(Un)critical Reading and the Discourse of Anti-communism

Grover Furr

Even though the Cold War has officially ended, anti-communism is alive and well in all kinds of discourses—critical, historical and political—having widespread influence in both the academy and society at large. For some three decades and more, anticommunism has functioned as the great unsaid in the poststructuralist "war against totality". Attacks on the "logocentricity" of "western rationalism" have usually targeted the bourgeois legacy of the Enlightenment, yet if one scrutinizes the language of these attacks Marx would appear to be in the sights as much as Locke or Rousseau.

Voiced as the critique of "class reductionism" in commentaries premised on the "intersectional" model of gender, race and class, as well as on the relation of discourse to ideology, this antipathy to Marxism has more recently gone into the cultural groundwater, exercising a strong and abiding influence even (or maybe especially) in scholarship that presumes to have gone "beyond theory" and returned to the local. And while the impact of this anti-Marxism is largely confined to the academy when it is voiced in highly theoretical language, it spreads throughout the society through journalism and the statements of public intellectuals on the one hand and undergraduate and graduate teaching on the other, there to meet up with Cold War notions of red authoritarianism that were never expunged to begin with.

For some years now I have been investigating the history of the Third International and, in particular—with the help of Russian scholars based in the former USSR—have been delving into what has been published from the formerly-secret Soviet-era archives. What I have uncovered has been massive evidence indicating that an extraordinary amount of mendacity has gone—and continues to go—into the accounts of communist history and politics that enjoy virtually unchallenged stature in the U.S., among both academics and the public at large.

That is, what I have discovered is that the local and the particular—to use an out of fashion but indispensable word, the "facts"—can be not only fetishized and decontextualized but also just plain *mis*-represented. And this misrepresentation (or to put it more bluntly still, this lying) can go virtually unnoticed so long as it accords with uninterrogated but widely popular notions about leftist reductionism and authoritarianism.

In our current scholarly environment, the post-structuralist affinity for the dissociated fragment and antipathy to totality thus conjoin seamlessly with the inherited discourse of anti-communism. And the current historicist tendency to view "facts" as functions of "discourses"—and hence not amenable to judgments of truth or falsity—makes the task of recovery and renarration more difficult still. I am nonetheless committed to this task.

I would like to briefly mark some of my findings revealing the disregard, indeed, the contempt, for the concrete that undergirds some of the recent anti-communist scholarship—really, pseudoscholarship—on the former Soviet Union.

In his recent and acclaimed biography of Stalin Oxford don Robert Service writes that Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, arrested in May 1937 on charges of collaborating with German and Japanese military to help with a coup d'état in the USSR, confessed after only two days after his arrest: 

Tukhachevsky was shot on 11 June; he had signed a confession with a bloodstained hand after a horrific beating. (349)

This statement is not only false, but a deliberate lie. There are no "bloody fingerprints" on the Marshal's confession, and no evidence that Tukhachevsky was beaten or threatened in any way. But how many of his readers are in a position to know this? [2]

This lack of any serious attempt at objectivity, in the study and analysis of sources and evidence concerning the history of the communist movement in the 20th century, is the focus of my research and the topic of my essay. I would like to briefly introduce some of the matters I've been working on.

1. Khrushchev's Speech Was A Lie

On February 26, 1956, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev delivered his famous speech "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences". In terms of its consequences this is certainly the most important speech of the 20th century, and maybe of all time. It gave a body blow to the communist movement worldwide from which it never recovered.

Students, journalists, political scientists, and historians still speak of Khrushchev's "revelations", "exposure", etc. of Stalin's "crimes" in this speech. How many know that every single so-called "revelation" Khrushchev uttered in this speech was false? Not "some," or "most"—but every single one? I've spent a good part of the last few years documenting this fact.

These same "revelations" of Khrushchev's are the foundation on which subsequent Marxist and communist theory, as well as anti-communist propaganda, has been built. And—let me repeat—it is all false.

