Category Archives: Grover Furr

Grover Furr: Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland in September 1939? (The answer: No, it did not.)

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by Grover Furr

Introduction

Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland on September 17, 1939? Why ask? “We all know” this invasion occurred. “You can look it up!” All authoritative sources agree. This historical event happened.

Here’s a recent article in The New York Review of Books (April 30, 2009, p. 17) by Timothy Snyder, Yale University professor, academic expert in this area — and fanatic anticommunist — who just has to know that what he writes here is, to put it politely, false:

Because the film (although not the book)* begins with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 rather than the joint German-Soviet invasion and division of Poland in 1939… the Soviet state had just months earlier been an ally of Nazi Germany… (* “Defiance”)

“Behind Closed Doors” (PBS series 2009):

“After invading Poland in September 1939, the Nazis and the Soviets divided the country as they had agreed to do in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact…”
http://www.pbs.org/behindcloseddoors/in-depth/struggle-poland.html

Wikipedia article: “Soviet invasion of Poland”:

“… on 17 September, the Red Army invaded Poland from the east…”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Poland

Every historian I have read, even those who do not conform to Cold War paradigms, state unproblematically that the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939.

But the truth is that the USSR did not invade Poland in September, 1939. Even though the chances are at least 99 to 1 that every history book you can find says that it did. I have yet to find an English-language book that gets this correct. And, of course, the USSR had never been an “ally of Nazi Germany.”

I will present a lot of evidence in support of this statement. There is a great deal more evidence to support what I say – much more than I can present here, and no doubt much more that I have not yet even identified or located.

Furthermore, at the time it was widely acknowledged that no such invasion occurred. I’ll demonstrate that too.

Probably the truth of this matter was another victim of the post-WW2 Cold War, when a great many falsehoods about Soviet history were invented or popularized. The truth about this and many other questions concerning the history of the first socialist state has simply become “unmentionable in polite company.”

Demonizing – I use the word advisedly, it is not too strong – the history of the communist movement and anything to do with Stalin has become de rigeur, a shibboleth of respectability. And not only among avowed champions of capitalism but among ourselves, on the left, among Marxists, opponents of capitalism, the natural constituency of a movement for communism.

Some time ago Doug Henwood tweaked me on the MLG list for “defending Stalin.”

I could make a crack about what defenses of Stalin have to do with a “sensible materialism,” but that would be beneath me.
(MLG list May 17 2009)

Doug thinks he knows something about Stalin and the USSR during Stalin’s time. He doesn’t! But you can’t blame him too much, since none of us do. More precisely: We “know” a lot of things about the Soviet Union and Stalin, and almost all of those things are just not true. We’ve been swallowing lies for the truth our whole lives.

I’ll be brief in this presentation. I have prepared separate web pages with references to much of the evidence I have found (not all – there is just too much). I’m also preparing a longer version for eventual publication.

The Nonaggression Treaty Between Germany and the USSR of August 1939

For a discussion of the events that led up to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 an excellent account is still Bill Bland, “The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939″ (1990). I have checked every citation in this article; most are available online now. It’s very accurate, but far more detailed than the present article requires.

Before we get into the question of the invasion that did not take place, the reader needs to become familiar with some misconceptions about the Nonaggression Treaty and why they are false. These too are based on anticommunist propaganda that is widely, if naively, “believed.”

The most common, and most false, of these is stated above in the PBS series “Behind Closed Doors”

…the Nazis and the Soviets divided the country as they had agreed to do in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact…

This is completely false, as any reading of the text of the M-R Pact itself will reveal. Just read the words on the page (see below).

The Soviets Wanted to Protect the USSR – and therefore to Preserve Independent Poland

[For the text of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact see m-rpact.html ]

It is conventionally stated as fact that the Nonaggression Pact between the USSR and Germany (often called the “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” or “Treaty” after the two foreign ministers who signed it) was an agreement to “partition Poland”, divide it up.

This is completely false. I’ve prepared a page with much fuller evidence; see  “The Secret Protocols to the M-R Pact Did NOT Plan Any Partition of Poland”.

No doubt a big reason for this falsehood is this: Britain and France did sign a Nonaggression Pact with Hitler that “partitioned” another state — Czechoslovakia. That was the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938.

Poland too took part in the “partition” of Czechoslovakia too. Poland seized a part of the Cieszyn area of Czechoslovakia, even though it had only a minority Polish population. This invasion and occupation was not even agreed upon in the Munich Agreement. But neither France nor Britain did anything about it.

Hitler seized the remaining part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. This had not been foreseen in the Munich Agreement. But Britain, France, and Poland did nothing about it.

So the anticommunist “Allies” Britain, France, and Poland really did participate in the partitioning of a powerless state! Maybe that’s why the anticommunist “party line” is that the USSR did likewise? But whatever the reason for this lie, it remains a lie.

The Soviet Union signed the Nonaggression Pact with Germany not to “partition Poland” like the Allies had partitioned Czechoslovakia, but in order to defend the USSR.

The Treaty included a line of Soviet interest within Poland beyond which German troops could not pass in the event Germany routed the Polish army in a war.

The point here was that, if the Polish army were beaten, it and the Polish government could retreat beyond the line of Soviet interest, and so find shelter, since Hitler had agreed not to penetrate further into Poland than that line. From there they could make peace with Germany. The USSR would have a buffer state, armed and hostile to Germany, between the Reich and the Soviet frontier.

The Soviets — “Stalin”, to use a crude synecdoche (= “a part that stands for the whole”) — did not do this out of any love for fascist Poland. The Soviets wanted a Polish government — ANY Polish government — as a buffer between the USSR and the Nazi armies.

The utter betrayal of the fascist Polish Government of its own people frustrated this plan.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the Polish government had two alternatives in the event its army was smashed by an attacking army.

1. It could stay inside the country, perhaps moving its capital away from the invading army. From there it could have sued for peace, or surrendered.

2. The Polish government could have fled to an allied country that was at war with Germany: either France or England.

The governments of all other countries defeated by Germany did one or both of these things. The Polish government — racist, anticommunist, hyper-nationalist, — in short fascist, as bad as they get — didn’t do either. Rather than fight the Polish government fled into neighboring Rumania.

Rumania was neutral in the war. By crossing into neutral Rumania the Polish government became prisoners. The legal word is “interned”. They could not function as a government from Rumania, or pass through Rumania to a country at war with Germany like France, because to permit them to do that would be a violation of Rumania’s neutrality, a hostile act against Germany.

I will discuss “internment” and the international law on this question extensively below.

The USSR did not invade Poland - and everybody knew it at the time

When Poland had no government, Poland was no longer a state. (More detailed discussion below)

What that meant was this: at this point Hitler had nobody with whom to negotiate a cease-fire, or treaty.

Furthermore, the M-R Treaty’s Secret Protocols were void, since they were an agreement about the state of Poland and no state of Poland existed any longer. Unless the Red Army came in to prevent it, there was nothing to prevent the Nazis from coming right up to the Soviet border.

Or — as we now know they were in fact preparing to do — Hitler could have formed one or more pro-Nazi states in what had until recently been Eastern Poland. That way Hitler could have had it both ways: claim to the Soviets that he was still adhering to the “spheres of influence” agreement of the M-R Pact while in fact setting up a pro-Nazi, highly militarized fascist Ukrainian nationalist state on the Soviet border.

Once the Nazis had told the Soviets that they, the Nazis, had decided that the Polish state no longer existed, then it did not make any difference whether the Soviets agreed or not. The Nazis were telling them that they felt free to come right up to the Soviet border. Neither the USSR nor any state would have permitted such a thing. Nor did international law demand it.

At the end of September a new secret agreement was concluded. In it the Soviet line of interest was far to the East of the “sphere of influence” line decided upon a month earlier in the Secret Protocol and published in Izvestiia and in the New York Times during September 1939. This reflected Hitler’s greater power, now that he had smashed the Polish military. See the map at new_spheres_0939.html

In this territory Poles were a minority, even after the “polonization” campaign of settling Poles in the area during the ‘20s and ‘30s. You can see the ethnic / linguistic population map at curzonline.html

How do we know this interpretation of events is true?

How do we know the USSR did not commit aggression against, or “invade”, Poland when it occupied Eastern Poland beginning on September 17, 1939 after the Polish Government had interned itself in Rumania? Here are nine pieces of evidence:

How do we know the USSR did not commit aggression against, or “invade”, Poland when it occupied Eastern Poland beginning on September 17, 1939 after the Polish Government had interned itself in Rumania? Here are nine pieces of evidence:

1. The Polish government did not declare war on USSR.

The Polish government declared war on Germany when Germany invaded on September 1, 1939. It did not declare war on the USSR.

2. The Polish Supreme Commander Rydz-Smigly ordered Polish soldiers not to fight the Soviets, though he ordered Polish forces to continue to fight the Germans.

See rydz_dont_fight.html

3. The Polish President Ignaz Moscicki, interned in Rumania since Sept. 17, tacitly admitted that Poland no longer had a government.

See moscicki_resignation.html

4. The Rumanian government tacitly admitted that Poland no longer had a government.

See moscicki_resignation.html

 

The Rumanian position recognized the fact that Moscicki was blowing smoke when he claimed he had legally resigned on September 30.  So the Rumanian government fabricated a story according to which Moscicki had already resigned back on September 15, just before entering Rumania and being interned (NYT 10.04.39, p.12). Note that Moscicki himself did not claim this!

Rumania needed this legal fiction to try to sidestep the following issue. Once Moscicki had been interned in Rumania – that is, from September 17 1939 on – he could not function as President of Poland. Since resignation is an official act, Moscicki could not resign once he was in Rumania.

For our present purposes, here’s the significant point: Both the Polish leaders and the Rumanian government recognized that Poland was bereft of a government once the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania and were interned there.

Both Moscicki and Rumania wanted a legal basis – a fig-leaf — for such a government. But they disagreed completely about this fig-leaf, which exposes it as what it was – a fiction.

5. Rumania had a military treaty with Poland aimed against the USSR. Rumania did not declare war on the USSR.

The Polish government later claimed that it had “released” Rumania from its obligations under this military treaty in return for safe haven in Rumania.

But there is no evidence for this statement. No wonder: it is at least highly unlikely that Rumania would have ever promised “safe haven” for Poland, since that would have been an act of hostility against Nazi Germany. Rumania was neutral in the war and, as discussed below, insisted upon imprisoning the Polish goverment and disarming the Polish forced once they had crossed the border into Rumania.

The real reason for Rumania’s failure to declare war on the USSR is probably the one given in a New York Times article of September 19, 1939:

“The Rumanian viewpoint concerning the Rumanian-Polish anti-Soviet agreement is that it would be operative only if a Russian attack came as an isolated event and not as a consequence of other wars.”
– “Rumania Anxious; Watches Frontier.” NYT 09.19.39, p.8.

That means Rumania recognized that the Red Army was not allied with Germany, an “other war.” This is tacit recognition of the Soviet and German position that Poland no longer had a government, and therefore was no longer a state.

6. France did not declare war on the USSR, though it had a mutual defense treaty with Poland.

See m-rpact.html for the reconstructed text of the “secret military protocol” of this treaty, which has been “lost” – i.e. which the French government still keeps “secret”

7. England never demanded that the USSR withdraw its troops from Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine, the parts of the former Polish state occupied by the Red Army after September 17, 1939.

On the contrary, the British government concluded that these territories should not be a part of a future Polish state. Even the Polish government-in-exile agreed!

See maisky_101739_102739.html  These documents are in the original Russian, with the relevant quotations translated into English below them.

8. The League of Nations did not determine the USSR had invaded a member state.

Article 16 of the League of Nations Covenant required members to take trade and economic sanctions against any member who “resorted to war”.

No country took any sanctions against the USSR. No country broke diplomatic relations with the USSR over this action.

However, when the USSR attacked Finland in 1939 the League did vote to expel the USSR, and several countries broke diplomatic relations with it. See http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1939/391214a.html

A very different response! which tells us how the League viewed the Soviet action in the case of Poland.

9. All countries accepted the USSR’s declaration of neutrality.

All, including the belligerent Polish allies France and England, agreed that the USSR was not a belligerent power, was not participating in the war. In effect they accepted the USSR’s claim that it was neutral in the conflict.

See FDR’s “Proclamation 2374 on Neutrality”, November 4, 1939:

“…a state of war unhappily exists between Germany and France; Poland; and the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa,…”

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15831&st=&st1=

- also “152 – Statement on Combat Areas” – defines

“belligerent ports, British, French, and German, in Europe or Africa…”

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15833&st=&st1=

The Soviet Union is not mentioned as a belligerent. That means the USA did not consider the USSR to be at war with Poland. For the Soviet Union’s claim of neutrality see soviet_neutrality.html

Naturally, a country cannot “invade” another country and yet credibly claim that it is “neutral” with respect to the war involving that country. But NONE of these countries declared the USSR a belligerent. Nor did the United States, the League of Nations, or any country in the world.

The Polish State Collapsed

By September 17, 1939, when Soviet troops crossed the border, the Polish government had ceased to function. The fact that Poland no longer had a government meant that Poland was no longer a state.

On September 17 when Molotov handed Polish Ambassador to the USSR Grzybowski the note Grzybowski told Molotov that he did not know where his government was, but had been informed that he should contact it through Bucharest. See polish_state_collapsed.html

In fact the last elements of the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania and so into internment during the day of September 17, according to a United Press dispatch published on page four of the New York Times on September 18 with a dateline of Cernauti, Rumania. See polish_leaders_flee.html

Without a government, Poland as a state had ceased to exist under international law. This fact is denied — more often, simply ignored — by anticommunists, for whom it is a bone in the throat.

We take a closer look at this issue in the next section below. But a moment’s reflection will reveal the logic of this position. With no government — the Polish government was interned in Rumania, remember — there is no one to negotiate with; no body to which the police, local governments, and the military are responsible. Polish ambassadors to foreign countries no longer represent their government, because there is no government. (See the page polish_state_collapsed.html , especially the NYT article of October 2, 1939 )

The Question of the State in International Law

See state_international_law.html for more details.

EVERY definition of a “state” recognizes the necessity of a government or “organized political authority.” Once the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania, it was no longer a “government.”

Even the Polish officials of the day recognized this by trying to create the impression that “the government” had never been interned since it had been handed over to somebody else before crossing into Rumania. See the discussion concerning Moscicki and his “desire to resign” on September 29, 1939, also cited above.

So EVERYBODY, Poles included, recognized that by interning themselves in Rumania the Polish government had created a situation whereby Poland was no longer a “state.” This is not just “a reasonable interpretation” – not just an intelligent, logical deduction but one among several possible deductions. As I have demonstrated in this paper, it was virtually everybody’s interpretation at the time. Every major power, plus the former Polish Prime Minister himself, shared it.

Once this is problem is squarely faced, everything else flows from it.

* The Secret Protocol to the M-R Pact was no longer valid, in that it was about spheres of influence in “Poland”, a state.

By September 15 at the latest Germany had taken the position that Poland no longer existed as a state (discussed further here).

Once Poland ceased to exist as a state this Secret Protocol did not apply any longer.

Therefore if they wanted to the Germans could march right up to the Soviet frontier.

Or – and this is what Hitler was in fact going to do if the Soviet Union did not send in troops — they could facilitate the creation of puppet states, like a pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist state.

In any case, once Hitler had taken the position that Poland no longer existed as a state, and therefore that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’s agreement on spheres of influence in the state of Poland was no longer valid, the Soviet Union had only two choices: either to

  1. Send the Red Army into Western Ukraine and Wester Belorussia to establish sovereignty there; or
  2. Let Hitler send the Nazi army right up to the Soviet border.

* Since the Polish state had ceased to exist, the Soviet-Polish nonaggression pact was no longer in effect.

The Red Army could cross the border without “invading” or “committing aggression against” Poland. By sending its troops across the border the USSR was claiming sovereignty, so no one else could do so – e.g. a pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist state, or Nazi Germany itself.

* Legitimacy flows from the state, and there was no longer any Polish state.

Therefore the Polish Army was no longer a legitimate army, but a gang of armed men acting without any legitimacy. Having no legitimacy, the Polish Army should have immediately laid down its arms and surrendered. Of course it could keep fighting — but then it would no longer be fighting as a legitimate army but as partisans. Partisans have NO rights at all except under the laws of the government that does claim sovereignty.

* Some Polish nationalists claim that the Soviets showed their “perfidy” by refusing, once they had sent troops across the Soviet frontier, to allow the Polish army cross the border into Rumania.

But this is all wrong. The USSR had diplomatic relations with Rumania. The USSR could not permit thousands of armed men to cross the border from areas where it held sovereignty into Rumania, a neighboring state. Imagine if, say, Mexico or Canada tried to permit thousands of armed men to cross the border into the USA!

Re-negotiation of “Spheres of Influence” September 28 1939

See new_spheres_0939.html

All this is referred to directly in a Ribbentrop (German Foreign Minister)-to-Schulenburg (German ambassador to Moscow) communication of September 15-16 – Telegram No. 360 of 15 September 1939 — with its reference to “the possibility of the formation in this area of new states.”

Note that Ribbentrop is very displeased with the idea that the Soviets would “tak[e] the threat to the Ukrainian and White Russian populations by Germany as a ground for Soviet action” and wants Schulenberg to get Molotov to give some other motive. He was unsuccessful; this was exactly the motive the Soviets gave:

“Nor can it be demanded of the Soviet Government that it remain indifferent to the fate of its blood brothers, the Ukrainians and Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland, who even formerly were without rights and who now have been abandoned entirely to their fate.
The Soviet Government deems it its sacred duty to extend the hand of assistance to its brother Ukrainians and brother Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland.”

- TASS, September 17, 1939; quoted in New York Times September 18, 1939, p. 5; also Jane Degras (Ed.), Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy 1933-1941, vol. III (London/New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 374-375.

The German government was already considering that Poland no longer existed — there’s no reference to “Poland”, only to “the area lying to the East of the German zone of influence”, etc.

Polish Imperialism

A word of explanation regarding the Soviet reference to “the fate of its blood brothers, the Ukrainians and Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland.”

At the Treaty of Riga signed in March 1921 the Russian Republic (the Soviet Union was not officially formed until 1924), exhausted by the Civil War and foreign intervention, agreed to give half of Belorussia and Ukraine to the Polish imperialists in return for a desperately-needed peace.

We use the words “Polish imperialists” advisedly, because Poles — native speakers of the Polish language — were in the small minority in Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine, the areas that passed to Poland in this treaty. The Polish capitalist regime then encouraged ethnic Poles to populate these areas to “polonize” them, and put all kinds of restrictions on the use of the Belorussian and Ukrainian languages.

Up till the beginning of 1939, when Hitler decided to turn against Poland before making war on the USSR, the Polish government was maneuvering to join Nazi Germany in a war on the USSR in order to seize more territory.

As late as January 26, 1939, Polish Foreign Minister Beck was discussing this with Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in Warsaw. Ribbentrop wrote:

… 2. I then spoke to M. Beck once more about the policy to be pursued by Poland and Germany towards the Soviet Union and in this connection also spoke about the question of the Greater Ukraine and again proposed Polish-German collaboration in this field.

M. Beck made no secret of the fact that Poland had aspirations directed toward the Soviet Ukraine and a connection with the Black Sea…

(Original in Akten zur deutschen ausw�rtigen Politik… Serie D. Bd. V. S. 139-140. English translation in Documents on German Foreign Policy. 1918-1945. Series D. Vol. V. The document in question is No. 126, pp. 167-168; this quotation on p. 168. Also in Russian in God Krizisa T. 1, Doc. No. 120.)

Polish Foreign Minister Beck was telling Ribbentrop that Poland would like to seize ALL of the Ukraine from the USSR, for that was the only way Poland could have had “a connection with the Black Sea.”

In occupying Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine the USSR was reuniting Belorussians and Ukrainians, East and West. This is what the Soviets meant by the claim that they were “liberating” these areas. The word “liberation” is conventionally used when an occupying imperialist power withdraws, and that’s what happened here.

The Polish Government In Exile

At the beginning of October 1939 the British and French governments recognized a Polish government-in-exile in France (later it moved to England). This was an act of hostility against Germany, of course. But the UK and France were already at war with Germany. (The USA took the position of refusing to recognize the conquest of Poland, but treated the Polish government-in-exile in Paris in an equivocal manner. Evidently it wasn’t sure what to do.)

