On the ocassion of the 140th birth anniversary of Joseph Stalin we asked Professor Grover Furr to share with us his thoughts on some issues surrounding Stalin and the period of his leadership. Grover Furr, a Professor of medieval english literature at Montclair State University in New Jersey, is well-known for his research and writings on a vast range of issues about Soviet history. Some of his most famous books include “Khrushchev Lied”, “The Moscow Trials as Evidence”, Trotsky’s “Amalgams”, “The Mystery of the Katyn Massacre: The Evidence, The Solution” and others. The name of Grover Furr is included in the list of the “101 most dangerous academics in America”.
Many thanks to Professor Furr for his willingness to share his thoughts. You can find his personal website here: https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/
IDC: Sixty-five years after his death, the name of Joseph Stalin remains at the epicenter of anti-communism. The bourgeois historiography, as well as bourgeois political forces, continue the vilification of Stalin, calling him a “dictator”, a “bloodthirsty tyrant” who supposedly “killed tens of millions of people”. According to your view, why anti-communists still focus their attacks on Stalin and what are the major sources of their claims?
G.FURR: Defenders of capitalism need to depict communism as something horrible! So, in addition to hiding the horrors of capitalism- imperialism, they require a “boogeyman” to focus on as the epitome of the “evil” of communism. Stalin was the leader of the USSR and the world communist movement during the period of its greatest triumphs, and therefore of its greatest threat to capitalism. So Stalin would be a natural target in any case.
But there are at least two other factors. The first is Leon Trotsky, who lied about Stalin in virtually everything he wrote from 1928 until his murder in 1940. Trotsky’s post-1929 writings were the first major source of lies and slander against Stalin and the USSR. The second is Nikita Khrushchev. His “Secret Speech” of February 25, 1956 to the XX Party Congress was a devastating blow to the world communist movement. And it was an invaluable gift to the anticommunists of the world!
After the XXII Party Congress in October, 1961, when Khrushchev and his people attacked Stalin even more viciously, with even more lies, Khrushchev and the CPSU sponsored hundreds of books and articles attacking and lying about Stalin. Khrushchev also sponsored hundreds of books and articles attacking and lying about Lavrentii Beria, whose murder Khrushchev organized on June 26, 1953. Beria is not as significant a figure in Soviet history as is Stalin. But Khrushchev and his men slandered Beria at least as viciously, if not more viciously, as they did Stalin. And those who had been closest to Stalin – Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich – supported Khrushchev in this unprincipled attack upon and murder of Beria.
As a direct result of Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin campaign, approximately one-half of all communists in the world outside the socialist bloc quit their parties. Some of them literally walked across the street and joined the Trotskyist parties!
Concerning Khrushchev’s lies about Stalin and Soviet history, we must remember that very few people at the time recognized them as lies. And nobody could prove that they were lies because Khrushchev never published any evidence. Nor did Khrushchev, or his successors, allow even Party historians to see any primary documents in the archives. The lies by Khrushchev and his hundreds of writers were eagerly picked up by Western anticommunists and became the major source of anti-Stalin lies for all the anticommunist writers and “scholars” that followed him, right up to the present.
Some of these Khrushchev-era Soviet anticommunist works were published in the West and widely publicized by the capitalists. Such writers include Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Roy Medvedev, and Alexander Nekrich. Many works of Western “experts” on the USSR relied heavily on these Khrushchev-era falsehoods. Important examples are Robert Conquest’s works and the biography of Bukharin by American historian Stephen Cohen.
Under Brezhnev and his successors, Andropov and Chernenko, anti-Stalin books and articles were almost eliminated. Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders saw the great harm that Khrushchev and the Khrushchev-inspired works were doing to the Soviet Union and to the world communist movement. But it is important to point out that these post-Khrushchev leaders never repudiated Khrushchev’s lies about Stalin and the Stalin period. They could have done so. They and their researchers had access to all the evidence, all the archival documents, they we have today, plus much, much more. They knew, of course, that “Khrushchev lied” (the title of my first book). But they never corrected any of the Khrushchev-era lies.
This raises the question: Why did Khrushchev do what he did? Among the reasons, certainly, was the fact that Khrushchev and the rest of the Soviet Party leadership had abandoned any interest in communism. They were nationalists, in that they wanted a Soviet Union that was powerful economically, militarily, and politically. But they did not want to move the USSR in the direction of a more egalitarian, truly communist society. And Stalin did! Moving to the next stage towards communism was the theme of the 19th Party Congress in 1952. This is the ONLY Party Congress in the history of the USSR whose transcript was never published. There is much more to say about Stalin’s promotion of communism, as well as his failed attempts to make the Soviet Union more democratic, but there is no time or space to discuss these important issues now.
