The following post was originally written as a reply to discussion on Facebook. It is reprinted here to aid wider circulation and facilitate discussion on this important topic.
Kim Il Sung indicates the way to national liberation after the Pochonbo Battle
We are all agreed about the need to support the DPRK. The questions that have arisen here seem to be mostly attributable to the prejudices that we find hard to shake given the overwhelming anti-Korea propaganda to which we are all subjected on a daily basis.
While we may have recognised this in theory, it still leads to all sorts of spurious allegations being easily accepted as fact. For example, Comrade L’s allegation that there is “very little development of Marxist education among the masses” or that “the party meets very infrequently”.
I can see no basis in fact for these statements. Quite the contrary, evidence from comrades and friends who have visited the DPRK rather points the opposite way. They have found the people to be exceptionally well educated and informed about local, national and international matters - and Marxism is a central plank of the education system.
Here is a short video clip from the National House of Class Education in Pyongyang, for example.
There is an excellent article about north Korea from 2006 by Stephen Gowans that I would recommend everyone to read if they haven’t already. It gives a really comprehensive framework for thinking about and judging all information regarding the country and its leaders.
Growing up infected with imperialist arrogance it is easy for us to dismiss or ridicule the achievements or difficulties of others, and exceptionally difficult to really appreciate how far they have come and against what odds and at what price.
We are helped in this by all those on the fake left who, under the banner of ‘concern’ for the fate of the revolution, are always ready to agree with the imperialists that the socialism of any particular country is not true to Marx’s or Lenin’s aims or ideals - and to provide 101 unfounded assertions by way of proof that this is the case.
But what are the aims and ideals of socialism? Not to conform to some dogmatic formula for Leninist purity, but to free the toiling masses from imperialist and capitalist exploitation and build a society where production and distribution are collectively planned and based on need. To establish firmly the dictatorship of the proletariat to that end and to educate the masses so that they may fulfil the position of rulers while keeping the expropriated exploiters down.
In what way do comrades believe that the Koreans are failing to do this? Are they not rather to be congratulated on keeping closer to these aims than any other socialist country has managed to do, despite the hugely powerful forces ranged against them?
Despite the partition of their country, the hostility between their hugely powerful socialist neighbours (the USSR AND China - a conflict they were alone in managing not to get dragged too far into) and the permanent state of war between their country and the 37,000 US troops in the occupied south, they have developed industry and agriculture, built a strong army and a nuclear deterrent, weathered natural and political/economic catastrophes (floods, collapse of the USSR etc) and still managed not only to keep everyone fed but to provide them with jobs, houses, excellent education and modern health care.
All this in a country that was flattened by more bombs than Europe saw in WW2 and poisoned with more napalm than Vietnam.
I personally worry that the Koreans seem to have abandoned the recognisably scientific terminology of Marxism Leninism in favour of the apparently more fuzzy terminology of juche, which seems to me to lend itself more easily to revisionist or nationalist manipulation.
There are certainly plenty of charlatans masking their flunkeyism in ‘jucheist’ terminology. But should we necessarily blame the Koreans for that? In Stalin’s day, plenty of flunkeys inside and outside of the USSR masked counter-revolutionary positions behind pure ‘communist’ rhetoric. It’s just one aspect of the class struggle after the revolution. And we cannot deny that the Koreans have made use of their juche formulations to masterly effect.
When the USSR collapsed, the USA confidently predicted that the DPRK would follow within a few years - and did everything it could to accelerate the process. And yet the imperialists have consistently failed to bully, blackmail or otherwise coerce the Korean people into giving up their freedom.
One has only to look at Syria to see what kind of methods the imperialists use to divide people and set them against their leaders. Small divisions are made use of and amplified, and unlimited military and financial assistance is channeled to those that can be persuaded to turn against an anti-imperialist government. It is a phenomenal achievement of the Koreans that they have not allowed this to happen. Despite all the difficulties they have faced in the last 20 years, they have maintained a united front against the forces of the enemy - much to that enemy’s chagrin!
