In response to Stop the War statement regarding Parliamentary meeting event on the 4th November 2015.
Lie No.1: Regarding “Andrew Murray’s support for the Syrian regime”
During the meeting Andrew Murray called for the support of the Syrian Army and the Iraqi Army in the fight against ISIS. This will be on record of the footage that Stop the War Coalition have yet to release of the meeting (unless they choose to edit it).
It should be noted that it is not the person of Assad himself which has caused the destruction in Syria, it is an entire military-security-intelligence apparatus of a fascist (self-defined nationalist-socialist) state. It is not Assad himself who has been dropping bombs every single day for the past 4 years, raped thousands of women and men, or tortured to death thousands of detainees, it an entire state set of apparatuses. Indeed, the long touted “political solution” supported by the International powers since 2012, whereby despite perceptions of “difference” between the US and Russia there has been a consistent unanimity on the necessary retention of the structures of the Syrian state and only disagreement on the fate of the person of Assad, has been rejected repeatedly by the revolutionary Syrian people. They can keep Assad if they think that they’ll maintain his regime. We only need see what happened in Egypt when a figurehead and some of his cronies were removed, only to be replaced by a worse one propelled by a vindictive ancien régime.
Andrew Murray’s support of the Syrian state is beyond dispute, as is wide swathes of the Stop the War coalition. They seek to play on “technicalities” of not directly stating “we support Assad”. Indeed President Sisi of Egypt says exactly the same thing when asked about his support for Assad in Syria, claiming “we must support the Syrian state, its not about the person”. The reader familiar with Stop the War coalition’s writings over the duration of the Syrian conflict, and their mocking writings about the Syrian resistance and existence of non-Assad Muslim “moderates”, will recognise this fact – never mind the absence of a (naive) outright “declaration” (which immediately opens up the movement to criticism as well as historical infamy), which is reserved for the Communist Party of Great Britain and the BNP, Stop the War’s leadership and outlets have (with rare exceptions) repeated close-to verbatim the narratives of the Syrian and Iranian governments.
Their rhetoric of a “sovereign Syria in which Syrians decide their fate”, for example, is taken right off the Russian manuscript. The irony of those proclaiming this maxim being entirely reliant on non-Syrian forces (Iraqi militias, Iranian revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and now Russia’s airforce), whereby an independent regular “Syrian army” is practically no longer existent, entirely reliant on Iranian-sponsored militias, seems to be lost on those proponents.
Finally, it should be noted Andrew Murray’s (the Chair of Stop the War coalition) declaration of the necessity of supporting the “US-backed” (in fact US-created) Iraqi Army; this is another ironic contradiction for the “anti-imperialist” Stop the War coalition to support “Western-backed” forces in the Middle East, and is one from the few that will be seen in this article. Read the rest of this entry »
Abbott on The Daily Politics show. A shameful performance – the definition of a “car crash” interview. The young Syrian woman is superb:
h/t Paul Canning
Edited to add: On the Friday the Stop The War Coalition responded with a bizarre post entitled ‘Andrew Neil smears Stop the War’, thus dismissing both the scrutiny from the left and Syrians and denying the facts as ‘smears’. The documented dismissal of Syrian voices is called “organised disruption.” They flat out lie that despite the video, despite the statement’s of both Labour’s Catherine West and the Greens Caroline Lucas, Syrians were not prevented from speaking!
The several reports on the behaviour of the stewards, including their calling the police, is dismissed as a “lie”. Whoever called them the police arrived, so there’s a simple way to find out if it is infact a “lie” that STWC called them – ask the police. Should we do that STWC? Over to you …
Of interest is the fact that the first person they rush to defend (“Lie one”) is their Chair, Andrew Murray. This is because this post’s information on Murray, supplied by Andrew Coates, was raised by Andrew Neil on the BBC in his questioning of Diane Abbott. Again, they flat out lie that Murray’s Communist Party and hence Murray does not regard Assad as “legitimate” and supports the regime’s war, aka ‘bombing’.
In order to back their claim that they solely face “diehard opponents on the left” in their opposition to UK support for civilian protection (rather than, as I have already covered, Syrian civil society and Syrian socialists) they fall back on the presence of a Tory MP
Are they rattled? Time will tell but the post ends in a classic of ‘projection’ – the Soviet and now Kremlin tactic of claiming that others are doing what you’re actually doing – “The lies of our opponents testify only to their desperation.”
Edited to add: Omar Sabbour has published a lengthy rebuttal to STWC’s post. He notes that the meeting was filmed and that unedited footage will show who is right about both the STWC claims on Syrians being allowed to speak and on who called police. It will also show what was said from the platform and Sabbour in his rebuttal goes into detail on why STWC’s arguments (“simply another form of Western narcissism and orientalism”) are so wrong – do go read.
Shiraz doesn’t know very much about Kate Godfrey (KateVotesLabour) but she’s absolutely right about this appalling appointment:
So Mr Corbyn, what made you appoint fascism-apologist Seumas Milne?
I’m told the new politics is based on honesty.
So fine, here’s an honest question for Jeremy Corbyn.
How could you?
How bloody could you? How could you appoint Seumas Milne to be your voice, your eyes, your hands?
How could you think that not enough, and by appointing him Labour’s Director of Strategy, outsource your thinking to him too?
Mr Corbyn, you say that you want to listen to us, the people; and then you pick Seumas Milne – the one journalist who always knows better than the people who were there.
You pick a man who never heard an opinion that he didn’t filter; a truth that he didn’t dismiss as an orthodoxy, or a story of pain on which he didn’t have superior information.
