The Triumph of Robert Conquest

He chronicled the Soviet terror that so many in the West refused to see.


coverPresident George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to historian Robert Conquest, left, in Washington on Nov. 9, 2005. PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS 小布什总统在华盛顿为历史学家罗伯特·康奎斯特(左)颁发总统自由勋章。2005年11月9日。供图:EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS。

Robert Conquest was born in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, so it seems fitting that he outlived the Soviet Union by more than 25 years. The indefatigable historian, and enemy, of Soviet totalitarianism died Tuesday at age 98.


Conquest’s major themes were reality and delusion. “The Great Terror” (1968) was the first and still definitive treatment of Stalin’s purges, gulags, show trials and secret police, meticulously documenting the enormity of the death toll. “Harvest of Sorrow”(1986) chronicled what he called the “terror famines” that followed agricultural collectivization.


When sources inside Russia were few and most Kremlinologists were oblivious, these classics contributed immensely to understanding the nature of the Communist project. They also helped shape the response that won the Cold War; Reagan and Thatcher were among his readers.


[Hoover Institution Research Fellow Stephen Kotkin on the late Anglo-American historian and his expose of Communist atrocities. Photo credit: Associated Press.] 【胡佛研究所研究员Stephen Kotkin谈论这位已故英裔美国历史学家及他对共产主义暴行的揭露。图片来源:Associated Press.】

Still, until Moscow opened the archives post-1989, leftist intellectuals and especially academics denied the realities Conquest exposed, claiming he exaggerated Stalin’s evil. That debate is now closed beyond challenge.


Conquest dedicated his later years at Stanford’s Hoover Institution to plumbing delusion, which he defined as “massive reality denial,” or why Russia had so many apologists and sympathizers. He blamed the persistence of destructive beliefs and the bottomless human capacity for self-deception.


“The mere existence of the U.S.S.R., and its ideas, distorted the way in which many people over the whole world thought about society, the economy, human history,” Conquest wrote in these pages in 1992. “Many were seduced by the comfortable word ‘socialism,’ even to the extent of rejecting the Western ideas of free discussion, political compromise, plural society, piecemeal practicality, change without chaos.”


Conquest added that the lessons of the bloody 20th century “have not yet been learned, or not adequately so.” Many today across the world still offer solace to dictators and mass murderers, whatever their reasons, so Conquest’s insights into human deception remain and will always be relevant.


翻译:Horace Rae(@sheldon_rae)


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