[FONT=verdana]Interview with Grover Furr on Stalin[/FONT] [FONT=arial]7.18.06[/FONT] [FONT=Arial,Tahoma][FONT=Arial,Tahoma]
Grover Furr is a professor at Montclair State University, is active in the Radical Caucus of the MLA, and the author of several essays, including “(Un)critical Reading and the Discourse of Anti-communism, Protest, Rebellion, Commitment: Then and Now”, and “Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform”. His works have shed new light on the Stalin era, and have been met with attack from right-wing critics like David Horowitz. He has already kindly contributed one interview on Carl Miller's blog, and has graciously agreed to conduct another interview here.
[/FONT][/FONT][FONT=Arial,Tahoma][FONT=Arial,Tahoma]Many people view the major problem under Stalin as "not enough democracy." How would you respond to this view?
First – thanks for inviting me to express my views on these important subjects!
As for your question, it’s futile to speak of “democracy” – Greek for “rule by the people” – as long as class society exists. The ruling class will rule, and will never allow itself to be removed from power by any peaceful means.
Remember the slave-owners of the Old South? When they could no longer control Congress, they declared themselves independent. They refused to give up state power without a war.
So all states are dictatorships of one class over another. In capitalist countries it’s the capitalist class that exercises dictatorship. Lenin’s magnificent work The State and Revolution explains the double-talk about “democracy.” In my opinion everybody should study it. It has some weaknesses – for example, there is nothing in it about the need for a communist party to lead the revolution! But it is a brilliant work, basic to the understanding of the world we live in.
Like Lenin, Stalin wanted a form of widespread representative democracy – as the word “democracy” has been understood in capitalist countries since the 18th century. My two essays – really, one long essay in two parts, which you hyperlink above – give the details of this fact, covered up since at least Khrushchev’s day.
Could it have worked? It is a shame that Stalin and his supporters did not succeed in implementing it. We would then have that rich experience from which to learn, both positively and negatively.
But Stalin would surely have never permitted socialism to have been overthrown by electoral means. Nor should he have.
Stalin has been blamed for the murder of Kirov. Is there any credibility to this?
This story has been widely spread, both in the West and in Russia, by anti-communist and anti-Stalinist authors. Trotsky and Alexander Orlov seem to have been the original sources for this tall tale. Later it was spread by Robert Conquest (Stalin and the Kirov Murder, 1990) never one to pass up an anti-Stalin story, no matter how far-fetched, and Amy Knight (Who Killed Kirov?, 2000), whose anti-communist biases lead her far astray of the truth.
It’s a complete lie, and always has been, because there has never been any evidence for it. On the contrary: Stalin was very fond of Kirov, who was a solid supporter of Stalin’s too. Meanwhile, both Trotsky and Orlov have been proven to have lied.
In his infamous “Secret Speech” of February 25, 1956 Khrushchev hinted at Stalin’s guilt for Kirov’s assassination. But he never made the charge directly. Several – at least two and perhaps three – commissions under Khrushchev and later tried to find evidence to blame Stalin for this, but never found any.
The main Russian researcher on this question is Alla Kirilina. She is very anti-Stalin and has written a couple of books about it. (Rikoshet and Neizvestnyi Kirov, which includes an updated version of the former book). But she admits that Stalin seems to have had nothing to do with Kirov’s murder.
Interestingly, the main version now promoted by anti-Stalinists is that Nikolaev – the person who undoubtedly shot Kirov and was executed for it – was a “lone assassin.” To accept that version means rejecting the confessions of the defendants at the first Moscow Trial of 1936, the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial, that they themselves had planned and carried out Kirov’s assassination. But the anti-communists are eager to believe that the confessions of these defendants were somehow “false” – though there is not the slightest evidence that they were!
There’s no evidence that they were lying, and what they said is consistent with the testimony at the second and third Moscow Trials of 1937 and 1938. Of course, we don’t know the details because the Russian government has steadfastly refused to make the voluminous investigation records public, or even accessible to researchers. Had Stalin been guilty, they would certainly have been made public in the atmosphere of anti-Stalin propaganda that reigned under Khrushchev, and then again under Gorbachev and Eltsin.
The evidence that has been made available is so scanty that any number of scenarios are possible. But Nikolaev was probably not specifically delegated to be Kirov’s assassin. Rather this mentally unstable person was made to believe that Kirov had wronged him.
In 2003 one short interrogation of Kotolynov was published in Russia, in which Kotolynov admitted “moral responsibility” for Kirov’s assassination, since they had poisoned Nikolaev’s mind against Kirov (Lubianka-Stalin…1922-1936, No. 481) In fragments of other testimony Kotolynov repeats this admission, while denying that he personally instructed Nikolaev in any way.
