Magazine article The Spectator

'Labour and the Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left', by Giles Udy - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Labour and the Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left', by Giles Udy - Review

Article excerpt

Giles Udy did not start out with the intention of writing this book. He was in Russia about 15 years ago and happened to hear about Norilsk, a remote, frozen part of Siberia where the Soviet Union had established forced labour camps. Udy managed to get permission to visit the place.

The temperature there could fall to as low as 50C and many thousands died due to this, low rations and barbaric treatment. The inmates were too weak to dig deep graves in the ice-hardened ground for the ones who died, so sometimes the slow movement of the Earth still brings bones to the surface. Udy's original idea was to write about the 300,000 people who passed through Norilsk over the years. But, during his research, he found that some of them came from other gulags, far away in the north west of Russia by the White Sea.

In those camps, the prisoners had been forced to take part in cutting and shipping timber. Udy discovered that this timber had been exported to Britain in great quantities and, in 1930, the British public came to know about the horrific way in which the timber was supplied. A campaign arose to persuade the Labour government to stop importing it.

Udy was astonished to discover that the government repeatedly rejected such pleas. It even refused to launch an inquiry into conditions in the camps. It seemed as though the Labour cabinet simply did not care that political prisoners were being cruelly treated, starved and killed for the production of goods that Britain was buying. What's more, nobody had written about this.

Appalled, Udy changed the subject of his book to a study of the way that prominent members of the Labour party and famous left-wing activists persistently turned a blind eye to all the terror, famines and mass murders perpetrated by the Soviet Union -- one of the greatest of crimes against humanity.

The influential legends of the left he indicts include Sidney and Beatrice Webb. They were leading members of the Fabian Society and founders of the London School of Economics. They are normally referred to in reverential tones as representatives of civilised left-wing history. What has been forgotten is that they were passionate advocates of Stalin's regime. In 1935, they wrote Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation?, a glowing portrait of Stalin which whitewashed the kulak deportations and denied the existence of the mass famine that took place in the Ukraine -- commonly known as Holodomor -- in which millions died.

The Webbs continued to support Stalin and deny the horror of his rule right up until Beatrice's death in 1943, by which time there was plentiful evidence of his mass murders. …

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