Robert Conquest, RIP

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Robert Conquest, the British historian who probably did more than any other scholar to document and expose the mass murders and other atrocities of Soviet communism, passed away on Monday. Here are obituaries in the New York Times and the British Daily Telegraph that do a good job of summarizing his contributions.

Conquest's most important books were probably The Great Terror, which was the seminal account of Stalin's mass murders and executions, and The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, which documents the deliberately created Soviet famine that killed several million people in the early 1930s.

Notwithstanding their enormous scale, the mass murders of Soviet communism were eventually surpassed (in numbers of total victims), by those of communist China. Pol Pot's Maoist regime in Cambodia probably killed a larger proportion of its population in a shorter period of time. But the Soviet system documented by Conquest was the first of its kind, and the model for all later communist mass murders, most of which arose from policies deliberately based on those of Lenin and Stalin in the USSR.

Despite Conquest's path-breaking work, communist crimes still often fail to get the attention they deserve in the Western world. In Russia the regime of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin has sought to whitewash the communist past, even justifying such episodes as the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact.

As a former communist himself and later a self-described adherent of the moderate left, Conquest understood very well the impulses that lead many Western intellectuals and Russian nationalists to ignore or minimize the horrors of communism. He did as much as anyone to combat those tendencies, and explain why they are so dangerous.