On the issue of the leadership, it seems to me that the choice of the successor has put to bed at least one of the common slanders: it is clear that the country is NOT a ‘one-man dictatorship’. Kim Il Sung was a revolutionary of exceptional calibre in world history, who inspired Koreans to incredible feats - he was a leading figure in the revolution and became a figurehead for the party that led Korea successfully through the most terrible trials. His son was an able successor, whose government was able to defend and sustain Korea’s independence when socialist countries were collapsing like ninepins.
Is it not possible that the people and the party have chosen the young Kim on the basis that he embodies their love of the revolution, as well as on the basis that they believe his life training has given him total loyalty to them and to the revolutionary cause? It is perfectly clear that, whatever his personal qualities, he is not governing alone - he is a figurehead for the dictatorship of the workers and peasants against all imperialist interference and capitalist roading. Hence the popular Korean slogan that the leader represents their ’single-hearted unity’.
Why should we sneer at these ‘undeveloped’ Koreans swearing ‘fealty’? Is it not possible that the love the Koreans show to their leaders is merely a symbolised form of their love for their revolution? Who are we, who have done so little to hurt the cause of imperialism, to damn those who have done so much and for so long? How can we, from our comfortable armchairs, appreciate what it means to have peace for your children after generations of genocides?
And how can we, the product of an alienated, fragmented society, imagine what it means to start to rediscover your collective humanity under socialism? We are so used to imagining that our inculcated cynical detachment is the pinnacle of sophistication that we don’t recognise a society that is socially in advance of our own!
The Koreans are proud of the things they have achieved and determined to protect the gains they have made, and it seems to me that their choice of leader is a reflection of that.
Comrade L asked about the lack of great Marxist texts forthcoming from Korea in the last few decades. But where have great Marxist texts come from instead? What is there that needs to be written that has not been covered for our era by the great founders of our movement?
Marx and Engels comprehensively analysed class society, defined scientific socialism and outlined the tasks of the proletarian movement. Lenin masterfully updated their theories for the era of imperialism and revolution. Stalin documented the struggle of the dictatorship of the proletariat before and after the seizure of power and outlined the economic problems of socialism. Mao set out tactics and principles for peasant countries fighting both feudalism and imperialism, as well as working out the principles for successfully waging guerilla warfare.
All revolutionaries since then have merely worked, in their own countries, to explain the principles set out in the works of the aforementioned - to apply the scientific approach to particular situations. Kim Il Sung was particularly talented in this regard, and his writings resonated with many all over the world. He was a great Marxist Leninist. In fact, despite all their brilliance, neither Mao nor Stalin saw themselves as adding to Marxism Leninism, but only as students of the subject - applying the science to the concrete conditions in which they found themselves.
Kim Jong Il wrote long articles on many topics, especially on the arts under socialism, in which he took a particular interest, but his works are ignored in the West. Then again, so are his father’s. And so are Stalin’s, so he’s in good company!
Mostly though, I think we need to remember that people generally, and leaders particularly, write about what is in front of them - writing is not something they sit down to do in the abstract; they do it because it answers a need.
Kim Il Sung wrote during a period of the advance of the world revolution, and much of his writing was concerned with the overthrow of imperialism and the development of revolutionary forces - mainly in Korea but also elsewhere. Kim Jong Il was writing at a different time, and his primary concern was with defending socialism in Korea in an increasingly hostile world, so it is not surprising if his work has less resonance elsewhere in the world. More to the point, neither of the Kims’ works are circulated widely because most of the so-called revolutionaries in the imperialist world don’t actually support Korea.
But their rejection doesn’t prove that Korea is ‘inward facing’, any more than imperialist attempts at economic strangulation prove that it is ‘isolated’. It is not Koreans who are isolated from us, but we who are cut off from them. Koreans know what is going on in the world, they study languages, geography, history and politics and they make a point of understanding the machinations of imperialism. They have had to to survive!
I really don’t think any of the above is particularly controversial to the comrades who are discussing here, but the tone of the discussion leads people to imagine a far greater disparity between their views than there actually is. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson from the Koreans and show some restraint. A little more humility would well become us all!
The article below is the text of a speech given by Comrade Khwezi Kadalie, Chairperson of the Marxist Workers School of South Africa, to CPGB-ML meetings in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Leeds during his speaking tour in February.
Or you can watch Comrade Khwezi’s inspiring speech on this video, which includes more detailed discussion on many of the points he raised following questions from the audience.