The story that Kirov had been involved with Nikolaev’s wife, Mil’da Draule, is still going around. Maybe that was the story that the Zinoviev-Kamenev group told Nikolaev, to egg him on? Kirilina has publicly said she does not believe any such affair took place (Argumenty I Fakti – Peterburg. Dec.1, 2004) And in fact Draule may have helped Nikolaev in the assassination, as she apparently confessed.
In short, * We don’t know even what the Soviet government knew in the 1930s, because the Russian government refuses to release the investigation materials.
* There is no reason at present to believe Zinoviev, Kamenev, and the other defendants at the 1936 Moscow Trial were lying when they confessed to planning Kirov’s assassination, with Nikolaev as the assassin.
* Only by assuming the existence of some conspiracy of this kind can we account for the evidence we know of – although, to repeat, so much is being withheld that nothing can be taken as certain.
* The anti-communist “party line” that no conspiracy existed, Nikolaev acted on his own, and Zinoviev, Kamenev and the rest were somehow coerced or persuaded to falsely confess to Kirov’s murder, is supported by no evidence whatsoever and, in my view, is the least likely story.
The bottom line: The evidence we have at present supports the theory that Zinoviev, Kamenev, and a group of their followers were responsible for setting Nikolaev to assassinate Kirov. Any objective assessment of the evidence we now have must reach that conclusion.
If and when more evidence becomes available – from the former Soviet archives, still kept strictly secret – we should be ready to change our minds in conformity to that evidence.
The anti-communists are unwilling to do this, because they will only accept “horror stories” that make Stalin, the Bolsheviks, and communism in general, “look bad.” That doesn’t necessarily mean they are all liars, though some of them, like Conquest, certainly are. In the main, they are blinded by their prejudices.
If you could sum up Stalin's major mistakes and contributions, what do you think they would be?
Everybody makes mistakes, so Stalin must have made some. But I don’t think this is what you’re getting at.
Stalin tried very hard to follow Lenin’s guidelines. He had tremendous respect for Lenin, and always referred to himself as “a pupil of Lenin’s.”
The problem was that Lenin did not know how to go from the situation the USSR found itself at the end of the Civil War in 1921 to a communist society. Nobody knew! Marx and Engels had not laid out a blueprint for this. Lenin did not have one either.
Lenin and Stalin were brilliant men, sincerely dedicated to the goal of communism, devoted to the working class. They had no personal ambitions except to try to bring about that society of justice and equality which the communist movement has always stood for, and that the working people of the world desperately desperately needed then and still do.
Despite titanic efforts, immense sacrifices, and great achievements, in the end the communist movement failed. Trotsky, and later Khrushchev, said these failures were due to Stalin’s personal failings. That is, if somebody else besides Stalin had been in the leadership, all would have been well.
I think this is all wrong. The problem was the Bolsheviks’ line – not just Stalin’s, but Lenin’s too, and Marx’s and Engels’ as well.
Stalin, and the Bolsheviks generally, had a social-democratic conception of socialism. It was the left wing of the social-democratic conception, of course. The right-wing of it -- the German S-D party, the Russian Mensheviks -- took the extreme economic determinist position that capitalism had to do its historic work of industrializing, developing, etc. In the meantime, capitalism itself was not to be overthrown. In fact capitalism was to be cultivated, because it was still "progressive."
Once you decide to retain money, wages, and inequality -- all of which go inseparably together – together with social welfare benefits for the working class, you have a society that is, in important ways, very similar to a bourgeois social-democratic society. This concept of socialism is at least as compatible with Marx and Lenin as any other concept, and probably is the version that is most compatible to what Marx, Engels, and Lenin had written.
The Bolsheviks even tried governing with opposition socialist parties. It was those parties that betrayed them -- the S-Rs and Mensheviks. The S-Rs tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks; tried to assassinate Lenin, did manage to severely wound Lenin and to kill a few Bolsheviks. They were not interested in anything else because their own conceptions of socialism were that outright capitalism had to complete its work, and anything more than that was premature, doomed to failure, doomed to be a "dictatorship", and so on.
Trotsky's view was a version of this, with a few different wrinkles, but really, not very different at all, and not really “left” either. In essence it was a more defeatist version, straddling the fence between the Bolshevik and Menshevik conceptions, just as Trotsky himself had straddled the fence between the two parties in his life.
What I showed in my two-part article was that Stalin was committed to a social-democratic concept of political democracy as well. Now, I didn't use that term. And it certainly would have worked differently with a communist party in control of the state, than it would with capitalists in control of the state, as in classic social-democracy.
