Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 22, 2010

An American “revisionist” historian

Filed under: Academia,Fascism,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 7:39 pm

Professor Timothy Snyder, breathtakingly stupid and reactionary

I am not sure how many of my readers are aware of this trend, but there is a “revisionist” school of German historiography that tends to minimize Hitler’s crimes and maximize Stalin’s, to the point of designating Stalin as one of Hitler’s main inspirations. I first stumbled across this trend when reviewing the movie Downfall, about Hitler’s last days. I wrote:

Nolte and other such “revisionists” were frequent contributors to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a conservative daily newspaper that Joachim Fest [Downfall was based on his book] edited. When Jurgen Habermas and other left-leaning scholars lashed out at the neoconservatives, Fest came to their defense. In the August 29, 1986 FAS, he laid out an argument that is central to the revisionist school, namely that Hitler was driven to extremes by the Russian Revolution. In other words, Nazism was a defensive although excessive measure.

Fest quotes a 1918 speech by Martyn Latsis, a Latvian Jew who was a Cheka official: “We are in the process of exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class.” From this quote, Fest concludes that the Bolsheviks were determined to carry out a genocide on a class basis rather than a race basis. Since his remarks are generally not available in the original but from a version that appeared in Harrison Salisbury’s “Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions, 1905-1917, we don’t really know what Latsis was getting at. It is far more likely that he meant that their property had to be liquidated on a class basis, rather than exterminated as individuals. Of course, for the rich, this is a fate worth death.

Timothy Snyder, a bright young thing in the Yale history department (don’t let your children grow up to be ivy leaguers), echoes Joachim Fest’s sentiments in a Guardian article titled The fatal fact of the Nazi-Soviet pact:

As for the Soviets, Rafal Lemkin, who gave us the term “genocide”, saw Stalin’s application of famine and terror to Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s as a “classic case” of genocide. During the campaign to collectivise Soviet agriculture, Stalin spoke of “liquidating the kulaks as a class”. Soviet agitators send to enforce collectivisation spoke of beating prosperous peasants “into soap”.

In a highly touted (in the bourgeois press) and newly published tome titled Bloodlands, Snyder advances the thesis of a Molotov-Ribbentrop Europe–a carcass devoured by a two-headed Red and Nazi vulture. In a far too generous review of the book in the Nation Magazine, Columbia professor Samuel Moyn writes:

By choosing a geographical approach to how death undid so many “between Hitler and Stalin,” Snyder courts two contending risks. One is that he is simply spelling out on the ground the familiar thesis that totalitarian regimes and despots are uniquely evil. Is it any surprise that in the zone where such titans clashed, and the most massive war in human history took place, there was a lot of civilian carnage? A second risk is that a geographical focus could dislodge the wide variety of explanations historians have offered to put the Holocaust in some sort of context, ones focusing, for example, on the circumstances of the war, notably its economics, and food policy behind the lines, or on the imperial aspirations of the contenders in a common space. Snyder avoids the second risk by integrating many of the existing arguments into his own.

It turns out that Moyn is not the only person to have found fault with Snyder’s methodology (I, of course, do not count except among the sans culottes). The Guardian article cited above was in response to two of Snyder’s critics, Efraim Zuroff and Dovid Katz. Amazingly enough, Efraim Zuroff, who is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, made an eloquent point about the folly of equating Molotov and Ribbentrop:

Timothy Snyder’s article stresses the significance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of 23 August 1939 as the primary facilitator of the second world war, and therefore attributes major responsibility for the atrocities of the war to the Soviet Union. Such a reading of the historical events which preceded the outbreak of the war appears ostensibly plausible, and would, as Snyder suggests, prompt a reassessment of the generally-accepted western narrative, which, while not blind to Soviet misdeeds during the war, exclusively blames Nazi Germany for the horrific and unprecedented loss of human life during the second world war.

The problem with this analysis, however, is that it completely isolates the signing of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact and ignores the broader context behind the outbreak of the second world war and its continuation. Thus, it is clear that there was a tremendous disparity in the motives of the two countries that signed the pact. While the Nazis did so as an integral part of their grand strategy to conquer most of Europe to obtain their goal of Lebensraum (living space) for the superior Aryan race, the Soviets were basically forced into signing the agreement when their talks with Britain and France regarding the possibility of forming an alliance against Nazi Germany broke down, and when Poland, understandably, refused to allow Soviet trops to march through its territory. Given the disarray in which the Red Army found itself in the wake of the purges of the late 1930s, it was patently clear, moreover, that at this point, the Soviet Union would have definitely been defeated in any military confrontation with the Germans and their allies. So, Stalin had no other viable option but to sign the treaty, which at least would allow him to gain the time necessary to try to prepare the Red Army for the inevitable clash with the Wehrmacht.

Dovid Katz’s credentials are just as impeccable as Zuroff’s. He is the chief analyst at the Litvak Studies Institute and editor of the HolocaustInTheBaltics website and formerly professor of Judaic studies at Vilnius University and research director at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, which he founded. He too refuses to demonize the USSR:

The steps taken are eerily Orwellian in a well-planned sequence (but not, let it be stressed, a conspiracy: all of it was very public to anyone interested enough to follow events here in the Baltic region). The notion “genocide” was redefined by legislation to include deportation, imprisonment, loss of freedom and much more. This, then, made it possible (in local terms – necessary) to argue that, with the new definition in play, Nazi and Soviet crimes were obviously “equal”. The “slight inconvenience” of the Holocaust then fades away naturally into the new grand paradigm of double genocide in which everybody was killing everybody, in the ultimate postmodernist mush.

