The Soviet Union

From the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 to its demise at the beginning of the 1990s, the Soviet Union was the bastion of Communism in the world. It not only imposed a harsh rule on the millions living within its borders, it actively worked to undermine other governments abroad, replacing them with friendly Communist regimes. Its ruthless leaders, in particular Lenin and Stalin, were responsible for the death of tens of millions, and untold suffering by others. Some of the books in this section benefit from formerly secret archives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), others are drawn from other sources.

The Great Terror:
Stalin’s Purges of The Thirties

Published 1968
By Robert Conquest

This landmark account of Stalin’s brutal reign of terror in the 1930s is also available in a 2007 40th anniversary ‘A Reassessment’ edition, which includes data not available to Conquest in the 1960s. There are no certain figures for the human toll of Stalin’s murderous purges, but Conquest estimates as many as 20 million people living under Stalin lost their lives. In many ways Stalin’s regime was the logical outcome of an ideology that justified any action by its rulers in the name of building Socialism and creating a Communist state. There was no higher power. No morality. No rule of law. Only the exercise of absolute power.

This book describes in detail the disastrous collectivization program of the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Conquest estimates the loss of life through starvation and oppression was 14.5 million people, including some six million Ukrainian kulaks. Although boasting some of the most fertile soil on earth, the USSR system of collective farming never worked. Without ownership, the farmers had little incentive to be productive. Over the decades, massive quantities of grain had to be imported to provide bread for the people. This history is a telling indictment of Communism and Socialism as economic theory.

The Gulag Archipelago
Published 1973
By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This is the book that alerted the world to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s prison system, to the injustice of its ‘justice’ system, to the cruelty of its regime, to the wholescale destruction of human lives, all in the name of building a Communist state, a socialist paradise. Solzhenitsyn tears the cover off the façade of decency and morality that the Communists tried so hard to sustain, with endless claims that they were serving the interests of workers, of international peace, of the undertrodden of the world. No. Their only interest was power, and there was no law, moral or otherwise, that would keep them from doing whatever they believed they needed to do to get it and keep it. Himself a victim of the Soviet prison system, Solzhenitsyn describes the suffering of millions, which reached its apex during Stalin’s 1930s purges, but was a feature of the Soviet Union throughout its existence.

Judgment in Moscow:
Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity

Published 2019 (English)
By Vladimir Bukovsky

Originally published in nine languages in 1995, this book was only published in English in 2019. It is a major examination of the Soviet Union from the inside, based largely on transcripts of deliberations of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Politburo. Bukovsky was for decades a prominent dissident who had suffered in prisons and psychiatric hospitals designed to break resistance to the regime, and who was eventually expelled to the United Kingdom, where he settled in Cambridge. He describes how, in the early 1990s, for a brief period President Boris Yeltsin gave him access to these archives, many of which he was able to copy. The top-level discussions and decision-making he reports reveal that the Soviet leadership never really deviated from their original objectives, but constantly sought ways to expand their global reach through support and control of Communist parties and liberation movements around the world, and the manipulation of the free world through Socialist and Democratic Socialist parties and other leftists in the West who eagerly bought into détente and various Soviet-controlled peace and disarmament movements. Crumbling from its own internal decay and incompetence, the Soviet Union made a couple of colossal mistakes that ultimately doomed it to failure. In 1979 it invaded neighbor Afghanistan, in the name of protecting its southern border. This would turn into a decade-long disaster that drained ever dwindling resources. When Solidarity began to shake the Communist regime in Poland, military intervention was out of the question, and Moscow was simply unable to provide the goods and money needed to prop up the regime there. Gorbachev’s rise to power in the mid-80s saw a new strategy to achieve the unchanged objectives: creation of an apparent division between conservatives and reformers in the Soviet leadership. Gorbachev was able to use Perestroika and Glasnost to appeal for Western good will and financial support, all the while continuing to crush authentic opposition at home. The Soviet leaders calculated that if they backed Gorbachev-like ‘progressive’ leaders in satellite countries, that those countries would likewise be able get desperately needed economic help from the West and the Soviet Empire would be preserved. This calculation of course proved wrong. Not only did the satellite states reject Soviet hegemony, they rejected Socialism and Communism as well. In the USSR itself, the Soviet system collapsed and the constituent states gained their independence. But, Bukovsky points out, there was never an accounting for the crimes of the Soviet leaders who had destroyed the lives of millions. There were no Nuremberg trials. Communist leaders became ‘democratic’ leaders of the newly independent states. Vladimir Putin has managed to stay in power as effectively as any of the Soviet leaders of the past.