I would like to thank the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) for the opportunity to address this gathering. I would like to take the opportunity to extend to you, and to all the comrades, friends and fellow workers here, the most sincere, heartfelt and revolutionary greeting of the members of the Marxist Workers School of South Africa and, indeed, greetings from the proletariat of South Africa.
The policies of imperialism and our reactionary ruling capitalist classes have always been to divide people, to divide the working class, to set local workers against immigrant workers, to set full-time workers against part-time workers … and, of course, they set workers in the imperialist countries against workers in the so-called ‘third-world’ countries.
Our position is clear: the objective interest of the South African working class and the interest of the British working class are identical. We have a common enemy; we are united in a common struggle against capitalism and imperialism. And therefore we say: together, the working class in South Africa and Britain, and, indeed, all over the world, will struggle for a better world; a world in which there is no exploitation and oppression, a world in which hunger and ignorance are a thing of the past, a world in which those who produce the wealth in society, namely the working class, shall govern and benefit.
Together we shall struggle and together we shall be victorious in this struggle. It is for this reason that we are here to forge a bond of friendship and solidarity between the South African and British working classes; a lasting bond born out of the revolutionary struggle against capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination.
South Africa during and after Apartheid
Comrades, many working-class organisations, revolutionary parties and comrades and friends who joined us internationally in our struggle against Apartheid had very high expectations of the African National Congress. Millions of people knew the political programme of our national-liberation struggle – the Freedom Charter.
The Freedom Charter laid the basis for a free and democratic South Africa, in which black and white, coloureds and Indians would live as equals. The Freedom Charter demanded that the land should be given back to the people, and that the mines and the banks should be nationalised.
Clearly, neither the land issue has been solved nor have the mines and the banks been nationalised.
Instead, the international community are given conflicting information about the economic progress of South Africa, while at the same time being fed with rather sensational information about the president of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, and the president of the ANC Youth organisation, Julius Malema. Reported issues around Aids and crime have also tarnished the image of South Africa internationally.
To understand the present situation, we need to step back and recall our historical struggle against Apartheid, and we need to look at how the economic and social situation has changed under the ANC government.
During the anti-Apartheid struggle, the main contradiction was between the racist apartheid system and the black people of South Africa, namely Africans, Indians and coloureds. Therefore, the anti-Apartheid struggle was led by the national-liberation movement the African National Congress in alliance with the South African Communist Party and Sactu, the South African Congress of Trade Unions.
This alliance, under the leadership of the ANC, fought the apartheid system politically, through armed struggle, and by organising an international movement to isolate and boycott the apartheid system.
This heroic struggle of our people, fought over many decades and with untold sacrifices, cumulated in the 1990 release of all political prisoners, some of whom, like our leaders Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, had been incarcerated for 27 years. The apartheid regime had to legalise all banned political organisations like the ANC, SACP, PAC, AZAPO and others. Within four years of this change, the apartheid system collapsed and a democratically-elected ANC government was ushered in.
This new government took over the old state machinery, with all its structures, complete with the old civil servants who had served the apartheid system. In addition, the new dispensation was based on a bourgeois constitution, which had been negotiated between the rising ANC and the then ruling National Party in 1992/3.
Since 1994, therefore, South Africa has been a bourgeois democracy, in which the property rights of the ruling capitalist class are enshrined in the constitution and upheld through the laws of the country, as enforced by the police and the judiciary. It is precisely for this reason that, since 1994, the main contradiction in South Africa has been between the ruling capitalist class and the working class.
Yet all political parties in South Africa deny this fundamental fact.
From revolutionaries to reformists
During the years of Apartheid, the capitalist class that owned the means of production in South Africa ruled through the racist and fascist apartheid state; it ruled through brute force. Open and direct oppression, torture and killings, arbitrary arrests and mass intimidation of the entire black population was the order of the day in order to exploit cheap black labour, not only for the enrichment of the white capitalist class but for the social and financial benefit of the entire white population.
After 1994, when Apartheid was defeated by the national-liberation struggle, the main contradiction in South Africa became the contradiction between the ruling capitalist class and the working class. The ruling capitalist class started to rule through bourgeois democracy, the same kind of rule that Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto described as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
Hand in hand with this transition, the African National Congress, our former liberation movement, has step by step over the years been ideologically transformed into a social-democratic party.