The USSR could not recognize it for a number of reasons:

* Recognizing it would be incompatible with the neutrality of the USSR in the war.

It would be an act of hostility against Germany, with which the USSR had a non-aggression pact and a desire to avoid war. (The USSR did recognize it in July 1941, after the Nazi invasion).

* The Polish government-in-exile could not exercise sovereignty anywhere.

Most important: if the USSR were to recognize the Polish government-in-exile, the USSR would have had to retreat back to its pre-September 1939 borders – because the Polish government-in-exile would never recognize the Soviet occupation of Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine.

Then Germany would have simply marched up to the Soviet frontier. 

To permit that would have been a crime against the Soviet people, of course. And, as the British and French soon agreed, a blow against them, and a big boost to Hitler as well. See should_the_ussr_have_permitted.html

Polish Government Uniquely Irresponsible

No other government during WW2 did anything remotely like what the Polish government did.

Many governments of countries conquered by the Axis formed “governments in exile” to continue the war. But only the Polish government interned itself in a neutral country, thereby stripping itself of the ability to function as a government and stripping their own people of their existence as a state.

What should the Polish government leader have done, once they realized they were completely beaten militarily?

  • The Polish government should have remained somewhere in Poland – if not in the capital, Warsaw, then in Eastern Poland. If they had set up an alternative capital in the East — something the Soviets had prepared to do East of Moscow, in case the Nazis captured Moscow — then they could have preserved a “rump” Poland.
    There it should have capitulated – as, for example, the French Government did in July 1940. Or, it could have sued for peace, as the Finnish government did in March 1940.
    Then Poland, like Finland, would have remained as a state, though it would certainly have lost territory.
  • Or, the Polish government could have fled to Great Britain or France, countries already at war with Germany.
    Polish government leaders could have fled by air any time. Or they could have gotten to the Polish port of Gdynia, which held out until September 14, and fled by boat.
  • Why didn’t they? Did Polish government leaders think they might be killed? Well, so what? Tens of thousands of their fellow citizens and soldiers were being killed!
    • Maybe they really did believe Rumania would violate its neutrality with Germany and let them pass through to France? If they did believe this, they were remarkably stupid. There’s never been any evidence that the Rumanian government gave them permission to do this.
    • Did they believe Britain and France were going to “save” them? If so, that too was remarkably stupid. Even if the British and French really intended to field a large army to attack German forces in the West, the Polish army would have had to hold against the Wehrmacht for a month at least, perhaps more. But the Polish Army was in rapid retreat after the first day or two of the war.
    • Or, maybe they fled simply out of sheer cowardice. That is what their flight out of Warsaw, the Polish capital, suggests.

Everything that happened afterwards was a result of the Polish government being interned in Rumania.

Here’s how the world might have been different if a “rump” Poland had remained after surrender to Hitler:

* A “rump” Poland might finally have agreed to make a mutual defense pact that included the USSR. That would have restarted “collective security”, the anti-Nazi alliance between the Western Allies and the USSR that the Soviets sought but UK and French leaders rejected.

That would have

  • greatly weakened Hitler;
  • probably eliminating much of the Jewish Holocaust;
  • certainly preventing the conquest of France, Belgium, and the rest of Europe;
  • certainly prevented many millions of deaths of Soviet citizens.

* Poland could have emerged from WW2 as an independent state, perhaps a neutral one, like Finland, Sweden, or Austria.

All this, and more – if only the Polish government had remained in their country at least long enough to surrender, as every other government did.

Conclusion

See conclusion.html

Source

Grover Furr: New Light On Old Stories About Marshal Tukhachevskii : Some Documents Reconsidered

tukhachevsky

Grover Furr
Montclair State University

Originally published in RUSSIAN HISTORY/HISTOIRE RUSSE, 13, Nos 2-3 (Summer-Fall 1986), 293-308.

The innocence of Marshal Tukhachevskii and the other military commanders condemned with him in 1937 has become firmly accepted by both Soviet and Western historians. [1] The current scholarly consensus also includes the view that “the nazi secret archives contain no sort of evidence of anything” like a plot between the Soviet military and Germany, that “not a jot of evidence has emerged from the German archives.” [2] The present article re-examines some of the material bearing upon the Tukhachevskii case which has come to light so far from the captured German Foreign Office files, and concludes that it suggests a plot of some kind involving Tukhachevskii and the German High Command may, in fact, have existed.

In 1974 a newly-discovered document from these files was examined by British historian Frederick L. Carsten. [3] It is a report concerning high-level rumors current in Munich in early 1937, which ended up in the Vienna Bureau of the Austrian Chancellor. Among other matters it deals with relations between the German and Soviet military commanders, about which it makes four points: 1) It claims that the top men in the German General Staff, including Generaloberst Freiherr Werner von Fritsch, Chief of Staff of the German Army (Chef der Heeresleitung), were at that time involved in trying to form an alliance with the Soviet military. 2) It claims that Marshal Tukhachevskii had been present at the German army’s autumn maneuvers in the past year (den vorjährigan detuschen Herbstmanoevern). 3) At that time Tukhachevskii is said to have proposed a toast to the German Army “as the champion (Vorkämpferin) against world Jewry.” and to Goring. 4) It claims that the German military was closely following the “power struggle presently taking place in Russia,” in hopes that Stalin would be overthrown in favor of a military dictatorship. [4]

Carsten denies the validity of the first three of these points on several grounds: 1) He claims that the last time any Russian officers attended German maneuvers was the autumn of 1933. 2) Though admitting that Tukhachevskii congratulated General Ernst Köstring, German military attaché in Moscow, upon the German army’s successful occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, Carsten avers that “this is a far cry from being a declared anti-semite and a sympathizer with the Nazi ideology. Even Karl Radek congratulated General Köstring on the same occasion in Moscow.” [5] 3) For Carsten, the existence of this document is explained by the story that Reinhardt Heydrich’s Sicherheitsdienst (SK, the intelligence division of the SS) was busy fabricating a dossier of forged materials to incriminate Tukhachevskii and decapitate the Soviet military. No doubt, then the SD would have been “spreading this kind of `news’ about Tukhachevskii, his sympathies with Nazism and his allegedly intimate relations with leading German officers.” [6]

The present article uses an analysis of this report from the Austrian Bundeskanzleramt (BKA) as a framework within which other documents, including those from the German Foreign Office files which bear on the Tukhachevskii case, are re-examined. It examines each of the assertions (one through four) in the document, and each of Professor Carsten’s objections (1 through 3).

General Ernst Köstring former German military attaché  in Moscow, stated in memoires published in 1965 that “Autumn 1935 was the last instance of Russian officers participating (Teilnahme) in our maneuvers.” [7] Evidently Carsten has misinterpreted this passage, for Köstring  says nothing to rule out Soviet attendance at, as opposed to participation in, German maneuvers in later years. In letters to Paris at the time General Renondeau, French military attach‚ to Berlin, reported that Soviet officers attended German army maneuvers in both 1936 and 1937. [8] Apparently either Komkor (corps commander) Orlov (according to Renondeau) or Komandarm (army commander) Uborevich (as Walter Görlitz has it) were present at German maneuvers in autumn 1936. [9] Tukhachevskii, Uborevich, and Orlov were closely associated with the Soviet military cooperation with Germany under the Treaty of Rapallo. This association might account for the rumor, reported in the Austrian BKA document, that it was Tukhachevskii who had attended the 1936 German maneuvers (point one) — particularly since the marshal had visited Berlin at least once in 1936. [10] Thus the rumor is perhaps not very wide of the mark.

Carsten would have it (2) that it is hard to believe Tukhachevskii would have made such a pro-Nazi and anti- Semitic toast as the document recounts. In fact, the opposite is true: such a statement would have been entirely consistent with what was widely reputed to be Tukhachevskii’s attitude.

In 1928 a former French officer published a short biography of Tukhachevskii “Pierre Fervacque” – nom de plume of the French journalist Remy Roure — had been Tukhachevskii’s fellow prisoner-of-war in 1917 in the German officers’ camp at Ingolstadt, Bavaria. In his biographical sketch he set down the contents of several conversations he had had with the young Russian lieutenant during their captivity, among them the following:

– You are an anti-semite, then, I said to him. Why? — The Jews brought us Christianity. That’s reason enough to hate them. But then they are a low race. I don’t even speak of the dangers they create in my country. You cannot understand that, you French, for you equality is a dogma. The Jew is a dog, son of a dog, which spreads his fleas in every land. It is he who has done the most to inoculate us with the plague of civilization, and who would like to give us his morality also, the morality of money, of capital. — You are now a socialist, then? — A socialist? Not at all! What a need you have for classifying! Besides the great socialists are Jews and socialist doctrine is a branch of universal Christianity. … No, I detest socialists, Jews and Christians. [11]

Tukhachevskii never protested the contents of this well-known book. On the contrary, until shortly before his execution Tukhachevskii maintained friendly relations with Roure. He spoke with the French journalist at a banquet in Paris in 1936, and then three days later held another, private, conversation with him. Roure recalled in July 1937 that, in his book, he had portrayed the young Tukhachevskii as expressing horror and disgust for Western civilization and a juvenile love of “barbarism” in hair-raising tones (which, we note, could have come from the most radical Nazis). Twenty years later Tukhachevskii had mellowed, had become an admirer of French culture, but remained a “patriotic” pan-Slavic nationalist and imperialist who felt that, by serving Bolshevism, he had served his country. [12]

We have examined and rejected Carsten’s first two objections to the Austrian BKA report, and in so doing have determined that the second and third points made in that report accord well with facts attested elsewhere. We now turn to points four and one of the Austrian document. The fourth point is the claim that the German military was watching the “power struggle” (meaning the Moscow trials) in the USSR in hopes that a military dictatorship might replace Stalin. In December 1936 the Soviet government assigned David Kandelaki, head of the Soviet Trade Delegation to Germany, the task of “feeling out” the German government concerning the possibility of opening secret talks. By early 1937 Hitler had turned the USSR down, [13] as is illustrated in an interesting document, noted by Erickson, from the German Foreign Office files whose significance for the Tukhachevskii Affair has not yet been appreciated. This is a letter to Dr. Hjalmar Schacht (head of the Reichsbank and the person whom Kandelaki had approached concerning the Soviet Government’s desire for formal secret talks) from the German Foreign Minister, Baron Constantine von Neurath. [14] In this letter Neurath summarizes Hitler’s view, with which Neurath also declares his agreement. This is expressed as follows:

As concerning the eventual acceptance of talks with the Russian government, I am, in agreement with the Führer, of the view that they could not lead to any result at this time, would rather be made great use of by the Russians to achieve the goal they seek of a closer military alliance with France and, if possible, to achieve as well a further rapprochement with England. A declaration by the Russian government that it dissociates itself from Comintern agitation, after the experience with these declarations in England and France, would be of no practical use whatever and therefore be unsatisfactory.

Neurath adds an interesting qualification: “It would be another thing if matters in Russia should develop in the direction of an absolute despotism propped up by the military. In this event we should not let the opportunity pass us by to involve ourselves in Russia again.” The Neurath-Schacht letter is dated 11 February, 1937, while the cover letter to the Austrian BKA document, on BKA stationery, is dated four days later, and the report itself deals with the previous month. Thus the letter proves that the rumor set down in the report does, in fact, reflect the real views of the Nazi hierarchy at precisely the time it claims: in other words, the Neurath-Schacht letter strikingly verifies point four of the Austrian BKA report.

In early 1937 there were two leading military figures in the soviet Union: Tukhachevskii and the Commissar for Defense, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov. It was well known that tensions within the top leadership of the Soviet military were profound. [15] Too much should not be made of an argument e silentio. But later in the same letter Neurath may be tacitly letting Schacht know which one of the two Soviet military leaders he means: “In this connection I should also note, for your personal information, that, according to reliable information reaching us concerning the events in Russia, there is nothing to any slit between Stalin and Voroshilov. So far as can be determined, this rumor, which is being spread by our press as well, originated in interested circles in Warsaw.” Perhaps this passage suggests that, with Voroshilov still a staunch Stalinist, German would only be interested in talks with Russia in the event of a military dictatorship under Tukhachevskii.

There remains the first point in the Austrian BKA report, the supposed attempt by the German General Staff to form an alliance with the Soviet Army. To begin with, we note that Neurath was very close to Fritsch and to General Blomberg, worked with them behind Hitler’s back on several occasions, and was replaced as foreign minister by Ribbentrop on 4 February, 1938, the same day that Fritsch and Blomberg resigned and dozens of other generals and officials were dismissed to be replaced by officers more compliant with Hitler’s desire for war. [16] If Fritsch were in secret touch with Tukhachevskii, Neurath might well have been informed. But there is other evidence of a Tukhachevskii-Fritsch connection.

In his famous book I Paid Hitler, Fritz Thyssen, the former German steel magnate, one of the immensely influential “Schlotbarone,” the Ruhr heavy industry magnates, and an early member of the Nazi party explicitly associated Tukhachevskii with Fritsch: “Fritsch always advocated an alliance with Russia, though not with a Communist Russia. Attempts were made to establish relations between Fritsch and the Russian generalissimo, Tukhachevskii. The two had one point in common: each desired to overthrow the dictator in his own country.” [17]

Thyssen was certainly in a position to know of the kind of secret liaisons he alleges here, and may have been in on it too, since by 1936 or 1937 he himself was deeply disillusioned with Hitler. Professor Erickson, who cites this passage but would clearly like to dismiss it, confidently states in the text of his book that “not a single item of evidence has emerged to justify the charge of treasonable contact with the Germans.” However, in a footnote on the same page he refers to the `Thyssen passage quoted above, and adds the following remark: “It is difficult to know where the support for this statement comes from, although there was a contemporary Polish newspaper report that a letter or note from Fritsch had been seized from Tukhachevskii.” [18]

There is yet more evidence from the German Foreign Office files hinting at a link between Tukhachevskii and the German General Staff. This is the set of documents referred to on page 435 of Erickson’s study, The Soviet High Command. These documents record the loan, between February and November, 1937, of military court papers concerning Tukhachevskii when he was a prisoner-of-war in Germany during World War I (the court papers themselves are not extant). A study of the four loan request documents reveals that the Tukhachevskii files were requested from the Potsdam branch of the Heeresarchiv(army archives) by the Wehrmachtamt, Aus. (Ausland) VI, the section which dealt with foreigners. Wehrmachtamt requested it on behalf of the “GZ.” This is the abbreviation for Generalstab-Zentralstellung, the main headquarters of the German General Staff. [19] GZ was of course in Berlin, and was headed by General von Fritsch.

It is noteworthy that someone in Fritsch’s Berlin HQ was apparently showing some considerable interest in Tukhachevskii at precisely the same time that: 1) the report to the Austrian BKA told of Fritsch’s interest in an alliance with the Soviet military — a report backed up by Thyssen’s testimony; and 2) both that report and Neurath speak of an interest in a military coup in the USSR.

Our examination of the Austrian BKA report shows that, as regards German-Soviet military relations, it is highly consistent with other evidence available. Points one, three, and four are fully consistent with this other evidence, while point two may simply be due to a confusion (or may even be correct as well). We have also disposed of the first two of Professor Carsten’s objections to it. However, there remains his third point: that the documents might have been related to the well-known SD plot to forge a dossier incriminating Tukhachevskii as a traitor. The whole matter of this alleged forgery is very complex, and cannot be unraveled in this article. In addition, it is in principle impossible to prove a negative — in this case, that no German forgery attempt was made. One can merely examine the evidence cited to support the existence of such a forgery attempt and see how it holds up. This said, several considerations are relevant to the matter at hand.

First, the crucial sources for the “SD-NKVD forgery” story are untrustworthy. In his introduction to the English edition of Walter Schellenberg’s memoires, Alan Bullock concludes: “nor would it be wise to accept Schellenberg as a trustworthy witness where his evidence cannot be corroborated.” Erickson also points out several important passages of Schellenberg’s which he recognizes cannot be true. [20] The account by Alfried Naujocks, the SS man who claimed to have been personally responsible for organizing the forgery and who is usually taken at his word, is even more patently false. [21]

Second, according to all the accounts of the forgery plot, Hitler and Himmler were both a party to it. But nothing of the kind could be inferred from their later references to the military purges. For example, Himmler is reported to have discussed the Tukhachevskii Affair in a conversation with the renegade Soviet General A. A. Vlasov on 16 September 1944 in a manner which makes it clear he believed Tukhachevskii had been guilty of some plotting: “Himmler asked Vlasov about the Tukhachevskii Affair. Why this had gone awry. Vlasov gave a frank answer: ‘Tukhachevskii made the same mistake that your people made on 20 July [21a]. He did not know the law of masses.’” [22] In an important speech in Posen on 4 October 1943 Himmler stated:

When — I believe it was in 1937 or 1938 — the great show trials took place in Moscow, and the former czarist military cadet, later Bolshevik general, Tukhachevskii, and other generals were executed, all of us in Europe, including us in the [Nazi] Party and in the SS, were of the opinion that here the Bolshevik system and Stalin had committed one of their greatest mistakes. In making this judgment of the situation we greatly deceived ourselves. We can truthfully and confidently state that. I believe that Russia would never have lasted through these two years of war — and she is now in the third year of war — if she had retained the former czarist generals. [23]

This probably reflected Hitler’s assessment as well, for, according to Goebbels (diary entry of 8 May 1943): “The conference of the Reichsleiters and Gauleiters followed…. The Führer  recalled the case of Tukhachevskii and expressed the opinion that we were entirely wrong then in believing that Stalin would ruin the Red Army by the way he handled it. The opposite was true: Stalin got rid of all opposition in the Red Army and thereby brought an end to defeatism.” [24]

Finally, the German forgery — if indeed there was one — does not exclude the existence of a real military plot. In fact, all of the  SD sources for the forgery story leave open the possibility that the marshal was in fact plotting with the German General Staff. [25]

Thus the story of the “SD-NKVD forgery” is very problematic. Based purely on hearsay, it abounds in contradictions and outright lies. If it were nonetheless consistent with the other evidence concerning the Tukhachevskii Affair, it might merit consideration despite it all. but the opposite is true.

The only pre-war account of any plot to frame Tukhachevskii is that of Walter Krivitsky, which concludes that the NKVD possessed its own evidence against Tukhachevskii quite independent of any forged dossier. [26] This coincides with the opinion of Heinz Höhne, the most recent student of the forgery plot from the German and SD side. [27]

Important testimony asserting the existence of a real conspiracy including Tukhachevskii and other military leaders comes from Nikolai N. Likhachyov, better known as Andrei V. Svetlanin. A lecturer in Russian at Cambridge, then journalist and finally editor (1955-65) of the emigre Russian journal Posev, Svetlanin claimed second-hand knowledge of the conspiracy as a member, during the mid-1930s, of the staff of the Far Eastern Army (later the Red Banner Far Eastern Front) commanded by Marshal Bliukher.

In this account, the military and party leaders executed during 1937 as part of the “Tukhachevskii Affair” were in fact part of a wider conspiracy the central figure in which was Yan Gamarnik. [28] Chief of the Political Directorate in the Army, Gamarnik had probably begun the plot, together with Tukhachevskii, as early as 1932. By the time of the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, it was well developed. The plotters, motivated by the disastrous consequences of collectivization, were said to have considered two distinct plans. Plan “A,”, originating with Tukhachevskii and the young commanders around him, centered on a coup in the Kremlin, to be supported by party and military leaders in some of the provinces. Plan “B,”, envisaging independent revolts in different border areas of the USSR, originated with Gamarnik and the state and party officials in the plot, and was the version finally approved by the conspiratorial center. The Far Eastern Region was to have been the site of the initial revolt.

