August 6, 2015


Robert Conquest: Revealing the horror of Stalin (Stephen Evans, 6 August 2015, BBC  Magazine)

At my grandfather's dinner table in Bedlinog, south Wales, debate was intense but futile. It was like arguing with the most devout of religious believers. Whatever came down as the line in Soviet Weekly or the Morning Star stood as gospel.

He had the collected works of Stalin on his shelf (not obviously worn with reading). When my grandmother opined at the dinner table that there must be at least some crime in the Soviet Union, her husband told her to "stop her bloody lies".

My father remembered the relief he felt as a young boy in the mining village when Hitler turned on Stalin in 1941 and invaded the land of his former partner-in-crime. Before that, the family had feared internment. But now the Red Army suddenly became allies of Britain and communists became the most vociferous supporters of the cause. According to his son, my grandfather, a communist councillor, received extra petrol rations to tour the Valleys drumming up support for the war effort.

This religious atmosphere continued, and it was not un-typical during the Cold War. Any doubt cast on the achievements of the Soviet Union was simply dismissed as "Cold War propaganda". When a notable dissident was imprisoned in a mental hospital, the view was that he must be mad if he doubted the merits of Soviet socialism.

So for those of us who did have doubts, Robert Conquest's The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties was an extraordinary work.

It was a book which changed minds and dispelled doubt (mine included) when it was published in 1968, the year of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in response to the liberalisation of the Prague Spring.

It laid out facts without adornment so they could speak for themselves, spelling out in clear language the detail of the purges and the executions. Fellow travellers of the Soviet Union sneered - and perhaps still sneer - but they couldn't find factual errors because Conquest's research was so meticulous.

Posted by at August 6, 2015 3:29 PM

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