Within a year or so of becoming General Secretary of the CPSU Mikhail Gorbachev began a campaign of lies and slander about Stalin, and about Soviet history generally, that made even Khrushchev’s 1962-64 campaign look mild! Once again, hundreds of books and thousands of articles were written, attacking Stalin and the Stalin-era USSR as the site of monstrous crimes with Stalin as the chief criminal.
Once again, there was no evidence, only repetition of Khrushchev-era lies and the invention of even more lies. This anti-Stalin, anticommunist attack helped to prepare the way ideologically for the return to predatory capitalism. And to the dismantling of the Soviet Union. Because, once you have abandoned proletarian internationalism, who needs a multi-national, multi-ethnic state like the USSR?
Khrushchev-era and Gorbachev-era lies about Stalin and the Stalin-era USSR remain the main source of anticommunist propaganda the world over. These lies are very useful for capitalists and anticommunists to slander the idea of communism. So useful, that it is impossible for any historian to hold a job as a professor of Soviet history unless they accept Khrushchev-era, Gorbachev-era, and post-Gorbachev anticommunist lies, as the truth.
For example, it is forbidden to recognize that “Khrushchev lied” in the “Secret Speech,” although scholars of Soviet history know very well that Khrushchev did lie. But to admit that, and then to go on to admit that Khrushchev’s people all lied, and that Gorbachev and his people also lied, would be to dismantle, to tear down, to reject all the anticommunist historiography of at least 3 generations of “scholars.” And that is forbidden. These lies have been, and continue to be, far too useful to the anticommunists and capitalists to abandon them just because they are false!
Trotsky lied too, of course. Few people paid any attention to him until Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech.” Then Trotsky seemed like a “prophet”, like “the only true communist,” as he and his followers had always claimed. Only after Khrushchev’s speech was Trotskyism reborn. Trotskyism can only continue to exist by promoting anti-Stalin and anticommunist lies! So today Trotskyists push all the anti-Stalin lies – those of Trotsky, of Khrushchev, of the Khrushchev-era writers, of the Western anticommunists like Conquest, Robert Tucker, and so many others, of Gorbachev and the Gorby-era writers, and of the post-Gorby post-Soviet anticommunist liars like Oleg Khlevniuk, Jörg Baberowski, Nicolas Werth, Andrea Graziosi, and Timothy Snyder, to name a few that are well-known in Europe.
Trotskyism has some credibility among persons who look towards Marxism and communism for liberation from capitalism but who have deeply imbibed the anti-Stalin lies that have been promoted everywhere since 1956. So Trotskyism is an important force. But Trotskyism is based solely upon falsehoods. And Trotskyism is a true “cult.” No criticism of the “great leader” is permitted.
I have written about Khrushchev’s lies (Khrushchev Lied), about Trotsky’s lies (Trotsky’s ‘Amalgams’), about the lies of anticommunists like Timothy Snyder (Blood Lies), about the lies of Western anticommunists like, for example, Stephen Cohen (article on my web page). In early 2019 I will publish a book on the lies in Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin. Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, a prize-winning book of 1140+ pages published in October, 2017. Kotkin, a professor at Princeton University and fellow of the Hoover Institution, has spent his entire professional life studying the Stalin-era Soviet Union. And everything he says about Stalin and the events of the 1930s in the USSR is demonstrably, provably, false!
One obvious conclusion is that no anticommunist, from Trotsky to Khrushchev to the more learned, most recent anticommunist “experts,” can identify a single genuine crime that Stalin committed. There weren’t any! We can say that with confidence because, if there were any such crimes, these devoted anticommunist scholars certainly would have uncovered them and shouted them to the world. But they haven’t found any real crimes! So they have to lie, fabricate, falsify..
Late in 2019 I will publish my third book on Trotsky and his lies. I will also have more evidence about Trotsky’s collaboration with the Nazis and the Japanese fascists. This will provide more evidence to add to the evidence in my 2017 book Leon Trotsky’s Collaboration with Germany and Japan.
IDC: One of the frequent arguments used against Stalin is that he “formed an alliance with Hitler’s Germany”, referring to the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact signed on August 23, 1939. This claim consists one of the pillars of the reactionary theory of the “two extremes” which tries to equate communism with Nazism and fascism. What is the historical truth behind the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact?
G.FURR: I discuss all this in detail, with all documentation, in Chapters 7 and 8 of my book Blood Lies. I also discuss it in considerable detail in my online article “Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland in September 1939? NO!” which is available at https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/research/mlg09/did_ussr_invade_poland.html
The USSR tried to form an alliance – a mutual defense treaty against Nazi Germany – with Great Britain, France, and Poland. Negotiations came to a head in August, 1939, when British and French representatives went to Moscow for talks. But the British and French representatives had no authority to sign any agreement. The Polish government refused to even consider permitting Soviet forces on Polish soil – the only way the Red Army could have attacked Germany.
