Us and Them

American diplomats, foreign policy experts, and politicians desperately want to believe that the Soviet leaders are essentially like us and that, fundamentally, they want the same things as we do.

The Soviets encourage this kind of thinking with their proposals for disarmament, trade, and detente, and with their laments over the madness of the current arms race and the millions of Russians who perished in the last world war.

But while the Soviets beat their breasts about the 20 million dead in World War II, they remain tight-lipped and silent about the estimated 30 to 70 million citizens killed by the Soviet secret police on orders from the Communist Party. That is why Inside Stalin's Secret Police: NKVD Politics 1936-1939 by Robert Conquest is an important book. A short book, dense with names, dates, appendices, and footnotes. Inside Stalin's Secret Police traces the demise of NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) leader Genrikh Yagoda in the autumn of 1936 and the ascent of Nikolai Yeshov as head of the secret police. In studying available official and Samizdat sources. Conquest uncovers the sequence of events which led to Yeshov's subsequent fall from power and the rise of Lavrenti Beria in late 1938. What Stalin achieved in this time period can be considered in many respects as dramatic a change as the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Between 1936 and 1938,...

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