Until surprisingly recently, most left-wing and liberal people were hesitant and equivocal about acknowledging the wickedness of the Soviet regime. The mere collapse of the Soviet Empire did not immediately change their minds. Robert Conquest, who told the truth about Stalin’s Great Terror in 1968 and was widely disliked by his fellow academics for doing so, observed as late as 2002, “In the academy, there remains a feeling of, ‘Don’t let’s be too rude to Stalin. He was a bad guy, yes, but the Americans were bad guys too, and so was the British Empire.’”
This attitude is fading. Now you may be in the intelligentsia, and be rude about Stalin, as well as rude about the U.S.A. and the British Empire. Anti-Stalinism has become not just respectable on the left but almost obligatory. Mainstream publishing houses that once would have regarded anti-Soviet books as close to fascism fall over themselves to publish volumes about how evil Stalin was. The Gulag is admitted to have been really quite bad. Even Western novelists, such as the modish Martin Amis (Koba the Dread and The House of Meetings) and the intelligent thriller-writer Robert Harris (Archangel), have joined in. This sort of thing will never rival the vast literary and historical industry devoted to Nazi Germany, but beyond doubt something has changed. One man who deserves a great deal of the credit for this transformation is Vasily Grossman (1905–1964). He has become the left-wing Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a bridge across which former sympathizers of Soviet power have travelled to a renewed and cleansed version of their utopian faith. Leftists hated the conservatism and Christianity of the author of The Gulag Archipelago. They did not want to have their dreams trodden on by such a person. So, they hated what he said, even though it was true, because he was the one saying it. But now, almost all thinking radicals have finally rejected the Soviet experiment, or think they have. The generation of 1968 is convinced that its version of utopianism has no risks.