Not to mention that the (understandably) Russia-fearing countries that were under Soviet yoke for so long are also not “uninterested” in a big new stick with which they hope to beat Russia down in western eyes to the status of a genocidal equivalent-to-the-Nazis regime. In other words, the policy is being driven not only by ultra-nationalism (“We have a perfect history”), antisemitism (“the Jews were basically communists and got what they deserve”), and anti-Russianism (“they are the same as Hitler”), but by a perceived set of current geopolitical concerns that should not (whether right or wrong) be converting history into a one-opinion discipline with the foregone conclusions being dictated by the state’s apparatchiks.

Here in Lithuania, the powers-that-be have carried all this to absurdity. From 2006 onward, prosecutors, who had the most abysmal record of pursuing Nazi war criminals deported by the United States after extensive legal proceedings, somehow managed to find the energy to pursue Jewish survivors of the ghettos who fled into the forests to join the anti-Nazi resistance. There were no British or American troops in these parts, and yes, the Soviets were the only hope for the tiny number of escapees of the Nazi death machine during the years 1941-45 when the United States, Great Britain and the USSR led the allied coalition against Hitler. None of these Holocaust survivors was charged with anything specific – because there is nothing to charge them with. These were rather campaigns to change history, part of an expensive, extensive effort, slowly but surely, to change the narrative of history to suit the local ultra-nationalists.

One wonders how a place like Yale University can possibly hope to turn out ideological custodians of the capitalist system when the task is assigned to bumbling idiots like Timothy Snyder. A genuine intellectual is always forced to contend with ideas that challenge his or her own at the most fundamental level.

If I were sitting on Professor Snyder’s dissertation committee, I would pose a couple of questions to him.

First, I would ask why he decided not to include the 21 invaded “democratic” armies in the Russian Civil War that came to the aid of the Whites, who were arguably the first fascist movement of the 20th century. By most reckonings, including that from arch-anti-Communist Rudy Rummel, that invasion cost the lives of over 9 million Russian civilians. So why limit yourself to Ribbentrop and Molotov? Why not characterize it as Molotov-Ribbentrop-Woodrow Wilson Europe?

I would also ask why he appears so little interested in the holocaust of 1943 precipitated by that great friend of democracy, namely Winston Churchill. The Bengal Famine caused the death by starvation of 3 million Indians. Was their deaths somehow forgivable because the British enjoyed the right to vote for Mr. Churchill?

But you can get the full dimensions of Professor Snyder’s stupidity from an op-ed piece he wrote in the NY Times on November 16th (but only in the IHT edition). Titled No, They’re Not a ‘Hitler’ or a ‘Stalin’, Snyder rehashes the kind of garbage I heard in Junior High School social studies classes:

Communism has never once arisen — not in the U.S.S.R., not in China, not in Cambodia, not in Cuba, not in Vietnam, not in North Korea — as the cumulative result of social reforms. It was always brought by violent revolution carried out by a fanatical minority, usually during or right after war. Once in power, committed revolutionaries sought to transform agrarian countries such as Russia or China into modern industrial states by oppressing peasants and applying political terror.

The history of the welfare state is actually part of the history of the struggle against communism. After World War II, wise Europeans and Americans supported social reforms precisely as a way to hinder the spread of Soviet power. The Red Army had brought communism to Eastern Europe; the question was how to prevent its further spread to the nations liberated by the Western powers.

Thank goodness nothing like this ever happened in the United States or Britain. In the United States, industrial society came into existence largely through the benign efforts of southern cotton planters who sought nothing but the happiness of their chattel slaves.

With respect to Britain, there’s that nasty little business called “primitive accumulation” with its enclosure acts, its child labor, its poorhouses and all the rest. Of course, none of this counts because the very foundations of Yale University rest on the ill-gotten gains of the cotton planters and the enclosure acts.


  1. Joachim Fest, who appears to have been the godfather of this movement, had clear domestic motivations for describing Hitler as having been inspired by Stalin, as he frequently maligned the German left as the contemporary repository for anti-semitism in German society during the 1970s. No doubt, anti-semitism remained a significant issue for the left, but to inflame the public into believing that it was the sole source of contemporary anti-semitism was ludicrous. And, he lashed out at those who would examine German history from a contrary perspective, as he did when he maligned Fassbinder for having written a “fascist” play, “Garbage, and the City of Death”, later made into a movie by Daniel Schmid.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 22, 2010 @ 7:58 pm

  2. Louis,

    Hi hope you are well.

    What you are describing is what I call the Myth of Nations. It is deliberate lies, half truths and distortions that a country or organization portrays to enhance their own status into one of Righteous Supremacy. It is a world wide occurance.

    Over time as one searches with an honest heart and probing mind, lies such as the ones portrayed are easily found out. In my own personal walk I realized that as a youth I was basically indoctrinated and not educated. Thus I questioned everything that I was taught as I was obviously deceived. America after all was not a great wilderness, the Indians were not savages, the White Man’s Burden and Manifest Destiny had nothing to do with a God of Love and the USA is not a defender of freedom. We are not Captain America after all!

