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STALIN, Cockburn's Essay reprinted.


Brad Pierce Nov 4, 1989 4:18 PM
Posted in group: alt.activism
In article <20...@usc.edu> kr...@skat.usc.edu (Dennis Kriz) writes:
*+*
*+* Since there's been an interest in this article, I looked it up,
*+* and here it is:
*+*
*+* From the NATION, [March 6, 1989]:
*+* (reprinted without permission)
*+*
*+*
*+*               BEAT THE DEVIL: A million here, a million there
*+*               -----------------------------------------------
*+*
*+*                          by Alexander Cockburn
*+*
*+*
*+* These heady days in Moscow, Soviet intellectuals will do anything to
*+* get their names in the papers, in a kind of bidding frenzy for the
*+* favors of glasnost.  At the start of February the tabloid Argumenti i
*+* Fakti reported that the historian Roy Medvedev had proposed that
*+* Stalin's victims amounted to some 20 million.  From Moscow, Bill
*+* Keller relayed this to his editors at the New York Times, who on
*+* February 4 ran a front-page headline announcing, "Major Soviet Paper
*+* Says 20 Million Died As Victims of Stalin," with the lead paragraph
*+* reiterating Medvedev's claim that "about 20 million died in labor
*+* camps, forced collectivization, famine and executions."
*+*
*+* My immediate reservation about this was that the total figure seemed
*+* to have an insouciant roundness and also that there seemed to be a
*+* suspect symmetry about the number 20 million, which is the same total
*+* normally reckoned for Soviet losses in the war against Hitler.
*+*
*+* Looking through Medvedev's breakdown, one may rapidly perceive that
*+* the word "million" really means "a lot," with no substantive
*+* precisioin beyond this vague imputation of magnitude.  As relayed by
*+* Keller these volumes are expressed as "one million imprisoned or
*+* exiled from 1927 to 1929," or "nine to 11 million of the more
*+* prosperous peasants driven from their lands," and so on.  In the end
*+* we are left with an overall figure of 40 million who, on Medvedev's
*+* account, had an awful or terminal time of it between 1927 and 1953,
*+* with 20 million actually killed.
*+*
*+* I have been interested to find that well-qualified historians of the
*+* Soviet Union and demographers in the United States who have studied
*+* the period and the enormously contentious numbers regard Medvedev's
*+* claism as absurd.  Sheila Fitzpatrick, proffessor of history at the
*+* University of Texas in Austin, tells me there is "no serios basis for
*+* his calculations" and that privately some Soviet demographers and
*+* historians find Medvedev's calculations embarrassingly bad.  She gave
*+* a couple of examples to explain why she thought Medvedev's numbers
*+* were ridiculous.
*+*
*+* Medvedev claims that 9 million to 11 million presperous peasants were
*+* driven from theri lands and another 2 million to 3 million arrested or
*+* exiled in the forced collectivization of the early 1930s.  But
*+* Fitzpatrick says, Medvedev makes no distinction between those who left
*+* their villages volutarily and those who left by force.  This was the
*+* era of industrialization, and many of Medvedev's millions were moving
*+* to the towns.  Medvedev also bases his figures on the assumption that
*+* the average peasant family in the late 1920s had eight members,
*+* whereas in fact five was the normal size.
*+*
*+* Fitzpatrick cited the famous conversation of 1942 between Churchill
*+* and Stalin as another flimsy source often used by some to show that 10
*+* million peasants died in collectivization.  In his war memoir "The
*+* Hinge of Fate," Churchill describes how he raised with Stalin the topic
*+* of collectivization:
*+*
*+*
*+*   "Tell me," I said, "have the stressses of this war been as bad to you
*+*   personally as carrying through the policy of the Collective Farms?"
*+*
*+*   This subject immediately aroused the Marshall.
*+*
*+*   "Oh, no," he said, "the Collective Farm policy was a terrible
*+*   struggle."
*+*
*+*   "I thought you would have found it bad," said I, "because you were not
*+*   dealing with a few score thousands of aristocrats or big landowneres,
*+*   but with millions of small men."
*+*
*+*   "Ten millions, " he said, holding up his hands. "It was fearful.  Four
*+*   years it lasted.  It was absolutely necessary for Russia, if we were
*+*   to avoid periodic famines."
*+*
*+*
*+* It's clear enough that Stalin was here indicating the number of
*+* peasants he had to deal with, not the number who died.  Fitzpatrick
*+* said that in a recent issue of Pravda the Soviet Historian Victor P.
*+* Danilov concurred with several historians in the West that
*+* approximately 3 million to 4 million died in the famine.  But where
*+* does that leave us on the matter of the purges?
*+*
*+* In 1946 the demographer Frank Lorimer, studying data from the Soviet
*+* census of 1926 and of 1939 and all available information on fertility
*+* and mortality between those dates, calculated in his renowned work
*+* "The Poluation of the Soviet Union" that the 'excess' deaths  -- that
*+* is, in Lorimer's case, a comparison of the reported total population
*+* in 1939 with the expected population at that date, given the countin
*+* in 1925 and everything known about fertility, mortality and migration
*+* between the two years -- amounted to somewhere between 4.5 million and
*+* 5 million, though this total inclued perhaps several hundred thousand
*+* emigrants, such as those Central Asian nomads moving into Sinkiang to
*+* avoid collectivization.  In their 1979 volume, "How the Soviet Union
*+* is Governed," Jerry Hough and Merle Fainsod generally supported
*+* Lorimer's calculations and concluded that more extreme Western
*+* estimates "cannot be sustained."  Rather, "a smaller m-- but still
*+* horrifying -- number" of "maybe some 3.5 million" emerges as the
*+* direct or indirect result of collectivization in the early 1930s.
