Friday, December 26, 2008

Americans who fled to Stalin's Russia during great depression

A reader sent me a review that bears upon the idealism and love so many Americans have had for Stalin and Stalinism: . This review was written by Adam Hochschild, author of The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin. The book being reviewed is The Forsaken, From the Great Depression to the Gulags, Hope and betrayal in Stalin’s Russia. It was written by Tim Tzouliadis, and published in July 2008:

What harm could intellectuals have done who wrote about the Worker’s paradise in Stalinist Russia? Tzouliadis describes some of the harm. Many during the “Great Depression” took what they read at face value and gave up the difficult times in America and traveled to the Workers’ Paradise in Stalinist Russia.

Hochschild writes, “No one knows exactly how many Soviet citizens met unnatural deaths during the quarter-century that Stalin wielded absolute power, but adding together those who were sentenced to death and shot, died in manmade famines, or were worked to death in gulag camps like these, authoritative estimates put the total at approximately 20 million. Like the other great horror show unfolding in German-occupied Europe in the same period, the Soviet story was one of mass deaths on an almost unimaginable scale. But unlike the Nazis, the Soviets, in their first two decades in power, were partly sustained by great idealism on the part of people all over the world who were fervently hoping for a more just society. The Forsaken by Tim Tzouliadis is a poignant reminder of this. For his account of the Stalin years and their aftermath is seen through an unusual prism: the experience of tens of thousands of Americans who emigrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Many of them, like the Russians they lived among, fell victim. Bits and pieces of this story have been told before, mainly in survivors’ memoirs. But to my knowledge this is the first comprehensive history, and a sad and fascinating one it is.”


I haven’t read the book yet, but I have little doubt that it is another appalling horror-story about Stalinism. Coming forward to modern times in America, it is also appalling that so many “true believers” hang onto the Communist dream and have difficulty listening to anything of a critical nature said about their hero Stalin. As was described in other notes, revisionist historians are busy cleaning up Stalin’s image. American historians are doing their part by writing hagiographies about American communists. And once someone has been thus sanctified, as Julius Rosenberg was, no amount of evidence describing his culpability is going to deter true believers from honoring his memory.

On Wednesday ( ) I quoted Haynes and Klehr to say, “Western revisionism overall developed within what was basically a Soviet, or at least a Marxist, perspective. Putting matters this bluntly, however, was until recently impossible in academic discourse, especially in America.” Perhaps the reader who sent me this review had this in mind. The Forsaken was written by a British writer but one can buy the book here in America. Also, although the review was published by the British “Times Online,” it was written by Hochschild who teachers at Berkeley. I’ll take this as a positive sign.

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