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 year.
The book begins with one of the main literary productions of the era, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. This was practically completed by October 1937, but not published in full until long after the author’s death, in 1967, and then not in the USSR but in Paris. Publication in full in Russia had indeed to wait until 1973. Even then, Bulgakov’s work did not cease to exercise the Soviet powers that be. Yuri Lyubimov, the director of the Taganka Theatre, adapted it and brought it to the stage in Moscow in 1977. The adaptation, among other theatrical provocations – as they were seen by the authorities – caused all his productions to be banned. Lyubimov was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and left the country, not to return until after perestroika in 1989.
Schlögel’s chapter on the novel manages to give a sense of contemporary Moscow, including from the air – in Margarita’s flight – as well as the tight limits within which an artist like Bulgakov could work. For instance, the account of a series of police raids, in which “people vanished from their apartments without trace”, is clearly an account of what was actually being carried out by the NKVD in Moscow at the time. The eerie atmosphere of the novel, which recounts a visit to Moscow by the devil, involves a pact with the same devil and a recounting of Pilate’s trial of Jesus, is an essential part of this picture of the city at the time. The novel also provides an insight into the extremely restrictive living conditions of the time, in the view that Margarita gets from the air. The komunalkas rooms in which whole families were housed, sharing one kitchen and one bathroom, will feature later in Moscow, 1937 as typical of Moscow conditions of the time. As Schlögel puts it: “Almost all the themes that go to make up the mysterious nature of the year 1937 can be found in the book: the utter confusion, the blurring of clear distinctions, the shockwaves created by the irruption of the unknown, anonymous forces into the lives of ordinary people, the fear and the despair. Almost all the locations that form part of the drama of Moscow 1937 are referred to: the glorious city and the awfulness of communal housing; the public places filled with hysterical choruses; the setting for the show trials; the place of execution; but also the retreats in which the individual could find happiness.”
In a work so titled, Schlögel must give a comprehensive account of what life was like in the Moscow of 1937.This he does, acknowledging fully the work of Sheila Fitzpatrick, whose Everyday Stalinism is such a ground-breaking work in this field. And so we learn of the Moscow Directory of 1936, an analogue of Thom’s Directory, with the additional piquancy in the case of Moscow that this information-filled publication was a last issue for the – long – time being. (It is of some interest that, by way of contrast, the equivalent publication, Вся Москва, is today an iPod app.) We are told the story of the famous “House on the Embankment”, made famous by Yuri Trifonov’s novel of the same name, essentially a gated community for party bigwigs, and of the toll that the repression of these years took of such members of the nomenklatura. Lion Feuchtwanger, who came to Moscow from December 1936 to early 1937, figures as a then eminent – now largely forgotten – visitor from abroad who was used by Stalin as a “useful idiot”, just as Shaw and so many others were. Feuchtwanger was a German novelist obliged to leave his homeland by the Hitler regime. Schlögel has the sensitivity to realise that Feuchtwanger’s perspective was determined by his perceived impotence against fascism as well as by a consciousness of relativism, that is, his sense that the USSR was completely different from the West, and that the standards of the West could not be applied. His naivete appears, however, in his statement that “what I have understood is excellent, from which I conclude that what I have not understood is also excellent”. Those who had met him or were refugees in Moscow from his time in Munich – Feuchtwanger had been in Munich during the short-lived radical socialist Räterepublik in 1919, and had many friends among the radicals – had no occasion for naivete: Schlögel gives a full list of the large numbers of them who were shot or sentenced to long periods of camp detention after Feuchtwanger left.
Stalin’s regime recruited the preeminent Russian poet, Pushkin, on the two-hundredth anniversary of his death as part of an effort to gain national credibility. The party sought to bask in his prestige as a great Russian cultural figure, and notably, the effort was extended to all constituent republics of the USSR, and, indeed, to the world in general. Papers were published on “Pushkin and World Literature” and on “Pushkin in Georgian Literature”. Schlögel rightly speaks of “the Pushkin industry” and points out that the jubilee was celebrated between the second great show trial and the Plenum of the Central Committee, which would set off the Great Purge.
