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

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