Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stalinist Revisionist historians are like holocaust deniers

In the final section of their book (In Denial, Historians, Communism & Espionage), Haynes and Klehr make an interesting comparison of modern revisionist histories about Communism to earlier revisionist histories of the Old South. “The Southern Lost Cause helped to maintain segregation until it gave way to legal and social assault during the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s.” The analogy seems apt. They mention Benet’s John Brown’s Body and quote Wingate who says firmly “It wasn’t slavery, That stale red-herring of Yankee knavery.” They comment “(One can almost hear an echo in which revisionists denounce bringing up Stalin as the ‘stale red-baiting of anticommunist knavery.’)” [page 230]

To carry on the analogy with the Southern revisionist histories, Communist history hasn’t had its “civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s” yet. On page 231 Haynes and Klehr write, “Like Holocaust deniers, some historians of American communism have evaded and avoided facing preeminent evil – in this case the evil of Stalinism. Too many revisionists present a view of history in which the wrong side won the Cold war and in which American Communists and the CPUSA represent the forces of good and right in American history. Most new dissertations written in the field still reflect a benign view of communism, a loathing for anticommunism, and hostility toward America’s actions in the Cold war. Many American historians hold America to a moral standard from which they exempt the Soviet Union and practice a crude form of moral equivalence.

“Like Holocaust deniers, too many revisionists deny the plain meaning of documents, invent fanciful benign explanations for damning evidence, and ignore witnesses and testimony that is inconvenient. In the face of clear and compelling evidence of Soviet espionage, they see nothing. When the bodies of more than a hundred former American Communists murdered by Stalin’s police are discovered in a mass grave in Karelia, they will not look. Confronted with documents and trails of evidence leading where they do not wish to go, they mutter darkly about conspiracies and forgeries and invent incidents for which there is no documentation. Some brazenly offer confident exegesis of documents they admit they have not seen or condemn books they admit they have not read. They confidently propose chronological impossibilities as probabilities and brazenly situate people in places they could not have been at times they could not have been there. It is not entirely clear how to classify such intellectual activity. But it is certainly not history.”

Is this a minor problem? Are there just a few Leftist historians engaged in this pernicious business? Not according to Haynes and Klehr. According to them, what they describe represents the predominate view of those historians who write about American Communism: “Despite all the new archival evidence of Soviet espionage and American spies, revisionism still dominates the academy and historical establishment. The leading journals of the historical profession do not print essays that are critical of the CPUSA or cast a favorable light on domestic anticommunism.”

Haynes and Klehr continue: “In these journals there is no debate about American communism and Soviet espionage; revisionism reigns without challenge. Revisionist history continues to be exempt from the standards of scholarly accuracy applied to other fields. Scholarly reference books that contain distortions and lies about Soviet espionage go unchallenged and the conventional wisdom of the academic world continues to accept pro-communist disinformation ploys as authentic. Elementary standards of proof and logic are ignored and political commitment is allowed to trump factual accuracy.”


In Denial was written in 2003. Five years have passed. They quote the historian Martin Malia to say “Western revisionism overall developed within what was basically a Soviet, or at least a Marxist, perspective. Putting matters this bluntly, however, was until recently impossible in academic discourse, especially in America.” Since it is now possible for historians such as Malia, Haynes and Klehr to put “matters this bluntly,” perhaps the situation is improving slightly. I discovered that Malia died in 2004. I found a Haynes web page listing his “Historical writings,” many of which are accessible from his site, but I could see nothing recent.

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