Conquest on Krushchev's Not-So-Secret Speech

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While Cathy Young charts the Stalin boom in the former Soviet Union and these United States, historian Robert Conquest muses on the 50th anniversary of Nikita Krushchev's "secret speech" denouncing Uncle Joe's reign of terror:

[Krushchev's] speech prompted the beginnings of a thaw, but one that did not last. And among a portion of the population there remained, and remains even now, a favorable attitude toward Stalin, which is sometimes seen as the result of centuries of submission to tyranny. For others, the "secret speech" massively undermined the Stalin regime.

But the machine he had built, or inherited from Lenin, survived for a third of a century. And, by an odd paradox, much of the parasitical apparat remains to this day, long after its ideological justifications have gone, like a cartoon character–Wile E. Coyote or Mr. Magoo–walking on after his plank has disappeared.

More here. Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily.

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin reviewed the stunning book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage here (read all the way down for testy replies from historian Eric Foner and Dalton Trumbo's son Christopher).

Alan Charles Kors checked out the great anti-Soviet polemic The God That Failed on the tome's 50th anniversary and underscored "what even disillusioned Marxists missed" here.

Contributing Editor Charles Paul Freund commented on Martin Amis' chilling Koba the Dread: Laughter and the 20 Million and explained why the left wants to forget Stalin here.

Bonus Oscars link: Lloyd Billingsley asked why American filmmakers have largely ignored life under communism here.

NEXT: Cartoon Crime

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  1. Foner’s response doesn’t seem particularly “testy.”

  2. BTW, it would be helpful to have a link to Foner’s original article.

  3. This would be where I come in and recommend the film The Cranes Are Flying to everyone. A brilliant bit of Stalinist propaganda.

  4. To quote Richard Nixon, as I so often do, “I am not an intellectual, but I do read books.” I would like to add Francois Furet’s “The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century” to Nick’s learned list. As a former member of the French Communist Party, Furet knows the jive from the inside.

  5. I think mk is confusing The Cranes are Flying with Clear Skies, both by Grigori Chukhray. Clear Skies is very anti-Stalinist. The Cranes are Flying is a love story. Chukhray (who also won the first Soviet award at Cannes for Ballad for a Soldier) has NEVER made any Stalinist propaganda films.

  6. These memes are a lot more robust than the suggested cartoon metaphor.

  7. From the Billingsley article:

    But many other natural book-to-film projects remain untouched, from the story of Stalin’s daughter Svetlana (who left Russia for the West) …

    Actually, this was made into the highly regarded HBO film Stalin, one of the few films to actually deal with the purges in honest fashion. Tellingly, it was released on pay TV, not Hollywood.

    Likewise, audiences don’t see the Khmer Rouge murdering any of their nearly 2 million victims in The Killing Fields (1984). Indeed, the real villains in that tragedy, we learn, are Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and U.S. foreign policy.

    While the movie did play up the meme that the US bombing of Cambodia was the main cause of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality, it didn’t flinch from showing murders, including a shocking one by an adolescent turned into a brainwashed killing machine.

  8. I recall reading that at least one scene in “the highly regarded HBO film Stalin” was laughed at by Russians–the scene where Stalin was “in Siberian exile” was filmed at what they instantly recognized as a location near Moscow. It’s like all that English countryside that mysteriously looks like southern California…

  9. Yuri,
    I shouldn’t have said Stalinist as I know that the film was shot after Stalin had already passed and the “Destalinization” period had already occurred. Still, the film, while a love story, had some obviously propagandistic overtones. To a westerner, it would as subtle as ham-hock to the head.
    Also, don’t you remember the ending where the original boyfriend’s friend returns from the war and gives his speech on the train? Didn’t the moustache that he had sprouted remind you of someone?
    Granted, I could be wrong, but that was how I understood it at the time. regardless, it is a wonderful film. Is Clear Skies similarly as good?

  10. I recall reading that at least one scene in “the highly regarded HBO film Stalin” was laughed at by Russians

    The way Russia is going now, they proably view the whole film as a slur against their Koba.

  11. I recall reading that at least one scene in “the highly regarded HBO film Stalin” was laughed at by Russians

    The way Russia is going now, they proably view the whole film as a slur against their Koba.

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