A World of Whitewash Over a Legacy of Terror

“The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”

At the beginning of 1930, Josef Stalin pushed through a measure through the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union a measure ordering the kulaks — a term that had once referred to a wealthier farming class, and now included any farmer in the Soviet Union’s breadbasket who owned a cow or more — exterminated as a class. We have essentially lost sight of what “exterminated as a class” means, because the United States successfully broke the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the People’s Republic of China is fantastic at public relations, so some explanation is in order.

Marxism posits an economic view of man, that is, he is known by and relates to his fellow through economic measures. (Classical Western thought posits a political man, one identified by and identifying through a lens of personal give-and-take interactions.) In Marxist thought, a man is best understood by his relationship to labor and capital. A man’s class is not fixed, but is concrete absent some sort of change.

So the Soviets took overwhelmingly Ukrainian and Russian farmers and force-marched them into Siberia and elsewhere, their land taken, the women and girl children raped and left behind, sent on the march, or relocated to factory work and forced marriages elsewhere in the Soviet Empire. Upward of six million died. The Soviet Union underwent a profound famine, as its farmland was scoured of the able-bodied and experienced men who had made agriculture possible. The starvation in Ukraine was so bad that the Soviets hung posters reminding everyone that cannibalism was a crime, because cannibalism was in danger of becoming necessary.

Stalin applauded the results, and ate well, as did the rest of the Politburo. (Mao Zhe Dong would later replicate this experiment to exactly the same result.)

The quote that opens this article comes from what is by now an infamous comment at the start of American channel NBC’s opening video for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Picking on NBC would be redundant. Instead, it’s better to pick on a Western press that has quickly forgotten the incredible atrocity that was the Soviet Union, a slave empire built on conquest, misery, genocide, slavery, and unimaginable horror — not least because that press had a long history of whitewashing the terror as it happened.

The New York Times’s Walter Duranty famously acted as court propagandist to the Soviets despite knowing that any glowing word was a lie. The Nation, the American left-wing magazine, praised his work. The New Republic vacillated. The (Manchester) Guardian wavered depending on the decade between critical writing and slobbering adulation. Time Magazine, The New Statesman, a dozen others covered the scale of the atrocity with the unspoken premise that on ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs (a quote often attributed to Stalin and widely employed in English and Russian by his admirers and political hands).

There is a disturbing tendency to treat the legacy of the Soviet Union as overblown by the right wing of every domestic politics the world over; or at worst, the sort of unfortunate thing that happens in “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.” It is not. It is a legacy that endures to this day.

Ukraine’s Russia policy — one that today, it bears noting, echoes the Russia policy of the Orange government in its late years when it became apparent that the West would not guard it against Moscow — can never be fully rational because of Russian settlement policies in Eastern Ukraine and the legacy of kulakization in the West. Armenia is a broken shell of a nation because it has never escaped the Russian orbit. Azerbaijan has spent two decades and more deliberately rebuilding the civil society Moscow tore apart because it threatened a unified people. Every nation with a name ending in -stan is governed as a Soviet successor state in all but name. The Baltics labor under a regulatory regime that even now cries out to old Soviet forms. Moldova’s politics are splintered, Georgia’s a mess, and of course Russia has reverted to form.

The Soviet Union was not “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.” That phrase, and the implicit homage to science that every idiot in the West thought the Soviet Union, hide a well of terror out of mankind’s nightmares. Pretending it away hides the past and the present from us, and leaves us a darker future.

It is time for the rot to end.

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons