hitchens on Robert Conquest

Conquest

In 1983, a study of Fascism (Fashizmut) was published in Bulgaria, under the imprint of the People’s Youth Publishing House of the Central Committee of the Democratic Youth Union. Its author, Zhelyu Zhelev, did a thoroughly laudable job of anatomizing his subject. In his section on “The Structure of the Fascist State” he adumbrated the whole “Fascist” totalitarian phenomenon, covering in chapter after chapter the importance of indoctrinating “the masses”, the need to keep out foreign influences, the role of farcical elections and a powerless “parliament”, the necessity of fanaticism, the view that Western “academic freedom” was false. Above all there was the single party and that party’s control of the state, of mass organization, of all opinion, of literature and the arts, of the police, of the courts. Before it was suppressed for its hyper-correct analysis of the problem, Fashizmut had become a minor classic among Bulgarian and even Russian dissidents, with some free spirits visiting the Party bookstore and enquiring for copies of Zhelev’s Kommunismut. I was annoyed with myself for not having known about Zhelyu Zhelev (later a distinguished post-1989 President of his country) before: he seems like an ironic Swiftian hero in the later mould of Czeslaw Milosz or Milan Kundera. But this is part of the reason why one always reads anything by Robert Conquest, who just happens to speak Bulgarian, to have served with the Bulgarian resistance in the Second World War and to be fairly conversant with most salient points of Bulgarian culture.

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