File spoon-archives/marxism-thaxis.archive/marxism-thaxis_1996/96-10-29.043, message 95

Date: Sun, 27 Oct 1996 20:17:46 GMT
Subject: M-TH: Excess deaths in Soviet Union



Well, suppose the Stalin total of murders was only in the neighborhood of
ten million (7 million in the collectivization famine, three million in
the various purges), as R.W. Davies and Paul Getty argue. Does that make
him a nice guy whose reciord we should appluad?



The notion that the Stalin regime's murder of millions (starting with majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee
and continuing down to the most ordinary of workers and peasants) is an open,
debatable proposition is akin to claims of Holocaust and Middle Passage
deniers that the existence of these mass murders is open to question. It is
hardly the mark of an open mind, unless one defines as open that mind which
is unable to retain historical fact.


I think the intense heat this question has generated is because for 
some if not many people it is a question of holocaust denial.
Other serious Trotskyists have argued for a polemic on political grounds.
I welcome this and wish to take the opportunity to refute any
insinuation or suspcion that I support killings. Nor do I regard
myself as a Stalinist, but if others want to debate politics
and use that name about me, I cannot stop them. I would ask
however that some distinctions are made. In robust exchanges with 
Hugh on M1, I never got the impression that he felt I would be in 
favour of illegal killings.

If only one or two people are prepared to denounce other people
as shits on this list, the debate will not take place here, or 
will not take place without seriously damaging other possibilities
that this list might offer. Perhaps though before any serious 
debate can take place, as Jerry implied, there must be an 
agreement about the facts of the deaths. There are some parallels
here with the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in South
Africa, which the ANC attended recently to admit to the torture
and death of a number of captives suspected of being spies.

How did all this flare up on this list?

My understanding is that someone who has contributed some 
very interesting points about the law of value, encouraged Richard
to present more detailed evidence he said he had about the Soviet Union
in Stalin's time. Richard did. Barkley criticised its relevance as
objective evidence. And I stepped in to support Barkley on this 
point and to draw a distinction between this issue and whether one
supports the efforts to build socialism in the former Soviet Union,
which is what Richard supports. In his replies, Richard has clarified
that he would not call himself a Stalinist. So in principle there
is not an irreconcilable problem here. 

For Mota the admiration of Stalin is as a hero of the fight against
nazism and fascism, a fight which may have a much more immediate meaning
for someone from the left whose family lived under the Salazar 
fascist dictatorship than for other members of the list. 
If people give Mota the benefit of the doubt, what have they to lose?
Perhaps his father was tortured to death by the government in Portugal?
It is not necessarily the case that he supports violations of 
socialist legality in the Soviet Union. That can be clarified.

My hope was that this list would be able to take more of an overview
of the question than some others. This appears to be in question.

The horror at the loss of life and the damage to marxism is so great
that even intelligent people cannot read the words on the page, and
assume "geocites" means "genocide". The debate has become symbolic.
And a parallel gets drawn with a post on marxism-international
which brackets me with Barkley, in order apparently to justify 
bracketing me with Richard here.

This list may not be the best list for this debate. But I do not think
this problem will go away from marxism-space. New people will drift in
not as conscious disrupters by any means, and one in 100 will have a 
regard for Stalin, and 5 in 100 will think the way forward is 
the avenge the disgusting death of Trotsky.

Yet we are 50 years on and we ought to be able to make a marxist 
analysis of what happened. Perhaps we are only at the stage of 
being able to record that extremely serious events occurred. I had 
hoped by quoting Stalin himself about "grave mistakes" and a statement
that there would be no more purges, this was one of the quickest ways
to help those who admire Stalin for other reasons, to accept that the 
historical record is the historical record, and becoming clearer each
year as the archives are being examined. What is that record?

I have several times in marxism space urged anybody who takes part 
in a debate on this question to get "Stalinist Terror, New Perspectives"
ed J Arch Getty and Roberta Manning, CUP pb 1993.

While not putting everything down to one man, in the way IMO some
Trotskyist analysis does, this catalogues "an abundance of gruesome
new details". Before Richard forwards evidence of Tukhachevskii's 
alleged crimes I would like him to be aware that Getty states "we now
know that there is human blood spattered on Marshall Tukhachevskii's
'confession'". It sounds as if DNA tests have not been carried out
so far, but it seems to me unlikely that the blood was Stalin's. 
Getty says we now know that Stalin helped draft the indictments of 
Marshall Tukhachevskii and his fellow defendants, chose the composition
of their court, and personally ordered death sentences for them."

Stalin signed numerous death sentences, the record number being 3,167
on Dec 12th 1938.

The latest issue of New Left Review, 219, contains  an 
exchange between Robert Conquest and RW Davies about the reliability
of historical sources about the number of "Excess Deaths in the 
Soviet Union". Conquest appears to have revised his figure down 
to around 14 million up to 1939. RW Davies appears to have revised 
his estimate up from 7 million to 11 million.

I am therefore going on record as confirming to the best of my
understanding the figure that Justin quotes.

In the note Davies gives a corrected table for the number of people
detained in 1939:

Prisons			351,000
Camps	      	      1,317  "
Colonies		355  "
Special Settlements	939  "

Total		      2,962  "

This brief note refers to the substantive article by Davies in 
NLR 1995 214, which surveys the data overall. It quotes from 
"Stalinist Terror", as an authoritative work, with only one criticism
of Manning for arguing unconvincingly that economic problems may have
been a factor in promoting the purges of 1937-8.

This does not accept the figure of 7 million executions, (which are
different from deaths) but quotes a formerly secret 
report in the archives, prepared for Malenkov and Khrushchev, 
that from 1921 to 1952 inclusive 799,257 persons were executed 
by the decision of various agencies and tribunals of the OGPU and its
successors and by the Military Collegium. Davies comments that 
if correct these figures seem to comprise the vast majority of all 
those executed. The stated number of executions was much higher 
than normal in six of the 32 years:

  9,701		1921

 20,201 	1930
 10,651 	1931

353,074 	1937
328,618 	1938

 23,278 	1942

In total, something of the order of 800,000, maybe up to 1 million
executions. Conquest claims that in Russia communists
are making much of Stalin having killed less than a million 

The largest loss of life apart from the war was in association with
famines, about which I have shared information with Barkley before.

Davies writes:

"The most bitter controversy was waged not about the camps themselves
but about the terrible famine of 1933. The United States Congress,
with strong backing from American-Ukrainian organisations, established
a Commission of the Ukraine Famine. In 1988, the commission found that
the famine was 'man-made', and that 'Joseph Stalin and those
round him committed genocide against Ukrainians in 1932-33.' In 
the publicity surrounding the commission, the famine in Ukraine was often
referred to as a 'holocaust', the term usually used to characterize
Hitler's extermination of the Jews."

Despite the remarks of Chris S and Jukka, in attempting to moderate
this question on this list, I would have thought that feelings are
clearly so hot that the best that could be achieved is some
discussion of *how* and *where* to discuss these extremely hot issues.
It could be relegated to the "marxism-administration" list, but 
although this question will probably keep cropping up in Spoons
marxism space, I doubt whether that list on its own would
be confident about coming up with conclusions. One other suggestion,
John Plant who comes from a Trotskyist tradition and has experience
with the journal Revolutionary History, and who I undersand, has had some 
contact with the Moscow Archives, might be approached for advice. 

I would of course appreciate an apology from Ralph. I would
only concede this point to him:  if agreement on how to proceed cannot 
be reached, then further postings on this matter, will indeed ruin the 
promise of this list.

Chris Burford

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