    That is one thing about the Bible that attracted me. It’s heroes are shown as fallable human beings. David for instance committing murder and adultry. Whereas when I started reading Josephus I saw lies right away and stopped reading.

    The bad news is that most people do not go deep enough to question. Some are aware of their deceit and promote and spread it as in this case. The good news is once the realization occurs that all is not what it seems there is no turning back. There are on perfect people so why should there be perfect nations!!


    John Kaniecki

    Comment by john kaniecki — November 22, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

  3. Stalin was a thug, there’s no doubt about that, but it always pisses me off when he is compared to Hitler. Both tyrants, yes, but in the name of two very different world views. Not that this lets Stalin off the hook because he committed his atrocities in the name of Communism, just that, the way I see it, Stalin’s violence was driven by paranoia. Hitler’s was driven by reaction and hate.

    Comment by Rob — November 22, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

  4. P.S. I should say Hitler’s was driven by reaction and race-hatred. There’s nothing wrong with a little hate as long as the right people are on the receiving end.

    Comment by Rob — November 22, 2010 @ 9:04 pm

  5. I thin you mean ‘equation’, not ‘comparison’, as the outcome of the later is open. when comparing two things, you may come to the conclusion that they don’t have too much in common

    Comment by PfromGermany — November 22, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

  6. Yes, thanks for the grammar correction (I am not being a smart ass). I did mean equate.
    By the way, I love how the behavior of particular leaders and followers of a certain school of thought (for example, Stalin and Mao and Communism/Marxism) that the U.S. has officially deemed verboten is taken as evidence that the idea itself is bankrupt. No one hears the argument that because some thug dictators in Latin America backed the free market that capitalism is always doomed to failure and totalitarianism.

    Comment by Rob — November 22, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

  7. I’ve noticed this revisionist trend since about 1990, corresponding roughly with the collapse of the Soviets, you know, the so-called “proof” that “socialism cannot work”, even though it managed to go from utter ruin to an industrial capacity 2nd only to the USA in only 70 years, while maintaining full employment, free education through college, plus free health care with state subsidized food & housing, implementing humanity’s only atheist education, to name but a few notable accomplishments, nevermind bearing 80% of the brunt of defeating Hitler.

    Yet there’s actually more than just a kernal of truth to at least the way Proyect puts the “argument that is central to the revisionist school, namely that Hitler was driven to extremes by the Russian Revolution. In other words, Nazism was a defensive although excessive measure.”

    That’s basically a true & not a revisionist statement in my view. As far as I can tell Hitler made a sharp right turn with his armies (both literally and politically) when in the middle of attacking Britain he launched Operation Barbarossa and surprise attacked the USSR, by that time a truly beleagured and still a degenerated workers’ state — encircled since 1918 by imperialist turpitude.

    I’ve always concluded that just as fascism grows as a response to a strong threat from the left so to was Hitler terrified by the prospect of a planned economy across a dozen time zones outstripping his ability to implement the 1000 Year Reich with each successive Soviet 5 Year Plan, in other words, I don’t think Nazism would have arisen without the Russian Revolution — as there’d be no need for it.

    I’m afraid however that applying the word “genocide” to an economic “class” instead of a “race” will require historians to employ a new word like “classocide” since the “geno” part of the word “genocide” implies race. Yet I’ve ethically got no problem with “classocide” historically as it may be required during civil class warfare, that is, when the revolution comes and wealth redistribution meets resistance that resistance may need to be put down violently.

    Look, that handfull of lazyass speculators (the Kulaks of Wall Street & the military Industrial Complex) that accumulated such wealth through so many direct & indirect violent forms cannot be expected to give it back without a fight.

    I mean if the base of the Russian Revolution was a coalition of landless peasants and industrial city workers, how many landless peasants and industrial proletariat were killed by Stalin during his so-called “classocide” as compared to landowner peasants and their offspring, that is, what are the comparative percentages? That’s what I’d like to know before I cover history with blankets of morality.

    Classocide, which is what the bourgeoisie inflict on the proletariat every day under globalism, just doesn’t seem in the same moral universe as genocide, that is, genocide is always immoral whereas classocide isn’t inherently immoral.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 23, 2010 @ 12:41 am

  8. In case I wasn’t clear before let me just say that in order to keep the eye on the prize some cross hairs will probably need to be sighted onto more than one skull, that is, for there to be any semblence of justice in this world heads must fucking roll!

    If somebody has a plan on how to achieve just a modicum of justice in this world without some retribution & vengence from the oppressed then please articulate it as I’m all ears.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 23, 2010 @ 2:40 am

  9. Karl,

    Hi hope you are well.

    I think vengance is a luxury that we cannot afford! In the struggle for the just, and equitable society that we dream of. In a world where there is no oppression we cannot side track the mission to take vengance. We cannot become the beast in trying to destroy the beast!

    I firmly believe that the oppressed should be victorious over the oppressor. Not only is that in line with Biblical teaching but it strikes a chord with anyone who has a shred a decency and uprightness in their heart. Who would route for the Nazis or who would wish the destruction of the Native Americans? Sick and twisted people and I will agree the world is full of these viles creatures.

    The more we can restrain the violence the better off we are. In the inner city the people of Newark, Irvington they tell me the cops are crooked. The police hate an honest police officer as it inhibiits their shaking down of drug dealers among other offenses.

