During her long ordeal, Nadezhda Mandelstam had ample opportunity to observe the Soviet system at work. Her impressions of the system are damning without reservation. She perceived what happened in the Soviet Union not as an error of a few mistaken and misguided individuals, such as Joseph Stalin, but as the logical outcome of a system flawed from its most basic principles. Even though the author has kind words for some of the Soviet leaders (Nikolai Bukharin, for example), she is convinced that everybody in power must share the blame. At the same time, she is reluctant to bring indictment against individuals “because everything was done not by human beings as such, but by a machine. People simply reacted to the instructions, signals, and rhythms of an autonomous mechanism into which a monstrous program had been fed at some time out of mind.” She regards with bitter irony all the “noble” goals set by the leaders, to which an untold number of lives were sacrificed.
While Mandelstam is certain about the true nature of the system that has governed her country since 1917, she is less certain about the guilt of the Russian people as a whole. In general, she has a very low opinion of her countrymen’s moral fiber. She paints an unflattering picture of the people who, trying to save their life, “lost their soul” in the process and committed all kinds of dastardly acts against their fellowman, even against close relatives. She accuses these people of...
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