Response to the Death of Robert Conquest

Robert Conquest, next to Leon Trotsky arguably the chief anticommunist and anti-Stalin propagandist of the 20th century, has died. Naturally, the capitalist media are fawning over him.

A lot could be said about Conquest. I’ll say a bit at the end.

Here are some facts — I have checked them — concerning Conquest’s most famous book The Great Terror:

Robert Conquest has also been identified as having worked for the IRD from when it was set up until 1956. The Information Research Department (IRD), was a section set up in 1947 (originally called the Communist Information Bureau) whose main task was to combat Communist influence throughout the world by planting stories among politicians, journalists and others in a position to influence public opinion.

A 1978 story in the The Guardian alleged that Conquest’s work there was to contribute to the so-called “black history” of the Soviet Union — in other words, fake stories put out as fact and distributed among journalists and others able to influence public opinion. After he had formally left the IRD, Conquest continued to write books suggested by the IRD, with Secret Service support.

His book The Great Terror, a basic anti-communist text on the subject of the power struggle that took place in the Soviet Union in 1937, was in fact a recompilation of text he had written when working for the secret services. The book was finished and published with the help of the IRD. A third of the publication run was bought by the Praeger Press, normally associated with the publication of literature originating from CIA sources.

Conquest’s book was intended for presentation to “useful fools”, such as university professors and people working in the press, radio and TV. Conquest to this day remains, for anti-communist historians, one of the most important sources of material on the Soviet Union.

The article from The Guardian in 1978 documents the propaganda activities of the IRD:

David Leigh, “Death of the department that never was.” The Guardian January 27, 1978, p. 13, at

In his Ph.D. dissertation (but not in the book that he wrote from it) Arch Getty pointed out:

The dominant tendency [in writing the history of the “purges”] has been automatically to believe anything an emigre asserted while automatically denying the truth of everything from the Stalinist side. If one wanted a balanced picture of Tsar Ivan IV, (“The Terrible”), one would not accept at face value the descriptions of the exiled Prince Kurbsky in Poland, during a period of Russo-Polish war. If one wanted a balanced picture of Mao Tse-Tung’s regime in China, one would not accept Chiang Kai-Shek’s version in the early 1950’s as essentially reliable. If one were not interested in such a view, one would. The apparent monstrosity of Stalin’s crimes and a generation of Cold War attitudes have contributed to what would be considered sloppy scholarship in any other area of inquiry.

Getty also pointed out that Conquest specialized in anticommunist propaganda masquerading as scholarship while working for British intelligence.

Sometimes, the “scholarship” had been more than simply careless. Recent investigations of British intelligence activities (following in the wake of U.S. post-Watergate revelations), suggest that Robert Conquest, author of the highly influential Great Terror, accepted payment from British intelligence agencies for consciously falsifying information about the Soviet Union. Consequently, the works of such an individual can hardly be considered valid scholarly works by his peers in the Western academic community.

  • Getty, “The Great Purges Reconsidered,” Ph.D. disseration, Boston College, 1979, p. 48.

In 1980 I interviewed Professor John Hazard of Columbia University, at the time the world expert on Soviet law. Hazard told me that people in the Soviet studies field had told him that British intelligence was still doing Conquest’s research for him.

…Conquest (Terror, 754) … makes the astounding statement that “Truth can thus only percolate in the form of hearsay.” And, further, “On political matters basically the best, though not infallible, source is rumor … “. He believes that the best way to check rumors is to compare them with other rumors–a dubious procedure given the fact that migr s read each other’s works. Of course, historians do not accept hearsay and rumor as evidence in any other field of history.

  • Getty, “The Great Purges Reconsidered,” Ph.D. disseration, Boston College, 1979, p. 64 note 57. These passages are also quoted in Getty, Origins of the Great Purges. The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938. (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) p. 5 and note 12, p.222.

Already in 1979 Getty concluded:

The point of view adopted here is that the standard interpretations of the “Great Purges”, such as those by Fainsod and Conquest, are seriously flawed, cannot account for the available evidence, and are thus no longer tenable. (53)

A good reply to Conquest’s dishonesty is the article by Robert W. Thurston,

“On Desk-bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspective, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest,” in Slavic Review 1986, 238-244.

I don’t any other scholar officially in the field of Soviet history ever dared to attack Conquest head-on in print, in a mainstream journal.

