August 4, 2015

ROBERT CONQUEST, RIP: “Sad news passing the news wire this hour of the passing of the great historian Robert Conquest, at the age of 98,” Steve Hayward writes at Power Line:

Conquest surely deserves to be counted among the top five most important historians of Communism and the Soviet Union in our time. His book The Great Terror, about the Soviet purges and deliberate famine policy of the 1930s, made it impossible for anyone to deny the essential character of Stalin’s regime. But leftists tried anyway. As the Wall Street Journal explains in its new story:

Mr. Conquest’s master work, “The Great Terror,” was the first detailed account of the Stalinist purges from 1937 to 1939. He estimated that under Stalin, 20 million people perished from famines, Soviet labor camps and executions—a toll that eclipsed that of the Holocaust. Writing at the height of the Cold War in 1968, when sources about the Soviet Union were scarce, Mr. Conquest was vilified by leftists who said he exaggerated the number of victims. When the Cold War ended and archives in Moscow were thrown open, his estimates proved high but more accurate than those of his critics.

Like many great figures though, his most legendary line was supplied by someone else: As Conquest himself told the New York Review of Books, it was Kingsley Amis who famously quipped that Conquest should have re-titled the post-Soviet Union edition of The Great TerrorI Told You So, You Fucking Fools.

(I had the privilege of meeting Conquest, then in his early 90s, and his gracious wife, when I videotaped Roger L. Simon’s interview with Conquest at Stanford in the fall of 2008, for the very early days of PJTV.)

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