Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Dragons of Expectations

Reality and Delusion in the Course of History
by Robert Conquest

More than any other writer, Conquest has been responsible for bringing to the attention of the West the extent of the crimes committed against humanity in the name of Soviet communism. His was a solitary and much-criticised voice when he produced his classic, The Great Terror, back in the 1960s, but the opening of the Soviet archives in the 1990s showed that, if anything, he had underestimated the extent of the murderous barbarism.

Yet it is astonishing how, at the beginning of the 21st century, there remains, as he puts it in this important book, a reluctance among western intellectuals to admit that the system was “not only physically lethal and mentally repressive but also a total failure”. He points out the continuing tendency of liberals to treat the cold war as a simple battle of ideologies, and, in one chapter, offers devastating critiques of a random selection of both gullible and wilful apologists for tyranny, from Simone de Beauvoir to CNN’s 1998 television series Cold War. He quotes John Kenneth Galbraith’s comments from 1985 to the effect that the Soviet Union “has made great economic progress in recent years. One can see it in the appearance of solid well-being of the people in the streets”. This, when the system was on the point of collapse. The fact that the ideology behind it continues to get such a remarkably soft ride means we should be grateful for Conquest’s continuing passion

(Duckworth £8.99). PW

Robert Conquest on Amazon

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