Svetlanin never claims to have been a part of the conspiracy himself which, he insists, was limited to men of the highest rank. Apparently no one of his acquaintance in the Far Eastern Army believed the Tukhachevskii Affair to have been a frame-up against innocent men. His story can be partially checked from independent sources, the main one of which is the account by Genrikh S. Liushkov given to the Japanese interrogators after his defection to them in June, 1938 (Liushkov, head of the Far Eastern NKVD, had been sent there to help the 1938 purge). Liushkov disclosed to the Japanese the existence of an plot in the Far East, and his account of the plot confirms Svetlanin’s in several minor respects. [29]

Curiously, none of the post-1956 Soviet accounts have revealed any information other than that which was already available in the West, and draw principally upon the SD accounts of the forged dossier. Even the Western sources used by Nikulin, the “official” Khrushchev-era biographer of Tukhachevskii, are carefully pruned of evidence they contain that suggests some real conspiracy in fact occurred. there is, strictly speaking, so Soviet post-Stalin historical account of the Tukhachevskii Affair at all, since Nikulin’s work, upon which all others rely, is filled out with dramatic dialog and frankly termed fictionalized (povestvovanie). [30]

Taken single, none of these bits of evidence is very significant in itself. But when considered as a whole, they constitute at lest a prima facie case that some real military conspiracy involving Tukhachevskii may have actually existed. Nor is it difficult to understand why Khrushchev might have wanted to rehabilitate real conspirators. Khrushchev used the rehabilitations of the Tukhachevskii group as a stick with which to beat Stalin and, more importantly, remaining “Stalinists” in high places — that is, in order to hold power and support certain policy decisions. The Soviet military elite regards Marshal Tukhachevskii and those associated with him as the fathers of the contemporary Soviet armed forces. [31] To accuse Stalin of having wrongly killed them was at once to make of the military a firm ally and to blacken any policies associated with Stalin’s name.

In conclusion, each of the points concerning Tukhachevskii mentioned in the Austrian BKA document is consistent with other, independent evidence. The “SD forgery plot” story, and the Khrushchev-era versions of the Tukhachevskii Affair, have been accorded a degree of scholarly acceptance that is not justified by the contradictions and inconsistencies which abound in them. Any new study should examine them far more skeptically than has hitherto been the case. The present scholarly consensus notwithstanding, there is little about the Tukhachevskii Affair, including the very basic matter of Tukhachevskii’s guilt or innocence, about which we can be certain.

Montclair State University

APPENDIX

–N.A. Series T-120, Roll No. 1448, page D 567 777.

Now as always there are efforts under way within the Wehrmacht which aim at the possibility of an alliance with the Russian army. The argument is simple: the Russian army cannot be taken care of by force; therefore it should happen in friendship. Fritsch, Admiral Raeder, and even General von Reichenau are rumored to be proponents of this plan. Blomberg is seen as a mere accessory (Figurant). But the proponents of these efforts are found chiefly among the younger school of the General Staff. When he was in Berlin on the occasion of last year’s German autumn maneuvers, Marshal Tukhachevskii offered, in return for Colonel-General Fritsch’s toast to the Russian army in Wüzberg, a toast to the German army as the champion against world Jewry, and to General Goring. The power struggle presently taking place in Russia, which might possibly end with Stalin’s fall and the establishment of a military dictatorship, is being followed by the Wehrmacht with closest attention, and with unconcealed sympathy for a solution of that kind.

***********************************************************

* I would like to thank Professor J. Arch Getty, of the University of California at Riverside, and Professor S.G. Wheatcroft, of the University of Melbourne, who read and commented upon earlier versions of this article. Naturally they are not responsible for any shortcomings it still contains.

REFERENCES

1. Khrushchev’s “secret speech” to the Twentieth congress of the CPSU (February, 1956) attacked Stalin for his “annihilation of many military commanders” after 1937, but did not mention any of the executed officers. Marshal Tukhachevskii was first “rehabilitated” in 1958. See Robert Conquest, “De-Stalinization and the Heritage of Terror,”, in Alexander Dallin and Alan F. Weston, et al., eds. Politics in the Soviet Union: 7 Cases (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966), pp. 57-58. Virtually all Western scholars today accept Khrushchev’s story; e.g. Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties, rev. ed. (New York: Collier Books, 1973), pp. 300-02.

2. Conquest, Great Terror, p. 285; Leonard Shapiro, “The Great Purge,”, chapter 6 of Basil Henry Liddle-Hart, ed., The Red Army (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), p. 70. Professor John Erickson, in his authoritative work The Soviet High Command (London: Macmillan; New York: St Martin’s Press, 1962, p. 464 and note), states that “not a single item of evidence has emerged to justify the charge of treasonable contact with the Germans,” and “no post-war evidence has come to light to disprove this.”

3. Frederick Ludwig Carsten, “New `Evidence’ against Marshal Tukhachevskii,” Slavonic and East European Review, 52 (1974), 272-73. The document itself is in N(ational) A(rchives) microfilm series T-1220, Roll no: 1448, pages D 567 772 – D 567 778; page D 567 771 is the cover letter.

4. page D 567 777; see the Appendix for a translation of this part of the document.

5. According to K; see Herman Teske, ed., Profile bedeutender Soldaten. Band I. General Ernst Köstring Der militärischer Mittler zwischen dem Deutschen Reich und der Sowjetunion. 1921-1941. (Frankfurt/M.: Mittler, 1965), pp. 125-26.

6. Carsten, “New ‘Evidence’,” p. 273.

7. Ibid., citing Teske, Profile bedeutender Soldaten, p. 69. These words were written by Köstring for this volume, more than thirty years after the fact.

8. Georges Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge, 1920-1939,” in J.-B. Duroselle, ed., Les relations germano-sovietiques de 1933 – 1939  (Paris: Colin, 1954), pp. 218-19 and n. 97, p. 218.

9. Ibid., nn. 97 and 98, citing Gen. Renondeau’s letter to Paris of 5 October and 28 September, 1937. For Uborevich, see Walter Görlitz, History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945 (New York: Praeger 1962), p. 307 (German edition 1953). The whole affair is omitted, however, from Görlitz’s Kleine Geschichte des Deutschen Generalstabes (Berlin: Haude & Spener, 1967). Since the Austrian BKA report was compiled in December 1936-January 1937, it is impossible to be certain whether it refers to maneuvers in autumn 1935 or in autumn 1936.

10. On the question of this visit (or visits) see Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge, 1920-1939,” pp. 217-18; 224; also Pierre Dominique, “L’affaire Toukhatchevski et l’opinion française,” L’Europe nouvelle, 19 June 1937, p 590; Ian Colvin, Chief of Intelligence (London: Gollancz, 1951), pp. 39-40; Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 411-13, and 729, n. 27. Disagreement exists about what Tukhachevskii did during this visit or visits but it is sufficient for our purposes to note that all agree he did visit Berlin in 1936.

11. Pierre Fervacque, Le Chef de Larm e Rouge: Mikhail Toukatchevski (Paris: Fasquelle, 1928), pp. 24- 45. Remy Roure was one of the most prominent journalists and newspapermen in France in his day, a founder of Le Monde and its political editor from 1945 to 1952, when he left it for the conservative Le Figaro. See the necrology by Louis Marin-Chauffier, “L’Honneur de Notre Profession,” Le Figaro, 9 Nov. 1966, pp. 1, 32; also,  “La Carrière de Remy Roure,” ibid, p. 32.

12. Pierre Fervacque, “Le Julien Sorel de bolchevisme,” Le Temps (Paris), 24 July 1937, p. 3. Julien Sorel, the protagonist of Stendhal’s novel Le rouge et le noir, assumes holy orders out of cold-blooded careerism; Fervacque implies this was also Tukhachevskii’s motive for adhering to Bolshevism.

13. Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 432 and 453.

14. N(ational) A(rchives) Series T-120 Roll No. 1057, pp. 429-296-7.

15. For tensions within the Soviet military leadership, see John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany. Vol. I (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 3; and idem, Soviet High Command, passim.

16. There is no evidence that these dismissals (the famous “Fritsch Affair”) had anything to do with Tukhachevskii. What linked Neurath with Fritsch and Blomberg was opposition to Hitler’s plan to move swiftly against Austria and Czechoslovakia. See Harold C. Deutsch, Hitler and His Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January-June, 1938 (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1974), pp. 64, 70- 71, 258-66.

17. Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (New York: Cooperative Pub., 1941), p. 163. According to Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., “Fritz Thyssen und das Buch ‘I Paid Hitler’,”, in Turner, Faschismus und Kapitalismus in Deutschland (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973), p. 95, n. 20, the Tukhachevskii-Fritsch passages occurs in one of the few chapters in German in the original manuscript of the book and so probably reflects Thyssen’s personal work (Emery Reeves, Thyssen’s ghost-writer, conducted his interviews with Thyssen in French).

18. Erickson, Soviet High Command, p 464. According to Professor Alvin T. Coox, the Japanese considered Polish intelligence to be “the best anti-Soviet service in the world at the time.” See his “L’Affaire Lyushkov: Anatomy of a Soviet Defector,” Soviet Studies, 20 (Jan. 1968), 406.

19. N.A. Series T-78, Roll No. 10.

20. Alan Bullock, “Introduction,” in The Labyrinth: Memoires of Walter Schellenberg (New York: Harper, 1956), p. xix; Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 731, n. 84 and 735, nn. 25 and 27.

21. Naujocks’ story is in Gunter Peis, The Man Who Started the War (London: Oldham Press, n.d. [1960]), pp. 76-103. The names of the printing establishments Naujocks claimed to have visited in trying to find a forger do not occur in the very complete lists in the Berliner Adressbuch of 1932, 1936 or 1938. Erickson rejects Schellenberg’s account of the forgery because “it certainly took longer that four days to prepare the dossier” (Soviet High Command, p. 735, n. 25); what then can be said of the later Naujocks account, which states that the forgery took place in one night? Finally, Naujocks’ account of the Polish border incident (the “Gleiwitz transmitter” affair) set up by Hitler as a cause de guerre., has been proven heavily falsified; Jürgen Runzheimer: Der Überfall auf den Sender Gleiwitz im Jahre 1939,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 10 (1962), 408-26.

21a. This is a reference to the assassination attempt on Hitler of 20 July 1944.

22. Archiv des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte (Munich), Signatur ZS 2, Bd I., page 55. This document contains the notes of conversations between Gunter d’Alquen,  an SS officer present at the Himmler-Vlasov interview, and a co- worker of Jürgen Thorwald, the German author. The ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so) phrase “das Gesetz der Masse” could refer either to the law of inertia or to the behavior of the masses. In either case it means about the same thing. Thorwald cited the phrase in Wen Sie Verderben Wollen (Stuttgart: Steingr ben-Verlag, 1952), p. 394.

23. Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal {Nuremberg, 1949], Vol. 29, p. 111 (Document 1919-PS).

24. Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries: 1942-1943, ed. & tr. Louis P. Lochner (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1948), p. 355.

25. Peis, Man Who Started the War, p. 79; Walter Schellenberg: Memoiren (Köln: Politik und Wirtschaft, 1959), pp. 48-49; Walter Hagen [pseudonym of Wilhelm Höttl], Die Geheime Front: Organization Personen und Aktionen des Deutschen Geheimdienstes (Linz und Wien: Nibelungen-Verlag, 1956), p. 63. A close study of these accounts reveals, however, that they are mutually contradictory more often than not and that, in general, they cannot be trusted.

26. Walter G. Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent (London: Right Book Club, 1940), pp. 257-58. But Krivitsky’s book is harshly condemned as untrustworthy by his friend of many years and wife of his assassinated friend Ignace Reiss; see Elizabeth Poretsky, in Our Own People: A Memoire of ‘Ignace Reiss’ and His Friends (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1970), pp. 71; 75, n.2; 124; 146; 204, n. 1; 211, n.1; 269-70. See also Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge,” pp. 233, 2234 & nn.; 257, n. 194, for criticisms of Krivitsky.

27. Heinz Höhne, The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS, tr. Richard Barry (New York: Coward-McCann, 1970), p. 233; similarly, idemCanaris, tr. J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979, p. 248. Höhne  interviewed other German sources and also studied the SD survivors’ accounts; while accepting their story of the forgery plot, he believes it was not the cause of the arrests of Tukhachevskii and the others.

28. A. Svetlanin, Dal’nevostochnyi zagovor (Frankfurt/M.: Possev-Verlag, 1953). Details about Likhachyov/Svetlanin’s life are given in the necrology by N. Tarasova, Grani, No. 61 (1966), pp. 82-97. A very intelligent discussion, from an emigre  viewpoint, of Svetlanin’s account of the conspiracy took place in the pages of the journal Posev in 1949-50; for a complete list of the articles, see ibid, No. 32 (1950), p. 10, n. I am indebted to the late Professor Nikolai Andreyev, of Cambridge, England, for additional information about his colleague and personal friend, Mr Likhachyov, alias Svetlanin.

29. See the article by Coox cited in n. 18 above. The post-war Soviet defector Grigory Tokaev also claimed first-hand knowledge of high-level military opposition to the Stalin government which survived even the military purges; he knows nothing of any Tukhachevskii involvement, however. See his Betrayal of an Ideal (London: Harville Press, 1954), and Comrade X (London: Harville Press, 1956). A Soviet dissident account of the Khar’kov trial, in November, 12969, of the engineer Genrikh Altunian (Khronika tekushchikh sobytii, No. 1, pp. 312-13), states the following: “IRKHA, witness for the prosecution and party organizer of the military academy at which ALTUNIAN taught, stated at the court that it was still not certain whether Komandarm I. Iakir’s rehabilitation was correct (`eshche neizvestno, pravil’no li reabilitirovan komandarm I. IAKIR’).” Robert Conquest also cites this quotation, though without identifying his source, in the introduction to Pyotr Yakir, A Childhood in Prison (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 12973), p. 17.

Altunian was involved in dissident activities with Pyotr Iakir, son of the general condemned with Tukhachevskii. According to Victor Krasin, Iakir and he were tried in 1973 for collaborating with “the old Russian emigre organization, the National Labor Union (N.T.S.).” (Victor Krasin, “How I Was Broken by the K.G.B., The New York Times Magazine, 19 March 1984, pp. 71, 75). Founded in the 1930s as a fascist-type organization the N.T.S. collaborated closely with the Germans during their invasion of the USSR. George Fischer, ed., Russian emigre Politics (New York: Free Russia Fund, 1951), p. 72. Iakir had thus been working with a fascist group whose “ultimate goal” is “the armed overthrow of the Soviet regime ” (Krasin, p. 71). Almost precisely these activities constituted the most dramatic charges against Iakir’s own father, condemned with Tukhachevskii — charges which Iakir believed were false. In a further irony, it was the N.T.S. publishing house, “Possev-Verlag,” that published Svetlanin/Likhachev’s 1952 book in which the author claimed direct knowledge of a plot against the Soviet government by Iakir, Tukhachevskii, and the others (Svetlanin/Likhachyov went on to edit Posev, the N.T.S’s main journal, from 1955 until his death in 1965).

30. Lev Nikulin, Tuchachevskii: Biograficheskii ocherk (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1964), pp. 192-93. uses the account of the forgery plot and President Benes’ involvement taken from Colvin and Churchill, but omits all their evidence for the marshal’s guilt. The Soviet reader would never suspect that Colvin, Benes, Churchill, and the SD agents all believed there really had been a Tukhachevskii conspiracy (Nikulin also leaves out Colvin’s name, making the source harder to identify). Cf. Colvin, Chief of Intelligence, pp. 39-40, and 42; Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948), pp. 288-89;Memoires of Dr. Edward Benes: From Munich to New War and New Victory (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949), pp. 19-20, 47.

31. For examples, see Col M.P. Skirdo, The People, the Army, the Commander (Washington, DC, n.d.; orig. ed. Moscow: Voenizdat, 1970), p. 141; V. Savost’ianov and N. Egorov, Komandarm pervogo ranga (I.N. Uborevich) (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1966), pp. 212-13; Soviet Life (June, 1981).

Source

Grover Furr: Israeli Rule over Palestinians is Fascist

Apartheid South Africa - Apartheid Israel (1)

Originally published in The Montclarion, student newspaper at Montclair State College (now University), Thursday, May 5, 1988, p. 13.

To the editor:

Professor Edward Aronow’s letter of April 21 on Israeli treatment of Palestinians is so filled with error and distortion that one short response can only begin to correct it.

Israeli rule over Palestinians is essentially fascist. The Israeli army assault on the West Bank town of Beita in the wake of the death of an Israeli teenager can only be described as a pogrom – brutal, murderous assault such as the Tsarist police and the Nazis committed against Jews.

Killing persons armed only with stones or “trying to flee” – - including numerous Palestinian teenagers — collective punishment, beatings, imprisonment without trail for indefinite periods, deportations — this is fascist repression, akin to Nazi terrorism.

The lesson of World War II — especially of the Nazi holocaust — is that fascism cannot be fought with “moderation.” Mass Palestinian protests, including violent protests, must be welcomed, and supported by all those who oppose injustice. Pacifist and “non-violent” protest would be morally irresponsible, since they can never succeed against fascist oppression, but only lead to the unnecessary deaths of many protesters.

Terrorist assassinations, whether by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), or the far more numerous acts of terrorist murder by the Israeli army and settlers, must be condemned. However, Israel is far more guilty in this regard, quantitatively, than the PLO.

About 10 times the number of Palestinians have been murdered by Israel than the number of Israelis murdered by PLO terrorists. Yet Israeli terrorist repression against Palestinians is termed `retaliation” or “assassination” in the US media!

Israeli fascist brutalities follow a long history of working with some of the worst fascists on earth, including South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Argentina. Israel is a major supplier of arms and military advisors to South Africa. Israeli advisors helped train the Iranian Secret Police under the fascist Shah in torture techniques. Today Israel is the major arms supplier to Khomeini’s Iran!

One need not look far to find the roots of Israeli terrorism and fascism. Take Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir. Before World War II he belonged to a Zionist grouplet that, in 1940, offered to enter the war on the side of Nazi Germany if the Nazis would permit a Zionist state, run along fascist lines, in Palestine. Shamir personally planned the 1948 terrorist murder of Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN Special Mediator for Palestine.

During the war, the major Zionist leaders collaborated with Adolf Eichmann to send half a million Hungarian Jews to their deaths in Nazi extermination camps, in return for the Nazis letter 1500 or so Zionists emigrate to Palestine — a fact long since documented by Zionist writers. Such is the “love” of the Zionist leaders for “their own people”!

The root problem is racism and its twin, nationalism. Israeli law claims that any Jew, anywhere in the world, has a right to full Israeli citizenship, while Arabic-speaking Palestinians have no such right even if they were born and have lived all their lives on the territory now comprising Israel. This is an inherently racist policy. Fascist racism is built into the very existence of the Israeli state.

It is in the interest of Israeli rulers to foment as much hatred between Jews and Palestinians as they can. Israel’s economy depends heavily upon the exploitation of very cheap Palestinian labor, just as South Africa’s does on Black labor.

Israeli Jewish workers are very militant; relative to population;there are more work-days lost to strikes in Israel than in any country in the world. Racism and nationalism are the main things keeping Jewish and non- Jewish workers from allying with one another.

At all costs, Israeli bosses must prevent this, while keeping the super-exploited Palestinian workers nearby and without rights. The parallel with South Africa — or with American treatment of “illegal aliens” and minorities — is unmistakable.

Incidentally, there are not “dozens of Arab states,” as Professor Aranow, following the Israeli government propaganda line, says. There is one major Arab state, Saudi Arabia, and several minor ones on that peninsula. There are many Arabic-speaking states, just as there are many countries besides England where English is spoken. There is no “Palestinian state” in Jordan. Here Professor Aranow simply parrots Israeli disinformation.

Like Israel, the Moslem, Arabic-speaking states are also undemocratic, elite-run dungeons. In light of Israeli terror, however, Professor Aranow’s prattle about the need to “await greater Arab political maturity” is racist nonsense.

Source

Grover Furr on the Objective Study of Soviet History and Challenging the Bourgeois-Trotskyist Paradigm

grover-furr

“Political prejudice still predominates in the study of Soviet history. Conclusions that contradict the dominant paradigm are routinely dismissed as the result of bias or incompetence. Conclusions that cast doubt upon accusations against Stalin or whose implications tend to make him look either “good” or even less “evil” than the predominant paradigm holds him to have been, are called “Stalinist.” Any objective study of the evidence now available is bound to be called “Stalinist” simply because it reaches conclusions that are politically unacceptable to those who have a strong political bias, be it anticommunist generally or Trotskyist specifically.

[….]

No researcher today, no matter how anti-Soviet, dismisses Soviet evidence just because it is Soviet. Evidence from Soviet archives is routinely regarded as valid.

[….]

The testimony of the defendants at the three Moscow “Show” Trials is routinely dismissed as false. The defendants are said to have been threatened, or tortured, or in some other way induced to confess to absurd crimes which they could not have committed. This is all wrong.

