utterly falsely, so far as anybody can tell) that this was how she was referred to in Britain. The article would have died a death, but it was seen by Robert Evans, who was the Reuters Bureau Chief in Moscow. So Evans wrote an article saying that: "British Tory leader Margaret Thatcher was today dubbed ‘the Iron Lady’ by the Soviet Defense Ministry newspaper Red Star." The name caught on in the West, but it was invented in Russia.

What's interesting is that, though the Russian story was hogwash, it would have made perfect sense to a Russian. The Soviet Union had, after all, been ruled for thirty years by The Steel Man, and this, I suspect, was what prompted the (baseless) story. If I'm correct in this reasoning (and it all looks pretty reasonable to me), then the Iron Lady was, essentially, named after Stalin.

Margaret Thatcher was delighted. Here is her reaction a week later.


  1. I always thought it was from the Raymond Briggs book The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman:

    But perhaps not!

  2. I guess I could make some remarks.
    The name Iron Lady beared ironic sense (oxymoron) in Soviet propaganda. This had nothing to do with the image of Stalin. Besides, there was actually not any strong association among Stalin and steel in a russian speaking mind. No one did regard him as a steel man, even if he was. This was just good sounded last name of the leader, no more.

  3. Baba Yaga was the Russian Iron Lady, wasn't she?

  4. When George W. Bush presented Australian PM John Howard with the Medal of Freedom (for his, not our, help in invading Iraq) Bush dubbed him "the man of steel". This has been a source of comedy ever since amongst Australians, who have a healthy disrespect for the pretensions of politicians. Howard's conservative followers have been noticeably quiet about Bush's title for Howard. Of course, one also has to remember the depthless cynicism of the Bush family in all of this.

  5. Howzaboot this one Mr. Inky Fool, There's a statue of the Duke of Wellington at the east end of Princes Street in Edinburgh by the Victorian sculptor Sir John Steell. So that makes it a sculpture of The Iron Duke in Bronze by Steell!! Marvellous, Ahm sure you agree!

  6. Did the Soviets see any relation to the Iron Duke?