Fintan Lane reviews Left To The Wolves: Irish victims of Stalinist terror by Barry McLoughlin, Irish Academic Press, ISBN £978 0 7165 2915 6, 20/€29.50 pbk
IN RECENT years, historians of Nazi Germany have expended considerable time and energy in investigating how 'complicit' the German people were, if at all, in the horror that unfolded between 1933 and 1945. Less time, however, has been spent on examining the culpability of the Nazi Party, the SS and the Gestapo because, understandably, it would be exceedingly difficult to construct a case for the defence.
Why then have many on the left failed to pursue the issue of complicity with regard to the orthodox communist movement and its active support for the one-party dictatorships that dominated the Soviet Union and, after 1945, large parts of eastern Europe? This is a question that surfaced repeatedly in this reviewer's mind while reading Barry McLoughlin's fine micro-study of the fates of several Irish leftists in Stalinist Russia.
McLoughlin details the background and political involvements of Irish communist activists Patrick Breslin, Seán McAteer and Brian Goold-Verschoyle, and, through the use of recently released Soviet files, he is able to piece together the events that sealed their doom at the hands of the NKVD. Each was suspected of opposition to the Stalinist status quo and, by means of fabricated charges, they were isolated and then erased from society.
Breslin, a graduate of the International Lenin School, emaciated and suffering from TB, died in a Soviet prison in June 1942; McAteer, a former union activist and member of the Irish Citizen Army, was shot in November 1937 for allegedly displaying 'counter-revolutionary bourgeois thoughts'; while Goold-Verschoyle, an idealistic communist from a well-to-do family, died in a remote Gulag in January 1942. None of them deserved the vicious deaths that they suffered. But they were not alone - hundreds of thousands were shot and millions ended up in the labour camps.
This is a fascinating and well-written book that should be read by all those who still regard the USSR through rose-tinted spectacles.
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Copyright © 2008 Fintan Lane