Death under communism

Reflecting on the previous post and why the Slansky show-trial accused (and those similarly accused elsewhere in Eastern Europe at the time) were mostly executed, I remembered a chilling statement by Igal Halfin in his superb book about life under Soviet dictatorship:

In the Bolshevik tradition, death linked the individual in a final embrace with the brotherhood of the elect. Death could be a sublime, highly positive experience of self-sacrifice, or a negative experience, in which one’s expulsion from the society of men was rendered eternal. The unidirectional structure of the official autobiography takes us nearer the meaning of death in Communism. If in order to realize one’s true self one had to become a Party member, failure to do so meant cutting the story short. A life lost to the Party was a life aborted, an unfinished life, and it could be narrated as such. But nothing short of conversion to Communism fully satisfied the demands of the genre. This seemingly innocuous feature of Communist poetics inspired a morbid conclusion: the individual who was absolutely unable to see the light of Communism – human dross at best, a menace to universal salvation at worst – had to disappear; whereas at first Communist misfits were given a second and a third chance to reform, properly to complete their life’s journey and become good Communists, from 1936 onward they were shot.” (p. 274)

Igal Halfin [2003]:  Terror in My Soul:  Communist Autobiographies on Trial.  Cambridge, MA, USA:  Harvard University Press.

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