But the conception of democracy was the same. The 1936 “Stalin” Constitution was predicated on a conception of democracy familiar to progressive capitalism: universal, equal, and secret voting, representative democracy, contested candidacies. The latter was never implemented. But that was what the Constitution stated. .
This is why I say that the "socialists" of today are "Stalinists.” To put it another way: what doomed Soviet socialism is what keeps POST-Soviet socialism down too. Because post-Soviet socialism bases itself on a social-democratic concept of socialism.
The "democratic socialists" all share the social-democratic conception of socialism that united Stalin, Trotsky, the S-Rs, and the Mensheviks. The Chinese CP still justifies its fascist state and economy with social-democratic rhetoric -- "capitalism has not yet fulfilled its historical mission."
We are all taught that it was Stalin who "allied with Hitler", either publicly or secretly. But who was it really? It was the Rights and Trotskyists! Bukharin, Radek, Piatakov, et al. All the evidence we have today supports this conclusion – which is hotly denied by all the anti-communist researchers and, of course, by Trotskyists.
We are taught that "Stalin killed hundreds of thousands" during 1937-38. But what happened in reality? It was Ezhov, with his rightist helpers in the Party leadership. And Ezhov himself was part of the Rightist conspiracy, planning to overthrow the Stalin government, and linked directly with Bukharin, Trotsky, et al.
(Recently-published testimony of Ezhov himself and of his right-hand man Frinovsky confirm this, and some virulent anti-communist researchers who saw these same documents years ago accept them as genuine.)
So it was the "nice, democratic Bukharinist" Right-wing that murdered all these innocent people, knowing they were innocent -- to cover up their own conspiracy, and cover their own tracks. This is what happened. But how many present-day “Marxists” want to hear it? Or are capable of hearing it? To say nothing of the overt anti-communists.
So to sum up: the USSR failed to attain communism. But it was not because of any personal failings on Stalin’s, or Lenin’s, parts. It was because their concept of socialism was faulty.
Could they have known this at the time? I don’t see how they could have known it. We can see it now – but only because of their heroic attempts. In retrospect, we can see what they did that worked, and what did not, thanks to their experience. Of course they could not have known that then.
In the last years of his life Stalin was preparing the USSR to move to the next stage on to communism. The move to communism was the watchword of the 19th Party Congress in October 1952. I’ve just finished reading the reports of that Congress in Pravda.
Stalin has been criticized for his treatment of national minorities. Are these criticisms founded?
Not at all. Stalin was very anti-racist. Of course, racism was not eradicated completely in the USSR during Stalin’s time or later. But during Stalin’s time it was never the Bolshevik Party’s policy to be racist, and Stalin was as anti-racist as could be imagined.
For example, former Soviet dissident and ferocious anti-Stalin writer Zhores Medvedev, in his 2003 book Stalin and the Jewish Problem, insists that Stalin was not anti-semitic. Medvedev states that Stalin was anti-Zionist, and calls that “anti-semitic” – which, of course, it isn’t. But Medvedev insists that Stalin was not anti-semitic in any other respect.
Like Russia before and since, the USSR was a multi-national state, and everybody had a national identity. People from smaller nationalities – usually defined by a different language – were given certain rights, in certain areas, as members of that nationality. This causes some kinds of problems. But it was the best attempt ever made, anywhere, to bind together a large state with many different languages and cultures.
One of the reason that Khrushchev and the rest of the Presidium murdered Lavrentii Beria a few months after Stalin’s death was that Beria was sharply critical of Russian chauvinist attitudes on the part of Party leaders in the newly Soviet territories of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and the Western Ukraine. Beria’s politics were a lot like those of Stalin, as I outline in my article.
Great-Russian chauvinism got progressively worse after Stalin died. But it never got to the point it is now.
Here’s a quote from a Chechen rebel, published in the New York Times in 2002:
[FONT=Arial,Tahoma][FONT=Arial,Tahoma]The older Chechen fighters like Mr. Basayev occasionally refer to a common Soviet past when communicating with Russians. Maksim Shevchenko, a Russian journalist who interviewed him frequently during the first war, recalled one such appeal by Mr. Basayev, who wears the long beard of Islamic radicals. "He switched off the tape recorder and he said, `You think I was always this bearded fighter with a machine gun?' " recalled Mr. Shevchenko, who at the time was writing for the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. " `I also sang the song, "My address is not a home or street; my address is the Soviet Union." Those were very good times.' " [/FONT][/FONT][FONT=Arial,Tahoma][FONT=Arial,Tahoma](“With Few Bonds to Russia, Young Chechens Join Militants.” NYT November 19, 2002. You can get the words to this popular young people’s song at Link) [/FONT] [/FONT]