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Psychopathology, Morality, and History in the Reading of the Stalin Era


Domenico Losurdo

Geopolitics, Terror, and Stalin's "Paranoia"

What approach would help us better understand the origin, characteristics, and meaning of Stalinism? According to Arendt, the obsession with the “objective enemy” had driven Stalinist totalitarianism (as well as Hitlerism) to always search for new objectives for their repressive apparatus: after “the descendants of the old ruling classes” it’s the kulaks’ turn, then the traitors within the party, the “Volga Germans”, etc.782 To comprehend the futility of this formula, all that’s required is to reflect on the fact that it could easily be applied to the history of the United States. At the end of the nineteenth century, the United States participates in the celebration of the  community of Germanic nations and races (U.S., Great Britain, Germany) as the vanguard of civilization; in the decades following its intervention in the First World War, the Germans (and Americans of German origin) become the enemy par excellence; it’s the period of the Grand Alliance with the Soviet Union. However, after the Third Reich’s overthrow, the USSR becomes the enemy par excellence, thus Americans of German (or Japanese origin) are no longer the subject of persecution, instead it’s those Americans suspected of sympathizing with communism; yet in the last stage of the Cold War, Washington makes use of both China’s collaboration and the Islamic freedom fighters who sustain the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan; but with the defeat of the Evil Empire, it’s the former allies who represent the new incarnation of Evil: the freedom fighters (and their sympathizers in United States territory and everywhere else in the world) are sent off to Guantanamo. There’s one detail that reveals the weakness of Arendt’s formula, the formula that blames the obsession with the “objective enemy” for the deportations of the “Volga Germans” during the Second World War: in reality, similar measures had been taken in 1915 by Tsarist Russia, at that time allied to the liberal West; also immediately after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt acts in a similar way toward the “objective enemy”, represented this time by American citizens of Japanese origin. If you want to take into consideration the geographic and military situation, the concern of the Soviet dictator appears more justified than that of the American president.

782. Arendt (1989), pp. 581,82.

Every so often, Arendt appears to realize the problematic nature of the category that she uses. The first edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism denounces the obsession with the “potential enemy”, but for as long as the Second Thirty Years’ War lasts, the Soviet people see themselves threatened by a mortal threat; being on the alert for a potential enemy could hardly be considered an expression ofparanoia. The subsequent editions of the book then prefer to speak of the “objective enemy”, thus accentuating the psychological character of a behavior that continues to be attributed exclusively to totalitarian dictators.783

But this linguistic alternation doesn’t at all change the terms of the problem. Despite unhesitatingly opposing Nazi Germany and sympathizing with the land of the Third Republic and the Great Revolution, at the moment of the Second World War’s outbreak Arendt suffered imprisonment in France in a concentration camp, and in the last analysis had suffered that fate of being a “potential enemy” or “objective enemy." We’ll soon see that this category is also at work in Churchill’s Britain and in F.D. Roosevelt’s United States.

Unfortunately, Arendt operates on a purely ideological level, without even raising the problem of a comparative analysis of the policies pursued by the leadership groups of different countries in situations of severe crisis. It would be beneficial to fill this gap. After the conclusion of the Second World War, Churchill offers this summary of the situation at the time of the lead-up to the gigantic military clash: “It was known at that time that there were twenty thousand organized Nazis in Britain; an acute danger of sabotage and crime, as a prelude to the outbreak of war, it would align with the procedure already applied in other friendly countries."784 That's how the statesman justified the policy pursued by him during the conflict, when all those suspected of sympathizing with the enemy or their political system could be arrested: “‘To sympathize’ was the all inclusive term that allowed the government to arrest without trial, and for an undetermined amount of time, members not just of fascist organizations but also any group considered by the interior minister to be sympathetic to the Germans, including those that supported negotiations with Hitler."785 Those persecuted are not responsible for deliberate and concrete actions, but are rather “potential” or “objective enemies."

Protected by the Atlantic and the Pacific, as well as by a powerful navy, the U.S. ought not to feel particularly threatened. But F.D. Roosevelt warns: the enemy is not discouraged by the ocean, it’s necessary to take note of the “lesson from Norway, whose principal ports were captured thanks to a surprise treason prepared over a number of years." A similar threat looms over the American continent:

The first phase of the invasion of this hemisphere won’t be the landing of regular troops. The strategic and essential ports will be occupied by secret agents, by useful idiots at their service, and there are many of those here and in Latin America.

783. Arendt (1951), pp. 400-02; Arendt (1996), pp. 422-24; Arendt (1989), pp. 578-81.

784. Churchill (1963), p. 437.

785. Costello (1991), p. 158.

 So long as the aggressive nations maintain the offensive, it will be them and not us who choose the time, place, and method of their attack.786

And that’s not all: It’s also necessary to confront the aggression carried out “by means of the secret diffusion of toxic propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote division." It’s at this point that traitors or “objective” enemies tend to be those that already express opinions considered to be in opposition to the national interest, and resistance becomes a task that should be realized not only by the army but by the entire country. Both must demonstrate an unbreakable unity:

Those who are on our lines of defense and those in the rear who build these lines must have the energy and courage that arises out of an unbreakable faith in the way of life that they defend. The powerful action that we are calling for can’t be based on disrespect with regard to those things that we are fighting for.787

To eliminate an omnipresent threat, that also makes its presence felt at the political level, requires a total mobilization that ends up affecting the political sphere as well. Starting on that basis they develop a “well orchestrated media campaign”:788 “When will Hitler invade the U.S.?”, a manifesto asks, with the image of Nazi paratroopers landing over undefended American cities, which are also vulnerable―a second manifesto insists―to a landing by sea. Even more serious is the dangerous fact that “Hitler’s army is already here." At least that is what a third manifesto thinks, it warns against “the fifth column in the United States."789 Films and books that call attention to the seriousness of this threat achieve great success, while the committee that tracks “anti-American” activities calculates exactly 480,000 supporters of organizations ready to assist the invaders!790 

786. Hofstadter (1982), vol. 3, pp. 387-88.

787. Ibid

788. Herzstein (1989), pp. 284 and 334-35.

789. Ibid, images between pages 344-45.

790. Herzstein (1989), pp. 279-81.

 And just like in Britain, in the United States the category of enemy agent or accomplice is also expanded to include even all those who seek to prevent the country’s involvement or entry into the war.791 They are accused of being the “Nazi’s transmission belt”, the Third Reich’s “Trojan Horse”, or to cite the very words of

F.D. Roosevelt, the “fifth column of appeasement." This last phrase is especially significant: what becomes synonymous with treason is a political outlook, and just for that those that embrace it became targets of denunciation, trials and intimidation; they are considered, in the last analysis, to be “potential” or “objective” enemies.

A climate of fear and suspicion spreads across the country, quickly exploited by the authorities to “increase the powers of the FBI."792 The president reveals to the press that pro-German elements have infiltrated “the Army and Navy” and have organized or tried to organize sabotage operations at “forty or fifty factories across the country." Even a balanced intellectual like William L. Shirer encourages everyone to prepare, with war around the corner, to confront the “sabotage carried out by thousands of Nazi agents from coast to coast." Everywhere they suspect or are on the lookout for the enemy’s actions. The fifth column carried out a fundamental role at times, weakening Belgium and France from within; and now―so the argument goes―the Nazi “termites” are operating inside the American Republic as well, which runs the risk of suffering the same fate.793 Apparently there are “some attempts” on the part of the Third Reich’s agents to “encourage or take advantage of worker discontent in the factories and to obstruct the production of munitions for the allies”; according to the German consulate, these “acts of sabotage” are in fact “industrial accidents attributed by Roosevelt to the Nazis."794 It’s not surprising, then, that “children of a tender age are sometimes frightened by the alarmist propaganda”, unrelenting in announcing and depicting in the most awful terms possible the imminent invasion by the Nazi hordes.795

Once the United States officially entered the war, the atmosphere becomes even more tense. The wartime pronouncements against spies and loose talk (“control your tongue”, “silence means security”, Even “casual conversations” can kill) don’t let-up in their warnings, displaying the faces of youths who are soon to be orphans because of irresponsible chatter; against the acts of “sabotage” another pronouncement proclaims a new crime: that of the “poor use of work instruments”, and it shows the image of Mr. Tool Wrecker, charged and put in jail by a police officer.796 Obviously, this genuinely dangerous situation is combined with a deliberate distortion of reality. 

791. Herzstein (1989), pp. 240, 327 and 332.

792. Cole (1971), pp. 55 and 104-09; Herzstein (1989), pp. 327,332 and 336.

793. Herzstein (1989), pp. 338-39.

794. Chamberlin (1950), p. 10; Herzstein (1989), p. 333.

795. Herzstein (1989), commentary about the photographs between pp. 344-45. 796. See the pronouncements recorded in Gregory (1933), pp. 60-61 and 104.

 So concludes the American historian we’ll now turn to: “FDR well understood the value of national anxiety”; “FDR and his supporters went beyond the line that separates public concern from mass hysteria."797

Before us are the fundamental elements of the Terror that takes hold in Russia. Without a doubt,  the phenomenon analyzed with regards to Britain and the United States appears in a monstrously enlarged form in Russia; but do ideology, paranoia and the objective situation play a decisive role? Besides the mutable yet incessant civil war, we have geopolitics to take into account. In April of 1947, with the Cold War already brewing on the horizon, in a conversation with the Republican candidate Harold Stassen, Stalin will highlight, with a kind of envy, the extraordinarily favorable geopolitical situation of the United States, protected by two oceans and with only Canada and Mexico to its north and south, two weak countries that certainly don’t represent a threat.798

Things are very different in Soviet Russia. One can ridicule Stalin’s “paranoia”, but we have seen Goebbels speak of the great success of German espionage in France and its total failure in the USSR. Moreover, the first to insist on the penetration of a German fifth column in Russia are the very enemies of Bolshevism. In Kerensky’s eyes, as demonstrated by the “Brest-Litovsk  capitulation” and the signing of “traitorous separate peace”, the protagonists of October 1917 act in service to Wilhelm II, for which they are massively financed and aided; according to the Menshevik leader, the German secret services had already carried an important role in the pacifist agitation that had depleted the military strength of the country.799 Churchill makes a similar argument, stressing  the weight of “German gold” in the disorder in Russia.800

In our time, going yet further back, an Israeli historian (originating from the Soviet Union in his time) discovered the fingerprints of Imperial Germany―determined to weaken in any way possible the strength of its neighbor and rival―in Alexander III’s premature death in 1894, “who died because the medical team (among whom the majority were Germans) had applied the wrong treatment to him”, as well as the 1911 assassination of Pyotr Stolypin, that happened with the “involvement” of “some pro-German higher officials”, and in the peculiar behavior of Nicholas II (his wife was a German princess).801 

797. Herzstein (1989), pp. 240 and 327.

798. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 17, p. 72.

799. Kerensky (1989), pp. 525 and 528.

800. Schmid (1974), p. 17.

801. Agursky (1989), pp. 84 and 90.

 In any case, with regards to the collapse of the tsarist regime,  it’s important not to lose sight of the “effective German fifth column present in the Russian court and in the highest positions of the army”, therefore at the very center of power. Indeed, “in May of 1915, Moscow was the site of various pogroms against Germans”, however, “the German minority that occupied the highest levels of power were still intact." In conclusion: “The historians who have given exclusive attention to revolutionary voluntarism or liberal maneuvers have ignored other evidence, from which one can deduce that the revolutionary movement could have been in part provoked by pro-German sectors or by a direct intervention by German espionage in conformity with a plan designed by Brockdorff-Rantzau."802

Is the overview offered here plausible, or is it also affected by the paranoia generally attributed to Stalin? In any case, one can start with an assumption: while it may have been weakened for some time, the defeat of the Second Reich doesn’t eliminate the activity of its intelligence services within Russia, where, on the other hand, the dissolution of the old regime coincides with the reinforced presence at all levels of the great Western powers. Overall, it’s enough to read any history of the  Cold War to understand that the birthplace of the October Revolution was especially exposed to the danger not just of military invasion, but also infiltration and espionage. In the 1920s, thanks to the collaboration of Russian exiles, Britain was able to decode the Soviet Union’s encrypted messages, which remains the principal target of their intelligence services even “in the middle of the 1930s." Meanwhile, the Third Reich has emerged, which, in preparing its aggression, can count on the proven ability of colonel Reinhard Gehlen, “a master of intelligence, subversion and deception”; later, immediately after the defeat of Hitler's Germany, Allen Dulles demonstrates “vision” in putting at the service of the recently created CIA the very man who “had played a great role in the German attack on Russia in 1941."803 During the Cold War, aside from espionage, the activity of Western intelligence services also included “sabotage operations” and even support to insurrectionary movements.804

More than twenty years after Stalin’s death, this outlook hadn’t changed. We can deduce this from an article in a prestigious American newspaper. The author is satisfied to report “how a computer sabotage operation by the CIA resulted [in 1974] in an enormous explosion in Siberia―all of it organized with precision by an economist named Gus Weiss―and it helped the United States win  the Cold War."805 If we then keep in mind that the use of sabotage also has a particular Russian tradition behind it, we can arrive at a conclusion: to understand what happened in the Stalin years, rather than resort to a single paranoid personality as a deus ex machina, it would be better to follow the approach raised by an illustrious eyewitness who, in Moscow of 1937, speaks of unquestionable “acts of sabotage”, and at the same time of a “psychosis of sabotage” that arises out of that reality.806

802. Agursky (1989), pp. 253-54 and 256.

803. Thomas (1988), pp. 315 and 248.

804. Thomas

805. Safire (2004).

 806. Feuchtwanger (1946), p. 40.

The “Paranoia” of the Liberal West

However, while Arendt goes no further than the madness inherent to totalitarianism (Stalinian or Hitlerian), François Furet goes further: “The revolutionary needs to have hateful motives”: this is true for the Jacobins, but also for the Bolsheviks, and for Stalin in particular, for the latter “needs to invoke, in service to his miraculous objectives, the struggle against the saboteurs, the enemies, the imperialists and their agents."807 The French historian speaks generally of the “revolutionary”, but in reality he has in mind only Russia and France and thus forgets to add that, aside from the Bolsheviks and the Jacobins (and Rousseau), the protagonists of the the Puritan Revolution are also subjected to a similar psychoanalytic approach, as well as the abolitionist “revolution” that does away with the institution of slavery, first in England and later in the United States. And Furet doesn’t even take  into account the fact that, according to an eminent American historian, the “style of paranoia” profoundly marked the history of his country. The belief, shared by George Washington, in London’s intention to enslave the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic is a central element in the American Revolution; later, at the end of the eighteenth century, when sharp contradictions arise within the new leadership group, while Jefferson ends up being suspected of being an agent of France, Hamilton is described as a British agent. A similar dialectic is evident some decades later, on the occasion of the crisis that leads to the American Civil War, when both opposing sides exchange the accusation that the other has betrayed the legacy of the Founding Fathers.808 Not to mention the fact that, in Nietzsche’s opinion, a disturbed relationship with reality characterizes the entire revolutionary tradition, beginning with those “Christian agitators” who are the “Fathers of the Church”, and earlier, the Jewish prophets.

807. Furet (1995), pp. 172-73.

808. Davis (1982), pp. 5, 65.

Is Stalin’s personality characterized by particularly accentuated traces of illness? If we start from that assumption, the admiration that leading political figures of the West had for him would be inexplicable. In any case, one fact that gives us cause for consideration: Freud, who passed away in 1939, considered it relevant to conduct a psychoanalytic study, but not of Stalin, nor even Hitler, but of Wilson, putting him on the list of those dangerous “fanatics” who are convinced they “have a special and personal relationship with the divine”, and who thereby considered themselves charged with a providential mission of guiding and transforming the world.809 And it certainly appears a little unusual that a statesman, in taking his country into the First World War, even after witnessing the reality of the carnage, and despite being motivated by very concrete material and geopolitical interests, celebrates the American intervention as a “holy war, more holy than all other wars”, and celebrates the American soldiers as crusaders, protagonists of a “transcendent mission."810

But Furet concentrates on a psychopathological reading of the events that began in October 1917, and he especially concentrates on the thirty years governed by Stalin: does he not fear―as someone who is authentically paranoid―dangers, traps and plots everywhere? What would we have to say then of F.D. Roosevelt and his subordinates who, even being able to count on a clearly more favorable political and geopolitical situation, raise the alarm about the possibility of a German invasion of America in the months before the American entry into the Second World War, and who label anti- interventionism as synonymous with national treason, warning against industrial “sabotage” provoked by the enemy and by a fifth column that possibly includes a half a million people? For this reason Hitler accuses the American president of having a “wild” and sick “imagination”, the imagination of a man who’s “truly mentally ill."811 As you can see, the accusation of paranoia or madness is not new, it can be thrown by the most unsuspecting people and can strike the most diverse targets.

But another consideration is more important: the Bolsheviks played a strong role in the two conspiracy theories that have possibly had the greatest mark on the history of the first half of the twentieth century, yet not as the protagonists but as the targets; and those theories were elaborated and propagated with a decisive contribution by the United States. In September of 1918, Wilson authorizes the publication of documents that contain sensational revelations: not only was the October Revolution nothing more than a German conspiracy; but, even after the seizure of power, Lenin, Trotsky, and the other Bolshevik leaders continued to be at the (paid) service of Imperial Germany; there’s more, the apparently dramatic internal split that happens around Brest-Litovsk had been a complete masquerade with the aim of hiding the German military’s permanent control over Soviet Russia. All of this was demonstrated by the so-called Sisson Papers: taking the name of the Committee on Public Information’s representative in Russia, a committee created by Wilson as part of the plans for total mobilization, including the mobilization of information. 

809. Freud (1995), pp. 35-37.

810. Losurdo (2007), ch. VI, § 11.

811. Hitler (1965), p. 1175 (speech from April 28th, 1939); Hitler (1980), p. 178 (conversation from

January 4/5th, 1942).

 The presumed authenticity of the documents (that are later revealed to be a complete fabrication) is notably supported by leading American historians who later justify themselves, making reference to the pressure put upon them “in the name of necessity in times of war."812 It’s something that is also repeated outside the United States. In “The Cry of the People”, Gramsci quips: “those two citizens in Russia who are named Lenin and Trotsky are imposters, fabricated in German scientific laboratories and who, made as they are by machine, can’t be killed by the gunshots of terrorists” (an allusion to the attack suffered by Lenin on August 30th, 1918).813

Later, a second conspiracy theory arises to explain the October Revolution, but this time, aside from the usual Bolshevik suspects, it’s not the Germans who are blamed, but rather the Jews. After having great resonance in the United States, the denunciation of Judeo-Bolshevik intrigues, which spread sedition throughout the world and threaten order and civilization itself, will then play a principal role in the “final solution.”

“Immorality” or Moral Indignation?

If the psychopathological focus is misleading, the reading of Russia’s great historical crisis in the twentieth century that accuses the Bolsheviks, and Stalin in particular, of having developed a vision of the world that’s totally blind to moral and human reason is not much more convincing. Rather, if we begin with the years or decades that proceed October 1917, we see that the roles of accused and accusers can easily be inverted: it’s the protagonists of the revolutionary movement who see the world they intend to overthrow as responsible for the crimes which today are attributed to them. Communism leads to genocide? In the years of the First World War, the liberal and bourgeois  society that they tried to overthrow was synonymous with genocide. While Stalin speaks of the “bloody massacre” and the “massive extermination of the living force of the peoples”,814 Bukharin describes it as a “horrible corpse factory."815 

812. Kennan (1956), pp. 441-57, Aptheker (1977), pp. 367-70; Filene (1967), pp. 47-48.

813. Gramsci (1984), p. 297.

814. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, p. 34 (Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 3, p. 49).

815. Bukharin (1984), p. 45.

 Terrible yet precise is the description that Rosa Luxemburg makes: the “mass extermination” and the “genocide” (Volkermord) that takes place is “something daily and boringly monotonous”, meanwhile in the rear “an atmosphere of ritual murder” takes hold. Karl Liebknecht will also call for a struggle against “genocide”, in fact, he speaks against the “triumph of genocide”, condemning as well the “glorification of brutal violence”, the “shipwreck” of “all that is noble in the world” and the spread of “moral barbarization”; while it leads him to welcome the October Revolution, his moral indignation over the horrors of the First World War leads Liebknecht to predict not only a “solid” state but also a “tough” state for Soviet Russia, at least a state able to prevent the tragic return of a system denounced even before the war for its lack of “moral scruples."816

Finally, it’s worth citing Trotsky: “the Cainite labor of the ‘patriotic’ press” on both sides is “the irrefutable demonstration of the moral decadence of bourgeois society." Yes, one cannot help but speak of “moral decadence” when they see humanity fall back into a “blind and ruthless barbarity”: one witnesses the outbreak of “a mad and bloody competition” to utilize the most advanced technology for military means; it’s a “scientific barbarity”, which uses the great discoveries of humanity “only to destroy the basis for civilized social life and to annihilate mankind." All the good produced by civilization drowns in the blood and entrails of the trenches: “health, comfort, hygiene, everyday relations, the bonds of friendship, professional duties, and lastly, the apparently unshakable rules of morality."817 The term “genocide” is also used with a small variation by Trotsky, who in  1934 warns of the possibility of a new world war, a new “recurse to genocide” (Volkermorden) that gathers on the horizon.818 As late as August 31st, 1939, Molotov accuses France and Britain of having rejected the Soviet policy of collective security in the hope of pushing the Third Reich  against the USSR, thus without a doubt provoking “a new large massacre, a new holocaust of the nations."819

It’s clearly moral indignation that inspires this denunciation of the horrors of war. A leading American statesman like Theodore Roosevelt has a completely different position on it. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth century, he celebrates war in vitalizing terms, coming from a perspective that in some form seeks to move―you could say using Nietzsche―”beyond good and evil." We read: “All men that have within them the ability to enjoy battle know how it feels when the beast begins to enter their heart; he does not step back in horror at the sight of blood or thinks that the battle should stop; but enjoys the pain, the regret, the danger as if it adorns their triumph."820 

816. Luxemburg (1968), pp. 19-20, 31 and 33; Liebknecht (1958-1968), vol. 8, pp. 230 and 266-83,

vol. 9, p. 503 and vol. 6, pp. 297-99.

817. Trotsky (1998), pp. 98-99, 139, 238-39, and 270.

818. Trotsky (1997-2001), vol. 3, p. 536.

819. Roberts (2006), p. 34.

820. Cited in Hofstadter (1960), p. 208

 They are themes that, in their more attenuated forms, continue to resonate in Churchill who, in reference to the colonial expeditions, affirms that: “War is a game during which one should smile." The escalating carnage in Europe that starts in August of 1914 doesn’t diminish this outlook: “War is the greatest game in all of  history, here we play with the greatest stakes”; war constitutes “the only meaning and purpose in our lives."821 Moving on from the celebration of war in crudely vitalistic terms, to its translation into spiritualist terms, the First World War will be welcomed by Max Weber as “great and marvelous”, while Benedetto Croce hopes to get a “regeneration of current social life” out of it,822 along with numerous other leading figures of the liberal West at the time. Among them we must also cite Herbert Hoover, a notable representative of the American administration and future president of the U.S., who immediately after the signing of the armistice attributes to the just concluded conflict the purpose of the “purification of men” and therefore the preparation of “a new golden age: we are proud to have taken part in this rebirth of humanity."823

Yet Lenin continues to stick to his moral-political condemnation of war; together with it he denounces the social-political system that, in his opinion, caused it. It is evident the moral pathos that inspires the Leninist analysis of capitalism and colonialism in particular. This is how the Italian war in Libya is described: that “typical colonial war by a twentieth century ‘civilized’ state”: we see “a civilized and constitutional nation” perform its “civilizational” work ”by means of bayonets, bullets, the noose, fire, rape”, even by means of “butchery." In fact, it’s “a massacre by civilized and refined men; a massacre of Arabs through the use of ‘the most modern’ of weapons [...]. ‘As punishment’ nearly 3,000 Arabs have been massacred, entire families have been robbed and massacred, children and women massacred."824 The advent of the most advanced bourgeois republic doesn’t in any way put an end to this horror: “with no less cruelty the armies of ‘republican’ France [...] exterminate the African peoples."825

821. Schmid (1974), pp. 48-49.

822. Losurdo (1991), ch. 1, § 1 and 3 (for Weber); Croce (1950), p. 22.

823. Rothbard (1974), p. 89.

824. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 18, pp. 322-23.

825. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 24, p. 423.

The denunciation of the genocidal practices of the West occupies a central role, especially in the overview given by Lenin in the Notebooks on Imperialism, which collects material extracted from liberal-bourgeois literature at the time. A year before the outbreak of the enormous conflict, in a book by a German author, one can read: “The struggle for existence becomes harder, the hostilities among Europeans escalate and lead to attempts at mutual annihilation." On the other hand, the policy of annihilation is already a reality in the colonies: in Africa the Hereros are “in large part annihilated” by Germany, which in repressing the “Hottentot uprising” can also count on the active collaboration of Britain. But let’s see how the leading country of the liberal West conducts itself  in its colonies: “The British have exterminated the inhabitants of Tasmania to the very last man. But the Irish are not Tasmanians! It’s not simply possible to kill them all." Despite being subjected to merciless rule and repression, in South Africa blacks multiply to a concerning degree: “Some colonists openly desire an insurrection to halt the dangerous growth of the Kaffir population and to erase their rights, including to their land."826 Cold and expressionless, these descriptions become charged with moral indignation in passing from bourgeois historians to Lenin, who notes: these are “the results of the colonial wars”; thanks to the expropriation and annihilation of the Hereros, the new arrivals can “steal the land and become landowners."827

No less charged with moral indignation is the reading that Stalin makes of colonialism. But Theodore Roosevelt appears to preemptively respond to this denunciation of the enslavement and genocidal practices that take place in the colonies: “Quite fortunately, the tough and energetic politicians who were the pioneers of the difficult job of civilizing barbarian territories didn’t allow themselves to become overtaken by false sentimentalism”; those “sentimental philanthropists” who are moved by the fate of the colonized peoples should be considered worse than “professional criminals."828 The same can be said of General Bugeaud, considered by Tocqueville as a model of “energy” and “unequaled vigor” at the time of leading “the only type of war that can be waged in Africa."829

In our days, is communism synonymous with the total state and with totalitarianism? In the years of the First World War, it was the capitalist countries, including those of liberal orientation, who incarnated all that. Lenin highlights the fact that what impedes “fraternization” on the frontlines is “a penal colony discipline”, and that even the rearguard posts have become “military prisons."830 Civil society is subjected to the same iron-fist discipline; in referring to that, the Russian revolutionary highlights the relevance of the analysis made some decades earlier by Engels, according to whom the growing militarization and “the competition for greater conquest drives political power to the point that it threatens to consume the entire society, even the State."831 Bukharin, for his part, in denouncing the “centralization of the garrison State” and the “iron heel of the militarist State”, spots on the horizon a “new Leviathan, to which the fantasy of Thomas Hobbes seems like child’s play."832

826. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 39, pp. 492, 652, and 488-89.

827. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 39, p. 652.

828. Hofstadter (1960), pp. 209 and 205.

829. Losurdo 2005, ch. 7, § 6.

830. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 24, p. 329, and vol. 25, p. 363.

