Chapter 16 – Part 2 The propaganda war: Preserving “the natural order of things”
by Peter Cohen
Joseph Stalin – the incarnation of evil
In the mainstreamWestern version of history, Joseph Stalin is the supreme representative of Communism, the evil movement that threatens the “natural order of things”. He is the incarnation – even after his death – of the inherent evil of this movement. It follows that every aspect of his life, official as well as private, must be vilified down to the smallest detail. Crafty, conspiratorial Stalin bad, Communism bad. Grudging admission of his intelligence and abilities is normally permitted only in the light of his assigned role as the source of mistakes and catastrophes in peace and war.
By implication, the Bolsheviks as individuals and the party leadership as a group are equally reprehensible, although they were always subordinate to the unlimited power of the master whom they feared. In the eyes of most Western experts, Stalin’s power was absolute and uncontested.
As a rule, normal standards of objectivity and coherence are abandoned in Western discussions of Stalin and the government that he headed, and of the Soviet Union in general. The material interests of the capitalists who have led the assault on Communism are usually ignored. In general the historical context of conflicts within the Soviet Union is misrepresented and distorted by academics and journalists alike, when they are not lying outright. The condition of the working class in the Soviet Union is rarely worthy of discussion.
But the continuous effort to malign Stalin and the Bolsheviks often leads Western authors to descend to levels of inanity and misrepresentation that would quickly be condemned in any other field of historical investigation. In studies of Stalin and the Soviet Union, no holds are barred, as shown below in typical examples.
Getty and Naumov’s The Road to Terror is part of the Annals of Communism series published by the Yale University Press. It contains almost 200 documents and comprehensive commentaries.
The general argument is that Bolshevism was a sort of priesthood and the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party were quasi-religious fanatics who lived in fear of the people. They indulged in paranoid fantasies about internal enemies and conspiracies, virtually none of which existed in fact. They could not distinguish “real dangers from trifles”. The majority of agricultural and industrial workers did not support the government. In 1932 “the country was in chaos” and by 1933 the leaders of the Soviet Union had lost control of it.
According to Getty and Naumov, throughout the 1930s the members of the Bolshevik party were the objects of a campaign of terror aimed at their destruction. However, in March 1939 about 5,000 members who had joined before the Revolution were still members oft he party, and another 125,000 who had joined during he War of Intervention were still at work. Together these people comprised about 8.3% of the membership of the Communist Party, which had grown considerably. But they accounted for 20% of the delegates to the 18th Party Congress (1939) and for 73% of the Central Committee which the Congress elected. This was after the so-called Great Purge had ended. (See Thurston)
Getty and Naumov claim that paranoia and loss of control over the country obliged the Bolsheviks to launch a campaign of terror in order to maintain their positions, although there was not “some sort of grand plan for terror… The campaign was not directed by the Party leadership. It was “centrally authorized chaos… the negation of politics”. I do not understand this term.
To some extent this nebulous formulation coincides with the conclusions drawn by Robert W. Thurston in his Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia 1934-1941.
But Getty and Naumov are more specific in another passage: “At every step of the way, there were constituencies both within and outside the elite that supported repression of various groups, sometimes with greater vehemence than Stalin did. The terror was a series of group efforts (though the groups changed frequently) rather than a matter of one man intimidating everyone else. This finding by no means takes Stalin off the hook or lessens his guilt. But it does mean that the picture is more complex”.
According to Gabor Rittersporn in Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953 (1991),
If we look at the specific context of the acts of repression it becomes apparent that police violence, rather than proceeding from the realization of the single will and design of an omnipotent center of power by its invincible armed forces, was in fact increasingly chaotic and out-of-control. This violence resulted rather from the lack of any such center and institution…
The planning and execution of police repression during the “Great Purge’ have traditionally been attributed to Stalin’s vengeful tyranny. This view does not stand up to examination of the sources… Everything points to the conclusion that, far from illuminating the causes and effects of the epoch’s historical events, the tendency to attribute all things to Stalin’s vengeful intentions is likely to obscure the real problems of the period… (emphasis added).
The authors argue that understanding the cause of the terror “or that part of it sponsored from above”, requires examination of “the leadership’s construction (sic!) of reality and their place in it”.
They then cite Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York 1973): “…a religion is: (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
Getty and Naumov: “Although Geertz believed that religion differs from ideology insofar as it appeals to transcendent or cosmic authority, one could argue that the Stalinists’ adherence to a form of Marxism-Leninism and their belief that they were agents of historical forces come very close to fulfilling such a definition of religion”.
One could also argue that the adherence of Western governments, bankers, university professors, so-called philosophers, and media people to the capitalist system not only comes close to fulfilling such a definition of religion but matches it exactly. Particularly in terms of “clothing… conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic”, as the champions of profit maximization march to glory under the banners of freedom, democracy and human rights, murdering millions as they go.
Equating Marxism-Leninism even partially with religion reveals serious shortcomings in comprehension. The text on dialectical materialism above is a slightly edited excerpt from an article on the subject written by Joseph Stalin for the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Short Course),published in 1938. If the “conceptions” it contains are of dubious “factuality”, an enlightened intellect should be able to demonstrate their falsity.
The simplest way to proceed would involve proving the opposite case, but this would not be easy, as it would require demonstrating that:
- Things, phenomena and processes can be understood in isolation from other things, phenomena and processes.
- Nature is not in a state of continuous motion and change. It is in stasis.
- Development does not involve a continuous process of quantitative changes which lead to qualitative changes.
- Internal contradictions are not inherent in things, phenomena or processes, which are perfectly uniform and have no negative or positive aspects.
- The world is not material by its nature, but is the embodiment of an “absolute idea,” a “universal spirit,” or “consciousness”.
- Only our consciousness really exists, and the external world exists only in our consciousness, in our sensations, ideas and perceptions.
- There is no material world outside and independent of our consciousness.
- Acquiring knowledge about the world is impossible, and there is no such thing as objective truth.
- Our so-called knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is not authentic knowledge and does not have the validity of objective truth.
In other words, it would have to be shown that the fundamental principles of modern science are untenable.
Getty and Naumov also devote space to the question of the language used in official and unofficial texts during the 1930s. They are surprised to discover that the leadership “said the same things behind closed doors that they said to the public”. This practice obviously distinguishes the Bolsheviks from Western governments. The language used in and outside the Kremlin reflected the world as viewed through a “Bolshevik prism”, so that “persons and events were seen as manifestations of class forces” (emphasis added).
The enlightened intellect immediately grasps the absurdity of such a view, as there are no social classes. Society is a heterogeneous mix of individuals who buzz about at random, expressing ideas, hopes and expectations that enter their heads in the form of a gas which is generated by the spirit of the age, perhaps in the form of influential novels, memoirs and movies.
Events occur at random and have nothing to do with so-called classes, e.g. it is known that wars are started accidentally to everyone’s dismay and regret. A government announcement that taxes for the rich will be reduced and outlays for public health and education will be cut should not be interpreted as reflecting a class interest, as it is merely a question of policy aimed at enhancing the well-being of all citizens.
Getty and Naumov refer to Stephen Kotkin (Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization, 1995) who has determined that “speaking Bolshevik” – which apparently means referring to classes and class conflict – was part of the Soviet system.
Kotkin and the authors seem to be unaware that the Western world is dominated by a pervasive and largely uniform “speak” that is employed by governments, corporations and media. An examination of the Thatcher government’s utterances or a six-month study of the dominant public discourse in any capitalist country will reveal all the keywords, from “freedom of choice” and “individualism” to “customer satisfaction”, “environmental commitment” and “sustainable development”, which are codes for continued ruthless exploitation of markets and natural resources.
In addition, anyone who has had contact with a group of people who work closely together for a common aim over an extended period knows that they develop a common set of terms and a common manner of speaking and writing. Examples of such groups include corporate management, governments, governmental agencies and baseball teams.
The pernicious effect of Bolshevik language was demonstrated in meetings of the Soviet Central Committee, which were “secret, closed-door ceremonies with formalized and repetitious speech at a special time and place, in a setting that any anthropologist would recognize as a ritual”. If it were not for the title of Getty and Naumov’s book, I would have thought that they were referring to a meeting of the Board of Directors in a major corporation, or to a cabinet meeting of one of the Western governments. Participants in the Central Committee meetings were probably given a prepared agenda, which the authors presumably believe to be a procedure that was unique to “Stalinism”.
Getty and Naumov’s comments are typical of the mainstream version in that they lack a class perspective and omit the overall historical context, but in many ways they are superior to the run-of-the mill historians who earn their living by traducing Stalin and the Soviet Union. At least Getty, Naumov, Rittersporn, Robert W. Thurston and some others provide important facts on occasion, although their interpretations are often incorrect. For example, although Geoffrey Roberts’ Stalin’s Wars (2006)is more objective than most he still refers to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as an “alliance”, when it was nothing of the sort.
A significant portion of the products from the vital Stalin sector of the giant Western propaganda industry is generated by academics who have apparently been trained in advanced techniques of deception. These are often designed to bolster the image of Stalin as a colossal failure, the incompetent leader of a society that was doomed. The scale of production in the Stalin sector is impressive, and it would be impossible to refute all the accusations. But a few of them should be noted. Many of them refer to Stalin’s actions in the run-up to World War 2 as well as during the conflict.
For example, it is widely claimed that Stalin panicked on the night of the German attack, left the Kremlin and did not return for a week or more. The Medvedev brothers, who to say the least are unsympathetic to Stalin, have shown that this is untrue, that Stalin was continuously active in the command center in the Kremlin after being notified of the attack. This was confirmed by several others, including Marshal Zhukov.
“Stalin as foreign policy-maker: avoiding war 1927-1953” by Alfred J. Rieber, in Sarah Davies and James Harris (eds.), Stalin, A New History (2005) is a compendium of mainstream vilification of the Soviet leader.
Rieber is Professor of History at the Central European University in Budapest, as well as Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. A list of the fellowships and awards he has received is given at http://www.ceu.hu/profiles/faculty/alfred-j_rieber Among other things he received the Henry Allan Moe Prize of the American Philosophical Society in 1985.
I have seldom encountered a text in which virtually every sentence is either an outright lie or a deliberate misrepresentation of fact. In the opening paragraph Rieber defines Stalin as a failure. E.g. he was “taken by surprise when the Germans invaded in June 1941”. Of course it was impossible to predict the exact date of the expected attack, as in most cases of aggression, but the attack had been expected for years. Rieber claims that Stalin failed to “predict the breakdown of the wartime alliance with the USA and Great Britain”. He in fact hoped it would last but was under no illusions about the intentions of the capitalist countries. Most spectacularly Stalin “misconstrued the basic character of the Second World War”. The reader may legitimately expect an explanation of the character of the war from Prof. Rieber, but none is forthcoming. In addition, although Stalin “did his best to keep the Soviet Union out of both a hot and a cold war”, he failed “on both accounts”.
Given the re-targeting of the Soviet Union (see Chapter 10) and NSC 68, it is difficult to understand how Stalin could have kept the USSR out of the so-called Cold War.
Rieber claims that “For Stalin, war rather than revolution was the major catalyst of social change”. There is no basis in fact for this statement. As a Marxist, Stalin understood that the “major catalyst” is class conflict, which may find expression in war and/or revolutions.
Rieber also refers to “Stalin’s obsession with the vulnerability of Soviet frontiers to foreign intervention in support of internal opposition”. Obsession? Given the historical track record he had every reason to be greatly worried.
History shows that when any state intends to make war against another state, even not adjacent, it begins to seek for frontiers across which it can reach the frontiers of the state it wants to attack. Usually, the aggressive state finds such frontiers. It either finds them with the aid of force, as was the case in 1914 when Germany invaded Belgium in order to strike at France, or it ’borrows’ such a frontier, as Germany, for example, did from Latvia in 1918, in her drive to Leningrad. I do not know precisely what frontiers Germany may adapt to her aims, but I think she will find people willing to ‘lend’ her a frontier. (From a 1936 interview with Roy Howard, head of an American newspaper chain – see below.)
Rieber makes the comical assertion that despite indications of war to come, “Stalin only began in earnest to build a modern army and defense industry with the inauguration of the Second Five-Year Plan”. Presumably he should have done so in 1928, when the supply of electrical power for industry was drastically insufficient and in many places nonexistent.
Perhaps the lowest point of Rieber’s article is his misrepresentation of Stalin‘s address to the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934. Rieber claims that Stalin “predicted an imperialist war which he blamed on ‘extreme nationalism’ without naming the most likely aggressor. He sketched out (sic!) four scenarios for war without indicating which was the more likely to occur”.
In the speech Stalin gives examples of “extreme nationalism” in the capitalist nations’ economic policies, which he relates to the increasing tension within these countries after four years of industrial and agricultural turbulence and decline. He refers to Fascism in Germany as a sign that the bourgeoisie “is no longer able to rule by the old methods of parlamentarism and bourgeois democracy”, and is compelled to implement domestic terror and to “resort to a policy of war” in order to resolve the situation. He then states that “things are heading toward a new imperialist war”.
Stalin then analyzes the various militaristic alternatives that are being considered by the rulers of the capitalist countries. These include attacking one of the “great powers”, i.e. a repeat of World War 1, or attacking
a country that is weak in the military sense, but represents an extensive market – for example, against China. Still others think that war should be organized by a ‘superior race’, say, the German ‘race’, against an ‘inferior race’, primarily against the Slavs, that only such a war can provide a way out of the situation…
Finally, there are others who think that war should be organized against the USSR. Their plan is to defeat the USSR, divide up its territory and profit at its expense. It would be a mistake to believe that it is only certain military circles in Japan who think in this way. We know that similar plans are being hatched in the circles of the political leaders in certain states of Europe.
Stalin also refers to the
war against the USSR, if you remember, fifteen years ago [1918-1922]. As is well known, the universally esteemed Churchill clothed that war in a poetic formula – ‘the campaign of fourteen states’.
Stalin warns that another such war “will lead to the complete defeat of the aggressors”.
It can be seen that Rieber’s version is a travesty of Stalin’s actual words, which comprise a fairly accurate appraisal of the state of affairs in Europe at the time. On what basis should he have predicted which of the “four scenarios” was most probable? Rieber does not mention that one year later, in 1935, the Comintern Congress identified the German armed forces as the “shock-troops” of imperialism in the coming war (see Chapter 9).
The rest of Rieber’s text is of a piece with the above, including an intricately false description of Stalin’s “self-deception” regarding the coming German attack. If Stalin was convinced that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union, why was Germany identified as the expected aggressor in the Soviet strategic defense plan that was adopted in August 1940? (See below). Rieber claims that Stalin was “stupefied” when the Germans attacked, which as noted above is nonsense.
Rieber also totally misrepresents the events leading to the division of Germany post-1945, and goes so far as to claim that Stalin “preferred a lesser evil in the form of a divided Germany” which is an outright lie. Rieber’s attempt to justify a description of the Soviet “inconsistent and contradictory” policy regarding Germany includes the claim that Stalin “long delayed recognition of an East German state”, without mentioning that this reflected a desperate attempt by the USSR to persuade the West to rescind the division of the country (see Christopher Layne). Significantly, Rieber does not mention the fact that the three Western allies decided to divide Germany and establish the BRD, nor that they reinstated Nazis in positions of power.
Rieber does not mention the interview with Roy Howard. Among other things, Howard asked
What situation or condition, in your opinion, furnishes the chief war menace today?
Howard: In which specific manifestation of capitalism?
Stalin: Its imperialist, usurpatory manifestation. You remember how the First World War arose. It arose out of the desire to re-divide the world. Today we have the same background. There are capitalist states which consider that they were cheated in the previous redistribution of spheres of influence, territories, sources of raw materials, markets, etc., and which would want another re-division that would be in their favor. Capitalism, in its imperialist phase, is a system which considers war to be a legitimate instrument for settling international disputes, a legal method in fact, if not in law” (emphasis added).
Students of history since 1990 should make careful note of the last sentence.
In short, as an example of non-history Rieber’s text is exemplary. Not least because he applies the standard mainstream technique of denigrating Stalin for changing, contradictory strategies, and finds him guilty of an “irregular beat and shifting rhythms”. In real life, people change their tactics and strategies in response to changing circumstances. It is impossible to identify a head of state who has not done so. It is also certain that if Stalin had not modified the government’s approach to various issues he would stand accused of incompetent rigidity by his Western critics.
It is worth repeating that a serious analysis of Stalin’s achievements, shortcomings and mistakes in relation to foreign policy and the development of socialism in the Soviet Union is not the aim of Rieber’s article, nor of those produced by his colleagues within the propaganda industry. Their lack of class perspective makes such an analysis impossible. In any case, such analysis is irrelevant to the main function of their texts, which is to discredit Stalin, and thereby to discredit the USSR and the Communist movement in general, supporting Mrs. Thatcher’s claim that “There Is No Alternative”.
However, the books and articles produced by Rieber and other mainstream academic toilers seldom reach a mass audience. I suspect that one of their secondary functions is cross-fertilization, as the lonely researchers seek confirmation from each other, and they therefore lack popular appeal. But a version of the Stalin mythology corresponding to the lowest level of gutter journalism was launched in 2003 and widely acclaimed as a masterpiece in the West. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin – The Court of the Red Tsar hasapparently become the standard work on the subject (2003, paperback edition 2004).
Typical comments: “Horrific, revelatory and sobering…triumph of research and should be required reading in Russia. Book of the Year’, John Le Carré,Observer (emphasis added).
”I did not think I could learn anything new about Stalin but I was wrong. A stunning performance”, Henry Kissinger.
The myth of the Red Tsar
Confidence in the accuracy of Montefiore’s book is undermined directly in the introduction, as he writes that it was inspired by Robert Conquest, one of the leading falsifiers of Soviet history.
The simple premise of the book is that Stalin was a megalomaniac with absolute and unlimited power, as stated in a review by Professor Richard Pipes, a leading propagandist, in the NY Times 18 April 2004:
The picture that emerges from Stalin is both disturbing and perplexing. In the early chapters of Montefiore’s narrative Stalin is already the unchallenged ruler of the Soviet Union, surrounded by toadies ready to carry out his every whim. Barely mentioned are the industrialization program, which drove Soviet living standards to unparalleled lows, or collectivization, which re-enserfed Russian peasants, causing millions of deaths from starvation.
(I have included the last sentence to illustrate the type of nonsense that can be produced by highly decorated Western academics.)
The view of Stalin propounded by Montefiore is a centerpiece of the Western version of Soviet history, but it cannot be reconciled with reality, as the “unchallenged ruler” repeatedly encountered difficulty in imposing his will. A few examples are given below.
As early as June 1937 there was criticism within the Central Committee of the repression led by N. I. Ezhov, Commissar of Internal Affairs and effectively the head of the NKVD. Ezhov was able to arrest and execute some of the critics on the basis of false charges. Dissatisfaction within the Soviet administration regarding Ezhov’s unjustified repression increased strongly from January 1938 onward. In November 1938 the Politburo decided to replace him with Lavrenti Beria.
Montefiore devotes a good deal of space to both Ezhov and Beria, describing their sexual behavior in detail (see below) and their careers as Stalinist toadies. In his account of the Politburo’s decision, Montefiore notes briefly that “Beria was appointed to run the heart of the NKVD: State Security (GUGB).” This post was obviously one of the most important of all.
But in Boris A. Starkov’s “Narkom Ezhov”, in J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning (eds.), Stalinist Terror – New Perspectives (1993), we learn that
In the fall of 1938, when the question arose of removing Ezhov from his position at [the] NKVD, Stalin proposed the candidacy of G. M. Malenkov as the new Commissar of Internal Affairs. But a majority of the Politburo recommended L. P. Beria for the post. Finally, Ezhov was fired from his post of People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs. On November 26, the new People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, L. P. Beria, signed an order that brought the resolutions that had been passed by the Central Committee since (sic!) November 17, 1938 into effect.
These resolutions were adopted in November and were connected with Stalin’s initiation of a commission to investigate the operations of the NKVD under Ezhov. Starkov, an anti-Communist, gives three separate sources for the above information, including archival material.
