HELL ON EARTH: Brutality And Violence Under The Stalinist Regime
Anne Applebaum writes that "without exception, the Leninist belief in the one-party state was and is characteristic of every communist regime" and "the Bolshevik use of violence was repeated in every communist revolution." Phrases which were first uttered by Vladimir Lenin and Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky were uttered all over the world. Applebaum states that as late as 1976, Mengistu Haile Mariam unleashed a Red Terror in Ethiopia. To his colleagues in the Bolshevik government, Lenin was quoted as saying: "If we are not ready to shoot a saboteur and White Guardist, what sort of revolution is that?".
HELL ON EARTH: Brutality and Violence Under The Stalinist Regime
One of the greatest murderers of the twentieth century, or any century, Josef Stalin, is reported to have said, "One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic." Whether or not Stalin actually spoke these words matters little. What is important is that the words reveal a cold and callous attitude toward death and reflect a willingness to resort to violence and brutality in the pursuit of larger goals. Unfortunately, as human history shows, such an attitude is not unique to Stalin. Desire for military victory, the elimination of political threats, the overthrow of a government, and the achievement of some kind of ideal society are only a few examples of the justifications human beings use in order to eliminate their fellow human beings. Not surprisingly, the theme of violence and brutality has often been explored in literature and forms a crucial aspect in any treatment of war and peace. The lines between the latter two conditions can often become quite blurry, as violence has been used in the name of achieving peace and the harshest forms of physical and psychological brutality used in the name of preventing war. The basic goal of works that explore the themes of violence and brutality generally remains the same, however: to force readers to ask themselves whether the infliction of physical, psychological, and emotional suffering on human beings is ultimately justified. Novels, short stories, and poems that address such topics are often quite difficult and painful to read. However, if the ultimate result of such reading is a greater understanding of harrowing events in the past and in the present, and a desire to see such kinds of actions never again repeated, then here is one case where the ends really do justify the means.
In Candide, Voltaire makes the only truly happy people in the world the inhabitants of El Dorado, who are happy not simply because the "yellow dirt" of their land is gold and their streets are paved with precious stones, but because they are perfectly content in their lives. What is interesting about this is that the inhabitants of El Dorado are Indians tucked high in the Andes of Peru. It is in fact the civilized, rational "enlightened" Europeans who consistently butcher, slaughter, plunder, and murder each other in the name of power, religion, and wealth. Voltaire forces his readers to consider their own society by contrasting its cruelty, poverty, and violence with happy Indians living in a remote corner of the world. Even without supplying supposed "savages" as mirrors, the grim realities of physical and psychological torture are often used by authors to emphasize the bogus nature of an oppressive regime's claims to civilization. The Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians describes the methods and motivations of the Empire's torturers:
In her study of the trial of the infamous Nazi Adolf Eichmann, philosopher Hannah Arendt noted in Eichmann in Jerusalem that what was truly remarkable about Eichmann was that he was not a monster but an ordinary man only following orders, part of a much larger bureaucratic machine. This theme of the banality (the ordinary nature) of brutality, performed not by monsters but by human beings, is often explored in literature precisely because it raises so many troubling questions about the nature of humanity. In "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux," a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it is a crowd of ordinary men and women in a colonial Massachusetts city who orchestrate and revel in the humiliating tarring and feathering of the governor. In "The Dew Breaker," a grim tale of torture and murder under the Duvalier regime in Haiti, Edwidge Danticat discusses the motives of many who participated in state-sanctioned violence:
Danticat actually tells part of her story from the point of view of the torturer himself, which blurs the line between evil and everyday life even further. In The Tenth Circle of Hell, his memoir of the death camps in Bosnia, Rezak Hukanovic argues that the most frightening thing about the brutality and horror perpetrated in Bosnia was that it was done by neighbors, people who were familiar. It only took a ruthless nationalistic Serbian government to sanction ethnic violence, and age-old hatreds were unleashed. Historians have often noted the willingness of ordinary Germans to kill Jews during the Second World War, but Hukanovic's "hell" took place less than fifteen years ago in the context of ethnic violence that convulsed a disintegrating Yugoslavia. Coetzee's Magistrate contemplates what kind of man the torturer is:
In a subsequent attempt to disavow the implications of his earlier statements, Kozyrev declared that "it would be ridiculous to depict the democrats in the Russian government as supportive of the so-called pro-Communist regime in Tadjikistan. This is an incorrect interpretation. We simply want to promote the search for a 'territorial-ethnic' consensus in this country." But the meaning of "consensus" became clear in July, after radical members of the opposition attacked a Russian border patrol, killing 25 border guards. At that time, Boris Yeltsin, for the first time officially articulated an explicit Russian "Tadjik" policy, declaring that "everybody should understand that the border is essentially Russian and not Tadjik." Meanwhile, Russian defense minister Grachev stated that "my task consists of the development and pursuit of measures that ensure that our adversary is put under control and destroyed in such a way that nobody will dare to lift their hand against the Russians in the future." Three days later, in an affirmation of these words, Russian and Tadjik government troops began to shell the Afghanistan kishlaks where the camps of the Tadjik opposition were located.