September 12th 2015


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COVER STORY Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

FAMILY AND SOCIETY They don't want diversity but to impose conformity

CANBERRA OBSERVED Young Nats jump aboard generational juggernaut

TRADE UNIONS Why royal commissioner declined to step down

RESEARCH Spin on the contraceptive pill a bit hard to swallow

LIFE ISSUES Singer escapes Fisher's net in euthanasia debate

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Suharto's "New Order" a period of stability

CULTURE Academic centres turn on Western civilisation

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part II

OBITUARY Historian Robert Conquest documented the horrors of Stalinism

PUBLIC HEALTH UN knows: harm reduction does not reduce harm

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Witness to Marriage Day, August 1

CINEMA On the rough road away from loneliness: Last Cab to Darwin

BOOK REVIEW Good science, specious argumentation

LETTERS

The coup against Tony Abbott

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OBITUARY
Historian Robert Conquest documented the horrors of Stalinism


by John Ballantyne

News Weekly, September 12, 2015

The Anglo-American historian, author and poet, Robert Conquest, who painstakingly documented the human cost of Soviet communism under Lenin and Stalin, died last month aged 98.

Robert Conquest:

born July 15, 1917;

died August 3, 2015

Born in the year Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, Conquest himself became, briefly, a communist in the 1930s. However, like other notable former communists George Orwell and Arthur Koestler, he became one of communism’s most redoubtable foes.

His most famous study, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties, which appeared in 1968, established Conquest in the first rank of 20th-century historians.

His 1986 study, Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine, chronicled Stalin’s murderous campaign, waged from the late 1920s until the mid-1930s, to abolish private farm-holdings, confiscate grain from peasant farmers and collectivise agriculture.

In his preface, Conquest noted: “In the actions here recorded about 20 human lives were lost, not for every word, but for every letter, in this book.”

During 1932–33 Stalin used unprecedented means to bring Ukraine to heel. He had all of Ukraine’s grain confiscated and her borders sealed so that no person could leave and no food could enter the country.

In what amounted to the first deliberately man-made famine in history, Stalin turned Ukraine – once the granary of Europe – into a vast wasteland. Millions died.

In his 1989 book, Stalin and the Kirov Murder, Conquest examined the circumstances surrounding the assassination in 1934 of the popular secretary of the Leningrad branch of the Communist Party, Sergei Kirov, who was a potential rival to Stalin. Conquest concluded that Stalin himself was responsible for the murder, but in order to conceal his culpability had the assassins killed.

Stalin deftly turned the resulting political turmoil to his advantage by unleashing a political witch-hunt directed against leading Communist Party officials who had been prominent during the time of his predecessor, Lenin. This was the subject of Conquest’s classic 1968 study, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties.

Mass arrests followed. Once mighty revolutionaries were broken by months of interrogation, torture and threats to their families. When they were ready to confess to concocted criminal charges, they were brought before especially convened show-trials in Moscow. There, in front of astonished foreign journalists and observers, they made self-abasing confessions that they had been lifelong traitors and agents of foreign powers.

The Kremlin went to great lengths to cover up the magnitude of Soviet population losses resulting from Stalin’s reign of terror. It suppressed the results of the 1937 census because, according to an official statement, it contained “grave mistakes owing to the activities of enemies of the people”. The real reason was that the census would have revealed a massive population deficit.

So, rather than disclose the truth, Stalin had the entire census board staff shot as spies.

After Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin feared that many non-Russian nationalities of the USSR might harbour pro-German sympathies, so he interrupted his war effort to unleash a campaign of ethnic cleansing against suspected populations.

According to Conquest’s 1970 book, The Nation Killers, between 1941 and 1944, while Hitler was busy transporting Jews to the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka, Stalin uprooted 1,600,000 people from among the Crimean Tartars, Volga Germans and several Caucasian republics, including Chechnya. He deported in cattle-trucks the entire populations of these small nations to eastern Siberia and the Sino-Soviet frontier. A third of them perished in the first 18 months.

Conquest demonstrated conclusively that Stalin did not “betray” Lenin’s communist ideals, but followed them to the letter. Lenin was no liberator or benefactor of humanity, but a narrow-minded and pitiless psychopath.

In his 1972 biography of the USSR’s founding father, Conquest argued that Russia’s Civil War of 1918–21 was less pervasive and inflicted fewer casualties than the concurrent Peasant War of 1918–22, which the Soviet government waged against its own people. He estimated that the Peasant War probably cost double the dead of the Civil War.

Conquest outlived the evil empire of the Soviet Union, which he had done so much to expose and discredit.

Conquest also wrote poetry and books on international affairs. In the mid-1970s, Conquest, who until then had voted for Britain’s Labour Party, became a friend of, and speechwriter for, Margaret Thatcher, when she was Conservative opposition leader. He helped draft her famously hardline speech denouncing the Soviet Union’s military ambitions. An incensed Kremlin dubbed her “The Iron Lady”.

Conquest picked up many awards in his long career. In 2005, he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, that nation’s highest civil decoration, by President George W. Bush.

John Ballantyne was editor of News Weekly from 2004 until April this year.




























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