Bryan Caplan  


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I haven't finished the first chapter of Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, but I'm ready to highly recommend the book.  Just one great passage:
As Stalin interpreted the disaster of collectivization in the last weeks of 1932, he achieved a new height of ideological daring.  The famine in Ukraine, whose existence he had admitted earlier, when it was far less severe, was now a "fairy tale," a slanderous rumor spread by enemies.  Stalin had developed an interesting new theory: that resistance to socialism increases as its successes mount, because its foes resist with greater desperation as they contemplate their final defeat...


Stalin never personally witnessed the starvations that he so interpreted, but comrades in Soviet Ukraine did... Forced to interpret distended bellies as political opposition, they produced the utterly tortured conclusion that the saboteurs hated socialism so much that they intentionally let their families die... Even the starving themselves were sometimes presented as enemy propagandists with a conscious plan to undermine socialism.  Young Ukrainian communists in the cities were taught that the starving were enemies of the people "who risked their lives to spoil our optimism."
These self-righteous socialist horrors could almost be out of Eugen Richter, but not quite.  His shortcoming: not dystopian enough.

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Dave Raithel writes:

Kinda sorta reminds me of capitalists who accuse the unemployed of simply being lazy or not wanting to work....

AJ writes:

The collectivism was actually much more thorough in main russia areas than in Ukraine. What happened in Ukraine is that when the collectivism failed so miserably in Russia, the Soviets came down and forcibly took what little was available in the Ukraine. Almost every family lost members of their family to starvation. Perhaps 20% of the population died.

My wife's family lost 2 girls out of a family of 6. Typical. To this day, my wife's family has six acres in the country (their "weekend" home) and five hidden deep deep (as much as 12 meters down)cellars hidden on the land, each stuffed with food they have grown, canned, jarred, dried, etc. Perhaps three-four years of food for a large family. They laugh at the minor inconvenience of the great depression (which occurred at about the same time) in comparison.


Tracy W writes:

My history teacher at high school, as married to a Ukrainian woman. When we covered the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, we got a very negative view of Stalin, but I don't know if he managed a negative enough view.

Nathan Smith writes:

It may seem old hat to write the truth about Stalin, but the scary thing is that some Russians still admire him, or at least find him an acceptable figure. Total anathematization of Stalin is a sine qua non of moral decency. Unfortunately, Russians collectively still fall short of that low standard. The world will continue to fear and despise them until they do.

Hyena writes:

I think the best takeaway from the entire period of the 1930s-1970s was the investment people had in the power of social ideas. People were genuinely convinced of idealistic missions that you really could indoctrinate people into beliefs which were not just senseless, but completely contrary to experience and simple introspection.

liberty writes:

Its amazing to read Deutscher's biography today. Written in the late 1940s he had an incredible belief in the superiority of planning and the future freedom which would be available in the Soviet system once the temporary need for terror was over. Because of these two beliefs, he was able to reluctantly excuse and explain the famine, executions, gulag system etc all of which he knew, despite not being a hard-core Marxist himself.

So, on p. 340 he cites official statistics without any concern about their reliability of e.g., between 1929 and 1938, "electricity per annum rose from 6 to 40 billion kwh., of coal from 30 to 133 million tons" and "in 1941 the total output of the Soviet machinery-building industry was 50 times higher than in 1913", etc.

on p. 341 he writes:
"the significance of the second revolution [collectivization and industrialization] lay not only and not even mainly in what it meant to Russia. To the world it was the first truly gigantic experiment in planned economy, the first instance in which a government undertook to plan and regulate the whole economic life of its country and to direct its nationalized industrial resources towards a uniquely rapid multiplication of the nation's wealth.
... We have seen the follies and the cruelties that attended Stalin's 'great change'. They inevitably recall those of England's industrial revolution, as Karl Marx described them in Das Kapital. The analogies are as numerous as they are striking.
...In spite of its 'blood and dirt', the English industrial revolution--Marx did not dispute this--marked a tremendous progress in the history of mankind. It opened a new and not unhopeful epoch of civilization. Stalin's industrial revolution can claim the same merit.
...Even in the most irrational and convulsive phase of his industrial revolution, however, Stalin could make the claim that his system was free from at least one major and cruel folly which afflicted the advanced nations of the west: 'The capitalists [these were his words spoken during the Great Depression] consider it quite normal in a time of slump to destroy the "surplus" of commodities and burn the "excess" agricultural produce in order to keep up high prices and ensure high profits, while here, in the USSR, those guilty of such crimes would be sent to a lunatic asylum."

He compares the purges to the French Revolution and Stalin's terror earlier Russian terrors under various tsars, and essentially pleads necessity. Then he criticizes (p. 366: "a grim page in the annals of Russian literature") but then essentially retracts his criticism of Stalin's repression of free speech and culture:

p. 367-8
"the cultural significance of Stalinism cannot be judged merely by the way it ravaged letters and arts. It is the contradiction between Stalin's constructive and destructive influences that should be kept in mind. While he was mercilessly flattening the spiritual life of the intelligentsia, he also carried, as we have seen, the basic elements of civilization to a vast mass of uncivilized humanity. Under his rule Russian culture lost in depth but gained in breadth. The prediction may perhaps be ventured that this extensive spread of civilization in Russia will be followed by a new phase of intensive development, a phase from which another generation will look back with relief upon the barbarous antics of the Stalinist era."

Has this phase come yet?

Jonathan Witmer-Rich writes:

So it seems that a strong signal of a deeply corrupt and deluded system is when that system starts claiming that the victims of its own policies are inflicting harm upon themselves as a means of undermining the system.

Cf: Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of Guantanamo Bay prison camp, on detainee suicides; "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

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