Conquest replied in kind, trashing Thurston’s book on the history of the USSR in the 1930s when it was published by Yale University Press in 1996. Thurston’s book was by far the best book on this period up to that point and is still the best because he rejects the knee-jerk anticommunist, anti-Stalin line and sticks to the evidence, with only a handful of lapses.

Thurston also published an excellent article showing the dishonesty of the term “Great Terror” by pointing out that very, very few people were in fact “terrorized.”

“Fear and Belief in the USSR’s ‘Great Terror’: Response to Arrest, 1935-1939.” Slavic Review 45 (1986), 214-234.

This article elicited a hostile but very weak response by Conquest, to which Thurston replied with the article about “lousy evidence,” quoted above.

After Conquest’s book on the Ukrainian famine, Harvest of Sorrow was published in the 1980s the anticommunist experts in the Soviet history field universally rejected it.

You can read some qutatoins from them in the article by Jeff Coplon, “In Search of a Soviet Holocaust. A 55-year-old Famine Feeds the Right.” Village Voice January 12, 1988. Coplon’s article, with quotations from the anticommunist scholars, is at

Of course there was no “deliberate famine.” Quite the opposite: Collectivization put an end to famines in Russia / Ukraine. Conquest later retracted his view that Stalin had deliberately caused the famine.

Our view of Stalin and the famine is close to that of Robert Conquest, who would earlier have been con-sidered the champion of the argument that Stalin had intentionally caused the famine and had acted in a genocidal manner. In 2003, Dr Conquest wrote to us explaining that he does not hold the view that ‘Stalin purposely in?icted the 1933 famine. No. What I argue is that with resulting famine imminent, he could have prevented it, but put “Soviet interest” other than feeding the starving first — thus consciously abetting it’.

  • R. W. Davies & Stephen G. Wheatcroft. “Debate. Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932 — 33: A Reply to Ellman.” Europe-Asia Studies 58 (4) June 2006, 629; also in Davies & Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931 — 1933 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 441 n.145.

For all these quotations and more see my book :Grover Furr, Blood Lies. The Evidence that Every Accusation Against Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union in Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands Is False. (New York: Red Star Publications, 2014), Chapter 1 “ The ‘Main-Made Famine’ and ‘Deliberate Famine’ Arguments in Bloodlands, Chapter 1.”

After my book Khrushchev Lied was published in Russia I was interviewed by Literaturnaia Rossia, a literary-cultural journal. The interviewer asked me some tough questions, which was fine!

Part of my reply was about Conquest’s book The Great Terror:

As a graduate student from 1965-69 I opposed the US war in Vietnam. At one point somebody told me that the Vietnamese communists could not be the “good guys”, because they were all “Stalinists”, and “Stalin had killed millions of innocent people.”

I remembered this remark. It was probably the reason that in the early 1970s I read the first edition of Robert Conquest’s book The Great Terror when it was published. I was shaken by what I read!

I should add that I could read the Russian language since I had already been studying Russian literature since High School. So I studied Conquest’s book very carefully. Apparently no one else had ever done this!

I discovered Conquest was dishonest in his use of sources. His footnotes did not support his anti-Stalin conclusions! Basically, he used any source that was hostile to Stalin, regardless of whether it was reliable or not.

Conquest — with the help of the British intelligence service —took the lies about the Stalin period concocted under Khrushchev and by him, added more lies from anticommunist sources in the West like Alexander Orlov and Walter Krivitsky, and presented this as “history.”

Conquest’s The Great Terror has lots of footnotes, which are intended to fool the educated but naive reader. But those same footnotes made it possible for me to discover that Conquest used phony evidence and never proved any of his anticommunist, anti-Stalin claims.

25 years later, when Gorbachev took up Khrushchev’s anticommunist and anti-Stalin lies, repeated them, and added more lies of his own, Conquest issued a new edition of The Great Terror and told everybody “I was right.”

He wasn’t “right.” Gorbachev was simply telling the same kinds of lies, and often the very same lies, about the Stalin period that Khrushchev and his people had told.

Conquest got a lot of honors from the mass-murdering imperialists, from Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan and beyond. He earned their praise. He also got a cushy, high-paying post at the Hoover Institution.

Such are the rewards for telling lies on behalf of the anticommunists.

We should realize that no one so honored by the chief mass murderers of world history can ever be telling the truth.

Those of us who want to struggle for the better, communist world need to learn from the successes, as well as from the mistakes, of the Stalin-era Soviet Union and the worldwide communist movement of the 20th century, so we can imitate what they did right while avoiding what they did wrong. So, let’s redouble our commitment to doing just that.

