In all the books I have read about Stalin and the Great Terror (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4), there is a discussion on the reaction of middle and upper echelon Communists when they are first arrested by the NKVD. Consistently, and to the point that one must assume this was typical, they report reactions of utter surprise and bewilderment, followed rapidly by the conclusion that it must be some kind of terrible mistake. Those of more senior rank implored their captors and families to inform Stalin in person and beg him to intervene; whilst those from the middle ranks – sometimes even after they’d been tortured, processed, and shipped off to the camps – would labour under the delusion that Stalin was entirely unaware of what was going on, and they were caught up in some kind of rogue operation of which he would never approve. It dawned on them very, very late – and sometimes not at all – that Stalin personally oversaw this apparatus of terror and in many instances had ordered the arrest of the individual in person.
Reading these books gave me a new, and as far as I know, somewhat unusual (in the sense that I don’t know anyone else who shares it) view on the victims of the Great Terror: that their innocence cannot automatically be assumed. For sure, the crimes for which they were actually charged were dreamed up out of nowhere, and there were undoubtedly a very great many who perished or suffered who were entirely innocent in all respects. But many of the victims of the second wave of terror were those who took part in the first wave: thousands of NKVD thugs who were happy to sign the orders, knock on the doors, dish out the beatings, and pull the triggers found themselves up against a wall alongside thousands of Communists who had cheered them on earlier. Similarly, the third wave incorporated thousands of those who actively participated in the first and second waves, and thousands more of those who, up until their own arrest, thought it was all fine and dandy. For these individuals, it is difficult to feel much sympathy.
Mark Holland, of the now sadly defunct Blognor Regis, put this brilliantly in a post which is no longer online in response to this obituary of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn:
Meanwhile, [Solzhenitsyn] switched faiths, throwing out Christianity in favour of Marxism, by which he professed himself “absolutely sincerely enthralled” – and this in spite of the fact that, at 14, he had witnessed his substitute father, an engineer friend of the family, being dragged off in the first spate of purges, and some of his father’s relatives, too, denounced as kulaks and exiled to Siberia.
At university Solzhenitsyn was awarded a Stalinist scholarship for his keen work in the Communist youth league … in 1939 he was reported to have attended more to his copy of Marx’s Das Kapital, than to his young bride.
It therefore came as a terrible shock when he was arrested, in January 1945, by Smersh.
The astonished young Marxist was shipped back to Moscow, where he was sentenced without trial to eight years in labour camps, and exile in perpetuity – apparently for having criticised Stalin’s policies in a letter to a friend on another part of the front.
To paraphrase Mark: Solzhenitsyn, a die-hard Marxist and supporter of the Communist regime, was down with the violence until some of it came his way. Round up some kulaks and shoot them, that’s all fine and dandy. But arrest me, a young intellectual? Why, that’s astonishing! Solzhenitsyn’s accounts of the Gulag system are brilliant and harrowing in equal measure, but I think Mark’s point stands nonetheless.
And this brings me onto this blog post I came across almost at random today:
San Francisco architect Lee Hammack says he and his wife, JoEllen Brothers, are “cradle Democrats.” They have donated to the liberal group Organizing for America and worked the phone banks a year ago for President Obama’s re-election.
Since 1995, Hammack and Brothers have received their health coverage from Kaiser Permanente, where Brothers worked until 2009 as a dietitian and diabetes educator. “We’ve both been in very good health all of our lives – exercise, don’t smoke, drink lightly, healthy weight, no health issues, and so on,” Hammack told me.
The couple — Lee, 60, and JoEllen, 59 — have been paying $550 a month for their health coverage — a plan that offers solid coverage, not one of the skimpy plans Obama has criticized. But recently, Kaiser informed them the plan would be canceled at the end of the year because it did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The couple would need to find another one. The cost would be around double what they pay now, but the benefits would be worse.
And suddenly we’re back in Moscow in 1936:
Hammack recalled his reaction when he and his wife received a letters from Kaiser in September informing him their coverage was being canceled. “I work downstairs and my wife had a clear look of shock on her face,” he said. “Our first reaction was clearly there’s got to be some mistake. This was before the exchanges opened up. We quickly calmed down. We were confident that this would all be straightened out. But it wasn’t.”
Time to appeal to the vozhd:
He’s written to California’s senators and his representative, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asking for help.
As did all those poor unfortunates who ended up sawing logs along the Kolyma river in winter. Let’s see how much your masters care about you, eh?
Here’s my take on their situation: tough shit. You campaigned for this, you voted for this, you wanted this. For other people. Now you’ve been squashed under the steamroller you created for them. Sorry, but my sympathy for you is in the low zeroes.
And they’ve still not caught on:
“We believe that the Act is good for health care, the economy, & the future of our nation. However, ACA options for middle income individuals ages 59 & 60 are unaffordable. We’re learning that many others are similarly affected. In that spirit we ask that you fix this, for all of our sakes,” he and Brothers wrote.
Oh, so it’s good for health care, the economy, and the future of our nation. Only please intervene so that we personally don’t have to take part, as it is seriously detrimental to our well-being.
Solzhenitsyn might have found some common ground with them at one time. I wonder if these two “cradle Democrats” might one day be motivated by their own experiences to write a three volume masterpiece on the cruelness and damage inflicted on ordinary people by Obamacare?