How was it possible for Beria to be appointed in defiance of Stalin’s will? How could a majority of Politburo members dare to vote against a proposal by the Tsar, the “unchallenged ruler”, particularly when the vitally important post of head of security services was at issue? Did Stalin retaliate by imprisoning or massacring these unruly toadies? I have not found any evidence to show that he did. The inescapable conclusion is that he abided by the majority decision that was contrary to his wishes.
Montefiore: “Having destroyed the entourages of the Old Bolshevik ‘princes’, Stalin now had to import Beria’s whole gang to destroy Yezhov’s”. This statement makes no sense given that Beria was not Stalin’s candidate.
The question is particularly confusing because the bibliography of Montefiore’s bookincludes Stalinist Terror. A reader is normally entitled to assume that an author has read the relevant passages in the books he/she lists as bibliographical references.
But Montefiore’s reader must choose between two and only two conclusions. Either Montefiore has read Stalinist Terror, or he has not, and is thus purposely misleading the reader by listing it.
Ezhov is a prominent figure in Montefiore’s book. The chapter on him is the first in Stalinist Terror, and given Montefiore‘s interest it would seem natural for him to read it. If Montefiore has read it he has deliberately chosen to omit information about Stalin being outvoted in the Politburo.
This is understandable, because the pretense that Stalin was the “unchallenged ruler” is completely refuted by the facts as reported by Starkov.
Other examples include the curious case of the Soviet strategic defense plan. In the summer of 1939 the Red Army inflicted a crushing defeat on Japanese forces in the battle of Khalkhin Gol in Mongolia. This was the same Red Army which according to Western mythology had been rendered impotent by Stalin’s purges in 1937-38. It would be some years before the non-purged armies of the US and the UK were capable of defeating Japanese ground forces.
At that time of the battle with the Japanese the Soviet strategic defense plan was based on the assumption of attacks on two fronts, by Germany in the west and Japan in the east. Subsequent to the debacle at Khalkhin Gol the Japanese agreed to both a trade agreement and a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, which they honored.
By December of 1939, three months after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Stalin government had concluded that the coming war would not involve two fronts, that it would be started by a German attack in the west, and that the defense plan would therefore have to be revised. As indicated previously, Stalin and the rest of the Soviet high command were certain that Germany would attack, but they believed that the non-aggression pact with Hitler would delay the start of the war until 1942 or 1943.
Discussions by the Stalin government and the general staff regarding revision of the defense plan were started in the winter of 1939-40, and lasted until August 1940. This drawn-out process is inexplicable on the basis of the “unchallenged ruler” premise. Why waste so much time? Why didn’t Stalin simply issue instructions to his toadies and leave it at that?
Differing opinions were presented openly by the participants in the process of revision, and major decisions were made jointly. This is not mentioned by Montefiore. Like the facts about Ezhov and Beria, the truth would invalidate his basic premise.
Commenting on the much more acute wartime situation, Marshal Zhukov wrote:
Everyone had a chance to state his opinion. Stalin was equally stern to everybody and rather formal. He listened attentively to anybody speaking to the point. Incidentally, I know from my war experience that one could safely bring up matters unlikely to please Stalin, argue them out and firmly carry the point. Those who assert it was not so are wrong (Georgi Zhukov, Memoirs of Marshal Zhukov, 1971).
Perhaps the most spectacular example of Stalin’s inability to enforce his supposedly unchallenged will is provided by his failed attempt in 1936-1938 to achieve drastic changes in the role of the Communist Party and greater democratization of the electoral process. A good deal of information on the political conflict that arose has been provided by Uri Zhukov, a non-Communist member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Inoi Stalina (A Different Stalin), published in Moscow in 2003. (Information from this book given below refers to English-language reviews and summaries.)
The conflict centered on implementation of the new Soviet Constitution that had been ratified in December 1936 by the Extraordinary 8th Congress of Soviets. Changes in electoral procedures for governmental positions were to include secret ballots and contested elections, i.e. elections with more than the one candidate previously proposed by the Communist Party. Alternative candidates could be proposed by groups outside the Party. The members of Soviets were to be elected directly by the people, instead of indirectly by representatives who were Party members. Voting rights would be extended to include disenfranchised citizens such as former landlords and members of the White Guards, as well as kulaks and peasants who had stolen food supplies during the famine of 1932.
Stalin described many of the reforms in an interview on 1 March 1936 with Roy Howard, head of Scripps-Howard Newspapers in the US, who had also been president of United Press. Howard’s political views were middle-of-the-road American. According to the Indiana University School of Journalism athttp://journalism.indiana.edu/resources/royhoward/about-roy-w-howard, “Howard interviewed Stalin at the Kremlin, and the next day, was outraged that his story had been ‘edited’ by Kremlin authorities. But when Stalin saw the original draft, he ordered Howard’s version restored”. This version was published in full on 8 March 1936 in Pravda.
Stalin told Howard that he expected “very lively election campaigns. There are not a few institutions in our country which work badly”.
Under the new election rules “millions of electors will measure the fitness of candidates, reject the unsuitable, expunge their names from candidates’ lists, and promote and nominate the best”.
“Yes, election campaigns will be very lively, they will be conducted around numerous, very acute problems, principally of a practical nature, of first class importance for the people. Our new electoral system will tighten up all institutions and organizations and compel them to improve their work. Universal, direct and secret suffrage in the USSR will be a whip in the hands of the population against the organs of government which work badly. In my opinion our new Soviet constitution will be the most democratic constitution in the world”.
The full text of the interview is available at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1936/03/01.htm It is not mentioned by Montefiore, for obvious reasons.
Stalin was supported by Zhdanov, Molotov, Kaganovich and others in the Politburo, but the majority of the Central Committee refused to agree, and procedures for contested elections were never established.
The new electoral procedures were obviously a threat to the Party bureaucracy that had developed at local and regional levels, as well as in Ministries. Headed by regional Party leaders, known as First Secretaries, this bureaucracy (which included Nikita Khruschev) was in revolt against Stalin, and was most interested in hunting “enemies of the people”. These in many cases turned out to be dedicated and technically competent Communists. In combination with Stalin’s proposed electoral reforms they were a threat to the entrenched bureaucrats and First Secretaries, who actively participated in the repression in order to eliminate the threat. According to Yuri Zhukhov, Stalin was “slowly but decisively” losing control of the situation.
The June 1937 Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee marked a major defeat for Stalin and his supporters, and the principle of contested elections was abandoned. Uri Zhukov: “Thus the attempt of Stalin and his group to reform the political system of the Soviet Union ended in total failure” (emphasis added).
The intricate details of the struggle between Stalin and the Party bureaucrats as described by Yuri Zhukov are in http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/ rdv12n2/stalin.htm and http://clogic.eserver.org/2005/furr.html
Evidence of Stalin being outvoted or ignored on both major and minor issues is scattered throughout the so-called literature, in footnotes as well as passing comments whose significance is rarely discussed. On Montefiore’s account it may be objected that he claims to have written a portrait of Stalin, and not “a history of his foreign and domestic policies”, as he states in the introduction to his book.
But Montefiore refers to and evaluates these policies continuously, starting on page 2 of the Prologue (paperback edition, 2004), when he describes Stalin and others discussing “their war to ’break the back’ of the peasantry whatever the cost to the millions starving in history’s greatest man-made famine. They were determined to use the grain to finance their gargantuan push to make Russia a modern industrial power”.
This statement is an unqualified lie. Montefiore does not seem to be aware that even his inspirer Robert Conquest has been forced to retract the libel of the “man-made famine”. Montefiore’s other references to Stalin’s foreign and domestic policies are equally untruthful, or are clumsy half-truths at best, as in Chapter 28, “The Carve-Up of Europe: Molotov, Ribbentrop and Stalin’s Jewish Question” and Chapter 29, “The Great Game, Hitler and Stalin 1939-1941”, a 16-page discussion of alleged circumstances and motives related to the signing of the pact.
Referring to the “European poker game”, Montefiore claims that the dictators (Hitler and Stalin) were more skillful “than the democracies who had started to play in earnest much too late”. Hitler had “consumed Austria and Czechoslovakia” before the “Western democracies realized he had to be stopped”.
Playing in earnest? The West supported Hitler throughout the 1930s. The Western allies’ representatives had been sent to Moscow on a slow cargo vessel, with orders not to sign any type of agreement whatsoever (see above). Montefiore implies that Soviet-Western talks were suspended because of disagreement on “the price demanded by Stalin”, and what “the West was willing to offer”, which was in fact nothing. In reality the talks failed because the British and France refused to give definite answers to key questions, such as passage of Soviet troops into Poland and/or Rumania if Hitler attacked.
Neither Montefiore nor most Western historians apply the term “carving up of Europe” to the Anglo-French abandonment of their obligations to ensure Austria’s independence (see above) or their eager deliverance of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. Montefiore does hint that Stalin believed that Hitler’s “consumption” of these countries was enabled and encouraged by the Western allies, but this only reflected the usual Soviet paranoia.
Stalin the “bumbling genius”
Despite his professed aversion to discussing domestic and foreign policies Montefiore devotes a good deal of space to a treatment of Stalin’s role as leader during World War 2. This treatment is a tedious mixture of lies, omissions, half-truths and distortions. He writes that “The cost of Stalin’s victories were (sic!) vast: almost 26 million dead, another 26 million homeless”, one of the most disgustingly cynical statements ever recorded about World War 2. It is reminiscent of suggestions by Ernst Nolte and other German historians that it was actually or probably the Soviet Union that attacked Germany, and not vice versa. This of course is linked with Stalin’s alleged lust for glory and the mythical Soviet ambition for world domination, to which Montefiore refers repeatedly.
The alleged lust for glory is difficult to reconcile with Stalin’s choice of Marshal Zhukov to take he salute at he victory parade in Moscow that celebrated the end of World War 2. Zhukov said “Thank you for the honor, but wouldn’t it be better for you to take the salute? You are Supreme Commander-in-Chief and by right you should take the salute.” Stalin countered: “I am too old to review parades. You do it, you are younger” (Zhukov).
Montefiore’s comments on the war on the Eastern Front include the claim that in 1942 Stalin launched “a wave of counter-attacks along the entire front” which “handed Hitler the constellation of stunning victories that led to the ultimate crisis of Stalingrad”. He thus clearly implies that Stalin is responsible for the occurrence of a battle at Stalingrad.
The number of victories in a “constellation” is unclear. In reality, during the spring and summer of 1942 the Soviets suffered two major military setbacks. One was in the Crimea, and the other in the Kharkov region.
After the defeat of three Soviet armies in the Crimea at the end of May, “…Stalin and the Stavka [Supreme High Command] drew up a detailed critique of the performance of the commanders of their Crimean Front” (Roberts). The principal points were that the commanders did not “understand the nature of modern warfare”, had lost control of their troops, and had not followed instructions from the Stavka. Glantz and House (1995) call the Crimean defeat “a sordid tale of military ineptitude”. Neither they nor Roberts so much as hint that Stalin had “handed” a victory to the Germans.
The German operation in the Crimea was part of Plan Blau, the code name of the military campaign for 1942. The main objective was to seize the Caucasus region, which would involve a drive on Stalingrad. These objectives were stated in a directive from Hitler dated 5 April 1942.
Successful implementation of Plan Blau meant that “it made sense for the Germans to occupy key points on the western bank of the Volga in the vicinity of Stalingrad” (Roberts). Hitler ordered that “every effort will be made to reach Stalingrad itself, or at least bring the city under fire from heavy artillery so that it may no longer be of any use as an industrial or communications center”.
The “crisis at Stalingrad” was a direct result of German plans. If Montefiore means that there would not have been a battle there if the Soviets had achieved their goals in the Kharkov operation, he should prove his argument.
In any case according to Glantz and House the spoiling attack that began in the Kharkov region was “ill conceived” and “played into German hands”, an expression that probably explains Montefiore’s specious language. According to Roberts, Marshal Zhukov laid the blame for the Soviet failure on the South-Western front commanders, who he claimed “had lobbied for the operation and then misled Stalin about the course of the battle”. One of the army commanders involved said that his colleagues had underestimated the opposition and over-estimated the capabilities of their own forces.
Glantz and House write that the Stavka had picked “a likely area for a limited offensive”. They state that the Soviets – including Stalin, the Stavka and Marshal Timoschenko – underestimated the strength of the German armies in the south. Preparations for the attack also reflected “The Red Army’s inexperience in offensive operations”. They conclude that the battle “was an expensive lesson [for the Soviets], and the Red Army drew many conclusions that it was able to apply six months later”. However, despite the failure of the Soviet Kharkov operation “it did disrupt German preparations for the summer offensive”.
Like virtually all his statements about Stalin’s role in World War 2, Montefiore’s claim that the “crisis” at Stalingrad was Stalin’s fault is a lie.
The German defeat at Stalingrad was one of the three major turning points in World War 2. The other were the battles of Moscow and Kursk, where in 1943 the Germans were defeated and never regained the military initiative. One of the factors in the Soviet victory was an elaborate defensive stronghold that included miles of trenches. Montefiore claims that “Beria provided 300,000 slave laborers” to dig them. Another lie. Glantz and House (1999) refer to the recruitment of “more than 300,000 civilians, mostly women and old men”, without any mention of slave labor, or of Beria.
Montefiore’s general view of Stalin during the war as a blundering, blustering tyrant does not conform with Roberts’ section on “Stalin and his Generals”. Roberts writes that “Normally, however, Stalin’s dealings with his High Command were polite and respectful… mostly he was businesslike and formally correct… It is evident, too, that Stalin did not generally punish or scapegoat his commanders simply for failure”.
Roberts quotes Glantz: “Contrary to popular belief… command stability was far greater in the Red Army and command turbulence was considerably less damaging than has previously been assumed, not only after November 1942 [victory at Stalingrad] but also during the first 18 months of war”.
Roberts: “…Stalin was able to foster a considerable amount of talent and creativity in the upper reaches of the Red Army”.
Montefiore‘s account of Stalin’s role in World War 2 and the initial Soviet resistance to the German attack is highly selective.
For example, the first phase of the war (June 1941 – April 1942) is seen by Montefiore and many others as a more or less complete disaster resulting from Stalin’s incompetence and lack of foresight. Montefiore does not mention that Stalin refused a request by Zhukov and Vasilevsky to commit substantial reserves to the frontier areas. After the war Zhukov stated that Stalin’s judgment was absolutely correct.
Montefiore does not mention that despite the large losses suffered by the Red Army, the Germans were unable to win a strategic victory, and that “Notwithstanding its great victories in 1941 the Wehrmacht had taken a severe battering at the hands of the Red Army and was no longer capable of waging a multi-pronged strategic offensive on the Eastern Front. By March 1942 the Germans had suffered 1.1 million dead, wounded, missing or captured – some 35 per cent of their strength on the Eastern Front. Only 8 out of 162 divisions were at full strength…” (Roberts).
In the winter of 1944-45 US and British forces were overrun by a German counterattack in the Ardennes region which split the Allied front and threatened to become a major defeat. The Soviet advance was on hold as the Red Army prepared for its next offensive. “In the crisis of the Bulge, the Western governments asked Stalin to take the pressure off them by resuming the offensive… Stalin responded by launching the next major offensive eight days ahead of schedule” (Glantz and House). No figures are given for the additional Soviet casualties resulting from the premature launch of the attack. Montefiore makes no mention of this fact.
If Montefiore or any of his admiring readers is genuinely interested in the careers of statesmen who caused repeated military disasters they should study Clive Ponting’s Churchill. From the waste of human life at Gallipoli to the incompetent meddling in North Africa and elsewhere, Winston Churchill was a grave liability for his commanders and their troops.
The Warsaw rising
The alleged refusal of the Soviets to support the rising against the Germans in Warsaw on 1 August 1944 is a standard item in the list of charges against Stalin. Montefiore refers to a “distinguished historian” who says that the purpose of the rising was “not to help the Soviet advance but to forestall it”. The rising was put down, which according to Montefiore “completed the black work of Katyn Forest for Stalin”. We may note in passing that if the purpose of the rising really was to forestall the Soviet advance, then complaints about lack of support from the Red Army are logically irrelevant.
Montefiore does not name the distinguished historian, who may be the British fabulist Professor Norman Davies, author of Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw. A feature article in the International Herald Tribune on 31 July 1944 (“Poles recall revolt doomed to fail”) showed a picture of Davies looking out over the Vistula River from a park in Warsaw. He is quoted as saying that the Soviet and German soldiers facing each other across the Vistula at Warsaw in August 1944 “didn’t fire at each other…But if any Soviet soldier tried to cross the river to help the Poles, both sides fired at him.” The article describes Russian soldiers “literally sunbathing on one side of the Vistula while the Germans literally obliterated Warsaw…”
These statements do not match the account of military operations around Warsaw in the summer of 1944 given by Glantz and House, or by Geoffrey Roberts. Glantz and House state that the only Soviet forces near Warsaw when the uprising started on 1 August were units of the 47th Army, i.e. the “overextended and weakened “ 3rd Tank Corps, 15 km northeast of the city, which had been “severely mauled” by German armor at the end of July. The Soviet 8th Guards Tank Corps was 20 km east of Warsaw, “sorely pressed” by German counterattacks, and three rifle corps which “were stretched out on a front of over 80 km from south of Warsaw to Siedlce and were unable to renew the drive on Warsaw”. The nearest Soviet support units were 60 km away and engaged in heavy fighting.
Glantz and House also state that the Polish insurgents “failed to secure the four bridges over the Vistula”. Davies does not indicate the designation of the Soviet units that he claimed were on the east bank of the Vistula across from the city and that Glantz/House have for some reason overlooked. Since the Germans held the bridges, how did soldiers from these phantom forces try to cross the river? Did they swim? Did they walk on the water?
Glantz and House:
German resistance in the region was probably sufficient to halt any Soviet attack, at least until mid-September. Thereafter, a Soviet advance on Warsaw would have involved a major reorientation of military efforts… in order to muster sufficient force to break into Warsaw. Even if they had reached Warsaw, the city would have been a costly place to clear of Germans and an unsuitable location from which to launch a new offensive.
Further: “On 13 September, lead elements of the 47th Army entered Praga, in Warsaw’s eastern suburbs”, where Norman Davies’ Soviet troops were supposed to have been. “Three days later, elements of two Polish divisions (part of the Red Army) launched an assault across the Vistula but made little progress and were evacuated back across the Vistula on 23 September”. It was not until year-end 1944 that “the Soviets accumulated enough force to break out of their Vistula bridgehead”.
Montefiore’s account of the situation is a lie, like virtually all of his comments about Stalin’s wartime performance and his private life. For example, his portrayal of Stalin as a vainglorious drunken bully is not confirmed by comments from Averell Harriman, US Ambassador to Moscow 1943-1945 and a member of the upper stratum of the American ruling class.
Harriman’s view of Stalin as wartime leader
In Chapter 42, “The Triumphant Genius”, Montefiore describes in lurid detail a banquet in Moscow attended by Charles de Gaulle and Harriman. Stalin is said to have “swigged champagne” and “embarked on a terrifying gallows tour of his entourage”, toasting his associates with threats. By the time he offered his guests “coffee and movies” he was “completely drunk”. This last phrase is in quotation marks in Montefiore’s text, but there is no indication of the source.
The following is from Roberts’ Stalin’s Wars:
Averell Harriman, the American ambassador in Moscow from 1943 to 1945, probably had more direct dealings with Stalin than any other foreigner during the war. In an interview given in 1981 he made this assessment of Stalin’s war leadership:
‘Stalin the War Leader… was popular, and there can be no doubt that he was the one who held the Soviet Union together… I do not think anyone else could have done it, and nothing that has happened since Stalin’s death induces me to change that opinion. I’d like to emphasize my great admiration for Stalin the national leader in an emergency – one of those historical occasions when one man made such a difference. This in no sense minimizes my revulsion against his cruelties; but I have to give you the constructive side as well as the other’.
