"This is now decisively documented, in papers signed by Stalin and specifying quotas for death and imprisonment by category and locale; these decrees resulted in nearly 770,000 executions in 1937-1938. In addition, over the whole of his career Stalin signed 44,000 individual death sentences. The 'anti-Soviet elements' targeted included former kulaks, former officials of the czarist state and army, former members of non-Bolshevik parties, religious activists, and 'speculators'�a wide swath of society. Those carrying out the orders were required to send 'albums' of the victims to Moscow, to confirm that the quotas had been met.
There is no longer much serious dispute about what the terrors unleashed, or about the extravagant falsification practiced by the regime. If anything is still missing in Western understanding, it is a full recognition of the mental degradation inflicted by the regime. The entire population was forced to accept a supposedly all-explaining dogma, along with the notion that it was living in a social and political utopia�when what it actually experienced, of course, was the opposite. A Russian academic told me recently that many Westerners he meets still don't realize how horrible and psychologically exhausting a life it was. Much of the new evidence speaks directly to this point. "
The Western misreading of the Soviet system was largely the product of a simple reflex. The Soviet order—indeed, the practice of communism everywhere —was seen as a form of "progressive" hostility to established Western politics and, particularly, economics. It seemed to represent a new system that had rid itself of the market, of exploitation. Whatever its doubtless temporary—or invented—faults (so the thinking went), the Soviet ideology stood for a better world. Thus many Western writers, including Lion Feuchtwanger, Henri Barbusse, and even Romain Rolland, the sensitive follower of Gandhi, spoke out in defense of the purges. In the United States a number of authors, poets, professors, and artists, including Theodore Dreiser and Corliss Lamont, signed a manifesto attacking the Dewey Commission—a body formed in 1937 to examine the charges against Leon Trotsky, and whose findings were an unsparing, irrefutable indictment of the realities of the Soviet system. From 1939 to 1941, Soviet sympathizers went so far as to oppose the effort to stop Hitler. After Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Stalinist devotees in the West simply switched their stance on Nazi Germany. Even today some of their survivors imply that their anti-fascism was never interrupted.
The Holocaust stood clearly as a monstrosity from the start. The communist record was more blurred, more polymorphous; and for a long while it retained remnants of its initial luster (something that National Socialism never enjoyed outside Germany). As a result, many Western intellectuals, though no longer approving, remained nonjudgmental for many years.
There will probably always be an alienated intelligentsia, especially in tolerant, democratic societies. But the extent to which this stratum was penetrated, misled about reality, and to some degree fanaticized by Moscow's manipulations is striking. William James wrote that philosophical opinion is largely a matter of temperament. This applies to political and other types of opinion as well. The sort of temperament we have seen during the twentieth century, combining at its worst a blend of zealotry and unteachability, can be found in earlier eras. It will doubtless always be lying in wait for us. Knowledge of its recent embodiments, although useful, will not eradicate it. The evil will, alas, simply take new forms.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
Robert Conquest on The Terrors
He has good points about the defenders of Stalin in the West. Funny that it is shameful to admit to being a Nazi, but not so to claim to be a Marxist. Why? "Well, authentic Marxism has never really been tried..." Tell that to the 60 million victims Solzhenitsyn estimates. Conquest writes: