Most Americans living in the 1940s, when the great drama of World War II played itself out, had few dichotomies of opinion in regard to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.

Hitler was by far the greater menace, because his word -- the fiat of an ignorant and willful madman, had been established as absolute law over the entirety of the strongest and most industrialized nation in central Europe.

When this hate-filled madman mobilized the armies of that nation, along with gangs of some of the most murderous thugs in human history, and when he set out to successfully conquer all the independent states of Europe that refused to become his lackeys, and when he turned his thugs loose on what almost became the attempted outright murder of one entire people and the attempted permanent enslavement of other entire peoples, he had to be put down like a dangerous animal that had been infected with rabies.

Had Hitler gotten control of nuclear weapons, they surely would have been used to destroy -- out of spite rather than from military necessity -- great and ancient cities, such as Paris, that he hated out of envy.

Without the vast and rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union -- and especially, the development of that country's military-industrial complex beginning in about 1927, and without the all but unimaginable sacrifices of the great Russian people to defend their own homeland -- their rodina -- regardless of the murderous stupidities of communism, their country would surely have fallen to Hitler's Blitzkrieg in 1941 or 1942.

Had Russia fallen, there would have been no grand alliance against the Hitler gang. Because Hitler would have controlled all Eurasia and much of Africa, from the Atlantic coast to the depths of Siberia, and from the North Cape of Norway to central Africa. And in company with imperialist Japan, fascist Italy and a host of satellite states eager to emulate Hitler's 'Führerprinzip' in their own societies, the Axis powers would have captured and dominated more all less all resources other than those of the western hemisphere.

Under these circumstances, it is highly doubtful that the United States and whatever would have remained of British power could have negotiated any alliance capable of stopping Hitler, either in the short or long term.

True, with an effort such as the Manhattan project, the United States would inevitably had been able to construct weaponry capable of destroying an entire city with a single bomb. But so too would the Nazi's. No military secrets are long kept sacrosanct.

In any case the armies of the Russian nation, mobilized and hardened by Stalin's leadership, and mostly armed with superior weapons of Russian manufacture, stopped all the German armies; first at the gates of Leningrad in September 1941, then in the forestlands of central Russia around Moscow in October-November 1941, followed up by a massive and successful counterattack against the then-freezing and depopulated German armies around Moscow in December 1941.

In the following year, the now fully-mobilized and well-armed forces of Russia lured the German armies into Stalingrad and the Caucasus. There, they destroyed some 18 large Panzer, motorized and infantry divisions of the German Sixth army and a host of Axis satellite divisions. This great victory of epic proportions, in the greatest battle in world history, the Russian armies set in place the coming doom of Hitler and his gang.

The Soviet victory over Nazi Germany was further assured by the great tank battle at Kursk in July 1943, and the remainder of the Nazi military power on the eastern front collapsed one year later, with the destruction of the German central army group in eastern Poland and Belarus in the summer of 1944. But there was Berlin still to take, and the Russians paid dearly for that victory, in that they suffered more casualties smashing across eastern Germany in 1945 than the United States suffered in all of World War II.

The allied expeditionary force preparing for war in Great Britain in 1944 could never have gotten ashore in Normandy had the Russian armed forces collapsed under Hitler's invasion of the east.

What would have remained of the power of independent western civilization would have made peace with Hitler, and largely under his terms.

So when the Russians for the past 60 years have claimed that the Soviet armies of Josef Stalin saved the world, and irrespective of his vast crimes and those of other great and minor communist leaders, there is great and factual truth in what they have said.

New Russians Gripped By Stalin's Old Spell 

It was the site of one of the most infamous political executions in Stalin's Russia. Stalin ordered 157 political prisoners, including the sister of his enemy Leon Trotsky, taken from their cells on September 11, 1941 and shot in the woods outside the town.  

But now, as nostalgia for Josef Stalin swells in Russia and the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory over the Nazis on May 9 approaches, Oryol has rekindled its affection for a man seen by many as the 20th century's worst mass murderer.  

The town council has written to President Vladimir Putin demanding his support for having Stalin's "honour" restored to the history books, his statues re-erected, and his name once more given to streets and squares.  

Last week the Communist party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, said Russia "should once again render honour to Stalin for his role in building socialism and saving human civilisation from the Nazi plague".  

He suggested a challenge to the Communist party's 1956 resolution condemning the "cult of personality" erected around Stalin.  

Statues by the Moscow monumentalist Zurab Tsereteli featuring Stalin beside his wartime counterparts Roosevelt and Churchill are planned for the southern town of Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, and Mirny in Siberia.  

The rehabilitation of Stalin appears to have some popular backing. Last month a national poll by Romir Monitoring showed that 53% of Russians thought that on balance Stalin's rule was "positive".

The nostalgia has spread to a generation too young to have experienced his rule.  

"Stalin played an undoubted huge role in our victory and in rebuilding the economy of the USSR after the war", said Vladimir Zagianov, aged 30, a member of Oryol's Communist town council.  

"Official figures are that 750,000 died [from political repression] in Stalin's time," he added, significantly reducing the figures offered by many historians.  

"This was right and necessary in this period. These were enemies of the people and the state. It was not possible to investigate and try [them] all."  

In his office, flanked and echoed by the editor of the local paper and two officials, he said that "human rights workers" funded from abroad wanted to destroy Stalin's legacy.  

"They are afraid of his rehabilitation and of Russia being a great country again. The USSR was the strongest, but in 10 years we will be like Sweden."

Vera Dinisenko, 52, who works in a cafe, said: "It's been a nightmare since [Stalin]. Now every six months prices go up. My parents say the benefits of Stalin were entirely material. He did not touch our relatives. Many disappeared, but you can't blame Stalin alone."

Oryol is only a few miles from the Kursk salient, the site of the biggest and bloodiest tank battle of the Second World War.

Stalin's propaganda image as the Soviet Man of Steel was cast in the popular imagination in mammoth battles like this, when the Red Army's tank squadrons suffered horrific losses in charges against superior German armour.

But Oryol remains scarred by darker memories.  

The 19th-century prison where Olga Kameneva, Trotsky's sister, was held is still in use. Dmitri Krayukhin, a local human rights worker, waved his arm at the decrepit red brick building behind him, and sighed.

"It can't have been a picnic in there, if you were related to Stalin's worst enemy," he said. "She had no crime other than being Trotsky's sister."  

That September night she and 156 others were driven to the woods, passing along a road then called Stalin Street, and shot for "counter-revolutionary activities".  

Today several monuments mark Russian victims of the Nazis in the town centre but the "Victims of Repression of the 30s, 40s and early 50s" - 50,000 families, according to the secret police archive - are remembered only by a small monument beside the woods on an outer road.

A fairground occupies the place where one of the town's prison camps stood.

Hitler Bad - But Far From Worst


Ask any Westerner to name the most evil figure of the past century. Almost always, the same answer comes up: Hitler. Sustained brainwashing has done its job...Der Führer still towers above all rivals as modern history's greatest demon. But increasingly, research proves that we have been persuaded to fixate on the wrong dictator. History's airbrush has worked overtime on the most criminal monster of them all: Josef Stalin.


Stalin's murderous ruthlessness was, by any standard, far more horrible than Hitler's. A psychopath who modelled himself on Ivan the Terrible, Stalin instituted a reign of terror without parallel, exterminating opponents or perceived opponents by the multi-million. How many died in his murderous stranglehold?


Only in recent years have the Russians themselves learnt just how hideous their history is. Their first glimpse of the reality came in February 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's mass terror and unmasked the prison Gulag system. That was met with widespread disbelief in the West. There can now be no doubt that Stalin, as a matter of policy, killed and killed and killed.


* In 1989, the KGB itself set the death toll in Stalin's 26-year reign of terror (1927-53) at 36 MILLION. But that figure included ONLY the victims of Stalin's liquidations of individuals and groups. Serious research began stepping up with Gorbachev's policy of 'Glasnost.'


* Norman Davis, in his celebrated History of Europe suggested a figure of 54 MILLION.


* The University of Moscow, in association with the University of Madrid, put the figure at 57 MILLION.

Those figures are ten to 15 times higher than the numbers allegedly killed by the Führer and makes him look like an amateur. Such imposed slaughter on countless millions simply freezes belief. It represents the most appalling terror ever inflicted on human kind, rivalled only by Mao's China. Only under a regime which deliberately allowed the extermination of millions of its own citizens could such unimaginable figures be achieved.


On one day alone, December 8, 1938, Stalin signed 30 death lists, containing thousands of names. He then went to the Kremlin cinema to watch a comedy called 'Happy Guys.' It is this viper's ghost that should worry us rather than Hitler's. Yet no Nuremberg trials have ever been conducted into Soviet atrocities. There have never been any Soviet war crimes trials.


As for Stalin's victims, who is interested? They are so much dust blowing in the Siberian winds. No Spielberg conjures them to life. There are many reasons why Stalin's Great Terror remains the most underreported event of the 20th Century.


First, Hitler lost, Stalin - ally of the West - won. Stalin believed (correctly) that he could get away with mass murder. As he told Mao Tse-tung when the Red Chinese leader, visited Moscow in 1949: "Victors are not judged." Perhaps the whole of modern history is summed up in those four words.


Many anti-Stalinists knew, and published, the truth: men such as Malcolm Muggeridge, George Orwell, and Arthur Koestler. But their reports were overwhelmed from the start by the pro-Stalinists. Way back in the mid 1930s, the father of all fellow travellers, George Bernard Shaw, dismissed reports of a Moscow-engineered famine killing millions as "pure invention." Shaw knew better, of course. Stalin had given him the details.


As he did to New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, a prince of liars, who gained the Pulitzer Prize for his fictional accounts of Stalin's "new civilisation" and of "the great Soviet miracle." Duranty played a key role in perpetrating one of the greatest cover-ups in history.


Western illusions did not stop there. Bizarre as it now seems, many at the highest level, up to and including US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, revered Stalin and were consciously partisan in their support of this butcher.


Further, in an astounding example of mankind's infinite capacity for self-deception, millions of Western intellectuals, academics, communists, socialists, liberals, fellow travellers, trade unionists, journalists and clergy forcefully rejected reports of mass atrocities in the old USSR and in China, just as they did later of events in Cuba and Cambodia.


The truth is that vast numbers in the West worshipped Stalin as almost a demigod, and nursed an almost religious faith that the USSR represented the great new hope of all mankind. Stalin fondly referred to such useful idiots as his "maggots."


Above all, until quite recently, we have had little real access to communist archives. Even today the most sensitive are still closed. So we still do not know the full answers: Was it one tenth or one-twentieth of the entire adult Soviet population who served time in Stalin's prison camps? Did 3 million die in the Gulag, or was the figure closer to ten? We may never know but the effort to break through the Great Amnesia is picking up speed.

Till the late 1980s, hardly anyone but local villagers knew where the bones were buried. For the past 13 years the Russians have been slowly recovering their past, with new mass graves being uncovered at regular intervals. And, as soon as the existence of the first Stalinist mass graves were made known, people began to come forward with revelations of the death camps. In one, Kolyma, the huge prison complex in the Russian Arctic, so many bones lay around that in the summer children used the skulls to gather blueberries. Now memorials are being built.


The misery came early. In Russia, uniquely, there exists hardly any memory of the 1914-18 War, such a watershed for the rest of Europe. There exist no Soviet national monuments to WWI. The reason is simple. In the civil wars which followed the revolution of 1917 and brought the Bolsheviks to power, between nine and 14 million Russians died: starving, cold, racked with disease, or tortured and killed in bitter fighting.


Next came the Ukraine. Robert Conquest in his Harvest of Sorrow suggests that when, on Stalin's direct orders, the entire grain crop of the Ukraine was seized for export, the number of resulting deaths was probably about 1.5 million, equalling the total dead of WW l.


We will now turn to a brilliant but deeply disturbing new book by a young British historian, Night of Stone: Death & Memory in Russia by Catherine Merridale, published by Granta. Dr. Merridale is one of a growing army of scientists dedicated to uncovering the truth about Soviet-era crimes, the legacy of Josef Stalin and the society he created.


She spent two years in Russia and the Ukraine, researching documents from the Stalinist era only now coming to light: and talking to ordinary Russians about what it is like to live in a country haunted by the all-pervasive presence of death. Her book, an excellent work of scholarship, attempts to explain how the Russian people lived through some of the greatest horrors of a singularly bloody 20th century: and how, at long last, they are coming to terms with their shocking past and themselves.


Merridale does not attempt to put a precise figure on how many Russians lives were lost to violence between 1914 and Stalin's death in 1953, but suggests a total well in excess of 50 MILLION. All of it planned.


Epidemics of flu and cholera, and the 1921-22 famines in grain-producing areas of southern Russia, killed many millions. People ate earth, grass, carrion and human flesh. In some districts, in the winter of 1921, local officials had to ban the sale of processed meat to stop the trade in human flesh.


Stalin's own signature is on thousands of death warrants. Millions more were denounced as enemies of the state for no other reason than they wished to think for themselves.


Crematoria, with which the state had been experimenting since Lenin's time, were now running more efficiently. The bodies arrived in batches, accompanied by stamped forms in triplicate.


"They were such handsome men," one crematorium worker told Dr Merridale. "Some of them were still warm. Some of them were not even dead when we threw them into the furnace....."


The death rate in the gulags peaked in 1942-3. Without doubt, the brutalisation of millions of Russians over the previous quarter century contributed to the grim reputation of the Red Army in WW2. Soldiers were treated like livestock. At Stalingrad, there was no one left to dig the graves.


At last came victory in the Great Patriotic War, as it was known, the only occasion for real celebrations that many of those Merridale interviewed, had known in all their lives. After Stalin's death in 1953, the repression gradually eased. "A human being survives only by his ability to forget," wrote a survivor of the Kolyma Camp. In recent years, many of the anonymous Gulag death camps have quietly disappeared.


Stalin himself spelt it out. His Short Course Into The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union contains references to the liquidation of his political opponents. He wrote: "The Soviet Government had only to raise its little finger for them to vanish without trace." How true.


For an intelligent person today to be ignorant of the manner of Soviet rule can only be seen as an act of wilful political bias. The whole record of the terrible era is one of naked human power and inhuman cruelty.  


Thought for the Day:


"A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths are a statistic."


-Josef Stalin


The now routine equation of Stalin and Hitler both distorts the past and limits the future


It would be easy to dismiss the controversy over the latest Martin Amis offering as little more than a salon tiff among self-referential literati. His book, Koba the Dread, follows a well-trodden political path. An excoriation of Lenin, Stalin and communism in general (interlaced with long-simmering spats with his once communist father Kingsley and radical friend Christopher Hitchens), it is intended to be a savage indictment of the left for its supposed inability to acknowledge the crimes committed in its name. Strong on phrasemaking, the book is painfully short on sources or social and historical context. The temptation might be to see it as simply a sign that the one-time enfant terrible of the London literary scene was reliving his father's descent into middle-aged blimpishness.

That would be a mistake. Amis's book is in reality only the latest contribution to the rewriting of history that began in the dying days of the Soviet Union and has intensified since its collapse. It has become almost received wisdom to bracket Stalin and Hitler as twin monsters of the past century - Mao and Pol Pot are sometimes thrown in as an afterthought - and commonplace to equate communism and fascism as the two greatest evils of an unprecedentedly sanguinary era. In some versions, communism is even held to be the more vile and bloodier wickedness. The impact of this cold war victors' version of the past has been to relativise the unique crimes of Nazism, bury those of colonialism and feed the idea that any attempt at radical social change will always lead to suffering, killing and failure.

This profoundly ideological account has long since turned into a sort of gruesome numbers game. The bizarre distortions it produces were on show last week during a television interview with Amis, when the BBC presenter Gavin Esler remarked in passing that Stalin was "responsible for at least three times as many deaths" as Hitler - a truly breathtaking throwaway line. Esler was presumably comparing Amis's own figure of 20 million Stalin victims (borrowed from the cold war historian Robert Conquest) with the 6 million Jews murdered by Hitler in the Holocaust. But of course Hitler took a great many more lives than 6 million: over 11 million are estimated to have died in the Nazi camps alone and he might reasonably be held responsible for the vast majority of the 50 million killed in the Second World War, including more than 20 million Soviet dead.


But in the distorted prism of the new history, they are somehow lost from the equation. At the same time, the number of victims of Stalin's terror has been progressively inflated over recent years to the point where, in the wildest guesstimates, a third of the entire Soviet population is assumed to have been killed in the years leading up to the country's victory over Nazi Germany. The numbers remain a focus of huge academic controversy, partly because most of them are famine deaths which can only be extrapolated from unreliable demographic data. But the fact is that the opening of formerly secret Soviet archives has led many historians - such as the Americans J Arch Getty and Robert Thurston - to scale down sharply earlier cold war estimates of executions and gulag populations under Stalin. The figures are still horrific. For example, 799,455 people were recorded as having been executed between 1921 and 1953, and the labour camp population reached 2.5 million (most convicted for non-political offences) at its peak after the war. But these are a very long way from the kind of numbers relied on by Amis and his mentors.


For all their insistence on moral equivalence, Amis and even Conquest say they nevertheless "feel" the Holocaust was worse than Soviet repression. But the differences aren't just a matter of feelings. Despite the cruelties of the Stalin terror, there was no Soviet Treblinka, no extermination camps built to murder people in their millions. Nor did the Soviet Union launch the most bloody and destructive war in human history - in fact, it played the decisive role in the defeat of the German war machine (something that eluded its tsarist predecessors). Part of the Soviet tragedy was that that victory was probably only possible because the country had undergone a forced industrial revolution in little more than a decade, in the very process of which the greatest crimes were committed. The achievements and failures of Soviet history cannot in any case be reduced to the Stalin period, any more than the role of communists - from the anti-fascist resistance to the campaigns for colonial freedom - can be defined simply by their relationship to the USSR.


Perhaps most grotesque in this postmodern calculus of political repression is the moral blindness displayed towards the record of colonialism. For most of the last century, vast swathes of the planet remained under direct imperial European rule, enforced with the most brutal violence by states that liked to see themselves as democracies. But somehow that is not included as the third leg of 20th-century tyranny, along with Nazism and communism. There is a much-lauded Black Book of Communism, but no such comprehensive indictment of the colonial record.


Consider a few examples. Up to 10 million Congolese are estimated to have died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early 1900s. Up to a million Algerians are estimated to have died in the war for independence from France in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout the 20th-century British empire, the authorities gassed, bombed and massacred indigenous populations from Sudan to Iraq, Sierra Leone to Palestine, India to Malaya. And while Martin Amis worries that few remember the names of Soviet labour camps, who now commemorates the name of the Andaman islands penal colony, where 80,000 Indian political prisoners were routinely tortured and experimented on by British army doctors, or the huge Hola internment camp in Kenya where prisoners were beaten to death in the 1950s?


If Lenin and Stalin are regarded as having killed those who died of hunger in the famines of the 1920s and 1930s, then Churchill is certainly responsible for the 4 million deaths in the avoidable Bengal famine of 1943 - and earlier British governments are even more guilty of the still larger famines in late 19th and early 20th-century India, which claimed as many as 30 million victims under a punitive free market regime. And of course, in the post-colonial era, millions have been killed by US and other western forces or their surro gates in wars, interventions and coups from Vietnam to central America, Indonesia to southern Africa.


