Nadezhda Mandelstam had firsthand experience with the Soviet system. As a result, her conclusions about that system are damning without reservation. She saw what happened in the Soviet Union not as an error of a few mistaken and misguided individuals, such as Stalin, but as the logical outcome of a system flawed from its most basic premises. Although she sees some of the Soviet leaders (Nikolai Bukharin, for example) in a less damning fashion, she believes that everyone in power is to 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 leaders, to which an untold number of lives were sacrificed.
The role of the Russian people as a whole is a different matter. While Nadezhda Mandelstam is certain about the true nature of the communist system, she is less certain about the guilt of the Russians. In general, she has a very low opinion of her people’s moral fiber. She paints an unflattering picture of those who “lost their soul” trying to save their lives and committed inhumane acts against their fellow humans and even against close relatives. She accuses these people of greed, envy, callousness, and gullibility, of being indifferent to the fate of others and collaborating with the authorities. To be sure,...
(The entire section is 634 words.)