Richard the Third and Stalin

I've just reread The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, the skilful but reactionary British mystery writer. In it she shows how generations of historians have repeated the British "party line," the myth -- first put abroad to justify Henry VII's usurpation of the throne in 1485 -- that Richard III murdered the "two princes in the tower."

In the course of her argument she makes a few remarks which I find highly relevant to discussions about the USSR during Stalin's time.

"It's an odd thing but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller but with you. They don't WANT to have their ideas upset. It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it. So they reject it and refuse to think about it. If they were merely indifferent it would be natural and understandable. But it is much stronger than that, much more positive. They are annoyed. Very odd, isn't it?"

Or, again,

"Perhaps there was something in Laura's theory that human nature found it difficult to give up preconceived beliefs. That there was some vague inward opposition to, and resentment of, a reversal of accepted fact."

I first read this book half a decade or so ago after writing an article about the Military Purges in the USSR. In doing research on them in the late 70s and early 80s, I found -- as did Josephine Tey about the story of Richard III's "murder" of the Princes In The Tower -- that there was NO evidence whatsoever for the almost universally accepted version of the Military Purges of '37-'38: that Stalin planned this in advance, and that the officers in question were "innocent" of whatever they were charged with. On the contrary, I discovered that there was a great deal of circumstantial evidence that the charges were true, and much evidence, too, that Stalin and the Soviet government reacted with great shock to their discovery of a plot.

Persevering in this research, I read virtually every book and article cited by Robert Conquest in his magnum opus, The Great Terror. With widening amazement, I discovered that Conquest either flagrantly misused his sources; misrepresented them; or that, in many cases, the "sources" Conquest cited (often hundreds of times) were dismissed as virtually valueless by even anti-communist scholars at the time they were published. I also discovered that virtually NOBODY ever called Conquest on this -- though there were certainly questions (very polite questions) raised in some of the scholarly reviews of his book.

When, in the '80s, I spent a good deal of time looking into the movie "Harvest of Despair" about the so-called "man-made famine" in the Ukraine in the early '30s, I discovered that this film, too, was a complete fabrication, and was known to be such EVEN BEFORE IT WAS SHOWN ON PBS (it is still making the rounds, by the way) -- and then went on to discover that the story of the "man-made famine" itself was a fabrication, I was less surprised than I might have been. Still, the extent to which utter lies were simply accepted as historical truth -- as long as they were anti-communist, anti-Stalin lies -- was breathtaking.

It was interesting to see a well-known article in the Village Voice in the late '80s come to the same conclusion, and cite several historians as stating that Conquest was a liar.

Of the hoary horror tales virtually taken for granted as true concerning Stalin, I have researched many at this point in my life, and have yet to find a single one that is true, or anywhere near it. Naturally, they have a life completely independent of my research. They go on and on. Naturally -- because they are good anti-communist stuff. And -- not incidentally -- they feed the prejudices of quite a few of those on the "left", such as admirers of Trotsky, the Social-"democrats", and anarchists, whose whole political edifices are built around the figure of Stalin-as-Monster.

One can read Getty and the other revisionists associated with him nowadays to see how real, if bourgeois, research dismantles the fantasies and myths of the Stalin-haters. Few do, I suspect, and for the reasons that Josephine Tey mentions in the quotations reproduced above.

The truth is that Marx' and Engels' statement -- that the proletarians "have nothing to lose but their chains" -- does not adequately take IDEOLOGY into consideration. Workers can, in struggle, abandon the false ideologies that have gripped their minds in this capitalist world. But many of us "left" intellectuals seldom engage in struggle, or in enough of it. Or, we have too much bookworm allegiance to certain ideologies that we have long found comforting to really want to see them overturned.

How many of us go out there and LOOK for good critiques of our own preconceived positions? How many of us lean over backward, so to speak, and check out the evidence for the positions that call into question our own cherished preconceptions? The truth is -- we are, too often, afraid to do this. The truth will forever elude those who act in this way, however.

Concerning Stalin, I personally have no fears. When I find evidence, I look at it. When the horror stories that are universally repeated by bourgeois and "leftist" sources together are supported with good evidence, I'll accept them. The anti-Stalinists can never make the same statement.

Tey is an arch-conservative and elitist. Nonetheless, The Daughter of Time effectively demonstrates that a version of history that has NO decent evidence can hoodwink, for centuries, even "professional" historians supposedly "trained" to look for evidence, but who in fact are looking for minor variations on some orthodoxy or other. For Richard III, read Stalin; it works!

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"Richard the 3rd and Stalin" / / HTML'd 2 Feb 96 / last update June 26 06