No detective can solve a crime without carefully and objectively studying the evidence. Likewise, no one can know what actually occurred in history without studying, in an objective manner, the relevant primary sources – the evidence. I have spent decades in studying the primary sources concerning many specific events of the Stalin period. Mark Tauger has studied the primary sources on Soviet agriculture for more than 25 years.
Louis Proyect has not done this. Consequently he has no chance of discovering the truth, or of recognizing it when he sees it. He is inevitably doomed to “believe” whatever fits his preconceived ideological bias, and to reject everything else. This is fatal to any attempt to learn what really happened.
Louis Proyect’s attack on me and on Mark Tauger (“What Caused the Holodomor?” Cp March 24, 1971) is ideology masquerading as history. It is replete with falsehoods. I’ll concentrate on the lies Proyect tells about me and my research. I hope that Mark Tauger will respond to Proyect’s ignorant accusations against his research.
Proyect begins his article by stating: “Furr’s political life revolves around celebrating Stalin’s greatest achievements—such as they were.” This is false. My goal is not to “celebrate” Stalin, or anyone or anything. In my research I aim to discover the truth about Soviet history of the 1930s, using the best primary-source evidence and maintaining scrupulous objectivity.
I agree with historian Geoffrey Roberts when he says:
In the last 15 years or so an enormous amount of new material on Stalin … has become available from Russian archives. I should make clear that as a historian I have a strong orientation to telling the truth about the past, no matter how uncomfortable or unpalatable the conclusions may be. … I don’t think there is a dilemma: you just tell the truth as you see it.
(“Stalin’s Wars”, Frontpagemag.com February 12, 2007. At http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/35305.html )
The common or “mainstream” view of Stalin as a bloodthirsty tyrant is a product of two sources: Trotsky’s writings of the 1930s and Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” to the XX Party Congress in February, 1956. This canonical history of the Stalin period – the version we have all learned — is completely false. We can see this now thanks mainly to two sets of archival discoveries: the gradual publication of thousands of archival documents from formerly secret Soviet archives since the end of the USSR in 1991; and the opening of the Leon Trotsky Archive at Harvard in 1980 and, secondarily, of the Trotsky Archive at the Hoover Institution (from where I have just returned).
In its impact on world history Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” is the most influential speech of the 20th century. In it Khrushchev painted Stalin as a bloodthirsty tyrant guilty of a reign of terror lasting more than two decades.
After the 22nd Party Congress of 1961, where Khrushchev and his men attacked Stalin with even more venom, many Soviet historians elaborated Khrushchev’s lies. These falsehoods were repeated by Cold War anticommunists like Robert Conquest. They also entered “left” discourse through the works of Trotskyists and anarchists and of “pro-Moscow” communists.
Khrushchev’s lies were amplified during Mikhail Gorbachev’s and Boris Eltsin’s time by professional Soviet, then Russian, historians. Gorbachev orchestrated an avalanche of anticommunist falsehoods that provided the ideological smokescreen for the return to exploitative practices within the USSR and ultimately for the abandonment of socialist reforms and a return to predatory capitalism.
During 2005-2006 I researched and wrote the book Khrushchev Lied. In my book I identify 61 accusations that Khrushchev made against either Stalin or, in a few cases, Beria. I then studied each one of them in the light of evidence available from former Soviet archives. To my own surprise I found that 60 of the 61 accusations are provably, demonstrably false.
The fact that Khrushchev could falsify everything and get away with it for over 50 years suggests that we should look carefully at other supposed “crimes” of Stalin and of the USSR during his time.
From 1980 till the early 1990s Pierre Broué, the foremost Trotskyist historian of his day, and Arch Getty, a prominent American expert in Soviet history, discovered that Trotsky had lied, repeatedly and about many issues, in his public statements and writings in the 1930s. In my book Trotsky’s ‘Amalgams’ (2015) I discussed the implications of these lies by Trotsky and of some additional lies of his that I discovered myself. They completely invalidate the “Dewey Commission,” to whom Trotsky lied shamelessly and repeatedly, as well as Trotsky’s denials in the Red Book and elsewhere of the charges leveled against him in the First and Second Moscow Trials.
Challenging the “Anti-Stalin Paradigm”
I have not reached these conclusions out of any desire to “apologize” for – let alone “celebrate” — the policies of Stalin or the Soviet government. I believe these to be the only objective conclusions possible based on the available evidence.