    So what happens when a ‘ghetto defender’ blows away a cop. There is the mockery of justice called a trial. It is not an open testimonial where people speak their hearts honestly. Instead specific questions are asked. So it is not a question of truth but who can manipulate the answers to their own liking. Of course most people on the street cannot afford Johny Cochran. Instead they receive public defenders or as I heard the lable ‘public pretenders’.

    So the man on the street who may have had a legitamate reason for killing a cop goes on trial. There is a big spectacle. One of our ‘finest’ has been gunned down by this ‘wicked thug’. The man goes to jail for life without parole. There is a big funeral for the cop where the ‘wall of blue’ shows up from half way across the United States. And so the hatred is intensified. We see the daughter and the wife of the cop weeping as the flag draped coffin is carried away. The public is reminded once again of the ‘horrible’ people in the hood. Of course only a minute fraction of the suburbanites dare venture into that neighborhood unless they are doing something illegal like buying drugs.

    Restraint is a act of power and confidence. Look at the Black Panthers. They pressed their point yet they stayed within the bounds of the system. If at the begining Huey Newton and Bobby Seals had resorted to violence, no matter how much justified by common sense righteousness, history would have taken a different course.

    I am not saying the system is fair. I am saying that we should push and be militant. Yet the more we hold back the violence the better off we are. It is a spiritual and a mental battle. There are many who could be persuaded to change their points of view. Especially now when the people are getting screwed at every turn by the government and the capitalistic system.

    So the Black Panthers do not exist as they once were. But the memory of them lives on and so does the Spirit. They were wise men. Let’s look at it from a practical point of view.

    The Black Panthers were great patiriots of the United States of America. They believed in the constitution and the Bill of Rights that guarenteed inalliable rights to all. So much was their zeal for their rights they carried copies of the constitution with them every where they went. Among their many contributions were programs that fed hungry children, they worked in practical manners to increase safety in their neighborhoods, they encouraged disenfranchised citizens to partake in the political process and they even started their own newspaper celebrating freedom of speech and freedom of press. Hopefully one day these patriots will be duly recognized for what they were and be officially noticed with the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Most importantly they left us with a great legacy and example. It is my humble prayer that many more like the Black Panthers shall arise up in these United States.


    John Kaniecki

    Comment by John Kaniecki — November 23, 2010 @ 3:49 am

  10. Hi Louis,

    I actually posted Kotz’s article on my facebook a while back, although not because of his refutation of Snyder, but because of his worthy condemnation of fanatic, anti-Soviet Baltic nationalism. Nevertheless, one of my friends took me to task over Katz’s argument vis-a-vis Snyder. I didn’t actually read the response by Snyder before I posted Katz’s commentary. My friend quickly pointed out that Snyder notes in his rebuttal:

    “I didn’t and don’t equate Hitler and Stalin. Katz puts ‘somewhat equal’ in quotations, but I never use any such phrase. Zuroff says that I ‘posit’ that the Soviet Union was Nazi Germany; I most certainly do no such thing. What I try to do, in the 28 September article and generally, is understand what it means for a vast east European territory and several east European peoples to have been touched by both Nazi and Soviet power. Despite some critical remarks of Bloodlands in an otherwise perceptive and generous (London) Times review of 26 September, which perhaps Zuroff and Katz read, I don’t equate Stalin with Hitler in that book either. Instead, I try to reckon with the crimes that both regimes committed in the lands between Berlin and Moscow, where 14 million people, including more than 5 million Jews, were killed in the 12 years that both Hitler and Stalin were in power.”

    He then pointed out that Katz undermines his own argument that Snyder fails to distinguish between the two when he writes:

    “And finally, it is not possible to ignore Snyder’s certainty that ‘Jews could not help but see the return of Soviet power as a liberation. Soviet policy was not especially friendly to Jews, but it was obviously better than a Holocaust.'”

    Indeed, in his rejoinder, Snyder writes: I am not saying that [Soviet atrocities] were equivalent to the Holocaust. I am saying that a number of German and Soviet policies meet the standard of genocide.”

    I pointed out to my friend that having read Snyder’s original piece and his response, I agreed that both Katz and Zuroff had somewhat exaggerated or misinterpreted Snyder’s arguments in the original article (excerpted from Bloodlands), but nevertheless make valid points re: the kind of historiography to which you refer at the beginning of your article (the kind that Baltic nationalists have adopted wholesale).

    All that said, however, Snyder’s arguments about Soviet “genocide” are still unconvincing. To be sure, Stalin was a totalitarian monster who presided over mass slaughter of many innocent people, but it is difficult to claim that he was committing “genocide” as it is conventionally understood; i.e. “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.” While the Ukrainian nationalists and American/British anti-communists have long claimed that Stalin intentionally engineered the famine to punish Ukraine or even exterminate Ukrainians, there is simply no evidence for this. The last most serious inquiry into this question was carried out by Terry Martin in his Affirmative Action Empire. After exhaustively examining the documentary record (including all of Stalin’s correspondence with Kaganovich and Molotov during those years), Martin concluded:

    “The Poliburo’s development of a national interpretation of their grain requisitions crisis in late 1932 helps explain both the pattern of terror and the role of the national factor during the 1932-1933 famine. The 1932-1933 terror campaign consisted of both a grain requisitions terror, whose primary target was the peasantry, both Russian and non-Russian, and a nationalities terror, whose primary target was Ukraine and subsequently Belorussia. The grain requisitions terror was the final and decisive culmination of a campaign begun in 1927-1928 to extract the maximum possible amount from a hostile peasantry. As such, its primary targets were the grain-producing regions of Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the Lower Volga, though no grain-producing regions escaped the 1932-1933 grain requisitions terror entirely. Nationality was of minimal importance in this campaign. The famine was not an intentional act of genocide specifically targeting the Ukrainian nation (quote on p.305 but see 282-307 for the full explanation).”

