50 shades of black

Who is the most evil - Vasili Blokhin, Stalin, or Eric Hobsbawm?

Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin
Charles Crawford
On 3 October 2012 10:10

It transpires that blackness too comes in many shades.

Take the diligent work of Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin. This gentleman was handpicked by Stalin for chernaya rabota – ‘black work’. One of his ‘greatest’ career achievements was personally to murder 7000 Polish officers who had been captured by the Soviet Union after the Nazi/Soviet onslaught against Poland under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

He worked out an efficient way to accomplish this task. 300 people would be shot one by one throughout the night, every night for a month:

… the prisoners were individually led to a small antechamber—which had been painted red and was known as the "Leninist room"—for a brief and cursory positive identification, before being handcuffed and led into the execution room next door. The room was specially designed with padded walls for soundproofing, a sloping concrete floor with a drain and hose, and a log wall for the prisoners to stand against.

Blokhin would stand waiting behind the door in his executioner garb: a leather butcher's apron, leather hat, and shoulder-length leather gloves. Then, without a hearing, the reading of a sentence or any other formalities, each officer was brought in and restrained by guards while Blokhin shot them once in the base of the skull with a German Walther Model 2.25 ACP pistol

Let’s look at the prosaic life of Mr Blokhin back in April 1940. After a hard night of mass murder he would go back home to wash off all the blood specks and enjoy a nutritious Soviet NKVD breakfast. Perhaps he’d get a few hours’ sleep, then some paperwork, then the painstaking cleaning of his collection of German pistols: he did not trust Soviet guns, and needed several spares. An afternoon nap, the lumpen, lumpy Soviet military dinner, then back to the camp to start a long night of murdering all over again.

Plenty of books pore over the psychology of Nazi soldiers and officials who in one way or another took part in horrendous crimes on an unimaginable yet all too real scale. Far less has been written about their Soviet counterparts.

We are constantly told by the bright-eyed chattering classes that it is an appalling mistake to "equate" Nazism and Communism – good grief, the Soviet Union may have started the war but it ended up as our ally and suffered mightily!

Whatever the logic of the anti-Nazi alliance in World War II, we now can look at these events with historical distance to see the extraordinary violence unleashed by those twinned mid-20th century industrial collectivist ideologies. So any normal honest person has to 'equate' Nazism and Communism – and find nothing of any true significance to distinguish them.

If anything the very nihilistic 'rationality' of Communism makes it far worse.Imagine that Hitler and Stalin had been captured at the end of WW2 and put on trial for their crimes.

Hitler's lawyers might have attempted some sort of intellectually respectable defence argument based on insanity – that he was so crazed by hate for Jews that in any sense that mattered he should not be regarded as legally or morally responsible for his actions.

Stalin could not argue that sort of defence. The written record of his iniquity (perhaps above all the orders signed by him personally and by other Soviet leaders ordering the Katyn massacres) and his countless justifications of his other infamous policies show that he knew exactly what he was doing and meant to do it. Stalin was not insane. He really believed in the moral code that the end (namely the creation of a communist society) justified any means.

Which brings us to the late Eric Hobsbawm, a hero among heroes for the Left in this country. A man who never renounced Communism! How’s that for sustainability?

Read the tributes in the Guardian about his dazzling learning and erudition. Even Niall Ferguson acknowledges his work as a truly great historian. Ed Miliband too:

Eric Hobsbawm was an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of my family

That's what matters! Not what you believe, but what you feel. Being passionate and friendly.

For something more honourable we turn to Nick Cohen (from the Guardian back in February 2011) whose devastating opening paragraphs sum it all up:

When he first visited the Soviet Union in 1954, Eric Hobsbawm discovered that the theory of a workers' state and the practice of a Moscow still bleeding from Stalin's last purge did not quite gel. "It was an interesting but also a dispiriting trip for foreign communist intellectuals," he recalled in his autobiography, "for we met hardly anyone there like ourselves."

Wrong part of Russia, Eric. If he had gone to Siberia, alongside the corpses of "anti-Soviet" Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Chechens, Tartars and Poles, of tsarists, kulaks, Mensheviks and social revolutionaries and of merely unlucky citizens who had been denounced by malicious neighbours, or rounded up by the secret police to meet an arrest quota, Hobsbawm would have found the bodies of communist intellectuals – just like him

The death of Eric Hobsbawm invites us to think about the nature of evil, and its myriad varieties.

Who is the most evil? Vasili Blokhin in his leather apron in a padded cell in the dark night of a remote Ukrainian forest in 1940, annoyed by his aching trigger finger and yawning as another Polish victim is bundled into the room? Stalin snoring far away in Moscow as his willing murderer toils away?

Or Eric Hobsbawm chairing sessions on Marxism at Birkbeck College, impressing generations of shallow British Leftists with his undoubted erudition as he wittily passed off questions about the historical significance of Stalin’s crimes?

A person who took advantage of all the benefits of liberal fair-minded Western society to give intellectual cover to infamy on a staggering scale? A person who accumulated impressive academic authority but right to the end of his life refused to use that authority fully and comprehensively to denounce the specific iniquities committed by Stalin, Blokhin, and all the other villains in the name of Marxism?

As a famous former Ambassador used to say quoting an earlier former Ambassador, “Some things are important – but they don't matter".

Yes, Eric Hobsbawm wrote some fine works of history and achieved many positions of intellectual distinction. The Labour Party loved him. That's important as such fleeting things go.

What matters is that those two true communist believers Eric Hobsbawm and Vasili Blokhin were indeed by some chance related. They both sold their soul to the devil.

Charles Crawford is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw, he is now a private consultant and writer: www.charlescrawford.biz. He tweets@charlescrawford

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