I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Tearless People

A Tearless People

Pádraig Murphy
Moscow, 1937, by Karl Schlögel, translated by Rodney Livingstone, Polity Press, 650 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-0745650760 On March 13th, 1988, one Nina Andreeva published an article in Sovetskaya Rossiya taking issue with Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika as unconscionable transgressions of received Soviet dogmas. It was not quite clear who Nina Andreeva represented. On the face of it, she was a Leningrad teacher outraged at the sacrileges against what until recently had been regarded as the Holy Grail of Soviet socialism. There was more than a suspicion that she was a stalking horse for more powerful established interests. Gorbachev had to react. He confronted the challenge in a number of meetings of the Central Committee. In the course of one he said: “It was another question when we did not know what was going on. But when we learned and continue to learn ever more, that is another question. Stalin was a criminal lacking all morality. Three million were sent to the camps, where they were left to rot. Whole roll-calls of the best were knocked out. And this is not taking into account collectivization, which killed still more millions. If we are to proceed on the logic of Nina Andreeva, we will come to a new 1937. Do you want this? You, members of the Central Committee? You have to think deeply of the fate of the country.” Gorbachev could depend on his listeners’ understanding that 1937 represented an unprecedented descent to the depths in the sorry chronicle of Stalinism. Karl Schlögel rightly seconds this view. His comprehensive overview of this fateful year in Moscow is prefaced by situating it as “one of the key settings of European history” and “a fault line of European civilization”. His focus is Moscow. Given the extreme centralisation that was characteristic of the Stalin system, this focus is valid for the policy decisions that affected the whole Soviet Union at the time. It is, he says, “an attempt to capture, as in a prism, the moment, the constellation, that contemporary witnesses to the events of the time always deemed ‘historically significant’.” The book represents then a prism with many facets, or a constellation of perspectives on a city at a particular time. The result is impressionistic to a degree, but by the end the reader has a profound overall view of what it was like to live in such a crucial place in such a crucial…

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