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The Thirties of the 20th Century

Monday July 11 2005 13:35 IST

By Karmayogi

Historians patiently go after the facts, the true facts, the hard, concrete facts. Their quest has burst many historical myths. As a result, historians are fond of saying that in most of the enduring historical myths, there is very little truth worth the name. We are common people. We have no judgement or even information. We go by leaders, thinkers, the press, and books. When they differ, we look up to great minds for guidance. H.G. Wells, and G. B. Shaw were known to be geniuses of the 20th century. We expect them to be infallible. It is impossible for us to conceive that they too, sometimes, were misguided, as we are misguided. That is a frightening situation. Has the world endeavoured to design a remedy for such a situation?

In 1929, America was hit by an economic depression. It spread all over the world. At the same time the USSR enjoyed full employment. When swarms of unemployed people crowded the American cities, Russia offered everyone employment. As soon as the USSR was in power, all the great men of the world made a beeline to Moscow to see for themselves what was really happening, discounting whatever came to them as propaganda. So Russell, Huxley, H.G.Wells, G.B.Shaw, and Laski went to Moscow. Nehru too desired to visit there at that time. Trotsky impressed them as intelligent, Lenin was a great leader. Sir S. Radhakrishnan said, Stalin is indeed a great man. Wells found Stalin noble-minded. Shaw said those who went to prison in Britain emerged as convicts because of the prisons dehumanising influence. But in Russia, he said, the prison life was so attractive that sometimes discharged prisoners applied for readmission. A British Ambassador said Stalin was so childlike that a child would like to sit on his lap. A whole book could be filled in by the praise that was generous adulation of the Soviet system and her leaders.

When Krushchev came to power, he disclosed the atrocities that Stalin had committed. About 30 million people had been shot dead in Russia. How could the great minds of the century be beguiled by what they SAW with their own eyes? All the atrocities were true and all the noble traits witnessed by great minds were also true. Paul Johnson, a famous editor, commenting on this phenomenon, says the Thirties were an age of heroic lies. During that period, he says, saintly mendacity became the prized virtue. In other words, all those great minds could not see through the veil. Is it, then, really impossible to see the fact? I shall mention only the principle here, without elaborating on it. In any situation for the perceptive eye, there will be subtle symptoms of what is hidden from the naked eye. That is inescapable. Prejudiced people can always suspect. When Stalin was offering overwhelming co-operation in 1945, the sword of honour presented to him by the British King and received by Stalin reverentially was dropped by his Minister. That revealed the hidden intentions.

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