In the same interview Harriman presented a fascinating sketch of the qualities that, in his eyes, made Stalin such an effective war leader. In Harriman’s view Stalin was a man of keen intelligence, by no means an intellectual, but a smart operator, a practical man who knew how to use the levers of power to good effect. As a personality Stalin was very approachable, albeit blunt and prepared to use shock tactics as well as flattery to get his way in negotiations. On social occasions Stalin showed concern for everybody and drank toasts with everyone, but – unlike some of his associates – never got drunk or lost his self-control. Harriman was at particular pains to deny that Stalin was paranoid (as opposed to just ‘very suspicious’) or that he was a ‘mere bureaucrat’ (emphasis added).
Harriman: ‘He had an enormous ability to absorb detail and to act on detail. He was very much alert to the needs of the whole war machine… In our negotiations with him we usually found him extremely well informed. He had a masterly knowledge of the sort of equipment that was important for him. He knew the caliber of the guns he wanted, the weight of the tanks his roads and bridges would take, and the details of the type of metal he needed to build aircraft. These were not characteristics of a bureaucrat, but rather those of an extremely able and vigorous war leader’.
Stalin the social charmer, Stalin the master of his brief, Stalin the effective negotiator; above all, Stalin the determined but practical man of action — these themes of Harriman’s recur time and again in the reports of those who worked with the Soviet dictator during the war.
None of Harriman’s assessments are alluded to by Montefiore, once again for obvious reasons.
Gossip, sloppy writing, slander and non-sequiturs
Montefiore’s professed aim of producing a chronicle of Stalin’s “court” is in line with a tradition of vulgarity that has marked anti-Communist propaganda since the 19th century. It relies continuously on gossip, slander and non-sequiturs, and attempts to establish “truths” by pasting in words gratuitously in the manner of advertising copywriters. Montefiore is also prone to piling on adjectives, a sure sign of sloppy writing.
For example, on the first page of the Introduction Montefiore refers to the twenty men supposedly closest to Stalin in the 1930s as (definitions are from the OED):
- “potentates” – monarchs or rulers
- “courtiers” – attendants at a sovereign’s court
- “magnates” – rich, influential persons
- “oligarchs”- members of an oligarchy, a state governed by a small group of people [as in the US, the UK and other capitalist nations].
The fact that these terms have different meanings and that the persons in question were by no means rich is beside the point, which is to immediately establish the validity of the book’s title, without the bothersome task of exhibiting evidence. This function is also served by the recurrent and apparently random use of terms such as “fiefdom”, in the manner prescribed for high-impact TV commercials.
Montefiore claims that he places “Stalin and his oligarchs in their idiosyncratic Bolshevik context as members of a military-religious ‘order of sword-bearers’…” The term “idiosyncratic Bolshevik context” is devoid of meaning. Montefiore provides no evidence that Bolshevism was a military-religious order.
Montefiore also claims that information from “correspondence and even love-letters” makes these people “live” in the pages of his book. But given his evasive and deceptive treatment of the question of Stalin’s supposedly absolute power (see above) as well as of historical facts such as those related to the agricultural crisis of 1931-32, the international situation in the 1930s or the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, there is no reason to believe that Montefiore has made honest use of his supposed sources, if they exist, and if he has read them.
The book is filled with conversations that have apparently been transcribed from extensive tape- or wire-recordings. The sources of these conversations are almost without exception un-attributed and their existence remains a mystery to me. Many of the conversations were apparently recorded in prisons, with or without permission of the authorities.
Montefiore’s general approach to the issue of verifiable facts is dramatically illustrated in Chapter 6: “Trains Full of Corpses: Love, Death and Hysteria”, which contains a number of falsehoods about the 1932 famine (see above).
Montefiore shows his mastery of gutter journalism when he provides the following answer to the question of how Party members could “tolerate death on such a vast scale?”:
“’Revolution without firing squads’, Lenin is meant to have said, ‘is meaningless’ He spent his career praising the Terror of the French Revolution because his Bolshevism was a unique creed, ‘a social system based on blood-letting’”.
Lenin is meant to have said? By whom is he meant to have said this? Where and when? I have read a good deal of Lenin’s works without noticing these words. Friends and acquaintances, some of whom have read much more than I have, are equally puzzled. If Montefiore really thinks that Lenin spent his life praising the Terror in France he should immediately retreat to a library. Like many other people, Lenin understood that the Terror in France was an inevitable result of conflicts within the revolutionary process, much like those in the English Revolution (see above).
Bolshevism was not a “creed” or a “social system”. If the term Bolshevism means anything at all it refers to the goals, tactics and policies of the Bolshevik Party. Montefiore does not identity the person who called Bolshevism a system based on blood-letting, nor does he provide any proof of the claim.
Nor is it surprising that Montefiore does not record that the goals of the Bolshevik Party included ensuring full employment, a 7-hour working day, pensions at 50 or 55 years of age, universal free health care, and free education up to and including university studies.
Montefiore claims that the Bolsheviks “regarded themselves as special ‘noble-blooded people’. As “proof” he records that “When Stalin asked General Zhukov if the capital might fall in 1941, he said ‘Can we hold Moscow, tell me as a Bolshevik!’ as an eighteenth-century Englishman might say ‘tell me as a gentleman’”.
If in fact Stalin did say this, he most certainly did not mean it as one old boy to another. The NY Times’ correspondent Walter Duranty pointed out that if the Bolsheviks prided themselves on anything, it was their objectivity. Stalin was asking for an unvarnished assessment from Zhukov, untainted by subjective judgments or hopes.
The emphasis on objectivity is linked to the study of dialectical materialism, which involves separating objective and subjective factors, particularly in regard to analyses of current or historical events and processes. Of course, knowledge of dialectical materialism can never guarantee achieving a strictly objective assessment of real-life events.
Montefiore claims that the party justified its dictatorship through “purity of faith”… Since ideology was so important, …these ruffians spent their weary nights studying to improve their esoteric credentials, dreary articles on dialectical materialism”.
In the first place, judging by the total absence of Communists in the governments of capitalist countries, it is clear that they place a premium on ideology – capitalist ideology. Secondly, the use of the word “ruffian” is gutter journalism. Thirdly, while there certainly exist many boring texts on dialectical materialism, Montefiore shows no sign of having understood its content or its significance, neither philosophically or practically. (See text on refuting dialectical materialism above.)
Another example of Montefiore’s gutter journalism is the caption of a photograph showing Stalin and Sergei Kirov, who was murdered in Leningrad in 1934. The last sentence in the caption is “Did Stalin arrange his death?” The answer is that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this charge, which as a student of Soviet history Montefiore must be well aware of.
Stalin and Jews – Montefiore’s version
Montefiore makes a number of astounding statements about Stalin’s relations with and views of Jews, including “Stalin was an anti-Semite by most definitions…”, although the multiple definitions are unfortunately not specified. Stalin “was not a biological racist”.
However, “On the other hand, most of the women around him and many of his closest collaborators, from Yagoda to Mekhlis, were Jewish. The difference is obvious: he hated the intellectual Trotsky but had no problem with the cobbler Kaganovich…”
At last we have an explanation for the conflict with Trotsky. Stalin hated intellectuals, especially if they were Jewish. This does not explain Stalin’s relationship with the writer Ilya Ehrenburg and many other Jewish intellectuals, however.
Montefiore: “Stalin was aware that his regime had to stand against anti-Semitism and we find in his own notes a reminder to give a speech about it: he called it ‘cannibalism’, made it a criminal offense, and regularly criticized anti-Semites”.
The implication is obviously that Stalin’s “stand against anti-Semitism” was a PR maneuver. As for Stalin’s “notes”, the Medvedev brothers state that virtually all of his notebooks and papers disappeared soon after his death. Montefiore does not inform his readers that Stalin used the term “cannibalism” in January 1931 in a reply to an inquiry from the Jewish News Agency in the United States”. He wrote that anti-Semitism was “…an extreme form of racial chauvinism…the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism” (Wikipedia).
Montefiore may be unaware of the following correct comment on anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is dangerous for the working people as being a false path that leads them off the right road and lands them in the jungle. Hence Communists, as consistent internationalists, cannot but be irreconcilable, sworn enemies of anti-Semitism” (Stalin, Works, Vol. 13, 1952).
Robert Service, a virulent anti-Communist: “Stories also surfaced that Stalin made anti-Semitic remarks in private. Against this is the incontrovertible fact that Jews were among Stalin’s friends and associates before and after the Great War… In the light of his continued association with Jewish friends, it would be difficult to call him an anti-Semite” (Service, Stalin, 2005).
In addition, “Jews had advanced with extraordinary speed from second-class citizens in Tsarist Russia to the plenipotentiaries of a great world power: Trotsky, Litvinov, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Yagoda, Kaganovich, and Lozovsky (executed as a member of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee in 1952) were only a few of the Jews who rose through the system to the very top and exercised more real power in the Soviet Union than Jews had for nearly two millennia anywhere else in the world. Many others can be found in this book: Shvartsman, Broverman, Palkin, Raikhman, Sverdlov, Sheinin, Maklyarsky, Ehrenburg, Zhemchuzhina”.
(Jonathan Brent, Stalin’s Last Crime, 2003.)
A catalogue of Jews and body parts
Montefiore apparently purchased container-loads of yellow stars which he pins on minor as well as major characters in his fable, often identifying one or more of their grand- or great-grandparents as Jewish. Examples include the film director Sergei Eisenstein who was “Latvian-German-Jewish”. The relevance of this information to a portrait of Stalin is unclear. It is not easy to understand how this practice adds to the reader’s insight, but it is reminiscent of Western rhetoric about the Semitic – and by implication Oriental – origin of Communism, e.g. in Fascist propaganda and the writings of Winston Churchill (see Evening Standard article above), who expressed his anger at “The tyrannic government of these Jew commissars”.
The Semitic nature of so many Soviet Communists immediately identified them as inimical to Western civilization (as the Zionists maintain) as well as the natural order of things, which they were sworn to pervert.
Montefiore also seems to be fascinated by a wide variety of physical attributes that he inserts randomly in an effort to enhance the verisimilitude of his observations, obviously sharing the advertising industry’s belief that enumeration of irrelevant details ensures confidence in the product, a technique applied by many liars.
For example, in the Prologue he informs the reader that Stalin walked with a “rough, pigeon-toed gait”, and elsewhere that he moved with “feline grace”, presumably like a tiger, although pigeon-toed cats are rare in my experience. I am sure that many readers will paste this and other similar invaluable nuggets of information in their memory scrapbooks as evidence of Stalin’s perfidy. Henry Kissinger may have been referring to them when he praised Montefiore’s book for giving him new knowledge.
Combining supposedly unattractive body parts with Semitic origin is clearly calculated to shed light on the evil inner nature of the Bolsheviks, and Montefiore wastes no time feeding the reader’s revulsion. At the beginning of the Prologue Stalin is shown meeting with Genrikh Yagoda, deputy chairman of the secret Police (GPU). Yagoda is described as “a ferret-faced Jewish jeweler’s son from Nizhny Novgorod with a ‘Hitlerish mustache’ and a taste for orchids, German pornography and literary friendships…”
“Great balls of fire”, says the eager reader. “Son of a Jewish jeweler – and from Nizhny Novgorod, no less. Worse and worse! And that Hitlerish mustache proves something, maybe he was hobnobbing with the Nazis in the Berlin beer halls – who knows? A taste for orchids – who is he kidding? Obviously this is a front, I’d like to know what he’s hiding in the greenhouse. German porn, really now – high heels, black net stockings, whips, exploding cigars – what a swine. And just why would he want to make friends with writers, he probably killed them all”.
Photos of Yagoda and photos of ferrets are available in Wikipedia. Interested scholars may want to compare them. I cannot detect a resemblance – but who knows?
The meeting was also attended by Valerian Kuibyshev, Molotov’s “economics chief… who looked like a mad poet, with wild hair…” My experience of mad poets is somewhat different, but limited. I knew one in London in the early 1960’s, and he looked like what he was – a middle-level civil servant. He had sparse but carefully combed hair.
In another context, “Molotov’s deputy, Vladimir Dekanozov” is described as a “red-haired midget with a taste for English movies… and teenage girls”.
Having demonstrated the disgusting character of Yagoda, Stalin’s “favored policeman”, Montefiore goes on to specify that one of Stalin’s arms was shorter than the other, which presumably marks him as a candidate for the lowest circles of Hell. Some of Stalin’s other repellent and ominous physical features included “his almost Oriental, feline eyes were ‘honey-colored’ but flashed a lupine yellow in anger”. Stalin thus had eyes like a cat that flashed like a wolf’s when he was angry. This is supposedly very significant. The adjective “Oriental” recurs throughout Western literature on Stalin and is a clear reflection of racism.
In a sense Montefiore’s fable is a catalogue of body parts which reflect the internal evil but sometimes are simply infantile non-sequiturs. One of my favorites is in Chapter 29, “The Murder of the Wives”. We meet Soviet President Kalinin, who could not resist “balletomanic romantic entanglements”, whatever that means. Kalinin’s wife Ekaterina Ivanovna was “a snub-nosed Estonian”. “Well I’ll be goshdarned”, Henry Kissinger is meant to have said when he learned of this.
It may well be that snub noses are signs of other types of degeneracy. Ivanovna and a “lady friend” had been in the Far East arranging a literacy campaign, after which “she and this possibly Sapphic lady friend returned to Kalinin’s apartment…” (emphasis added).
This truly momentous discovery is worthy of inclusion in the memory books of all readers who are interested in learning the truth about Joseph Stalin. Ivanova’s unidentified friend may have been a lesbian! Montefiore’s obsession with sexual behavior is discussed below.
Another example of Montefiore’s specious techniques occurs on the next page. Stalin, Beria and a third man met on 3 May, “possibly around midnight”. I leave it to serious scholars of Soviet history to elucidate the link between this phrase and Montefiore’s ambitions as a portrait painter.
The sexual menace of Communism
The main function of racist ideology is to justify the oppression of one people or class by another people or class. As an ideology racism often involves profound contradictions, i.e. the oppressed are simultaneously defined as subhuman weaklings who are incapable of managing their own affairs, or anything else for that matter, but who also possess superhuman strength and guile that poses a constant threat to their masters.
For example, Nazi soldiers on the Eastern Front were told that the Russians were illiterate idiots who as Untermenschen were pushovers for the armies of the Third Reich, but were also capable of fanatical resistance against all odds. The mythology of the slaveholders in the US is typical, and was echoed by the European colonizers of Africa. Blacks as a “race” were termed simple, lazy children who must be tutored and guided by their masters, but they were also prone to concocting savage schemes of revolt (such as the horrific rebellion of the black slaves led by Toussaint Louverture in what is now Haiti).
Racist mythology is not limited to people whose physical appearance, including skin color, makes them recognizably different from their overlords. In Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1990)R. H. Tawney points out that the terms used by the British upper class in the 18th century to describe the poor and the emerging proletariat were virtually identical to those applied to blacks in the 20th century. Tawney’s observation is very dangerous because it contributes to an enhanced consciousness of class conflict, and is therefore rarely cited by Western historians. When Malcolm X returned to the US after a trip to Europe and Africa he said that he had realized that the basic conflict was not between black and white, but between rich and poor, i.e. between classes. This was equivalent to signing his death warrant.
Anti-Semitism is often included in the concept of racism. As a minority group, Jews in the US were subject to both prejudice and active discrimination, although their experience is by no means comparable to that of Afro-Americans or Amerindians. In my youth I believed that the main charges against the Jews were that they murdered Christian children on Jewish holidays and drank their blood, they were “too smart”, and that as “goddamned Jew-Red Communist bankers” they controlled the American economy, but I had no idea that they were also a sexual threat. I learned more from my first wife, who was raised as a Catholic and educated, if that is the correct word, at a high-class convent school. She told me that all the post-pubic girls at the school knew for certain that Jews were the world’s best lovers and were endowed with oversized genitals.
The sexual menace is an integral component of the alleged threat from the lower depths. In European and North American mythology, black men are especially frightening – their penises are much bigger than the whites’, their sexual appetites are insatiable, and their capacity for prolonged sexual intercourse is unlimited (as demonstrated in Mel Brooks’ film Blazing Saddles, e.g. when the new black sheriff says “Excuse me while I whip this out” the townspeople swoon until “this” turns out to be a document confirming his appointment).
The mythological sexual menace of Communism is a bit more complex. It arose originally as a reaction to the analysis of Western class society by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They pointed out that women were literally slaves who served lifetime sentences in what is now known as the nuclear family, and that their slavery involved sexual as well as economic and psychological subjugation. They also emphasized that the classic nuclear family was and is a vital component in the process of inducing acquiescence to the class structure in both the working- and the middle class.
As Adolf Hitler correctly pointed out, the family is “the smallest but most valuable unit in the complete structure of the state [in a class society]” (Mein Programm, 1932).
The subservient position of females was as natural as that of black slaves, according to bourgeois mythology, since women were inherently inferior to men. This view was buttressed by “scientific” arguments from at least the 19th century onward, as the first stirrings of a woman’s revolt became evident. A good summary and analysis of these arguments is given by Stephen A. Gould in The Mismeasure of Man (1984).
Marx and Engels wrote that a rational – socialist and subsequently Communist society – would ensure equality between the sexes, which would mean that women would no longer be economically dependent on the male half of society. It would also mean that a woman would be free to choose sexual partners on the basis of attraction and love instead of economic necessity. Both of these aims were largely realized and enabled by law in the DDR, for example. Marx and Engels firmly linked the emancipation of women to that of the working class.
The unnatural position of women in “the natural order” of Western society is a principal theme of Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, one of the most important books ever written, although it is ignored by mainstream Western historians as well as by slander-mongers such as Montefiore. It should be required reading in every university. An edition with an excellent introduction by the American anthropologist Eleanor Leacock was issued some years ago by International Publishers in New York.
Bourgeois anti-Communist propaganda became increasingly more strident as the working-class movement grew in power in the second half of the 19th century. The threat of a drastic change in gender relations was a key item. Socialism/Communism would mean the end of the family as we know it. Society as a whole would be transformed into an endless debauch, known as “free love”, in which men and women alike would be free to indulge the basest of sexual appetites. The violent and scandalized reaction of the Parisian bourgeoisie to Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe is a good indication of the fear of woman’s independence as expressed in her sexuality that was – and is – deeply rooted in Western class society.
The alleged aims of the Communist movement thus included not only removing the upper class from its position of power and smashing the natural order of property relations, but also unleashing the hordes of “the great unwashed” in endless lecherous orgies. The Jacobins of the French Revolution had been accused of the same dreadful tendencies.
The gravity of the perceived sexual menace of Communism is reflected in two typical accusations, cited by Losurdo (2011). In the autumn of 1919 it was reported that the Hungarian Communist Béla Kun (anathematized by Churchill) had established a splendidly furnished harem in which this perfidious and insatiable Jew spent his leisure time raping and otherwise dishonoring chaste Christian virgins.
At about the same time, The New York Times reprinted documents authorized by President Wilson which stated among other things that the new Bolshevik government in Moscow had set up a “Free-Love Bureau”. All young women of 18 years or more were obliged to register at the Bureau, which assigned them to randomly selected men to whom they were obliged to subordinate their bodies and their souls. The motto of the NY Times was “All the news that’s fit to print”.
Excessive sexual desires and powers were often attributed to Jews and Communists in Nazi propaganda, particularly in films, many of which portray Communists as skin-headed satyrs with prognathous jaws. This stereotype is repeated in the Fascist Ingmar Bergman’s film The Silence (Sw. Tystnaden), which is partly set in an unidentified Eastern European country where tanks rumble through the streets. Bergman adds a strong dose of standard bourgeois pornography in a scene where a blonde Swedish woman wearing a garter belt and black net stockings is shown being penetrated from behind by one of the unshaven proletarian monsters with super-sized libidos.
The Communist as a sexual maniac and/or disgusting deviate is one of the main themes of Montefiore’s book, and he dwells on it with an unbounded enthusiasm that borders on fixation and is rather touching, since he lives in a society in which pornography is a giant industry and sexual abuse of adults and children a daily and widespread phenomenon (not least in US prisons). It is perhaps symptomatic that Montefiore has not (to my knowledge) devoted any attention to the high-volume criminal trafficking and enslavement of women and girls from the former Comecon countries to Western Europe, including the UK, of which he is presumably a citizen. See for example http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/albanian-connection-to-the-teenage-sex-slaves-in-london-541157.html, or http://article.wn.com/ view/2011/02/06/Sex_trafficking_in_the_UK_one_womans_horrific_story_of_kidna_b/
Montefiore and like-minded colleagues might want to give some thought to the question of why trafficking in women was unknown in the Comintern countries, but I doubt that they are interested in such mundane subjects.
Montefiore’s interest in sexual behavior and characteristics is expressed in virtually endless detail, and none of the people named in his book seems to be immune, from the most prominent to the least known. Thus the non-sequitur “dashing womanizer” qualifies Marshal Tukachevsky, while at one point Stalin is seated at a party “surrounded by his worshipful women”, including “the busty soprano Maria Svanidzve”. On another occasion Stalin is surrounded by “pretty jewesses”. Stalin’s “one common-law wife” Valentina Istomina was “…a jolly, quiet and buxom hospital sister” (emphasis added). It is possible that Montefiore suffers from a fixation on large female breasts.
Montefiore also claims that Tukachevsky “was as ruthless as any Bolshevik, using poison gas on peasants”, although he presumably means “as ruthless as Winston Churchill”.
As mentioned before, Churchill was impressed by “the moral effect” of poison gas and claimed that it was both highly effective and humane when used against “uncivilized natives” (Ponting).
The full force of Montefiore’s fury against Communist sex maniacs is unleashed on NKVD chief Nikolai Ezhov and his successor Lavrenti Beria (see above on Montefiore’s evasive treatment of Beria’s appointment). His method is aimed at fusing the Communist executioner’s bloodlust with the Communist’s sexual abnormality in the figures of these two creatures of Stalin.
According to Boris A. Starkov, “Ezhov led a modest everyday life… in a modest apartment in the Kremlin” with his wife, mother and adopted daughter. Referring to the charges later leveled at Ezhov, Starkov writes that “Ezhov’s primary crime, however, consisted in the fact that he had not informed Stalin of his actions”.
Montefiore has a different view of Ezhov (and his wife), which at times borders on the hilarious and reveals a good deal about the author’s tendency to confuse gossip with gospel truth. He has apparently not learned that the two things people lie about most are sex and money.
He writes that Ezhov’s “humor was oafishly puerile: he presided over competitions to see which trouserless Commissar could fart away handfuls of cigarette ash. He cavorted at orgies with prostitutes, but was also an enthusiastic bisexual, having enjoyed avid encounters with his fellow tailoring apprentices, soldiers at the front and even Bolsheviks like Filipp Goloshchekin, who had arranged the murder of the Romanovs. His only hobby apart from partying and fornicating was collecting and making model yachts”.
Ezhov and his wife Tonya spent some time at a sanitarium, where “By 1930… [she] …was sunbathing in a deckchair… reading Das Kapital and enjoying the attentions of an Old Bolshevik while her husband rose early every morning to cut roses for a girl, also married, who was staying there too. Cutting roses, pursuing adulterous romances, singing and dancing the gopak, one gets an idea of the incestuous world of the Bolsheviks on holiday. But Yezhov’s new mistress was no Old Bolshevik but the Soviet version of a flapper who had already introduced him to her writer friends in Moscow. Yezhov divorced Tonya that year and married her” (emphasis added).
“Slim with flashing eyes, Yevgenia Feigenberg, at twenty-six, was a seductive and lively Jewess [another yellow star-bearer] from Gomel. This avid literary groupie was as promiscuous as her new husband: she possessed the amorous enthusiasm of Messalina but none of her guile”.
Heavens to Betsy! Ezhov married a Jewish groupie flapper nymphomaniac. That must prove something. But by November 1938 he had been forced to resign as head of the NKVD. According to Montefiore in Part 5: Slaughter – Beria Arrives 1938-1939:
Yezhov consoled himself with a series of drunken bisexual orgies in his Kremlin apartment. Inviting two drinking buddies and homosexual lovers from his youth to stay, he enjoyed ‘the most perverted forms of debauchery’. His nephews brought him girls but he also returned (sic!) to homosexuality. When one crony, Konstantinov, brought his wife to the party, Yezhov danced the foxtrot with her, pulled out his member, and then slept with her. On the next night, when the long-suffering Konstantinov arrived, they drank and danced to the gramophone until the guest fell asleep only to be awoken: ‘I felt something in my mouth. When I opened my eyes, I saw that Yezhov had shoved his member into my mouth.’ Unzipped and undone, Yezhov awaited his fate.
This is the only appearance of the shadowy Konstantinov and his wife, who have no antecedents or subsequent careers in Montefiore’s fable. They appear at Ezhov’s disgusting orgy and then disappear silently into the shadows of history.
This fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of Soviet terror serves as a smoke-screen to divert attention from gross historical inaccuracies (see below). It also opens new vistas for academics who wish to establish new research turfs devoted to the sexual conduct of government ministers and senior civil servants.
New-vista history might open with an investigation of the sex-lives of British cabinet ministers between the world wars, a subject which to my knowledge has been neglected in the West. Researchers could describe the droves of small boys and male adolescents recruited for the pleasure of the masculine denizens of Whitehall, not to mention romantic evening trysts with well-hung Guardsmen in St. James’ Park. The relevance of this type of historiography may not be immediately apparent, but Montefiore demonstrates that it has a wide potential market appeal.
The sexual menace of Communism is not limited to a limited circle of high-ranking Party officials, however (cf. Mao Zedong’s supposedly insatiable sexual appetites). Sexual brutality was exhibited on a mass scale by the personnel of the Red Army, which in the West is normally seen as the greatest raping machine in history. This viewpoint is shared by Montefiore, who claims that the Soviet soldiers raped 2 million German women.
The source of this information is not given, but it is probably Antony Beevor’s Berlin – The Downfall 1945 (2003), which is listed in Montefiore’s bibliography. The 2 million rape victims are said to include 1.4 million women in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia. A large minority, or possibly the majority, are thought to have been gang-raped, according to Beevor.
Of an estimated 100,000 women who were raped by Soviet soldiers in Berlin, 10,000 died, most of them by suicide. The source for this claim is apparently a doctor named Gerhard Reichling, whose professional status and political affiliations are not given. This is unfortunate, in the light of the tendency of many Germans to accuse the Allies – not only the Soviet Union – of sexual and other atrocities (see Bower).
Personnel at two major hospitals in Berlin claim that between 95,000 and 130,000 women were raped, according to Beevor. He also writes that the shrieks of the victims could be heard every night because all the windows in Berlin had been broken, although no one who heard them is identified. Another source referred to by Beevor is the anonymous author of a diary. Such sources are worthless and would never be used by a serious historian.
Rape occurs in all wars, on all sides, not least because war is a brutalizing and not an ennobling experience. But Beevor’s account raises a number of questions. What is the basis for the estimate of 2 million victims? How was it possible to determine the figure of 1.4 million, given the chaos in the eastern German territories as the Red Army advanced, with large numbers of civilians fleeing westward and clogging the roads, and battles raging continuously. Were the rapes reported? By whom? To whom were the reports submitted? Is it probable, or even possible, that German field or sector commanders were interested in or capable of keeping records of rapes committed by Soviet soldiers? Do the Wehrmacht’s war archives, or any civil archives, contain reliable reports on the numbers of women raped in these territories?
Subtracting 1.4 million in the eastern territories and 100,000 in Berlin from the total of 2 million indicates that about 500,000 women were raped by the Red Army in other parts of Germany. Which parts? Who reported these rapes? Who compiled the figures?
As for the rape victims in Berlin, the basis for the estimate of about 100,000 is not given. In order for hospital personnel to determine that about 10,000 women died, they must have had access to medical journals and/or death certificates. Where are those journals and certificates stored? Who has examined them?
Rapes were certainly committed by Soviet soldiers, as by soldiers in all other armies. But until reasonable answers to the above questions are forthcoming there is no reason to consider Beevor’s figures as anything but propaganda.
References to rapes by Soviet soldiers are common in Western histories of the war in Europe, and are occasionally explained – but not justified – by the Red Army’s discovery of devastation and horrors as it regained the western parts of the Soviet Union. However, the subject of rape by American and other Western soldiers is virtually never discussed.
One exception is Taken by Force, by J. Robert Lilly, Regents Professor of Sociology at Northern Kentucky University. The book was first published in a French edition in 2003, and then in Italian in 2004. The English edition was not published until 2007, by Palgrave Macmillan in the UK. It has not been published in the US, to the best of my knowledge.
Lilly’s study covers rapes by US soldiers in the allied nations of Great Britain and France, as well as in Germany. It is based on records of court cases, not on unsubstantiated or unsubstantiable estimates from sources whose reliability is never assessed. Among other things, Lilly shows that black soldiers were often punished much more severely than their white comrades-in-arms. Lilly’s book should be required reading for Montefiore, Beevor and anyone else who is sincerely interest in the subject of rape in wartime.
Rape as a commonplace in cities occupied by the Red Army is also described by the Swede Lars Berg in Vad hände I Budapest? (What happened in Budapest?) (1983). Berg was employed at the Swedish legation in Budapest together with Raoul Wallenberg, who the CIA has admitted was a spy.http://www.raoul-wallenberg.eu/articles/the-angel-was-a-spy/
Berg’s view of the Soviets is harsh and merits a prominent place in Western historiography. He emphasizes that after the Red Army arrived in Budapest,
Rapes were not limited to women, however. A large part of the Red Army consisted of female soldiers, and they also wanted to have some fun. Many young men were picked up in trucks to the laughter of these large-breasted, powerful Amazons. Particularly attractive were priests, who relied on their black robes [for safety] and were incautious enough to venture out into the streets during the first days [of the Soviet occupation]. (My translation from the Swedish.)
The demonic Beria
While Stalin is the embodiment of all evil in the mainstream Western version, Ezhov’s successor Lavrenti Beria is the devil’s right hand. Montefiore reinforces this image by alleging that Beria was a sadist and a sexual monster of virtually unmatched proportions. He had “yellow teeth”, another damning vital characteristic. We also learn that Beria’s wife Nina was “blonde, beautiful (though with stocky legs)”. Men who are attracted to such women are probably thoroughly depraved.
Nina herself was “something of an Amazon, always exercising, playing tennis with bodyguards, cycling on a tandem”. Goodness gracious! Bolshevik amazons!
A few examples are sufficient. Montefiore writes that by the time Beria replaced Ezhov he “…was already a Priapic womanizer whose power would distort into (sic!) a sexual predator”. Montefiore gives no indication of the proportion of Beria’s time spent on womanizing and studying dreary articles on dialectical materialism.
“This deft intriguer, coarse psychopath and sexual adventurer would also have cut throats, seduced ladies-in-waiting and poisoned goblets of wine at the courts of Genghis Khan, Suleiman the Magnificent or Lucrezia Borgia”. Whew!
Beria was “…a familiar sight in Moscow as he cruised the streets in his armored Packard and sent his Caucasian bodyguards Colonels Sarkisov and Nadaraia to procure women for him”. The colonels kept a list of his conquests – “some say the list numbered thirty-nine, others seventy-nine”. In other words, no one has ever seen the list. “Some” remain unidentified.
The numbers may be of interest to future historians, because they require explanation. Since Beria was a “familiar” sight as he cruised the streets and picked up ladies in his Packard, and his colonels were also supplying him with women, an average of two women per week does not seem excessive for such a Priapic monster. This would add up to 8 women per month or 96 per year. Even if Beria and his bodyguards were only working half-time on this project, at the end of two years the total would be close to 100, not counting subsequent years until 1953, when Beria died. Estimates of 39 or 79 therefore seem improbably low.
Ezhov and the repression of 1937-38
The reliability of Montefiore’s narrative in general and in particular of the repression of 1937-1938 should be evaluated in the light of his devious account of the end of the repressions and the replacement of Ezhov by Beria (see above).
Although Montefiore lists Thurston’s Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia 1934–1941 in the bibliography of his book, as far as I can see he makes no reference to Thurston’s conclusion: “…that Stalin was not guilty of mass first-degree murder from 1934 to 1941 and did not plan or carry out a systematic campaign to crush the nation”.
When the principal argument of a book referenced by an author is in direct contradiction to his own claims, it is reasonable to expect some sort of explanation. Montefiore avoids the question, and offers no comment on Thurston’s observation that the standard mainstream images of “unlimited horror” in the Soviet Union “serve to vindicate history and politics in the West, itself a construct of virtue in contrast to Soviet malice” (see Chapter 8, Was the Holocaust an aberration?).
On the question of why the repression came to an end, Montefiore writes that Stalin began to have second thoughts about Ezhov, and that in February 1938 or later “Sensing his rising doubts, Stalin’s magnates, who had proved their readiness to kill, began to denounce Ezhov’s degeneracy and lies. Zhdanov in particular was said to oppose Ezhov’s terror” (emphasis added).
Montefiore here is playing fast-and-loose with known facts. As early as the summer of 1937 two high-ranking officials openly and harshly criticized the actions of the NKVD, and one of them called for a special commission to investigate it. Both were arrested by Ezhov on false charges.
Starkov writes that at the start of 1938
…a large group of NKVD employees complained to the Central Committee about Ezhov. They accused him of illegal use of government funds and also of the secret execution of a number of prominent party members without investigation or a court examination. In January 1938 the Central Committee Plenum produced a resolution criticizing excessive vigilance. Prominent in the movement to criticize Ezhov’s actions was A. A. Zhdanov, who played an important role in drafting the January 1938 resolution.
No mention is made here about anyone “sensing” Stalin’s doubts, or about what Zhdanov was “supposed” to have said. Later in the same year, Zhdanov, Andreev (another member of the Central Committee) and Voroshilov stated that “the repression had seriously begun to undermine the economic cultural and defense potential of the country”.
Stalin, Molotov and others who signed orders for executions were relying on the accuracy of the charges presented by the NKVD, just as heads of state in other countries rely on the intelligence reports provided by their security agencies. Others in the Soviet administration, including Khruschev, were manipulating evidence and condemning innocent people to serve their own purposes, which in Ezhov’s case included getting rid of those who could reveal his connection with right-wing conspirators.
Although Montefiore is eager to share his vast store of information about Beria’s sex-life, he glosses over one of the most important aspects of the replacement of Ezhov in November-December 1938. He writes that “Beria brought a new spirit to the NKVD. Ezhov’s frenzy was replaced with a tight system of terror administration that became the Stalinist method of ruling Russia”. He writes that Beria interrogated and tortured “fallen magnates”, and names three of them (emphasis added).
Montefiore does not see fit to mention that as a direct result of Beria’s changes the number of arrests declined by about 94%, from 629,695 in 1938 to 41,627 in 1939. The number of executions declined by 99.3%.
The figures below are from a table in Getty and Naumov:
Executions 328,618 2,552
Sentenced to camps/prisons 205,509 54,666
Exiled (presumably internally) 16,842 3,783
Montefiore does not mention that Beria oversaw the arrest and prosecution of NKVD personnel – and others – who were found guilty of illegal repression, torture, falsification of evidence, and widespread killings. More than 100,000 people were released from prison, and Beria put an end to abusive treatment that had been initiated and approved by Ezhov (see Thurston). Montefiore attaches greater importance to the information that Beria’s son “recalled that his father gleefully listed Stalin’s affairs with Jewesses”.
Implementation of mass repression
Montefiore is apparently dimly aware that the repressions of 1937-38 were largely traceable to Ezhov and regional Party heads, known as First Secretaries (see above on the defeat of Stalin’s proposed democratic reforms), as he refers to their “initial blood-letting”, but this is supposed to have “provided an excuse for their own eradication”.
We are thus left to draw the conclusion that punishment of people who were responsible for extensive illegal repression was a diabolical plot by Stalin, who unleashed “a second wave of terror” which resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of arrests and executions.
The dynamics of events in the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1930s are extremely complex. The primary external factor was the continuous pressure from the capitalist countries, which until the outbreak of World War 2 took the form of espionage as well as both political and economic warfare.
The primary internal factors included opposition to the policies of the Stalin government by members of the military high-command and the security forces, as well as current and former members of the Bolshevik Party, many of whom were linked to Trotsky. This opposition took the form of conspiracies to overthrow the government, some of which were exposed at the so-called Moscow Trials in 1936-1938.
Opposition also took the form of widespread sabotage (see above, Littlepage) that was not invisible to industrial workers, who were often aware, or thought they knew, that their superiors were engaged in sabotage (see Scott). Ezhov and many of the First Secretaries (including Nikita Khruschev) took advantage of the situation to eliminate large numbers of people whom they considered threats, as they pretended to pursue “enemies of the people”. But at the same time many people who were actually guilty of sabotage and other crimes were also arrested and imprisoned or executed.
The image of Stalin as the instigator of the repressions is seriously questioned not only by Thurston, but by others such as Rittersporn and even Getty, Naumov and Manning (see citations in previous section).
All this occurred against a background of a successful drive to industrialize the country, a steady improvement in living standards and a vast expansion of social services such as health care and education. It is conceivable that the government headed by the leaders of the Bolshevik Party may have had something to do with these developments when they were not busily engaged in fulfilling their all-consuming and often deviant sexual desires.
John Scott writes that in 1933 at the Magnitogorsk construction site
The social insurance laws, whose application was directly connected with the trade unions, worked well. Paid vacations, sick money [sickness pay], free medical attention, rest homes were universally enjoyed and taken for granted. This service was generally appreciated, but usually attributed to the Soviet power in general, to the Bolshevik regime, rather than to the trade unions.
I could find no reference to this statement in Sheila Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism – Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, (1999), although Fitzpatrick has obviously read Scott’s book and quotes from it. Perhaps she and other American experts on the history of the Soviet Union might want to explain why the benefits that Scott names are not taken for granted by the US working class in 2012, three quarters of a century years later.
As for Montefiore, it should be clear by now that his “portrait” of Stalin is an untrustworthy and misleading collage that deserves no other name but “propaganda”. Like Robert Conquest, Montefiore tells malicious stories that are designed to feed the appetites of people who are pre-disposed to condemn not only Stalin but the “movement” that threatens the natural order of things.
The acceptance and praise that his book has earned is an accurate measure of the degeneracy of the mainstream of Western society,
Gulags East and West
In the anti-Communist propaganda war, Anne Applebaum’s Gulag – A History (2004) parallels Montefiore’s book. Like Montefiore, Applebaum clearly defines her political position in her Introduction.
The suffering and death of hundreds of millions of Russian peasants and workers during centuries of oppression, exploitation and suffering do not exist in Applebaum’s world. But “Mass terror against real and alleged opponents was a part of the Revolution from the beginning…” The terror implemented by the Western powers against the new Soviet government both before and after the Revolution is not worthy of note. The phrase “mass terror” implies that the Soviet government was terrorizing the majority of citizens, which it was not.
Applebaum’s professed abhorrence of violence by revolutionaries but not by counter-revolutionaries indicates that she shares Montefiore’s indignation about the subversion of “the natural order of things” (emphasis added):
During the Revolution, the terror imposed afterwards, and the subsequent civil war, it seemed to many in Russia as if civilization itself had been permanently fractured. ‘Death sentences were meted out arbitrarily,’ the historian Richard Pipes has written, ‘people were shot for no reason and equally capriciously released’. From 1917 onwards, a whole society’s set of values was turned on its head: a lifetime’s accumulated wealth and experience was a liability, robbery was glamorized as ‘nationalization’, murder became an accepted part of the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this atmosphere, Lenin’s initial imprisonment of thousands of people, simply on the grounds of their former wealth or their aristocratic titles, hardly seemed strange or out of line.
Applebaum makes no pretense to objectivity. She is squarely on the side of the Tsarist ruling class, which she thinks was being unfairly dispossessed. Tsarist Russia was the equivalent of “civilization”. Nationalization of private property was robbery. How would Applebaum describe privatization of public property? What were the “values” of the “whole” Russian society? Were these values shared by the ruling class and their subjects? When counter-revolutionaries and /or agents of foreign powers killed revolutionaries, was that “murder”? The reality of class conflict does not exist for her.
Applebaum’s account of the Revolution in general is specious in the extreme (like Pipes’), e.g. she claims that popular support for the Bolsheviks “was indeed weak”, when it was not.