Opportunism has become a material force within the leadership. Indeed, the entire leadership of the African National Congress and the revisionist South African Communist Party has been socially corrupted. It has been bought into the middle class to such an extent that these leaders cannot see their own future and their own interest as being separate from the future and interest of the white bourgeoisie and of the of the emerging black middle class.
To this extent, neither the leadership of the ANC nor that of the SACP are any longer able to represent the objective interest of the rank-and-file members of their organisations. Nor do they represent the basic aspirations of their memberships any more.
The social base of both organisations is made up of ordinary working-class people and their families, who increasingly revolt against the opportunistic leadership. This finds its expression in the increasingly violent infighting at congresses and meetings, and in the emergence of factionalism within these organisations.
All political parties in South Africa deny the fact that the main contradiction in our country today is between labour and capital. It is for this reason that social democracy is flourishing.
The working class is told by its leaders that we all sit in the same boat – together with capital – and that we must all behave ‘patriotically’ to ‘strengthen South Africa together’. Meanwhile, the capitalists are retrenching and shedding millions of jobs. Unemployment has reached 46 percent, and poverty and hunger are spreading like wildfire. Yet the working class is told that the only answer is to hold out for better times and be more patriotic.
As the class contradictions between labour and capital sharpen, millions of workers are expressing their anger and frustration through militant strikes and protest. With falling numbers of workers registering to vote, and falling numbers of those registered bothering to turn out, more than forty percent of the voting-age population are now expressing their disillusionment by staying away from the polls.
All political parties, including the ANC and the SACP, in various ways and with various levels of intensity, are engaged in what Karl Marx described as perfecting the existing capitalist state.
The working class is told that the present stage of the revolution is the national-democratic revolution. In reality, this line is nothing but a call for open class collaboration with the ruling capitalist class, and therefore all policies and programmes, all campaigns that have been developed in South Africa over the past 17 years, are nothing but attempts to perfect the machinery of the capitalist state and increase the efficiency of the capitalist system of exploitation.
Of course, this is sold to the working class and the population at large as: ‘making South Africa internationally competitive’!
Key goals of the Freedom Charter
During Apartheid, 87 percent of the land was allocated to whites. This systematic and barbaric land robbery was the hallmark of colonialism and Apartheid in South Africa. But instead of carrying out a land reform to give land to the landless masses as the Freedom Charter demands, the government passes legislation to regulate the relationship between the white landlords and commercial farms and the farm workers.
South Africa has a race- and class-based education system: government schools for the working class, Model C schools for the middle class, and private schools for the bourgeoisie. Instead of scrapping the race- and class-based education system, which was developed under De Klerk, the last Apartheid President, the new government introduces one education reform after another in order to ‘improve’ the three-tier education system and make it more ‘efficient’.
In the industrial and economical sphere, the Freedom Charter states that the mines and banks should be nationalised. But here too, the government has instead passed legislation to increase the shareholding of black capitalists within the mining industry. And instead of nationalising the banks, the government negotiates with the monopoly capitalists to increase credit to black middle-class people.
In other words: reformism is the order of the day. Despite all the revolutionary rhetoric, which is sometimes voiced at Sunday speeches, reformism has become a material force within the political circles of the ruling ANC-SACP alliance.
Problems for reformists
However, the bourgeois system in South Africa faces one fundamental problem: it does not have the financial or economic potential, nor a coherent political national will, to bribe significant sections of the black working class into collaboration.
During the Apartheid years, the ruling class successfully created an all-white labour aristocracy, which has survived to the present day and is still nourished by the system. The system has failed, however, and indeed it never had any intentions, to create a black labour aristocracy.
Reformism therefore is a material force within state structures; it is the ideology of the middle class, including the emerging black middle class.
But reformism has failed to use its bribed black middle-class placemen to dominate the hearts and minds of the militant working class in South Africa, whose consciousness is being determined by the prevailing conditions of poverty, exploitation and alienation. In other words: the revolutionary spirit of the South African working class has not been broken!
