Ukraine marks the memory of its famine, caused by Stalin, which killed between five and ten million Ukrainians.
- Yahoo News story on the commemoration
- Wikipedia entry on the Holodomor
- BBC News -- Ukraine demands the genocide be marked
- Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow, estimate on death toll of Stalin's forced Ukrainian famine
And we must never forget that Joseph McCarthy was a far, far worse threat to liberty than the USSR. On the pro-genocide left: Glenn Garvin, "Fools for Communism," Reason
Miami University’s Robert W. Thurston, in his 1996 book Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, rejects the overwhelming evidence that Stalin’s purges took the lives of millions. He concedes only 681,692 executions in the years 1937 and 1938, and a mere 2.5 million arrests. Even using those low-ball figures, that means that nearly one of every 20 adult Soviet males went to prison and that more than 900 of them were executed per day. Nonetheless, Thurston says Stalin has gotten a bad rap: There was no "mass terror...extensive fear did not exist...[and] Stalin was not guilty of mass first-degree murder."
Theodore Von Laue, a professor emeritus of history at Clark University, goes further in a 1999 essay in The Historian. He says it’s the damnable Russian peasantry that ought to be begging poor Stalin for forgiveness: "He supervised the near-chaotic transformation of peasant Eurasia into an urban, industrialized superpower under unprecedented adversities. Though his achievements were at the cost of exorbitant sacrifice of human beings and natural resources, they were on a scale commensurate with the cruelty of two world wars. With the heroic help of his uncomprehending people, Stalin provided his country, still highly vulnerable, with a territorial security absent in all history." And Stalin was no mere poet, Von Laue adds, but a damn fine technocrat too: "The sophisticated design of Soviet totalitarianism has perhaps not been sufficiently appreciated."
Columbia’s Eric Foner, a past president of both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians, staking his bid as founder of what might be called the Smiley-Face School of History, denounces "the obsessive need to fill in the blank pages in the history of the Soviet era." He wasn’t talking about pesky American historians using the Freedom of Information Act to ferret out new horror stories about J. Edgar Hoover but about a Moscow exhibition on the Soviet gulag. What possible good could come of learning the details of that?
Foner, Von Laue, and Thurston are not lone nuts, the academic equivalents of Mark Lane and Ramsey Clark, but important revisionist historians. The revisionists, mostly baby boomer survivors of the New Left, have been conducting their own Cold War with traditionalist historians for nearly four decades. Unlike in the rest of the world, in academia their side was victorious. Since the 1970s, it’s been an article of faith in historical journals and university presses that the United States rather than the Soviet Union posed the greatest threat to world peace and political freedom.
And finally, in 1995, the U.S. government released thousands of KGB cables intercepted and decoded in the 1940s in a top-secret operation known as Venona. In all, some 2 million pages of new documents became available, a historical payload of unfathomable proportions and inestimable impact.
The new picture of American Communists that emerged looked nothing like the one painted by the revisionists. The CPUSA was founded in Moscow, funded from Moscow (as late as 1988 Gus Hall was signing receipts for $3 million a year), and directed by Moscow; the Comintern reviewed everything from the party’s printing bills to its public explanations of the nuances of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and the slightest misstep could bring scorching rebukes.
Worse yet, it really was a nest of spies: Hundreds of CPUSA members had infiltrated the American government and were passing information to the KGB. They honeycombed the State Department and the Office of Strategic Services. Virtually all of the revisionists’ martyrs really were spilling secrets to the Kremlin, including Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and a pair of Roosevelt aides, Harry Dexter White and Laurence Duggan, who died (White of a heart attack, Duggan of a jump or fall from a window) after being questioned by HUAC. The CPUSA would do literally anything for Moscow, even kill: Party members were intimately involved in assassination plots against the heretic Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, and later they would assist in unsuccessful KGB plots to break his murderer out of jail. More than 350 spies, nearly all CPUSA members, are identified in the Venona cable traffic alone. One KGB cable gave Earl Browder, the party chief from 1930 to 1945, credit for personal recruitment of 18 spies. Another wondered how the KGB would ever operate in the United States without the help of the CPUSA.