*+*
*+* With respect to the purges of 1937 and 1938, Hough and Fainsod again
*+* criticize excessivbe Western estimates and report that on the evidence
*+* of extant demographic data "the number of deaths in the purge would
*+* certainly be placed in the hundreds of thousands rather than in the
*+* excess of a million."  Indeed, "a figure in the low hundreds of
*+* thousands seems much more probably than one in the high hundreds of
*+* thousands, and even George Kennan's estimate of 'tens of thousands' is
*+* quite conceivable, maybe even probable."
*+*
*+* At the far end of the spectrum from Hough and Fainsod is the British
*+* chevalier de la guerre foide Robert Conquest, who has counted 20
*+* million excess deaths under Stalin before 1939, this estimate being
*+* cited in "The Stalin Question Since Stalin" by the limber Steven
*+* Cohen.  In this essay Cohen informs his readers that Conquest's 20
*+* million figure and kindred estimates are "conservative," without
*+* mentioning other counts by scholars which make Conquest's figure
*+* wildly inflated.  He concludes his observation by saying, "Judging by
*+* the number of victims, and leaving aside important differences between
*+* the two regimes, Stalinism created a holocaust greater than Hitler's."
*+*
*+* In this decade the most significant scholarly battle on the subject
*+* has been waged between Stephen Wheatcroft and Steven Rosefielde, with
*+* the former taking the latter to task for demographic crudities and
*+* sensationalism.  In Slavic Review for 1985 Wheatcroft wrote, "All of
*+* these extremely large estimates ignore basic demographic changes in
*+* Soviet society and accept inaccurate and non-comparable population
*+* figures."  Wheatcroft reckons "these wildly unscholarly estimates
*+* serve neither science or morality" and writes, "It is no betrayal of
*+* them [the victims] nor an apologia for Stalin to stat4e that there is
*+* no demographic evidence to indicate a population loss of more than six
*+* million between between 1926 and 1939 or more than 3 to 4 million in
*+* the famine.  Scholarship must be guided by reason and not by emotion."
*+*
*+* In an essay that has received widespread respect, Barbara Anderson and
*+* Brian Silver supported Wheatcroft.  Theri "Demographic Analysis and
*+* Population Catastrophes in the USSR," also in Slavic Review for 1985,
*+* dismisses Rosefielde and estimates excess deaths from 1926 to 1939, to
*+* persons alive in 1926, as anywhere from 0.5 million to 5.5 million,
*+* depending on high, medium or low assumptions about life expectancy,
*+* with the medium figure at 3.5 million.  They regard some estimates of
*+* those born between 1927 and 1938 as inflated, and calculations of same
*+* "extremely sensitive to any inaccuracy in the data."
*+*
*+* Conquest, now at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, told my colleague
*+* Rich McKerrow that Medvedev's numbers are "obviously in the right
*+* range," though "perhaps he's spread them wrong" and "I'm not sure
*+* where he gets them from."  He slighted Anderson and Silver's work as a
*+* product of demography rather than sovietology and derided Hough and
*+* Fainsod's figures as "improbably."
*+*
*+* From the University of Michigan, Professor Anderson told us that
*+* Conquest "wouldn't know a number if it bit him" and noted that her
*+* work with Silver had won respect from Soviet demographers and also
*+* from Danilov.  Medvedev's computations she found to be "ludicrous."
*+*
*+* No doubt some will be eager to conclude that the foregoing is somehow
*+* an attempt to esonerate Stalin, dismiss the purges as got up by
*+* Western propaganda.  By way of response, the following observation of
*+* Hough and Fainsod is salutary:
*+*
*+*
*+*   "Some persons seem instinctively to object to [our] figures on the
*+*   ground that the Great Purge was so horrible that the number of deaths
*+*   cannot have been so 'low.'  We must not become insensitive to the
*+*   value of human life, however, whtat we dismiss tens of thousands of
*+*   deaths as insignificant and need to exaggerate the number by ten,
*+*   twenty, thirty forty times to touch our feelings of horror."
*+*
*+* The task is obviously to try to arrive at truth, but many such
*+* estimates evidently have a regulatory ideological function, with an
*+* exponential momentum so grat that now any computation that does not
*+* soar past 10 million is somehow taken as evidence of being soft on
*+* Stalin.  One can find an analogy in current writing on the French
*+* Revolution, where the passionately anti-Jacobin Rene Sedillot has
*+* produced a book addressing the matter of the Revolution's human cost
*+* in which he boils up, by very questionable means, a casualty figure of
*+* 400,000, far in excess of any previous estimate.  Professor Charles
*+* Tilly of The New School in New York counts total deaths in the
*+* Revolution, including the Teror, famine and war, at no more thatn
*+* 100,000.
*+*
*+* The symmetry that calculations such as Medvedev's seeks to establish
*+* between Stalin and Hitler performs, in its service to ideology,
*+* similar injury to history.  Hitler wanted to extermininate the Jews
*+* and the gypsies, and though accuracy is important, it does not alter
*+* the moral scale of this horror one iota to propose that in pursuit of
*+* htis design Hitler may have in reality killed a million less or a
*+* million more than the conventional estimate.  Evil though he was,
*+* Stalin did not plan or seek to accomplish genocide, and to say that he
*+* and Hitler had the same project in mind (or, as right-wing German
*+* historians now argue, that Stalin somehow put Hitler up to it) is to
*+* do disservice to history and to truth.