This revolutionary class is struggling daily against capitalist exploitation; this class wants freedom from wage slavery; this class sees socialism as the fulfilment of its aspirations!
Over the years, so-called ‘neo-liberal’ policies have been introduced, such as the privatisation of state assets throughout our country in adherence to IMF and World Bank demands.
As a result, a few people have become filthy rich, and the profits of corporations and international monopoly capitalists have increased significantly. Alongside these gains for the exploiters come the usual burdens on the working classes: unemployment has skyrocketed, and poverty and desperation amongst urban workers and the landless rural masses have reached unprecedented levels.
The social situation of the working class and the landless masses has deteriorated to such an extent that the government has been forced to introduce social benefits in an attempt to take the edge off the people’s anger and desperation. Twelve million people in South Africa have become recipients of these benefits, without which there would be outbreaks of hunger and starvation in South Africa, although it is one of the richest countries on earth. Such are the realities of the so-called ‘free-market economy’!
South African revolutionaries and Marxist Leninists founded the Marxist Workers School of South Africa in order to educate workers about the historical responsibility of the working class, as the most revolutionary class in our society, to organise itself and take up the struggle for a socialist future. We have realised that wage slavery, poverty, crime, ignorance and underdevelopment can only be overcome when the working class has established a socialist system under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The unfolding class struggle of the South African working class is a struggle against the ruling capitalist class in South Africa. And it is at the same time part and parcel of the struggle of the international proletariat, of which we are a part.
Our struggle is part of the struggle of the international working class and oppressed people against capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination.
- It is for this reason that we support the land redistribution in Zimbabwe and the struggle of the Zimbabwean people under the leadership of ZANU-PF to defend its national sovereignty against British imperialism.
- It is for this reason that we call for the victory of the national-liberation struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan
- It is for this reason that we support the anti-imperialist national-liberation struggle of the Green revolution against the internal counter-revolution and the barbaric bombardment and re-colonisation of Libya by Nato.
- It is for this reason that we support the anti-imperialist Syrian Baath party and the coalition government in Syria, which includes the Syrian Communist Party, in its struggle against internal counter-revolution, destabilisation by reactionary Arab regimes and imperialist aggression.
- It is for this reason that we support the Palestinian national-liberation struggle for a united and democratic Palestine, in which muslims, jews and christians can live side by side in peace, free and liberated from the reactionary and racist ideology of Zionism
- It is for this reason that we support all socialist countries like the Peoples Republic of China, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Cuba and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Each of these socialist countries is at a different stage of development, but nevertheless they are all upholding socialism and developing their countries under extremely difficult conditions of world imperialist domination. Each of these countries is living proof that the working class can be the master of its own destiny.
We fully support the socialist countries in the defence of their hard-won victories and in the defence of their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
- It is for this reason that we build international relations with revolutionary working-class organisations and parties: parties that are based on Marxism Leninism; parties which understand that without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement; parties which have consciously broken all ties with opportunism, revisionism, social democracy and Trotskyism.
The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is one such party that tirelessly exposes these petty-bourgeois trends within the working-class leadership; that supports the anti-imperialist struggles of the oppressed people, and that fights for the establishment of a truly revolutionary proletarian party of the British working class.
We would once more like to thank the leadership of the CPGB-ML for the invitation and the opportunity to address this meeting.
Long live the solidarity between the British and South African working classes!
Long live proletarian internationalism!
Workers and oppressed people of the world unite against imperialism!
The historian J A Getty, one of the most respected authorities on Soviet history, remarked of the Stalin era:
“For no other period or topic have historians been so eager to write and accept history-by-anecdote. Grand analytical generalisations have come from second-hand bits of overheard corridor gossip. Prison camp stories (‘My friend met Bukharin’s wife in a camp and she said …’) have become primary sources on central political decision making.
“The need to generalise from isolated and unverified particulars has transformed rumours into sources and has equated repetition of stories with confirmation. Indeed, the leading expert on the Great Purges has written that ‘truth can thus only percolate in the form of hearsay’ and that ‘basically the best though not infallible sources is rumour.’ As long as the unexplored classes of sources include archival and press material, it is neither safe nor necessary to rely on rumour or anecdote.”
