Source: Ozleft, February 2, 2005
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
In the 1930s Trotsky described Stalinism as the syphilis of the labour movement, and the weird outbreak on Marxmail of disturbed and almost pathological historical denial about Stalin’s crimes looks like a very advanced case of that unfortunate illness.
What’s amazing to me is that apart from John Lacny, Einde O’Callaghan and Brian Shannon no one much else has taken up the propositions put forward by the strange Stalinists on this list.
Particularly striking is the fact that the discussion proceeds with little reference to the enormous new literature about Stalin’s crimes that is now available, written mainly by serious academics who have dug into the Soviet archives.
There has always been a large memoir literature of people who survived the gulags: horrifying and moving books such as the memoir of the founder of the Palestine Communist Party, Joseph Berger, a survivor of the camps, Shipwreck of a Generation, Alex Weissberg’s memoir, Conspiracy of Silence, and many others.
Historians, both Soviet and international, did a pretty fair job over the past 30 years, people such as Robert Conquest, Antonov Ovsenko, the two Medvedevs, etc.
The primitive Stalinists pour abuse on Conquest’s head, but the fact that he’s a right-winger politically doesn’t invalidate his pioneering work on the great purges, which still stands the test of time. Shoot the messenger if you like, but consider his evidence seriously, which these Stalinists are quite incapable of doing.
It was necessary in the past for opposition communists of all stripes, and honest historians, to assemble the evidence about Stalin’s crimes with great difficulty, although it was possible. I have in my library useful books such as a New Park publication about Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, published in 1967 and Ernest Germain/Mandel’s booklet, 30 Questions on the History of the CPSU(B), which we published laboriously here in Australia in 1963.
In those days, most of the members of the Communist Party rejected the evidence of the Stalin regime’s crimes, but over time the truth permeated just about all of the older generation of Australian communists, except for a few cantankerous diehards.
Since the opening of the Stalinist archives in the early 1990s the amount of definitive evidence of Stalin’s crimes has grown enormously. The primitives who’ve been belting out Stalinist prejudices on Marxmail in the past couple of days must have had their heads buried in the sand.
Two major academic studies of the gulag system have been published in the past two years: the Yale University Press series based on archive material now numbers about 20 books, and Sebag Montefiore’s book on Stalin’s court is a major, well-documented work.
The literature is enormous and impressively illumined from Soviet archival sources. The evidence about the nature of the Stalin regime is definitive.
Cranks who still deny the evidence deserve to be locked up in the same intellectual psychiatric ward as the Hitler holocaust denier David Irving. They’re the same kind of people.
A Russian Australian, Mara Moustafine, has written a major work based on her investigations in the Soviet archives of the fate of her family, who were among the Harbinsty — about 30,000 Russians from Harbin, in China, who were unfortunate enough to return to the Soviet Union in 1936. They were almost all murdered by Stalin’s regime.
The Stalin holocaust denier who referred to the 700,000 or so people murdered in 1937-38 as Trotskyists displays pathological ignorance of well-established and widely available facts. It’s true that almost all the surviving Trotskyists — several thousand of them — were exterminated in the camps at Vorkuta in 1938, but the overwhelming majority of the people killed in 1937-38 were not Trotskyists. The term Trotskyism was just a Stalinist catch-all for any Communist opposition to Stalin’s rule.
I have sitting on my desk a powerful and important book, Stalin’s Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union, edited by Barry McLaughlin and Kevin McDermott, a paperback published by Palgrave McMillan in 2004. The cover reproduces a photo of Nikoli Ezhov and Stalin taken in 1937, overlaid with plan of the Butovo execution grounds of the Soviet secret police, where more than 20,000 people were shot in front of open pits in 1937-38. This extraordinary collection of essays contains serious studies of various aspects of the Stalinist repression.
Mass campaigns were conducted by the Stalinist secret police for the murder and repression of about 12 categories of people, including Germans, Poles, Greeks, Afghans, Koreans, Chinese, Finns, Latvians, Estonians and even handicapped people. In 1938, 37 members of a deaf-mute society in Moscow were murdered. Almost all Russian Communists and socialists who had returned to the Soviet Union to help build the Soviet state were murdered in 1937-38. Even the majority of members of Esperanto clubs in the USSR were murdered or imprisoned in the gulag, including one of the children of the inventor of Esperanto.
Of the 4000-odd German-speaking Communists in the USSR, 70 per cent were arrested and 90 per cent of those were killed; 128,000 Poles were arrested, including tens of thousands of Polish Communists, and 110,000 of the Poles were murdered.
The overwhelming majority of Finnish, Latvian, Rumanian, Bulgarian and Estonian Communist exiles in the USSR were arrested and most of them were murdered by the regime. Ten of the 14 commissars of the Hungarian soviet republic, in exile in the USSR, were killed.
The officer corps of the Red Army was decimated, with the obvious result that the Soviet army suffered serious defeats in the early stages of World War II.
Of the Communist Party central committee members elected at the 1934 Stalinist so-called Congress of Victors most had been murdered by 1939, as had most of the delegates to the congress.
Anyone who thinks that the Stalinist repression in any way assisted the Soviet Union and the Communist movement is at best willfully ignorant. They also display a frightening lack of anything resembling common humanity, which in my view is an essential requirement for a useful contribution to the socialist project.
Anyone who could read any of the representative books of memoirs of the gulag survivors, or the sombre material now available from the archives, without some degree of disturbance, has to be lacking in human sympathy.
I lived through the 1950s and the 1960s, during which time many old Communists in Australia became acquainted with the real history of Stalin’s crimes, and the emotional response of many of them was palpable. A representative example is the prominent Communist writer Frank Hardy’s essay, The Heirs of Stalin.
In due course I will assemble a bibliography of all this important material and post it on Marxmail. The issue in these historical matters is not simply Trotsky versus Stalin, it’s the real history of the 20th century versus Stalin holocaust revisionism.