Schlögel gives and account of Soviet participation in the Paris International Exposition of 1937, remarking on the inspiration it gave to Albert Speer, the designer of the German pavilion, which was just across from it. Both pavilions were indeed completely in accord with the spirit of the age, which can still be seen, for instance, in EUR, near Rome, or indeed, in the buildings of the League of Nations in Geneva. The Soviet pavilion was the USSR’s own view of itself, something that subsequently became the cliché of “socialist realism”. It did not content itself with what was there, Soviet Communism being a vision of a glorious future. Thus it contained a painting by Aleksandr Deineka of the then planned, but never to be built, Palace of the Soviets in Moscow.
The parade of physical culture adepts through Red Square is described, partly through the eyes of Joseph Davies, the rather naive American ambassador. Davies enthuses: “It was flaming youth. And a very beautiful youth it was – all bareheaded and tanned to a deep brown, for the most part wearing only white shorts and coloured jerseys.” The coincidence of this phenomenon with the contemporaneous cult of the body in Nazi Germany cannot be overlooked, nor is it by Schlögel, even if one could challenge his view that “Fizkul’tura (the Soviet cult of physical fitness) was the first fitness movement in history and therefore a characteristic phenomenon of the emerging mass society”. This would be to reckon without “Turnvater Jahn”, the early nineteenth century originator of the physical fitness movement in Germany, this too having been consciously aimed at promoting a sense of identity, this time national identity, against Napoleon.
When it comes to the “glorious city”, Schlögel gives a full account of Stalinist ambitions to engineer a new world – “to quite literally remake the world and create a new landscape”. As Stalinist communism had the ambition, in the words of the title of Josef Škvorecký’s novel, to be the engineer of human souls, so too physical planning was approached in the mode of modelling with infinitely plastic material. The preeminent exemplar is the plan to construct a pharaonic Palace of the Soviets on the site of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a recurring theme in the book. The cathedral, planned as a memorial of the defeat of Napoleon in 1812, was not in fact dedicated until 1883. It was a prominent feature of the Moscow landscape and, as such, given that it was a Christian monument, a standing reminder that Moscow also had another history. It therefore was demolished, and, as Schlögel puts it, “the competition for the Palace of the Soviets sought to close the gap in the skies that had been opened up”. The new project was envisaged as a building of the future, appropriate to a new society, “a true laboratory of the architecture of the twentieth century”. It was heavily influenced by monumental American and European architecture of the time, the reason, no doubt why Frank Lloyd Wright called it “grandomania of the American type”, and called on the architect, Boris Iofan, to stop work on the building. As it turned out, the building did not go according to plan, progressing no further than excavation of the foundations, and the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 finally put paid to it, as it did to the reconstruction of Moscow in general. Khrushchev’s deStalinisation finally gave it the coup de grâce and the empty foundation became an open-air swimming pool, before the new Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was built on the site between 1995 and 2000. Ironically, the rebuilding took place during another spasm of Moscow reconstruction, sometimes rather bombastic, under Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov gave the commission to reconstruct the cathedral to Zurab Tsereteli, one of the more controversial architects/sculptors at the time – there are many who dismiss his work, including the restored cathedral, as kitsch. Luzhkov was accused of turning contracts in the direction of his wife, Elena Baturina, who became one of Russia’s richest women, and he was eventually dismissed by then President Medvedev in 2010. (Elena Baturina is the owner of the Morrison hotel in Dublin and reportedly on the look-out for further acquisitions in the hotel market here.)
