"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Great Terror Revisited

I read lots of books, and forget some or all of a good many of them. But seared into my memory, as it must surely be to everyone who has read it, are the images of staggering iniquity and cruelty documented by Robert Conquest decades ago in covering some of Stalin's many crimes in The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine and in The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Both were groundbreaking books at the time part of whose force and "unforgetability" came from the relentless documentation of evil upon evil.

Since those books came out, the USSR of course collapsed, and many people have understandably preferred to focus on a better future than on the ravages of the past.

But note James Harris, who last year published in hardcover The Great Fear: Stalin's Terror of the 1930s. And later this year, in mid-October according to Oxford University Press, a paperback version of the same will be in print.

About this book we are told
Between the winter of 1936 and the autumn of 1938, approximately three quarters of a million Soviet citizens were subject to summary execution. More than a million others were sentenced to lengthy terms in labour camps. Commonly known as 'Stalin's Great Terror', it is also among the most misunderstood moments in the history of the twentieth century. The Terror gutted the ranks of factory directors and engineers after three years in which all major plan targets were met. It raged through the armed forces on the eve of the Nazi invasion. The wholesale slaughter of party and state officials was in danger of making the Soviet state ungovernable. The majority of these victims of state repression in this period were accused of participating in counter-revolutionary conspiracies. Almost without exception, there was no substance to the claims and no material evidence to support them. By the time the terror was brought to a close, most of its victims were ordinary Soviet citizens for whom 'counter-revolution' was an unfathomable abstraction. In short, the Terror was wholly destructive, not merely in terms of the incalculable human cost, but also in terms of the interests of the Soviet leaders, principally Joseph Stalin, who directed and managed it. The Great Fear presents a new and original explanation of Stalin's Terror based on intelligence materials in Russian archives. It shows how Soviet leaders developed a grossly exaggerated fear of conspiracy and foreign invasion and lashed out at enemies largely of their own making.

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