Stalin's Russia And Goebbels'
by COLM I BROGAN
AN American observer in Belsen,
watching the nightmare procession of the victims, turned to an Englishman and said, " What was w rung with this place was neglect." At first hearing this may sound a feeble understatement, but It was a profound and illuminating judgment. The immense and farreaching horrors of the system were not often ordaincd for their own sake. but were by-products of a more than Asiatic indifference and callousness. There were authentic cases of cruelty for its own sake, but the aesthetes of sadism wore not the chief actors in the abominable play. The evils that sickened the world like the exposure of hidden gangrenous wounds were a practical proof that the man without pity is capable, literally, of anything. The g chamber was a cheap and up-to e machine for the destruction of retuse—but the refuse happened to be human. Women doctors who grafted rotten bone into healthy bodies were surprised and pained that their conscientious research should be calumniated by sentimental anti-vivisectionists. To reach the infinity of evil there is no need of Neronic perveraions or of inspiration from the Marquis de Sade. All that is needed is the Absolute Zero of
compassion, the human heart drained dry of human love. That is what we had in Hitler's Germany. That is what we still have in Stalin's Russia.
There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that cruelty for its own sake plays an even smaller part in Russia than it did in Germany. but the indifference is even more extensive, for the Russian rulers, not being imbued with race-theory, treat their own people exactly as they treat foreigners and show no more consideration for the passive supporters of the regime than they do for those suspected of disaffection.
In Stalin's Russia.* the author, Suzanne Labin. has collected a mountain of sickening detail about the Soviet system, drawing largely on official Soviet statements and statistics and on quotations from Bolshevik newspapers, Isvestia, Pravda, Trutt, Krokodil, and many more. She covers almost every aspect of life, political, economic. cultural, re
ligious and purely personal. On
most counts it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Communism in action is worse than Nazism. For one thing, the pervading dirt, poverty and general squalor of Soviet life entail misery for all, even for those who enjoy what, by Russian standards, may he described as comparative comfort and security. For another, the Germans never suffered the ghastly degradation of recantations and self-denunciations which is imposed on all Russians of any prominence, not merely on politicians, and the Fuehrer-worship of Germany was less gross, less utterly servile in its sycophancy than the Asiatic servility which is demanded of every Russian.
Again, the very size of the Russian terror gives it a different quality. Whole populations are scooped up and cast out on the Siberian wastes. Slavery is a massive element in the Soviet economy. and political murder, called " administrative action," has created more mourning families in Russia than the first Great War did in Britain. The author gives horribly plausible reasons for believing that the population of Russia would be twenty-five millions greater than it is. if Stalin and his colleagues had never been born.
Any Communist sympathiser who wishes to dispute the main conclusions of this book must show falsification in hundreds of quotations, for the author has drawn deadly profit from the tyrant's trick of selfcriticism. Self-criticism serves three useful purposes for Stalin. Switched on and off at will, like gas in a tap, it enables Stalin to heap discredit on any man he has chosen to destroy: at one crack of the huntsman's fingers the whole pack snails at the victim. Self-criticism also serves as an emotional relief for the people when their inflictions become insupportable and it diverts anger from the serene rulers in the Kremlin. whose wisdom is never questioned. to wretched subordinates who can easily be spared to sate public anger. But this useful device has the disadvantage that it opens a chink in the curtain.
It is fortunate for Stalin that few in Western Europe have an intimate knowledge of the Russian language, and doubly fortunate that among those who have, a high proportion are deliberately deaf, dumb and blind to the truth of the system to which they have sold their mind and conscience. But Suzanne Labin has devoted herself to the labour of condemning Stalin and his associates out of their own mouths. Stalin's Russia is much more than an invaluable piece of documentation. It is written with restrained irony and honest anger, and the moral is plain to be seen. Stalin has escaped universal execration only because the disease which has killed pity in the Kremlin has also affected the West. Fifty years ago. onemillionth part of the horrors irrefutably proved against Stalin would have united the nations of the West in denunciation. But Stalin has his special pleaders in every walk of life. and these play upon the apathy of millions who are not particularly interested in what happens to people outside of their own circle. Never within living memory has " the brotherhood of man " been used so often as a phrase, and never has it meant so little. Suzanne Labin's primary demand is simply for pity for the miserable people of Russia. Few who read this book are likely to continue satisfied with the official Government view that we should be only too glad to live in tolerant friendliness with Stalin if he would guarantee to leave us in selfish peace.
That Man Goebbels
It is almost a relief to turn to the life of Goebheste That is not to say that Goebbels was even a passably decent man or anything else but a force for evil, but at least he was in teresting and not at all the man that he was made out to be by hostile propaganda. It is perhaps a just irony that the master of propaganda should have been so effectively caricatured by his own art. and Mr. Curt Riess, for all his careful research, has not explained the inner mystery of Goebbels. There is no mystery in Stalin. He is simply an Asiatic
tyrant filled with a cold lust for power and implacable vindictiveness.
There was nothing particularly mysterious about Hitler. He really believed in his mission. But Goebbels was different. He was a nihilist who believed in nothing except in Hitler, and even
that belief appears to have died in the end, but he went inflexibly on his
own way. His courage, moral and
physical, was absolute. and so was his personal loyalty, although he was far too intelligent to believe in the
silliness that Hitler devoutly accepted, By Nazi standards he might be called honest, and he was certainly not grossly greedy, like that officer and gentleman, Goering Long before the other Nazi leaders, he saw that the war was lost, but nothing broke him or weakened his purpose. Laying his propaganda plans a generation ahead, he decided that Hitler must die in Berlin and he arranged that it should be so. He also decided that he must die him self. with his wife and six children. There was no rational need or even excuse for the murder of his family, But Goebbels had made that decision. The children knew they were going to die. but in the last days of inconceivable ruin. Goebbels lived in the air-raid shelter. cool and unruffled. reading stories to his children, singing and playing with them, and they were quite simply pleased to be allowed to live from day to day. But the day came when they must live no longer, and Magda Goebbels herself went with the doctor who injected her children with poison under the pretence of giving them an inoculation. It is to be noted that a doctor was to be found to conduct this massacre of the innocents. Then the man who had outdone Herod quietly killed himself and his wife. But Hitler was already gone. for the hero had naturally to die before the stage-manager rang down the curtain. The man with the glazed eyes, shaking arm and stammering tongue took his new bride round the shelter to say good-bye to the last of his friends. He then retired to his own room. poisoned his wife and shot himself through the mouth. "The Reich of a thousand years" had lasted for twelve; hut all round Berlin, other men without pity. though in a different uniform. were preparing the next act in the human apostaasy.
• Stalin's Ruttsia. By Suzanne Labin. (Gollancz. 21s.) t Joseph Goebbels. By Curt Riess. (Hollis & Carter. 18s.)