- Category: History
- Created on Friday, 05 November 2010 09:26
- Written by Mike Ely
"We don't have many successful proletarian socialist revolutions -- and the experience of each one is precious. And the Soviet Revolution was the very first of its kind, and particular rich...
"I personally think that we need a "nodal view" of the development: the restoration of capitalism happened (imho) around the mid-fifties (culminating in the Kosygin Reforms of 1963), but i think something also went 'terribly wrong' politically after the death of Kirov in 1934 that helped kill the revolutionary spirit and enthusiasm of the people (including a conservative wind, an air of real political repression, a rise of nationalism etc.) There are other nodal points, of course, but we need to situate the major ones -- and excavate their causes and outlines."
by Mike Ely
The debate we had here on Kasama over Grover Furr's fictional and deceptive apologia for purges and executions of the Stalin era has continued to sputter on the popular RevLeft bulletin board. I posted a quick summary statement there, to interject some thoughts. Here it is:
* * * * * * * *
1) I think it is very important to craft a serious and truthful account of the Soviet revolution -- its amazing eruption in October 1917, its huge challenges, its path-breaking experimentalism, its accomplishments, and its negative lessons.
We don't have many successful proletarian socialist revolutions -- and the experience of each one is precious. And the Soviet Revolution was the very first of its kind, and particular rich.
2) Furthermore, people of the world expect communists to have a sophisticated analysis of these events -- including what we would do differently and better. Clearly the major revolutions of the last century has both breathtaking accomplishments and also problems that eventually led to their reversal. And so there is a lot to say on BOTH accounts.
3) In my personal opinion, this involves a significant analysis (and largely an upholding) of the Stalin years. This complex period produced the world's first planned economy, the first attempt at socialized agriculture, the first creation of a world wide communist international and (importantly) the remarkable defeat of Hitler fascism (which was largely carried out by soviet arms). And so, while anti-communists of many kinds choose to negate the Stalin years (and Stalin) totally -- we have a different task and approach.
4) At the same time, this was a primitive first attempt, and many things "went wrong" -- including pretty early in the process. Some of the problems were the result of huge objective problems (encirclement, the devastation of world war and civil war, the political legacies of Tsarism, the threat of fascist invasions, the relative alienation of the peasantry etc.) and some of the problems were the result of choices made by the Communist Party and its leadership.
there is a lot to sum up. It is complex. And people expect of us a nuanced, and truthful accounting. I personally think that we need a "nodal view" of the development: the restoration of capitalism happened (imho) around the mid-fifties (culminating in the Kosigin Reforms of 1963), but i think something went "terribly wrong" politically after the death of Kirov in 1934 that helped kill the revolutionary spirit and enthusiasm of the people (a conservative wind, an air of real political repression, a rise of nationalism etc.) There are other nodal points, of course, but we need to situate the major ones -- and excavate their causes and outlines.
5) One of the starkest features of the Soviet society was that advanced socialist things coexisted in a strange way with very retrograde and oppressive things. In the making of Magnetogorsk there were cohorts of advanced and militant communist volunteers straining to carve out a new city, and working along side them were battalions of political prisoners (often educated people like engineers and peasants) who were essentially forced labor. What a strange mix, and what a mixed legacy. New political power for many, extreme deprivation for many others. It was a society that seemed to be frozen in civil war -- and that is something we need to unravel and explain.
6) My point about Grover Furr is a simple one: Socialism (and Stalin) need far better defenders than Grover Furr.
His claims and arguments are cartoonish and factually false. For example, he tries to argue Stalin was a secret democrat on a great mission to democratize the Soviet state. He claims to have evidence to prove "there's no doubt that Trotsky conspired with the Germans and Japanese as alleged."
In other words, he claims to prove things that are unprovable because they are untrue.
Form without Content
And he does this by wrapping misconceived set of verdicts in the appearance of scholarly research and documentation. Because of this pseudo-scholarly appearance, it is sometimes convincing for two audiences: newbies who don't have much background, and cynical dogmatists who don't much care about the facts.
But the fact is the Grover's research is pretty raw bullshit -- and it would be a complete embarrassment for our movement (and for socialism) if we were associated with it. Anyone with any knowledge of the *actual* facts and events can see (relatively quickly) that his arguments are bullshit and designed to cover up the actual (and complex) events.