There is no evidence worthy of the name that the defendants were threatened, or tortured, or induced to give false confessions by promises of some kind. Under Khrushchev, again under Gorbachev and, in fact, right up to this day the official stance of both Soviet and Russian regimes has been that the defendants’ confessions are false. The investigative materials, all but a small fraction of which are still classified in Russia today, have been scoured for any evidence that would discredit the Trials and prove the defendants’ confessions were false. But no such evidence has been discovered. For this reason we can be reasonably confident that no such evidence exists. 

[…]

In the case of a few of the more prominent defendants, Zinoviev and Bukharin, there is good evidence that they were not threatened or badly treated.

Most people who disregard the confessions of the defendants at the Moscow Trials have never studied the transcripts of these trials. They dismiss them because they have been told that the defendants’ confessions were fabricated. In reality, there is no evidence that this is so. As we shall see, the evidence given in those confessions is in fact corroborated by the archival material which is the main subject of this study. And in any event the confessions of the Moscow Trials defendants must be accorded the same respect as the rest of the evidence, or as any evidence. It must be identified, collected, and studied.

[….]

Given the absence of any evidence that these confessions were false, and given the logical progression from more detail in the secret documents to the least detail in public ones, any objective student would conclude that we should consider these confessions genuine unless and until evidence to the contrary should be discovered. But the practice among most scholars of this period of Soviet history is to do precisely the opposite. Any evidence that tends to support the theory that Trotsky or any of those accused of espionage, sabotage, conspiracy to overthrow the government or treasonable contacts with foreign governments did in fact so conspire, is routinely dismissed. The evidence itself is not evaluated.

There is never any reason to “dismiss” – to refuse to consider – any evidence. All evidence needs to be evaluated on its own merits and in conjunction with the rest of the evidence available, as we have done here.

[….]

We predict that regardless of the evidence neither staunch anticommunists nor Trotskyists will ever accept that Trotsky did in fact collaborate with Germany and Japan. The “Cold War” paradigm of Soviet history during Stalin’s time depends upon theconstruction of Stalin as an evil man who was killing innocent people and destroying the communist movement. If Trotsky and, by implication, the oppositionists who worked with him were guilty of what they were charged with and to which most, though of course not Trotsky, confessed, then this “Cold War” paradigm of Soviet history is dismantled.”

  - Grover Furr, “Evidence of Leon Trotsky’s Collaboration with Germany and Japan” quotations taken from pages 9 – 149.

Grover Furr reviews Robert Thurston’s “Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934 -1941”

As always, the publication of an article does not necessarily imply an absolute endorsement of the entirety of its content.

– Espresso Stalinist.

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by Grover Furr, from Cultural Logic, Volume 1, Number 2, Spring 1998

Robert W. Thurston, Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). $30.00.

Anti-Stalinism Hurts Workers, Builds Fascism

1. Billions of workers all over the world are exploited, murdered, tortured, oppressed by capitalism. The greatest historical events in the twentieth century — in fact, in all of human history — have been the overthrow of capitalism and establishment of societies run by and for the working class in the two great communist revolutions in Russia and China.

2. The Russian Revolution was the first of them, blazing the trail for all revolutionaries to come. Its history — its successes and failures — are the essential textbook for all workers and others who recognize the need to get rid of exploitation and build a better world run by those who toil.

3. Naturally the world’s capitalists do not want this learning process to happen! So the ruling class try to spread anti-Communist lies, the purpose of which is to demoralize potential revolutionaries and make us passive. These wrong ideas — wrong both in the sense that they are incorrect AND in that they serve the exploiters’ interests, not the interest of workers — include racism, religion, sexism, and anti- communism.

4. The main form anti-communism has taken for the past several decades has been anti-Stalinism. If workers and others can be convinced that any attempt to build a communist society — one based upon need, without exploitation, run by and for the working class — will end up “as bad as or worse than” Nazi Germany, then we will never really make the attempt. This means we will be reduced to struggling only for reforms under capitalism. This reformism is ultimately acceptable to the capitalists since it leaves them in control forever.

5. A second way the bosses use anti-Stalinism is to justify fascist repression and murder of any workers’ attempts to rebel against capitalism. After all, if “Stalinism” is “worse than Nazi Germany”, and if any attempt to build communism can lead only to “Stalinism”, then any and all repressive measures to suppress revolution are justified, including torture, mass murder, and fascism itself. This anti-communism has been the main justification for imperialist slaughter in the period since World War II, as indeed it had been for the Nazis’ aggression and atrocities.

6. Because it is the main ideological form of anti-communism, fighting anti-Stalinism is therefore a vital, life-and-death issue for the world’s workers — for all of us. This review essay will show how a new (1996) book can be useful in doing just that, and it also outlines some of the limitations of that book.

Strengths of Thurston’s Work

7. Thurston’s main points are as follows:

– The mass arrests and executions of 1936-38 in the USSR were not planned, but were panicked reactions to plots against the Soviet government.

– These events were not intended to, and did not in fact, spread “fear and terror” throughout the Soviet population, but rather were carried out against perceived enemies with the support and often the active participation of the Soviet population.

– They occurred at a time when the USSR was under enormous threat from hostile nations. (In addition, communists the world over were being imprisoned, tortured and murdered by capitalist regimes, though Thurston does not refer to these facts.)

– The numbers imprisoned and executed were far less that the inflated estimates claimed by anti-Communist sources.

– Rather than being cowed and demoralized by mass arrests and police activity, the growing Soviet industrial working class enjoyed an active voice inside the factories, encouraged by Soviet leaders to speak out about conditions in the plants and outside.

– The “acid test” of whether the workers and peasants supported Soviet socialism or were alienated from and hostile to it came with the Nazi invasion. Thurston shows that the Soviet people determinedly repulsed this massive onslaught by rushing either to join the Red Army or the factories to increase military production, while the Red Army fought with a dedication, effectiveness and morale utterly unmatched by the best Western capitalist armies.

8. Thurston’s introduction outlines what he calls the “standard version” (xiv) or “orthodox view” (xvi) of Stalin and the USSR in the ’30s, invoking the name of Robert Conquest — which he will then prove wrong. (Conquest, a former British Secret Service agent, is the foremost anti- communist liar about the Stalin years.) He also points out also how the present capitalist rulers of Russia have every motive to build anti-Stalinism.

9. This chapter also demonstrates that the Soviet legal system was evolving along recognizably capitalist lines in terms of its judicial process during the early ’30s. On the one hand, this contradicts the view of the Cold Warriors that the USSR was “totalitarian”, and this is Thurston’s main point: that the USSR was becoming more “liberal”, giving citizens protection against arbitrary police action, for example.

10. It reveals, however, how much the Bolsheviks relied on Western capitalist models, in the judicial system and elsewhere (education, culture, industry), for models of how to build a communist society. Here, the Bolsheviks’ view of communism was, as we can see now in hindsight, in many respects a “reformed” version of capitalist relationships. Learning from the Bolsheviks’ shortcomings as well as from their own experience, left forces within the Chinese Communist Party later challenged reliance on police and courts with reliance on the working class and poor peasants through political struggle, public trials, and an emphasis on self-criticism and being held accountable to the masses — a process that eventually reached its high point during the Cultural Revolution before it was finally defeated.

11. Chapter Two disposes of some ancient anti-Communist lies. Thurston shows there’s no evidence Stalin murdered either his second wife in 1932 or Politburo colleague Sergei Kirov in 1934. Both of these fairy-tales have been refuted by other scholars before Thurston but are still accepted without question as true by anti-Stalinists. Concerning the three big “Show Trials” of 1936-38, Thurston highlights the evidence that the basic charges against the defendants were in fact true. This was generally accepted even by keen Western observers at the time, like Joseph Davies, sent by President Roosevelt to check out the Soviet government (see his book Mission to Moscow), and confirmed long ago too by staunch anti-Communist scholars like Robert V. Daniels (see his Conscience of the Revolution, 1960).

12. Thurston shows that there was “wrecking” — industrial sabotage — in the economy under Yuri Pyatakov, whose confession to this effect is also shown to have been voluntary, not coerced (46). Even the charges against Nikolai Bukharin, main defendant in the 1938 trial, are shown to have been true in the main, as documents from Bolshevik archives prove (35-42). Thurston also states that some accusations against the defendants were “fabrications”, but he never gives any evidence to support this charge. In fact — though Thurston does not discuss this — it is quite likely that suspicions of “wrecking” were exaggerated by the recklessness built into the industrialization campaign, caused by the emphasis on “increasing productive forces” by sharpening wage differentials, privileges, and therefore class antagonisms: in short, by socialism, the mixture of communist and capitalist elements which communists since the days of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program had believed was a necessary interim stage between capitalism and a classless society.

13. Finally, Chapter Two also reaffirms that the massive arrests did not take place until after the arrests and executions in June 1937 of the military commanders led by Marshal Tukhachevsky. Stalin and the Bolshevik leadership clearly believed there was a real conspiracy, and there’s much, though not conclusive, evidence that such a conspiracy indeed existed. Chapter Three demonstrates that the Soviet government reacted in panic to the disclosure of such high-placed treason. There’s no evidence at all that Stalin was out to “terrorize the country”.

14. Nikolai Ezhov, the leader of the political police (or NKVD), was the person most directly responsible for the massive arrests and executions. Usually demonized by Cold-War historians, Ezhov was a long-time Communist with an honorable record, a worker since the age of 14, before being entrusted by the Politburo with the task of directly overseeing the repression of what all believed to be a massive counter-revolutionary plot.

15. Ezhov set high quotas for executions, which the police felt had to be met. There were many examples of police arresting and executing people either to “meet quotas” or from outright corruption. Recent research by Thurston ‘s colleagues suggests that between six and seven hundred thousand persons were executed during 1937-38. (See the article by Getty, Rittersporn, and Zemskov in American Historical Review, October 1993).

16. A few comments are in order here. First, the concept of “quotas” for executions appears to come from Lenin’s practice during the Civil War, although Thurston does not say so. After the Bolsheviks revolution privileged and propertied people throughout Russia opposed the Bolsheviks and Red Army, and White (anti-Communist) forces routinely executed Communists, workers who supported them, and all Jews. Under Lenin’s urging the Bolsheviks would take hostages from among the upper classes, threatening to execute them if the Whites opposed them.

17. It should be clear that such “quotas for execution” were completely inappropriate in a situation in which the Bolsheviks held state power and could confine anyone suspected of anti-Communist activity until their cases could be investigated. Such executions, whether of the guilty or, as was inevitable, of the innocent as well, serve no mass political function, as would public trials, investigations, and a concept of justice based upon the direct participation of the working class — an issue noted by Vyshinsky himself.

18. Anti-Communist “scholars” have repeatedly produced fantastically high figures for Soviet executions and jailings during the “purges”. Thurston challenges those inflated numbers with strong archival evidence. On page 137 he explicitly states that the inflated estimates are too high. On page 11 Thurston has a chart showing there were 1,196,439 camp inmates in 1937, a slight decline from the previous year (this included criminals as well as those arrested for political crimes, but does not include prison inmates). For purposes of comparison, we should note that this is much smaller than the US prison population today! While it seems clear to us now that many of those prisoners charged with political crimes (104,826, or 12.8% of the total) were not in fact guilty, that prison population is a long way from the Cold-War anti-Communist “guesstimates” of between 7 and 15 million prisoners — and some guess much higher still, 20 or 30 million!

19. Thurston shows there were, in fact, other real anti-Soviet plots in addition to the “Tukhachevsky Affair” (mass arrests and executions of military officers), including some spies within the NKVD itself. He also provides overwhelming evidence to show that the arrests targeted elite sectors — managers, specialists, intellectuals, party officials, and not “workers or poor peasants, the favored children of the new regime” (76). Naturally communists should not support unjust accusations against anyone, regardless of their class background. What this fact shows is that socialism — the continuation of capitalist relations of production and a capitalist notion of economic development — involved the continuation of class antagonisms under somewhat different forms, class antagonisms that found expression in the mass arrests and executions.

20. Thurston puts these events squarely in the context of the aftermath of the extremely violent years of 1914-21 (the beginning of World War I to the end of the very bloody Civil War) and, more immediately, of the sharpening international situation of the late ’30s, when Nazi Germany and all the imperialist countries were unmistakably bent upon surrounding and destroying the USSR.

21. However, even at that Thurston underplays the danger facing the Communist movement. On pages 34-5, he mentions the German reoccupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, unchallenged by the French who wanted Hitler to rearm, so as to pit him against the USSR. He mentions the start of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, but not the huge military support given to Franco, leader of the Spanish fascists, by Nazi German and fascist Italy, nor the phony “neutrality” of England, France, and the USA which cut the Spanish Republic off from international aid. He mentions fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in December 1935, unchallenged by the other imperialists, but never the Japanese fascists’ seizure of Manchuria in 1931 or the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany, Japan and Italy (1936-37), or the Japanese invasion of China (1937). Stalin would later express the Soviet view that the other imperialists were encouraging the Germans to attack and destroy the Soviet union:

“They kept on urging the Germans to go farther and farther east: ‘You just start a war against the Bolsheviks, and all will be well’” (quoted in Alexander Werth, Russia at War, p. 39).

22. Also left out is the Nazi decimation of the German Communist Party, the largest in Europe, beginning in 1934. In 1936, when the Soviet “purges” began, German Communists were being tortured and murdered by the thousands in German concentration camps, and similar treatment was being meted out to Communists and workers in dozens of other capitalist lands — as, in fact, it still is. Little wonder that the Soviets weren’t prone to treat too kindly those it considered to be German spies and agents!

23. And Thurston repeats, time and again, what his sources show him: the Soviet government favored workers and poor peasants over all others in the population, while they were being exploited, killed, etc., in every other country in the world! Thurston’s own evidence shows that the USSR was a “dictatorship of the working class”.

24. Some police agencies treated evidence as very important, though many did not. Conditions in the labor and punishment camps, the so-called “Gulag”, Thurston argues, were bearable both before and after the period 1937 to 1938, but very bad during this period, reflecting the fact that most police, and even prisoners, were convinced those arrested during this time were traitorous conspirators who deserved the worst treatment.

25. By January 1938, Thurston shows, complaints of unjustified repression were flooding the Central Committee, and the Plenum began to demand that expulsions from the Party be reviewed for unfairness. The next month Andrei Vyshinsky, formerly the head prosecutor at the “Show Trials”, complained about conditions in the labor camps and demanded punishment of camp officials who permitted bad conditions. He also insisted that those who fabricated evidence be arrested. In fact a number of trials of such fabricators did take place this year and the next, often with great publicity.

26. The need to pay greater attention to physical evidence, as opposed to confession, was re-emphasized. By the middle of 1938 the great period of panic, mass arrests, and executions was over. Police procedures were regularized; conditions in the camps improved; many of those falsely arrested were released and exonerated. Trials of NKVD men who had tortured and framed people were held, and the NKVD purged of such people.

27. Certainly the Soviet state was justified in acting to arrest preemptively, in times of crisis, anyone suspected of treason. But there was no reason for executing people on the same flimsy basis; they could certainly have been imprisoned pending a serious review of their cases. Had this been done, many or most executions would not have taken place. What is more, well-publicized trials of those who were guilty, with evidence publicly given, would have raised political consciousness, as did the Chinese Communist Party’s public trials of landlords in the period after their seizure of power, in which peasants openly accused those who had exploited and murdered them.

28. Chapter Six, “Life in the Factories”, shows that the Stakhanovite movement was, in fact, a mass movement which gave all workers the opportunity to gain recognition for improving production and technique, rather than a cynical way of “speeding-up” the workers, as it has been described by anti-Communists. Thurston argues that, in fact, Stakhanovism gave workers more power. Workers’ views and criticisms were respected; supervisors and foremen ignored them at their peril.

29. But here too we see that “socialist” relations of production were basically a reformed version of capitalist relations of production. While acknowledging the communist, collective aspects of the Stakhanov movement, we can see in retrospect how it inevitably became associated with speed-up, given the retention of a wage system. Thurston’s book neglects this aspect of the movement.

30. Thurston quotes some American workers who had also worked in the USSR as saying that conditions of work, and the atmosphere in the factories, were better for Soviet workers in the 1930s than for workers in the US (192). But he then undercuts their view — far more informed than his own — in the next sentence, where he writes that “Soviet workers were hardly better off or freer than their American counterparts”.

31. Ironically, he has already cited evidence on page 170 that at least some Soviet workers had shorter working hours than US workers. At the time, many people thought Soviet workers were, in fact, better off than were American workers. One of them was Walter Reuther, later the anti-Communist president of the United Auto Workers, who worked in a Soviet auto factory in the 1930s. In a passage not cited by Thurston, Reuther wrote home:

Here are no bosses to drive fear into the workers. No one to drive them in mad speed-ups. Here the workers are in control. Even the shop superintendent had no more right in these meetings than any other worker. I have witnessed many times already when the superintendent spoke too long. The workers in the hall decided he had already consumed enough time and the floor was given to a lathe hand to who told of his problems and offered suggestions. Imagine this at Ford or Briggs. This is what the outside world calls the “ruthless dictatorship in Russia”. I tell you … in all countries we have thus far been in we have never found such genuine proletarian democracy… (quoted from Phillip Bonosky, Brother Bill McKie: Building the Union at Ford [New York: International Publishers, 1953]).

32. Thurston says nothing about free medical care, cited in many studies of and novels about the Soviet Union in the 1930s. And much of his chapter shows how Soviet workers had a tremendous amount of input and right to criticize. Thurston also doesn’t mention that millions of US workers were unemployed in the ’30s, while the Soviets had a labor shortage. He omits the fact that US workers trying to unionize for better conditions were being violently attacked, and often killed, by the police, the military, and employer-hired goons. Conditions for the working class in Europe generally were even worse, with fascist or virtually fascist regimes, all viciously anti-working class, in most countries.

33. The final chapter deals with the response of the Soviet population to World War II. Here too Thurston concludes that the Soviet regime retained much loyalty and enthusiasm among the population. Soviet soldiers fought against the Japanese in Mongolia with high morale in 1938, where their military leadership was excellent, and against Finland and then the German Wehrmacht in 1940 and 1941, where both political and military leadership was initially poor and led to larger casualties than necessary. In the opening days of WWII, the Red Army fought well, counterattacking against far superior Axis forces, often fighting to the last man, rarely surrendering unless surrounded or demoralized by huge casualties and a hopeless situation. German officers uniformly remarked that the Soviets fought far better than any Western army (215).

34. Civilian morale was generally high in June 1941, even in Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland. The Polish fascist state had been racist towards Jews and Ukrainians in Eastern Poland, and therefore many of the Ukrainian population were supportive when the Soviets marched in, especially since the Soviets mainly repressed the enemies of the workers and peasants — landowners, Polish officers, and police — and did not collectivize the peasantry. But Ukrainian nationalists in Poland had already basically turned towards the Nazis, so many “Western” Ukrainians welcomed the Nazi invasion. German officers recognized that the Ukrainians in Soviet territory were very different, much more loyal to the USSR and often very hostile to the pro-Nazi West Ukrainians, as Thurston shows.

Shortcomings

35. The research reported in this book because it will help to combat anti-communism and lies against Stalin and the USSR generally during his time. However, Thurston’s work also suffers from serious shortcomings. First, while he combats many anti-Communist lies with good evidence, Thurston also makes many statements critical of the Bolsheviks without any evidence. There are many instances of this.

36. Even more serious are Thurston’s historiographical shortcomings. Not a Marxist of any kind, Thurston frames his analysis entirely in bourgeois historical terms. Therefore, Thurston’s book is valuable when, and only when, he bases his conclusions on primary source evidence. Even when he does, this evidence must be put into an historical materialist, scientific framework in order for important lessons to emerge clearly.

37. Like all the other works of the anti-Cold War researchers — called “revisionists” or “Young Turks” — who have helped to refute anti-Stalin and anti-Communist lies, this is a work of bourgeois history. These works of research take capitalism for granted, and so have a capitalist bias from the outset. Though they come up with important evidence, and often use it well, they do so from an academic perspective. They may refute egregious Cold-War lies, but they never reject anti-communism, the fundamental premise of capitalist scholarship.

38. Most important for our purposes, the “revisionists” do not ask the questions which Marxists, and all those convinced that capitalism must be overthrown, need answers to: namely, What can we learn, positively and negatively, from the history of the USSR? What were the Bolsheviksí successes? Why did these dedicated communists fail?

39. Although it can’t provide answers to the questions revolutionaries need to ask, Thurston’s work, like those of other more objective, though bourgeois, researchers, can help us if we use them according to historical materialism, the scientific method of Marxism or communism.