By the mid-thirties there were already fifty-seven large cinemas in Moscow and hundreds of other places where films could be shown. The party was very well aware of the propaganda potential of the medium, and generous provision was made for cinemas in the general plan for the city. Naturally, the medium was not untouched by the omnipotent party hand. Sergei Eisenstein was forced to withdraw his film Bezhin Meadow, a dramatisation of the tale of Pavlik Morozov, an apparently apocryphal fable of an odious child who shopped his own father to the authorities and was then murdered by his family. Eisenstein went on to redeem himself in Stalin’s eyes by producing Aleksandr Nevskii, a panegyric of Russian greatness, the following year. The Soviet film industry was very productive, and not all this production was propagandistic. In music, the USSR could show some outstanding talents, and these were the years when David Oistrakh and Emil Gilels, subsequently to achieve world fame, came to public notice. After a lively debate, Pravda declared authoritatively that there was a place for proletarian Soviet dzhaz. Its main exponent was Leonid Utesov, who rose through the cabaret scene to become one of the most popular Soviet musicians. A typically “Soviet” form of light music was provided by Isaak Dunaevskii, prominent as the writer of the score for Soviet musicals such as The Jolly Fellows. The most famous Soviet musician at the time was of course Shostakovich. His opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, had been denounced by Pravda in January 1936 as “chaos instead of music”. He spent 1937 working on his Fifth Symphony, which was premiered in Leningrad to great acclaim in November of that year.
As for refuges from the dreariness of the workaday life ‑ and Schlögel mentions their existence ‑ they can be hard to find. There was, of course, the perennial Russian recourse to talk na dushakh, or soul-to-soul, around vodka at the kitchen table. But the prevalence of komunalkas, where the kitchen table had to be shared by many families, made that problematic. There was, of course, no recourse to shopping. André Gide remarked on the Soviet version of the Potemkin village, where goods appear to be available in abundance but are in practice unattainable, and this indeed was a feature of Soviet life right to the end. Gorky Park, which Schlögel calls Arcadia in Moscow, was a real refuge and a serious effort was made to provide public facilities of this sort for relaxation. But even in Arcadia snakes are not to be avoided, Betty Glen, the long-standing director and “soul of the park”, was arrested in June 1937, accused of having placed a bomb under the visitors’ stand during a visit to the park by Stalin. She spent almost seventeen years in prison and exile.
The population of Moscow had doubled within a decade. While the Stalinist general plan for Moscow envisaged a grandiose city for the glorious communist future, the reality was quite different. There had been huge immigration from the countryside, especially to the factories, which needed working hands so badly they asked few questions and demanded few or no qualifications. The workforce of the main Moscow car factory grew from 1,798 in 1928 to 19,329 in 1932 and was 37,000 in 1937, to reach 40,000 in 1940. These rural immigrants were housed in wooden houses at best, often in jerry-built barracks, and sometimes even in holes dug in the ground. Schlögel remarks on “the outbursts of rage, despair, hatred and desire for revenge that were common occurrences in the works meetings of 1937”. The divisions were fanned by party paranoia, urging the rooting out of Trotskyists, Bukharinites, counter-revolutionaries of all stripes, all of this being urged on immigrants who were largely illiterate and had no idea what Trotskyism or any of the other ism might consist of.
The year was, of course ‑ if one brings in the immediately preceding period ‑ preeminently that of the show trials of precisely these Trotskyists, Bukharinites and others. In August 1936 it was the turn of Kamenev and Zinoviev. Schlögel devotes much thought to the dynamics of these trials which have intrigued many then and since – they are, for instance, the main theme of Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon. While a certain mysteriousness remains about how it all functioned, Schlögel does, in the course of the book, succeed in laying bare much of the psychology behind the process. The trials aimed at rooting out what was called “double dealing”, a term which covered those who allegedly maintained a mental reservation to the party line. They thus aimed at “disciplining ordinary members of society – indeed, society itself – especially those acting in and around the Party”. There was a distinction between former members of the exploiting classes and indeed, foreign experts, many of whom had been dealt with in repressions before now, and members, or former members of the party, including foreign Comintern activists resident in Moscow, all of whom now became targets. Here, a dynamic of public declaration of fault and a supposed cleansing punishment came into play. The cleansing property of punishment, in the shape of imposed hard labour, had supposedly been demonstrated in such spectacular projects as the building of the White Sea Canal, in which brigades of men condemned to forced labour were deployed. Many had died in the process, but this did not prevent Maxim Gorky, to his eternal discredit, hailing it as one of the great achievements of Stalinist communism. Schlögel explains: “Whereas members of the exploiting classes could be accused of unrelenting hard-heartedness, the courts relied on improvement and re-education in the case of ‘people of one’s own kind’. An admission of wrongdoing and the readiness to make ‘a courageous, open confession of the error of one’s ways’ were the preconditions for the return to cooperation on equal terms and complete rehabilitation. What was looked for was an ‘honest admission of guilt’, the product of enlightenment, admonition, the helpful criticism of colleagues and comrades, and self-criticism, in which the accused proclaimed that they grasped the implications of their responsibility and guilt. These procedures were the order of the day in the Bolshevik Party.”
