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National Observer Home > No. 45 - Winter 2000 >Book Reviews

The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire

by Brian Crozier  

Rocklin, California: Prima Communications Inc., 1999, pp. 794 and index.

This very important and interesting book is a pleasure to read. It traces the history of the Soviet empire from Lenin's seizure of power in 1917 through to 1999, when the implications of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were still being worked out.

There can be few experts as qualified as the author to analyze this subject. The founder of London's Institute for the Study of Conflict, he has been a writer and consultant for more than fifty years. His works include notable biographies of Franco, de Gaulle and Chiang Kai-shek, and his particular expertise has been the Soviet Union, in regard to both its internal operations and its destabilising and aggressive policies abroad.

This book provides fascinating reading. The revolution of 1917 was followed by a dramatic series of events in and around Russia. On numerous occasions foreign forces intervened, and there were attempted communist revolutions in Berlin, Munich, Budapest and elsewhere. Lenin led the way by ordering the execution of hundreds of thousands of opponents of his regime. The formulation of an ideology to replace all world economies by a system of communism was soon complete. The Soviets began to prepare insurrection in China as early as the 1920s, and similar preparations commenced in regard to Vietnam, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and elsewhere. Indeed, there was scarcely a country for which Moscow did not harbour hopes of eventual success.

With the Second World War a further phase began. The Soviets occupied immediately part of Poland, and after the German defeat the culpable naivete and weakness of Roosevelt allowed Eastern Europe to become subject to Soviet domination. The captive populations were controlled ruthlessly: "Others had their testicles kicked to pulp, were seated on red-hot stoves, had needles rammed under their fingernails, were scalped, had their jaws ripped down to their necks, and had their eyes gouged out and their tongues torn out. Executions took place in specially equipped death cells. Elsewhere . . . victims were bound to trees with iron hoops before being burned alive. Others had been buried alive, some after having their scalps and hands skinned."

Crozier discusses, with fascinating detail, Soviet destabilisations (through proxy parties which were essentially compliant agents of Moscow) and adventures in an extraordinary range of counties: Korea, Hungary, Cuba, China, Poland, the Congo, Ghana, Angola, Libya, Somalia, Mozambique, Kenya, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic States, Albania, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaya, Afghanistan, Yemen and so on. Indeed, was there any single country which was outside Moscow's intentions?

Indeed, even if it were not for the main part of this book, the Appendices alone would justify its acquisition. They set out many remarkable original documents, which most readers would not otherwise see. For example, documents set out initial instructions to deny the Russian murder of 21,857 Poles and others in 1940 and the subsequent admissions of complicity many years later. Other documents disclose the enormous scale of the Soviet subvention of Western trade unions and communist parties. Others set out Stalin's conversations with Mao Zedong and with Kim Il Sung and the planning of the Korean War, as well as many subsequent conversations, such as those between Krushchev and Ulbricht. Others set out directions in regard to the continued suppression of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and other countries, or to front organisations, such as the World Peace Council, Polithuro discussions of Afghanistan, Ethiopia and many other matters and directions for the supply of "special assets", that is, armaments to pro-Soviet forces abroad. Others describe at length aspects of the disastrous Soviet excursion into Afghanistan, and unsuccessful attempts to give a favourable aspect to what had occurred.

Crozier stresses in his book that although the U.S.S.R. has disintegrated and its satellites have in many cases freed themselves from communist influences, there should not be complacency. Many communists have refused to give up their ideology, despite its discrediting. For communism provides a beguiling methodology for those who wish to set up totalitarian structures. Those who use it are not concerned with the welfare of their peoples, but with the entrenchment of their power. North Korea and Cuba remain, and a number of other countries are affected to varying degrees by marxist groups.

By their nature, communists struggle not to accept the failures of the past; each failure is excused by reference to alleged "special circumstances".

"The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire" is one of those rare works that ought to be possessed by all persons with an interest in politics or current affairs or history, or who wish to be well-informed on matters of general importance. It is recommended very highly.

R.M. Pearce



National Observer No. 45 - Winter 2000