831. Marx, Engels (1955-1989), vol. 21, p. 166; Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 25, p. 370.

832. Bukharin (1984), pp. 137 and 141-42.

 It’s a theme that is also found in Stalin, for whom war ends up mutilating or destroying “democracy” even where it appears to be more rooted: contrary to Russia, in Britain “national oppression” doesn’t generally assume “the monstrous forms of massacres and pogroms”, it was “less grave, less inhuman”; but with the outbreak of hostility the situation deteriorates drastically, as both Irish and Indians had to experience first hand.833 Even the Western democracies tend not to differentiate themselves from a country characterized by a fierce and “inhumane autocracy." One can counterpose this language to “the frequent use in the writing of [Theodore] Roosevelt of words like ‘virile’, ‘imperial’, ‘able bodied’”,834 a prose that again transmits an attitude “beyond good and evil” and a cult to a will power lacking any moral limits.

As you can see, the common place reading that likes to oppose the moral sense of the liberal bourgeois world to the communist movement’s Machiavellian lack of scruples doesn’t stand up to historical analysis. Immediately after the October Revolution, approvingly welcomed by him, the young Lukács sees in the “historic movement” for “socialism” a radical settling of accounts with Realpolitik;835 for Benedetto Croce, however, the Bolsheviks and the “Russian revolutionaries” are  the object of hatred and ridicule, who represent “moralistic politics." They “have opened a great courthouse of justice, calling everyone to be examined in the name of morality, about their war objectives, to scrutinize them, accepting the honest and excluding the dishonest; thus, proceeding in a moralistic way, they have made public all previous diplomatic treaties”, considered immoral for having planned the war with the aim of obtaining territorial conquests. But the liberal philosopher objects, it’s absurd to want “to make moral judgements on States” and “to treat politics like morality, in the place where politics (and that is the simple truth) is politics, and precisely politics, and nothing more than politics; and [...] their morality consists solely and entirely in being politically excellent." Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to argue for “awarding rights to those who don’t know how to win them or don’t know how to defend them, placing limits and responsibilities on those who rightly, out of their own conviction and by shedding their own blood, don’t recognize any other limit or obligation outside those suggested or put in place by their own mind and strength."836 One can say that Stalin has the ideal response to Croce on March 10th, 1939, at a time when the partition and tragedy of Czechoslovakia takes place, thanks to Munich and the complicity of the West, who refuse to condemn it and seek to contain the expansionist will power and vitality of the Third Reich, doing everything possible to direct it to the East: “It’s naive to lecture people who don’t recognize human morality. ‘Politics is politics’, as the old and experienced bourgeois diplomats say."837

833. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, pp. 15 and 46 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 3, pp. 27-28 and 63).

834. Hofstadter (1960), p. 207.

835. Lukács (1967), p. 5.

836. Croce (1950), pp. 251-53.

837. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 190 (= Stalin, 1952 p. 686).

 Let us concentrate on the First World War. It’s worthwhile to reread what Vilfredo Pareto wrote in 1920: before the conflagration, “the proletarians and especially the socialists” said they were ready to prevent it with a general strike or by still more radical means. “After such beautiful speeches the World War began. The general strike doesn’t happen; while in opposition in various parliaments, the socialists approved the funding for the war, or didn’t make too much opposition to it” so that “the principle of the teacher [Marx]: ‘workers of the world, unite!’ implicitly transformed into another: ‘workers of the world, kill yourselves’."838 Stalin appears to have preemptively responded to Pareto, who, at least at this time is a typical representative of the liberal-bourgeois world, and who doesn’t hide his cynicism and satisfaction over the bloody defeat of socialist internationalism; but the words of Stalin reverberate with moral indignation and, at the same time with hope (the February Revolution has started):

Three years have passed since the workers of the world―a day before still brothers, now dressed in uniforms―lined up to face each other as enemies, and who today injure and kill each other, to the enjoyment of the enemies of the proletariat [...]. The Russian Revolution is the first to open a breach in the wall that divides the workers against each other. At a time of general ‘patriotic’ intoxication, the Russian workers are the first to raise the forgotten slogan: “Workers of the world, Unite!”839

In the new situation created in Russia (and around the world) it’s possible to resume the struggle to put an end to the massacre and to promote “mass confraternization on the fronts” and “new bonds of fraternity among the peoples."840 To achieve this result, however, it’s necessary to go beyond the February Revolution. “The life in the trenches, the true lives of the soldiers, created a new instrument of struggle: mass confraternization”, which the provisional government nevertheless opposes, calling for an “offensive” and for new bloodbaths,841 and it threatens to send to military courts those “guilty” of “confraternization."842

838. Pareto (1966), p. 940.

839. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, p. 34 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 3, p. 49).

840. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, pp. 34-35 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 3, pp. 49-50).

841. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, pp. 54-55 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 3, p. 73).

842. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, pp. 75-76 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 3, p. 99).

 It’s true, in its clandestine period, the Bolshevik party and Stalin eventually carried out their struggle against the autocracy using violent methods (robberies of banks and vehicles transporting valuables), and historians committed to depicting Stalin as a gangster since his youth make use of that past. What is there to say of this approach? Let’s make a comparison with Churchill, five years older than Stalin. The future British statesman begins his career by fighting and sympathetically describing the wars of the British Empire, including the least glorious ones; while in Sudan they don’t take prisoners, in South Africa the conquerors create concentration camps, destined to become a tragic model. From these experiences, Churchill begins to distinguish himself as a political leader, passionately fighting for the defense of the “British race” and the white race in general. To achieve this outcome, it's not enough to strengthen control over the “colonial peoples”, it’s necessary to intervene in the metropole as well: they must proceed toward the forced sterilization of the “feeble- minded”, misfits, those presumed to be habitual delinquents; at the same time “idle vagabonds” should be locked away in work camps. Only this way could “a national and racial threat impossible to exaggerate” be adequately confronted. The author who cites these fragments comments: as the Home Secretary in 1911, Churchill was the author of “draconian measures” that had “conferred upon him an almost unlimited personal power over the lives of individuals."843 Are Churchill’s origins truly more inspiring than Stalin’s? Years later, while the latter―from a prison in which he was placed by the tsarist regime allied to Britain―dreams of the confraternization of soldiers  and nations, the former is dedicated to carrying out until the very end a war that his view is destined to strengthen the hegemony of the British Empire and the “British race."

In conclusion, for a historian who ends their work in October of 1917, it would very difficult to point to the Bolshevik party and to Stalin as the side in the struggle that ignores moral reasoning.

Reductio ad Hilterum and its Variants

Even more inconclusive prove to be the psychopathological and moral approaches for the fact that the tragedy that took place in Russia in the twentieth century was predicted decades or even centuries in advance by a number of different personalities; therefore it’s very hard to explain it by the psychology or by the moral deprivation of single individuals. Moreover, like the first approach, the second as well could be used to denounce the leader of the liberal West. One can start with the close support given by Great Britain to the attempted coup d’état by Kornilov, and the support later given to the Whites, at a time when they unleashed a vicious and bloody manhunt, that in some ways foreshadowed the “final solution." To impose upon Russia its permanent participation in what the communists denounced as the “genocide” of World War I, the liberal West closed its eyes to other monstrous crimes.

After military victory comes the moment to divide up the colonial booty. To Britain belongs, among 843. Ponting (1992) others, Iraq, that nevertheless rebels in 1920. Here’s how one of the leading countries of the liberal West faces that situation: British troops initiated “cruel reprisals”, “they set fire to villages and committed other acts which today we’d judge to be excessively repressive, if not outright barbaric." It’s certainly not Churchill who puts a halt to it, he in fact encourages the air force to offer a severe lesson to the “recalcitrant natives”, using an “experimental method” by resorting to “toxic gas projectiles, especially mustard gas."844 In this case, we are forced to think not of the “final solution”, but of the colonial war unleashed by fascist Italy against Ethiopia, and carried out in a particularly barbaric way, resorting to weapons prohibited by international conventions. In this, Churchill appears as the precursor to Mussolini. Moreover, when it’s a matter of preserving or expanding the Empire, the crude methods of the British statesman are unchanging: in 1942, the pro-independence demonstrations in India are repressed by “resorting to extreme measures, like the use of the air  force to strafe the multitudes of protesters”;845 in the following two years, Churchill is stubborn in denying and in neglecting the reality of the famine that decimated the population of Indian Bengal. Finally, to stick with the subject of the colonies and the peoples of colonial origin, to what degree does the “final solution of our indigenous question” in Canada, that until 1931 is part of the British Commonwealth, cast another shadow on an authoritative member of the British political class like Churchill? He, as prime minister from 1951 to 1955, must be considered responsible for the genocidal practices that the government in London resorts to in the effort to smash the Mau Mau rebellion. (infra, ch. 8, § 4).

But let’s return to the interwar period in Europe. After Hitler’s rise to power, the London government seeks by all means to redirect the Third Reich’s expansionist drive to the East, and primarily against the Soviet Union. Regarding this, two Canadian historians arrive at a conclusion that gives cause for consideration: “The responsibility for the tragedy of World War II, the Holocaust included, must fall in part on Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, and their closest allies."846

However, Great Britain was unable to avoid the clash with Nazi Germany and it faces it  primarily  by making use of indiscriminate terror bombings of  German cities, with the consequent massacre  of the civilian population; that led two American historians to make a comparison to the treatment inflicted by Nazism on the Jewish people (supra, ch. 5, § 2). It’s the Soviet leadership that seeks to restrain it, as follows in a diary entry by Dimitrov from March 17th, 1945:

This evening with Stalin alongside Molotov, we discussed the questions regarding Germany. The British want to divide Germany (Bavaria, Austria, the Rhineland, etc). They try using all means to destroy their competitor. They furiously bombard German factories. 

844. Catherwood (2004), pp. 89 and 85.

845. Torri (2000), p. 598.

846. Torri (2000), p. 598.

 We don’t let their aircraft pass over our area in Germany. But they try by all means to bombard there as well [...] It’s necessary for Germans to emerge who can act to save what can still be saved for the sake of the German people. To organize local government, restore economic life, etc, in the occupied territories and areas soon to be occupied by the Red Army. To create bodies for local administration from which can also emerge a German government.847

All the more odious appears the hellfire unleashed by the British air force for the fact that two weeks after the start of the war, British Prime Minister Chamberlain had declared: “regardless of how far others may go, the government of His Majesty will never resort to deliberate attacks against women and children for merely terroristic aims."848 In truth, the plans for indiscriminate and terroristic bombardments had begun taking shape during the First World War; while it dragged on without end, Churchill “had planned for 1919 an attack by a thousand bombers on Berlin." Those planned continued to be developed after their victory.849 In other words, one could say, imitating the careless form of argument used by the ideologues in fashion today, that the leading country of the liberal West at that time planned a new “genocide” as was coming to end the one that had been initiated in 1914. In any case, it’s precisely Britain who becomes the protagonist of  the systematic destruction  of German cities toward the very end of World War II (with Dresden particularly in mind), an organized destruction carried out with the declared objective of leaving no escape for the civilian population, pursued and consumed by the flames, obstructed in their attempt to flee the bombing by delayed explosions and often strafed from above.

Those practices appear all the more sinister if we consider the statement made by Churchill in April of 1941: “There’s less than 70 million evil Huns. Some of them can be cured, others must die." If one doesn’t have in mind a pure and simple genocide, like Nolte thought, it’s clear that a massive thinning of the German population was being considered.850 We can put the strategic bombing campaign in that context: “Between 1940-1945, Churchill annihilated the inhabitants of Cologne, Berlin, and Dresden as if they were the Huns."851 The British prime minister proved to be no less cruel when it came to carving out London’s sphere of influence and systematically liquidating the partisan forces considered hostile or questionable. 

847. Dimitrov (2002), p. 817.

848. Markusen, Kopf (1995), p. 151.

849. Freidrich (2004), pp. 19 and 52-53.

850. Churchill (1974), p. 6384 (speech from April 27th, 1941); Nolte (1987), p 503.

851. Friedrich (2004), pp. 227-28.

 The orders given to the British expeditionary force in Greece are significant: “Don’t hesitate in acting as if you found yourselves in a conquered city in which a local revolt has broken out." In addition: “Certain things can’t be done half-way."852

Let’s move on to the Cold War. Some time ago, The Guardian revealed that between 1946 and 1948, Great Britain prepared camps in Germany in which were to be confined communists or elements suspected of communist sympathies, and real or presumed Soviet spies: “the photos showed the disheveled and tormented faces of the bone-thin youths, for months subjected to a lack of food and sleep, repeatedly beaten and exposed to very low temperatures. An inhumane treatment that sought the death of some of the prisoners." Imprisoned there as well were “dozens of women who weren’t spared from torture." In carrying out torture, they used instruments that had been inherited from  the Gestapo; in fact, the camps were “worthy of the Nazi ‘lagers’."853 As one can see, the comparison between the practices used in the twentieth century by Great Britain and the practices dear to the Third Reich continually arises.

When we concern ourselves with the United States, we reach results that are no different. In that case, the hypocrisy we saw characterize Chamberlain reaches its apex. Soon after the start of World War II, it’s Franklin D. Roosevelt who condemns the aerial bombardments targeting civilian populations for being against the sentiments of “every civilized man and woman” and “human consciousness”, and as the expression of “inhuman barbarity."854 Soon to demonstrate even more extreme “inhuman barbarity”, the United States war machine proceeds with the systematic and terroristic destruction of Japanese cities and actively participates in a similar operation carried out against German cities. Nor should it be underestimated the bombardment against Italy, which also aims to strike the civilian population and undermine their morale. It’s F.D. Roosevelt himself who provides evidence of that: “We will make it so the Italians experience an authentic bombardment, and I’m more than convinced that they won’t remain standing under this sort of pressure."855

The terror bombing campaign culminates, under the Truman administration, in the use of nuclear weapons against a country already on its knees. To add a further gruesome detail: it’s been noted that the annihilation of the civilian population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was aimed, not at a Japan on the brink of surrender, but at the Soviet Union, delivered as a serious warning.856 We have before us, then, two acts of terrorism on a grand scale; and moreover, they serve multiple purposes: tens upon tens of thousands of unarmed civilians of the old enemy (or better yet, the former enemy who’s to be transformed into an ally) are massacred with the aim of terrorizing an ally, now picked out as the new enemy and the new target of the genocidal practices that had just been tested!

852. Fontaine (2005), pp. 72-73.

853. Cobain (2005); Cobain (2006).

854. Dower (1986), p. 39.

855. Butler (2005), p. 99 (message from November 25th, 1942).

856. Alperovitz (1995).

The war in Asia, however, lends itself to further considerations. It’s now widely accepted in the United States the theory according to which the attack on Pearl Harbor was easily foreseen (and in fact provoked with an oil embargo that had left Japan with very few alternatives). Once the attack took place, however, the war is carried out by Washington and inspired by a sense of moral indignation that in light of what we now know is certainly hypocritical, yet much more lethal. It’s not just the destruction of cities. Consider the mutilation of bodies and even the mutilation of enemies moments away from their deaths in order to extract some kind of souvenir, a souvenir then calmly and proudly flaunted. Especially significant is the ideology that presides over these practices: the Japanese are classified as “subhumans”, resorting to a term central to Nazi discourse.857 And we are again directed to that discourse when we witness F.D. Roosevelt flirt with the idea of forcing “castration” upon the Germans. After the end of the war, they are confined to concentration camps where, out of pure sadism or vengeance, they are forced to endure hunger, thirst, and all kinds of deprivations and humiliations, while across the entire defeated nation looms the specter of death by starvation.

To continue with the statesman who is considered, above all others, to be the champion of freedom: Roosevelt didn’t alter the policy traditionally followed by Washington in Latin America, and in 1937 a bloody dictator, Anastasio Somoza, comes to power in Nicaragua, thanks to the National Guard trained by the United States.858 Within the United States, cities built under the F.D. Roosevelt administration continued to explicitly discriminate against African Americans; moreover, “the residencies for workers involved in national defense, either built or financed by the government during World War II, were deliberately subjected to a more rigid segregation than even that enforced in the neighboring communities." In addition, “the armed forces also maintained a rigid segregation during the war." There’s more: despite pressure from the Republican Party, “the president never put forth legislative proposals against lynchings”,859 which continue to be carried out in the South as a spectacle for crowds of men, women and children who enjoy the sight of the humiliation and the most sadistic torture inflicted upon the victim―a slow torment, unending and made to last as long as possible (infra, ch. 8, § 4).

Lastly, after having celebrated in January of 1941 the United States as a country that has continually evolved in a peaceful manner, “without concentration camps”,860 soon after the outbreak of war, F.D. Roosevelt resorts to that very institution to deprive the Japanese American community of their freedom, without distinctions for age or sex.

857. Fussell (1991), pp. 151-54.

858. Smith (1995), p. 248.

859. Loewen (2006), p. 43.

860. Hofstadter (1982), vol. 3, p. 391.

Nowadays, it’s almost obvious to compare Stalin to Hitler, but it may be interesting to read an evaluation of the strategic bombing of Germany that a German author made regarding the flames that consumed Dresden and its residents:

The fate of the bodies reflected the means of execution. The victim of an act of extermination does not have their own grave, nor their own death, because they have not been given the right to live [...], the deaths of thousands of children beneath the age of ten is not a punishment. The bombardier Harris [leader of the air campaign against German cities] didn’t assign them any blame. Churchill only stated that for him they had no rights of any value. Perhaps they still had some in the First World War, but not anymore in the Second. Hitler, Churchill and Roosevelt had taken them away.861

Of course, the comparison of these three figures is marked by a polemical overstatement that seems to reflect a mindset widespread in Germany immediately following the war, in a ruined Germany that is isolated by the ban against fraternization and taken to the brink of starvation by the liberal West. A conversation was recorded that, in the zone occupied by the US, takes place between two desperate citizens:

Yes, Hitler was bad, our war was unjust, but now they are committing the same injustices against us, they are the same, there’s no difference, they seek to enslave Germany in the same way Hitler sought to enslave the Polish, now we are the Jews, the ‘inferior race’.862

If the first of these two cited passages makes a partial comparison between Hitler, Churchill and

F.D. Roosevelt, the second arrives at their total assimilation. The ruling ideology today, however, associates Stalin and Hitler, but that’s just as rash as the comparison made by the two German citizens frustrated by hunger and humiliation: ‘There’s no difference’!

861. Friedrich (2004), p. 381.

862. MacDonogh (2007), p. 365.

 Tragic Conflicts and Moral Dilemmas

Even in wanting to fixate on its specifically moral dimension, the comparison between the protagonists of the grand anti-fascist alliance certainly has its contrasts. But how to explain, then,  the current Manichean opposition? Let’s return to the secular process behind the catastrophe that explodes with the collapse of the tsarist autocracy. Sadly, while accepted when it comes to historical reconstruction, the long-term perspective disappears like magic when it comes to the formulation of a moral judgement: everything is reduced to the demonization of the period that  began with October 1917, and with Stalin in particular. Are those who for a long time supported a regime characterized by such violent social relations―and so violently dehumanizing that the catastrophe was foreseen by such different personalities (Maistre, Marx, Witte)―blameless? Is there nothing to censure in those who unleashed World War I, and that in the West, with the aim of forcing Russia to participate in it until the end, didn’t hesitate in arming and propping up even the most ferocious reactionary groups? If, as sustained by one of the authors of The Black Book of Communism, “Stalinism” began taking form in 1914, why doesn’t the bench for the accused have those that were responsible for the slaughter, but only those that sought to prevent or hasten its conclusion?

At least with regard to the origin and the unfolding of the Second World War, the problematic character of the moral judgement to be formulated on the Western and liberal statesmen didn’t go unnoticed by the more attentive authors. We saw two Canadian historians attribute to the British protagonists of appeasement―in truth, the redirection of Nazi expansionism to the East―shared responsibility “for the tragedy of World War II, including Holocaust."

Then there’s the problem of how the war was conducted by the liberal West once it began. Of course, in this case as well the ruling ideology gets off easy. A successful historian and journalist, whose articles are also found in the New York Times, and who has very little doubts “about the timing and moral righteousness” of the use of the atomic bomb against Japan, goes as far as stating that to not use it “would have been illogical and completely irresponsible." Certainly a massacre of an innocent civilian population took place, but “those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were victims not of American technology, but of a paralyzed system of government, devoted to a twisted ideology that had eliminated not only absolute moral values, but reason itself."863 These firmly held certainties rest on a very simple assumption: the responsibility for a horrible action does not necessarily belong to the material author of that action. It’s something that has been similarly argued by the leaders of the USSR: having obviously recognized the horrors that took place at crucial moments in the history of the country, but having attributed its responsibility to “imperialist encirclement” and the aggressive policies of the great capitalist powers. It must be noted, however, that the journalist-historian, who is published and praised by the most prominent press organizations, applies his criteria only to the liberal and Anglo-Saxon West. But to only apply a criteria to one’s own side is the very definition of dogmatism at the theoretical level and it’s  hypocrisy at the moral level.

863. Johnson (1991), pp. 425 and 427.

 Fortunately, it’s possible to hear less simplistic opinions on Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An illustrious American philosopher, Michael Walzer, observes that, for the then victorious American side, to resort to the atomic bomb and “to kill and terrorize civilians”, without even attempting a real negotiation with the Japanese, were “two crimes in one." Walzer reaches a similar conclusion with regard to the destruction of Dresden and other German and Japanese cities, carried out “when the war had already been virtually won."864 The question is put differently during the years in which the triumph of the Third Reich appeared to be taking place, when Great Britain begins its strategic bombing campaign that in Germany systematically and ruthlessly targets the civilian population. It’s a tragic moment and the British rulers find themselves in a terrible moral dilemma that can be formulated as follows:

Can soldiers and statesmen trample over the rights of innocent people to save their own political community? I would be inclined to respond in the affirmative to that question, although not without hesitation and concern. What other choice would be available to them? They can sacrifice themselves for the purpose of  defending moral law, but they can’t sacrifice their own countrymen. Faced with an endless and horrible situation, the options in front of them are exhausted, they will do what is necessary to save their own people.865

The danger of a victory by the Third Reich, “the personification of evil in the world”, dictates a “supreme emergency”, a “state of necessity”; so it’s then necessary to observe that “necessity knows no limits." Certainly, bombing campaigns that aim aim to kill and terrorize the civilian population of an enemy country are a crime, however, “I dare say that our history would be wiped out, our future put in jeopardy, if I didn’t accept assuming the burden of the criminal act here and now." The young Lukács makes a similar argument when, driven by the butchery of World War I, his revolutionary orientation matures. In affirming the inevitability of “guilt” and appealing to “seriousness”, “consciousness”, and a “sense of moral responsibility”, he exclaims paraphrasing Hebbel: “And if God, between me and the task that’s been assigned to me, had placed sin, who am I to be allowed to escape that choice?”866 Presumably later, with that same state of mind, as the threat posed by the Third Reich grows ever more imminent, the Hungarian philosopher faced the years of Stalin's  terror.

864. Walzer (1990), pp. 350 and 342.

865. Walzer (1990), p. 322.

866. Walzer (1990), pp. 33 and 340; Lukacs (1967), pp. 6-11.

 We can now turn our sights to the Soviet Union. It’s worthwhile to observe the thesis formulated by Toynbee, according to which Stalingrad was made possible by the journey taken by Stalin’s USSR “from 1928 to 1941”,867 is today confirmed by no small number of historians and experts on  military strategy: it’s quite possible that, without the abandonment of the NEP, without the collectivization of agriculture (with the steady flow of food products from the countryside to the  city and the front) and the rushed industrialization (with the development of the arms industry and with the rise of new industrial centers in the eastern regions, at a safe distance from the invading army), it would have been impossible to successfully oppose Hitler’s aggression: “The unequaled and incontestable contribution by Soviet Russia to the defeat of Nazi Germany is closely linked to the stubborn Second Revolution by Stalin."868 Moreover, in Churchill’s judgement, even the trial against Tukhachevsky and the Great Terror as a whole had played a positive and even an important role in the defeat of Operation Barbarossa. Must we then justify the concentrationary universe that made it possible to avoid “a horror without end” for the Soviet people and for all of humanity?

Walzer rightly subjects his stated principle to rigorous conditions: it can only be considered valid if, aside from being “truly rare and dire”, the danger is also “imminent."869 One could possibly say that the second condition is absent in the Soviet Union: Stalin begins coerced collectivization of agriculture and rushed industrialization―which ends up provoking a horrible expansion of the concentrationary universe―when the threat of war is still remote and Hitler hadn’t even seized power. One could also argue in response that Great Britain also promoted its plan for the construction of an air fleet suited to future strategic bombing campaigns at least two decades before the rise of its “supreme emergency." In fact, that plan began taking shape during the First World War and, therefore, what motivated it was the competition for hegemony underway since at least the end of the nineteenth century.

The context is very different for the country that is born out of the October Revolution.  Widespread in Europe at the time, the analysis offered by General Foch, among others, soon after the signing of the Versailles Treaty (“it’s not a peace, it’s but an armistice for twenty years”)870 is well known to Stalin, who warns about the urgency of the task of tackling the backwardness demonstrated by Russia during the First World War. With regard to the Eastern Front, that conflict was continuously understood by Wilhelm II as a racial war in which the very existence of the nations in battle was at stake, the “to be or not to be of the Germanic race in Europe."

867. Toynbee (1992), p. 19.

868. Mayer (2000), p. 607; also Yucker (1990), pp. 50 and 98; Bullock (1992), pp. 279-80; Schneider


869. Walzer (1990), pp. 330-31.

870. Kissinger (1994), p. 250.

It was a fight that excluded any reconciliation or mutual recognition: peace “is in no way possible between Slavs and Germans." Specifically starting with Brest-Litovsk, voices had emerged in Wilhelm’s Reich that looked to the East in search of a solution for the problem of living-space, and who had in mind an understanding with Britain with the aim of carrying out the dismemberment of Russia and “creating the conditions for Germany’s position in the world as an enormous continental power."871 A few years later, in Mein Kampf, Hitler clearly described his program for the construction of a continental German empire to be built primarily over the ruins of the Soviet Union. It’s not hard to identify the line that leads from Brest-Litovsk to Operation Barbarossa, and that’s enough to explain Stalin’s concerns. In any case, the imminence of the threat is anything but unambiguous; there’s no great  way of measuring its distance in time; the threat is imminent enough that no delays can be permitted for it to be adequately handled. Moreover, if we understand “imminence” not only with respect to time, but also with respect to location, the Soviet Union was clearly exposed to a more “imminent” threat. Lastly, while the systematic killing of a civilian population by aerial bombardment is a crime in itself, the collectivization of agricultural and rushed industrialization end up leading to a series of crimes.

Those who only contemplate the moral dilemmas of the Anglo-Saxon statesmen demonstrate dogmatism and hypocrisy. Yet, even if we affirm alongside Walzer that when faced with the “supreme emergency” a statesman must know how to assume “the burden of the crime here and now”, it becomes difficult to move on from the general to the particular.

When we read about the terrible suffering individuals held in the Gulag went through, disturbed by a horrible experience of which they are unable to comprehend either its origin or its reason, we are led to exclaim alongside Petrarch “Povera et nuda vai philosophia” (Rimas, VII, 10). But a similar consideration holds true for the victims of strategic bombing campaigns. Can the “supreme emergency” really justify that which is described in written accounts? “The first round of bombs fell at nine in the morning on streets full of people lined up to shop, and it killed seven hundred people, nearly all of them women and children. Later the warplanes pursued and struck the citizens fleeing to the east, to the forest." In other places “the warplanes started strafing pedestrians, cyclists, train passengers, farmers working in the fields." “The funerals take place under low altitude attacks; lacking coffins, bed sheets were used." “The bombs smash through houses, remaining stuck in the ceiling, they explode ten days later, during the light of day or in the dark of night: they knock down walls, and kill residents while they sleep." “People had to flee through the flames and thereby rushed to their deaths; there were even those who took their own lives or threw themselves into the flames."872

In any case, criminal at a time when the defeat of the Third Reich was already becoming evident, are these actions justified while the supreme emergency is in effect? It’s once again evident the difficulty in moving from the general to the particular.

