One of the most influential Cold War historians and Sovietologists, Robert Conquest, has passed away.
An accomplished poet and a self-described man of the Left who nevertheless was a trusted advisor to Margaret Thatcher, Conquest was most famous for being the first historian to document the extent of the barbarity of Stalin’s regime. Ridiculed by academics for his estimates in The Great Terror (1968) that Stalin’s purges had killed as many as 20 million, his estimates have proven to be on the low end of the spectrum after historians gained fuller access to Soviet archives. He was also among the first to recognize the weakness of the Soviet regime after Stalin, telling a Senate committee in 1970 that the current leadership was “intellectually third-rate and likely to commit blunders.”
Stanford Professor Norman Naimark, quoted in the New York Times, best summarizes Conquest’s achievement:
“His historical intuition was astonishing,” said Norman M. Naimark, a professor of Eastern European history at Stanford University. “He saw things clearly without having access to archives or internal information from the Soviet government. We had a whole industry of Soviet historians who were exposed to a lot of the same material but did not come up with the same conclusions. This was groundbreaking, pioneering work.”
We should remember Robert Conquest for his brilliance, and for his unflinching pursuit of truth despite the opposition he encountered.
He was 98, and is survived by his fourth wife and two sons. Rest in peace.