She seems incapable of understanding that the Soviet prison system was part of a revolutionary process. As indicated previously, the Russian Revolution did not end in 1919, or with the expulsion of the last foreign troops in 1922. Like other revolutions, it was a prolonged process that involved conflicts between different groups of revolutionaries as well as between the leaders of the revolution and its enemies, domestic and foreign. The Soviet Gulag developed during this process and reflected these conflicts. The Gulag also reflected the interests of the state. Prison systems always do.
Many innocent Soviet citizens were imprisoned, and many miscarriages of justice occurred, which is only to be expected in a country where the judicial system at the time of the Revolution was rudimentary, to say the least. Virtually all the trained lawyers and judges were representatives of the ruling class, who had been part of the Tsarist state’s repressive apparatus. Tsarist Russia was a class society ruled by owners of private property, and its justice was aimed at the poor and the unruly, as in all other such societies, including those in contemporary Europe and North America.
The new Soviet judicial system adopted many of the features of established systems in capitalist countries, but its justice was aimed in a different direction. For the first time in history, a legal system was mot aimed at the poor and the dispossessed, but at those who wanted to maintain the rule of the propertied minority. This is regarded as cruel and inhuman treatment by Applebaum and other Western chroniclers.
Definitions of common criminals are no less a question of class perspective, as the history of Western jurisprudence demonstrates. Penalties ranging from imprisonment to corporal and capital punishment for idleness, insubordination, unemployment, vagrancy, begging and other social evils that are generated by poverty in a class society have been part of Western penal codes for many centuries. Expropriation of both private and commonly owned property was a privilege reserved for royalty, the nobility and the church, and in later times for capitalists armed with lawyers and hired legislators. The results were often unsavory, as shown in Chapter 28 of Capital,Vol. 1, “Bloody Legislation against the Expropriated since the End of the Fifteenth Century. The Forcing Down of Wages by Act of Parliament”.
A good example of how such behavior could lead to massive ethnic cleansing is given in Chapter 27 of Capital, Vol. 1, “The Expropriation of the Agricultural Population”, as exemplified by the Duchess of Sunderland in 1814-1820 when she swept the Scottish Highlands clear of farmers to make room for grazing land and hunting preserves.
It is not difficult to understand the indignation and horror that the Soviet Union’s new judicial orientation inspired in the Western bourgeoisie and its servants, such as Applebaum. Nobody likes to lose, and the threat of losing property, power and privilege that was posed by the new Soviet regime was a virtual nightmare. It still is.
It was also inevitable that conditions in the Soviet prison camps would vary widely, as Applebaum admits. “Life in one of the industrial camps of the far north was very different from life on (sic!) an agricultural farm camp in southern Russia”. The nature of the work performed by camp inmates also varied widely, as it does in Western prisons:
Without a doubt, the range of economic activity within the Gulag was as wide as the range of economic activity within the USSR itself. A glance through the Guide to the System of Corrective-Labor Camps in the USSR, the most comprehensive listing of camps to date, reveals the existence of camps organized around gold mines, coal mines, nickel mines; highway and railway construction; arms factories, chemical factories, metal-processing plants, electricity plants; the building of airports, apartment blocks, sewage systems; the digging of peat, the cutting of trees and the canning of fish. The Gulag administrators themselves preserved a photo album solely dedicated to the goods that inmates produced. Among other things, there are pictures of mines, missiles and other army equipment; car parts, door locks, buttons; logs floating down rivers; wooden furniture, including chairs, cabinets, telephone boxes (sic!) and barrels; shoes, baskets and textiles (with samples attached); rugs, leather, fur hats, sheepskin coats; glass cups, lamps and jars; soap candles; even toys – wooden tanks, tiny windmills and mechanical rabbits playing drums.
A chapter describing the first Gulag camp begins with a poem which laments that
“There are princes here, and barons –
But their crowns have been taken away…”
Applebaum provides no details about how the princes and barons obtained their crowns, the nature of the entertainment that was enjoyed by this parasitic nobility prior to the Revolution, or how they obtained financing for their diversions.
Applebaum derides the notion of “class enemy”, again reflecting her belief in the nonexistence of class conflict, since according to her everyone in Russia shared the same values. As proof she cites the first Bolshevik decree on bribery:
Thus in May 1918, the first Bolshevik ‘decree on bribery’ declared that: ‘If the person guilty of taking or offering bribes belongs to the propertied classes and is using the bribe to preserve or acquire privileges, linked to property rights, then he should be sentenced to the harshest and most unpleasant forced labor and all of his property should be confiscated.’
From the very earliest days of the new Soviet state, in other words, people were to be sentenced not for what they had done, but for who they were.
But the decree quoted specifies that it is aimed at persons who “are guilty of taking or offering bribes”, i.e. persons who had done something. In addition, Applebaum’s indignation is surrealistic, for as an American and a student of history she should be aware that throughout the existence of the US huge numbers of African-Americans and Amerindians have been persecuted, imprisoned and killed precisely for “who they were”, and not “for what they had done”. Applebaum’s aversion to mentioning slave labor in the US, or her ignorance of it, is discussed below.
The key to Applebaum’s view of the USSR is her claim that “In Stalin’s Soviet Union, the difference between life inside and outside the barbed wire was not fundamental, but rather a question of degree” and the country as a whole was referred to as “the big prison zone”. By who?
This statement does not correspond to the experiences of the millions of Soviet citizens who were struggling to emerge from the morass of ignorance and poverty. John Scott writes of the schools and colleges that had been established at Magnitigorsk (emphasis added):
Every night from six to twelve the street cars and buses of Magnitogorsk were crowded with adult students hurrying to and from schools with books and notebooks under their arms, discussing Leibniz, Hegel or Lenin, doing problems on their knees, and acting like high-school children during examination week in a New York subway. These students, however, were not adolescents, and it was not examination time. They were just the run of the population of the Soviet Union making up for several centuries of lost time.
The run of the population included Scott’s wife Masha, and her story is certainly not evidence that the Soviet Union was one big prison zone. Masha was born in 1912 in a village about half-way between Moscow and Leningrad. Her parents were poor peasants, illiterate descendants of serfs. They insisted that their children attend the village school which went up to the fourth grade. When Masha started in 1920, her oldest sister was the teacher. When Masha finished in 1924, “Her older brothers and sisters had gone off to distant towns to go to schools, which were now everywhere free. They lived as best they could”.
They were living in a country that had been devastated during the War of Intervention. Masha and another sister attended a secondary school that had been organized in a nearby village, and when she was fourteen “Masha got her first pair of shoes”.
As conditions improved, Masha’s older brother and sister finished college and started working as an engineer and a teacher, respectively.
From the incredible poverty and suffering of the civil-war period, the Russian people were working their way up to a higher standard. All Masha’s family were enthusiastic… after years of argument, the mother succumbed to the pressure of her children and took down the icons from the wall of the hut. [She learned to read and write] …at the age of fifty-five. She was taught by her youngest daughter.
Masha went to Moscow in 1929, like her siblings who studied at some of
Moscow’s many higher educational institutions… Russia’s rapidly expanding economy was crying for every kind of professional skill, for engineers, chemists, teachers, economists and doctors. The higher schools paid stipends to their factory and laboratory.
In 1932 Masha followed her sister to Magnitigorsk, where she entered the Teachers’ College, majoring in mathematics and physics. She worked four hours a day in the local adult education school. Scott:
Masha was very happy in Magnitogorsk. She felt that the world was at her feet. She slept on the divan of her sister and brother-in-law’s tiny hotel room, she had two or three dresses, two pairs of shoes, and one coat. In two more years she would graduate from the teachers’ college. Then she would teach, or perhaps take graduate work. Not only this, she was living in a town which had grown up from nothing just as she herself had. Living conditions were improving as the pig-iron production of the mill increased. She felt herself a part of a going concern. Hence her spontaneous pity for me, whom she first saw as a cast-off from a bankrupt and degenerating society.
After they were married, Masha and Scott visited her home village during one of their paid holidays. Scott got along well with Masha’s father:
Old Ivan Kalinovich, her father, was a kindly, bearded peasant with a deep voice and horny hands. He was a member of the local collective farm administration, and was heart and soul for collectivization. He spoke slowly and simply to me of what the collective farm had done in the village. Everyone had bread. The flax crop was larger than ever before, and there was more livestock. To be sure, there was some resistance. Some of the old peasants still preferred individual farming, but they would learn…
The village and the fields looked poor. There was no machinery at all. Tractors and combines were being sent to the grain regions in the Ukraine and Siberia where better soil and larger agricultural units made them more effective…
From the standpoint of agricultural technique and material standards, the village functioned and lived more or less as it had during the years before 1914, I learned, although there were two new elements. In the first place, many of the young people went off to the cities to go to school and then worked in industry, leaving the village short-handed. In the second place, there was a new spirit in the village. They were working, not only for themselves as they had during the first years of the revolution, but for the Kolkhoz, for their collective benefit. They were working together. Little fields had been made into big ones, work was done by brigades. On the other hand, whereas before the revolution they had worked twelve or fourteen hours a day, now they put in eight hours. What was gained by collective effort was spent in decreased working hours. Production was about the same as it had been twenty years before. This, incidentally, was true by and large of Soviet agriculture as a whole, though in some sections like the Kuban and Western Siberia numerous new large tractor-worked agricultural units produced many times more than previously.
But according to Applebaum, Masha and her parents lived in a prison, where life was “horrible, unbearable and inhuman”. As we have seen, agricultural production increased generally during the 1930s, but the first wave of mechanization focused, as Scott indicates, on the large and fertile grain-producing regions. Getty and Naumov write that collectivization of agriculture “was an unqualified disaster, provoking one of the greatest human tragedies of modern times…” It was not. Not at least for Ivan Kalinovich and most of his neighbors.
Another key indicator of Applebaum’s political position is her attempt to equate Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which she says are related “at a very deep level”. The fact that Nazism was devoted to extending and preserving the rule of monopoly capital while the USSR was dedicated to doing away with it is an uncomfortable fact that has no place in Applebaum’s world, since it demonstrates the absurdity of her claim.
Applebaum also suppresses the truth about the support for Nazism from what she calls “high-brow culture”. For example, she claims that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger was “deeply damaged” by his “brief, overt support of Nazism”, which was limited to a period before Hitler’s “major atrocities”. This is a lie. Like the majority of German bourgeois, Heidegger was an enthusiastic supporter of Nazism and a life-long anti-Semite until the day he died.
Applebaum’s distortion of Heideggers’ relation to Fascism may be related to her reliance on Hannah Arendt’s so-called theory that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were both “totalitarian” societies. I do not propose to waste time on Arendt, whose speculations are untenable.
Rejection of the reality of class conflict is shown in Applebaum’s claim that the first targets in Nazi Germany were the crippled and the retarded. In fact, the first targets were the trade unions, Communists and Social Democrats, for whom the camp at Dachau was originally intended when it was established in 1933, the year Hitler came to power (see Chapter 3). Like the Forum for Living History and other Western historians, Applebaum falsifies the history and nature of Fascism.
Applebaum thinks that concentration camps can be partially explained by the “notion that some types of people are superior to other types of people [which] was common enough in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century”. In Europe? Why is the United States of America not worthy of mention?
Applebaum relates this “notion to the fact that “…some forms of colonialism both reinforced the myth of white racial superiority and legitimized the use of violence by one race against another”. Since Applebaum does not specify the forms of colonialism in question, the reader is entitled to wonder which forms of colonialism did not do so.
Applebaum relates the Soviet prisons as well as the Nazi concentration camps to the “particular intellectual climate of continental Europe in the mid-twentieth century…”
“Intellectual climate” is probably code for “prevailing ideas”. Such ideas usually reflect the material interests of a class, and include justifications for actions that promote and protect such interests.
The carnage of World War 1 was not generated by an intellectual climate. It was generated by the material interests of European capitalists who were intent on extending and protecting their imperial domains. Hitler’s insistence on eradicating Judeo-Bolshevism reflected prevailing ideas, but it was rooted in class conflict and the imperialist rivalries that generated World War 1.
Applebaum writes that one of the differences between the Nazi and the Soviet prison systems was that “the primary purpose of the Gulag… was economic”.
This was supposedly in contrast to Nazi facilities, which “were not really ‘labor camps’ at all, but rather death factories”. However, Majdanek and Auschwitz also contained labor camps, she writes. At these camps, “a tiny number [of selected prisoners] were sent to do a few weeks of forced labor” (emphasis added).
Applebaum here displays breathtaking and possibly willful ignorance of the slave-labor system in Nazi Germany. The pathetic pretense that a tiny number of prisoners did a few weeks of forced labor is directly refuted by Borkin, among many others, and by testimony at the Nuremberg Tribunal. The Nazi slave-labor system was huge, and it generated magnificent profits for German capitalists. I suspect that this fact is the main motivation for Applebaum’s untruthful claims.
About 10 million Jewish and non-Jewish slave laborers were supplied to concentration camps, factories, and farms under the administration of Albert Speer (see Billstein, Fings, Kugler and Levis). The German capitalists showed an insatiable hunger for these “two-footed animals” as slaves were called in ancient Greece. They had to be reminded that maltreatment of slaves could be counter-productive, and that they could not count on prompt replacement of those who died in the inhuman conditions that helped to maximize profits, especially when the Red Army was driving westward and the supply was dwindling.
Although employers were to some extent forced into (sic!) this situation [employment of prison and slave labor] by the call-up of German workers and the pressure of tight delivery dates, the fact that the Nazi slave-labor boss, Gauleiter Sauckel [Speer’s lieutenant], had to warn employers against ‘neglecting the most primitive measures for maintaining the will to work’ and against ‘the mass deployment of eastern workers arousing primeval capitalist instincts’ speaks volumes (Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich, 1974).
Slave labor in the capitalist world – global and local
Denial of class conflict is based on a combination of ignorance and ideological blindness. For a would-be historian, it leads to both willful and unwitting evasions as well as lies. The Soviet prison system is thus presented by Applebaum as a gigantic punitive apparatus designed to extract economic profits, comparable only with Nazi Germany. But in the Soviet Union both monetary and non-monetary profits were used to develop socialism, not to enrich a minority. For Applebaum and others, this fact is insignificant.
Equally insignificant is the fact that the German slave-labor system was part of a tradition of slave labor that has always been part of the Western market economy and has reached global proportions, starting with the Spanish conquest of Latin America.
It has long been the case that the major share of the world’s annual product is consumed in the imperial countries. According to UN reports, the 14% of the planet’s population who live in these countries consume 70% or more of the planetary product. The conditions of life for the majority of the world’s population who produce the goods that are consumed directly or indirectly (as raw materials or consumer items) are the equivalent of slavery. The bulk of the monetary profits enabled by their labor is appropriated by owners of corporations large and small. It is not used to improve the living conditions of the Western public in general or the working class in particular.
Can it be assumed that Applebaum is ignorant of this fact? As an American, is Applebaum really ignorant of the history of slave labor in the US, or of the US prison system?
Slave labor by blacks and whites
Slave labor in the United States of America has not been and is not currently limited to the use of Afro-Americans. In the 18th century, slave labor in the US was performed by blacks transported from Africa, but also by so-called “indentured servants” most of whom were white inhabitants of Great Britain, Many of them had been convicted of minor crimes such as petty theft in their homeland, and many of them were simply kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic for profit. Similar procedures were used to supply white slaves to Australia.
Following the American Revolution, slavery was institutionalized in two forms. The best known is the chattel-slave system in the southern states. Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution is a good starting point for anyone (including Applebaum) who wants to become acquainted with this system, which was contradictory to the US Constitution.
The second form of slavery was the use of convicts for economic gain. In the northern states, most of them were white. At the start of the 19th century a new type of prison appeared in the US (and in the UK), called the “penitentiary”. The word is derived from “penitent”. The purpose of the institution was to punish inmates and convince them to genuinely repent their crimes. Forced labor was seen as a valuable contribution to the process of repentance.
Silence was the rule for all prisoners. They were not allowed to speak during the day, when they worked. They spent the night in solitary confinement, also in silence.
One of the first penitentiaries in the US was started in 1816 in the town of Auburn, New York. According to Wikipedia, the Auburn model also involved
a revolutionary system of transporting the convicts around the prison complex. The prisoners marched in unison and had to lock their arms to the convict in front of them. The prisoners had to look to one side and were not allowed to look at the guards or the other inmates.
Within a few years a local businessman in Auburn was given permission to open a production facility inside the prison. The prisoners who worked in it were unpaid. The furniture and other items they produced were sold to public authorities.
Soon afterward the directors of the penitentiary started hiring out convicts under a bidding system. The winning bidder had the right to use them as slaves but was obligated to provide food and lodging.
This became known as the Auburn System. The following text is from http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/state/html/nyprisons.html (emphasis added):
For economic reasons, most American prisons came to be patterned after Auburn and were as much silent factories and involuntary [slave] labor pools as they were bleak prisons. Auburn Prison, in fact, turned a profit in the early years of its existence.
It was an article of faith that these prisons would not only be successful in transforming idle and corrupt men into virtuous laborers, but that they were examples of model communities from which the large society could benefit as well. The Boston Prison Discipline Society reported that the Prison Program would greatly promote order, seriousness, and purity in large families, male and female boarding schools, and colleges.
A chaplain at the Ohio Penitentiary proclaimed: ‘Never, no never shall we see the triumph of peace, of right, of Christianity, until the daily habits of mankind shall undergo a thorough revolution. Could we all be put on prison fare, for the space of two or three generations, the world would ultimately be the better for it. Indeed, (society should) change places with the prisoners, so far as habits are concerned, taking to itself the regularity, and temperance, and sobriety of a good prison. As it is, taking this world and the next together… the prisoner has the advantage’.
Discipline was regarded as the key to success of the congregate prison, and one rule soon emerged as the key to discipline. That rule was silence, a silence so profound and so pervasive that it became the most awesome and striking feature of the fortress-like prisons of America. From their tour through Auburn, de Beaumont and de Tocqueville wrote: ‘We felt as if we traversed catacombs; there were a thousand living beings, and yet it was a desert solitude’”. [The two Frenchmen visited the US in the 1830s.]
New prisons in New York state and throughout the rest of the US were modeled on the Auburn facility. From coast to coast, from San Quentin to Sing Sing prisons they were usually built by unpaid convicts, i.e. by slave labor. Unpaid convict labor in the Soviet Union is generally referred to as slave labor by Western historians, including Montefiore and Applebaum, but the term is not often applied to slave labor in the US and other Western countries, where the tradition is alive and well.
Slave labor in Western prisons is not only taken for granted, but is mandated: US law stipulates that all inmates in Federal prisons must work. The Federal Bureau of Prisons estimates that about 75% of them are occupied with building maintenance or service jobs in kitchens and laundries. The rest work for UNICOR, the brand name of Federal Prison Industries (FPI).
FPI was established by the US Congress on 23 June 1934, the year after work on the White Sea canal in the USSR was completed. All convicts who had worked on the canal were given their freedom.
According to the UNICOR web site,
By law, UNICOR may only sell its products to Federal departments, agencies, government institutions, and their authorized contractors or representatives.
It is safe to assume that many if not all of such contractors are privately owned, and that many if not most of them are part of the so-called military-industrial complex, i.e. they make weapons and weapon systems that are used to kill people, in violation of the Sixth Commandment. At UNICOR,
We recognize the importance of working smart to give you the most for your money – particularly in these times of heightened budgetary constraints. That’s why we’ve formed several important partnerships with nationally recognized organizations.
This apparently means that UNICORN enters into joint ventures with privately owned companies.
The product range is comprehensive, ranging from cables for missiles, military helmets and uniforms, and security doors for prisons (someone has a fine sense of irony) to sunglasses, letterheads, furniture for corporate management (“executive furniture”), recycling services and “Upfitting and De-Retrofitting” of fleets of vehicles.
Information on inmates who have been poisoned while laboring at UNICOR recycling facilities is available at http://realcostofprisons.org/blog/archives/2009/08/prisoners_and_w.html
The slaves who work for UNICOR are paid wages between 23 cents and 1.15 per hour. At least 50% is deducted to cover the cost of room and board, and additional deductions are made for an inmate’s possible financial obligations such as fines or child support, although the amount of such support that an inmate can provide on a maximum of 1.15/hr less 50% is probably not very substantial.
Slave labor in state and privately owned prisons
Regulations requiring inmates to work vary among the 50 US states, but in reality everyone has to labor in one way or another. Refusing to work can be punished by withdrawal of privileges (if any) and/or a longer prison term. The number of inmates working in privately owned prisons has increased steadily since the 1990s.
Wages in both types of prisons are low enough to compete with foreign low-wage countries. A good summary of slave and semi-slave labor in US prisons is provided by the film Prison Blues, which is available from Amazon.
A great deal of information on convict i.e. slave labor in US prisons is available on the Internet. A text at http://www.prisontalk.com/forums/ showthread.php?t=117050 lists corporations that make use of such labor: They include:
MicroJet, Nike, Lockhart Technologies, Inc. (circuit-boards), Dell Computers,
Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, Planet Hollywood, Wilson Sporting Goods, J.C. Penney,
Victoria’s Secret, Best Western Hotels, Honda, K-Mart , Kwalu, Inc. (plastic seating) (South Africa/So. Carolina), McDonald’s (plasting seating from Kwalu),
Burger King (Hawaii – aloha shirts), “Prison Blues” jeans line (Oregon)
New York, New York Hotel/Casino (Las Vegas), Imperial Palace Hotel/Casino (Las Vegas), Crisp County Solid Waste Management Authority (Georgia),
Konica, Allstate (investment in private prisons), Merrill Lynch (investment in private prisons), Louisiana Pacific, Parke-Davis and Upjohn.
Slave labor boosts military might
The following text is from The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U.S. Prisons, by Sara Flounders, posted at www.globalresearch.ca on 23 June 2011:
Prisoners earning 23 cents an hour in U.S. federal prisons are manufacturing high-tech electronic components for Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, launchers for TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles, and other guided missile systems. A March article by journalist and financial researcher Justin Rohrlich of World in Review is worth a closer look at the full implications of this ominous development (minyanville.com).
The expanding use of prison industries, which pay slave wages, as a way to increase profits for giant military corporations, is a frontal attack on the rights of all workers.
Prison labor – with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding – also makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter. Prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm to 300-mm battleship anti-aircraft guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder. Prisoners recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles.
Labor in federal prisons is contracted out by UNICOR, previously known as Federal Prison Industries, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 14 prison factories, more than 3,000 prisoners manufacture electronic equipment for land, sea and airborne communication. UNICOR is now the U.S. government’s 39th largest contractor, with 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries.
The majority of UNICOR’s products and services are on contract to orders from the Department of Defense. Giant multinational corporations purchase parts assembled at some of the lowest labor rates in the world, then resell the finished weapons components at the highest rates of profit. For example, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation subcontract components, then assemble and sell advanced weapons systems to the Pentagon.
However, the Pentagon is not the only buyer. U.S. corporations are the world’s largest arms dealers, while weapons and aircraft are the largest U.S. export. The U.S. State Department, Department of Defense and diplomats pressure NATO members and dependent countries around the world into multibillion-dollar weapons purchases that generate further corporate profits, often leaving many countries mired in enormous debt…
Meanwhile, dividends and options to a handful of top stockholders and CEO compensation packages at top military corporations exceed the total payment of wages to the more than 23,000 imprisoned workers who produce UNICOR parts.
The Convict Leasing System
According to Wikipedia (emphasis added):
Convict leasing was a system of penal labor instituted in the American South after the emancipation of slaves by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865. Convict leasing involved leasing out prisoners to private companies that paid the state a fee. The convicts worked for the companies during the day (convicts were usually not paid) outside the prison and returned to their cells at night. Criminologist Thorsten Sellin, in his book Slavery and the Penal System, says that the sole aim of convict leasing ‘was financial profit to the lessees who exploited the labor of the prisoners to the fullest, and to the government which sold the convicts to the lessees’… Offenders who were leased out to private enterprises often suffered neglect, abuse, and brutality’, an understatement that does not do justice to reality.
The horrors of the system were literally unbelievable, and are described in Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name. The slave laborers were often housed in company facilities – labor camps – that were of course operated for economic gain, such as those owned by US Steel, one of the US market economy’s flagship corporations and a symbol of innovation and entrepreneurship. Mortality rates among the slaves in the camps were consistently at levels that were never remotely approached in the Soviet prison system.
Blackmon writes that
By 1900, the South’s judicial system had been wholly reconfigured to make one of its primary purposes the coercion of African-Americans to comply with the social customs and labor demands of whites…1901 also marked the final full disenfranchisement of nearly all blacks throughout the South. …A world in which the seizure and sale of a black man – even a black child – was viewed as neither criminal nor extraordinary had reemerged.
[From the late 1860s onward] …every southern state enacted an array of interlocking laws essentially intended to criminalize black life …whites realized that the combination of trumped-up legal charges and forced labor as punishment created both a desirable business proposition and an incredibly effective tool for intimidating rank-and-file emancipated African-Americans…
With the acquiescence and active support from local, state and Federal authorities, including president Woodrow Wilson,
…forced labor remained as ubiquitous as cotton in the South, an endemic feature of he landscape and [the] economy… ’Our jails are money-making machines’, wrote a state prison inspector… in a 1922 report… Reports of involuntary servitude continued to trickle in to Federal investigators well into the 1950s …the commercial [capitalist] sectors of US society have never been asked to fully account for their roles as the primary enforcers of Jim Crow segregation, and not at all for engineering the resurrection of forced labor after the Civil War… It was business that policed adherence to America’s racial customs more than any other actor in US society.
In other words, African-Americans were being persecuted for what they were, not for what they had done, which should horrify Applebaum. The class-bound nature of the system was observed by Fredrick Douglass, who is quoted in Wikipedia:
The Convict Lease System and Lynch Law are twin infamies which flourish hand in hand in many of the United States. They are the two great outgrowths and results of the class legislation under which our people suffer to-day.
For Applebaum and her colleagues, the revolt of the Russian lower class against their rulers signified the end of civilization. African-Americans were the lowest economic stratum of the American working class, but their savage exploitation by the white ruling class evokes no indignation. For Applebaum, it was a non-event.
Wikipedia points out correctly that
Though the convict lease system, as such, disappeared, yet other forms of convict labor continued (and exist today) in various forms. These other systems included plantations, industrial prisons, and the famous [infamous] chain gang.
Convict labor is currently available for hire in many states. For example, BP Hires Prison Labor to Clean Up Spill While Coastal Residents Struggle, an article in The Nation magazine, contains the following text: “Hiring prison labor is more than a way for BP to save money while cleaning up the biggest oil spill in history. By tapping into the inmate workforce, the company and its subcontractors get workers who are not only cheap but easily silenced – and they get lucrative tax write-offs in the process” (http://www.thenation.com/article/37828/bp-hires-prison-labor-clean-spill-while-coastal-residents-struggle?page=full).
Chain gangs have been re-introduced in a number of states, and can be observed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6jxJMJRbxA
The plantation, or prison farm, is a brutal example of 21st-century slave labor in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. The most representative and possibly the most well-known prison farm is the Angola maximum security prison in Louisiana. Existence there has been documented in a film The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison, which can be viewed on-line at http://www.ovguide.com/ movies_tv/the_farm_life_inside_angola_prison.htm
The increasing use of unpaid or barely paid convict labor in the US naturally contributes to driving down the cost of labor outside the prisons, an effect that is welcomed by US capitalists and presumably by Applebaum.
Sweden is no exception
Unpaid or symbolically paid convict labor is not restricted to the US. It is a fact of life in Western capitalist countries, including Sweden.
The authority that is responsible for the prison system in Sweden is called the Prison and Probation Service, a title that reflects the general tendency to disguise authority as a benevolent client-oriented function. The PPS is the fourth largest Swedish federal authority.
One of its units is called KrimProd, an unfortunate title that seems to be derived from kriminell (criminal), and produkter or produktion, i.e. products or production. KrimProd’s business mission as stated at the PPS web site is to “offer the market products, services and production capacity in an organization with a broad, flexible spectrum of operations”. (This and subsequent text within quotation marks is my translation from the Swedish.)
In other words, KrimProd offers outside companies an opportunity to utilize convict labor. As in other Western countries, unemployment is high in Sweden, but KrimProd’s effect on the labor market is not described at the site.
Welcome to one of Sweden’s lesser-known subcontractors – with one of the broadest offerings of products and services… Many are impressed by our highly flexible capacity and our modern machine park… [KrimProd can do just about anything.]
KrimProd’s product range is rather basic. It consists mainly of relatively low-tech products such as furniture for homes, including children’s furniture, storage systems and working tables for workshops, and even furnishings for cells in prisons and “other institutions”. IKEA has been one of KrimProd’s satisfied customers.
However, KrimProd offers a range of production services in metal-working, wood conversion, plastics, surface treatment, assembly and packaging, and even production of jewelry and glass items.
Transferring production to a Swedish prison can be good business, since “Many companies have learned that KrimProd is an attractive alternative to expensive investments”. In Sweden and other Western countries, corporate investment is supposed to contribute to economic growth by creating jobs. It is difficult to reconcile this mantra with the PPS’ offer of an alternative to such investment.
The cost of labor in a Swedish prison for corporate customers is not specified at the PPS web site, of course, but it is attractively low, varying from about 3% to about 10% of a low-paid factory job on the outside. Ex-inmates I have talked to told me that after a 10% deduction to a “parole fund” they had enough to pay for telephone calls, cigarettes, stamps and evening papers. According to a spokesman for PPS, convicts are not paid wages. They receive “compensation”. The companies that utilize their labor receive profits.
Conditions in US prisons
Conditions in Soviet prisons in the years covered by Applebaum’s book were often severe and could be unbearable, but as stated above she admits that they varied widely. The USSR was struggling to emerge from the shadow of feudalism, compounded by the devastation of World War 1 and the War of Intervention, which left the economy in ruins. Enormous efforts were under way to develop a decent material standard of life for the industrial and agricultural working class. Extensive resources had to be devoted to construction of an armaments industry that would enable the country to survive against war from the West. At the same time, the judicial and penal systems had to deal with conventional crime, political conspiracies and industrial as well as agricultural sabotage. It is unreasonable to expect that a network of model prisons would be established under these circumstances.
For some time the US has been the richest country in history in terms of aggregate wealth. It has not been attacked by a foreign power since 1812 (except for the Japanese bombing of a Hawaiian navy base in 1941), and has not suffered damage from war since 1865. But the conditions endured by its prison population do not reflect prosperity or a humane approach to conventional crime or political dissidents. In The American Prison and the Normalization of Torture, H. Bruce Franklin writes:
The prison has become a central institution in American society, integral to our politics, economy, and culture. Between 1976 and 2000, the United States built on average a new prison each week and the number of imprisoned Americans increased tenfold. With a current prison and jail population of over two million [almost 2.5 million in 2010], America has become the uncontested world leader in incarceration. Prison has made the threat of torture part of everyday life for millions of individuals in the United States, especially the 6.9 million currently incarcerated or otherwise under the control of the penal system. More insidiously, our prison system has helped make torture a normal, legitimate, even routine part of American culture.
Imprisonment itself, even when relatively benign, is arguably a form of torture. This is implicit in our society, using prison as the most dire legal form of both ‘punishment’ and ‘deterrence’, except for execution. Moreover, in the typical American prison, designed and run to maximize degradation, brutalization, and punishment, overt torture is the norm. Beatings, electric shock, prolonged exposure to heat and even immersion in scalding water, sodomy with riot batons, nightsticks, flashlights, and broom handles, shackled prisoners forced to lie in their own excrement for hours or even days, months of solitary confinement, rape and murder by guards or prisoners instructed by guards – all are everyday occurrences in the American prison system.
The use of sex and sexual humiliation as torture in Abu Ghraib and the other American prisons in Iraq is endemic to the American prison. Psychological and physical sexual torture is exacerbated by the underlying policy of denying prisoners any volitional sex, making the only two forms of sexual activity that are physically possible – homosexuality and masturbation – both offenses subject to punishment. Strip searches, including invasive and often intentionally painful examination of the mouth, anus, testicles, and vagina, frequently accompanied by verbal or physical sexual abuse, are part of the daily routine in most prisons. A 1999 Amnesty International report documented the commonplace rape of prisoners by guards in women’s prisons.
Each year, numerous prisoners are maimed, crippled, and even killed by guards. Photographs could be taken on any day in the American prison system that would match the photographs from Abu Ghraib that shocked the public. Indeed, actual pictures from prisons in America have shown worse atrocities than those pictures from the American prisons in Iraq.
The full text of Franklin’s article is available at http://www.historiansagainstwar.org/resources/torture/brucefranklin.html
According to Solitary Watch, an information clearing-house on solitary confinement, “Solitary confinement is a hidden world within the larger hidden world of the prison system, and prisoners in solitary are an invisible and dehumanized minority within the larger population of prison inmates in general – who also remain remarkably invisible and dehumanized…”
Information on torture at a US prison is given in California’s Prison System; The Living Hell in Pelican Bay Prison, at http://www.globalresearch.ca/ index.php?context=va&aid=25353
Questions for study and discussion
A comparison of the Gulag system as described by Applebaum with the US prison and slave-labor systems since the 18th century leads to several questions that are worthy of serious study and discussion.
- Is there a difference between using convict labor to enrich the owners of private corporations, and using it to help build socialism?
- Why is Applebaum uninterested in the history of the American prison system and the use of slave labor for economic gain?
- Why is Applebaum interested in prison conditions in the USSR during the first half of the 20th century, but not in current prison conditions within her own country?
- Applebaum and other mainstream historians frequently express sympathy for the suffering of prisoners within the Soviet Gulag. They do not express sympathy for the sufferings of prisoners within the US prison system from the early 19th century until today. Can Applebaum and her colleagues be taken seriously?
Voices from the Soviet Union 1942-1943
The key question regarding developments in the Soviet Union between the wars: Was the condition of the industrial and farm workers who comprised the vast majority of the Soviet population better in 1940 than it had been in 1918, or not? The answer is that it had been immensely improved by the Revolution.
The following text is from “Stalingrad Close-ups” in Alexander Werth’s Russia at War 1941-1945. It may help to illuminate the condition of industrial and farm workers both before and during World War 2. According to Wikipedia:
Alexander Werth (1901-1969) was a Russian-born, naturalized British writer, journalist, and war correspondent. His family fled to the United Kingdom in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
Werth wrote about France in the prewar period and about Russia in World War II, especially Stalingrad and Leningrad. He spoke and wrote both Russian and English at the native level. His best-known work is Russia at War 1941-1945, a behind-the-scenes look at life in the wartime Soviet Union; he spent the war there as the BBC’s correspondent, and had unrivalled access due to the combination of his BBC press credentials and his ability to function as a native Russian.
He was among a group of journalists to visit the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp after it had been discovered by the advancing Red Army. He filed a report on the atrocities, but the BBC initially refused to broadcast it, believing that it was too incredible to be true and suspecting a Soviet propaganda stunt.
Werth’s description of the war in the Soviet Union is a broad panorama that includes interviews with Russian citizens at all levels of society and the military. In the winter of 1942-1943 he traveled to Stalingrad with the American journalist Edgar Snow.
We had to wait for our bus in a room beside an empty hospital ward, with two young nurses as our hostesses. The hospital was empty now, though the beds were all made, ready to receive any sudden arrivals. But for several days now there had been no wounded from Stalingrad; the Germans in the ‘bag’ were perhaps running out of ammunition, one of the girls suggested.
The girls were called Valya and Nadya. Valya was lively, redcheeked and flirtatious in a coy way. She was twenty-one and married, with her husband in the Army. She was in uniform, and when the war broke out she had been studying biochemistry at the university. The other girl had one of those full but pale Russian faces with large grey eyes, with perfect large white teeth and lips that were full without being sensuous.
From time to time they would put on a well-worn record on their portable gramophone – bits from Werther or Manon of all things. When the gramophone played, they were silent.
Nadya wore a red woollen jumper which stressed the paleness of her beautiful face. “I am not a nurse,” she said, “I am a medical statistician, attached to this hospital base.”
Some statistics you must have had to do here through the autumn,” I remarked.
Yes,” she said, “some statistics.” Her home was in Stalingrad, and her address was 24 Frunze Street. It seemed odd that anyone should have an address at Stalingrad! “You should go to Stalingrad after the war,” she said, with a faint smile. “Not that you will find my house there any more. It was destroyed like the rest of the city. And what a pity! We had those lovely boulevards, and so many fine new buildings, and public parks, and the new Volga Embankment; and, on Sundays, there were lots of young people everywhere and lots of trees and flowers, and all those steamers and sailing-boats and motorboats on the Volga. It was a gay [“light-hearted and cheerful”, OED, not homosexual] town. I was in my last year at school when the war started, and I joined up as a medical worker, after a short training.”
A copy of Simonov’s poems was lying on the table. I asked Valya if she liked Simonov. “Yes, very much; we all do.” “What, Wait for me?” “Yes, that, and much else.” “Dear Simonov,” said Valya sentimentally. Nadya said: “We’ll have a glorious life after the war. Stalingrad will be very beautiful again. We shall again go for holidays to the Caucasus, as we did before the war.”
It was confirmed that day that the Germans had begun to pull out of the Caucasus; Nadya’s daydreaming wasn’t so fantastic, after all…
Kotelnikovo, which was to be our base for about a week, was a large town of some 25,000 people, and it had been occupied by the Germans and Rumanians between August 2 and December 29, when von Manstein’s troops were driven out after their abortive attempt to break through to Stalingrad, and I soon heard what it had been like under the German occupation. Kotelnikovo had been in the operational zone throughout the occupation, and the German Army seemed to have been in full authority there; moreover, it was considered Cossack country, and the Germans refrained here from large-scale savagery. Edgar Snow and I were billeted in a small wooden cottage belonging to an elementary teacher, who was living there with her very decrepit old mother and her only child, a fifteen- year-old boy called Gai. Her husband was a railwayman, but had not been heard of since last June.
Kotelnikovo was not a story of great German atrocities. It was simply a story of German contempt and of Russian bitterness and humiliation, as told by the forty-year-old Russian school-teacher and her fifteen-year-old son. Just that – nothing more. But quite enough.
It was a sprawling town, with an administrative and shopping centre, and an important railway depot; the rest of the town consisted of many long streets of wooden cottages and gardens; all round was the flat steppe of the trans-Don country. Our house had two small rooms – the kitchen and the bedroom. Between the two was a large Russian stove, and it was very warm. Elena Nilcolaevfla was exuberant, plump, with fat arms and two golden front teeth that glittered in the light of her one and only kerosene lamp. After presenting us to babushka, a tiny shrivelled creature who sat huddled in a corner of the kitchen, near the blacked-out window, she took the kerosene lamp and showed us into the bedroom, leaving babushka in the dark. “Babushka will be all right,” she said, “she is used to peeling potatoes in the dark.” In the bedroom were two large beds, a table and a book-case. “What a life we’ve had these last five months!” she exclaimed. “First we had some Rumanians here and then the Germans – a tank crew of five men. Rough, hard people; but then, I suppose, they looked upon us as enemies. Don’t know what they would have been like in peace-time”.
A plane was zooming overhead. “That’s a German plane; I know it by the sound. Makes me a bit nervous when they fly about at night. It’s these transport planes that still try to take food to the Germans encircled at Stalingrad.” Suddenly we heard a stick of bombs go off with a whine and somewhere, a long distance away, there was the sound of two not very loud explosions.
At the end of July the Secretary of the Raikom told Elena Nikolaevna that she and her family would be evacuated; but the Germans bombed the railway station to blazes, and occupied the town on August 2, before anything could be done. So all the teachers were left behind. One of them went to see the German commandant to ask when the schools would open, but was told “not yet”. So the teachers were left without any jobs. The population were summoned to a meeting to elect a starosta, or mayor, but the first two were invalidated by the Germans, and in the end they virtually appointed a railwayman called Paleyev to be starosta. He seemed a good man; but later he must have sold himself to the Germans. There were also some railwaymen who formed the local police; they would bully the local people, make them carry bricks, and dig, and build fortifications for the Germans.
