How not to make history

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By SEAN PURDY*

Stalin, Stalinism and Soviet Historiography

It is even commendable that defenders of Stalin and Stalinism in Brazil, when citing some sources of serious and professional historians, seek intellectual legitimacy. It is far better than blind faith in official Stalinist sources or quacks like Ludo Martens, Grover Furr and, in his book on Stalin, Domenico Losurdo. For example, Jones Manoel and Marcelo Baumonte of the PCB have cited books by American historians Robert Thurston and J. Arch Getty in various places. Both are serious and professional who rely on rigorous study of the archives (apart from a few quotes by Getty from charlatans of the current nationalist ultra-right in Russia, something neo-Stalinists here fall for easily). In Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, by Thurston (1996), and in several books and articles by Getty (e.g., Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition, 2013), both argue that Stalinism was a “weak dictatorship”: terror, Gulags and massive repression were not planned from above by Stalin and his right-hand men, but spontaneous reactions to intra-bureaucratic conflicts and internal and external threats. external to Soviet power. They lessen the terror of Stalinism somewhat, even if none of the authors are supporters of Stalin or Stalinism, not even Communists or Marxists. Their arguments are misguided and unconvincing; represent a small minority of Soviet historiography, whether among conservative anti-communist, postmodernist, or anti-Stalinist Marxist historians.

However, the problem is not using Thurston and Getty per se: it is ripping them out of the historiographical, intellectual, and political context in which their studies emerged. That is: hand-picking studies without considering the broad historiographical context in which they were written is not good historical practice. The consensus in Soviet historiography 30 years after the opening of the archives (which, contrary to what neo-Stalinists say here, has not transformed our view of Stalin and Stalinism, but has largely confirmed earlier arguments) is that, in the words of Oleg Khlevniuk, “State violence and terror became the foundational methods for solving all socio-economic problems and for maintaining political stability. This factor determined the enormous scale of the repression” (Top Down vs. Bottom-up: Regarding the Potential of Contemporary “Revisionism”, in Notebooks of the Russian world, Flight. 56, 2015).

Three decades of research in the open archives show beyond any doubt, in the vast majority of historians, that terror, violence, mass murder through judicial and extrajudicial means, the Gulags and criminal reactions to famine were conceived, organized , directed and implemented with the personal and explicit approval of Stalin and his closest collaborators. A psychopathic murderer, Stalin, however, was a hard worker and personally involved in all policy of terror from the late 1920s until his death in 1953. He personally signed the execution warrants for thousands of innocent people.

Of course, this is not all about the Soviet historiography of terror. It is important to study the role of the local, regional and national bureaucracy, as well as why the population, in large part, implicitly or explicitly accepted this policy. But these factors can only be studied in the general context of the centralization of terror from above.

Therefore, citing some revisionists like Thurston and Getty, without recognizing and evaluating their arguments in the broader context of historiographical debates since the opening of the archives (gradually since 1990), is not good historiographical practice: it is incomplete and a distortion of what historians have interpreted about the subject. Justifying (then and now) mass murder, violence, repression, the complete lack of democracy and socialist values ​​is another matter, but it is important to emphasize that the neo-Stalinists' arguments have no legitimacy in Soviet historiography.

*Sean Purdy He is a professor in the Department of History at USP.

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