clamps! Theatre of Terror, vol. 2

At the apex of the Terror half a million were shot and seven million despatched to the camps in a period of just over a year. Cautious estimates of the population of the Gulag by 1938 vary, but it seems that about one in ten adults were behind the wire. Why did Stalin do it?

Beyond doubt, the first purpose of the Terror was to freeze independent thought in order to allow Stalin to hold on to power. As Nadezhda Mandelstam explains,

The principles and aims of mass terror have nothing in common with ordinary police work or with security. The only purpose of terror is intimidation. To plunge the whole country into a state of chronic fear, the number of victims must be raised to astronomical levels, and on every floor of every building there must always be several apartments from which the tenants have suddenly been taken away. The remaining inhabitants will be model citizens for the rest of their lives… [quoted from Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope.]

– Ian McDonald, The New Shostakovich, pp. 145-6

We can assume Robert Mugabe resembles Stalin, at least in his employment of scare tactics on a national scale, a grand enough scale, far-reaching enough, for us to invoke the now somewhat etiolated term – where, arguably, in its most bloodless sense, President Bush II couples it with ‘war’ – ‘Terror.’ Mugabe hath given Zimbabwe and so, we further assume, hath arrogated to himself the right to take it away.

From a distance, the cynic might say he’s done a good enough job of ‘taking it away’ already. But there’s little doubt he’s seen in a God-like role, albeit of the punishing variety, even by the neighbours. The application of undue force – of force in such excess that it is become senseless, exercised, for example, by a state which has no need to exceed a force active and already exerted in guaranteeing it total control – has a bit of God’s arrogant paternal style, (if not His combination of surgical wit in knowing where exactly and how much to torture, that wit so readily apparent in its US rendition). And, in this, Mugabe resembles Stalin also.

Ian McDonald points out in the mentioned work that contemporary soviets attributed the Terror of the late thirties to Yezhov, nominating it Yezhovshchina, a malignant symptom duly named for its alleged mastermind in the clinic of the whisperers, the entire general populace, who in addition removed Stalin, the monster, from culpability, denying that he could have been responsible. This is, isn’t it? the very effect of a Terror: God-like, and for His unconscionable Fury… the corporeal envelope, please, … He’s off the Hook!

They’ve – the US, the Party (Yezhov), Zanu-PF – raided/arrested/held for questioning/disappeared/renditioned/silenced/killed an organ of the Opposition. Wait until Comrade Stalin, President Mugabe, etc. … George W. Bush … hears about this!

What, then, of the impersonal atmosphere of Terror? We don’t think the Devils near at hand will be held to account. They’ll remain men and women, just men and women, in blue masks, in something like a hospital soap. And Mugabe’s clampdown will proceed, rending to us, outside His reach – that particular God, at least – the satisfaction of knowing him, and his terror, by name.