“But how did you live?”
One can hardly call it living. We were very short of food – nine ounces of flour a day per person, and nothing else. I used to do some work for the Rumanian officer when he lived here; but all he would give me for a whole day’s washing was half a loaf. It was a shame. But then, I suppose, the Rumanians didn’t have much. Some of the soldiers, far from giving us anything, asked for food; I’d give them a slice of bread, it was better that way; they would have taken it anyway. The Germans are a proud people, very different from the Rumanians. Occasionally they’d give me something – ae tin of fish or a few cigarettes. All the time they were here they gave me two tins of fish; it wasn’t much, was it? I used to wash and scrub for them all day, and they’d send me out for water to the well. It was a slave’s life. And Gai, my boy and babushka and I had to live in the little kitchen, all huddled together, and the five Germans lived here, in this room; some sleeping on the bed, and the others on the floor. They had a lot of drink and food, and thought at first they were staying here indefinitely. In the morning they’d shout ‘Matka, Wasser zum waschen!’ They used to call everybody Matka, damned cheek! In the middle of December one of the man said: ‘Russ nicht zurück, we’ve chased them fifty miles away’. It’s quite true, the firing could no longer be heard. But on December 28 one of the men said: ‘Russ kommt zurück’. You see, one wants to live, especially when you’ve got a young boy to look after, so I expressed no joy.
Four of them went away without a word, only the fifth one said: ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Matka’. They were very gloomy. They weren’t so bad, those five Germans, but they thought we were just their slaves. In other houses they behaved much worse, and the Rumanians were terrible – wouldn’t leave the women alone. There was a lot of rape in the town. I didn’t hear of anybody being shot; but thirty or maybe fifty people were taken away by the Germans. Or perhaps they followed them voluntarily, people like the Polizei. They were going to mobilize all the young people for work in Germany, and they sent out leaflets, but I don’t think they had time to do anything much…
And then she described how, on the last night the Germans set fire to all the public buildings in Kotelnikovo but they hadn’t time to burn down the whole town; there was much firing going on, and in the middle of the night the streets were empty: the Germans had gone and the Russians had not yet come in.
So this was the room where the German tank crew had lived. The house was intact; partly no doubt because it was hardly worth looting. Here was a book-case with school-texts of physics and chemistry and Russian literature, and a lot of family photographs on the wall; and the Germans had left behind – how odd to find it here, in the wilds of the trans-Don steppes! – a map and index of the Paris Metro, and a copy of the Wittgensteiner Zeitung of December 4 with an editorial: “50. Geburtstag Francos: der Erretter Spaniens” (“Franco’s 50th Birthday: The Saviour of Spain”).
The next morning we met Gai, Elena Nikolaevna’s fifteen-year old son. He was fairly tall, but extraordinarily thin. He had a bright, intelligent slightly monkey-like face, and spoke beautiful Russian in a clear, silvery voice. “Is that what the Germans have reduced you to?” I said. “No, I was always rather thin; but it was, of course, upsetting to live under the Germans; they got on one’s nerves; and also, we didn’t have enough food. But when I went with mother last year to Stalingrad to see a well-known specialists he said I was quite all-right, just a little anaemic… I am sorry I wasn’t here last night, but when the Germans were here I never went out at night, and very seldom even during the day – one just didn’t feel like it. Now I go out to see my comrades – the ones I used to go to school with.” “Yes, it’s a blessing,” said Elena Nikolaevfla, “Gai will now be able to go to school again. He is the cleverest boy in his form – full marks in every subject. He has read all the classics, but his chief interest is science, and he wants to go into the Navy”.
I was to have many other talks with Gai after that. He would talk about anything – about himself, and his future career, and the Germans, and the films he had seen. “I like American films,” he said. “Here in Kotelnikovo Song of Love and The Great Waltz and Chaplin’s City Lights were a great success. Before the war we had a very good time, you know. I was a Pioneer myself, and would be in the Komsomol by now, but for the German occupation. All our young people were preparing to be engineers, or doctors, or scientists. I want to enter the Naval Academy. If the Germans had stayed, the girls would have been expected to wash floors and the boys to look after the cattle. They didn’t regard us as human beings at all… That’s just how it was under the Germans.” “Did they kick you about?” “No, they simply took no notice of me. Sometimes they’d ask: ‘What form are you in?’ or ‘Where’s your father?’ I’d say he was in the Red Army. They would look cross, but say nothing.”
Did they ever say what sort of government they were going to set up here?” “Yes, they would say: ‘Everybody will work for himself; no more kolkhozes and no more communism. We aren’t going to stay here; we have only come to liberate you from the Jews and the Bolsheviks’. They put up pictures of Hitler on the walls; they were called ‘Hitler the Liberator’. He hardly looked human. Completely beastly face. Like a savage from the Malayan jungle. Terrifying. They opened the church; first they had a Rumanian priest, later a Russian. I once went when the Rumanian was still there. Inside were crowds of Rumanian soldiers. At one point they’d all go down plunk on their knees. Then they would carry round a dish, and the Rumanians would put money on it – roubles, or marks or lei… It didn’t make much difference. All money was pretty useless. The mark was worth ten roubles, but the marks they had here were occupation marks, without a water-mark, and were as good as useless… The Germans had a passion for destroying things. They tore up all the vegetables in our allotment. And they burned down the public library the last night they were here, and they wouldn’t even leave my little library alone,” said Gai, pointing at the bookcase. “They tore up the Russian magazines, and tore out of the books all the Stalin and Lenin pictures. So silly, don’t you think? It was those tank men. Queer chaps. You should have seen them at Christmas. They went all sloppy. They had got a lot of parcels from Germany. They lit a tiny paper Christmas tree, and unwrapped enormous cakes, and opened tins, and wine bottles, and got drunk, and sang sentimental songs about something or other.
“Where were you at that time?” “Just where we always were, next door in the kitchen.” “Did they not offer you any wine or cake?” “Of course not; wouldn’t even occur to them. They didn’t look upon us as people.” “Weren’t you hungry?” “Of course I was, but I would have hated to take part in their festivities.” He produced a lighter from his pocket. “They left it here by mistake. I found it under one of the beds. We have no matches, so it’s a useful gadget to have. But I don’t like having anything from those people… Yes, I lost a lot of weight. The bombs got on my nerves, I suppose and also the feeling that I was no longer a human being. They never stopped rubbing that in. They had no respect for anybody… they’d just undress in front of women; we were just a lot of slaves. And there was also no food; no kolkhoz market, and it’s very bad for your system if you get no fats,” he concluded with a scientific air.
Elena Nikolaevna would talk a lot about herself and about babushka, her mother. She was the last survivor of a Cossack family, ruined during the Civil War. Her father had been a small farmer in a Cossack stanitsa (village) on the Don; but he hadn’t much of a business head, and the farm had gone to pot during the Civil War, so he sold his farm to a kulak for ten sacks of flour. They moved to Novocherkassk, but in the typhus epidemic both her father and her brother died. “I was only eighteen then, and I entered the Komsomol, and got a small scholarship for the Novocherkassk music school, where I was taught singing”; but she couldn’t make much of a living with that, and it was not enough to support her mother as well, so when her future husband, a railwayman, asked her to marry him, she agreed.
He’s a good man, my husband, though he hadn’t much education. But he is in the right Bolshevik traditions; his father also had been a railwayman for forty years, and had received an inscribed gold watch from Kaganovich himself.” Later, after settling down in Kotelnikovo in her husband’s little house, she took a correspondence course in elementary teaching. It was during the days when thousands of schools were opening throughout the Soviet Union, and Elena Nikolaevfla was as good as anybody for this simple job. This coquette of thirty-eight or so no doubt dreamed of all she might have been but for the Civil War. “I used to look pretty good, when I was younger, with my hair waved and with a nice summer frock.” And she described how she had her two perfectly good front teeth crowned in gold, because it was “fashionable” at the time.
And babushka sat in the corner, and would say how awful it was with those Germans in the house, and “I would cry and cry, thinking I would soon die, and how awful it was to leave my dear ones in all this misery… But now that our own dear people are back I think I’ll live to a hundred,” she said as her little face screwed up into a toothless smile… And she’d go on, talking almost to herself: “I used to know English and American gentlemen. My husband used to be an izvoshchik, had a fine phaeton on springs; he used to drive English and American gentlemen across the Don; they were engineers. That was a long time ago, still under the Tsar…
And Elena Nikolaevna’s husband, the railwayman? They had last heard of him in June 1942. He was at Voronezh then. Now that the postal service had been restored at Kotelnikovo, they might hear from him soon. They might – or they might not…
You can say what you like,” Elena Nikolaevna said one day (not that anybody had said anything), “but our Soviet régime is a good régime. Even babushka, to whom it was all very strange at first, has now become very fond of it. And look at this little house of ours. Five roubles rent a month is all I pay; you wouldn’t get a house so cheap in any other country.
The people whom Werth talked to did not exhibit symptoms of exposure to terror, except perhaps by the German army. The description of life in Stalingrad before the war does not indicate that it was a slave camp. In light of the mainstream image of the Soviet Union, Elena Nikolaevna’s attitude to the Stalin government is unfathomable. So is her son’s statement that “All our young people were preparing to be engineers, or doctors, or scientists.”
Interested Western historians may want to determine why American films were being shown during the 1930s in a Ukrainian town with a population of 25,000, and whether this phenomenon was typical of other towns and cities. These historians might also want to study the systems for free education and medical care that had been established under the Stalin government, and to determine whether access to expert specialists was the rule or the exception. A comparison with the health-care systems in the UK and the US in the 1930s would be of interest.
One explanation for the attitudes reported by Werth is that the repression of 1937-1938 was not directed at the working class. Several Western historians, including Norman McLean in Stalin, Man and Ruler (1988) have pointed out that it was aimed at members of the Communist Party, the armed forces, the administrative apparatus and the so-called intelligentsia. Many of the approximately 680,000 people who according to Getty and Naumov were executed for political reasons in 1937-1938 were wrongly accused of crimes, and Stalin, Molotov and other members of the government share responsibility. This also applies to many of those who were decommissioned from the armed forces, although a large proportion of them were reinstated within about 18 months after the charges against them were shown to be false.
If moral judgment is to be passed upon leaders of the Soviet government and the Communist Party, a decent respect for impartial opinion requires passing similar judgments on the leaders of the English, American and French revolutions. If events in the Soviet Union 1917-1941 reflect the nature of Communism, then the events related to the other three revolutions reflect the nature of the market economy.
Such considerations avoid the main issue, however, which is whether the revolutions in question contributed directly or indirectly to improving the lives of the majority of the population who perform the labor on which society is based, regardless of the socio-economic system.
When the bourgeoisie solidified their power in England as a result of the revolution, it signified the end of the prevailing feudal system and was therefore a major step forward toward the eventual liberation of the majority. However, it did not resolve the issues of class and property relations, as pointed out 370 years ago by Gerrard Winstanley, who represented the majority:
Property… divides the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere… When the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must… then this enmity in all lands will cease. (Cited in Christopher Hill, The English Revolution 1640, 1940, available athttp://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution)
In the same way, although the American and the French bourgeoisie emerged triumphant, the revolutions there put an end to monarchy and established a framework for further development of representative democracy. The fact that the bourgeoisie has continuously attempted to pervert such development does not detract from the achievements of the revolutions.
Like other revolutions, the Soviet revolution involved a huge social upheaval and conflicts that were resolved by violence.
It would be instructive to consider the consequences of a revolution in the United States of America, one of the prime current examples of capitalist injustice and brutality, as shown by statistics for unemployment, poverty, undernourishment, functional illiteracy, lack of health care, child mortality and other parameters, such as the wars inflicted on other countries despite the admonitions of president Eisenhower (see above quotes from his inaugural addresses).
Let us imagine that the US working class, including the vast army of unemployed, were to seize power, nationalize banks, financial institutions and key industries, and set up programs for transferring wealth from the rich in order to finance programs for meaningful employment, decent housing, health care, education and other services that are currently inadequate to the needs of the majority. They would also dismantle the gigantic and barbaric American prison system.
The response of the American ruling class is easily predictable. They would not surrender power amicably. They would launch a nation-wide campaign of terror similar to those they have implemented in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere. It would involve massive bloodshed and brutality. The new ruling majority would face a simple choice if they wished to develop society in their own interests – submit or respond. In the case of submission, punitive retaliation from the bourgeoisie would be immediate and would generate large numbers of premature deaths. The prisons would once again be filled to overflowing, as they are today.
If the leaders of the majority choose to defend their power, it will require large-scale and bloody violence against the forces of the displaced ruling class. The leaders would be forced to deal severely with those who had sold out to the bourgeoisie and betrayed the working class. If the majority were to succeed, it is certain that there would subsequently be many and serious differences of opinion between the majority’s constituent groups about how to proceed. These would certainly lead to widespread and violent conflicts, not least because there probably are more weapons per capita in the US than anywhere else. The outcome is of course impossible to predict, but in any case the course of events would probably set a new record for domestic fatalities during a revolution.
Afterward, the question would be whether the revolution generated a significant improvement in the living conditions of the majority of Americans.
Russia after the restoration of capitalism – another holocaust
In virtually every mainstream historical account of the Soviet Union written after 1991 that I have read, the authors claim to have spent time examining newly available documents in Russian archives, and in some cases (Simon Sebag Montefiore) claim to have traveled extensively in post-Communist Russia.
Like Getty and Naumov, most authors express heartfelt and often horrified commiseration with the sufferings of the Soviet people under the Communist yoke. The conclusion is often that any alternative would have been preferable, including continued Tsarist rule.
It may therefore seem surprising that during their visits to the New Russia the truth-seekers from the West have not been inclined to observe the results of liberation from Communism. Theoretically, the citizens of the former Soviet Union should have become delirious with joy when they were liberated. But neither historians nor the Western mainstream media show much interest in reporting on the conditions of life for the majority of Russians subsequent to the advent of capitalism. Western television coverage of daily life in capitalist Russia is sparse, and normally restricted to interior shots of the Kremlin, press conferences with Vladimir Putin or members of his government, and interviews with well-dressed people on the streets of Moscow or St. Petersburg.
The general Western indifference to the outcome of capitalist restoration in Russia is probably traceable to the fact that it has been a literal holocaust. This was not supposed to happen. At the start of the 1990s, Professor Jeffrey Sachs and his colleagues at the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID) were in the forefront of the pack of Western experts who prescribed “shock therapy” for the Soviet Union. The therapeutic principle was clearly expressed by Richard Pipes, another Harvard professor, who stated that it was “desirable… for Russia to keep on disintegrating until nothing remains of its institutions”. This of course was bound to destroy the system of public health-care.
Given the track record of capitalism, the holocaust in Russia was easily predictable by anyone who was not blinded by fanatical anti-Communism. Among other things, it caused a gigantic industrial depression.
One of the most dramatic effects was a sharp decline in the population as vast numbers of Russians were catapulted into extreme poverty. A study published in The Lancet in January 2009 showed that mass privatization had led to a higher death rate. An interview with one of the authors of the study was posted by Radio Free Europe, http://www.rferl.org/content/Mass_Privatization_Linked_To_Higher_Death_Rate_In_Postcommunist_Transition/1371049.html:
During the transition to capitalism, one of the world’s worst peacetime mortality crises occurred. The United Nations estimated that in the early 1990s, there were 3 million avoidable deaths that occurred over and above historical trends,
says David Stuckler, a sociologist and public-health expert at Oxford University who led the research team.
This has been a puzzle to the field of public health. No one expected so many working-aged men, in particular, to die in connection with the transition to capitalism… What our study shows is that these deaths were not simply inevitable, but that they were connected with a specific strategy – in particular, the ‘big bang’ rapid approach to building capitalism out of communism.
The NY Times reported The Lancet study on 19 January 2009. The following comment by a reader, Arsen Azizyan, is worth studying:
I grew up cold and hungry in the former Soviet republic of Armenia during the shock therapy years of the 90s; my grandfather was one of the 3 million who died prematurely during those days (incorrect medication and power outages did him in). I would very much like to tie Mr. Jeffrey Sachs to a chair and slowly force-feed him every worthless page of every idiotic policy paper he’s ever written. I believe that would justly mirror the diet that I had to subsist on for a number of years during my childhood and adolescence.
The increased mortality resulting from the introduction of capitalism was also confirmed by Murray Feshbach,former branch chief of the US Bureau of the Census, research professor at Georgetown University and senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Washington DC. He writes that “The declining birth rate must be considered in conjunction with an increasing death rate and the fact that the death rate has climbed disproportionately for working-age men. If in the 1960s Soviet medicine helped attain life expectancies comparable to Western levels, the situation today suggests a frightening reversal of progress. From a statistical perspective, Russian men born in 2000 can expect to live to be 58.9 years old, roughly the same figure as at the end of the 19th century. Women born in 2000 can expect to live to 72. http://www.eastwestreport.org/articles/ew11309.html
Feshbach neglects to mention that life expectancy in Cuba rose to 74 years during the same period that life expectancy for Russian males fell below 60.
Implementing the shock therapy prescribed by Sachs and other experts involved removing all price controls. Everything in sight was to be privatized, in line with the basic strategy of the Europe Union. The results were not encouraging. By the mid-1990s Russian GDP had declined by 42%, and industrial production by 46%. The decline in GDP has continued into the 21st century, modified only by a sharp – and temporary – rise in oil prices in the early 2000s. Medium and light industry have been more or less wiped out.
The wealth accumulated by the labor of generations of Soviet citizens and the natural resources that they owned were plundered in the course of the greatest grand larceny in history, with the support and encouragement of Western experts, banks and governments.
Unemployment and poverty are the daily bread of most Russians. Three-quarters of them live at subsistence levels or below. Health care, child care and pensions have disappeared – along with wages, in many cases. Those who have work are often paid in kind. Homeless children in Russia are numbered in the millions, as they are throughout the rest of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries. In a nation that generated more engineers and scientists per capita than any other, including the US, education is available only to the small minority who have found ways to serve the new bourgeoisie.
Russia has been “de-modernized” and now exhibits the typical pathological symptoms of a capitalist neo-colony, including prostitution and drug addiction. Diseases such as typhus, typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera and diphtheria had been eliminated in the Soviet Union but are now widespread. In short, the restoration of capitalism in Russia has featured “the endless collapse of everything essential to a decent existence”, according to Professor Stephen F. Cohen of New York University.
Devastation is everywhere. The following quotations are from Stephen Cohen, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (2001):
An American Peace Corps volunteer reported on one provincial town: ‘It’s decaying and dying… There is no work at all… Some people are eating dogs, others are giving their last kopecks to buy a loaf of bread… There is no phone service to parts of the town because thieves stole the phone cables… There is no police force to stop them. Apartments have broken toilets, no gas, running water only in the kitchen, certainly no hot water ever… In fact, these people are actually better off than people in Siberia. Out there some of them don’t have heat or food at all.’
The reform plague has even reached Russia’s agricultural heartland, where proximity to food normally cushions life in bad times. In January 2000, a Canadian journalist set out to discover the fruits of his country’s US-style crusade to transform Russia’s large collective farms into small family homesteads. He found this: ‘The Canadians are long gone. So are the cattle, the fields of grain, the tractors and even the roofs and walls of the cow barns. The buildings are gutted and looted… Most of the farms are dead or dying… The fields are full of weeds and bushes. There has not been a harvest for two years’.
When asked about her hopes for the new millennium, a seventeen-year-old girl in another provincial town spoke for tens of millions of Russians: ‘The twenty-first century? It’s difficult to talk about the twenty-first century when you’re sitting here reading by candlelight. The twenty-first century does not matter. It’s the nineteenth century here.’
As a result of the collapse of agriculture, Russia now imports about 30% of the food it consumes. Like other neo-colonies, it is therefore prey to price manipulations by the oligopoly that controls international food supplies.