40. After all, to learn the correct lessons, both positive and negative, from the Bolsheviks’ experience, the history of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and why it eventually turned into its opposite, we need something in addition to the Marxist method of understanding history, or dialectical and historical materialism. We also need an accurate account of what, in fact, happened, not a farrago of anti-Communist lies and horror stories.

41. It is here, in refuting anti-Communist lies, as well as in discovering what did happen in reality, that Thurston’s work, and that of other honest bourgeois historians, can be very helpful. Let me give two brief examples.

1. Capitalist Relations and Class Antagonisms within the USSR:

42. Thurston shows time and again that those most likely to have been arrested and executed during the panic of 1937-38 were officials, leaders, managers, officers, and “higher- ups” in general. This fact shows that there was a considerable divorce between “leaders” and ordinary workers and other citizens. How could this be?

43. Marx recognized that “all history is the history of class struggle”. The Bolsheviks believed that everything must be subordinated to the fight for industrialization and production. After the early ’30s they used “material incentives” to reward workers and managers, developing large wage differentials and, therefore, differences in living standards among workers and between workers and managers, Party leaders and rank-and-file members, and in every other aspect of society. Believing too that productive technique was “class-neutral”, they kept capitalist production relationships in the factories and capitalist relationships of hierarchy and inequality generally in society. Women still did all the housework as well as their jobs, putting real limits on the extent — real, also — to which sexism could be fought.

44. In short, social relationships in the USSR were “reformed” capitalist relationships more than they were truly communist egalitarian relationships. This had to give rise to new class antagonisms and create resistance to the disappearance of old ones.

45. Thurston’s research can help us see that the mass arrests and executions of 1937-38, which were “concentrated among the country’s elite” (232), reflected these class antagonisms at the same time Stalin and the Soviet leadership believed they had abolished class struggle. Without these capitalist relations the “panic” of the late ’30s and, in fact, the future evolution of the Soviet Union towards, first, state capitalism and, as now, “free-market” capitalism, would not have been possible.

2. Elitist Relations within the Party:

46. In 1938 and thereafter specific cases of police corruption, neglect of evidence, frame-ups, and other negligence were publicized and those guilty punished. Many cases of rehabilitation, both of the living and of those unjustly executed, took place. Nevertheless the Bolshevik leadership under Stalin never really underwent a thorough, public self-critical review of how any injustice could have happened, in order to get to the bottom of it.

47. There is also the question of why people like Zinoviev, Bukharin and others were in important positions of power to begin with. They had demonstrated rotten politics for years. Zinoviev had quit the party in fear rather than take part in the October Revolution. Bukharin had lied many times — Thurston documents this — and had even plotted with the Socialist Revolutionaries against Lenin during the Civil War. (The S-R’s then plotted to overthrow Lenin, and very likely tried to kill him.) They had been expelled from the Party.

48. What was the point of handing them major leadership posts? The Bolsheviks should have trained other members to do their jobs and not relied on these particular intellectuals. Perhaps the concept of a party of “professional revolutionaries”, a “cadre” party — Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and others had worked for the Party all their lives — had not yet been entirely abandoned for the better concept of a mass party of the working class.

Conclusion: Fight Capitalist Lies

49. Thurston’s work is useful in debunking anti-Communist lies. And his work is only one of a growing body of what has been called “revisionist” research on the history of the USSR. These works use the same kind of bourgeois historical methodology, rules of evidence, logic, and documentation, commonly used in less contentious fields of history, but hardly ever in the study of the communist movement.

50. For the first time, an outline of the major events in the USSR during the Stalin years is beginning to emerge, although the anti-Communist “Cold Warriors” — often joined by enthusiasts for Leon Trotsky — are still actively spreading their lies and contesting every bit of research which contradicts their preconceived ideas, what is virtually a “Cold-War Party Line”.This is exciting, and heady, material!

51. But it is for revolutionaries and workers of today to use research like Thurston’s towards this end. Neither this work nor any others like it can provide the historical materialist framework without which human history will not reveal its truths.

Revisionists’ Research on Soviet History: A Brief Bibliographical Note(Note: It is a daunting task to keep abreast of the exciting research into the history of the Soviet Union during Stalin’s leadership. The “revisionists”, of which Thurston is a leading representative, have split the field of bourgeois Soviet history, and there is much animosity on both sides. In addition, it’s very helpful to be able to read Russian, both in order to look at original sources, and to follow the research now being published in Russia that Getty is publishing there, for example. What follows is only a brief introduction.)

1. There are a number of strands in the “new” history of the Soviet Union during the Stalin years. The work of the late E. H. Carr, and of his successors at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Russian and East European Studies, led by R. W. Davies, and represented heavily in the journal Soviet Studies (since volume 45, 1993 retitled Europe-Asia Studies); the research of Jerry Hough, Sheila Fitzpatrick, and Roberta Manning, the inspiration and, in some cases, the teachers of the younger “revisionists”; and the younger cohort themselves. I will concentrate on this third group.

2. The book under review is an excellent place to begin. But, to my mind, the first and groundbreaking work of this school is John Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938 (Cambridge University Press, 1985). A much revised version of his Ph.D. dissertation at Boston College, 1979, under Roberta Manning, this work is fundamental. One has to read it to get a feel for how completely the “accepted” version (Conquest-Solzhenitsyn, et al. — what Thurston calls the “standard version” or “orthodox view”) of this period must be rejected, how completely dishonest their “scholarship”, how poor their use of evidence. After Thurston, begin with Getty, and a careful reading of his footnotes.

3. The year after Getty’s book was published, the revisionists achieved recognition as a distinct school within Soviet history with Sheila Fitzpatrick’s article “New Perspectives on Stalinism”, The Russian Review 45, 4 (October 1986), 357-373, which the editors published together with four criticisms by established Cold-War historians, and a reply by Fitzpatrick, “Afterword: Revisionism Revisited”. A year later the same journal published eleven responses to Fitzpatrick’s article, including five by the leading younger scholars (William Chase, J. Arch Getty, Hiroaki Kuromiya, Gábor Rittersporn, and Lynne Viola), two supportive articles (by Jerry Hough and Roberta Manning), and an explicit attack by Conquest.

4. Robert Conquest’s voluminous work is the target, acknowledged or not, of much of the research on this period of Soviet history. Getty leads off his book with a brief exposé of Conquest’s irresponsible methods (Origins, p. 5 and note 12, p.222). The work of Steven G. Wheatcroft on the size of Soviet forced labor camps and number of deaths has developed as a refutation of Conquest and those whose research resembles his, like Steven Rosefielde. This debate continues today, and was launched by Wheatcroft’s article “On Assessing the Size of Forced Concentration Camp Labour in the Soviet Union, 1929-1956″, Soviet Studies 33 (April, 1981), 265-95. Conquest’s typically weak reply, with argument “from authority”, is in Soviet Studies 34 (July 1982), 434-39.

5. Wheatcroft and Conquest continue to criticize each other’s studies vigorously. For Wheatcroft’s research, begin with what appears in Europe-Asia Studies. For example, in “The Scale and Nature of German and Soviet Repression and Mass Killings, 1930-1945″, EAS 48 (December 1996), 1319-1353, Wheatcroft attacks the facile, anti-Communist comparison of Stalin with Hitler. The abstract reads:

     Repression and mass killings carried out by German and Soviet leaderships during the period 1930-45 differed in several respects. It appears that the German leader Adolf Hitler put to death at least five million innocent people mainly because of his antipathy towards Jews and communists. In contrast, Soviet leader Josef Stalin ordered the murder of some one million people because he apparently believed them to be guilty of crimes against the state. He was careful about documenting these executions whereas Hitler did not bother about making any pretence at legality.

6. A few other works which base themselves on recently-published Soviet archival documents and give the lie to Conquest-type horror-stories include: Nicolas Werth, “Goulag: Les Vrais Chiffres”, L’Histoire no. 169 (Septembre, 1993), 38-51; J. Arch Getty, Gábor T. Rittersporn, and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-war Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence”, American Historical Review 98 (December, 1993), 1017-49; R.W. Davies, “Forced Labour Under Stalin: The Archive Revelations”, New Left Review, 214 (November-December 1995), 62-80.

7. Other works explicitly critical of Conquest include: Jeff Coplon, “In Search of a Soviet Holocaust: A 55-Year-Old Famine Feeds the Right”, Village Voice, Jan. 12, 1988 (on the web at http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/vv.html). Coplon interviewed many of the foremost historians of the USSR, including many “Cold Warriors” as well as some “revisionists”; all rejected Conquest’s phony research on the Ukrainian famine, Harvest of Sorrow (Oxford, 1986), incidentally showing how Conquest was paid by Ukrainian nationalist groups which had collaborated with the Nazis.

8. Thurston was, I think, the first and (to date) the only historian of the Soviet Union to dare to attack Conquest in an academic journal: see Thurston, “On Desk-Bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspectives, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest”, Slavic Review 45 (Summer 1986), 238-244.

9. A six-part series exposing the Nazi origins of the Ukrainian famine myth while remaining critical of Soviet actions from a communist viewpoint, can be found at the Progressive Labor Party website at http://www.plp.org/cd_sup/ukfam1.html; read its notes for scholarly references to that time. Another PLP series, this time in four parts, of Stalin, the PBS television series, and the accompanying book Stalin: A Time for Judgment, by Jonathan Lewis and Phillip Whitehead (New York: Pantheon, 1990), begins at http://www.plp.org/cd_sup/pbsstal1.html. These articles contain yet more references to “revisionist” scholarship, and end with a brief bibliography of suggested further readings, at http://www.plp.org/books/biblio.html. An appreciative but critical review of Getty’s Ph.D. dissertation, the basis of his 1985 book, is at http://www.plp.org/pl_magazine/purges.html.

10. This should be enough for anyone interested in studying the latest critiques of the Cold-War lies about Stalin and Bolshevik history, the wars within the field of Soviet history, and the best results of bourgeois historiography, to sink their teeth into.

11. Finally: there is an important theoretical issue which I deal with briefly towards the end of my review, and which is not apparent in any of the social-historical and empirical research of the past twenty years or so. That question is: How can the method of dialectical and historical materialism be brought to bear on the “facts” as we are coming to know them, in order to draw valid conclusions from the Bolsheviks’ successes and errors, so that future communists may build upon the past without repeating its mistakes?

12. These works can help us learn something about what did happen, and help us refute anti-Communist lies. But the task of learning from the past to build towards a communist future is up to us.

Source

A Comment on “A Pathetic Defence of Stalinist Repressions”

Anil Rajimwale, the leader of Communist Party of India and one of the party’s leading theoretician has published a review of Grover Furr’s Book Khrushchev Lied, in the pro CPI and pro Congress magazine Mainstream Weekly, titled A Pathetic Defence of Stalinist Repressions, the link to Rajimwale’s review is http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article3616.html

Below we are publishing a short comment on the review made by Anil Rajimwale, written by comrade Manbhanjan (member editorial committee of Other Aspect)

One can understand the pain in the heart of die-hard Khrushchevite, Anil Rajimwale, while reviewing the book Khrushchev Lied. The pain is very genuine and inevitable because for some people it is extremely difficult to digest the truth. Since 20th Party Congress they have been deceived by anti-Marxist leadership of CPSU and their blood brother CPI regarding the truth in Soviet Union.

This time the truth was revealed by American Marxist scholar comrade Grover Furr. He has done exemplary research and attempted to publish facts hitherto unknown to the world. He discovered all the lies perpetuated by Khrushchev during the so called Secret speech during the 20th Party congress of CPSU.

This congress is regarded as the “Black Congress” in the history of International Communist Movement, as Khrushchev and his clique were successful in launching coup-d’état and overthrew socialism in the land of the first successful proletariat revolution. Khrushchev distorted the Marxist-Leninist teachings and presented to the world number of so-called “new theses”, i.e. “the peaceful co-existence between two systems”, “peaceful competitions between two system”, “peaceful transition identified with the parliamentary road”. After all in the “secret report “On the Cult of the Individual and its consequences”, that blackened the glorious road pursued by the Bolshevik Party since the death of Lenin. During the period Socialism was consolidated in Soviet Union under Dictatorship of Proletariat that defeated and eradicated the menace called fascism from the face of earth and liberated vast majority of human kind from capitalistic tyranny with the creation of the socialist camp after Second world war.

Comrade Anil Rajimwale in his whole political life has stuck to the lies propagated by Khrushchev and later Gorbachev regarding Stalin and has never moved beyond that. He has not only closed his eyes and seems oblivious about the criticism of Party of Labour of Albania under Comrade Enver Hoxha and later by the Chinese Party on the 20th Party Congress but also about the recent acknowledgement made by the Communist Party of Russian Federation on the achievement of Stalin. This is the high time for all communists to once again do a serious discussion by referring to the documents republished from the Archives by Revolutionary Democracy (India), Direct Democracy (Communist) Party and even by the overtly Trotskyite site Marxist Internet Archive, and then make correct assessment of the work and life of J.V.Stalin and the fundamental changes that occurred in the Soviet Union and the international communist movement, after the disastrous 20th CPSU congress.

Source

Grover Furr: Rejoinder to Roger Keeran

Written by Grover Furr

Let me begin by acknowledging the positive. Keeran correctly identified one error in my book. On page 30 I wrote:

Stalin did refer to Trotskyites in very hostile terms. But he did not advocate persecuting them [i.e. Trotskyites].

As Keeran notes, this is wrong. I should have written:

Stalin did refer to Trotskyites in very hostile terms. But he did not advocate persecuting former Trotskyites.

I’m grateful to Keeran for noting this error. Unfortunately, it is the sole valid criticism in his long review.

Keeran has fundamentally misunderstood my book Khrushchev Lied. This is clear from the title of his review: “Khrushchev Lied But What Is the Truth?” Moreover, in many places he utterly distorts what I have written.

Keeran expects me not only to prove that Khrushchev lied – he concedes that I do this successfully – but, somehow, to reveal “what really happened.” He writes:

The point of studying history is to understand what happened. Disputing Khrushchev’s views does not provide an alternative account of what happened. Furr admits this and says his study cannot satisfy the curiosity about “what really happened.”

Keeran has misconceived the subject of my book, which is the 61 “revelations” about Stalin (and Beria) Khrushchev“revealed” in his infamous “Secret Speech” to the 20th Party Congress in 1956.

In Chapter 10 of my book in a section titled “Exposing a Lie is Not the Same as Establishing the Truth” (143-145) I state:

Analysis of Khrushchev’s prevarications suggests two related but distinct tasks. By far the easier and shorter job is to show that Khrushchev was not telling the truth. This is the subject of the present book.

I then anticipate Keeran’s objection:

The interested student will naturally want to know more than the mere fact that Khrushchev lied. Once convinced that Khrushchev’s version of reality is false, she or he will want to know the truth – what really happened.

But the present study cannot satisfy that curiosity. (143)

ALL of Keeran’s criticisms stem from his inability to understand this essential distinction.

Keeran writes:

In spite of this disclaimer, Furr does suggest an alternative to Khrushchev’s view, and his alternative view is not credible.

Keeran is wrong. Nowhere in my book do I “suggest an alternative to Khrushchev’s view.” Why? As I explain on the same page:

A separate investigation would be necessary in each case – virtually, sixty-one studies for as many falsehoods. (143)

Without reference to what I have actually written Keeran repeatedly imputes to me some “interpretation” or other. Then he finds these constructs “not credible” [2] and — blames me! But they are his constructs, not mine!

Again and again Keeran falsely asserts that I state things in my book that are simply not there.

Yet, by trying to absolve Stalin entirely for the cult around him, Furr strains credibility.

This is false. Nowhere in my book do I “absolve Stalin” either partially or entirely for the “cult.” Instead, I cite a great deal of evidence which shows that Stalin opposed the disgusting “cult” around himself. (8)

Keeran remarks:

Stalin may have opposed renaming Moscow, but he apparently did not object when scores of other cities, towns, streets, squares, parks, factories and so on were named after him and when his pictures and statues became ubiquitous. Unlike Fidel Castro, Stalin did not do as much as he might have to discourage the cult that developed.

Keeran wishes Stalin had fought the “cult” even harder. Don’t we all! But this would be a legitimate criticism of my book only if I had tried to “absolve Stalin” – which I never do.

I do, however, make the following remark:

Some have argued that Stalin’s opposition to the cult around himself must have been hypocrisy. After all, Stalin was so powerful that if he had really wanted to put a stop to the cult, he could have done so. But this argument assumes what it should prove. To assume that he was that powerful is also to assume that Stalin was in fact what the “cult” absurdly made him out to be: an autocrat with supreme power over everything and everyone in the USSR. (8) [3]

Keeran states:

The book’s problems start with its title and argument. To call every Khrushchev revelation a lie has dramatic appeal and a figurative truth, but no one in their right mind could buy this as literal truth, because no one in their right mind could imagine Khrushchev or anyone else speaking for hours before a congress of the Communist Party about revelations that contained nothing but falsehoods.

Keeran may not “buy” it – but that is exactly what Khrushchev did! In my book I prove that every one of the 61 “revelations” Khrushchev made is false (except for one minor one, which I could not either verify or disprove).

Keeran confuses the words “statement” and “revelation”

A reader, however, has to wait until page 142 to hear the author acknowledge that “it would, of course, be absurd to say that every one of Khrushchev’s statements is false.” Yet, by not admitting that Khrushchev’s “revelations” artfully mixed truths and lies, this absurdity is precisely what Furr is guilty of. (Emphasis added)

This is all wrong. Khrushchev made many “statements”, or assertions, in the Speech that were not “revelations”, i.e. accusations against Stalin (or Beria). It is these 61 “revelations” that are false – not every single statement that Khrushchev made. The “absurdity” is Keeran’s own failure to recognize this elementary distinction.

Keeran compounds his confusion by stating:

Furr makes no effort to sort out the truth and falsehood of Khrushchev’s speech, but proceeds to focus only on what in Khrushchev’s statements were dubious, even if it means lumping together the trivial, disputable and half lies with the significant, provable and total lies.

Once again, Keeran again substitutes the word “statements’ for “revelations”. Then he accuses me of mixing the two up!

Concerning my treatment of Khrushchev’s remarks on the murder of Sergei M. Kirov Keeran writes:

Furr argues that Khrushchev’s insinuation was baseless and that the opposition leaders convicted were in fact part of a murder conspiracy. Furr is right on the first count but fails to prove the second.

This is completely false! Nowhere in this book do I “argue… that the opposition leaders convicted were in fact part of a murder conspiracy.” I do not do so because a lengthy, separate study is required get to the bottom of the Kirov murder. [4]

Keeran outlines at some length what he understands of the scholarship on the Kirov assassination. His is not an informed discussion; Keeran really knows very little about this question. [5] But even if Keeran knew much more than he does – so what? It is all irrelevant to a review of my book. I do not discuss the Kirov murder in my book. I discuss what Khrushchev said about the Kirov murder, and I prove that Khrushchev lied about it.

Keeran:

In spite of Furr’s claim about “every” Khrushchev revelation being a lie, Furr actually does not dispute much that Khrushchev said about the repression.

Of course I do not study, examine, or “dispute” all the statements Khrushchev made in his Speech! Only the 61 so-called “revelations” are the subject of my study. These are the accusations that shook the world; that caused half the world’s communists (outside of the communist countries themselves) to quit their parties; that led directly to the Sino-Soviet split, and later to Gorbachev’s ideological smokescreen by which he justified the return to predatory capitalism and the breakup of the Soviet Union.

It is manifestly unfair of Keeran to call my book “deeply flawed” because I stick to proving what I set out to prove, rather than examining other questions that Keeran wishes I had studied instead.

That does not mean I accept all of Khrushchev’s other statements as true – far from it! We have more than enough evidence today to prove that Khrushchev lied about many other matters as well. But a study of all of them is far beyond the scope of this one book.

Keeran writes:

… Furr asserts that Khrushchev “seriously distorted” Stalin’s words when he said that Stalin tried to justify mass repression by saying “as we march forward toward socialism class war must allegedly sharpen.”[32] Furr asserts that Stalin actually said, “the further we advance…the greater will be the fury of the remnants of the broken exploiting classes, the sooner they resort to sharper forms of struggle.”[33]

Does Furr really believe that the slight variation in words makes any difference in the meaning? Stalin’s words differ from Khrushchev’s paraphrase, but the meaning does not.

