Monday, March 2, 2009

Stalin and Evidence

While personal testimonies are interesting, they aren’t very good evidence about what is going on in an entire nation. If you have a nation of 140 million and question 1,000 people about a certain matter, that “sampling” would probably be inadequate from a scientific point of view. Pollsters have managed to make relatively small selections but their responders are considered “representative, and the evidence of their accuracy is in something that occurs later. Here in the U.S. that “something” is an election. Their polls results are often described as being accurate within plus or minus 5%. If you were a Russia working in government in Moscow and questioned 1,000 people who were friendly enough to answer your questions, you might not get “evidence” that was representative of the entire nation. Your results might not be considered scientific.

My own interest isn’t in finding out what a thousand people in Russia think today but in what actually happened in the past. Stalin and the Soviet Union epitomized Marxist-Leninism in action. What did Stalin do and why did he do it? Are his acts representative of any Marxist-Leninist enterprise? Earlier writers such as Robert Conquest say Stalin was a beast. Testimonies from some famous Russian leaders like Khrushchev and Gorbachev say Stalin was a beast. Writers such as Solzhenitsyn describe his beastliness by means of descriptions of his Concentration Camps in Siberia. But now we have gaggles of Leftist-historians in the U.S. saying no Stalin wasn’t a beast and it was only his enemies who said so and they were all lying. I am oversimplifying here but I don’t want to get bogged down in these particular details. Other historians more recently are striving to counter the Revisionist historians in both Russia and the U.S. They claim to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. I am reading Norman Davies on World War II for that reason and I have also began a new book on Stalin. He claims to hate Stalin, but one jaded-sounding reviewer finds evidence that he admired him: . The following review seems a bit less emotional:

Edward Radzinsky on page 5 of his Stalin, the First In-Depth Biography based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives, writes of his difficulty in assessing evidence of Stalin’s past acts: “He [Stalin] had succeeded in plunging the story of his life and the whole history of his country into impenetrable darkness. Systematically destroying his comrades-in-arms, he at once obliterated every trace of them in history. He personally directed the constant and relentless purging of the archives. He surrounded with the deepest secrecy everything even remotely relevant to the sources of his power. He converted the archives into closely guarded fortresses. Even now, if you are given access to the documents which used to be so jealously guarded, you find yourself confronting yet another mystery.

“He had foreseen this too.”

Radzinsky then gives a few examples of minutes to important meetings with nothing remaining but headings. Radzinsky on page 6 writes, “This secrecy was not his invention. It was traditional in the Order of Sword Bearers, as its leader, Stalin, once called the Communist Party.

“Stalin made the tradition absolute.

“So the moment we set about writing his life, we set foot in that great darkness.”

I suppose I must set foot in that great darkness as well.

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