So it was clear to the Soviets that Great Britain and France did not really want a treaty of collective security that would bind them all to attack Nazi Germany if Germany attacked any of them (Poland being the most obvious German target). Britain and France were using the talks to put pressure on Germany, with which they really wanted some agreement. This was consistent with their diplomacy during the previous several years, especially the Munich Agreement, in which Britain and France gave part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler without even asking the Czech government.
The British and French wanted to encourage Hitler to attack the USSR. But that meant allowing Germany to defeat Poland, since Germany had no border with the USSR. And that is in fact what Great Britain and France did. They signed a mutual defense treaty with Poland, but refused to attack Germany even when Poland was being soundly defeated in the first few days after the German invasion.
When the Polish state collapsed the Red Army occupied Eastern Poland. But “eastern Poland” had been part of Soviet Russia – the western halves of Belorussia and Ukraine — until the imperialist Polish government took it by force in the Russo-Polish War of 1919-1921. Poles were never a majority of the population. Even the reactionary post-Soviet Polish regime does not claim these lands today.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not an “alliance.” It was a non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany. It contained a secret clause in which Hitler recognized a Soviet sphere of influence in the Eastern part of Poland, the Baltic states, and Finland. This kept the German army hundreds of kilometers away from the Soviet frontier. When Hitler did invade the USSR, this extra distance that the German army had to travel saved Moscow and Leningrad from being captured and destroyed.
IDC: It is known that you have extensively researched the case of the “Katyn massacre” which according to bourgeois historiography was a crime committed by the Soviet Union. In an official statement issued in April 1990, Gorbachev’s administration expressed “profound regret over the Katyn tragedy,” calling it “one of the gravest crimes of Stalinism”. A number of Russian declassified “state documents” have been presented as evidence of Stalin’s supposed guilt over the Katyn mass murders. Summarizing your research findings, who is the real culprit of the Katyn massacre and what are the key points of the whole story?
G.FURR: The Germans killed the Poles. The evidence simply will not permit any other conclusion.
In late 1991 Gorbachev handed over to Yeltsin the documents you mention, from what is called “Closed Packet No. 1.” These documents, if genuine, would prove Soviet guilt in the Katyn massacre. But in 2010 Viktor Iliukhin, a Duma (= Russian parliament) member from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, presented to the public strong evidence that the “Closed Packet No. 1” documents were forgeries.
In 2012 a report by a Polish archeologist, summarizing the results of a joint Polish-Ukrainian excavation at a mass murder site in Volodymyr-Volyns’kiy, Ukraine, stated that the badge of a Polish policeman had been found in the mass grave. This policeman is one of those Poles said to have been killed by the Soviets in the spring of 1940 and buried near Tver’ (formerly Kalinin), hundreds of kilometers away. The year before this report was issued the badge of another Polish policeman, also supposedly killed by the Soviets at Tver’ in the spring of 1940, had also been discovered in the same mass grave. The Polish and Ukrainian media discussed this, though that discovery was kept out of the Polish archeologist’s report. The Polish report also stated that the victims in this mass grave had unquestionably been killed by the Germans in 1941.
But the Ukrainian archeologist’s report did not mention either the badges of the supposed Katyn victims that had been found, or the evidence that the persons shot there had been killed by the Germans, not the Soviets. One Ukrainian archeologist even said that it was a mistake for the Polish archeologist to mention these things, since doing so could “cast doubt” on the Katyn massacre.
In 2013 I wrote and published an article about these discoveries. By themselves they cast the strongest doubt on Soviet guilt at Katyn. But I knew that I would have to do more. Between 2015 and 2018 I did a full-scale research project on Katyn. I decided to approach Katyn as a mystery – without any preconceived idea about which side, the Germans or the Soviets, is guilty. In my book The Mystery of the Katyn Massacre: The Evidence, The Solution, published in July, 2018, I identify and study all the evidence that cannot possibly have been faked. The result is as unmistakable as it is surprising. ALL of the evidence that is of unquestionable validity – the evidence that cannot possibly have been faked — points to German guilt. NONE of it points to Soviet guilt.
Naturally, this conclusion is “unacceptable,” “taboo.” I have already received a good deal of harassment from Polish nationalists, as well as from academic experts in the field of Soviet history. It is simply unacceptable to conclude that the Soviets were not guilty – and to hell with the evidence!
The Katyn Massacre is the best documented “crime of Stalin.” And it is a lie!
