Thursday, March 19, 2009

The lingering stench

In 1992, just after the fall of the Soviet Union, Jonathan Brent seized a unique opportunity that, if not for him, would doubtless have been missed. He came to negotiate a deal to publish sensitive and secret documents from Soviet Central Party Archives.

Brent describes in his new book how he learned to negotiate the bureaucratic obstacles, slovenly work habits, anti-Semitism, and lawlessness that make Russia enduringly Russian as he pursued what has turned out to be the most significant publishing venture of the past fifty years: Yale University Press’s Annals of Communism series.

And despite the desperate strategy of throwing all blame on Stalin so as to excuse Lenin, the latest volume, The Unknown Lenin, reproduces a selection from some six thousand Lenin documents never before released, revealing a bloodthirstiness that surprised even anti-Communists. During a famine, Lenin ordered his followers not to alleviate but to take advantage of mass starvation:

"It is precisely now and only now when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy."

About two dozen volumes already published reveal documents, never seen before in Russia or the West, of the greatest importance in understanding world Communism. Though invented by Lenin in Russia, totalitarian Communism has, after all, ruled nearly twenty countries and about 40 percent of the world’s people at one time or another, and it has inspired true believers almost everywhere, including the United States.

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