The ‘leading expert’ to whom Getty was referring was, of course, Robert Conquest, whose emotionally-charged books on the Stalin era, such as Harvest of Sorrow and The Great Terror, did more than perhaps any others to ingrain in people’s minds the notion of Stalin as ‘the ruthless dictator’.
This image was, however, inherited from the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev whose infamous ‘Secret Speech’ at the 20th Congress of CPSU claimed to ‘lift the lid’ on the hitherto hidden terror of Stalinism. As Grover Furr notes in his book on the speech (provocatively entitled Khrushchev Lied):
“This speech is often referred to as one of the ‘revelations’ by Khrushchev of crimes and misdeeds done by Stalin. The issue of the ‘cult of personality’, or ‘cult of the individual’, around the figure of Stalin was the main subject of the speech …
“The ‘Secret Speech’ threw the world communist movement into crisis. But the claim was that all the damage done was necessary, prophylactic. An evil part of the past, largely unknown to the communists of the world and even of the USSR, had to be exposed, a potentially fatal cancer in the body of world communism had to be mercilessly excised, so that the movement could correct itself and once again move towards its ultimate goal.”
The fall-out from this speech cannot be underestimated. It led to a rift in the world communist movement between the two largest socialist nations, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union (the ‘Sino-Soviet Split’ as it is referred to by historians), as well as a rift between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of Albania.
The Albanians and the Chinese rejected both the image of the Stalin era that was being presented by Khrushchev and the way that phoney image was being used as justification for revisions of the central tenants of Marxism Leninism. The anti-revisionist movement was thus born.
An equally important result of the ‘Secret Speech’ was that it reinvigorated the decaying Trotskyist movement. As Furr notes:
“Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in the ‘Secret Speech’ echoed Trotsky’s earlier demonisation of Stalin. But in 1956 Trotskyism was a marginal force, its murdered leader most often dismissed as a megalomaniacal failure. Khrushchev’s speech breathed new life into Trotsky’s all-but-dead caricature of Stalin.
“Communists and anti-communists alike began to view Trotsky as a ‘prophet’. Had he not said things very similar to what Khrushchev had just ‘revealed’ to be true? They dusted off Trotsky’s little-read works. Trotsky’s reputation, and that of his followers, soared. That the ‘Secret Speech’ constituted an unacknowledged ‘rehabilitation’ of Trotsky was recognised by Trotsky’s widow Sedova who, within a day of the speech, applied to the Presidium of the 20th Party Congress for full rehabilitation for both her late husband and her son.”
Trotskyism thus re-emerged as a force within the working-class movement and, often trading off its apparently sharp-eyed analysis of the Soviet Union, rose to become one of the most persistent features of the western political spectrum.
Indeed, in a very real sense it may be said that the ‘Secret Speech’ was the birth of modern Marxism. After all, what modern strand of Marxism has not been shaped by its views on the Stalin era?
‘Western Marxism’ (the Frankfurt School, Hegelian Marxism etc) sought to develop a ‘non-totalitarian’ Marxism and much of its work is pregnant with ruminations about ‘terror’; and the necessity for the ‘freedom of the individual’ to safeguard against it. ‘Luxemburgism’ and ‘Anarchism’, which came to believe that the Leninist political project itself inevitably ended in tyranny and repression. And, of course, ‘Trotskyism’ which we have already touched upon.
The publication of Grover Furr’s Khrushchev Lied is therefore an event of great import. Having spent the past ten years buried in the infamous Soviet archives (or at least, those sections of it which are now available to be studied – much of the archives are still too politically-charged to be considered for opening by the current Russian government) he has now produced a book, based on his research, which makes an outrageous claim:
“Not one specific statement of ‘revelation’ that Khrushchev made about either Stalin or [Lavrenti] Beria [former head of the NKVD] turned out to be true. Among those that can be checked for verification, every single one turns out to be false. Khrushchev, it turns out, did not just ‘lie’ about Stalin and Beria – he did virtually nothing else except lie. The entire ‘Secret Speech’ is made up of fabrications.”
The book has already caused a storm in Russian academic circles and is beginning to make an impact in the United States, as well. As Professor Roger Keeran of Empire State College has remarked: “Grover Furr’s study demands a complete rethinking of Soviet history, socialist history, indeed world history of the 20th century.” This is not an overstatement.