For conceding their mistake, Klehr and Haynes have undergone the intellectual equivalent of a Stalinist show trial by their fellow historians. A constant stream of articles in academic journals and lefty magazines -- even an entire conference sponsored by New York University’s International Center for Advanced Studies -- has pilloried them for everything from "triumphalism" (that is, they’re glad Stalin didn’t win the Cold War; can you imagine a historian of World War II being drummed out of the profession for expressing gratitude that Hitler didn’t win?) to accepting funding from conservative foundations (which, unlike the tens of millions of dollars the CPUSA took from the Kremlin, might come with secret strings attached) to starting the Vietnam War, destroying affirmative action, and dismantling the welfare state.
That bit about Vietnam came from a piece co-authored by Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University, who in a movement rich with unintentional self-parody nonetheless towers above the rest. We might even call her the Lucille Ball of anti-anti-communism, though, to be sure, she would never be so gauche as to associate with a pre-revolutionary Cuban like Ricky Ricardo. A prodigious apologist, Schrecker in one article conceded that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg delivered atomic secrets to the Soviets, then plaintively demanded: "Were these activities so awful?" She also coined the immortal phrase "non-traditional patriots" for the Rosenbergs, a felicitous way of saying that they lived in the United States but were loyal unto death to the Soviet Union.
Her accusation that Haynes and Klehr were a fascist Leviathan with their tentacles writhing in every right-wing plot of the past four decades appeared in The Nation, which, because it has 70 years of Stalinist apologias to justify, unsurprisingly offers some of the most die-hard resistance to the new Cold War scholarship. It also has contributed some hilarity to the debate, including then-editor Victor Navasky’s argument that the word espionage was "out of context" when applied to American Communists during the Cold War. It would be more appropriate, he wrote, to say that "there were a lot of exchanges of information among people of good will."
American University historian Anna Kasten Nelson’s argument that Venona isn’t important because there are all kinds of good reasons a perfectly innocent person might be secretly passing microfilm to a KGB agent. (No, she doesn’t list any of them.) "It is time to move on," she wrote recently, instead of "rehashing old debates" (because, you know, historians get bored with old stuff).
Assessing Conquest, etc.:
- Eric Alterman in The Nation does his best to find nuance in re: gulags [I'm just wondering whether he would also demand nuance in studies of the Nazi era]
- Jay Nordlinger in National Review profiles Conquest
- Putin: USSR collapse was 'geopolitical catastrophe'
When tolerance becomes a pretext for condoning “governments largely or totally opposed to their own citizens’ liberty”, we devalue the pragmatically tested convictions that are shields against extremism and we narrow the avenues of escape for those trapped in such hellholes.
Here Conquest speaks with the authority of a scholar who spent decades uncovering the hideous truth about the Soviet Union, setting out compelling, detailed evidence in such masterworks as The Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrows — while being furiously denounced for his pains by Western intellectuals who didn’t want to know. Some were true believers, such as Eric Hobsbawm, others merely “useful idiots” who were, he writes, “deficient in judgment and in curiosity — gaps in the teeth and blinkers on the eyes”.
They were quite often vindictive. He quotes Orwell: “If from time to time you express a mild distaste for slave labour camps or one-candidate elections, you are either insane or actuated by the worst motives.”
The apologists include such establishment figures as C. P. Snow and even John Kenneth Galbraith who, as late as 1985, was writing of the Soviet Union’s “great economic progress” and, viewed no doubt from behind the darkened windows of a Zil limousine, the “solid well- being of the people in the streets”.
Even now, when the opening of the Soviet archives has revealed that matters were even worse than Conquest could prove, one strand of “liberalism” continues inexcusably to treat the Cold War as a battle not between free societies and totalitarian dictatorship, but between “ideologies” that, it is implied or even stated, should be seen as morally equivalent.