About two weeks ago, I finally finished Robert Conquest’s book on Stalin’s purges, The Great Terror. The work was fantastically detailed, perhaps too detailed for my level of interest. And it wasn’t as smoothly written as his gripping and heartbreaking work on the massive famine in the Ukraine which occurred just a few years earlier, Harvest of Sorrow. Nonetheless, it did offer plentiful negative examples on the importance of firm moral principles, the danger of compromise, the depths of the human capacity for self-deception, the lack of limits to Stalin’s power-lust, the possibility of political control through random fear, and more.
After such a heavy tome, I chose Viktor Suvorov’s The Liberators as a quicker and lighter read. (Bill Nevin was kind enough to recommended Suvorov to me. Thanks Bill!) The book consists of a set of short tales of his early life in the Soviet Army, including the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. I liked the book immensely from the outset, even before I finished reading these two paragraphs:
The General Secretary of the Party set a task: there must be a sharp rise in agricultural output. So the whole country reflected on how best to achieve this magnificent aim. The Secretary of our Regional Party Committee thought about it, as did all his advisers, consultants, and researchers.
To tell the truth, it was a ridiculously easy task: the climate of our Region is similar to that of France — there is plenty of sun and warmth and water. And our soil is splendid. The black earth is nearly a metre thick and rich enough to spread on a slice of bread. There are also plenty of technicians and specialists. The only misfortune is that the people themselves have no interest in work because, however much a peasant works, the reward for him, personally, will be just the same, since to pay for a peasant’s labour according to results is, of course, quite impossible. Just imagine what would happen! Your hard-working peasant would soon be rich while layabouts would remain beggars. A rift would appear and then inequality would creep in. And all this would be contrary to the ideals of socialism.
It’s written like a fairy tale… which we already know will go horribly awry… but we just don’t know quite how yet. Suvorov does tell the reader the full tale in all of its horrible absurdity, for it is the tale of how he entered the army. From a philosophical perspective, the stories in the book certainly illustrate the ways in which force displaces the mind, such that technological advancement must either be faked or copied.
I liked the book so much that I’ve ordered a few others from Suvorov, namely Inside the Soviet Army, Inside Soviet Military Intelligence, and Inside the Aquarium. I’d like to get a few others, but those were out-of-print and too expensive used. Based upon what I’ve read so far, as well as the high praise on Amazon, those I’ve ordered promise much of interest!
Since I’ve also been looking to broaden my readings beyond Stalinism, the inadvertent focus so far, I also ordered the trilogy of Russian history by Richard Pipes. It consists of Russia Under the Old Regime, The Russian Revolution, and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime. I very much enjoyed Pipes’ short book Communism: A History, so I expect to learn a great deal from these longer works.