July 6, 2012


Freedom Unleashed: In the late 1980s, a brief flowering of Russian truth-telling exploded myths and revealed the depredations of Soviet rule. (EDWARD LUCAS, 7/02/12, WSJ)

The greatest target was Stalinism--a taboo subject since the failed Khrushchev thaw of the mid-1950s and early 1960s. Even if the Soviet Union had been an economic, cultural and social success story, it could scarcely have survived the revelation that it was based on the murder by shooting and starvation of millions of innocent people, and the enslavement of tens of millions. As Mr. Aron recounts, secret archives were opened and firsthand accounts by former prisoners were aired. "In the November 27, 1988, issue of Moskovskie novosti . . . Marxist historian and former dissident Roy Medvedev for the first time in the Soviet press" estimated the number of arrested, imprisoned or executed under Stalin before 1937--"no less than" 10 million died.

Mr. Aron also captures well the sensational 1989 revelation of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact of 1939. The public emergence of the pact's details destroyed the great myth of Soviet wartime history: that Stalin's deal with Hitler was a wise tactical ruse to buy time for the Soviet war machine, when in truth it was a sincere and disastrous miscalculation. The valor of the Soviet Union's soldiers was the only aspect of the war, Mr. Aron says, that did not come "under assault by the glasnost mythslayers."

On top of all the historical truth-telling came public soul-searching about the corrosive effects of the modern Soviet system on morals and behavior. As Maya Ganina wrote in Literaturnaya gazeta in 1988: "Let's find out at what point in our lives bribery, thievery, lies, humiliation of the powerless and servility towards the powers that be have become more than just a deviation from the norm."

Mr. Aron writes: "The most urgent concern was not the economy itself but rather what it did to the men and women who worked in it: their ideas, their views of themselves, their conscience--their 'souls.' Surrounded by waste and negligence, poverty and neglect, arbitrariness and incompetence of all-powerful bureaucracies implementing myriad irrational laws and regulation, men and women were found to have lost much of what was needed to make their country free and prosperous."

The catastrophe for the Communist leadership in general, and Mikhail Gorbachev in particular, was that the greatest target was Lenin.  The difference is that Stalin might have been viewed as an aberation who corrupted the revolution, but the attack on Lenin delegitamized the entire Soviet project.

Posted by at July 6, 2012 5:01 AM

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