There is no major 20th-century political tradition without blood on its hands. But the battle over history is never really about the past - it's about the future. When Amis accuses the Bolsheviks of waging "war against human nature", he is making the classic conservative objection to radical social change. Those who write colonial barbarity out of 20th-century history want to legitimise the new liberal imperialism, just as those who demonise past attempts to build an alternative to capitalist society are determined to prove that there is none. The problem for the left now is not so much that it has failed to face up to its own history, but that it has become paralysed by the burden of it.


November 4, 2007

Bear the guilt

Time to hear an apology for the Great Terror in the Soviet Union

By Eric Margolis, Toronto Sun


This seems to be historic guilt month. Germany just opened a new memorial to Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. Armenians demand Turkey admit Ottoman-era massacres were genocide. Japan is being blasted anew for denying wartime atrocities.


Yet the greatest crime in modern history, and bloodiest genocide, have almost vanished from our collective memory. Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the Great Terror in the Soviet Union in which tens of millions were murdered or imprisoned.


Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, at least commemorated for the first time what he termed "colossal" Soviet crimes by attending a memorial this week for its victims.


It was interesting watching Putin, former head of the FSB security service, denouncing crimes of its direct predecessors, KGB and NKVD. The same Putin who recently called the Soviet Union's collapse a "tragedy." Still, we applaud his long-overdue recognition of Communist-era crimes.


The Soviet terror began in the 1920s when Lenin ordered the extermination of Cossacks and opponents of the Bolsheviks. Next came Catholics of White Russia, and resisters to communism in the Baltic states and Moldova. Stalin then ordered liquidation of two million small farmers, known as "Kulaks."


In 1932-33, Stalin unleashed genocide against Ukraine's independent-minded farmers.


Six to seven million Ukrainians were shot or purposely starved to death. The man who directed this genocide, Lazar Kaganovich was made Hero of the Soviet Union and died in Moscow in 1991.


Attention Grabber


When Communist Party bureaucrats delayed Stalin's plans to transform the Soviet Union from a backward rural society into a modern industrial powerhouse, "Koba," as he was called, had NKVD shoot 700,000 party members. Thereafter, his orders were promptly obeyed.


Almost all the party and military hierarchy were executed during the Great Purges of 1937-38, which culminated in the Moscow Show Trials.


From 1934-1941 alone, some seven million victims were sent to the system of concentration camps known as the "gulag," including one million Poles, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, and half the entire Chechen and Ingush people. Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Bashkirs, Kalmyks followed. Stalin's gulag did not need gas chambers: Cold, disease and overwork killed 30% of inmates yearly.


To this day, Russian and foreign historians are unsure of the full number of Lenin and Stalin's victims. Estimates range from 20-40 million total deaths from 1922 to 1953.


Stalin committed his worst crimes well before Hitler's major atrocities got under way.


We have forgotten that Germany alone did not spark the Second World War. Germany and the U.S.S.R. jointly invaded Poland in 1939; Stalin then attacked Finland. Two years later, Britain and the U.S.S.R. invaded neutral Iran. History indeed remains the propaganda of the victors.


If we keep hectoring Germany and Japan to admit guilt for events of the 1940s, is it not time the United States, Britain and Canada admit their own culpability in allying themselves to Stalin, a monster who killed over four times the number of Hitler's victims?


After all, Stalin's concentration camps were up and running a decade ahead of Germany's. The murder of millions of Ukrainians and Balts took place before the world's gaze -- six or seven years before the Second World War.


'Uncle Joe'


The foolish Roosevelt, who hailed Stalin as "Uncle Joe," and the cannier Winston Churchill both knew they were allied to the biggest mass murderer since Genghis Khan.

They used a larger devil to fight a smaller, less dangerous one -- then paid his price by handing over half of Europe to Moscow.


Remember this when today's warmongers wax poetic about the glories of World War II -- and call for WW III.


Western powers should practise what they piously preach to Germany, Japan and, lately, Turkey, by at least apologizing for their sordid deal with Stalin, which was every bit as immoral as if they had made a deal with Hitler, as Stalin long feared they would, to destroy the Soviet Union.