No one can doubt that Khrushchev & Co. certainly hated Stalin. But they could not come up with any genuine criticisms of Stalin—that is, none that they dared state out loud. That is, behind the "Secret Speech" known to history as such, there is another "secret speech" that was never delivered, and that constitutes the real reasons for the attack on Stalin. For one account of the real reasons Khrushchev & Co. hated Stalin, I refer you to my two-part article in Cultural Logic for 2005, titled "Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform". I have also completed a much longer monograph in which I go through the so-called "revelations" Khrushchev made in this speech—over 50 of them—and document, with evidence from the formerly secret Soviet archives, that virtually every one of them is false.

What are the implications for our understanding of the history of the communist movement, of "actually existing socialism", of Marxist theory? All must be re-studied, rethought. One of the very best American researchers of the Stalin period in the USSR, J. Arch Getty, has called the historical research done during the period of the Cold War "products of propaganda""research" which it makes no sense to criticize or try to correct in its individual parts, but which must be done all over again from the beginning. I agree with Getty, but would add that this tendentious, politically-charged, and dishonest "research" is still being produced today.

2. Objectivity: the case of the Moscow Trials

In 1936, 1937 and 1938 the famous public Moscow Trials were held. The defendants included many leading Bolsheviks and associates of Lenin. They were charged with such crimes as assassination, economic sabotage, planning a coup d'état and the murder of Stalin and others, and conspiring with the German and Japanese military.

At the time opinion about these trials was divided. But since Khrushchev, it has been widely assumed—that's the correct word—that the defendants were innocent, their confessions coerced in some way. During the last years of the Soviet Union's existence, the Gorbachev government and Communist Party actually declared virtually all these defendants "rehabilitated"—meaning, they were declared innocent. However, no evidence of their innocence was produced. Members of the "rehabilitation" commissions—materials from them have been published during the past 15 yearswere worried about this.

During the past few years I've tried hard to gather and study all the material from the formerly secret Soviet archives that's been published and that bears upon these Trials. Only a very small part of what we know still exists has been published. Still, it permits—or rather, demands—a complete rethinking of Soviet history.

Leon Trotsky was an indicted co-conspirator in absentia in each of the three public Moscow Trials. Many of the defendants charged Trotsky with collaborating with the German and Japanese fascists. This was a charge many found to be scarcely credible at the time, and one Trotsky indignantly rejected.

These charges—against the Moscow Trial defendants, and against Trotsky—are considered by many to be so outrageous that they are almost never taken seriously today. What's more, nobody—as far as I can determine—has bothered to search the documents from the former Soviet archives to see what is there. I have endeavored to do this, and so I'd like to say a few words about it.

What dominates discussion of the guilt or innocence of the Moscow Trial defendants is a lack of objectivity, or even the attempt to be objective. Argument by insult, fabrication, or dismissal, or by simply assuming that which is to be proven, characterizes this discussion on all levels.

This is a big problem and a grave danger to those of us in the Marxist tradition. Thinking of this kind rules out the very possibility that a person can ever discover the truth.

Marx and Engels wrote that the proletariat "has nothing to lose but its chains". I take it that means that we who side with the working class should not fear to face the truth and learn from it, regardless of how much that truth may shake our "precious" preconceived ideas.

Marx also wrote that we should "doubt everything". If this doesn't mean "Question your own preconceived ideas", then it doesn't mean anything.

An essential part of objectivity is to gather all the evidence, study it carefully, and then see which hypothesis is supported by the preponderance of the evidence. If and when new evidence comes to light, you are prepared to change your conclusions, if necessary, to account for it.

The issue of Trotsky and the Germans and/or Japanese is as good as any other to consider, so I would like to discuss it a bit.

It's not objective to declare the idea "absurd" from the beginning. This is no different than declaring it "certain" from the beginning. What we have to do is to look at the evidence. No objective person would reject the Trial transcripts. Confessions of alleged co-conspirators are evidence—to be refuted or corroborated through analysis or additional evidence.

It may be beyond most students and researchers to approach this question seriously. But it wasn't beyond Trotsky to do so. Trotsky may, or may not, have conspired with the Germans and/or Japanese. But Trotsky was a very intelligent man.

He didn't declare the allegations "absurd", "crazy", etc. He knew that, if he did that kind of thing, objective persons would not only not believe him, but would lose respect for him, and wonder why he wasn't taking the trial testimony seriously. That's why he encouraged the "Dewey Commission", testified himself, asked his followers to testify, elicited testimony from abroad, and so on.

So the Trial transcripts and the evidence and testimony from the Dewey Commission -- all this has to be taken into account and studied.

And until the end of the USSR that's where things stood. No additional evidence, one way or the other, was forthcoming. Khrushchev, the "Khrushchevites" like Roy Medvedev, Gorbachev and the "rehabilitators" never provided any evidence concerning the question of Trotsky and the Germans/Japanese.

But now, since the end of the USSR, we have more evidence from former Soviet archives. Not as much as we'd like to have, of course. Historians are never satisfied, and always want more evidence, and yet more! But nevertheless, we now have quite a bit more evidence. And all of it supports the allegation that Trotsky did, in fact, conspire with the Germans and the Japanese.

During the past year I researched and drafted an article in which I tried to put all this evidence together. It's not ready for publication yet. But I can tell you two things, because there's nothing secret about these:

* the vast preponderance of the NEW evidence suggests that Trotsky was, in fact, in touch with the Germans AND the Japanese.

* there is no "smoking gun". It's a matter of weighing the circumstantial evidence available to researchers now. If more evidence becomes available, then an objective scholar will be prepared to alter his or her conclusions, or even change those conclusions altogether.

If this were some matter nobody cared or had preconceived ideas about—something that could be approached with, say, the sense of detachment that jurors are supposed to have, and very often really do have, about a case they are empanelled to decide—there'd simply be no controversy at all. Trotsky would be found "guilty", because the evidence is "beyond a reasonable doubt". Not beyond any conceivable doubt; not "certain"—how many issues in history are "certain"? But still, the evidence we have against Trotsky greatly outweighs any evidence he was innocent, and certainly overwhelms his own denials.

Doing this research I changed my own mind. I was dubious—that is, open-minded—about this. What does it cost me to say, "Stalin, or Ezhov, framed Trotsky?" Nothing! So I was prepared to find that. But instead, I found the opposite. So would any objective student, who studied the evidence now available. [3]

Incidentally, I have done the same kind of thing concerning Bukharin. It is a shibboleth of anti-communism, whether liberal, conservative, Russian, Western, etc., that Nikolai Bukharin, who confessed and was convicted in the 1938 Moscow Trial, was really "innocent". Rubashov, the hero of Arthur Koestler's Darkness At Noon, who confesses out of "loyalty to the Party", was based on Bukharin. Yet the vast preponderance of the evidence we now have suggests that Bukharin was guilty of precisely what he confessed to, both before and during his Trial. This is simply un-mentionable, "taboo". But it is so. 

Is it—the evidence, and an objective study of it—going to change anybody's mind? Two things: 

* "Changing minds" is not my concern. The researcher's job is a scientific one. Gather the evidence; study it carefully; draw the conclusions. Be objective. Follow the evidence, and the logic, and "let the chips fall where they may".  "Tell the truth, and run!" (the title of muckraking journalist George Seldes' autobiography). 

* Many people are capable of being objective. I talk with a lot of younger people who see the horrors of capitalism. They want to change the world—good for them! They see that the legacy of the communist movement has to be studied, but studied critically. They want to be objective because they see—more clearly than do many of my own generation—that objectivity, the truth, is the ONLY way forward for the working class. I think that too. 

But there are those who are simply not capable of questioning their long-held prejudices. People who are devoted to something—Trotskyism, anti-communism, capitalism, anarchism, social democracy—that means more to them than objectivity. They aren't going to change their minds merely because the evidence says they should. I can't worry about them. 

