Even More Readings on Communism

 Posted by on 24 June 2004 at 6:15 am  Uncategorized
Jun 242004

While travelling over the past 36 hours, I read John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr’s book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage. It is a careful examination of the intellectual dishonesty of the “revisionist” historians who have, despite overwhelming evidence, minimized and defended the spying done by American citizens for the Soviet Union in decades past. The sheer audacity and absurdity of the denials and rationalizations could not be imagined were they not so. Let me recount a few examples, with all the quotes being from the revisionist historians themselves, not the authors:

  • that the mass killings in the Soviet Union were the result of bureaucratic bumbling characterized by the “clumsy implementation of vague plans” rather than any “coldly efficient machines of Orwell’s 1984″ (22)

  • that the death of the thousands of Polish officers (reservists, often community and professional leaders) slaughtered in the Katyn Forest was justified by the fact that it was “a step towards implementing social revolution in Poland” (21)
  • that the fact that “regard for human life was a necessary sacrifice in Lenin’s ambition to enhance life in the future” is not grounds for condemnation (25)
  • that Stalin was a man of admirable achievements, even if at “the cost of exorbitant sacrifice of humans beings and natural resources” (25)
  • that Stalin’s totalitarianism was “however brutal, a remarkable human achievement despite its flaws” which was “persuasive among his disoriented peoples” (25-6)
  • that “Stalinism is disappearing not because it failed, but because it succeeded, and fulfilled its historical mission to force the rapid industrialization of an underdeveloped country” (27)
  • that Soviet communism was a “system proclaiming a humanistic ideology” which merely “fail[ed] to live up to its ideal” (33)
  • that the American Communist Party (CPUSA) was not financially or ideologically beholden to Moscow and that its members were not enthusiastic supporters of Stalin (53-6, 61-2)
  • that CPUSA members were not involved in espionage against the United States (76)
  • that all forms of anticommunism were and are “McCarthyist” — and that such was far more damaging to America than any spying done for the Soviet Union (80-1)
  • that sensitive information passed to Moscow by communist spies in American government posts was just innocent information-sharing, “unauthorized technological transfer,” or even “international cooperation” (190, 213)
  • that spying for Moscow was noble, since it was done for ideological rather than financial reasons (206)
  • that American spies for the Soviet Union passing on atomic and military secrets helped preserve world peace without harming American interests (208-14)
  • that the measures taken against communists to prevent spying were unnecessary, even though such measures seem to be the cause of Moscow’s later greatly reduced capacity to steal American secrets (220-6)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unsurprisingly, the scholarly methods by which such claims are supported, particularly the defenses of various spies for Moscow, are astonishingly and transparently shoddy. Yet the revisionists seem to dominate academic history. Overall, the book is quite a tour-de-force qua study of intellectual dishonesty. I suspect that the academic reviews of the book are quite interesting.

In fact, I liked the book so much that I just ordered copies of Haynes and Klehr’s two other major works on the Communist Party of the USA, namely The Secret World of American Communism and The Soviet World of American Communism. (I sometimes worry that I will never finish my readings on communism. I just keep finding too many interesting new books to read! Oh, woe is me!)

As a parting comment, let me relate a story from early in the book about Robert Conquest, the author of The Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow. (I discussed those books in two earlier posts, here and here.) Generally speaking, reading In Denial certainly gave me a much better appreciation for why Robert Conquest went into so much excruciating detail in The Great Terror. Here goes the story:

Regarding the now-overwhelming evidence of the millions killed under Stalin, often under his direct and explicit orders, some revisionist historians have adopted the approach of J. Arch Getty, who “grudgingly upped the number of those executed in the late 1930′s Terror and those who died in the Gulag from mere ‘thousands’ to more than a million” (22). (Based upon my numerous readings, that’s still an unjustifiably low number.) Interestingly, Haynes and Klehr then write:

Getty has refused to withdraw his condemnations of historians such as Robert Conquest whose earlier estimates, while probably high in light of post-1991 evidence, were easily more accurate than Getty’s own prior attempts to minimize this catastrophe. One can understand why Conquest, responding to a request from his publisher for a new title for the revised edition of The Great Terror after the opening of the archives, tartly replied, “How about I Told You So, You Fucking Fools?” (23).


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