In (Partial) Defense of Doublethink
To be honest, it was a relief to laugh. The previous talk at YIVO’s recent conference on “Jews In and After the 1917 Russian Revolution” had been Eli Lederhendler’s aptly titled “Lamentations: The Politics of Jewish Sustenance and Succor,” in which he recounted the pogroms and repressions of the tsarist era and the even worse pogroms of the Russian Civil War. And there was more, much more, to come: multicolored “Terrors,” assorted anti-Semitic campaigns, and mass killings and arrests.
Our laughter was, in part, at the willed blindness of Evgenia Ginzburg, one of those arrested in Stalin’s Terror and the subject of Gary Saul Morson’s talk on the dangers of “revolutionism.” Ginzburg was a loyal communist accused of “playing a double game” (a common accusation against Jews) and imprisoned in the Gulag.
Her memoir, Into the Whirlwind, finished in 1967 and smuggled out of Russia to be published abroad, is a classic of its kind, with a frustrating mixture of insight and obtuseness that seems to have been characteristic of many of those in her generation. Morson read aloud some of her unselfaware statements; for example, an epilogue in which she pledges her continuing fealty to the “great Leninist truth,” which presumably includes the sophistries persecutors used against her and millions of other innocents.