    The famine is still to be blamed on Stalin and his henchmen, since it stemmed from the policy of forced collectivization, which in turn was pursued not out of a kind of Marxist orthodoxy (as anti-communists like to claim), but in order to facilitate grain exports to Europe to acquire the hard currency needed for industrialization (this was inspired by Preobrazhensky’s socialist primitive accumulation – see Kagarlitskii’s Empire of the Periphery for a good summary). In this way, the Ukraine/Kuban famine was very much like what the British did in India as documented so well by Mike Davis in his Late Victorian Holocausts (ironically, this would have been a nice comparative study for Conquest back when he was writing Harvest of Sorrow!). At any rate, the famine caused by collectivization and terror requisitions was indeed a small ‘h’ holocaust of sorts, but it was not genocide.

    Moving on, Snyder writes: “It is hard not to see the Soviet “Polish Operation” of 1937-38 as genocidal: Polish fathers were shot, Polish mothers sent to Kazakhstan, and Polish children left in orphanages where they would lose their Polish identity. As more than 100,000 innocent people were killed on the spurious grounds that theirs was a disloyal ethnicity…”

    There’s a lot to unpack here. Unfortunately, it was not just the Poles who were subjected to this. Many “diaspora” groups living along Soviet borders were subjected to this kind of treatment – basically any national minority groups that had a “national homeland” outside the USSR, especially those living along the borders, were considered suspect. Like the Polish and Germans, many members of these “alien” communities were forcibly relocated and/or arrested and shot. The Poles and Germans living in the Ukrainian borderlands were particularly targeted because they had been the most prone to insurrection during collectivization and the years that followed. In fact, throughout the early 30s many Polish and German rebels did make appeals to the German and Polish government for aid and hoped they would intervene against the Soviet government on their behalf. Obviously this resistance was blowback from the collectivization campaign, and change in Soviet policy should be compared with what Terry Martin terms “the Piedmont Principle” of 1920s, whereby the Soviets hoped these border communities would become a sort of showcase for their national comrades living across the border. Unsurprisingly Soviet officialdom’s views changed rapidly in the post-collectivization years – a period that also coincided with a decidedly hostile international relations environment, where the Nazis and Polish governments made no secret of their desire to do the Soviets in (see Affirmative Action, passim and Craig Nation’s Black Earth, Red Star, pp. 74-112; and Hirsch’ Empire of Nations, pp. 273-308 for more details on these things). Ironically, Soviet nationality policy in the Ukrainian borderlands was a victim of its own success, which led to the paradoxical situation where the Soviets officially promoted all the trappings of national life (national education, newspapers, theater, etc), but then accused local officials in charge of these things of promoting nationalism. This situation is not irrelevant to understanding what happened in the region in the runup to the war. While Snyder is right that Poles were increasingly being deported from the borderlands in the mid to late 30s simply for being Poles (and not for “class” reasons), not all the Polish communities living in the border regions were affected. As Kate Brown points out in her study of Soviet nationalities policy in the Ukrainian borderlands:

    “Some commentators on Soviet history have interpreted the deportation of national minorities as a plan ordered from Moscow and motivated in large part by a growing ethnic xenophobia and Russian chauvinism, led in large part Joseph Stalin (himself, of course, member of a minority far from mainstream Russia). The 1935-36 deportations, however, did not emanate from a racial or biological understanding of the deported population. Despite the order to deport specifically Poles and Germans, security agents did not deport ALL Germans and Poles in the borderlands, but only Germans and Poles with suspicious biographies or personal connections. Instead of an encompassing racial conception of nationality, national categories informed existing political and class categories to determine who should go and who should stay. About half of Soviet Poles and Germans were deemed dangerous for the border zone, but the other half was cleared to stay. In 1936, to be Polish or German was still dependent on one’s actions, biography and personal connections…Border cleansing was not a universal policy. As mentioned above, Poles and Germans were not shipped from Belorussia at this time although its profile was very similar to that of Ukraine: both had mixed populations, a long history of a leading Polish elite, a substantial number of German colonists and other scattered groups. Both bordered on Polish territory and had volatile and rebellious records during the 1930 collectivization campaign. The major difference between the two territories is that Ukraine established its national minority program in 1925, while the Dzerzhinskii Polish Region in Belorussia was formed in 1932. The people in Belorussia had only a few years to live in nationalized space and create national behavior. Rather than a universal plan from Moscow to deport all diaspora borderland populations, this disparity suggests that policy grew out of a more specific connection to how land and populations were configured in various territories of the Soviet Union (A Biography of No Place, p. 147).”

