Thursday, December 1, 2011

Humble Servants of the Revolution

"Please, please let me visit him. After all, you're a human being."
"There are no human beings here, Eliena Petrovna, only humble servants of the revolution."

"Try as I would to exorcise it, the knowledge that she was a secret police agent was ever a ghost at the banquet of our affections."

"Within a year Nikopol seemed not so much an industrial establishment as a hunting ground for the police and their secret informers."

"Only a modern Dante in a pessimistic moment could evoke in words that picture of the secret underground factory of the Commissariat of Munitions, operated chiefly with slave labor."

"Thanks, Mother, and don't worry about me. I'll be all right. I know revolution is no picnic."

"Suddenly I found myself among men who could eat ample and dainty food in full view of starving people not only with a clear conscience but with a feeling of righteousness, as if they were performing a duty to history."

"A lush, ripe obscenity is the most striking and sometimes the only reminder of the 'proletarian' origins of our regime."

I had never heard of Victor Kravchenko's brilliant postwar polemic, I Choose Freedom, until I read John Fleming's The Anti-Communist Manifestos. But Kravchenko's autobiographical attack on the Soviet Union was enormously popular, both in the United States and Europe, and did more than almost any other book to undermine Russia's reputation in the West. Fleming is slightly incredulous that French and American Leftists were unable to believe that Kravchenko, a relatively high level Soviet bureaucrat, had personally written the book that so powerfully undermined Western confidence in their erstwhile ally.

However, even today it's hard to believe that a translator--however free the translation--could have transformed the biography of an engineer and bureaucrat into such a perfectly complete indictment of Bolshevism. Yet however much Kravchenko was aided, the autobiography is historically accurate and essentially true. Kravchenko really witnessed what he said he witnessed; and the Soviet Union really was as bad, if not worse, than his testimony suggests. It's only the horrific facts of the Soviet economic and political system that make Kravchenko's story seem incredible today.

Kravchenko's slow rise to bureaucratic prominence gave him a tour de horizon of Soviet malevolence. Over the course of a decade, Kravchenko witnessed collectivization and man-made famine, purges and super-purges, police state surveillance and torture, class warfare and Party privilege, bureaucratic over-centralization coupled with economic chaos, propaganda disassociated from social reality, judicial crimes and slave labor camps, and diplomatic hypocrisy and military incompetence.


  1. Heh, was looking for roulette and ended up here. Damn this articles are quite interesting. I think i will end up knowing a lot of things about Stalin :)

  2. Glad you discovered us by accident!