Monday, March 05, 2018

`I Looked at the World with New Eyes'

March 5, 1953 is one of those dates – others include April 30, 1945, and May 2, 2011 – remembered and celebrated by civilized people around the world. When a monster dies, the moral order seems restored, though we know another will take his place. To calculate the scale of killing by Stalin and his machine calls for algorithms yet unwritten. There are too many variables, though the outcome is absolute in each case. What can be stated with confidence is that Stalin murdered as many as 60 million people. Cautious as always, Robert Conquest reports in the 2007 edition of The Great Terror that precise numbers will never be known but at least 15 million people were killed “by the whole range of the Soviet regime’s terrors.” And what about the millions of casual killings never recorded? And though he out-performed Hitler, let’s remember that Stalin was a slacker compared to Mao. In Hope Abandoned (trans. Max Hayward, 1974), Nadezhda Mandelstam recalls hearing the news:

“`Stalin is dead!’ she shouted now, from my doorway. I went cold all over and pulled her into the room. As long as a dictator lives he is immortal. I decided my colleague must finally have taken leave of her senses: for such words you could easily be accused of plotting to kill the Leader and be packed off to rot in a camp to the end of your days.”

Though dead, Stalin still controls his subjects. Even for so tough and stoical a survivor as Mandelstam, her first reaction is fear.

“I switched on the radio and was overcome by a joy such as I had never known before in the whole of my life. It was true: the Immortal One was dead. I now rejoiced as I went on packing my wretched rags and tatters, and for the first time in many years I looked at the world with new eyes.”

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