    This probably explains why there were still roughly 200,000 Poles living in these borderlands in 1959, all still granted certain “national rights” – albeit highly circumscribed by that point, as they were for all national minorities. Yet if we believe Snyder, the Soviets engaged in a campaign with the Nazis to eliminate all educated Polish people in a bid to undermine their continued existence as a people (the Soviets then went on to maintain a Polish state after WWII – thoroughly Stalinized, of course, but that’s not the point).

    By the way, it’s worth noting that the United States adopted a similar policy of deportation and internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Although it did not, to my knowledge, include summary executions, many peoples lives were ruined due to the fact that they were forcibly uprooted and sent to the camps. Does Snyder consider this American policy as genocidal?

    Lastly, we should keep in mind that, despite Stalin’s seemingly best attempts to deform the sciences in the USSR, the Soviet Union – in stark contrast to Germany and much of the West at that time – was adamantly opposed to eugenics and race science. In fact they broke all research ties with Germany once such a science took root in German universities. According to Francine Hirsch:

    “…in 1931 the Soviet regime prevailed on its anthropologists and ethnographers to disprove German race theories. In particular, the Soviet experts were to wage a war against biological determinism: to prove to audiences at home and abroad that ‘all narodnosti can develop and flourish’ and that ‘there is no basis whatsoever for supposing the existence of some sort of racial or biological factors’ that would make it impossible for certain peoples to participate in ‘socialist construction’. Soviet ethnographers and anthropologists, most of whom were themselves troubled about the German turn to ‘Nordic race science’, and none of whom wanted to be accused of anti-Soviet tendencies, set out to refute German claims in scientific terms and prove that the Marxist vision of historical development – grounded in sociohistorical, not sociobiological, laws – was the correct one (empire of nations, p. 232).”

    Comment by dermokrat — November 23, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

  11. These genocide equivalencies, however, were not Snyder’s principle claim. It was that the Soviets enabled Hitler’s Holocaust(s):

    “We all agree that Hitler had the horrible aspiration to eliminate the Jews from Europe. But how exactly was Hitler to do so in summer 1939, with fewer than 3% of European Jews under his control? Hitler needed war to eliminate the Jews, and it was Stalin who helped him to begin that war. As I said in my original article, we don’t know how the war would have proceeded without the treaty on borders and friendship; what we do know is that the war as it actually happened, with all of its atrocities, began with a German-Soviet alliance. What if the Soviets had simply opted for neutrality in 1939? How exactly would the Germans have overcome the British blockade without Soviet grain? Or bombed London without Soviet oil? Or won their lightening victory in France without security in the rear?”

    I think we can all agree that this is really cute. As the German historian Bernd Martin pointed out “Hitler’s fundamental political conviction, his self-imposed duty from the moment he had embarked on his political career was the eradication of Bolshevism [which he defined as a Jewish conspiracy].” This was understood by Western elites. As Jacques Pauwels points out:

    “Everywhere in the industrialized world there were statesmen, corporate leaders, press barons, and other influential personalities who encouraged him openly or discreetly to realize his great anti-Soviet ambition. In the United States, Nazi Germany was praised as a bulwark against communism and Hitler was encouraged to use the might of Germany to destroy the Soviet Union by people such as Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt’s predecessor in the White House (The Myth of the Good War, p. 44).”

    Pauwels points out, though, that “It was primarily in Europe itself that the social and political elites expected great anti-Soviet achievements of Hitler. In Great Britain, for example, the eastern ambitions of the Fuhrer enjoyed at an early stage the approval of respectable and influential politicians, such as Lloyd George, Lord Halifax, Lord Astor and his circle of friends, the so called “Cliveden Set”…The Duke of Windsor even traveled to Berchtesgardern to have tea with Hitler…and encouraged him in his ambition to attack Russia: ‘[Hitler] made me realize that Red Russia [sic] was the only enemy, and that Great Britain and all of Europe had an interest in encouraging Germany to march against the east and to crush communism once and for all…I thought that we ourselves would be able to watch as the Nazis and the Reds would fight each other (p.45).'”

    This explains the so called appeasement strategy. Per Pauwels:

    “And so it came to the infamous “appeasement” policy, the theme of a brilliant study by two Canadian historians…The quintessence of this policy was as follows: Great Britain and France ignored Stalin’s proposals for international cooperation against Hitler, and sought by means of all kinds of diplomatic contortions and spectacular concessions to stimulate Hitler’s anti-Soviet ambitions and to facilitate their realization. This policy reached its nadir in the Munich Pact of 1938, whereby Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to the Fuhrer as a kind of springboard for military aggression in the direction of Moscow. But Hitler ultimately demanded a higher price than the British and the French were prepared to pay, and this led in the summer of 1939 to a crisis over Poland. Stalin, who understood the true objectives of appeasement, took advantage of the opportunity and made a deal of his own with the German dictator in order to gain not only precious time but also glacis – a strategically important space – in Eastern Europe, without which the USSR would almost certainly not have survived the Nazi onslaught in 1941. Hitler himself was prepared to deal with his arch-enemy because he felt cheated by London and Paris, who refused him Poland. And so the appeasement policy of Great Britain and France collapsed in dismal failure, first because the USSR did not disappear from the face of the earth, and second, because after a short blitzkrieg in Poland, Nazi Germany would attack those who had hoped to manipulate in order to rid the earth of communism. The so-called ironies of history can be extremely cruel indeed (pp.45-46).”

