After putting together the We Never Knew poster which was placed on both this website and one of its own (www.weneverknew.net) last year, it seemed appropriate to create a similar composite which would cover the Stalin years, with a slight chronological extension on both ends. Since I have long had a more or less equal interest in these twin towers of totalitarianism, I was able to draw upon a pool of images (again, mostly book jackets) which was roughly equivalent in scope to those in the Nazi poster. Once again, all of the individual images are available as separate posters; to order those which are not listed separately on the website, simply e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The price would be the same as all of our other posters.
I use "Soviet ?Experiment?" because that?s what it was called for so long: first as a near-universal expression of hope, employed by the editors of The Masses and other honest radicals; then as a sort of defensive catchphrase when reports of liquidations and purges began to come out, implying that these were merely ?mistakes? which would be ?corrected?; and finally as a mocking dismissal of the whole enterprise by the opponents of the regime.
The cruelties and totalitarian tendencies were evident from the beginning: the voiding of the first elections and the closing of the Duma; the formation of the Cheka; the crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion; the persecution of the anarchists and opposition parties; the vituperative language directed against even the mildest of critics. And as you will see from just the few examples here, all of this was well documented and available knowledge at the time. There are no serious claims of any real innocence to be made.
And yet this murderous madness remains but half the story. The other half consists of many memories, hopes, and dreams, often by their very nature ephemeral but appealing to the best instincts: Memories of pogroms in the Old Country and undercover escapes from Czars and Cossacks; visions of a better world, ruled not by guns and money but by justice and equality. When the harsh realities of memory and current situation were contrasted to the promise of the future, the Bolshevik choice was for the most part made not by would-be tyrants but by ordinary people seeking a better world for themselves and their children. The rationalizations, excuses, and willful self-deceptions would come later.
There is often what amounts to a theological dispute between those who equate the Nazis and the Soviets, and those who see a fundamental distinction, sometimes to the "advantage" of one side or the other. At the risk of seeming overly equivocal, I would split the difference between these two camps. When one tallies the results, the two totalitarian regimes were both so monstrous as to make any comparative "ranking" an obscenity: How many millions of unnatural deaths, caused by the repeated decisions of cold-hearted brutes in both Germany and the Soviet Union, does it take to arrive at this conclusion? God can make distinctions between two states like this---I can't.
But when it comes to the motivations of the rank-and-file Communists and Nazis, especially among those living outside their respective 'motherlands,' whatever distinction there is to be made would nearly always favor the Communists, who in spite of their many sins (yes), were also in the forefront of innumerable struggles in which many of their detractors---and of course here I'm not talking about Socialists and many principled liberals---were either sitting on the sidelines or actively aiding the cause of reaction. These critics were often quite perceptive about the Communists, but in a word, they had little standing to criticize. The rank-and-file Communists for the most part dreamed of a better world. The rank-and-file Nazis, such as the members of the German-American Bund, were not looking to make the world better for anyone but themselves and their fellow 'Aryans.'