The main source for most of the Stalinist falsification of history (for example with the unapologetically Stalinist CPGB-ML) is the so-called ‘historian’ Grover Furr. I only have one of his books, the infamous ‘Khrushchev Lied’, and as a history student I feel compelled to take apart this travesty of scholarship and therefore hopefully do my bit to counter Stalinist lies. For context, this book is meant to be a systematic debunking of every claim made by Nikita Khrushchev during the ‘Secret Speech’ at which he denounced Stalin in 1956.
Firstly, I want to point out the general flaws in Furr’s historical method, and then I will go into more specific examples. The first and most egregious flaw in his method, is that he takes confessions made under torture to be accurate. The absurdity of this should be immediately apparent. He himself argues that the mere fact one has been tortured does not establish innocence. This is of course true, but it is not justification to take confessions made under torture seriously. In the case of torture, a good historian would consider it neither an implication of guilt or innocence, and weigh up the other evidence available to us to decide the truth of the matter. Furr, of course, does not do this. This fact alone should be enough to discredit him. The second great flaw in his method, is that he never considers the evidence presented by other historians that runs counter to his narrative. More serious historians (i.e. historians who are actually professors of history, which Furr is not) of course have over the decades compiled veritable mountains of archival evidence which support the accepted historical narrative – that Stalin ran the USSR as a personal dictator, that the charges during the Show Trials were fabricated, that the Katyn Massacre happened, and so on. Furr does not even consider this evidence. Therefore, we are forced to choose between the minute amount of evidence compiled by a fringe, politically motivated amateur historian, and the enormous amount of evidence compiled by hundreds of professional historians, dozens of whom are famous and well respected within the scholarly community, and who are not politically motivated anti-communists in most cases – Stalinists often claim that all opposing historians are ‘anti-communists’, which is nothing short of a joke, and was only ever really true during the height of the Cold War. The final major issue with Furr is that the evidence he compiles very often does not actually even prove what he is trying to argue. Sometimes it is almost completely unrelated, or on other occasions is heavily open to interpretation, and is not the ‘case closed’ he presents it to be in his populist introductions: “every revelation of Stalin’s crimes… is provably false” or “virtually everything we thought we knew about the Stalin years turns out to be wrong”. Such is the style of this ‘serious academic’.
Now, I will give some examples of the flaws in his method. This is not intended to be a complete debunking of every claim Furr makes, but simply a representative sample. After all, unfortunately it takes a lot more time refuting bullshit than it does inventing it. So then, let us look at some examples of Furr using the laughable tactic of assuming confessions given under torture to be true. When discussing the shootings of the Old Bolsheviks Kamenev and Zinoviev, he states “no evidence has ever emerged to suggest [their] confessions were…[not] genuine”. And his evidence that they were guilty? A letter written by Stalin, the transcript of their interrogations, and their appeals to the courts for clemency. What marvellous sources! I suppose that if we consulted the letters of Hitler, and Gestapo interrogations, we would also find ‘irrefutable proof’ of a Judeo-Bolshevik plot to undermine Germany… So then, if we take his (dubious) word that there is no direct proof they were innocent, and also that the only sources suggesting their guilt are somewhat unreliable, we need to look at the other evidence available to us. Taking Zinoviev, he had been a member of the RSDLP since 1901, and had sided with Lenin in the 1903 Bolshevik/Menshevik split. He had been a member of the Politiburo from its formation, although he fell out with Lenin in October 1917. He was quickly rehabilitated and became chair of the Petrograd Soviet and of the Third International. Does this sound like a man who would lead a ‘terrorist bloc’ to overthrow the Soviet Union? No, clearly not. So the balance of probability is firmly against Furr. Of course, no consideration is taken of these facts. A similar example is Furr’s assertion that Trotsky was a Nazi collaborator, his so-called ‘evidence’ being the memoirs of Sudoplatov (the NKVD leader responsible for Trotsky’s assassination and later found guilty of crimes against humanity for testing poisons on human beings), and a Gestapo document that does not, in fact, even mention Trotsky or his allies – more on this later.
The next major issue with Furr is his lack of consideration of opposing evidence. A classic example of this is when Furr gives some anecdotes from various memoirs that say Stalin was receptive to alternative opinions (these anecdotes are then of course extrapolated to prove that he was always like this). The mass of evidence compiled by other historians which runs directly counter to this narrative is never mentioned. The most absurd instance of this is when Furr claims quite categorically (it is in boldface in my copy of the book) that “there is not one single example, during Stalin’s whole life, of his ‘removing’ someone from the collective leadership because that person disagreed with Stalin[!]” I would think that Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rykov etc would have something to say to that! Pretty much every claim Furr makes is brought down by the fact that he ignores the overwhelming weight of opposing evidence, and so I do not have to go into more detail here.
Finally, there are the issues with Furr’s evidence not actually even proving his point, at all. As mentioned earlier, an example of this is his assertion that Trotsky was a Nazi collaborator. So, let me reproduce the text of his evidence (which is apparently so weighty that no other evidence is needed). It is taken from a Nazi military court, apparently: “at the beginning of 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, the accused learned in his official capacity that a rebellion against the local red government in the territory of Barcelona was being prepared with the co-operation of the German secret service. This information, together with that of Pöllnitz, was transmitted by him to the Soviet Russian embassy in Paris”. For context, Pöllnitz was a Russian spy. Let us analyse this evidence. Firstly, at no point in the text is it confirmed that the ‘information’ was true – it merely states that this information was relayed by a spy. Considering I have read books on the Spanish Civil War and have never heard mention of such a plot, I am doubtful as to whether this ‘information’ was accurate. It is a shame Furr does not provide any further material. However, more importantly, at no point in the text is Trotsky, or his allies, implicated in any way. He does not even get a mention. I believe Furr is probably implying here that the Nazis were behind the clashes between the POUM/CNT and the Stalinist PCE in that year. Yet if so, he betrays shocking historical illiteracy. Not only were the POUM and CNT anti-fascist militias who fought against the Nazis, but neither of these groups was under the control of Trotsky anyway! Sometimes, Furr takes this even further. For example, in ‘proving’ that Stalin did not order mass repressions (something which we have overwhelming evidence for), the best he can muster is evidence proving Khrushchev to have been a hypocrite on this issue. I fail to see how Khrushchev condoning mass repressions means that Stalin didn’t order them – this is a logical fallacy par excellence.
In conclusion, Furr’s historical method is so badly compromised that essentially everything he says can be doubted. In this essay I have only picked out particular instances, yet every single controversial claim Furr makes in this book can be easily picked apart by even the dullest of readers. I will finish by paraphrasing Bordiga – “if the flamethrower in the archives isn’t halted, not even Stalin’s moustache is going to be spared.”