Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Forgotten Genocide: Stalin's Purges

Russia/Central Asia--Why don't we hear about this more often? Why are we constantly inundated about the Shoah/Holocaust, but not the liquidation of tens-of-millions of ethnic and dissident groups and individuals under Stalinism?

The answer should be pretty obvious, and saddening: they don't have advocacy groups with the resources, they are history's losers without any voice because they were powerless then and are today.

In this world, the weak are to be scorned, if remembered at all. During the Cold War, our government used these victims of Stalin as propaganda, a secondary abuse and exploitation of their lives (and deaths). Did we ever care? Of course not, the State Department of the United States of America didn't care at all, and welcomed the rise of a 'strong man' in Russia just as they did in Germany around the very same time.

Historians estimate--though we will never truly know--that somewhere around 20 million human beings were murdered under Stalin's orders by the NKVD/KGB. Today, we're hearing that it was all about "ideology," which is partly true, but what it was really just a human disaster. The West not only didn't care, but was responsible for some of the depredations and couldn't be bothered to intervene (there are no humanitarian invasions), let alone to stop the slaughter indirectly.

Yes, today, we're being told it all began in 1937, but it's not true. The slaughter's beginnings were significantly earlier if one considers Lenin's and Trotsky's use of 'the terror' against all enemies of Bolshevism--even the Soviet councils in the cities, as they were the first to be targeted by Lenin and his gangsters. The terror began during the Russian Civil War in which millions died, and even more would perish during the collectivization programs in the Ukraine during 1932-1933.

Grain was taken from the peasants and sold on the international market to pay for a disastrous process of rapid industrialization. Western nations had no problem accepting the transactions of grain for equipment and other resources. Estimates for this particular period are six-to-seven million dead alone, and it was most certainly "systematic."

The murdering would continue, with entire villages disappearing into the night until the invasion June 1941 by Nazi Germany. Some of these victims are finally being discovered, sometimes in mass graves in public parks, with the numbers in the tens-of-thousands at just one location. By now, any fool should know that this happened, but few care or want to learn from it. FDR's attitude towards the Soviet Union merely echoed that of the rest of political and economic class he was a part of. Rhetoric is meant to be deceiving.

Even after 1933 (the year of Soviet Russia's recognition by the US State Department) there would be a continuation of mass murder during the years of Stalin's reign of terror. Was it all on Stalin and his accomplices? Yes and no. WWI devastated the Russian Empire, and Tsar Nicholas II's decision to command the army during the war--and subsequently losing it--left a power vacuum in the region. The legitimacy of the Tsar was forever tarnished, and what infrastructure there had been in Russia was destroyed and social networks were fragmented. Chaos ruled. This created a very fertile soil indeed for anyone who claimed to have answers and who showed sureness, decisiveness, and who offered order and certainty.

But once you make extreme violence part of your approach, it's almost impossible to end it, it continues-on and spreads like a plague. Weep for the dead, they were like us.

Because of the ubiquitous uncertainty gripping Russia, and the divisiveness of the Civil War, few people trusted each other. A culture of informing on one another began to catch like a wildfire, and one's loyalty to the State under the control of the Bolsheviks became the central contention: did you support order or not? A chain reaction took-hold. History isn't simply about "bad guys" and "good guys," and people do terrible things when they're desperate. If you want a good analogy, imagine a society eating itself from the inside out, just as Germany was also doing at the same time. Both nations were socially and economically devastated thanks to WWI, the war that ruined the 20th century. Our options become radically limited once we have unleashed extreme violence on others. Consider this when reflecting on our current occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

'The Great Purge' of 1937-38 (with the subsequent "show trials") was a purging of the Communist Party's inner circles. Stalin was finishing the job of his consolidation of power, and like Hitler, he enjoyed pitting others against each other. What's unfortunate is that this purge is probably going to be confused as being the overall purge that continued unabated from Lenin and Trotsky, into Stalin's bloody-hands. Stalin was just following in their footsteps, and it's not hard to fathom that many of the millions-of-deaths also occurred simply because he was incompetent and had no idea how to rule a nation at all.

Lenin surely didn't know how to rule either, and as crazy as it sounds, he probably died of stroke brought-on by too much paperwork. We focus too much on these acts of destruction as being a sign of "power," when more often they're a sign that a Stalin's or a Hitler's reign are really bumbling tragedies of those clearly unfit to rule. Strong leaders avoid such calamities, and understand the art of compromise, the give-and-take. Destruction doesn't always mean power, but it can mean the avoidable deaths of millions. At least Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood this.