Keeran has distorted both Khrushchev’s false allegations and what Stalin really said. Here are Khrushchev’s words:

Stalin’s report at the February-March Central Committee plenum in 1937, ‘Deficiencies of party work and methods for the liquidation of the Trotskyites and of other two-facers’, contained an attempt at theoretical justification of the mass terror policy under the pretext that as we march forward toward socialism class war must allegedly sharpen. Stalin asserted that both history and Lenin taught him this.

On pages 42-3 of my book I quote Stalin’s words and point out that Stalin did not “justify” any “mass terror policy.” On page 274 I quote very similar words by Lenin of May 27, 1919. In order to prove that Stalin was striving to follow Lenin’s example I cite a speech by Stalin in 1929 in which he cites Lenin’s quote.

Khrushchev omitted this fact – of course, for it would not help him dishonestly smear Stalin. But why does Keeran not point it out to his readers?

Keeran:

Still, Furr seems to hold a version of the repression something like this:…

Wrong again! I give no “version of the repressions” in this book (and note that Keeran has to use the words “seems to hold”.) He continues:

Though Furr is correct about Stalin’s statements and the First Secretaries’ actions, this hardly proves that Stalin opposed mass repression.

Of course I do not prove that – because “mass repression” and Stalin’s role in it, is not the subject of my book. Again Keeran is “criticizing” my book because it is not a different book – one that I never wrote.

Likewise,

Granted that authorizing mass executions of persons duly convicted by the courts was not the same as ordering them, still Stalin’s signature showed that he was fully aware and supportive of the most extreme punishment for those convicted of serious crimes against the state. Furr seems loath to acknowledge this.

As Keeran admits, I prove Khrushchev lied in saying Stalin “ordered” mass executions. That is all I set out to do. My book is not about “mass repression” or Stalin’s attitude towards it.

Concerning the famous “torture telegram” Keeran states:

… Furr may be right in questioning the provenance of this wire and whether it was ever sent. Moreover, Furr is certainly right that in quoting the telegram Khrushchev omitted sentences so as to put Stalin in the worst possible light, that is, omitting sentences where Stalin stressed that physical pressure was permissible only “as an exception” and those sentences where Stalin condemned those who had abused these methods.

So Keeran admits I am right! But then he raises another “straw man”:

Khrushchev’s skullduggery notwithstanding, the telegram clearly showed Stalin’s willingness to condone torture in exceptional cases such as where a convict refused to divulge the existence or whereabouts of co-conspirators still at large. Had Furr acknowledged this … his account would have been forthright and useful rather than a strained effort to argue that every Khrushchev allegation was simply a lie.

But I do indeed “acknowledge this”. I wrote (78):

The first thing we should note, for our purposes, is what Khrushchev omitted – the entire passage in boldface (see Quotations). This passage does several things:

• It qualifies, limits, and restricts the conditions under which “means of physical pressure” are to be used.

So Keeran is wrong again. But there is an even greater distortion in Keeran’s words here, for he claims that my study is “a strained effort to argue that every Khrushchev allegation was simply a lie.” This is more than just false. it is what every anticommunist accuses me of — that my research is somehow biased in favor of Stalin; that I am a “Stalinist”.

I reject that term. In all my research I strive for objectivity – to discover the truth “and let the chips fall where they may.” Early in my book I write:

The most influential speech of the 20th century – if not of all time – a complete fraud? The notion was too monstrous. Who would want to come to grips with the revision of Soviet, Comintern, and even world history that the logic of such a conclusion would demand? It would be infinitely easier for everyone to believe that I had “cooked the books,” shaded the truth – that I was falsifying things, just as I was accusing Khrushchev of doing. Then my work could be safely ignored, and the problem would “go away.” Especially since I am known to have sympathy towards the worldwide communist movement of which Stalin was the recognized leader. When a researcher comes to conclusions that suspiciously appear to support his own preconceived ideas, it is only prudent to suspect him of some lack of objectivity, if not worse.

So I would have been much happier if my research had concluded that 25% of Khrushchev’s “revelations” about Stalin and Beria were false. However, since virtually all of those “revelations” that can be checked are, in fact, falsehoods, the onus of evidence lies even more heavily on me as a scholar than would ordinarily be the case. (4)

Like it or not, every “revelation” Khrushchev made against Stalin and Beria in the Speech is false (with the one exception previously stated). Not only did I not “strain” to prove this – I was subjectively unhappy that it is so.

Evidently Keeran too is unable to accept this astounding fact. No wonder! Over 50 years ago the worldwide communist movement was rebuilt in accordance with Khrushchev’s Speech and the many subsequent lies about Stalin by Khrushchev and his henchmen. To accept the fact that Khrushchev did virtually nothing but lie in this world-altering speech shakes the foundations of the political commitments that a great many people have held for a lifetime.

No wonder, then, that many find the truth is unpalatable. But it is the duty of Marxists to look the truth, no matter how disillusioning, squarely in the eye.

Keeran states:

Though Furr expends many words parsing Khrushchev’s statements in detail and indeed spends a whole chapter categorizing the various kinds of deceptions engaged in by Khrushchev, he makes little effort to sort the truth from the lies. In the end, one is left with two competing versions of the repression. Since Furr is content to act as a defense attorney and merely attack Khrushchev’s credibility without venturing his own interpretations of events, one never knows exactly what he thinks happened.

Not one of these statements of Keeran’s is true. There is nothing “narrow” in proving that Khrushchev lied – not just occasionally, not just frequently, but consistently. This, and not anything else, is the subject of my book.

Moreover, Keeran cannot decide what he thinks I have done – or failed to do:

* First he states his disappointment that I do not “sort the truth from the lies”. That is, he chides me for failing to determine what really did happen.

* Then he contradicts himself, complaining that there are “two competing versions of the repression” – evidently, Khrushchev’s and mine.

* Whereupon Keeran complains that I do not “venture” my “own interpretations of events” so that “one never knows exactly” what [Furr] thinks happened.”

Keeran is determined to criticize me – that much is clear. But he is utterly confused about what to criticize me for! Do I give a “competing version” to Khrushchev’s that is inadequate in some way? Or do I fail to give my “own interpretation of events”?

Once again Keeran has it all wrong. I do not state my “version of the repression”. To repeat: my book is an examination of Khrushchev’s 61 “revelations” or accusations. To determine “what really happened” would require many separate and lengthy evidence-based studies.

Keeran proceeds to tell us (a) what he thinks I think; then, (b) then, what he, Keeran, thinks. (c) Finally, Keeran “channels” the long-deceased Kaganovich and Molotov to outline what he thinks they may have thought!

This is nonsense. Keeran does not know “what I think” about “the repression”. In fact, he does not tell us what he means by “the repression” — what events, during what years, he is referring to.

Moreover, what I, or Keeran, or Kaganovich, or Molotov, “think” is irrelevant and misleading. The truth is not constituted by our, or anyone’s, “views”, “thinking”, or opinions, no matter what they are. The only way to arrive at statements that approximate the truth is by the scientific process of research: mastering the secondary literature; identifying the primary source evidence; locating, obtaining, and studying that evidence; drawing correct conclusions, appropriately qualified, from that evidence. To pretend, or to suggest to others, that one can arrive at a truthful account of events by outlining what somebody – anybody — “thinks”, is to substitute idealism for materialism.

Keeran’s paragraph beginning

Still, Furr seems to hold a version of the repression something like this…

is absurdly wrong. Nowhere in my book do I give a “version of the repression”, for reasons that I have already made clear above.

Keeran’s summary of Kaganovich’s and Molotov’s “views”, starting with the passage

Kaganovich[48] and Molotov viewed Stalin and the repression, differently than Furr does. I would paraphrase their views like this…

is just as wrong-headed. To summarize Kaganovich’s and Molotov’s views one would have to (a) collect all the passages in their writings and interviews where they spoke about “the repression”; and (b) arrange them in some logical order. Only then would you be in a position to (c) “paraphrase” their “views.” Keeran does not even attempt to do that.

But assuming Keeran had done this, what then would he have? A “true” account of “the repression”? No! because we now have access to a great deal of evidence that Kaganovich and Molotov never had, including much that Khrushchev deliberately kept hidden from them (as Matthew Lenoe has recently proven).

“Opinions”, “views”, and “what X thinks” where X is some “expert” — whatever that means — are to be studiously avoided! Remember Sherlock Holmes’ famous dictum:

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. (“A Scandal in Bohemia”)

If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who believed in fairies, understood this principle materialists have no excuse for ignoring it! What we are greatly wanting is conclusions solidly founded upon an objective study of all the evidence.

Keeran clearly does not know what “the repression” refers to. But whatever he means, Kaganovich and Molotov were only peripherally involved in it. They were more than busy with other important jobs. Later, during Khrushchev’s tenure, they appeared to believe, and certainly went along with, much of Khrushchev’s account of the Stalin years. Both supported the “Secret Speech”. We know that Khrushchev kept hidden from them much of the evidence we now have. A careful, objective researcher today – granted, there are precious few such – can learn much more than Molotov or Kaganovich ever knew about these events.

In my book I examine Khrushchev’s claim that a “party commission” – it was in fact the Pospelov Commission – “determined” that many Party leaders executed after 1937 were “innocent.” This commission produced “rehabilitation reports” that were finally published in the late 1990s. In my book I study these reports and determine that they do not do what Khrushchev claimed – they do not prove the innocence of the Party leaders in question. Not even close! Therefore I have proven that Khrushchev lied. On the basis of my study of the primary sources I conclude that the evidence we have today tends to point towards their guilt, not their innocence. But I never claim that any of these persons were guilty.

Keeran gets this all wrong. He writes:

To support his view, Furr repeatedly makes sweeping references to evidence about the guilt of those punished: “the evidence we know exists,” “all the evidence we presently have,” “all the evidence at our disposal,” “a great deal of documentary evidence,” “a great deal of evidence,” “the vast preponderance of evidence,” etc., but he never actually explains what evidence he is referring to.

Apparently, he is simply referring to the well-known confessions and interrogations of the condemned, because he takes pains to argue that just because someone confessed does not mean he/she was innocent. Furr never acknowledges that confessions, particularly when given under duress, are pretty useless as historical evidence.

To review Keeran’s errors:

* I have no “view” that I am trying to “support.” As we have seen, Keeran sometimes chides me for not expressing my own views.

* All the evidence we have does indeed tends towards the defendants’ guilt, not their innocence. That’s a fact, like it or not. Khrushchev had claimed just the opposite and until the late ‘90s no one could actually see the reports Khrushchev was referring to. Now, we can. Conclusion? Khrushchev lied!

* I do indeed ‘explain what evidence I am referring to”, and in detail. I devote the whole of Chapter 11 to my study of the “rehabilitation reports.” In Chapter 4 I review the evidence we now have – which Khrushchev also had, of course – concerning the nine Party leaders Khrushchev names who were tried and executed in 1937-1938. The evidence supports their guilt, not their innocence. Yet again: Khrushchev lied!

Moreover, Keeran is completely wrong when he says that “confessions, particularly when given under duress, are pretty useless as historical evidence.” For starters, what does “pretty useless” mean? “Less useless” than just plain “useless”? So it is of some use? But what? And just what does “under duress” mean? This mealy-mouthed statement is worse than meaningless – it is an evasion of the serious question of how to approach this important category of evidence.

Then Keeran claims: “Furr never acknowledges” that his, Keeran’s, uninformed view on this subject is correct. Well, I certainly do not acknowledge the absurd formulations “under duress” and “pretty useless”! It is obvious that Keeran has never given serious attention to the question of how to use evidence from interrogations.

Here’s what I do: I devote a whole section of Chapter 10 to this question: “Torture and the Historical Problems Related To It” (147-150). I recommend it to the reader.

Keeran says:

A little later, Furr strengthens his claim by asserting that “the vast preponderance of evidence” points to their guilt. Strong words, however, are no substitute for proof. What is Furr’s evidence? Does he just mean the confessions and interrogation reports? He refers to nothing else.

And then:

One is left with warring assertions: Khrushchev’s baseless claims of innocence and Furr’s baseless claims of guilt.

But Keeran cannot quote or cite any place where I make this claim – because I do not make it. To repeat: I do not make any claim that any – much less all — of these Party leaders were “guilty.” Rather, I examine the evidence now available and show that it supports their guilt rather than their innocence. Khrushchev stated that this evidence proved they were innocent. Therefore, Khrushchev was lying.

Khrushchev’s men were looking for evidence that the men in question were innocent. Today we have the reports, kept secret until 1999. We have other evidence too, though nowhere near everything.

But Khrushchev’s men had access to everything – all the investigative reports and trial transcripts, most of which are still top-secret. We can assume that they included in their reports to Khrushchev any evidence they could find that these men were innocent. Therefore, the fact that they did not include any such evidence of innocence strongly implies that no such evidence exists.

Nevertheless, I do not conclude that they were guilty. But Keeran shows no awareness of these considerations and covers this up with empty phrases like “pretty useless” and “under duress.”

According to Keeran my book contains “an uncommon amount of speculation, insinuation and overstatement.” So why does he fail to cite even a single example of any of these? Evidently he could not identify any.

Keeran states:

If Khrushchev’s portrait of Stalin as an all-powerful, megalomaniacal, paranoid and bloodthirsty tyrant was wrong, still what is one to make of the Stalin in Furr’s dodgy portrait?

To repeat: no “portrait” of Stalin is to be found in my book. I prove that 60 of the 61 “revelations”, or accusations of wrongdoing alleged in Khrushchev’s Speech against Stalin and Beria, are false, with the majority of them outright, provable lies (See Chapter 10, “A Typology of Prevarication” and the Table on pp. 152-158). My book is not about Stalin; it is about Khrushchev’s Secret Speech.

Keeran then characterizes my “view” of Stalin:

One can hardly avoid concluding that Furr views Stalin as a leader who was removed from, or even opposed to, the mass repression occurring around him, a leader who sought individual and educational remedies to those who sought to undermine or overthrow him, and who was unfairly blamed for repression committed by others? This Stalin is no more believable than Khrushchev’s.

Yet again Keeran composes a fatuous “view” of Stalin; then imputes it to me; and then criticizes me for it! Just as Keeran’s “paraphrase” of Kaganovich’s and Molotov’s “views” is his words, his ideas, not theirs.

In discussing my final chapter Keeran admits that my speculation as to the possible reasons for Khrushchev’s massive falsifications are “plausible”. But then he posits an explanation of his own:

Nonetheless, I would suggest that Furr neglects yet another reason for Khrushchev’s behavior, namely, a desire to close the door decisively on the period and practice of harsh and widespread political repression. And he did.

No, he did not.

In September 1936 Nikolai Ezhov replaced Genrikh Iagoda as head (People’s Commissar) of the NKVD. In November 1938 Ezhov was replaced by Lavrentii Beria. According to the widely-publicized “Pavlov report” prepared for Khrushchev in 1953 and widely reprinted the number of persons sentenced to death in 1936-1940 were as follows: [6]

1936 – 1,118
1937 – 353,074
1938 – 328,618
1939 – 2,552
1940 – 1,649

In 1939 death sentences under Beria were less than 1% of those under Ezhov. In 1940 they were less than ½ of 1%. No mass political repression occurred during Stalin’s postwar years. The “Ezhovshchina” (= “bad time of Ezhov”) was never repeated.

The conclusion is inescapable: It was not Khrushchev, but Stalin and Beria who ended mass political repression, and they did it in late 1938. Moreover, I show in my book that Khrushchev himself had more blood on his hands than anyone else: the numbers of people executed in Moscow, then in the Ukraine, during the time Khrushchev was First Secretary in those places, exceeded all other areas. [7]

After Stalin’s death Lavrentii Beria was illegally arrested, tried and executed or, as many think, simply shot outright on June 26, 1953. That is, one of the leading members of the Soviet government — Beria was both Minister of State Security, the MGB, and of Internal Affairs, the MVD — and of the Party — Beria was a member of the Politburo, renamed the Presidium in October 1952 — was either judicially murdered, or just plain murdered. Stalin never, ever did anything like this!

Keeran concludes his review with a total distortion of what I wrote:

Furr concludes his account on an utterly false note, namely by proposing that Khrushchev’s ignominious lying can be traced to Lenin, Marx and Engels. … He … suggests a trail of blame worthy of the most hard-bitten Cold War ideologues.

I trace Khrushchev’s lies to Lenin, Marx, and Engels? Utter nonsense! Here are the exact words in my book, from Chapter 12, “Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of Khrushchev’s Deception.”

There are historical and ideological roots to Khrushchev’s Speech, and these must also be sought in Soviet history. Stalin tried hard to apply Lenin’s analysis to the conditions he found in Russia and the world communist movement. Lenin, in turn, had tried to apply the insights of Marx and Engels. Lenin had tried to find answers to the critical problems of building socialism in Russia in the works of the founders of modern communism.

Stalin, never claiming any innovations for himself, had tried to follow Lenin’s guidelines as closely as he could. Meanwhile Trotsky and Bukharin, as well as other oppositionists, found support for their proposed policies in Lenin’s works too. And Khrushchev, like his epigones up to and including Gorbachev, cited Lenin’s words to justify, and give a Leninist or “left” cover to, every policy he chose.

Therefore, something in Lenin’s works, and in those of Lenin’s great teachers Marx and Engels, facilitated the errors that his honest successor Stalin honestly made, and that his dishonest successor Khrushchev was able to use to cover up his own betrayal.

But that is a subject for further research and a different book. (216-217)

Ever meet a “Cold War ideologue” who says things like this?

In a private email to Keeran in October 2011 I tried to put this vital matter another way:

I think Stalin et al., like Lenin et al., and like Marx and Engels, were “the best.” None were ever better.

In my view Stalin and those who were closely associated with him, plus tens or hundreds of thousands of Soviet communists, were faithful followers of Lenin. They did in fact implement, bring into being, what Lenin wanted — socialism. “Socialism in one country”, in fact.

They did not “fail to understand”, or “distort”, etc., Lenin’s ideas. They fulfilled them.

Lenin, of course, was striving to embody and fulfill what Marx and Engels had concluded. And I believe he did understand Marx and Engels better than anybody before or since, and did in fact follow their teachings with intelligence and innovation.

But you can’t “have it both ways.” If Stalin et al., faithfully followed Lenin, and Lenin et al. (for Lenin wasn’t alone either) did likewise with Marx and Engels, then it follows that there are some fundamental problems — flaws, if you will — in this whole line of thought. Because it ended up right back with capitalism!

To put it another way: If WE, or the communists of the future, strive to do what Stalin, Lenin, Marx and Engels advocated, then AT BEST we are going to end up right back with capitalism.

But we will not have their excuse. They were the first, the pioneers. Pioneers always make mistakes. In fact, it is inevitable — mistakes are a necessary part of any process.

But making the same mistake again is NOT a necessary part of the process. To make the same mistake again is to squander the lessons of both success and of failure that the predecessors in the communist movement have to teach us.

We have to learn from their mistakes, as well as their successes. Then we, at best, will make NEW mistakes, creative mistakes, mistakes “on a higher level” (in a Hegelian or dialectical sense). Along with new successes.

But, if we pretend that “Marx and Engels had all the answers”, or “Lenin had all the answers” (many Maoists literally believe that “Mao had all the answers”; many Trotskyists, of course, believe that “Trotsky had all the answers”) — if we believe that, then we are guaranteed, AT BEST, to fall far short of what they achieved.

Marx said something about “first as tragedy, then as farce.” The tragedy of the international communist movement of the 20th century was that, ultimately, it failed.

Unless we figure out where they went wrong — ALL of these figures — then we are doomed to be the “farce.” And that would be a crime — OUR crime.

So we have to look with a critical eye at ALL of our legacy.

Marx’s favorite saying was: “De omnibus dubitandum” — “Question everthing.” Marx would be the last person in the world to exclude himself from this questioning.

I hope these remarks are helpful. They are intended in a friendly spirit, Roger. Please take them as such!

I urge readers to study Keeran’s review, then to study this response of mine. Then obtain a copy of my book – from your local library, if they have it (and if they don’t, have them buy a copy) –and study it. Decide for yourselves.

Endnotes

[1] All boldface in quotations has been added.

[2] “Not credible” is not a legitimate category of analysis anyway. What one person finds “credible” another will not. Materialists deal with evidence and its examination, not with subjective issues like “credibility”.