This punitive reflex was already part of the party’s, and hence, the authorities’, approach before 1937. However, the climate of paranoia which it evidenced was made more acute in that year because of international developments and domestic ones. To take the latter first, collectivisation had been forced through in the previous decade, at great human – in the sense of human lives lost ‑ and psychological cost. The party was uneasily aware of much seething resentment in the country, particularly in the countryside, which, if it managed to coalesce, could be a vital threat to the viability of the revolution. Internationally, there was Spain, where Stalin saw potential gains threatened by Nazi Germany and Italy, with Britain and France standing by. Even more threateningly, Hitler had consolidated his position in Germany and it was clear that his Lebensraum objective would not stop at reuniting the German Volk in the Reich. Even further indeed, Hitler had made no secret of his ambitions to destroy Bolshevism. The Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party met in Moscow in February-March. At that plenum, Stalin had urged the NKVD to realise that everything should be seen in the context of encirclement by capitalism and the growing threat of war. Schlögel shows from the transcripts of the plenum how “the discourse of a ruling elite merges into a collective readiness to kill. We are witnesses of a plan to salvage that elite’s own positions of power at any, absolutely any, price. Even at the price of destroying the Party as it had existed hitherto and the literal murder of members actually present at the Plenum.” The members referred to were Bukharin and Rykov, the former characterised by Lenin in his time as “the darling of the Party”. At the conclusion of the plenum, both were arrested and led away to the Lubyanka prison by the NKVD.
Bukharin and Rykov were not to be the only victims. Another contributing factor to the gathering paranoia was the adoption of the new constitution, known as the Stalin Constitution, in December 1936. At the height of the previous repression, a group of about four million “former people”, that is to say, members of the old ruling class, what was called the bourgeoisie, former White Army combatants, Orthodox clergy and kulaks were discriminated against. Under the Lenin Constitution of 1918, these people were disenfranchised and had lost their right to homes, work, schools and universities. They were free game for informers and the authorities, being in effect outlaws. At every election, they were registered as such all over again. Under Article 135 of the new constitution all were guaranteed the right to vote, and this discrimination was thus due to end. The first elections under the new constitution were scheduled for December 1937. As the date approached, the authorities became more and more nervous at the prospect of all these “former people” making effective use of the franchise. As well as this, in many places those expelled from the party outnumbered actual members. The solution found was the single list, established by the party, and affecting to include those outside the party, in reality, fellow-travellers. Thus was established the practice which prevailed throughout the Soviet time: no choice, but massive electoral support, usually of more than 90 per cent.
Nikolai Ustrialov was one of the most prominent representatives of the Russians in exile. He returned to Russia in 1935, clearly intent on seeing the Bolsheviks as engaged in the promotion of a new and great Russia. He listened enthusiastically to Stalin’s presentation of his new constitution on the radio in December 1936, writing:
Our country is the machinery of state of a Eurasian power at a critical juncture in world history. It is not led by an old-style expert in English constitutional law. We need a talisman, we need STALIN to set the steam pistons, the valves and cogwheels in motion, these systems of systems made by men for men and which are essential to rescue our state, to reconstruct it, to make it great and to secure the victory of socialism, to consolidate it and to extend its influence.
Six months later, Ustrialov was arrested in Moscow, and on September 14th, 1937, under Articles 1a, 8, 10 and 11, he was condemned to death by firing squad by the military division of the Supreme Court of the USSR. The court found him guilty of treason, terrorism, propaganda and agitation to bring about the fall of Soviet power, and of having organised preparations for activities detrimental to Soviet power. The sentence was carried out immediately.