    Even after the debacle in Poland, however, the French and British kept hoping Hitler would turn his guns on Russia. Pauwels writes, “The French and British governments and high commands busily hatched all sorts of plans of attack during the winter of 1939-1940, not against Germany, but against the USSR, for example in the form of an operation from the Middle East against the oil fields of Baku (p. 48). Similarly, “after Germany’s victory in Poland…the American ambassador in Berlin, Hugh R. Wilson, expressed the hope that the British and French would see fit to resolve their inconvenient conflict with Germany, so that the Fuhrer would finally have an opportunity to crush the Bolshevik experiment of the Soviets for the benefit of all ‘Western civilization’ (p.48).

    Moreover, Snyder makes a big deal of the Soviet’s assistance to Germany in the form of trade, but this was marginal compared to the assistance the Reich received from America’s business elite (who, by the way, were no friend of the Jew), some of whom were actually receiving medals of honor from the Germany government (such as Mooney of GM, Henry Ford and Watson of IBM). On American business’ invaluable assistance to Hitler, Pauwels writes:

    “Without trucks, tanks, planes and other equipment supplied by the German subsidiaries of Ford and GM, and without the large quantities of strategic raw materials, notably rubber as well as diesel oil, lubricating oil, and other types of fuel shipped by Texaco and Standard Oil via Spanish ports, the German air and land forces would not have found it so easy to defeat their adversaries in 1939 and 1940. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and wartime armament minister, would later state that without certain kinds of synthetic fuel made by US firms, Hitler ‘would have never considered invading Poland’. The American historian Bradford Snell agrees, alluding to the controversial role played by Swiss banks during the war, he comments that “the Nazis could have attacked Poland and Russia without the Swiss banks, but not without General Motors.’ Hitler’s military successes were based on a new and extremely mobile form of warfare, the blitzkrieg, consisting of extremely swift and highly synchronized attacks by air and by land. But without the aforementioned American support and without state of the art communications and information technology provided by ITT and IBM, the Fuhrer could only have dreamed of blitzkrieg and blitzsiege (p.37).”

    Comment by dermokrat — November 23, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

  12. oh by the way, re: churchill, johann hiri reviewed a new book that examines his unsavory role in maintaining the British Empire:


    As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, an instant of doubt. He realized that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead that they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill.”

    He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, writing: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.” He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages.”

    The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When the first concentration camps were built in South Africa, he said they produced “the minimum of suffering” possible. At least 115,000 people were swept into them and 14,000 died, but he wrote only of his “irritation that kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men.” Later, he boasted of his experiences. “That was before war degenerated,” he said. “It was great fun galloping about.”

    After being elected to Parliament in 1900, he demanded a rolling program of more conquests, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” As war secretary and then colonial secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tans on Ireland’s Catholics, to burn homes and beat civilians. When the Kurds rebelled against British rule in Iraq, he said: “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” It “would spread a lively terror.” (Strangely, Toye doesn’t quote this.)

    Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody in Britain think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as standing at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

    This hatred killed. In 1943, to give just one example, a famine broke out in Bengal, caused, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proven, by British mismanagement. To the horror of many of his colleagues, Churchill raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits” and refused to offer any aid for months while hundreds of thousands died.

    Comment by dermokrat — November 23, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

  13. That’s some damn good research & interesting reading Derm. Keep bringing it right on!

    You obviously know your shit and guess what — it all rings true.

    I’m always amazed how the Russian Revolution withstands scrutiny, despite Stalin’s stupidity, brutality & myriad crimes, as the social basis of the revolution represented the aspirations of millions of toilers so strong that even criminally negligent abject sociopaths couldn’t entirely thwart.

    The part most revealing was why all the US aid to the Nazis? I never quite understood all that and used to chalk it up to Protestant anti-semistism, which never quite made sense, but of course it was mostly driven by anti-Bolshevism, that is, anti-communism, for the Soviets during the great depression represented to world’s owners a rotten apple that threatened to spoil their whole vat of extractive exploitation.

    I never really quite understood that US & British ruling class motivation for Hitler until now. Thanks for the great & informative posts.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 24, 2010 @ 1:12 am

  14. […] originally appeared as comments under my last post titled An American “Revisionist” Historian by Dermokrat, who buttresses his arguments with passages from Jacques Pauwel’s essential Myth […]

    Pingback by A guest post on Timothy Snyder « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — November 24, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  15. it’s not like the US Government itself supported Hitler economically – it’s just that as a neutral country, it wasn’t illegal for US companies to deal with the Nazis, even when they were fighting France & GB

    I’ve always concluded that just as fascism grows as a response to a strong threat from the left so to was Hitler terrified by the prospect of a planned economy across a dozen time zones outstripping his ability to implement the 1000 Year Reich with each successive Soviet 5 Year Plan, in other words, I don’t think Nazism would have arisen without the Russian Revolution — as there’d be no need for it.

    Karl, what you don’t seem to know, which is very clear in “Mein Kampf” btw, is that the 1000 Year Reich was to be a colonial Empire for the Aryan race in Eastern Europe. You don’t understand Hitler if you don’t take his his view of history as an eternal race struggle serious! That man & Himmler thought they were continuing what German emperors of the middle ages were doing bei conquering Eastern Europe

    Comment by PfromGermany — November 24, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

  16. @Karl – “I’m always amazed how the Russian Revolution withstands scrutiny, despite Stalin’s stupidity, brutality & myriad crimes, as the social basis of the revolution represented the aspirations of millions of toilers so strong that even criminally negligent abject sociopaths couldn’t entirely thwart.”

