As a new edition of his illuminating book, The Great Terror, makes its way to the shelves, author Robert Conquest reflected back on the torrent of illuminating information about the former Soviet Union that has come out since the first edition was published four decades ago.
Perhaps most shocking of all of Conquest’s revelations is that even members of the Soviet Politburo did not definitively know the truth about atrocities committed by the communist regime. This became the subject of much contentious debate under Mikhail Gorbachev.
Conquest, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, writes in the Spring edition of Hoover Digest that prior to the publishing of the book’s first edition in 1968 there was a scant amount of trusted information on the reality of the Stalinist regime.
It gradually became clear that this period in Soviet history represented an immense blind spot, which Conquest believed could be eliminated by information already available.
He writes, “the facts released over the past few years, plus the often-denied testimony of some of the regime’s hostile but increasingly justified witnesses, could be put together, if carefully done, to produce a veridical story, a real history.”
Conquest’s book did exactly that, and the work was extremely successful in its endeavor, receiving favorable reviews from both sides of the political spectrum.
The book would prove to be the leak that burst the dam, as a veritable flood of supporting information washed over the official silence in the ensuing years.
Conquest writes that so much new information became openly available after 1989 that he was virtually forced to reexamine all of the facts and release a new edition of his book.
The additions to the book were published in 1990, and afterwards the author went on a jaunt through Russia, where, he writes, he found himself a welcome guest in the newly open country.
Conquest goes on to write that the new ocean of information available was so vast that it required still another set of amendments and adjustments to the book.
The primary addition to his book is a set of decrees on what Conquest calls “Mass Operations.” These documents are disconcerting, particularly in their content and the manner in which they were handled.
“The lists of those sentenced by the Military Collegium were sent to Stalin, and given his approval, with only a few Politburo members also signing,” Conquest goes on to say, “Nor did this informal leadership group have much time to spare. Records show that…these terror orders were usually handled in twenty or thirty minutes.”
Conquest states that while each of the individuals on the lists were charged with individual crimes against the state, this was merely a guise for Stalin’s true intention of purging those whose ideologies were incompatible with his own.
The essay promises that the third edition of Conquest’s book will be another step forward in exposing the reality of Stalin’s regime.