March 15, 2004


I have some closing thoughts on the end of The Gulag Archipelago. I have finished Book I, and I think I need to move on to something a little cheerier for a while before I tackle Book II. But I'll be back.

Overall, I agree with Bunker that it's a book that should be read. I considered myself a pretty good student in school, and I never heard anything about the atrocities committed in Stalin's Russia. And I even took a Russian literature class in college! This stuff was horrifying, and I wish more people were aware of just what happened during those "glorious" Communist years.

If one takes the view that Latsis is not deliberately understating the real figures but simply lacks complete information, and that the Revtribunals carried on approximately the same amount of judicial work as the Cheka performed in an extrajudicial way, one concluded that in the twenty central provinces of Russia in a period of sixteen months (June, 1918 to October, 1919) more than sixteen thousand persons were shot, which is to say more than one thousand a month.

This passage is highlighted with a revealing footnote:

Now that we have started to make comparisons, here is another: during the eighty years of the Inquisition's peak effort (1420 to 1498), in all of Spain ten thousand persons were condemned to be burned to death at the stake -- in other words, about ten a month.

People were put to death for as little as shaking a fist at a Communist, or as vague as "wrecking", the simple charge of doing anything that might hurt the Soviet Union. And anything could be twisted into wrecking. An engineer suggests that they could research a way to save fuel: wrecking -- reducing resources. They would increase the size of train cars to make them more efficient: wrecking -- tying up funds. Suggesting that they buy cheap train cars now and then replace them later when the technology is better: wrecking -- suggesting the Soviet Union not have the best type of machinery. And so on. And all these charges of wrecking, twisted around no matter what you did or said, brought you a death sentence. Unbelieveable.

There was a great anecdote at the end of the book that made me laugh out loud. There are some who will just never grok when someone stands up for what he believes in:

When, in 1960, Gennady Smelov, a nonpolitical offender, declared a lengthy hunger strike in the Leningrad prison, the prosecutor went to his cell for some reason (perhaps he was making his regular rounds) and asked him: "Why are you torturing yourself?"
And Smelov replied: "Justice is more precious to me than life."
This phrase so astonished the prosecutor with its irrelevance that the very next day Smelov was taken to Leningrad Special Hospital (i.e., the insane asylum) for prisoners. And the doctor there told him:
"We suspect you may be a schizophrenic."

Posted by Sarah at March 15, 2004 05:22 PM

Volume II can wait. The essence of the story of the USSR is in the first. There are significant parallels to the kind of society that the Islamicists envision. The Cold War is in a different phase, with a different enemy, and is a bit hotter.

Posted by: Mike at March 15, 2004 06:20 PM

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