RPGFan Reviews – The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Nintendo has truly learned how to do more than just create a new game within an established series; it has mastered the process of buffing and refining newly created adventures until they shine. Such is the case with The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (TMC). Here is a game that truly looks like the spiritual successor to the Super NES “Link to the Past” era both in look and feel, but then manages to change up the gameplay and spruce up the aesthetics enough to give it a truly modern feel. Playing through TMC is a true joy, a veritable bevy of nostalgia bringing you back to when games were fun without looking like fully mastered cinema pieces. It harkens back to the era when gameplay ruled all and successfully solving a difficult puzzle or figuring out a boss pattern was all we needed to do to get by. Truly, TMC does an amazing job accomplishing what it no doubt set out to do.

First off, TMC knows where it comes from and effectively dupes a majority of what makes a Zelda game a Zelda game. Zelda games tend to follow a mechanic whereby you gradually collect fabled items which allow you to do all sorts of wondrous things. As you collect necessary goodies, you are allowed access to new areas, can cultivate wide varieties of secrets, and topple huge, exciting boss encounters. TMC follows this tradition by bringing together a mix of some classic tools combined with some new and ingenious inventions.

Of particular note are the Mole Mitts and the titular Minish Cap. The mitts allow you to dig through certain substances (and underground) but are utilized in the most ingenious of ways. Prepare to think outside the box without ever really having to strain your mind too hard to do so. The Minish Cap allows Link to shrink down to microscopic proportions. While in mini-mode, things that at one point seemed as insignificant details suddenly become serious obstacles.

The shrinking aspect is used in all sorts of fun and clever ways. Large parts of the game revolve around this gameplay mechanic but never do they feel overbearing or unnecessary. Dungeons and overworld areas alike seamlessly blend in the necessity of shrinking and the feeling you get as you figure out one and the other is quite rewarding.

Dungeon and overworld exploring has always been a staple of the Zelda series and TMC comes through with shining colors. Despite the small number of actual dungeons in the game, those that are available are ingeniously designed, filled with old and new fiends alike and are quite lengthy. They provide a legitimate challenge without ever truly leaving you stumped, and the boss fights for each are well designed and magnificently incorporate whatever theme is prevalent for the labyrinth at hand.

The overworld is similarly brilliant in design. Always leaving you one skill away from completely exploring an area, TMC leaves you constantly wanting and yearning for more. Again, the overworld is not the most enormous land mass you have ever laid witness to, but what is there is filled with diverse (and beautiful) terrain teeming with critters to destroy and secrets to find.

Hidden secrets in TMC are handled through something called “Kinstone Fusion.” Basically, as you go about your travels, you will come across little halves of Kinstones that you can fuse together with practically anyone and everyone on your quest. Even pets and livestock join in! Only certain stones fuse with others so it can be a challenge to find just the right match. That being said, the average gamer won’t have much trouble matching up many stones, perhaps making this the most playable Zelda yet. This is the first game I have played in a while that truly makes me believe you could uncover almost all the secrets in the game without ever having to consult a walkthrough; a true marvel in game design that more developers should take note of.

Plot wise, TMC attempts to force a plot into the game, and while it somewhat succeeds, you won’t be playing this game on the merits of its storyline alone. TMC pulls one right out of left field and introduces a twist into the Zelda mythos that attempts to draw a good lot of the games together. It feels somewhat extreme but is handled in a decent way. Unusual in nature, the translation is very well done and the character interaction never feels unnatural or forced. Cut scenes are sprinkled throughout the game and consist of both in-game models and nicely painted stain glass stills. I enjoyed the plot of TMC about as much as any Zelda game; that is to say it gave me another reason to continue progressing, but it did not exactly make the game for me.

Graphically, TMC puts almost all Gameboy Advance (GBA) games to shame. Sporting some of the most colorful, well animated, drop dead beautiful sprites I have seen to date, TMC harnesses the power of the GBA and compresses it into a wonderful presentation for that tiny screen. Tons of tiny little touches, such as the wisp of smoke that appears when a slaughtered enemy leaves this plane of existence or the way Link animates fully in whatever he does, add to the overall magnificent canvas painted by the developers. This is what a two-dimensional Zelda game should look like, and it has truly raised the bar for future GBA game attempts.