Schlögel provides full documentation of the horror-filled shooting range at Butovo, near Moscow, documentation available thanks to the persistent efforts of Memorial, the Russian NGO dedicated to investigating the crimes committed in the Soviet period, and the Russian Orthodox Church. (It is not, unfortunately, without significance that Memorial should now be among the NGOs being harassed by the Russian government on the basis of the allegation that they are foreign-funded.) One hundred and twenty-six persons were shot in Butovo in July 1937; 2,327 in August. What had happened in the meantime? On July 2nd, the politburo published a decree “On anti-Soviet elements”. On the following day, a telegram composed by Stalin was sent to the secretaries of the party organisations of all regions and republics. It read:
It has been observed that a large number of former kulaks and criminals deported at a certain time from various regions to the North and to Siberian districts and then having returned to their regions at the expiry of their period of exile are the chief instigators of all sorts of anti-Soviet crime, including sabotage, both in the collective farms as well as in the sphere of transport and in certain branches of industry, The Central Committee of the CPSU recommends to all secretaries of regional and territorial organisations and to all regional, territorial and republic representatives of the NKVD that they register all kulaks and criminals who have returned home in order that the most hostile among them be forthwith administratively arrested and executed by means of a three-man commission and that the remaining, less active but nevertheless hostile elements be listed and exiled to districts as indicated by the NKVD. The Central Committee of the CPSU recommends that the names of those comprising the three-man commissions be presented to the Central Committee within five days, as well as the number of those subject to execution and the number of those subject to exile. (Italics supplied.)
This was followed by Operational Order 00447 of July 30th by the NKVD, signed by Yezhov, the head of the organisation, in effect, the specification in detail of how the telegram instruction of July 3rd was to be implemented. The order provided for the arrest of 260,950 people, of whom 75,950 were to be shot. Because of the lack of any sense of legality, not to speak of due form, inevitably the numbers increased in the course of the operation. By the time it ended in November 1938, 767,397 people had been sentenced, 386,798 of whom were shot, in other words, over half of those sentenced were executed. Schlögel rightly characterises Operational Order No 00447 as a key document for 1937 “and no doubt also for the twentieth century as a whole”.
The effects of this on a population already traumatised – from revolution, civil war, collectivisation and previous repressions – would be difficult to overestimate. One of the great Russian poets of the twentieth century, Anna Akhmatova, lived and suffered through it all. Her husband, Nikolai Gumilev, was executed in 1921 following accusations of participation in a counter-revolutionary plot. Between 1933 and 1945 her son was arrested four times on false charges and not freed from labour camps and rehabilitated until 1956, in the course of deStalinisation, In the introductory remarks to her great poem Requiem, she says, under the heading “In Place of a Foreword”,
During the terrible years when Yezhov was Commissar of the Interior I spent seventeen months in queues of prison visitors. One day, someone recognised me in the middle of just such a queue. Then the woman standing behind me, who of course had never actually heard of me, roused herself from the torpor which was so much a part of every one of us, and with lips that were blue with the cold whispered in my ear (we all talked in whispers there):
“And can you describe all this?”
“I can,” was my reply.
Then something like a smile slipped over what had once been her face.