Like medieval mariners whose maps were more imagination than fact, we have been misled by canonical histories of the USSR that are mainly false. The process of discovering the real history of the world's first socialist experiment has scarcely begun. I believe this is of immense importance for the history of the communist movement, for the future of the Marxist project, and for the future of human society.

[1] I recommend to the interested reader the list of works of research on the Soviet Union during the Stalin era appended to this essay.

[2] According to a Khrushchev-era commission, the marks on one draft of Tukhachevsky's confessions are blood. Even if that is true, and even if they are Tukhachevsky's blood – this has not been established – a glance at them shows they are not "fingerprints." There is no evidence whatsoever that Tukhachevsky was "beaten" or physically abused in any way.  The stains may be seen at 

[3] I am preparing studies of the evidence in the cases of Trotsky and of Nikolai Bukharin and, with a Russian colleague, an edition of Bukharin's heretofore unpublished and unavailable Confession of June 2, 1937.


Chase, William. Enemies Within the Gates? The Comintern and Stalinist Repression, 1934-1939. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. Documents available on-line at

Coplon, Jeff "Rewriting History: How Ukrainian Nationalists Imposed Their Doctored History on our High-School Students." Capital Region Magazine (Albany, NY), March 1988. At

Coplon, Jeff. "In Search of a Soviet Holocaust: A 55-Year-Old Famine Feeds the Right." Village Voice, Jan. 12, 1988. At

Furr, Grover. "Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform," Parts One and Two. Cultural Logic 2005.  At

Furr, Grover. "Anatomy of a Fraudulent Scholarly Work: Ronald Radosh's Spain Betrayed." (Review of Ronald Radosh, Mary Radosh Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov, eds., Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War. Annals of Communism series. Yale University Press, 2001). Cultural Logic  2004.  At

Furr, Grover. "Fraudulent Anti-Communist Scholarship From A 'Respectable' Conservative Source: Prof. Paul Johnson." At

Furr, Grover. "New Light On Old Stories About Marshal Tukhachevskii: Some Documents Reconsidered." Russian History / Histoire Russe 13, Nos 2-3 (Summer-Fall 1986), 293-308. At

Furr, Grover. "Not 'rescue Stalin,' but rescue the truth and the future." (April, 1996). At

Furr, Grover. Review of Robert W. Thurston, Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941. (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). Cultural Logic 1998. At

Getty, J. Arch. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Getty, J. Arch, and Oleg V. Naumov. The Road to Terror:  Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1939.

Mecklenburg, Jens und Wolfgang Wippermann (Hrsg.): "Roter Holocaust"? Kritik des Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus. Hamburg: Konkret Literatur Verlag, 1999.

Perrault, Gilles.  "Les falsifications d'un 'livre noir.'" (critique of The Black Book of Communism). Le Monde Diplomatique. December 1997.

Thurston, Robert W. "Fear and Belief in the USSR's 'Great Terror': Response to Arrest, 1935-1939." Slavic Review 45 (1986), 213-234. With JSTOR access, at

Thurston, Robert W. "On Desk-Bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspectives, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest." Slavic Review 45 (1986), 238-244. With JSTOR access, at

Thurston, Robert W. "Humor and Terror in the USSR, 1935-1941." Journal of Social History 24, 3 (Spring 1991), 541-562. With Ebsco Academic Search Premier access, at

Thurston, Robert W. "The Soviet Family during the Great Terror, 1935-1941." Soviet Studies 43 (1991), 553-574. With JSTOR access at

Thurston, Robert W. Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996.

Thurston, Robert W., and Bernd Bonwetsch, eds. The People's War: Responses to World War II in the Soviet Union. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Wippermann, Wolfgang. »Die Singularität des Holocaust geleugnet«. Philtrat Nr 26, January-February 1999. At

Review of PBS "Stalin" Series (1990) - four-part series. At

"The Hoax of the 'Man-Made Ukraine Famine' of 1932-33" - six-part series. At

THE RED CRITIQUE 11 (Winter/Spring 2006)