871. Fischer (1965), pp. 33, 743-45 and 803.

872. Friedrich (2004), pp. 129-30, 135, 292 and 297.

The Soviet Katyn and the American and South Korean “Katyn”

Contrary to the collectivization of agriculture and the rushed industrialization, the massacre of Polish officers, ordered by the Soviet leadership and carried out in Katyn in March and April of 1940, is a crime in itself. The challenge posed by Finland continued to linger; after the unsuccessful attempt to arrange an agreed-upon exchange of territory, undertaken by Stalin with the aim of providing a minimal of territorial depth to the defense of Leningrad (a city that is later protagonist  of an epic resistance against the Nazi invasion), now the war appears to be widening and becoming generalized. In such a case, what would be the reaction from the captured Polish officers following the dismemberment of Poland? For Moscow’s part, they try in vain to dissuade them from their stubborn anti-Soviet positions, the legacy of the conflict that began with the collapse of the tsarist empire and that therefore tended to take on the brutal characteristics of a civil war. The situation became very difficult. There was the danger of the USSR itself being consumed by the war, and there were Western circles that were considering an overthrow of Stalin’s regime (supra, ch. 2, § 9). That is the “grave security problem” that precipitated the “appalling decision” that Stalin must have later “bitterly lamented due to the troubles and complications that followed."873 In other words, in the case of the Katyn executions, the moral dilemmas that Walzer brought up are also present. However, it would be wrong in this case to invoke the “supreme emergency”, further expanding a criteria that inherently runs the risk of becoming excessively broad.

Although it’s unjustifiable, the crime we are dealing with doesn’t involve characteristics that are specific to Stalin’s personality or the regime led by him. Let’s consider the crime that stains United States general Patton; upon landing in Sicily, he orders the massacre of Italian soldiers who surrendered after fierce resistance.874 Although it’s an atrocity smaller in scope, it’s necessary to have in mind that there’s no real security concerns for the country that provoked it, but rather the spirit  of vengeance or maybe even racial contempt. In other words, in this case it’s a matter of a crime of abject motives.

However, if we want to find a real analogy to Katyn, we must reference other tragedies and other horrors. Ten years after the Soviet Katyn, that which we can define as the United States and South Korean “Katyn” took place. The Korean War is underway. From the savagely bombarded North, a mass of refugees heads to the South. How are they received?

873. Roberts (2006), pp. 47 and 170-71.

874. Di Feo (2004); Di Feo (2005).

“The United States army had a policy of killing civilians that approached South Korea”; the victims were “mostly women and children”, but they had feared that North Korean infiltrators had been among them, although in researching one of the more documented cases (the killings that occurred in No Gun Ri), “there didn’t appear to be any proof of enemy infiltrators”).875 Here it’s not a question of orders from a single, albeit high profile, general or marshal like Patton, but rather a policy approved at the highest military (and political) levels in the United States. And it’s that exact situation that makes us think of Katyn, especially because security is at stake in the two cases.

To guarantee security, the United States and its allies don’t stop at killing refugees. They considered it necessary to also eliminate the potential fifth column. For example, “in the city of Taejon, in July of 1950, the police order 1,700 Koreans, accused of being communists, to dig their graves, then they were put to the firing squad.” A witness explains:

On a Sunday morning, at dawn, in the apparently deserted city of Chochiwon, I saw a procession of men and women, bound to one another with their hands behind their backs, beaten and bashed, while they are led from the police station to the trucks they’re forced to climb into. They were later put to the firing squad, left unburied one or two miles away.876

It’s a large scale operation:

In a cobalt mine near Daegu, in the south of the country, researchers have so far found the remains of 240 people. It’s just a fraction of the presumed 3,500 prisoners or suspected communists grabbed from their cells or homes between July and September of 1950, and later put to the firing squad and tossed to the bottom of the mine.

Sometimes the victims of “summary executions” also included “women and children”;877 one could say in such cases that not even the family of the suspected communist was spared. The obsession with security doesn’t only strike the military rear, but the captured or recaptured cities as well. Here’s what happened in one of them: “they told us to light our cigarettes. 

875. Hanley, Mendoz (2007).

876. Warner (2000).

877. Choe Sang-Hun (2007).

Then they started to unload with their rifles and machine guns. After a pause, one officer shouted: ‘those of you still alive, you can get up and go home’. Those that did were again fired upon."

How many victims in total were there from these two practices of killing refugees and eliminating those suspected of being communists? In truth, it still hasn’t been fully determined the extension of that which “the relatives of the victims call the Korean death camps." For now a provisional figure can be reached: “The researchers have so far investigated 1,222 cases of mass executions [...]. The cases included 215 incidents in which the survivors claim American ground troops and planes killed unarmed refugees."878

The American and South Korean “Katyn” doesn’t appear to be smaller in scale than the Soviet one, and in addition it shows a greater lack of scruples (for a war carried out thousands of kilometers away by a country whose leaders in Washington couldn’t in any way claim a “supreme emergency”). But here it’s not a question of establishing a hierarchy between the two crimes, both are  unjustifiable; it’s instead a question of noting the inadequacy of the moral-Manichaean approach to understanding Stalin and the country led by him.

The Inevitability and Complexity of the Moral Judgement

In a certain way, while inevitable, the moral judgement would be superficial and hypocritical if it was formulated by abstracting the historical context. From there arises its complexity and difficulty. At the same time, it’s necessary to have in mind and to unravel the objective circumstances and subjective responsibilities and, with respect to the latter, it’s necessary to distinguish between the responsibilities of the leadership group as a whole and those that belong to single individuals. With respect to the leadership group of Soviet Russia, it comes to power at a time when―to use the  words of a Christian witness sympathetic to the changes brought by October 1917―”pity was killed by the omnipresence of death”,879 and it is forced to face a prolonged state of emergency, in a situation characterized―to again use the analysis by one of the authors of The Black Book of Communism―by an “unparalleled brutality”, generalized and “without possible terms of comparison to that known by Western societies." In other words, while the major figures of the twentieth  century were forced to confront the devastating conflicts and moral dilemmas that characterized the Second Thirty Years’ War, Stalin had to also face the conflicts and moral dilemmas particular to

Russian history and the Second Time of Troubles. One could say the shadow of the “supreme emergency” dominated the thirty years when he exercised power.

878. Choe Sang-Hun (2007).

879. Pierre Pascal, cited in Furet (1995), p. 129.

It’s necessary, however, not to lose sight of the fact that it’s not only the objective conditions that create serious obstacles or make the transition from the state of emergency to a state of normality impossible. Millenarianism also contributed to that, though certainly in great measure sparked by the horrors of World War I, yet it’s intrinsic to a vision that expects the disappearance of the market, money, the state and juridical order. The disappointment and outrage that none of that had come to pass encourages more conflict, and a conflict that can’t be managed by purely formal juridical  norms, as they too are destined to disappear. From this arises a level of violence that isn’t possible to justify by resorting to the state of emergency or the “supreme emergency." In that sense, the moral judgement coincides with the political judgement.

This holds true for the liberal West as well. With regard to the commander of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany, it was observed:

When he was a young pilot, Harris had bombed rebellious Indian civilians. The psychological shock they experienced was a cultural shock above all else. The primitive tribes that lived in villages with huts made of reeds threw themselves down in awe at the feet of the colonial empire and its industrial arsenal.880

Moreover, it was Churchill more than anyone else who promoted that kind of warfare, who as we already saw suggests striking “recalcitrant natives” in Iraq with bombs using “chemical weapons and especially mustard gas”, and elsewhere compares the Germans to “evil Huns." We also encountered the weight of racial ideology in the American war against Japan (supra, ch. 6, § 4), that, not by chance, goes on to suffer the atomic bombings. Again a level of violence appears that can’t be justified by the “supreme emergency”, but instead relates to the colonial ideology shared by the liberal West and Germany. While the Third Reich compares the “indigenous people” of Eastern Europe to the decimated Native Americans and enslaved blacks, Britain and the United States end up treating the Germans and the Japanese the same way as colonial peoples are treated, needing a lesson in obedience.