Rare is the instance where I want to turn up the volume on my GBA. TMC does just that to me, though, sporting some remixed tunes guaranteed to wake up the old nostalgia feeling and enough new tunes to keep things fresh. Everything feels like Zelda, and the score ranges from light-hearted and dynamic to haunting and moody. Rarely does a developer have enough skill to milk the GBA’s minimal sound prowess into this sort of an orchestral odyssey, but Capcom has certainly done its homework here. Add to the great soundtrack well detailed and executed sound effects, and you have some tasty icing on an already delicious cake.

Two dimensional adventuring in the land of Hyrule has truly never been better. TMC takes all of the elements that I know and love about my Zelda games, improves on and adds more to them, then moves them to a portable medium and provides a true must-buy title for the GBA. Sporting enough action to keep any adventure fan busy, with enough nostalgic appeal for the hardcore fan and enough creative whimsy to keep us yearning for more, TMC will appeal to just about any audience. An absolute treasure amongst a steadily growing, stellar GBA library, TMC will please you like no other; enjoy.

What we can learn today from the victory of the Osama bin Laden raid

William H. McRaven, a retired Navy admiral, was commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014. He oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. Michael Leiter was director of the National Counterterrorism Center from 2007 to 2011.

Nine years ago this month, Osama bin Laden’s reign of terror as the leader of al-Qaeda came to an end. This date is etched in many of our memories. Americans and millions of others around the world felt a complex set of emotions: elation, relief, deep sadness from the events of 9/11 and the many of thousands of deaths that followed in combatting al-Qaeda and its allies in the years since.

For those of us who played a small part in the mission that led to bin Laden’s death, this anniversary reminds us of something else: how to best protect our country. Although distilling exactly what led to success in a few words is impossible, its foundations are unmistakable. Nonpartisan teamwork, fact-based analysis, relentless focus on a national priority, self-sacrifice, rigorous and objective debate among a team striving for a clear goal, and humility even — in fact, especially — in the face of victory.

Above all, it is crucial to remember that this victory was the result of a unified vision, serious planning and thought, and sustained hard work. Not by Democrats, Republicans, independents or others. Not just by Americans but by all of those who had a common vision for a better tomorrow. Nine years ago, we saw what it took to make us all safer and provide a window for greater prosperity in years to come. We cannot forget what it took to get there then — and what it still takes today.

On May 1, 2011, this was true from the ground up. From the intelligence officers who collected and analyzed information, to the Special Operations forces who executed the raid, to the diplomats who handled the fallout, to the leaders in the Situation Room who debated and directed the operation. And of course, to the presidents who initiated the hunt for bin Laden — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — and the president, Barack Obama, who oversaw the operation and ordered its execution.

In the moments after we learned of bin Laden’s death, each of us in the Situation Room that day undoubtedly reflected in our own ways, whether it was recalling friends who had been lost in the previous decade or thinking about how this might help the strategic counterterrorism struggle ahead. Simultaneously, many of us were tasked to call senior officials around the world and in the United States to inform them of the victory. The list included past presidents, prime ministers, kings, lawmakers and senior officials within the U.S. government who didn’t even know of the mission given its secrecy. Mike was also lucky enough to call one of the family members who lost a loved one on 9/11 — a call he will never forget and that still brings tears to his eyes today.

With all that occurred that day, we are quite sure none of us involved — not the brilliant intelligence community team that solved the puzzle, not the courageous special operators who risked everything in the dead of night, and not the officials who made calls or picked up the phones — ever gave a second of thought to the political persuasion of their counterparts. In a moment of national victory — one that had grown out of an incredible national crisis — we were simply professional colleagues who had worked together for a national and global priority. And during the entirety of the mission, I’m confident that no one had time for anything but hard-nosed, factual, objective analysis of how to best perform the mission.

None of this is to suggest that over the course of the preceding decade we had not made mistakes. We had — some repeatedly. Exactly what mistakes were made was (and continues to be) an appropriate subject of debate, scrutiny and remediation. And the debates themselves of course haven’t been perfect, either. Some have been overtly partisan, some arguably misguided. But at least in the run-up to, and the hours of, May 1, 2011, these challenges were pushed aside in the name of not merely an American victory but a global victory for all who had suffered incalculable pain due to al-Qaeda’s purely evil pursuits. American leadership had surely conducted and enabled the final mission, but it had done so only with the help of countless partners around the world who themselves had made enormous sacrifices.

In a time of current national — and indeed global — crisis, it is too easy to pine for a moment when all seemed to go our way. Much more important is to remember why we had the victory we did. What worked for our country. What didn’t work. And why seriousness, focus, and commitment are still required to fix those things that may still be broken.