IDC: The “Moscow trials” are regarded by bourgeois historians as frame-ups of innocent defendants and that Stalin had fabricated the charges. What is the truth? Were the defendants (Trotskyites, Zinovievites, “Bloc of Rights,” etc.) actually innocent?
G.FURR: There has never been any evidence that the Moscow Trials, plus the Tukhachevsky Affair trial of June, 1937, were “frame-ups,” the defendants tortured, threatened, etc., to make false confessions.
In the first 12 chapters of my book Trotsky’s ‘Amalgams’ (2015). I check – verify, to prove or disprove – as many of the statements made by the defendants at the Moscow trials as I could. Earlier in 2018 I published an updated version of this research as a separate book, The Moscow Trials As Evidence. We have overwhelming evidence that the defendants in the Moscow Trials were indeed guilty of at least those crimes to which they confessed. In fact, in some cases – e.g. that of Nikolai Bukharin – we now know that the defendants were guilty of crimes to which they never confessed.
We also have a lot of evidence now that confirms that Leon Trotsky was indeed collaborating with Nazi Germany and fascist Japan, as accused in the Moscow Trials.
IDC: The late Italian Marxist Domenico Losurdo wrote that “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”. Do you agree with this statement and if so, why these two points are significant in shaping the world’s view on Stalin?
G.FURR: I agree with Professor Losurdo, whose death is a great loss for those of us who search for the truth about world history and the history of the communist movement of the 20th century.
Looking back on it, the Cold War was inevitable. However, it did not seem inevitable to many in the communist movement. Once it began, all the anti-Stalin, anticommunist propaganda got under way very quickly.
IDC: How would you evaluate Joseph Stalin’s overall contribution to the construction of Socialism in the Soviet Union?
G.FURR: Under Stalin’s leadership the Soviet Union built a socialist society. Fascism was defeated. The international communist movement spread the ideas of Marxism-Leninism and of communism all over the world. Imperialism was dealt a death blow, often under the leadership of communist parties, always with their dedicated help.
But Soviet socialism did not evolved steadily in the direction of communism, even though that is precisely what Stalin wanted and what he believed would happen. Instead, at the time of his death on March 5, 1953, Stalin was politically isolated in the leadership of the CPSU.
The march towards communism was abandoned. Khrushchev replaced the idea that violent revolution was needed to get rid of capitalism, with the false notion of “victory in peaceful competition with capitalism.” Elections, rather than revolution, were to bring communist victories. This meant turning away from the working class as the essential leading force of history, for there were never enough workers to win elections, though the working class was, and still is, able to shut down capitalist production and, if organized by a revolutionary party, make a revolution, overthrow capitalism, and seize state power.
Under Stalin’s leadership the Soviet Union brought Lenin’s concept of socialism into being. That means that Lenin’s, and Stalin’s, concept of socialism has fatal flaws.
My research strongly suggests that the Lenin-Stalin concept of socialism retained far too much of the concept of socialism that was developed by the Second International before World War I. That concept of socialism was a confused one. On the one hand, “socialism” meant capitalism with a strong working-class movement, based in trade unions, politically powerful enough to force capitalist governments to grant very significant reforms to make the lives of workers more bearable: higher wages and the whole range of social welfare benefits.
On the other hand, “socialism” came to mean a fully industrialized society in which capitalism had been overthrown and political power was held by the working class through the mediation of a communist party. Private property in the means of production would be abolished. A mechanism – the Councils (in Russian, soviety) would run the society in the interest of the working class. Workers and peasants, not the capitalists, would be privileged. This is the Leninist idea of socialism.
But in this concept of socialism, the relations of production remained very similar to what they had been under capitalism. Money – income – still determined the distribution of goods and services. It was not possible to amass private wealth, and workers and peasants still enjoyed vastly more social welfare benefits than in any capitalist state.
However, capitalist relations of production, the continued differential between city and country, manual and mental labor, and men and women, persisted. These forces proved more powerful than the political will to push towards more and more egalitarianism, towards the realization of a communist society.
The history of the Soviet Union during Stalin’s time is a vast storehouse of lessons, a “book” that we can and must study, in order to learn the lessons, both positive and – in the end – negative, of the world communist movement of the 20th century.
We must learn to imitate what the Soviets and, under their leadership, the Comintern forces did that was correct, heroic, pointing towards a communist future. And we must learn to distinguish what they did that was mistaken, incorrect, that gradually turned the Soviet Union and the world communist movement away from the development towards communism and back towards predatory capitalism.
Thanks to the world-shaking efforts of the communists of the 20th century, especially during the period of Stalin’s leadership, we have this magnificent legacy to study. We can be “dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants,” able to see farther than they did, thanks to their experience, though we are very far from being their equal in dedication and efforts towards that better communist future of equality and liberty to which all humankind is striving.