880. Friedrich (2004), p. 287.

Stalin, Peter the Great and the New Lincoln

In specific reference to the role played by him in the Second Time of Troubles, no small number of historians―taking up a theme that we already saw Churchill use―compare Stalin to Peter the Great.881 Even the objection raised in regards to it (“Peter, contrary to Stalin, looked to the West and opened up his state to it”)882 doesn’t seem persuasive. The condemnation of the “Asiatic dispositions”, the “barbaric, Asiatic measures”, and the “Asiatic methods”, for which the government and bourgeoisie of Tsarist Russia are responsible, is a crucial moment in Stalin’s revolutionary agitation.883 At least until October 1917, he had no doubt that his country was more backwards at all levels in relation to the Western democracies, where bloody pogroms against the Jews don’t take place, pogroms that rage in a “semi-Asiatic country” (supra, ch. 5, § 9). After the seizure of power, Stalin not only insists on the need to embrace Western technology, but also declares that, if they really want to live up to the “principles of Leninism”, the Bolshevik cadre must know how to combine “the Russian revolutionary impetus” with “the practical American spirit." In 1932, still referring to the United States, he expresses his appreciation for their “industrial and productive traditions”: they are “somewhat democratic."884

The reference to Peter the Great seems to be yet more persuasive in explaining the history of Soviet Russia for the fact that Lenin makes explicit reference to it (by May of 1918); and it’s referenced by Stalin as well, who once in a while appears to take up the figure of the great tsar as a model.885 Trotsky himself, even while denouncing the “betrayal” of the revolution, writes: “In comparison to other various regions and nationalities, [Stalin’s] regime largely realizes the historic work that Peter I and his comrades realized for old Moscow; he just does it on a much vaster scale and at a much quicker pace."886 It’s interesting as well to observe that, at the end of his trip to the Soviet Union in 1927, a great philosopher like Benjamin sympathetically shares the thesis by some “literati [...] who see in Bolshevism the coronation of Peter the Great’s work."887 Lastly, one could go further back  and recall a prediction by Marx: After having mentioned the violent and unprecedented disturbances provoked by the secular contradictions of Tsarist Russia, he concludes: “The Russian 1793 [...] will be the second turning point in Russian history and will introduce a real and generalized civilization in place of the false, deceptive civilization introduced by Peter the Great."888

881. Tucker (1990), pp. 13-24.

882. Graziosi (2007), p. 24.

883. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 2, pp. 107-08 and 114-15 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 2, pp. 134, 142 and


884. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 6, pp. 164-165 (= Stalin, 1952, vol. 13, pp. 100-02).

885. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 27, p. 309; Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 11, p. 221.

886. Trotsky (1988), p. 863 (= Trotsky, 1968, pp. 156-57).

887. Benjamin (2007), p. 45.

All that said, while it can in part serve to illuminate the relation between Russian history and the Second Time of Troubles, the comparison in question leaves out the Second Thirty Years’ War and the extraordinary influence exercised by Stalin at the global level. The condemnation in 1924 of the “outrageous disparity” between nations, theorized and imposed by imperialism, and the call to topple “the wall that separated whites and blacks”, nations considered “civilized” and peoples excluded from that recognition (supra, ch. 5, § 7); the approval of a “profoundly internationalist” constitution―as Stalin stresses while presenting his project―and based on the “principle that all nations and races have equal rights”, regardless of the “color of their skin”, their language, and their respective level of economic and military development: all this could not fail to arouse a deep echo not only in the colonies but also in the peoples of colonial origin located in the very heart of the West.889

In the Southern United States, where the regime of white supremacy still rages on, a new atmosphere takes hold; they look to the Soviet Union with hope and to Stalin as the “new Lincoln”, the Lincoln who would put an end, this time concretely and definitively, to the enslavement of blacks, and to the oppression, degradation, humiliation, violence and lynchings that they continue to endure.890

While it advances toward autocracy, Stalin’s USSR has a powerful influence on the struggle by African Americans (and the colonial peoples) against racial despotism. In the South of the United States, a phenomenon is witnessed that is worrying from the point of view of the ruling caste: it’s  the growing “imprudence” of black youths. Thanks to the communists, they finally begin to receive that which was stubbornly denied to them: an education that goes further than the basic education traditionally given to all those destined to carry out semi-servile labor for the master race. Now, however, in the schools organized by the communist party in the North of the United States, or in the schools of Moscow in Stalin’s USSR, blacks embrace the study of economics, politics, and world history; they also explore these disciplines to understand the reasons for the hard fate reserved to them in a country that carries itself as the champion of freedom. Those who attend those schools  go through a profound change: the “imprudence” they’re condemned for by white supremacy is, in truth, their self esteem, up until that time forbidden and crushed. A black woman, and delegate to the International Congress of Women against War and Fascism that takes place in Paris in 1934, is extremely impressed by the equality and fraternity there, despite the linguistic and racial differences between those participating in that initiative promoted by the communists: “It was paradise on earth." 

888. Marx, Engels (1955-1989), vol. 12, p. 682.

889. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 69 (= Stalin, 1952, pp. 624-25).

890. Kelley (1990), p. 100.

 Those who arrive in Moscow―observes a contemporary American historian―”experience a sense of freedom unheard of in the South." A black man falls in love with a white Soviet woman  and they get married, even if later, in returning back home, he can’t bring her with him, knowing the destiny that awaits in the South for those that are found guilty of the crime of miscegenation and racial bastardization.891

The hopes of African Americans placed in the “new Lincoln” are not as naive as they may seem. Let’s reflect on the times and the modalities that characterize the end of the regime of white supremacy. In December of 1952, the United States Attorney General sends a revealing letter to the Supreme Court as it debated the question of integrating public schools: “Racial discrimination carries water for communist propaganda and raises doubts even among friendly nations about the intensity of our devotion to the democratic faith." Washington―observes an American historian retracing those events―would run the risk of alienating “the colored races” not only in the East and the Third World, but in the very heart of the United States: here too communist propaganda has achieved considerable success in attempting to win blacks over to the “revolutionary cause”, undermining their “faith in American institutions."892 There is no doubt: on these events, the concern over the challenge objectively represented by the USSR, and by the influence exercised by it on the colonial peoples and the peoples of colonial origin, played an essential role.

Stalin doesn’t just indirectly influence democracy in the West with the push in some way given to the process of African American emancipation. The speech presenting the proposed new constitution totally condemns the three great discriminations that characterized the history of the liberal West: “it’s not income, national origin or sex” that must determine political and social placement, but only “the personal capacity and work of each citizen."893 At the time in which he expressed himself in that way, the three great discriminations are still present in different forms and intensities in this or that country in the liberal West. Lastly, in pronouncing himself in favor of the overcoming of the three great discriminations, Stalin also declares that the new constitution is destined to guarantee “the right to work, the right to rest, the right to an education” and to assure the “best material and cultural conditions”, all within the realization of “socialist democratism."894 It is the theorization of the “social and economic rights” that, according to Hayek, represents the ruinous legacy of the “Marxist Russian Revolution” and that profoundly influences the demands for the welfare state in the West. 895

891. Kelley (1990), pp. 94-96.

892. Woodward (1966), pp. 131-34.

893. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, pp. 69-70 (= Stalin, 1952, p. 625).

894. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, pp. 74 and 89 (= Stalin, 1952, pp. 629 and 643).

895. Hayek (1986), p. 310.

Let’s return to Russia. The reader must have noticed that, in speaking of “Stalinism”, I make use of quotation marks. The term is used by the present day followers of Trotsky in relation to the most distinct political realities; for example, to classify the leadership of post-Maoist China. But in even wanting to exclusively refer to the USSR, the term “Stalinism” is not persuasive; it appears to presuppose a homogeneous collection of doctrines and methods that don’t exist. In the three decades in which he exercised power, we see Stalin make an effort in elaborating and putting into practice a program of government, making note of the disappearance of the hopes for the worldwide triumph of the socialist revolution and clarifying the difference between utopia (that is the legacy of both Marx’s theory and the millenarianism for a totally new world provoked by the horrors of World War I) and the state of emergency (that in Russia takes on an exceptionally long duration and acuteness because of the convergence of the two gigantic crises: The Second Time of Troubles and the Second Thirty Years’ War). Making clear his intention of not putting the communist party’s monopoly on power up for discussion, Stalin repeatedly seeks to move on from the state of emergency to a state of relative normality, with the realization of a “Soviet democracy”, of a “socialist democratism”, and a society “without the dictatorship of the proletariat." But those attempts failed. It’s significant how the question of succession is “handled” soon after Stalin’s death: the elimination of Beria is a type of mafia style settling of accounts, it’s a personal violence that doesn’t make reference to any state or juridical order, nor to party statutes.

The comparison between Stalin and Peter the Great now becomes totally unworkable. Looking closely, the Second Time of Troubles doesn’t even end with the arrival of autocracy. Its arrival coincides with the start of a new and prolonged state of emergency, that expands first with a dreadful new world war, and later with a Cold War at risk of transforming into a nuclear apocalypse at any moment. One could say that the Second Time of Troubles ends, in fact, with the overthrow of the USSR. Like the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks are unable to adjust to the disappearance or the attenuation of the state of emergency, and they therefore end up seeming obsolete and superficial to the majority of the population. After having managed to overcome the “crisis of the entire Russian nation”, the Bolsheviks in the end were defeated by the arrival of that relative state of normality,  that is itself an outcome of their efforts.

It’s at the international level, however, that the influence of the October Revolution, and the man who led Soviet Russia for three decades, prove to be more solid. One can ridicule the pompous language of a constitution that never came into force, but it’s necessary to have in mind that even purely abstract declarations of principles have an impact on history. We can fall back in horror at a scenario that sees democracy (with the collapse of racist and colonialist despotism and the three great discriminations), and especially social democracy, advance in the wake of the challenge being offered by a dictatorial regime prone to using terror; but to give in to that sort of reaction means, in the last analysis, escaping from the complexity of its historical process. Those who would prefer to have before them a simpler scenario would do well to reflect on an observation by Marx: “It's the bad side that produces the movement that makes history."896

896. Marx, Engels (1955-1989), vol 4, p. 140.

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