“Nero, too, was a product of his epoch. Yet after he perished
his statues were smashed and his name was scraped off everything.
The vengeance of history is more terrible than the
vengeance of the most powerful General Secretary. I venture
to think that this is consoling.”
(From Leon Trotsky’s Stalin)
Ours is an epoch of unique historical events, most of them horrible. The Great Purge of 1936-8, with its liquidation of the old Bolshevik elite ordered in cold blood two decades after the revolution, and covered by a slimy flood of lies and forgeries was one of those events which revealed to a whole generation new vistas of man’s capacity for evil. Despite the above comparison with the tyrant of another age, quoted from the book over whose unfinished manuscript Trotsky was battered to death by Stalin’s emissary, the present massive denunciation of the initiator of those crimes and the “scraping off” of his falsifications from the record is no less unique; for this destruction of a myth is carried out by Stalin’s closest surviving accomplices, within a system of one-party rule whose very existence depends on the pseudoreligion it incessantly purveys. This is indeed the authentic vengeance of History, working through blind agents who know not what they do.
Yet the spectacle of the spokesman of the Stalinist old guard disclosing in secret session the harm done to the Communist Party, the army, and the Soviet people by the “mistakes” of his late master, and naively trying to base his own authority and that of his colleagues on the fact that they were powerless to prevent what they now denounce, is only one aspect of the drama of this twentieth’ congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. There is also, on a vaster stage, the transformation in the lives and hopes of 200 million people who are now allowed to catch. their first glimpse of the Promised Land after wandering through the desert for almost forty years—the return of hundreds of thousands of deportees from the labor camps, the rise in peasant incomes, the first steps towards a higher output of consumer goods and a shortening of working hours. And there is finally the position of the Soviet Union as a great world power with all that implies for the prospects of peace and war, and hence for the survival of us all.