My college History tutor was an odd man. His face reflected the ache of years stranded in educating the young and the listless; he had given most of his life to History, yet hardly would he be remembered by it. A life more of habit than of passion, the end that would come to us all, he would pace the second-floor corridor with a limp, his grey hair bobbing with every untoward step. A sentiment of desolation would follow him as he walked, and amidst the ardour of the students between themselves, he would simply disappear. He did not belong in a world teeming with love and enthusiasm, rather he would barely come alive within the laziness of the classroom. He could not inspire where inspiration already left its stain- he could inspire where the bleak reaches of history burrowed into the skin of the living and caused a morbid fascination to bubble dimly in the veins. Here he could reach in and tear the veins apart, but to the outside world, he was merely a creature of boredom and ruin. To me he was a hero of sorts: buried in his own thoughts. It was how I would have wanted to live when I was older; crushed by the weight of my own intelligence, yet dexterous enough to be able to use my madness to feed society with meaningless knowledge… and to get paid for it. It wouldn’t matter because nobody would listen to me anyway. I’m sure my tutor felt this way about his students. I am also sure that he knew how much I did listen.
Throughout his classes I became deeply interested in socialism. I had found resonance in the counter-argument against Capitalism during my time at school and in pursuing the desire to forever be extraordinary, continued in this mode of thought within college. Controversy distinguished me from my peers and the notes taken during my tutor’s classes filled reams of paper with the exceptional adversity of the Russian people. My hours spent in the library focused on the biographies of the Communist greats- the sheer brutality of the regime and the dire steadfastness of the leaders, forged in iron and engulfed in human blood. During the videos shown in classes, my tutor would watch me from the back of the room. My eyes fixated always to the screen, the dreary narration only serving to heighten my absolute gratification. A single death is a tragedy, a hundred million is just a statistic.
My tutor would read my essays with interest. As he preached to the class, amongst the bored faces, my eyes could hardly blink. The deliciousness of human destruction would course through my veins and paralyse my entire body with unconditional joy; the Kronstadt Rebellion, Tambov, the Great Purge. My essays would discuss the prospects of the necessity of destruction. Communism might have been no picnic, but the feast of the historical quirks kept me enraptured for days. The Terror felt just so distant that it could almost have been a glorious fairytale, a haze of red surrounding everything. The regime was brutal, but also unfathomably beautiful.
The more I read of Stalin, the more my curiosity grew. No longer did I chase my own fame with controversy; rather I felt myself falling so deeply in love with him. He plucked the feathers from birds and watched his civilians starve. His wife took her own life because of his ignorance, and he flicked bread across the table to the women he fancied. His face bore the scars of illness, and dominated the width of the Russian landscape. All trembled in his wake. He ruled with an iron fist, littered with feathers and his own tears. His mind was riddled with paranoia and the wretched power attained in the slaughtering of his opposition. He was a comedic figure who went to war with the greatest powers of the twentieth century- an admirable, mad, foe. His ignorance had killed millions, and his iron first had buried deep into my heart. He acted on instinct, his audacity granting him the distrust of the most powerful nations and earning him their revulsion. I could not explain quite how I had come to adore him, but observed simply that with madness had come such destructive power. He was untouchable. Paranoid, absurd, exquisite.
After the end of class one day my tutor took me to one side and handed me a book. He placed his hand on my arm, guarding my view of the title, ‘I want you to have this, and read it’.
I was overwhelmed. I had never been anything less than exceptional, and now more than ever I felt invincible.
‘Thank you so much, when do you want it back?’
‘Just keep it,’ he said grimly, the outside world creeping slowly once more into his countenance, ‘just keep the book, and read it’.
The next class pushed past my shoulders as I stood in the doorway, melting away into the atmosphere. I gazed at the book in my hand, and read the title… Stalin’s British Victims.
That night I lay in bed, reading the book. My eyes could not close with the sheer electrical anticipation racing up my spine. The night gave birth to the quiet dawn as my mind still absorbed the terror of the British encounter with Stalin. I read of the Terror, and of losing families. The long nights laying, waiting for the preordained knock upon the door, and the ensuing desecration of life. The absolute fear and loneliness that came from the removal of the familiar; the terror of British Communism under Russian rule extended Stalin’s grasp, snapping the necks of the young, and writhing in the blood of the victims. Over the weekend I could hardly eat; the sickening acts of depravity of worldwide Communism set a fire in my heart; I saw the great sphere in an entirely different way. The suppression of ordinary people, the inventions of disastrous miracles. Suddenly the Terror was stood outside my door, shaking through the walls. Close acquaintances against the regime were dragged away into the belly of the night; friends and neighbours. The frenzied screams of the dying filled my ears and my sleep was punctuated by the shaking of my own body. My waking moments were coated in such paralysing fear at the sheer grandeur of obliteration, until, eventually, the dawn of Monday broke through my curtains.
I bumped into my tutor in the corridor of the college that afternoon. I thanked him for the book and he nodded his head. He told me he had hoped it would have put me off the idea of Communism and hoped that I had learned from the cruelty of dictatorship; that fear was not imaginary, but could arrive at your own front door. I nodded my head and he walked past me, satisfied, on the way to his next class. I clutched the book tightly underneath my arm as I walked in the opposite direction, hardly able to keep the smile from my face.