Robert Conquest, Historian, Died at 98

  Dead Famous

Dead, Robert Conquest, an Anglo-American historian whose works on the terror and privation under Joseph Stalin made him the pre-eminent Western chronicler of the horrors of Soviet rule, died on the 3rd of August 2015 in Palo Alto, California, he was 98 years old.

A dual British and American citizen by birth, he was born on July 15, 1917, in England. Conquest studied at Winchester College, the University of Grenoble and Magdalen College, Oxford, and took his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy, politics and economics, and his doctorate in Soviet history.

While at Oxford he became a member of the Communist Party; a few years later, he left the party.

Mr. Conquest’s master work, “The Great Terror,” was the first detailed account of the Stalinist purges from 1937 to 1939.

He estimated that under Stalin, 20 million people perished from famines, Soviet labor camps and executions-a toll that eclipsed that of the Holocaust.

Writing at the height of the Cold the 1937-1939 Stalinist show trials, in which Stalin’s political rivals all admitted to serious crimes and were shot, shocked many left-leaning intellectuals in the West.

Conquest served through World War II in the British infantry and afterward in the British diplomatic service.

In the immediate postwar period, he saw the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, an experience that left him decidedly anti-communist. Conquest joined the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department, a unit created to counter Soviet propaganda in the West.

War in 1968, when sources about the Soviet Union were scarce, Mr. Conquest was vilified by leftists who said he exaggerated the number of victims.

When the Cold War ended and archives in Moscow were thrown open, his estimates proved high but more accurate than those of his critics. Mr. Conquest gleefully attacked Western revisionist historians as dupes for Stalin.
The lurid trials set off mass defections from Communist parties in Europe and the U.S. and helped inspire anti-Communist tracts such as George Orwell’s “1984” and Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon.”

But the wider slaughter of Soviet citizens had largely gone undocumented until Mr. Conquest’s narrative.

Citing sources made public during the thaw under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as well as émigré accounts, the Soviet census and snippets of information in the Soviet press, Mr. Conquest portrayed the trials as a mere sideshow to the systematic murder carried out by the Kremlin, which routinely ordered regional quotas for thousands of arbitrary arrests and shootings at burial pits and execution cellars.

The latest data show that during a 16-month stretch in 1937 and 1938, more than 800,000 people were shot by the Soviet secret police.

Mr. Conquest was one of a handful of influential postwar English poets known collectively as The Movement.

The unofficial group, which included Mr. Amis and Philip Larkin, favored a gritty and grounded approach that was seen by many as a reaction to modernism.

Movement poets, many of whom bristled at being so labeled, rejected the experiments of earlier practitioners such as Ezra Pound.

Instead, they hewed to craftsmanship and discipline, whether in light verse or more serious works, favoring the real over the fanciful.