[3] Stalin was not a “dictator” like, for example, Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were. Stalin sought advice and consensus. Historian Stephen Wheatcroft has called his style of leadership during the 1930s “team Stalin.” Getty and Naumov show that in February 1937 Stalin suggested a far lesser degree of punishment for Bukharin and Rykov than any of the other members of the Plenum Commission that considered it – but was overruled. (411-416)

Dmitrii Shepilov, an author that for some reason Keeran likes to cite, noted this too:

– Shepilov has told me that it is hard to lead Pravda. Of course it’s hard. I thought, maybe we could appoint two editors?

Here everybody began to protest.

– No, there’ll be a conflict of powers (dvoevlastie). … It’ll create disorder. … There’ll be nobody to consult with…

– Well, I see that the people do not support me. OK, where the people go – there also go I.

(Shepilov, Neprimknuvshii. Moscow: Vagrius, 2001, p. 237)

[4] I have now completed just such an evidence-based study of the Kirov murder. It is under contract to be published in Russia, in Russian translation, during 2012. In that study I do indeed prove that Kirov’s assassin, Leonid Nikolaev, was indeed the gunman for a clandestine opposition conspiracy. My study took a year to research and write and will be well over 400 pages in length.

[5] Keeran is obviously unfamiliar with the “scholars” he claims I should have “refuted or at least disputed.” Neither Pavel Sudoplatov nor Alla Krilina are historians with “strong credentials”, as Keeran claims. Sudoplatov was a former NKVD / MGB agent imprisoned under Khrushchev for 15 years, evidently for failing to fabricate lies against Beria. Kirilina was the longtime head of the Kirov museum in Leningrad / St. Petersburg.

Keeran mentions at least four other Cold War, anticommunist historians in this review. Every one of them is an anticommunist falsifier! I sent Keeran some evidence about two of them. Yet he still included their names in the final version of his review. Go figure!

[6] For one of many citations of these numbers see Getty and Naumov, The Road to Terror (Yale 1998) 528.
An official source for the document, in Russian, may be consulted here:
http://www.alexanderyakovlev.org/fond/issues-doc/1009312

[7] Those who are curious about what the evidence now available shows about the mass executions of the Ezhovshchina of roughly August 1937 to September 1938 should see paragraphs of my essay “Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform: Part One”, published April 2005 in Cultural Logic, from about par. 86 – end: http://clogic.eserver.org/2005/furr.html For a great deal of primary documentation on the Ezhovshchina, see my essay “The Moscow Trials and the “Great Terror” of 1937-1938: What the Evidence Shows” and the many primary sources linked at the bottom of this page:
http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/research/trials_ezhovshchina_update0710.html

December 7, 2011

Source

Khrushchev Lied But What Is the Truth?

Written by Roger Keeran

Khrushchev Lied: The Evidence That Every ‘Revelation’ of Stalin’s (and Beria’s) ‘Crimes’ in Nikita Khrushchev’s Infamous ‘Secret Speech’ to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on February 25, 1956 is Provably False by Grover Furr. Kettering, Ohio: Erythros Press and Media, 2011. $25.00. Pp. 425.

In 1987 William Morrow and Company published a biography of a leading Soviet Communist, L. M. Kaganovich, written by Stuart Kahan, an American journalist and allegedly Kaganovich’s nephew, who claimed to have interviewed Kaganovich in Yiddish in Moscow and who portrayed Kaganovich as the “architect” of Soviet terror.[1] In a blurb a Yale historian praised the book as “an important contribution.”

A few years later, Kaganovich’s daughter and five other close relatives of Kaganovich issued a statement that they never heard of this so-called nephew, that Kaganovich did not understand or speak Yiddish, and that no interview with Kahan ever occurred. They detailed lies that riddled the book from beginning to end.[2]

This episode was emblematic of the difficulty of knowing Soviet history. No modern history is more lacking in reliable official sources or more shrouded in ideology, propaganda and disinformation than the history of the Soviet Union. Even though the Soviet archives were briefly and partially opened to researchers in the 1990s, the lack of official archival material remains a problem, and the end of the Cold War only slightly diminished the anti-Soviet vitriol of most writing.

On the whole, writing on the Soviet Union represented what a mainstream historian has called the “totalitarian thesis.”[3] According to this thesis, the Soviet Union could only be understood as a top-down dictatorship driven by power hunger and paranoia that sustained itself by arbitrary authority and violence. Leon Trotsky’s writing on the Soviet Union supplied the original inspiration for the totalitarian thesis [4], and Hanna Arendt gave it an academic imprimatur in 1951.[5]

After Nikita Khrushchev’s so-called secret speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 supplied the thesis with seemingly unimpeachable verification from the inside, the totalitarian thesis became the dominant academic paradigm as found in the works of its most prolific and influential expostulators, Robert Conquest and Roy Medvedev.

Starting in the 1990s, Soviet scholarship experienced a change. Researchers for a time gained access to the Soviet archives, and studies emerged that historians J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning called “anomalous” to the totalitarian paradigm.[6] Historian after historian found that the repression was not nearly as widespread as Conquest and others had proposed, that previous estimates of the number of victims of Soviet repression, figures of 20 million or 12 million, or 10 million, or 7 to 8 million victims, were simply phantasmagorical.[7]

According to historians J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, a careful examination of archival records revealed that the number of persons shot during the repression of 1937-38 came to 681,692, and adding those who died in prison and exile “we reach a figure of nearly 1.5 million deaths due to repression in the 1930s.”[8] These are large numbers to be sure but nowhere near the previous exaggerations. Other studies, from those of telephone directories in Leningrad to census data confirmed that previous estimates vastly overstated the size of the repression.

Still other studies discovered that the repression did not simply emanate from the top but developed a life of its own in factories, local party and government organizations and the army, where the accused were most often officials and where the repression, as ironic as it sounds, was accompanied by growing democracy at the grassroots level.[9]

Also, the repression occurred in the context of economic problems, industrial sabotage, and plots against the regime. According to Getty and Naumov, three opposition groups actively conspired against the Stalin regime in the early 1930s: “The Riutin group, a reactivated Trotskyist organization, and the Eismont-Tolmachev-Smirnov group.”[10]

Other studies provided a more nuanced view of Stalin, who emerged as less powerful, more competent, more hands-on, and more seriously theoretical than the brutal tyrant drawn by the totalitarian paradigm.[11]

Though the new revisionist Soviet history contradicted or modified parts of the totalitarian paradigm, it did not overthrow it, but then in 2011 Grover Furr’s book, Khrushchev Lied appeared.[12]

Furr aimed further than any previous revisionist account. Indeed, he aimed at a central pillar of the totalitarian paradigm, Khrushchev’s secret speech, in which Khrushchev made a broad indictment of Stalin’s leadership, including the “revelations” that that Stalin had created a “cult of the individual,” that in his “last testament” Lenin had warned of Stalin’s propensity to abuse power, that Stalin had been a fearful and incompetent wartime leader, and that he had engineered the trials of the 1930s that had devastated the leadership of the CPSU and resulted in phony trials, imprisonment and executions of countless numbers of good Communists and other innocents. Furr promised to provide evidence that “every ‘revelation’ of Stalin’s (and Beria’s) ‘crimes’ … is provably false.”

Given the importance Khrushchev’s speech played in all subsequent scholarship as well as in the thinking of most Communist parties,[13] Furr’s book promised to be a tour de force of momentous historical and political implications. This turned out to be not quite the case.

The book begins with nine chapters in which Furr, a Montclair State University professor who is fluent in Russian, tries to rebut the sixty-one revelations that Khrushchev made in his speech. Then, follows a chapter in which Furr categorizes Khrushchev’s lies, a chapter on the “falsified rehabilitations” that followed the speech, and a chapter on the reasons, implications and legacies of the speech. Nearly half the book is taken up by an appendix, in which Furr supplies quotations from primary and secondary source material to support his argument.

Before taking up some of the problems with Furr’s book, I would like to give him credit for a number of contributions. First, Furr underscores the importance of Khrushchev’s speech, “the most influential speech of the 20th century,” in shaping all subsequent views of Stalin and the Soviet Union.

On this point, Furr reinforces the observation of the Italian Marxist Domenico Losurdo, who says, “Without a doubt there were two turning points that have determined the contemporary view of Stalin: the outbreak of the Cold War in 1947 and the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU.”[14]

The impact of the speech is what gives such gravity to Furr’s contribution in shining a spotlight on the fundamental mendacity of Khrushchev’s speech. Furr is certainly right that much in Khrushchev’s speech was false, even knowingly and maliciously false.

The disingenuousness marked even its publication, in which editors added such audience reactions as “commotion in the hall” and “indignation in the hall” and “applause,” even though those who actually heard the speech recalled “total silence reigned in the hall.”[15]

The allegation in the secret speech that more or less tied all the other allegations together was that Stalin had built up a “cult of the individual” in order to enhance his dictatorial powers. Furr shows how misleading this accusation was. First, the existence of a cult of personality was no revelation since Party leaders had discussed it for years. Secondly, Stalin not only did not foster the cult but expressed distaste with it, or at least with some of its excesses. Third, all Party leaders bore responsibility for the glorification of Stalin. Indeed, no one surpassed Khrushchev when it came to sycophancy.

In his memoirs, Party functionary Dmitri Shepilov, recalled the 18th Party Congress in 1939, where Khrushchev lauded Stalin twenty-six times as “our genius of a leader,” “our great Stalin,” “our beloved leader,” and so on.[16] Furr gives examples of Stalin resisting its excesses, as when he prevented the renaming of Moscow after himself. (Furr’s most amusing story concerns Stalin’s attitude toward idolatry. Once in chastising his sons’ arrogance, Stalin reportedly said, “Do you think you are, STALIN? Do you think I am STALIN? HE is Stalin—there!” he said pointing to a pompous portrait.)

Yet, by trying to absolve Stalin entirely for the cult around him, Furr strains credibility. Stalin may have opposed renaming Moscow, but he apparently did not object when scores of other cities, towns, streets, squares, parks, factories and so on were named after him and when his pictures and statues became ubiquitous.[17] Unlike Fidel Castro, Stalin did not do as much as he might have to discourage the cult that developed.

Another Khrushchev lie that Furr exposes concerns the so-called Lenin testament. Toward the end of his life Lenin wrote a letter in which he said Stalin had “unlimited authority,” and Lenin was “not sure whether he [Stalin] will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution.” Lenin also said Stalin was “too rude.”

Furr maintains that Lenin never viewed or labeled what he wrote as a “testament” and that Khrushchev most likely lifted this characterization from Trotsky. Moreover, Furr points out that Lenin never used the words, “abuses his power.” More significantly, Furr disputes Khrushchev’s implication of a rift between Lenin and Stalin. At the time of the letter, not only was Stalin in charge of safeguarding Lenin’s health, but also Lenin entrusted Stalin with his very life by making Stalin the caretaker of a cyanide capsule Lenin wished to take if his suffering became unbearable. Furr might also have pointed out that, however critical Lenin was of Stalin, he was even more critical of Trotsky and other top leaders.[18]

Furr convincingly rebuts many other Khrushchev statements. Some of the falsehoods are trivial. Many are not. Several of the widely believed revelations concerned Stalin’s conduct during the war—that he was demoralized and inactive at the start of the German invasion and that he was an incompetent commander. Furr points out that this view is completely at variance with those who worked most closely with Stalin, including Marshall Georgii K. Zhukov, who (even after Stalin had demoted him) praised his wartime leadership.[19]

The most extensive part of Furr’s book and of Khrushchev’s speech concerns the Moscow Trials and related repression of 1936-38. Here, Furr makes his most important contribution, though, it is a contribution beset with problems of its own. Throughout the secret speech, Khrushchev attempted to place the entire blame for the repression on Stalin and Beria.

For example, Khrushchev maintained that Stalin demanded “absolute submission” and those who opposed him were doomed to removal from leading bodies and “moral and physical annihilation”; that Stalin and Andrei Zhdanov’s telegram to the Politburo on September 25, 1936 was responsible for the appointment of Nikolai Ezhov as head of the NKVD and for pushing the NKVD “on the path of mass arrests and executions”; that Stalin justified “a mass terror policy” by the idea that “as we march forward toward socialism class war must allegedly sharpen”; that the repression involved the preparation of lists, 383 lists, of thousands of persons “whose sentences were prepared in advance” that were sent to “Stalin personally for his approval.”[20]

Furr convincingly argues that putting exclusive blame on Stalin and Beria is entirely misleading. For example, far from repressing dissent, Stalin showed great tolerance for disagreement. More importantly, no one had greater or more direct responsibility for the repression than the heads of the NKVD, first Genrikh Yagoda and subsequently Nicolai Ezhov (sometimes spelled Yezhov), and Party first secretaries like Khrushchev.

The memoirs of Party leader Dmitrii Shepilov completely supported Furr on this point. Shepilov said, “During the devastating purges of 1937-38, and later in Moscow and Ukraine, no individual cases were decided without Khrushchev’s personal knowledge and approval….Perhaps the most glaring and revolting aspect of Khrushchev’s activity was that many of the persons whom he sent to the gallows, he later, with a hypocrisy unsurpassed in history, mourned the demise of from the highest party and government rostrums. In these lamentations there was the added twist that the men held responsible for the deaths of our glorious communists were, of course, Stalin, and his colleagues, but never Khrushchev himself.”[21]

Moreover, Furr points out that though Khrushchev blamed Stalin for the repression, he completely ignored that Stalin deserved credit for ending the repression in 1938 and for the punishment of Yagoda and Ezhov for their excesses. Historian Boris A. Starkov recounted that in 1938 A. A. Zhdanov, A. A. Andreev, K. E. Voroshilov, L. M. Kaganovich, A. I. Mikoyan and V. M. Molotov turned against Ezhov and convinced Stalin and the Central Committee that Ezhov’s excesses were undermining the morale, the economy and the defense of the country, and Stalin removed Ezhov.[22] Shepilov said simply, “Stalin stopped Ezhov’s churning meat grinder.”[23]

In short, Furr has come up with a valid and momentous insight that one of the most influential speeches in history was riddled with lies, distortions and fabrications.

This discovery, however, has made Furr (to use one of Stalin’s memorable phrases) “dizzy with success.” In his exuberance, Furr allows all sorts of problems to bedevil and enervate his account. First, there is a conceptual problem. The point of studying history is to understand what happened. Disputing Khrushchev’s views does not provide an alternative account of what happened. Furr admits this and says his study cannot satisfy the curiosity about “what really happened.”[24] In spite of this disclaimer, Furr does suggest an alternative to Khrushchev’s view, and his alternative view is not credible.

Moreover, some of Furr’s specific refutations lack either the facts or arguments to be convincing. Instead, he often resorts to a tendentious and one-sided reading of the evidence, to innuendos and speculation, to overblown and hyperbolic language, and to unsupported allegations of his own.

The book’s problems start with its title and argument. To call every Khrushchev revelation a lie has dramatic appeal and a figurative truth, but no one in their right mind could buy this as literal truth, because no one in their right mind could imagine Khrushchev or anyone else speaking for hours before a congress of the Communist Party about revelations that contained nothing but falsehoods. Even Furr himself does not believe this.

A reader, however, has to wait until page 142 to hear the author acknowledge that “it would, of course, be absurd to say that every one of Khrushchev’s statements is false.” Yet, by not admitting that Khrushchev’s “revelations” artfully mixed truths and lies, this absurdity is precisely what Furr is guilty of. Having staked this extreme claim, Furr makes no effort to sort out the truth and falsehood of Khrushchev’s speech, but proceeds to focus only on what in Khrushchev’s statements were dubious, even if it means lumping together the trivial, disputable and half lies with the significant, provable and total lies. Moreover, when the evidence to make his case is unavailable, Furr slips into the role of a dubious defense attorney who nitpicks the evidence, badgers witnesses and kicks up sand.

Take Furr’s treatment of one of the most important episodes in Soviet history, the Kirov assassination. On December 1, 1934 in the Party headquarters in Smolny, Sergei Kirov, the head of the Communist Party of Leningrad, was shot in the head and killed by a Party member, Leonid Nikolaev.

Kirov was a supporter and friend of Stalin’s, (the two had vacationed together the previous summer), and Kirov had been sent to Leningrad at least in part to counteract the opposition elements in the party there. The day after the assassination, Stalin went to Leningrad and took personal charge of the investigation, which ended up implicating the opposition leaders, G. Zinoviev and L. Kamenev, and set off the Moscow Trials and associated repression. In the secret speech, Khrushchev implied that Stalin was behind Kirov’s murder.

Furr argues that Khrushchev’s insinuation was baseless and that the opposition leaders convicted were in fact part of a murder conspiracy. Furr is right on the first count but fails to prove the second. Moreover, his refutation is superficial and tendentious. Furr’s refutation takes up less than two pages and involves quotations from three historians, all of whom dispute Stalin’s involvement in Kirov’s murder.

One would never know from Furr’s account that Khrushchev’s implication became the conventional wisdom among such Cold War Sovietologists as Robert Conquest, The Great Terror,[25] and Amy Knight, Who Killed Kirov? The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery.[26] In other words, a serious rebuttal of what Khrushchev implied would involve acknowledging what the Cold Warriors have written in support Khrushchev’s view and then refuting or at least disputing it. Furr does not do this. He does not even identify two of the historians he quotes, Pavel Sudaplatov and Alla Kirilina. Furr neither provides their credentials (though strong), nor gives any reason that they are more credible (though they are) than Amy Knight or Robert Conquest. In other words, sometimes Furr has a stronger case than he bothers to make.

Moreover, Furr is highly selective about what he chooses to use from his sources. He fails to acknowledge, for example, that though the three historians he quotes disputed Khrushchev’s view, none of them supported Furr’s view. That is, none of them believe that the oppositionists convicted in the Moscow trials were guilty of Kirov’s murder. For example, Kirilina dismissed Stalin’s culpability for the murder but argued that Nikolaev was a lone assassin.[27]

A recent examination of the case by historian Matthew Lenoe (The Kirov Murder and Soviet History [2010]) relied heavily on the recollections of Genrikh Samoilevich Liushdov, one of the lead investigators in the Kirov case, who subsequently defected to Japan, and whose papers were examined by Lenoe in the Hokkaido University Library in Japan. Lenoe provided evidence that Stalin had nothing to do with Kirov’s murder, hence proof that Khrushchev lied, but he also supported the lone assassin theory, hence not supporting Furr’s view either.[28]

If Furr is right about the Kirov murder, he does not prove it here, and at best one will have to await his forthcoming study of the case. In spite of Furr’s claim about “every” Khrushchev revelation being a lie, Furr actually does not dispute much that Khrushchev said about the repression. He does not question that mass repression occurred, that it was directed not just against Trotskyites, Zinovievites, and Bukharinites, but against “many honest Communists”; that the repression involved “the fabrication of cases against Communists,” “false accusations,” “glaring abuses of socialist legality,” “barbaric tortures,” and “the death of innocent people”; that 70 percent of the Central Committee elected at the 17th Congress were “arrested and shot” and a majority of the delegates to the 17th Party Congress were arrested; that on January 10, 1939 Stalin sent a telegram to various bodies declaring that “methods of physical pressure” were permissible “in exceptional cases”; and so on.[29]

Thus, while Furr accepts the major facts of the repression, he often quibbles over minor points, and without sufficient evidence, disputes the idea that everyone punished was innocent, and objects to laying the blame for the repression on Stalin (and Beria). Granted that many people besides Stalin carried out the repression and granted that Stalin played a role in ending the 1936-38 repression, the question remains how involved, aware and responsible was Stalin for the repression? If Khrushchev tried to shift total responsibility to Stalin, Furr seems bent on trying to deny Stalin any responsibility. In any case, Furr’s reasoning and evidence on this point are dubious.

For example, Khrushchev said that “mass repressions grew tremendously” after Stalin and Andrei Zhdanov sent a telegram to members of the Political Bureau on September 25, 1936 calling for N. I. Ezhov to replace Yagoda as head of the NKVD.[30] In the telegram, Stalin said the NKVD was “four years behind” in “unmasking the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc.” [31] Furr says that Khrushchev lied about this. Furr narrowly focuses, however, on what Stalin meant by saying that the NKVD was four years behind. Furr says that what Stalin really meant was the NKVD was four years behind in unmasking the opposition bloc not four years behind in applying repression.

