Stalin and the depths of evil
Leon Aron, of the American Enterprise Institute, pens a devastatingly chilling review of two new books on "Stalin, a Biography", by Robert Service, and "Stalin and his Hangmen", by Donald Rayfield -- a must read in tomorrow's Washington Post Book Review section. My only quibble with the review, or perhaps the books themselves, is that the Genocidal Famine or Holodomor is referred to as "the peasant holocaust", with no mention of Ukraine.
It is Ukraine which suffered between 7 and 10 million dead, not just "peasants" in general. Can we finally dispense with this offensive word "peasant", and find a more useful and less insulting term? The word connotes ignorant disposable and undifferentiated masses of unwashed and illiterate people who are less than human. If African-Americans can take exception to the word "negro", which was at one time the common parlance, and not simply an epithet, then surely modern Ukrainians and others can take exception to this insulting and demeaning word. Just the other day a combative guest on a discussion show insultingly referred to another guest with whom he disagreed as "you ignorant peasant!" He obviously thinks it is a term of insult, and so do I. If it is simply a matter of a term of convenience, then I am a proud peasant too, and the daughter of peasants, and the grandaughter of peasants. But I have digressed -- do read the whole devastating and mind-numbing review.
Here's a sample from the review:Death and the Dictator:
Stalin seems to have internalized, then embodied and built on the most truculent, pitiless and aggressive components of Lenin's credo. The connection between Bolshevism and Stalinism and between Lenin and Stalin -- the nature and extent of which used to be hotly debated by scholars and the world's left -- emerges here as something natural and organic. The only man other than Lenin whom Stalin was ever reported to have genuinely admired was Hitler. "What a great fellow!" Stalin told a fellow Politburo member after learning of the 1934 purge of the Nazi brownshirts known as the Night of the Long Knives: "How well he pulled this off!" (When we both were college students in Moscow in the 1970s, Khrushchev's grandson Alexei Adzhubei told me of his grandfather's reminiscences about a high-level Nazi delegation arriving in Moscow in the late 1930s to learn more about setting up and running concentration camps.)
Three years later, after painstaking preparation, Stalin launched his own vastly wider and bloodier internal war for total supremacy. Within the two years of what would be called the Great Terror, at least 1.5 million people were arrested and at least half of them executed -- mostly party and state leaders, engineers, intellectuals and military officers down to the regiment level. This rate of elite extermination was not to be repeated, but the systematic mass terror that started with the birth of the Soviet state would continue unabated until Stalin's death. Millions more were arrested, imprisoned, tormented in the gulag or shot.
Nor was the Great Terror the single most intense slaughter in Soviet history, as Donald Rayfield estimates in Stalin and His Hangmen, his searing and beautifully written chronicle of state-sponsored murder. That grisly distinction belongs to the 1929-33 "peasant Holocaust," when between 7.2 million and 10.8 million villagers died during "collectivization," or the elimination of personal ownership of land, tools and livestock and the forcible pooling of these into a "collective" property held de facto by the state -- a process aimed in particular at the class of formerly well-off farmers known as kulaks. (Stalin later told Churchill that collectivization cost 10 million lives.) Families were arrested, herded into cattle cars, driven for days without food or water, then unloaded in the frozen tundra or swamps and left to die without food or shelter. Other kulaks were simply evicted from their homes in the middle of winter -- men, women, nursing babies -- and wandered until they froze or starved to death, with everyone else forbidden, on pain of sharing their fate, to give them a blanket or a crust of bread. Most victims perished in the famine that followed the requisition of grain for sale abroad.
. . .Rayfield, a professor of Russian and Georgian at the University of London and the author of a very fine biography of Chekhov, manages to make this abstract and often unimaginable evil feel close and real. Layered with subplots and striking vignettes and filled with voices (both the victims' cries for help and the commissars' orders for more killing), the horrid saga acquires texture, color and an immediacy that will mesmerize readers almost despite themselves. One marvels at the sheer mastery of craftsmanship that has made this relentlessly depressing, often repugnant material into such a compelling tale.