    Yeah reminds me of something Orwell once said:

    “I would support the U.S.S.R. against Germany because I think the U.S.S.R. cannot altogether escape its past and retains enough of the original ideas of the Revolution to make it a more hopeful phenomenon than Nazi Germany (quoted in Paul Le Blanc – Marx, Lenin and the Revolutionary Experience, p. 3).”

    Comment by dermokrat — November 24, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

  17. I figured PFromG would chime in since we’ve gone down this path before, where I’ve argued Hitler’s primary motivation was anti-communism using race as a pretext for imperial invasion.

    I say Fuck Mein Kampf as historical evidence. Those are just a twisted bastard’s words. Look instead at his logical, class-driven deeds, then study what posters like DERMOKRAT, who’ve obviously spent a lot more time than PfromG researching this subject, have uncovered.

    Look PfromG. I know it’s difficult to get past what you were apparently taught in school about how Stalin erected the Berlin Wall (we’ve already disproven that myth here a few months ago) and your repeated silence has proved it’s embarassing to defend Germany’s long redundant American occupying armies that have barracks full of degenerate underpaid volunteer mercenaries throughout great German cities puking heroin every payday out of multi-story dorm barrack windows onto the sidewalks below into piles of pre-digested sauerkraut slabs, you know, addicts who get their goods directly & ironically from Afghanistan, since underpaid mercenary grunts cannot afford that fine shit that comes from the Harz mountains of Germany, which is picked allegedly by white pantied virgins with blonde braided hair yodeling edelweiss hymms that sound like “ricola” but amount in reality to “e-coli”.

    The bottom line PfromG is this. I’ve studied your visceral anti-communism on these threads for a while now and I understand them, completely, that is, I understand them as coming from a white priveledged minority who on a world stage lives very large, and quite comfortable, with fresh banannas and sushi provided directly at the expense of a billion toilers and an irrationally despoiled planet ruined by mindless yuppies who give not 2 shits about their immediate gratification and its consequences. No wonder idiotic individual terrorists emerge from such social contradictions!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 25, 2010 @ 1:38 am

  18. What’s most significant about a poster like DERM on the Unrepentant Marxist blog is the fact that living Marxism essentially amounts to, as my dad taught me, first & foremost, simply the history of the working class & historically oppressed minorities whose history would never, ever, be written without Marxists, that is, Marxists are history’s conscience.

    So what can one say on so-called “Thanksgiving” eve about defending with historical facts & context an enormously important slave revolt like the Russian Revolution by folks like DERMOKRAT?

    I assure you that American Indian brothers & sisters that I’ve met along the way in my travels across America have an organically and distinctly different view than your average pundit, as do Black Americans. Here’s a fact that that needs to be dwelled upon — RedBaiting as an anti-communist tactic has NEVER succeeded amongst non-white peoples anywhere in the world, ever.

    Why do you suppose that is?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 25, 2010 @ 2:17 am

  19. Hi,

    Hope all our well.

    Hitler got his idea of a 1000 years for his empire from the Bible, in particular to book of Revelation.

    In the United States their is a sick fascination with the man. I believe many admire him. Go to the biography section of a Borders or Barns and Nobles and you will always see a new biography about Hitler.

    Finally I feel compelled to tell the story of when I met a man at his garage sale who didn’t know who Nat Turner was? When I explained that he was a slave who revolted the man shuddered in disgust saying “How awful.” There is so much work to do and so little time.


    John Kaniecki

    Comment by John Kaniecki — November 25, 2010 @ 2:22 am

  20. In the November 4 London Review of Books leading Brit historian Richard Evans describes Synder’s book as “completely useless” for understanding the social roots of mass murder by either Nazis or Stalinists or even for evoking any empathy for the victims. Unfortunately part of the subscriber only content online.

    Comment by Nick Fredman — November 25, 2010 @ 3:02 am

  21. Dermokrat’s comments are informative but the debate is sterile. Stalin and Hitler are seen as mere sociopaths who killed a lot of people for a distorted view of communism or the greater glory of the German race. The truly interesting question, in my view, is why did so many millions of intelligent people not see through the lies they were told in order to carry out the misdeeds dreamed up by such leaders. The leaders of the West such as Churchill and Roosevelt were no less bloodthirsty. Hari’s NYT article tries to separate a good Churchill from a bad Churchill. Pure comedy. The man did what he had to do to defend his class interest, the same can be said of the French in Algeria, many of them were fighters against Germany’s occupation of France. A debate such as this one tends to distort the role played by Stalinism as the destroyer of the generation of revolutionists who made the Bolshevik revolution,it also demoralized the adherents to that cause worldwide. That was not some kind of error but the main crime of the Stalin regime. Nationalism is at the root of the blindness displayed by the people who followed these leaders.

    Comment by lextheimpaler — November 25, 2010 @ 8:07 am

  22. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ernesto aguilar, Derek Bryant. Derek Bryant said: Louis Proyect on US historians Hitler and Stalin http://bit.ly/hdegqp and a response http://bit.ly/fAhoxI […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention An American “revisionist” historian « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist -- Topsy.com — November 27, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

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