7) His methods are very similar to creationism -- he starts with a quasi-religious "belief" (i.e. that we must uphold the official Soviet version of events, or else we have capitulated to anticommunism) -- and then he cherrypicks facts and arguments to paste together a pseudo-"proof" of his thesis.
In fact capitalist roaders emerge within the very fabric of socialist society -- they are not mainly "agents" of foreign powers sent into a society free of antagonism from without. There were massive breakdowns in Soviet economics (shortages, railroad problems of huge proportions, food transport problems, difficulties getting spare parts etc.) -- but they were not mainly the result of secret networks of Nazi-paid saboteurs directed by master cells of evil Trotskyist conspirators within the party.
It is simply fantasy, and there are no facts (zero zero evidence) that justify the thesis of one vast conspiracy. It is nutbag land -- it was paranoid fantasy when the Soviet government made these claims, and it is even more bizarre to try to "prove" this seventy years later when we have so much evidence of what REALLY went down.
8) In his own defense Grover puts forward a simple bully's theory: If you don't accept his arguments, you must be an anti-communist (or a dupe of anticommunists). Well, that is a self-serving argument which is also not true.
In fact, the main opponents of anticommunism in the world of Soviet studies (Arch Getty, Sheila Fitzpatrick etc.) are not proponents of Grover's theories -- they can't be, because Grover's theories have no basis in reality.
So as communists, and as materialist, we need to develop an actual, serious theory of the contradictions of Soviet society, where restoration came from, and what explains the rather extreme purges of 1936-38 (and beyond).
9) The repressions of the late thirties were no small matter. There were executions in the hundreds of thousands, and most of them were on false charges. IN quite a number of cases, people were arrested and killed for (a) having made anti-government statements, (b) having been at one time or another in an oppositional movement, (c) having been denounced by someone for being an oppositionalist.
I think we need to decide (once and for all): Do we think that mass arrests and executions on flimsy evidence is defensible for socialists or not? Do we think that people deserve prison and execution for merely having oppositional views (oppositional views inside the communist party, or oppositional views outside the party.)
I think that we should be clear in our believe that socialism will not succeed if there is not a climate of lively and open debate -- which *requires* people knowing, clearly, that their statements in that political debate will not be criminalized. And so we have to be clear on this.
It won't do to deny that there were mass executions in the Soviet society -- the evidence is irrefutable. It won't do to pretend that those executed were probably guilty of treason and nazi-sympathies (this theory is nonsense and contradicted by all the evidence). And it will not do to UPHOLD the method of such mass executions -- no one on the planet wants to support a movement that (morally and politically) thinks it is ok to kill hundreds of thousands of people on flimsy evidence.
Mao opposed it, and never did anything like this in China. The Maoists explained that counterrevolution was not MAINLY some external foreign conspiracy, but emerged from the complex choices and problems of socialism itself. We should uphold this more advanced understanding -- and on that COMMUNIST BASIS (!) criticize the weaknesses and mistakes of the soviet experience.
10) There is some (limited) value in this debate over Grover Furr: We (as a movement) need to be sophisticated enough to expose bullshit (even if it comes wrapped on communist language). We need to be wary of arguments EVEN if they SEEM to confirm beliefs that we wish were true.
Grover's work is a lot like creationism or holocaust denial -- it is a logically consistent pseudo-scientific argument that is based on non-facts, and that employs well-known deceptive techniques to avoid the real questions and misdirect naive people.
So if you are serious about wanting to be a communist, if you want to learn how to do materialist analysis of history and socialism IN WAYS THAT CAN CONVINCE OTHER SERIOUS PEOPLE, then it is worth studying Grover's flawed and deceptive work as a negative example, and a good example of what to avoid.
If we embrace his methods, if we try to promote his silly and ridiculous historical claims, we will suffer the same fate that he suffers -- people will laugh at us, consider us pathetic and deluded.
And we have a better story to tell, a REAL and serious defense of socialism, based on real facts and analysis. We need to delve into the difficult experiences honestly, and face the actual historical record, and then go out broadly with a credible explanation of communist history and communist dreams.
We need to be militant, serious, materialist, scientific communists. Not intellectual bullies and bullshit artists.
Yours in the great adventure of communist revolution, Mike Ely