AS THE WORLD TURNS by Michael ScammellNews Weekly
, January 15, 2000
The Black Book of Communism, which is finally appearing in English, is an extraordinary and almost unspeakably chilling book. It is a major study that deepens our understanding of Communism and poses a philosophical and political challenge that cannot be ignored. The book's central argument, copiously documented and repeated in upwards of a dozen different essays, is that the history of Communism should be read above all as the history of an all-out assault on society by a series of conspiratorial cliques led by cruel dictators (Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, Pol Pot, and dozens of imitators) who were murderously drunk on their own ideology and power.
There is also a second argument, formulated by Stephane Courtois in his introduction and his conclusion, and this is the argument that has provoked so much angry debate. It is that, given the nature and the magnitude of the crimes committed in its name, communism was fully the equal of Nazism as one of the supreme evils of our century.
Courtois is not proposing a cheap or unsubstantiated equivalence. He fully understands the enormity of the Nazis' 'Final Solution.' But he suggests that the ... relentless 'class genocide' of the Communists, conducted over eight decades, is fully comparable with the 'race genocide' of the Nazis. Both were 'crimes against humanity' as such horrors were first defined at Nuremberg and later codified by the United Nations.
Courtois also undertakes the unpopular but obvious task of doing a body count. The numbers that he comes up with are breathtaking. He counts between 85 and 100 million deaths directly attributable to Communism worldwide, extending over a period of 80 years. These astounding figures must be compared with about 25 million deaths for the Nazis over a period of six years.
Aware that he is treading on extremely delicate ground, Courtois cites the great Russian Jewish writer Vassily Grossman in his support. Grossman's mother was killed by the Nazis as part of their war against the Jews, and he was, with Ilya Ehrenburg, one of the editors of The Black Book on Nazi Crimes against the Jews. (The book was assembled in the Soviet Union in the 1940s, but it was forbidden to be published there; it appeared in Jerusalem three decades later.)
Grossman had written about Stalin's liquidation of the kulaks in the 1930s: 'To massacre them, it was necessary to proclaim that kulaks are not human beings, just as the Germans proclaimed that Jews are not human beings.' And of the killing of the children of kulaks: 'That is exactly how the Nazis put the Jewish children into the Nazi gas chambers: 'You are not allowed to live, you are all Jews'!'.c1.- Michael Scammell reviewing The Black Book of Communism recently published in English by Harvard University Press in the online version of The New Republic, December 12, 1999Choice
'By the time high-status single men and women reach their thirties their marriage prospects begin to diverge. Men's educational and career achievements enhance their marriageability and increase the pool of prospective mates, because men tend to marry women of similar or lesser education, and the supply at or below their achievement level is large.
'For women of the same age and education the opposite is the case: high-status women tend to seek husbands of higher levels of education and achievement, and their lofty status decreases the pool of eligible mates. For men, age is no barrier to attracting women. A few gray hairs can be sexy. For women, age is not an asset. A few gray hairs can send a woman racing to the colourist.
'Moreover, intra-gender competition can be fierce. High-status women find themselves in competition, not only with high-status women, but also with younger women of lesser education, in lower occupations.
'The classic example is thirtyish female physicians who, having finished their rigorous training, are ready for marriage. They find themselves up against slightly younger residents and interns along with a large pool of twentysomething nurses and other health professionals. Since the nurses and the physical therapists are in careers that can be disrupted and then picked up again, they may be more willing than the female physicians to stay home and raise children while their husbands pursue careers.
'By this stage of life single women of talent and accomplishment begin to grasp the principle that life is unfair in at least one key domain. Men may be able to pursue their careers singlemindedly during their twenties and postpone marriage until their thirties without compromising their fertility or opportunities to find a suitable mate, but women cannot. Just at the moment that they are ready to slow down and share the pleasures of life with similarly successful mates, they look around and find that many of the most desirable men are already taken. What is left is an odd assortment: married men who want a girlfriend on the side; divorced men with serious financial, child-custody, or ex-wife problems; and single men who invite suspicion simply because they're still single. These mating patterns lead to a plaint familiar among up-scale single women in their thirties: 'There are no good men left'.
'Thus the career strategy now favoured by well-educated young women, in part to establish their own economic viability as a cushion against the likelihood of an eventual divorce, exacts a maddening cost of its own: it makes it less likely that they will marry in the first place. This is a classic case of what is known as 'goods in conflict'.'.c1.- Barbara Dafoe Whitehead,
The Atlantic Monthly, December 1999;