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January 13, 2010


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Conquest has a very definite and not particularly controversial position (Stalin was all bad), but he's not discredited as far as I know.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

There's a lot of debate about Conquest's specific numbers, in no small part because all study of the Stalin period suffers from the Soviets' unbelievably crappy record-keeping (a striking contrast with the Nazis, who were meticulous in noting who was killed, when, where, and how much property they owned at the time).

Conquest's anti-Stalin sentiments generally make him believe the largest number when it comes to death, and the lowest number when it comes to agricultural or industrial productivity. So while the general events of his books are taken pretty seriously, some of the specifics are still subject to debate.

But then, NYC is still the last bastion of the American Communist. I remember in my sophomore year at Columbia University, I was looking at the facade of the library, with its engraved-in-stone names of Voltaire, Aristotle, and other Core Curriculum standards. An old, bald, 5'2" fella comes up to me, and says "A lotta great names up there, eh?" "Yes sir," I answered, assuming (I think correctly) this was an alum wanting to chat with a new student. "But there's one name that isn't there---YET!" "Ah, really?" "That's right! But he will be!" "Who's that, sir?" "Vladimir Lenin, son! Someday, he'll be right there beside Plato! You'll see! Vladimir Lenin!"

I was just back from a year in the former Soviet Union, and generally pretty hostile to the Spartacists, the ISO, and the like. But his elderly nostalgia was just so... cute!

The Siren

@FB, as far as I know, the archival material that has come out since Gorbachev and used by Conquest for The Great Terror: A Reassessment, indicates that if anything Conquest originally underestimated the number of deaths under Stalin. He famously suggested that the title of the second edition should be "I Told You So, You Fucking Fools." Which title would have added a certain je ne sais quoi to Glenn's tangle with the wild-eyed dude last night.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

I admit, I haven't followed the reassessments and re-reassessments of Conquest's work. His self-assurance makes me automatically mistrust him---the ferocious defensive posturing he engaged in whenever anyone called his numbers into question made me smell a rat---but it's entirely possible that he did turn out to be right.


I think the death-toll for Stalinism goes something like this:

The Purges = 1 million
The Gulag = 3 million (see Anne Applebaum, Gulag)
The Famines = 7 million or so (see Timothy Snyder's article in the New York Review of Books at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22875 and John Paul Himka's article here at http://www.brama.com/news/press/2008/02/080202himka_famine.html


Conquests is obviously right that Stalin was evil, but his numbers are dubious. It seems pretty clear that Hitler killed more people (in a much shorter time) than Stalin (putting aside Hitler's ultimate responsibility for all the war deaths in Europe). There were good reasons we allied with Stalin against Hitler and not the other way around, though once Hitler was defeated the alliance was no longer tenable.

Tom Carson

Even Conquest thought Nazism was worse. (See http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110009618, if only for the rare treat of Hitchens in bended-knee mode.) But as I understand it, what made The Great Terror controversial when it first came out was his unfashionable argument that Stalin's crimes were a logical continuation of Leninism, not a "deviation" -- a message the left at the time didn't much want to hear.


Well there is (and was) more than one "the left" but that aside, Lenin certainly made Stalinism possible. Whether he made it inevitable would require an alternate history time machine to settle for certain. (Personally, while I think Lenin might have killed as many kulaks, it seems doubtful he would have sanctioned the killing of so many Communists.)


It does work for me, thanks

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