The conclusions I have reached about the history of the Soviet Union during the Stalin period are unacceptable to people who, like Proyect, are motivated by prior ideological commitments rather than by a determination to discover the truth “and let the chips fall where they will.”
The “anti-Stalin paradigm” is hegemonic in the field of Soviet history, where it is literally “taboo” to question, let alone disprove as I do, the Trotsky-Khrushchev-Cold War falsehoods about Stalin and the Stalin period. Those in this field who do not cut their research to fit the Procrustean bed of the “anti-Stalin paradigm” will find it hard if not impossible to publish in “mainstream” journals and by academic publishers. I am fortunate: I teach English literature and do not need to publish in these “authoritative” but ideologically compromised vehicles.
Those who, like Proyect, are motivated not to discover the truth but to shore up their ideological prejudices think that everybody must be doing likewise. Therefore Proyect argues not from evidence, but by guilt by association, name-dropping, insult, and lies.
A few examples:
Guilt by association: Proyect claims that I am “like” Roland Boer, Roger Annis, and Sigizmund Mironin.
Name-dropping: Davies and Wheatcroft are well-known and disagree with Tauger, so – somehow – they are “the most authoritative,” “right” while Tauger is “wrong.”
Insult: Tauger is complicit in “turning a victim into a criminal.”
Proyect: “…it seems reasonable that Stalin was forced to unleash a brutal repression in the early 30s to prevent Hitler from invading Russia—or something like that.” In reality neither I nor Tauger say anything of the kind.
Lies: Proyect quotes a passage from Tauger’s research about the Irish potato famine and then accuses Tauger of wanting to exculpate the British:
“The British government responsible? No, we can’t have that.”
But the very next sentence in Tauger’s article reads:
“Without denying that the British government mishandled the crisis…”
Proyect is a prisoner of the historical paradigm that controls his view of Soviet history. A few examples:
- Proyect persists in using the term “Holodomor.” He does not inform Cp readers that Davies and Wheatcroft, whose work he recommends, reject both the term “Holodomor” and the concept in the very book Proyect recommends!
- Proyect: “…no matter that Lenin called for his [Stalin’s] removal from party leadership from his death-bed.”
But, thanks to careful research by Valentin Sakharov of Moscow State University, even “mainstream” researchers know that this note, like “Lenin’s Testament,” is probably a forgery:
There is no stenographic original of the “Ilich letter about the [general] secretary.” In the journal of Lenin’s activities kept by the secretarial staff there is no mention of any such “Ilich letter.” … not a single source corroborates the content of the January 4 dictation. Also curious is the fact that Zinoviev had not been made privy to the “Ilich letter about the [general] secretary” in late May, along with the evaluations of six regime personnel. The new typescript emerged only in June. (Stephen Kotkin, Stalin 505)
- Proyect: “Largely because of his bureaucratic control and the rapid influx of self-seeking elements into the party, Stalin could crush the opposition…”
However, in his 1973 work Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution Stephen Cohen wrote:
But machine politics alone did not account for Stalin’s triumph. … within this select oligarchy, Stalin’s bureaucratic power was considerably less imposing…. By April 1929, these influentials had chosen Stalin and formed his essential majority in the high leadership. They did so, it seems clear, less because of his bureaucratic power than because they preferred his leadership and politics. (327)
- Proyect: “Stalin’s forced march did not discriminate between rich and poor peasants.”
But in 1983 James Mace, a champion of the Ukrainian Nationalist fascist collaborators, wrote about the role of “committees of poor peasants,” komitety nezamozhnykh selian, in supporting collectivization. There is much other evidence of peasant support for collectivization.
Correctly understood, history is the attempt to use well-known methods of primary-source research in an objective manner, in order to arrive at accurate – truthful — statements about the past. Very often the result is disillusioning to those who cling to false ideological constructs, even when those constructs constitute the “mainstream” of politicized historiography.
No one who does not try to discover the truth and then tell it without fear or favor, is worthy to be called a historian, regardless of how famous, honored, or “authoritative” he or she may appear to be.
Distortions and lies about Soviet history of the Stalin period predominate everywhere, including Ukraine, Russia, and in the West. These lies mainly consist in repeating Trotskyist and Khrushchevite lies, in defiance or in willful ignorance of the primary-source evidence now available.
The newly-available evidence from archival sources necessitates a complete rewriting of Soviet history of the Stalin period and a complete revision of Stalin’s own role. This exciting yet demanding prospect is of great importance to all who wish to learn from the errors, as well as from the successes, of the Bolsheviks, the pioneers of the communist movement of the 20th century.