Furr is right about the meaning of those particular words, but Furr ignores the other truth in Khrushchev’s statement, namely that Stalin bore direct responsibility for increasing the repression by picking Ezhov, who broadened the scale of repression. In a similar vein, Furr asserts that Khrushchev “seriously distorted” Stalin’s words when he said that Stalin tried to justify mass repression by saying “as we march forward toward socialism class war must allegedly sharpen.”[32] Furr asserts that Stalin actually said, “the further we advance…the greater will be the fury of the remnants of the broken exploiting classes, the sooner they resort to sharper forms of struggle.”[33]

Does Furr really believe that the slight variation in words makes any difference in the meaning? Stalin’s words differ from Khrushchev’s paraphrase, but the meaning does not.

Molotov’s testimony made this clear. When Chuev asked Molotov whether Stalin was correct about the class struggle intensifying under socialism, Molotov did not equivocate: “It was correct in view of the periods analyzed then.”[34] Furr contends, “Stalin went on to call for an individual approach and for political education, not for anything like repression or ‘terror.’”[35] In reality, according to Furr, “it was the Party First Secretaries and others around the country…who turned to ‘mass repression.’”[36]

Though Furr is correct about Stalin’s statements and the First Secretaries’ actions, this hardly proves that Stalin opposed mass repression. If anyone knew Stalin’s views on repression, it was Molotov, and Molotov said, “It was mainly Stalin who took upon himself this difficult task [of repression]“[37] and that Ezhov “overdid it because Stalin demanded greater repression.” [38]

Furthermore, Furr’s notion that Stalin opposed mass repression is contradicted by the historians Getty and Naumov, who found in the Soviet archives “Stalin’s signature on documents authorizing mass executions.”[39] Granted that authorizing mass executions of persons duly convicted by the courts was not the same as ordering them, still Stalin’s signature showed that he was fully aware and supportive of the most extreme punishment for those convicted of serious crimes against the state. Furr seems loathe to acknowledge this.

As for the so-called torture telegram, Furr may be right in questioning the provenance of this wire and whether it was ever sent. Moreover, Furr is certainly right that in quoting the telegram Khrushchev omitted sentences so as to put Stalin in the worst possible light, that is, omitting sentences where Stalin stressed that physical pressure was permissible only “as an exception” and those sentences where Stalin condemned those who had abused these methods.

Khrushchev’s skullduggery notwithstanding, the telegram clearly showed Stalin’s willingness to condone torture in exceptional cases such as where a convict refused to divulge the existence or whereabouts of co-conspirators still at large. Had Furr acknowledged this and thus sifted and winnowed the truth from the falsehoods in this matter, his account would have been forthright and useful rather than a strained effort to argue that every Khrushchev allegation was simply a lie.[40]

A similar one-sidedness adheres to Furr’s treatment of Khrushchev’s and Stalin’s views of Trotskyism. Furr points out that Khrushchev suggested that Stalin favored annihilating Trotskyists even those who had long ago broken with Trotsky’s ideas and returned to Leninism. Furr correctly points out that Stalin never called for the persecution of such erstwhile Trotskyists, but instead called for “an individual, differentiated approach.”[41]

Furr goes further, however. Furr says that Stalin opposed persecuting Trotskyists altogether. Here are Furr’s exact words: “Stalin did refer to Trotskyites in very hostile terms. But he did not advocate persecuting them [i.e. Trotskyites]. While stressing the need for renewed vigilance Stalin also proposed the establishment of special ideological courses for all leading party workers. That is, Stalin saw the problem of Trotskyism as a result of a low level of political understanding among Bolsheviks.”

One has only to read the complete texts of Stalin provided by Furr in the appendix to appreciate not only that Khrushchev lied but also that Furr misleads. Stalin made clear that two categories existed, those who had once been Trotskyists, and those who not only remained Trotskyists but who had become “a gang of wreckers, diversionists, spies, assassins, without principles and ideas, working for the foreign intelligence services.” The former should not be persecuted. For the latter, however, Stalin thought that “not the old methods, the methods of discussion, must be used, but new methods, methods for smashing and uprooting it.”[42]

Of course, Furr knows that such recent historians as Getty and Naumov confirm the oppositional activity of Trotskyists in the 1930s and knows that Stalin thought these forces had to be smashed and uprooted. Yet, his narrow preoccupation with Khrushchev’s lies leads him into careless formulations that play fast and loose with the truth. Though Furr expends many words parsing Khrushchev’s statements in detail and indeed spends a whole chapter categorizing the various kinds of deceptions engaged in by Khrushchev, he makes little effort to sort the truth from the lies. In the end, one is left with two competing versions of the repression. Since Furr is content to act as a defense attorney and merely attack Khrushchev’s credibility without venturing his own interpretations of events, one never knows exactly what he thinks happened.

Still, Furr seems to hold a version of the repression something like this: A massive repression occurred in the Soviet Union in the years 1936-38. This repression took the lives and liberties of large numbers of Communist leaders, including members of the Central Committee elected at the 17th Party Congress. This repression involved torture and forced confession and the framing and punishment of many innocent people. The blame for this repression rested primarily with the regional party secretaries, like Khrushchev, and the leaders of the NKVD, notably Ezhov. Furthermore, many of those who suffered from the repression were guilty. Others were knowingly framed by Ezhov and his cohorts who were in league with the opposition and who used excessive repression to discredit the leadership. This version of the repression is thus the diametrical opposite of Khrushchev’s, which was more or less that no legitimate reason for the repression existed, that virtually all those punished were innocent, and that the only reason for the repression was to ensure Stalin’s unchallenged and absolute authority.

The problem with these competing narratives is that neither has much evidence to support them. To support his view that the vast majority of victims were innocent, Khrushchev relied on a review of cases prepared before the 20th Congress known as the Pospelov Report, which was cursory at best. To support his view, Furr repeatedly makes sweeping references to evidence about the guilt of those punished: “the evidence we know exists,” “all the evidence we presently have,” “all the evidence at our disposal,” “a great deal of documentary evidence,” “a great deal of evidence,” “the vast preponderance of evidence,” etc., but he never actually explains what evidence he is referring to.[44]

Apparently, he is simply referring to the well-known confessions and interrogations of the condemned, because he takes pains to argue that just because someone confessed does not mean he/she was innocent. Furr never acknowledges that confessions, particularly when given under duress, are pretty useless as historical evidence.

An example of the warring narratives occurs over the most sensational of Khrushchev’s allegations, namely that the ninety-eight members and candidates (70 percent) of the Party’s Central Committee elected at the 17th Congress and the majority of the delegates to the 17th Party Congress who were “arrested and shot” were in fact innocent. Furr claims that “a great deal of evidence” suggests that “a significant number” of these high ranking Communists “appear to have been guilty after all.” A little later, Furr strengthens his claim by asserting that “the vast preponderance of evidence” points to their guilt. [45] Strong words, however, are no substitute for proof. What is Furr’s evidence? Does he just mean the confessions and interrogation reports? He refers to nothing else.

One is left with warring assertions: Khrushchev’s baseless claims of innocence and Furr’s baseless claims of guilt. No doubt serious anti-Soviet activity and plots existed. No doubt the repression took the lives of countless innocents. But how great was the anti-Soviet activity and who was guilty and who was innocent remain unresolved questions.

Still, these are extremely serious questions. The construction of the first socialist society, the lifting of an illiterate, impoverished, oppressed and backward people into an era of literacy, culture, material well-being and atomic energy; the Soviet defeat of fascism, the Soviet role in the Chinese, Cuban, and Vietnamese revolutions and in the liberation struggles of the third world arguably make the Russian Revolution the most important event of the twentieth century. Understanding that history, its failures and its accomplishments, consequently has the utmost interest not only to professional historians but to socialists and revolutionaries worldwide.

For this reason, some persistent writing and editing anomalies in Furr’s book are particularly annoying. While the second edition has corrected the most egregious errors of the first, the book still contains some inconsistent spelling of Russian names, a lack of identification of persons, and an uncommon amount of speculation, insinuation and overstatement. The seriousness of the problems under discussion deserve more care in the writing.

However glaring, the manifest weaknesses of Furr’s book should not obscure the conclusion that Furr and other revisionist historians have driven a stake into the reliability of Khrushchev and historians like Conquest who relied on Khrushchev.

If Khrushchev’s portrait of Stalin as an all-powerful, megalomaniacal, paranoid and bloodthirsty tyrant was wrong, still what is one to make of the Stalin in Furr’s dodgy portrait? One can hardly avoid concluding that Furr views Stalin as a leader who was removed from, or even opposed to, the mass repression occurring around him, a leader who sought individual and educational remedies to those who sought to undermine or overthrow him, and who was unfairly blamed for repression committed by others? This Stalin is no more believable than Khrushchev’s.

Both portraits ignore a simple idea—that first and foremost, Stalin was a revolutionary, and the repression of the 1930s must be understood in the context of revolutionary violence.

The great American sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote about the difficulty that most Americans have in accepting revolutionary violence. In Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba, Mills wrote as if a Cuban revolutionary were speaking to an American. In response to American outrage over the pictures of the revolutionaries summarily executing five or six hundred supporters of the dictator Batista without “a fair trial,” the Cuban says:

This was war. During the Batista regime, thousands of our people were murdered….So what would you expect? Maybe in easy moral terms, no killing is excusable….But however immoral the purposes and the results of killing are quite different in different places and at different times. Because you see it does matter who is getting killed and why. But whether you think so or not, you certainly have no grounds for talking about injustice: Who gave any trial to the people of Hiroshima? Well, this, too, was a war. Remember, too, Yankee, that morals are easy to come by sitting in your quiet suburbs away from it all protected from it all. Morals are easy to say out [sic] when you’re rich and strong and all the unpleasantnesses of the world are hidden from you—by distance, by amusements, by your own indifference, by your own private way of life.[46]

Not much has changed. If anything, it requires an even greater stretch for Americans today to imagine the strain on Soviet revolutionaries, who were surrounded by hostile imperialist powers that actively plotted their overthrow, faced with ambitious and unscrupulous internal foes that were masters of political intrigue and convinced that they knew better than Stalin how to lead the country. The Soviet leaders were confronted with the daunting tasks of constructing a socialist society, collectivizing a recalcitrant peasantry, industrializing at breakneck speed, all while bracing for an inevitable conflict with Nazi Germany.

To empathize with these revolutionaries and to understand the repression of the 1930s, one must do what Mills did, seek the voice of the Russian revolutionaries of the 1930s. The two revolutionaries who provide the best insight into Stalin and the repression were Lazar Kaganovitch and Viacheslav Molotov. Both were veteran Bolsheviks, who played a variety of crucial roles in building socialism and defeating German fascism. Both were extremely close to Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s. Both were demoted by Stalin in the 1950s (Molotov’s wife was even imprisoned), but neither turned against Stalin or the revolution. Both opposed Khrushchev, were defeated by him and expelled from the Communist Party. Both lived long lives. Molotov died in 1986 and Kaganovich died in 1991, and both left behind memoirs that present remarkably similar views of Stalin and the repression.

Before turning to what they had to say, it is important to remember that just as the Cuban revolutionaries were shaped by the violence they had experienced at the hands of Batista and his men, so Stalin and his colleagues were shaped by the repression they had endured at the hands of the tsar and the tsar’s secret police. In Stalin & Co.: The Politburo — The Men Who Run Russia, Walter Duranty, a correspondent for the New York Times in Moscow, put a fine edge on this point.

Duranty noted that the conflict in the Soviet Party after Lenin’s death involved two camps, the “Western Exiles,” those like Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev, who had spent a considerable amount of time before the revolution abroad, and the “Home Guard,” those like Stalin and his close associates who had stayed a struggled at home. The latter had to endure spies, provocateurs, arrests, imprisonment, torture, threats to family and friends, conditions unknown to those in exile. The experience of struggle under dire conditions made Stalin’s suspicious and hard as well as contemptuous of those whose circumstances had been easier.[47] To understand the ruthlessness displayed by Stalin and his associates in the 1930s, one must never forget the ruthlessness they had endured.

Kaganovich[48] and Molotov viewed Stalin and the repression, differently than Furr does. I would paraphrase their views like this: The period from 1930 through the start of World War II constituted an extremely perilous time for Soviet socialism. The danger was represented by a combination of circumstances. The Soviet Union was surrounded by hostile imperialist states and the inevitability of war increased with every passing year. To survive the Soviet Union had to industrialize quickly and to obtain the resources and manpower to do this, it had to quickly collectivize agriculture. Industrialization and collectivization involved wrenching social transformations that directly threatened the interests of some of the people and demanded great sacrifice.

Those whose interests were threatened and whose conditions worsened provided a base of opposition to these policies. These circumstances put immense strains on the unity of the Communist Party and the Soviet government. Some in the Party leadership and government opposed the policies of industrialization and collectivization, and in some cases this opposition developed into a determination to end these policies and overthrow of the Soviet government even if that meant resorting to assassination, industrial sabotage, inciting insurrection, and cooperating with foreign governments. Even where opposition stopped short of such extremes, it nevertheless meant an insupportable violation of unity and democratic centralism.

Stalin showed patience with opposition for years, but after the dissemination of the openly oppositional Riutin Platform, the assassination of Party leader Kirov, and signs of industrial sabotage impeding growth, Stalin reacted. He supported the appointment of Ezhov as head of the NKVD and endorsed the repression under Ezhov, including the arrest and punishment of Party leaders in the three Moscow Trials. Many excesses occurred that in retrospect were regrettable: torture, forced confessions, the railroading of innocent people.

Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich and others viewed these measures not simply as “terror” or “political repression,” but as a Party “purge,” that is, measures necessary to rid the Party not just of demonstrably treasonous, criminal, and opposition elements but of all elements that were divisive and unreliable because under the circumstances weakness, divisiveness, and unreliability were tantamount to treason.

In this sense, even with their excesses, the purges were necessary to give the Party and hence the nation a unified and resolute leadership with which to prepare itself to wage a life-and-death war with fascism. If Stalin had not had the foresight, the courage, and toughness to preside over these purges (and to end them when they became became counterproductive), the revolution and the country may not have survived the German invasion and millions of more people would have suffered and died than actually did.

Both Kaganovich and Molotov regarded Stalin’s ruthlessness or hardness not as a personal defect but as a quality that the times forged and demanded. It was a steeliness for which Stalin was named. It was a quality necessary and admired by true Bolsheviks. It had nothing at all to do with vainglory, or power hunger, or paranoia. It did, however, become more and more pronounced as Stalin experienced the betrayal of former colleagues in the Party leadership.

Yet, his ruthlessness did not reflect a desire for personal power or for the wealth or luxury or flattery or deference and the other trappings of power. Rather, Stalin’s toughness, like his intellectual prowess, his hard work, long hours, and modesty were traits totally in service of the Party and the revolution. This more or less was the view of Kaganovich and Molotov, two of Stalin’s closest associates, who lived through the hardest times with him, and lived long enough to write memoirs.

Furr ends his account with some speculation on the reasons Khrushchev engaged in his meretricious attacks on Stalin and Beria. He suggests four possible explanations: that Khrushchev wanted to shift blame from “his own role in the unjustified mass repressions of the 1930s,” that Khrushchev wanted to take the USSR on a “sharply different” political course, that Khrushchev wanted to gain an edge on his rivals in the leadership who had been close to Stalin, and that Khrushchev wanted to stop the “democratic reforms with which Stalin was associated.”[49]

All of these are plausible explanations, and they are not mutually exclusive. Yet, the second of these is the most consequential. In the book, Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, Thomas Kenny and I argue Khrushchev did take the Soviet Union on a new course domestically in many ways that sowed the seeds of the collapse under Gorbachev.[50] So, we hold no brief for Khrushchev.

Nonetheless, I would suggest that Furr neglects yet another reason for Khrushchev’s behavior, namely, a desire to close the door decisively on the period and practice of harsh and widespread political repression. And he did. For all his limitations as a leader, when he expelled Malenkov, Molotov and Kaganovich from the leadership and from the party, Khrushchev understood that neither the times nor circumstances required their imprisonment or execution.

Furr concludes his account on an utterly false note, namely by proposing that Khrushchev’s ignominious lying can be traced to Lenin, Marx and Engels. Thus, Furr goes from ignoring an obvious reason for Khrushchev’s behavior to entertaining an incomprehensible reason. He ignores Khrushchev’s undeniable contribution in ending the practice of mass repression, but then suggests a trail of blame worthy of the most hard-bitten Cold War ideologues. Just as they would fancifully trace the repression and all other problems of the Soviet Union to Marx and Lenin, so Furr would do the same with Khrushchev.

This is a troubling but fitting coda for a book that provides a much needed but deeply flawed re-assessment of Khrushchev’s secret speech and the totalitarian paradigm the speech did so much to foster.

November 23, 2011

Endnotes

1. Stuart Kahan, The World of the Kremlin: The First Biography of L. M. Kaganovich, The Soviet Union’s Architect of Fear (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1987).
2. “Statement of the Kaganovich Family,” http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org and http://.oocities.org/capitolhill/embassy/7213/kagan.html (accessed July 2011).
3. Christopher Read, “Main Currents of Interpretation of Stalin and the Stalin Years,” in Christopher Read, ed., The Stalin Years a Reader (Houndmills, Basingstoke, and Hampshire, England: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002), 9.
4. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going? (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1937).
5. Hanna Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1951).
6. J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning, “Introduction,” Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (Cambridge, England and New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 4.
7. Getty and Manning, 10-13.
8. J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), 591.
9. See essays by Hoffman, Manning, Fitzpatrick, Nove, and Weathcroft in Getty and Manning, and Wendy Goldman, Terror and Democracy in the Age of Stalin: The Social Dynamics of Repression (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
10. Getty and Naumov, 52-68.
11. See for example essays by Davies and Harris in Sarah Davies and James Harris, eds., Stalin: A New History (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
12. Grover Furr, Khrushchev Lied: The Evidence that Every “Revelation: of Stalin’s (and Beria’s) “Crimes” in Nikita Khrushchev’s Infamous “Secret Speech” to the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on February 25, 1956 is Provably False (Kettering, Ohio: Erythros Press and Media, 2011).
13. For an example of the immediate impact of the speech on western Communist Parties, see The Anti-Stalin Campaign and International Communism: A Selection of Documents Edited by the Russian Institute of Columbia University (New York: Columbia University, 1956).
14. Domenico Losurdo, “History of the Communist Movement: Failure, Betrayal or Learning Process,” Nature, Society and Thought vol. 16, no. 1 (2003), 41.
15. Furr, 141.
16. Dmitrii Shepilov, The Kremlin’s Scholar: A Memoir of Soviet Politics under Stalin and Khrushchev (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), 72.
17. See for example, “List of places named after Joseph Stalin,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wike/List_of_places_after_Joseph_Stalin (accessed July 2001).
18. Furr, 11-20.
19. Furr, 95.
20. Khrushchev quoted by Furr, 22, 41-42, 43-44, 73
21. Shepilov, 71.
22. Boris A. Starkov, “Narkom Ezhov,” in Getty and Manning, 36-38.
23. Shepilov, 41.
24. Furr, 143.
25. Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (New York and Oxford: Oxford Universuty Press, 1990), 479.
26. Amy Knight, Who Killed Kirov? The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery (New York: Hill & Wang, 1999).
27. Matthew Lenoe, “Key to the Kirov Murder on the Shelves of Hokkaido University Library,” Slavic Research Center News No. 3 (February, 2006), http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/eng/news/no13/enews13-essay3.html (accessed July 2011).
28. Matthew E. Lenoe, The Kirov Murder and Soviet History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).
29. Khrushchev quoted by Furr, 35 and 79.
30. Khrushchev quoted by Furr, 42.
31. Furr, 42.
32. Furr, 43.
33. Furr, 43-44.
34. Albert Resis, ed. Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics Conversations with Felix Chuev (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993), 259.
35. Furr, 44.
36. Furr, 45.
37. Resis, 258.
38. Resis, 263.
39. Getty and Naumov, 25.
40. Furr, 330-331.
41. Furr, 30.
42. Stalin in Furr, 262.
43. Getty and Naumov, 62-64.
44. Furr, 26, 29, 30, 37, 39.
45. Furr, 37, 39.
46. C. Wright Mills, Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (New York: Ballantine Books, 1960), 51.
47. William Duranty, Stalin & Co.: The Politburo—The Men Who Run Russia (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949), 18-19.
48. See for example: “Thus Spake Kaganovich,” http://www.oocities.org/capitolhill/embassy/7213/kaganovich.html (accessed July 2011).
49. Furr, 197-199.
50. Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny, Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union (New York: International Publishers, 2004).

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