Bukharin is only one of the hundreds of thousands who found their death in the Great Purge initiated in this year. But his case is unusually interesting for what it shows of the dynamics whereby the victims themselves and the whole Soviet system accepted their fate. On March 2nd, 1938 a group of eighteen defendants arraigned before the military tribunal of the Supreme Court of the USSR were sentenced to death. They included Bukharin, Rykov and Krestinskii, all three of whom had been members of Lenin’s politburo. One of them had been an ambassador. They included Yagoda, former head of the NKVD and three former People’s Commissars. They were charged with “treason, espionage, sabotage, terrorism, wrecking activities, subverting the military power of the USSR, and provoking a military attack on the USSR”. Appeals for mercy were rejected, and the eighteen were shot on March 13th, 1938. Bukharin was an old-fashioned intellectual, well versed in Marx and his filiation in German philosophy. He must, to have survived in the party up to 1937, also have been a subscriber to the thesis that one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, but there remained something of the naive theorist in him. In his last plea before the court on March 12th, he said:
For three months I refused to say anything. Then I began to testify. Why? Because while in prison I made a revaluation of my entire past. For when you ask yourself: ‘If you must die, what are you dying for?’ – an absolutely black vacuum suddenly rises before you with startling vividness. There was nothing to die for, if one wanted to die unrepentant. And, on the contrary, everything positive that glistens in the Soviet Union acquires new dimensions in a man’s mind. This in the end disarmed me completely and led me to bend my knees before the Party and the country. And when you ask yourself, ‘Very well, suppose you do not die; suppose by some miracle you remain alive, again what for?’ … And at such moments, Citizen Judges, everything personal, all the personal accretions, all the vestiges of rancour, pride and a number of other things, fall away and disappear. And, in addition, when the reverberations of the broad international struggle reach your ear, all this in its entirety does its work, and the result is the complete internal moral victory of the USSR over its kneeling opponents … World history is the court of world justice.
The last phrase is striking. It is a direct translation of Hegel’s famous statement that die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht, a phrase that Bukharin, who of course spoke German, had internalised like a quotation from sacred scripture. Indeed, the whole performance amounts to a declaration that he is dying as a willing martyr for the sacred cause.
Bukharin went on to cite Hegel specifically:
There emerged what in Hegel’s philosophy is called an unhappy consciousness. This unhappy consciousness differed from the ordinary unhappy consciousness only by the fact that it was also a criminal consciousness. The might of the proletarian state found its expression not only in the fact that it smashed the counter-revolutionary gangs, but also in the fact that it undermined its enemies from within, that it disorganised the will of its enemies. Nowhere else is this the case, nor can it be in any capitalist country.
Here we have a man who has convinced himself he is dying for a cause which has a sound philosophical basis, seemingly unaware that the whole cause is that of the supreme cynic, Stalin, who has manipulated both the cause and its devotees in the interest of promotion of himself alone. In submitting himself to this, Bukharin not only went apparently meekly to his death, he also endured the vilification of the prosecutor, Vyshinskii, who, in his final summing up, characterised him as “a hybrid, half fox, half pig”. In his confession, Bukharin makes even clearer his sense of his role as that of a martyr. He assumed responsibility for the “sum total of actions taken”, “irrespective of whether or not I knew of, whether or not I took direct part in, any particular act”. Even more extraordinarily, he writes to Stalin from prison that he does not intend to recant anything, nor does he plead for mercy. “Standing on the edge of a precipice, from which there is no return,” he writes, “I tell you on my word of honour that I am innocent of those crimes to which I confessed during the investigation.” All this, he emphasises, is for Stalin’s personal information only. The conclusion must be that he is informing Stalin as, for him, the personification of the party, that he is consciously sacrificing himself for the sake of the progress of history as led by the party.
This surely is part of the answer as to why so many party members played their curious role in the show trials: they had internalised the Leninist doctrine formulated on the basis of Marx, who himself derived in this regard from Hegel, to the effect that the Communist Party played the leading role, that of a midwife, in a way, in progressing history along its destined path. All individual sacrifices seemed of secondary importance in this perspective. Under Stalin, these individual sacrifices did not cease while he was general secretary of the party. In total, they undoubtedly come to several million.
Schlögel closes his book with a short chapter entitled “Instead of an Epilogue”. In it he argues persuasively that an epilogue is inappropriate in that this history has no neat conclusion. Apart from the many more deaths due to the direct action of Stalin’s regime, he adverts to the Second World War, to draw the conclusion that the massacres of 1937-8 were followed by human sacrifices whose numbers were estimated at the end of the Soviet Union to be twenty-seven million. The only worthwhile comment is again that of Anna Akhmatova. In the distich, dated 1922 – and we remember that her husband was shot in 1921 – to her 1961 poem Native Land, devoted to the earthy qualities, in every sense, of Russia, she says: “There is not in the world a people more tearless, more proud nor more simple than we.”
Pádraig Murphy is a retired official of the Department of Foreign Affairs, where he served as ambassador to the then Soviet Union from 1981 to 1985.