Among the most important claims debunked by Furr are:
- Stalin supported and fostered a ‘cult of personality’. Furr demonstrates that not only did Stalin not actively foster any such ‘cult’, he spent a great deal of his time actively fighting against it. Khrushchev, on the other hand, emerges as one of the leading proponents of the cult, for his own self-serving political motives.
- Stalin embarked on ‘mass repressions’ within the Bolshevik party. This claim has already been tackled by earlier historians and writers (including Ludo Martens, in his book Another View of Stalin), but it is Furr who really puts it to bed, with reams and reams of primary sources to refute it. Furr also successfully rehabilitates Lavrenti Beria, the man who is often accused of being ‘Stalin’s executioner’ in his role as head of the NKVD.
- Stalin stifled internal party debate and ruled the Soviet Union as a ‘dictator’. Furr provides an impressive collection of primary sources, which document that Stalin was committed to internal party democracy and that he made no special fetish of his position of power.
In total, Furr identifies and debunks sixty individual lies or half-truths put forward by Khrushchev in his ‘Secret Speech’. The sheer number of major modifications to our common understanding of the Stalin era that are suggested by Furr is dizzying.
The beauty of Furr’s book, however, lies in the clarity of its argument and the author’s rigorous attention to good historiography. Every claim that Furr makes is backed up with primary or secondary sources of real weight.
The book’s structure speaks volumes about the intellectual integrity of its author: the first quarter of the book is taken up with directly examining and countering the claims made by Khrushchev, the second quarter is taken up by a wide-ranging discussion of the historiography of the Stalin era in general, while the entire second half of the book is taken up with a mammoth appendix documenting, and providing lengthy quotations from, Furr’s source material. The appendix alone makes for fascinating reading. In it, we find such nuggets as this comment in a letter from Stalin to Shatunovsky:
“You speak of your ‘devotion’ to me. Perhaps this is a phrase that came out accidentally. Perhaps … But if it not a chance phrase, I would advise you to discard the ‘principle’ of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its party, its state. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse it with devotion to persons, this vain and useless bauble of weak-minded intellectuals.”
Or the documentary evidence of Stalin’s four attempts to resign his position as General Secretary of the CPSU (1924, 1926, 1927, 1952), as well as his attempt, in 1927, to abolish the position of General Secretary altogether. We can quote directly from the CC Plenum transcript of this last occurrence:
“Yes, it seems that until the 11th Congress we did not have this position [of General Secretary]. That was before Lenin stopped working. If Lenin concluded that it was necessary to put forward the question of founding the position of General Secretary, then I assume he was prompted by the special circumstances that appeared with us before the 10th Congress, when a more or less strong, well-organised opposition within the party was founded.
“But now we no longer have these conditions in the party, because the opposition is smashed to a man. Therefore we could proceed to the abolition of this position. Many people associate a conception of some kind of special rights of the General Secretary with this position. I must say from my experience, and comrades will confirm this, that there ought not to be any special rights distinguishing the General Secretary from the rights of other members of the secretariat.” [Emphasis added]
These are just two examples from what is a veritable goldmine of source material.
It is, however, the section on historiography which, in many respects, emerges as the most engaging. Furr’s sober approach to his subject matter deserves to be widely read and imitated and his comments on Soviet historiography are at least as persuasive as many of the ‘standard’ works on the subject. A good example is his discussion of ‘Torture and the historical problems related to it’, a question which any serious student of the Stalin era cannot avoid:
“The fact that a defendant was tortured does not mean that defendant was innocent. It is not evidence that the defendant was innocent. But it is often erroneously assumed to be … Establishing the fact that someone really has been tortured is not always easy.
“The mere fact that someone claims he confessed because he was tortured is hardly foolproof. There are many reasons why people sometimes want to retract a confession of guilt. Claiming one was tortured is a way of doing this while preserving some dignity. So to be certain a person was tortured there has to be further evidence of the fact, such as a statement or confession by a person who actually did the torturing, or a first-hand witness.
“When there is no evidence at all that a defendant was tortured objective scholars have no business concluding that he was tortured. This obvious point is often overlooked, probably because a ‘paradigm’ that everybody was tortured, and everybody was innocent, acts powerfully on the minds of both researchers and readers.”