The principal role of a neo-colony is to supply the capitalist system with selected raw materials, as required by Western capitalists. It is not allowed to compete with Western industrial corporations by producing finished goods for the international market. Russia’s role is to supply the West with petroleum, natural gas and other less well-known raw materials such as selenium, which is used in PCs. The condition of the Russian working class is irrelevant, as is the condition of the working classes in Indonesia, Bangladesh, India or any other neo-colony.
The implications of neo-colonialism for the Russian people were illustrated in an article in The Guardian on 31 August 2009, which featured a photograph of a beggar in a passage to Red Square in Moscow. Rising prices for oil and gas in the early 2000s had alleviated poverty to some extent, at least officially. But since capitalist Russia is integrated into the world economy, as the Soviet Union never was, the intensifying global socio-economic crisis has had the same effect on poverty as in other capitalist countries.
…more Russian families than ever before are sliding into poverty – defined as an adult income of less than 5,497 rubles, or £110, a month.
Writing in Kommersant newspaper the economist Dmitry Butrin said that Putin’s relative success in fighting poverty over the last decade had been reversed. ‘The official poverty rate has gone up by precisely 6 million people. All of the gains in fighting poverty during the period 2000-2008 have been utterly wiped out,’ Butrin said.
Russia has suffered as much as any major economy by the global crisis; its economy shrank by about 9.5% in the first quarter of this year. It has pumped billions of dollars into bailing out its banking sector and helping strategic businesses, many of which are owned by well-connected oligarchs.
Western historians, economists and journalists cheered enthusiastically on the sidelines as “freedom” and capitalism were shoved down the throats of the Russian people. When the members of the elected Russian parliament protested belatedly against the “reforms”, Yeltsin ordered the building to be shelled by units of the Russian Army. Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson hailed this as a triumph for democracy. Swedish public-service TV showed footage of Russian citizens running through the streets of Moscow toward the parliament building in an effort to support their elected representatives. The Swedish TV’s journalist in Moscow described them as “rabble” (Sw. pöbel). She did not report on the number of people killed.
The attack on parliament and the contemptuous view of Russian citizens were elements in a familiar pattern. People in colonies or neo-colonies who actively oppose rulers supported by Western capitalists must be handled with firm restraint if their actions have or might have an adverse effect on profits, as we have seen in previous chapters.
Within a few years after the administrative breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the rapacious behavior of the new bourgeoisie in Russia had become too obvious to be ignored. The Western media began to express disapproval and moral indignation. Corruption and violence in the latest addition to The Free World could not be tolerated. Russia was ranked high on the list of nations where investment was risky.
The comic aspect of the general revulsion against corruption in Russia went unnoticed by Western supporters of capitalism, a system in which everything and everybody is for sale. The criticism was particularly grotesque in the US, where price-tags are easily obtainable, not least in the form of reported contributions to electoral campaigns.
For example, the present incumbent of the White House was purchased by Wall Street in 2008 for USD 12 million, which must be considered a very reasonable sum in light of the profits that he generates for the bankers. Prospective buyers of presidential advisers and appointees, members of Congress, and civil servants at all levels of government, Federal, state or local, can normally ascertain the going price in the course of a few phone calls. If direct access to the person for sale is limited or unavailable, the buyer can contact pimps or pimping institutions, known as lobbyists or interest groups, which can close the deal. However, this normally involves additional cost.
Since it is obviously difficult to deny that the Russian economy is capitalist, Western observers often attempt to dislocate the Russian phenomenon from the generic system with labels such as “crony capitalism”, “gangster capitalism”, “mafia capitalism” or “gangster economy”.
There is no need for such euphemisms. Capitalism in Russia is capitalism.
But since the new bourgeoisie has existed in Russia for only about 20 years, it has not had time to construct the type of media packaging that is so effective in the West. It has not yet fully learned the lesson that facts can be reported without applying correct labels, and without reference to their context. Truth in Advertising does not apply.
For example, the mainstream Western media were able to report on the bombings of Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan without using the label “criminal war(s) of aggression”. Wholesale plundering of billions of dollars of public money intended for “rebuilding” Iraq was reported on the front page of the NY Times under the heading of “irregularities which will be subject to investigation”. Both the NY Times and the Washington Post could report that genocide in Guatemala had been led by the US, without hinting that it was a crime against humanity, or that it might be in the public interest to identify and punish the guilty parties.
As we have seen, neither wars, war crimes, corruption, trafficking in women, wage-slavery, outright slavery, child labor or any other pathological symptom of capitalism is ever labeled as such. Given time, the Russian bourgeoisie will learn the required skills. The question is whether they will be given enough time.
Deceit as history – the world of Richard Pipes
Harvard Professor Emeritus Richard Pipes is probably the most eminent of the academic toilers in the anti-Communist propaganda industry. Along with Robert Conquest he is revered as a source of knowledge and wisdom, and his works are virtually standard items in the bibliographies of mainstream books on the Soviet Union, including those by Montefiore and Applebaum.
The professor’s contributions to the propaganda war have not been limited to scholarly productions. He has participated actively in US government efforts to maintain fear and hatred of Communism among the general public. He has consistently demonstrated his disregard for current reality and historical truth both on campus and in Washington.
Team B and the insufficient Communist threat
The annual National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) prepared by the CIA is supposed to be a rational assessment of specific security issues faced by the US within the international environment. In 1976 CIA chief George Bush Senior and other champions of democracy were convinced that the recent NIEs had seriously underestimated the threat of aggression by the Soviet Union.
Bush therefore established “Team B” within the CIA in order to counter the dangerous trend to complacency about the USSR’s intentions. Richard Pipes was appointed team leader, and his players included Paul Nitze and Paul Wolfowitz. Nitze was the principal author of National Security Directive 68, the declaration of war against the Soviet Union. Paul Wolfowitz later achieved infamy as one of the criminal conspirators who launched Bush Junior’s war on Iraq. As a reward for helping to spread widespread death and destruction in the Middle East, Wolfowitz was appointed President of the World Bank.
The B-team’s general approach to the subject at hand was stated by team members Pipes, Nitze and William van Cleave (later an adviser to President Ronald Reagan):
…the principal threat to our nation, to world peace, and to the cause of human freedom was the Soviet drive for dominance based upon an unparalleled military buildup…
(Common Sense and Common Danger, Washington, DC: Committee on the Present Danger, 1976, reprinted in Alerting America: The Papers of the Committee on the Present Danger, ed. Charles Tyroler II, Washington DC, 1984. Cited in an article “It’s Time to Bench Team B”, by Lawrence J. Korb athttp://www.americanprogress.org/ issues/2004/08/b140711.html)
This reflects the team’s conviction that CIA analyses were unreliable because they were based on real-life data and not on Soviet ideology as it was defined by the team. However, the team was able to discover a number of frightening alleged developments within the Soviet military establishment.
These included a new submarine which was invisible to all technology (such as sonar) that was available to the US. Obviously, such submarines would be able to creep within a few miles of the US coastline and launch missiles with nuclear warheads. Unfortunately, the team could not provide any evidence to confirm the new submarine threat. Evidence was irrelevant in any case, as one of the team members explained that “…the submarine may have already been deployed because it appeared to have evaded detection” (emphasis added). (Cf. Cohen and the cracked vase, above, as well as Bush Junior-administration arguments for attacking Iraq in 2003).
Lawrence J. Korb:
Team B was right about one thing. The CIA estimate was indeed flawed. In 1989, the agency published an internal review of the threat assessments from 1974 to 1986. The report concluded that the Soviet threat had been ‘substantially overestimated’ every year. In 1978, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that the selection of Team B members yielded a flawed composition of political views and biases. Consequently, the Team B analysis was deemed a gross exaggeration and completely inaccurate.
According to Wikipedia:
Although Pipes maintains that history has vindicated Team B, his critics are unconvinced. According to an official from the Arms Control Disarmament Agency, the assertions of Pipes and his team were all “fantasy. I mean, they looked at radars out in Krasnoyarsk and said, ‘This is a laser beam weapon,’ when in fact it was nothing of the sort… And if you go through most of Team B’s specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong.” [As in the film Our Man in Havana.]
The B-Team report was one of the models for the fabrication which the Bush Jr. administration used to justify the attack on Iraq in 2003, which Pipes still considers to be justified. Despite – or perhaps because – the B-Team report was a lie, Pipes was appointed to the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan, where he endorsed the criminal attack on Grenada in 1983.
The rubbish produced by Team B under the guidance of its illustrious captain Richard Pipes is also described in two articles in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, available at: http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/1993/a93/a93Teamb.html and
The Pipes fable of the Russian Revolution
The techniques applied by Team B are echoed in Pipes’ version of historical events, in which ideology triumphs over truth. In The Russian Revolution (1991) and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime 1919-1924 (1994), he shows that hatred of Communism, the working class and so-called radical intellectuals is the glass through which he views history. The results are predictable – facts are side-stepped or distorted, lies are presented as truths, and conclusions are untenable.
The central point of both booksis that the Revolution was not a revolution at all. It was a coup d’état by Lenin and a band of degenerate intellectuals with an insatiable lust for power and bloodshed. In support of his claim, Pipes totally misrepresents the events which led to the downfall of the provisional government that replaced the Tsar and to the assumption of power by a Bolshevik government. According to him the Bolsheviks had no popular support. The fact is that the Bolshevik leaders were supported by a vast majority of workers and peasants.
The Pipes version has been effectively refuted by a number of non-Communist historians, perhaps most thoroughly by Alexander Rabinowitch in The Bolsheviks Come to Power (2004).
Rabinowitch (emphasis added):
…the phenomenal success of the Bolsheviks can be attributed in no small measure to the nature of the party in 1917… primarily to the party’s internally relatively democratic, tolerant, and decentralized structure and method of operation, as well as its essentially open and mass character…
Among other things, Pipes insists that the “Red Terror” was launched as soon as the Bolshevik government was established and is traceable to a crazed lust for genocide. He does not explain why the bloodthirsty Lenin government immediately abolished the death penalty after assuming power. Pipes does not mention that the Whites massacred Red prisoners in 1917, nor that the Red Terror was a somewhat belated response to the White Terror, which Pipes refers to as the “so-called White Terror”.
As one reviewer has pointed out, in The Bolshevik Revolution the British historian E. H. Carr, writes that (emphasis added):
…the revolutionary tradition of opposition to the death sentence weakened and collapsed only after the outbreak of the Civil War and open insurrection against the Soviet regime.
In terms of the War of Intervention, Pipes reveals his talents as a contortionist. On several occasions he claims that there never was any meaningful intervention by the West. On other occasions he claims that the Bolshevik lust for world revolution justified intervention
Pipes naturally does not mention the secret US financing of Cossack terror against the Reds, which is discussed in David Foglesong’s America’s Secret War Against Bolshevism (1996).
He also shows an intense contempt for the Russian people and a corresponding adulation of the Tsar and the Romanov family. The centuries of suffering inflicted by the Russian ruling class are ignored, but the killing of the Tsar’s family “carried mankind for the first time across the threshold of deliberate genocide”. This statement alone clearly demonstrates Pipes’ disregard for historical truth.
Pipes assumes that Bolshevism is not only wicked but is also the source of all subsequent evil, including the Holocaust. His argument is worthy of Team B: Since so many Bolsheviks were Jews, right-wing extremists in Russia started to believe that there was a global Jewish-Communist conspiracy. Their beliefs were adopted by the Nazis. Pipes affirms that
…the rationale for the Nazi extermination of Jews came from Russian right-wing circles… the Jewish Holocaust thus turned out to be one of the many unanticipated and unintended consequences of the Russian Revolution.
There is no basis in fact for this statement, nor for his claim that the Bolsheviks caused the famine of 1921-1922.
Pipes predictably claims that Bolshevism/Communism was an early form of Fascism (in both Germany and Italy). Nazis and Communists were alike: “…in their determination to raze the existing world in which they felt themselves outcasts, at all costs and by all means, lay their kinship”.
As usual, abstract statements with no factual basis are presented as truth. The Nazis were not trying to “raze the world” of capitalism. On the contrary, they were trying to maintain and expand it.
Pipes does not explain why Lenin should have felt himself an outcast when the Bolshevik party had the support of the majority of Russian workers and peasants. Nor why Hitler should have felt himself an outcast when his party enjoyed the support of German capitalists in his crusade against Judeo-Bolshevism.
Pipes concludes Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime with a deep dive into the cesspool of ahistorical fantasy (emphasis added):
Communism failed because it proceeded from the erroneous doctrine of the Enlightenment, perhaps the most pernicious idea in the history of thought, that man is merely a material compound, devoid of either soul or innate ideas, and as such a passive product of a infinitely malleable social environment.
Apart from the fact that Communism did not fail (see Part 1 of this chapter on the dismantling of the Soviet Union), Pipes’ “erroneous doctrine of the Enlightenment” is his own invention.
Wikipedia is correct in calling the Enlightenment a “cultural movement”. If there was an Enlightenment “doctrine”, it included the premise that human beings are endowed with the faculty of reason, which they can use to make rational decisions about their society, and to change it if they see fit. The movement was egalitarian. It was opposed to the authority of monarchies and the Church that had dominated Europe for so long in terms of both thought and social structure. This may partly account for Pipes’ antagonism, as he is a loyal adherent of rule from above by those best fitted to exercise it, i.e. the ruling class.
In addition, although there was some ambiguity during the Enlightenment about whether human beings are born with innate ideas, there was no unanimity about the so-called soul. There is no “doctrinal basis” in the Enlightenment for the argument that human beings are passive products of “an infinitely malleable environment”, whatever that means.
Pipes would profit from a study of Immanuel Kant’s essay Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?, which is appropriately cited by Wikipedia:
“According to Kant, The Enlightenment was ‘Mankind’s final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error’”, a state from which Pipes has yet to emerge.
Private property is the key to freedom
Pipes displayed his ignorance publicly in “Property and Freedom: The Inseparable Connection”, a speech delivered in October 2004 at The Foundation For Economic Education, “Freedom’s Home Since 1946” (www.fee.org). The text at the site is an abridged version of the original.
Pipes never fully reveals the “inseparable connection” between private property and freedom. For example, he does not explain how this connection is reflected in e.g. the slave-trading operations of the US and UK bourgeoisie and the cotton and sugar-cane plantations they owned in the US and the Caribbean. This would involve answering the question “Who was free?”
Pipes told his audience that
In Western Europe since Roman times, private property was considered sacrosanct. The principle enunciated by the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca that kings rule by the will of the people became fundamental to Western civilization, together with private property, which was the main source of productive wealth.
At the time of the Roman Empire, most of the land in Western Europe was owned and used in common. Private property included slaves and was considered sacrosanct principally by those who owned and coveted it. Pipes apparently agrees with Seneca, which is no surprise. However, the main source of productive wealth was and always has been the labor performed by human beings. The legal status of the property on which they work is irrelevant.
In one sense, the history of Western Europe has been the history of the expropriation of commonly owned land by the ruling class and the dispossession of the people who worked it in common (see Chapters 27 and 29 of Capital Vol. 1, referred to above). Even the somewhat misguided French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon understood that “Property is theft”.
Pipes: “The Greek writer Hesiod spoke about three ages of man: the Golden Age, the Civil Age, and the Iron Age. According to Hesiod, the Golden Age had no property lines dividing the land among neighbors – it was all held in common”. Pipes does not dispute this statement, which is true.
Pipes then informs his audience that “Plato [was] the first Communist in intellectual history”, which he definitely was not. Pipes claims that Plato’s “…idea was that we would all become one and the same”. A study of Plato’s Republic would remedy this misconception.
Pipes: “Christianity brought about a much more tolerant view of private property. Christ never demanded the abolition of private property…”
He may not have demanded it, but he certainly promoted it. See Mathew 19:21:
Jesus said unto him, if thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.
When an 18th-century British bishop tried to comfort property-owners by arguing that Christ did not mean these words literally, the poet William Blake wrote “If he didn’t mean it literally, he didn’t mean it at all”. Within a couple of hundred years of Christ’s death, the prelates of the church that was supposedly founded in his name became part of the European ruling class and enshrined the principle of private property.
Pipes: “A change began in 18th-century France, the country which has often been the source of the most terrible ideas”. Liberty, equality and brotherhood are among these terrible ideas. Pipes presumably advocates a state of bondage and inequality in which every man’s hand is raised against his brother. He then explains that
French thinkers argued that if everything we are is just a result of our experiences, then through proper legislation and education human beings can be changed. Since property is the root of all evil, through its abolition people can be totally socialized: then they will not desire to own anything, but will want to share everything.
That became the basis of modern socialism and communism. Marx argued that our acquisitive feelings are entirely a result of the environment in which we live. He insisted that as long as we remained dependent on private property we would never be truly free.
Marx was absolutely correct, as history unambiguously shows. So was Gerrard Winstanley (see above: “Property … divides the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere…When the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must…then this enmity in all lands will cease”.)
Pipes: “According to Marx, under a communist system a person would be able to do anything he desired: he could be a literary critic today, a hunter tomorrow, a fisherman another day, and so on. ’True freedom’ would follow”.
This is a cynical – or ignorant – misrepresentation of Marx’s conviction that in an industrialized Communist society people would be free to develop themselves without economic restrictions. Pipes:
The reality is that all living creatures, not only people, but also animals, are extremely acquisitive; they have to be in order to survive. All animals have the necessity of controlling their separate territories. When deer have their battles in the spring, they are in fact fighting for territory. A female will not mate with a male who doesn’t have territory: he must be ‘rich’; otherwise she cannot raise her offspring.
Private property means ownership. Animals do not own the territories that they “control”, and competition for sexual partners is not the same as acquisitiveness. Pipes does not indicate the nature of the leasing agreements or rental agreements on the deer’s property that other flora and fauna are required to sign.
The reality is that cooperation and not acquisitiveness is the key to survival for virtually all forms of life, from mycelium to human beings. Of course plants and animals compete for nutrients and other necessities, but unchecked acquisitiveness generally leads to extinction. Cooperation within and outside a species enables organisms to acquire what they need and simultaneously generate mutual benefits.
True to form, Pipes suddenly replaces “acquisitiveness” with “possessiveness”, which at least has the merit of connoting ownership. He claims that (emphasis added):
The most extreme example of an attempt to eradicate possessiveness was the kibbutz in Israel. In those communes children had nothing of their own, not even socks or underwear; everything was shared. The results were terrible. When they grew up, those children could not establish normal human relations with other human beings because to them it was ‘selfish’. They could not fall in love because love involves possessiveness. They could not write poetry because it was not something that the group enjoyed. They made wonderful army officers because they were very brave and would sacrifice themselves for the community. But they didn’t make normal human beings.
A public debate between Pipes and a few present and former kibbutzniks would be sufficient to reveal the absurdity of this passage. Pipes writes that “love involves possessiveness” as if this is an established fact. It is not. People who love each other do not and cannot own each other, even if they are married. A marriage is a contract, not a title deed. Further (emphasis added),
Marx hailed a period of ‘primitive communism,’ or as he called it ‘The Golden Age of Hesiod,’ which, he insisted, existed in the very early stage of human history when nobody owned anything. Only with the emergence of social classes, Marx said, did the powerful begin to appropriate property and enslave others. But there is absolutely no evidence that there ever was an age of ‘primitive communism.’
Marx never wrote that “nobody owned anything”. Pipes is confusing private property with personal property. e.g. clothes or tools. There is a mountain of evidence, including Homer’s Iliad, that human beings lived without private property during most of their existence. (See also Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State).
Today in the United States , the federal, state, and local governments together control 35 percent of the GDP. This means that the government is controlling a great deal of cash, which allows it to influence public policy, tell universities whom to hire and whom not to hire, and do all sorts of things. We need to keep a very keen eye on our own government. It’s getting too rich and redistributing wealth is a sure way of robbing us of our private property rights and other rights along with them.
Apart from the fact that in the United States public policy is influenced primarily by corporate interests and not by the government, Pipes apparently never noticed that his previous employer Ronald Reagan was busily engaged in transferring wealth from the public sector and those who already have too little to those who already have too much. Reagan’s successors worked just as hard, as when President Clinton slashed welfare payments and consigned more than 3 million children to a lifetime of poverty. The notion that the US government is robbing the rich of their property rights is consistent with Pipes’ general relationship with the truth – like Tony Blair, he doesn’t have one.