[Breaker: Turning a Blind Eye to Tyranny]
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of The
Great Terror by Robert Conquest. In a preface to the anniversary
edition, Robert Conquest wrote that, "The history of the period
covered by 'The Great Terror' sees the enforcement of Stalin's totally
intolerant belief system — with terror as the decisive argument.
Terror meant terrorizing. Mass terror means terrorizing the whole
population and must be accompanied by the most complete public exposure
of the worst enemies of the people, of the party line, and so of
the truth. We know the results."
In l968, when the book first came out, Conquest noted, "[I]t
was still true that, as the great historian Francois Furet noted, after
the war and the demise of fascism, 'all the major debates on postwar
ideas revolved round a single question: the nature of the Soviet regime.'
He added the paradox that communism had two main embodiments — as a
backward despotism and as a constituency in the West that had to be
kept unaware of the other's reality. And, up to the last, this was
often accompanied by a view of the Cold War as an even exchange - with
the imputation that any denigration of the Soviet regime was due to
Since the end of the Cold War, the reality of communism's terror and
brutality has been widely discussed. In l999, for example, The
Black Book of Cummunism, an 846-page academic study that
blames communism for the deaths of 85 million to l00 million people
worldwide, became a bestseller. It estimated that the ideology claimed
45 million to 72 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union,
from l.3 million to 2.3 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea,
l.7 million in Africa, l.5 million in Afghanistan, l million in Vietnam,
l million in Eastern Europe, and l50,000 in Latin America.
Through all those years, many intellectuals in the West insisted on
disassociating communism from the crimes committed in its name. Incredibly,
in retrospect, we see many academics, clergymen, journalists, and literary
figures not resisting communist tyranny, but rather embracing it, defending
it, and apologizing for it.
Jean Paul Sartre
In a July l954 interview with Liberation, French philosopher
Jean Paul Sartre, who had just returned from a visit to Russia, said
that Soviet citizens did not travel because they are prevented from
doing so, but because they had no desire to leave their wonderful country. "The
Soviet citizens," he declared, "criticize their government
much more and more effectively than we do." He maintained that, "There
is total freedom of criticism in the Soviet Union."
Another intellectual defender of tyranny was American
playright Lillian Hellman. She visited Russia in October l937, when
Stalin's purge trials were at their height. Upon her return, she
said she knew nothing about the trials. In l938 she was among the
signatories of an ad in the communist publication New
approved the trials. She supported the l939 Soviet invasion of Finland,
stating, "I don't believe in
that fine, lovable little Republic of Finland that everyone gets so
weepy about. I've been there and it looks like a pro-Nazi little republic
to me." There is absolutely no evidence that Hellman ever visited
Finland — and her biographer states that such a visit was highly improbable.
Another case in point is that of The New York
Walter Duranty, who covered the Soviet Union in the l930s. In the midst
of the enforced famine in the Ukraine, Duranty visited the region and
denied that starvation and death were rampant. In November l932, Duranty
reported, "There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there
likely to be." In the Times of August 23, l933, Duranty wrote: "Any
report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant
propaganda." He eventually admitted that there was a serious loss
of life due to "food shortages" in the Ukraine but denied
that it was enforced famine instituted by Stalin's deliberate policy.
What Americans got was not the truth but false reporting. The influence
of this reporting was widespread. Walter Duranty received the highest
honor in journalism — the Pulitzer Prize for l932, complimenting him
for "dispassionate, interpretive reporting of the news from Russia." The
citation declared that Duranty's dispatches — which the world now knows
to have been false — were "marked by scholarship, profundity,
impartiality, sound judgment, and exceptional clarity."
Walter Duranty was only one of many correspondents and writers in
the l920s and l930s who fed their readers in the West a steady diet
of disinformation about the Soviet Union. Louis Fischer, who wrote
for the Nation magazine, was also reluctant to tell his readers about
the flaws in Soviet society. He referred to the gulags as "a vast
industrial organization and a big educational institution." In
l936, he informed his readers that the dictatorship was "voluntarily
abdicating" in favor of democracy.
Time for Truth
Since the Russian Revolution of l9l7, the world was
engaged in a struggle between freedom and tyranny. Now that the reality
of communism's horrors are widely known, it is only proper to remember
those who defended liberty and those who did not. In that battle, sadly,
many in the U.S. and other Western countries used their considerable
abilities to advance not freedom but tyranny.
In the forward to the 40th anniversary edition of The
Great Terror, Robert Conquest wrote that, "One
of the strongest notions put forward about Stalinism is that in the
interests of 'objectivity' we must be — wait for it — 'nonjudgmental.'
But to ignore, or downplay, the realities of Soviet history is itself
a judgment, and a very misleading one."
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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008
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Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is THE REVOLUTION LOBBY (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.
He is associate editor of THE LINCOLN REVIEW and a contributing editor
to such publications as HUMAN EVENTS, THE ST. CROIX REVIEW, and THE WASHINGTON
REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS.
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