Another engaging aspect of Furr’s work is the possible conclusion that it points towards, and it is this aspect that will probably most interest those readers who are already convinced of the ‘innocence’ of Stalin. Traditionally, it has been assumed by anti-revisionists that Khrushchev’s primary motivation in attacking Stalin was to lay the groundwork for his pro-market economic reforms and his counter-revolutionary modifications to Marxism Leninism. Furr accepts this as a likely primary motivation, but he adds to this another, more disturbing, possible motivation.
Furr returns to the right-Bukharinite conspiracy that was uncovered by the Moscow Trials in the late 1930s and notes the sheer number of those convicted as part of that conspiracy by Stalin and Beria who were ‘rehabilitated’ (often posthumously) by Khrushchev following his ‘Secret Speech’.
Among these are Ezhov, the man responsible for hundreds of thousands of wrongful imprisonments and thousands of wrongful executions as part of concerted campaign to ‘sow discontent’ amongst the Soviet people and lay the groundwork for a counter-revolution; Zinoviev and Kamenev, both of whom were working with Bukharin to aid the cause of hostile imperialist powers and remove the leadership of the CPSU; and Eikhe, the First Secretary who was deeply involved in the illegitimate repressions of the Soviet people, and many others. The chilling significance of this is best explained by Furr himself:
“[Iuri] Zhukov has argued that it was the First Secretaries, led by Robert Eikhe, who seem to have initiated the mass repressions [uncovered and exposed by Beria and Stalin in the late 1930s]. Khrushchev, one of these powerful First Secretaries, was himself very heavily involved in large-scale repression, including the execution of thousands of people.
“Many of these First Secretaries were themselves later tried and executed. Some of them, like Kabakov, were accused of being part of a conspiracy. Others, like Postyshev, were accused, at least initially, of mass, unwarranted repression of party members. Eikhe also seems to fall into this group. Later many of these men were also charged with being part of various conspiracies themselves. Khrushchev was one of the few First Secretaries during the years 1937-1938 not only to escape such charges, but to have been promoted.
“Might it be that Khrushchev was part of such a conspiracy – but was one of the highest-ranking members to have remained undetected? We can’t prove or disprove this hypothesis. But it would explain all the evidence we now have.”
The implications of such a possibility are, of course, massive. In particular, if Khrushchev could be proven to be a part of the right-Bukharinite conspiracy, it would have vital implications for our understanding of the birth of revisionism in the Soviet Union.
The difficulty for anti-revisionists up till this point has been to demonstrate how seemingly good communists could develop into enemies of the proletariat. This new theory, while not removing the difficulty entirely, would certainly tie it into more readily explicable phenomena, such as the right deviation that overtook Bukharin and others and led them to actively seek the overthrow of the Soviet leadership. Clearly, this is a point that will demand further examination.
If there is one major fault to be found in Furr’s work, it is his final conclusion. In the very last page and a half of the book he arrives at the somewhat dubious assertion that the rise of Khrushchevite revisionism and the right-Bukharinite conspiracy is to be explained by the faulty conception of socialism which Stalin inherited from Lenin and Lenin in turn interpreted out of the works of Marx and Engels.
This is not a conclusion which he has hitherto been building towards, nor is it one that he makes much, if any, sustained attempt to support in the page and a half that he discusses it. It feels a-priori, as if the author is trying to make his own personal belief about Marxism Leninism sit comfortably with the other conclusions of his research in a way that it simply does not.
To Furr’s credit, he wisely ends on the words “that is a subject for further research and a different book”, but nonetheless, one is left wishing he had simply left his own personal feelings on Marxism Leninism for that ‘different book’ and not tacked them, sloppily, to the end of what is otherwise a fantastic work.
Khrushchev Lied is a fascinating new perspective on the history of the Stalin era. The wealth of new research alone is worth the cover price, but the reader is also treated to an excellent discussion of historiography and some tantilising possible conclusions.
I would urge anyone with any interest whatsoever in either Joseph Stalin or the Soviet Union to read it, but also I feel certain that it will serve as a new vital resource for the anti-revisionist movement in its fight against the historical distortions perpetuated by the enemies of Leninism.