The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
In this huge work Schlogel argues that 1937 saw the peak of the so-called Great Terror in the Soviet Union. To try and put the show trials, purges and wholesale slaughter into context, he describes in detail all the events which took place in Moscow that year
The opening chapters use Bulgakov's novel Margarita's Flight and Medvedkin's film New Moscow as metaphors for Soviet realities and the author's virulent anti-communist views are allowed plenty of scope.
Thereafter Schlogel provides a detailed description of the diverse aspects of Moscow life, ranging from the story of the Moscow Directory of 1936, to Soviet Art Deco, the Pushkin Jubilee and the International Geology Congress in Moscow.
This could simply be a review of the great achievements of the Soviet Union in industry, the arts, sport, health, education and everything else which allows people to live happy and fulfilled lives. But then there are the details of the individuals responsible for these achievements and their "rewards," all too often a death sentence.
An example is the Moscow-Volga canal, an amazing engineering feat, albeit at a cost of approximately 10 per cent of the largely forced workers on it.
Yet even as the opening celebrations were taking place, police were rounding up large numbers of the senior engineers and taking them off to death, imprisonment or exile.
The 1937 census, suppressed for 50 years, cost many of the statisticians and demographers their lives or long terms in prison.
They were simply unable to hide the huge numbers who had died through famine and execution or been exiled or imprisoned.
Perhaps the most distressing case of all is that of the emigres. Many thousands of committed comrades fled oppression in their own countries only to meet death in the nation to which they were utterly devoted. Looking at the membership of the Comintern over that period it is all too easy to see how it was decimated.
It's impossible to dismiss this book as a piece of black propaganda. The archives are now open and the evidence is clear although some really knew it anyway.
Either way, it is impossible to appreciate how awful it must have been for people to live through that period. It is also a legacy which must be borne for those us who believe that a better world can only be achieved through socialism and a refutation of the idea that years like 1937 are unavoidable and possibly a price worth paying.