by Dr I.C.F. Spry, QCNews Weekly
Books: 'The Unsleeping Eye: A Brief History of Secret Police and their Victims' by Robert Stove
, April 20, 2002
THE UNSLEEPING EYE: A Brief History of Secret Police and their Victims
by Robert Stove
Duffy and Snellgrove
Available from News Weekly Books for $32.00 plus p&hRobert Stove is one of the most brilliant Australian writers today, and his admirers and also those who approach him for the first time will find this book a delight. Stove's pungent style is so impressive that even when writing on uninteresting topics he is entertaining: and on the present occasion, the activities of secret police operations from Elizabethan times to Hoover's America provide an enthralling and bravura display.
Stove's chronicle commences with Sir Francis Walsingham, secretary of state and gatherer of intelligence for Elizabeth I, who engineered the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. He organised and was responsible for a large range of agents, and his efforts were vital for a Protestant queen who was the frequent object of Catholic plots both within England and abroad.
From the relatively straight-forward Walsingham, Stove moves to Joseph Fouché, one of the many base products of the French revolution. Whereas Walsingham had been limited and practical in his attempts to safeguard Elizabeth, Fouché demonstrated a fanaticism and brutality. He had, for example, no hesitation in ordering the death of a nun whose "treason" had consisted of praying to God in public.
Stove's analysis reminds us how misdirected are those who see in the French Revolution an advancement for mankind: in fact, it led to much ugliness and provided in particular an example for the even greater ugliness of the Russian Revolution.
It is Stove's chapter on Russia which is perhaps the most important. The chapter commences with two quotations. In 1932 Stalin stated, "Life has become better, life has become merrier", and Bertolt Brecht referred to Stalin as the "embodiment of [working class] hopes". In fact Stalin's survival owed much to Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, who proclaimed, "We stand for organised terror".
Robert Conquest has estimated that between 1917 and 1923, 200,000 executions took place, whereas during the last third of the preceding century Tsarist executions had amounted to just ninety-four. But other events began under Dzerzhinsky's successors, on a greater scale.
In part of the persecution of Kulacs, in 1932 "the truly exterminationist, deliberately engineered famine began"; at the lowest possible estimate it killed six million. Of Dzerzhinsky's many able and pitiless successors the most famous was Beria, whose personal penchant was raping women and girls, "the younger the better".
In the end Beria was himself executed, a fate which, gratifyingly, has commonly awaited the more brutal revolutionaries at the hands of their colleagues.
Two-way instruction was gained by Nazi Germany from Communist Russia and by Russia from Germany. The Gestapo, the SA and the SS were at one time or another ruthless exponents of the powers of secret police, and Himmler became the best known of their leaders.
As in Russia, so in Germany, the harbouring of disloyal views was regarded as a crime to the utmost importance, and methods of torture and of execution were often gruesome and macabre.
For many readers, the chapter on J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. will be of particular interest. Of course, the FBI was not an organ of repression or terror as was the KGB, for example. But Hoover's interests carried him into many important areas of American life, and his dealings with the Kennedy's and against the Ku Klux Klan are especially noteworthy. Jack and Robert Kennedy were venerated as icons of American Democratic liberalism, but time has revealed the unpleasantness of their lives, including Mafia associations - not surprising for those whose father was a successful, if unethical, multimillionaire.
Commercial considerations for the publisher unfortunately caused some of the chapters of The Unsleeping Eye
to be shortened. (In some instances the more complete analyses have been, or are to be, published in National Observer
.) These curtailments are unfortunate, since valuable and interesting material has been lost, and it may be hoped that in a future edition the full text will be set out.