As a columnist, Seumus Milne likes to write about foreign affairs.
Mr Corbyn, over the last months and in truth, years, I have tried to meet with you, or with your advisors time and time again.
Because I too like to write about foreign affairs.
As you take up your heavy responsibilities, I wanted to tell you what I know.
Mr Corbyn, I have spent my life in conflict zones. Prior to becoming a Labour PPC I worked in Somalia, in Sudan, in Libya, in Algeria, in Lebanon when the Israelis were shelling the passes, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Georgia, in Azerbaijan and in the DRC.
I worked in Syria, only there really is no Syria now, only the wreckage, and the hungry, and when the winter cold bites, the dead. Oh, and the barrel bombs. I would say the sarin — but your new advisor knows better.
I worked as part of international investigations, collecting evidence while the people around me collapsed from hunger.
I have seen a two year old dying, because all the frantic love and desperation of his mother, two aunts and grandmother could not make the medicines affordable.
I have seen clinics in refugee camps where patients cry with pain, and there is no-one to bring pain medication, and no-one to pay for it, and anyway, no pain medication to bring.
I’ve seen a bit bloody more than Mr Winchester-and-Balliol Milne.
And yet, it is Seumas Milne who is the expert on foreign affairs. And although, somehow, his is always the foreign affairs of dictators misjudged, and chemical weapons unused — until the bodies fell; of pure ideology and never of people — it is on the basis of that knowledge that you have promoted him.
It is Mr Milne’s knowledge of the world that befits him to be the voice of all those good, decent, careful Labour folk I love.
So let’s look at some of the things that Seumas Milne knows.
He knows that the West shouldn’t ‘demonise’ Putin — while Russian jets are scrambled by Assad, and responsibility for six of every seven deaths in Syria lies with the Russian-backed regime.
He knows that Assad had ‘no rational motivation’ for the worst chemical attacks since the Iran-Iraq war, and so that they probably didn’t take place.
He knows that the Iraqis who worked with the US in Iraq were ‘quislings,’ and that the right of it was with the ‘armed resistance.’
He knows that Lee Rigby fought in Afghanistan, and so that his murder ‘wasn’t terrorism in the normal sense.’
These are the truths that only Seumas Milne upholds.
Mr Corbyn, these are the truths that you have bought into.
These are the stocks that the leader of the Labour Party has seen, and shouted, ‘buy!’
We are ashamed in front of the world.
The decision to appoint Seumas Milne devalues everything that Labour stands for, and everything that Labour is. It is morally and ethically wrong.
Seumas Milne might act for you, Mr Corbyn. He might speak for you.
He does not speak for me.
As Cameron and Osborne suck up to Xi Jinping, Amnesty International’s Allan Hogarth reminds us of that little matter called “human rights”:
As President Xi Jinping’s plane hits the tarmac he must be excited about the royal welcome that he’ll be getting in the UK – the red carpet has been rolled out, the flags raised and the banquet prepared!
I’m sure he’ll be keen to enjoy the hospitality of his hosts, whilst he and the UK Government get down to business. However, it would appear there is going to be one big elephant locked out of the room – human rights.
There has been lots of talk about China’s economic progress. People talk enthusiastically about progress made for Chinese citizens, better standards of living, economic security, and a growing middle class.
This may well be true and is indeed welcome. But when it comes to human rights we’ve witnessed a marked deterioration since President Xi came to office in 2012.
China is in the middle of its most intense crackdown on human rights for years and the human rights of ordinary Chinese citizens – including that growing middle class – must not be ignored in order to secure trade deals.
David Cameron must remember that China executed more than the rest of the world put together in 2014, often after trials that didn’t meet international standards.
The Prime Minister must ask President Xi about the nationwide operation that, in July, targeted and detained at least 248 lawyers and activists, 29 of whom still remain in police custody.
And what about the seven lawyers and five activists under ‘residential surveillance in a designated place’ – a process in which police are allowed to hold criminal suspects for up to six months outside of the formal detention system? This often amounts to enforced disappearance, a violation of international law.
As Chinese citizens are finding their economic freedom, perhaps Mr Cameron will raise concerns about other freedoms?
In Tibetan areas, there continue to be tight restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The Zhejiang provincial government is waging a campaign to demolish Christian churches and tear down crosses and crucifixes. All unauthorised forms of peaceful religious worship – including Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian house churches – can be subjected to suppression and criminal sanctions.
As President Xi will be staying with the Head of the Anglican Church, perhaps Mr Cameron would find it appropriate to raise these issues with the President?
The space for civil society in China is shrinking when it should be cherished and nurtured. Yet the Chinese authorities appear determined to clamp down on anyone that they deem a threat.
The catch all law of ‘picking quarrels and causing trouble’ allows the government to arrest, detain and silence those that question them.
Recent targets include the New Citizen Movement, a loose network of activists dedicated to the principles of constitutionalism, government transparency and civic responsibility – hardly firebrands?
Add to this that the authorities are considering introducing a ‘Foreign NGO Management Law’ that could put at risk forms of cooperation between UK and Chinese civil society. Mr Cameron must urge President Xi not to pass this law.
Of course, these are all issues that the Chinese will not want raising during the President’s visit.
The Chinese Ambassador has been quick to discourage any mentions of human rights. Any mention (of course) would be ‘embarrassing for the UK’ and offensive to China.
Well I’m sorry Mr Ambassador, but human rights activists actually find your comments offensive. I’m also sure that those brave Chinese activists who languish in your prisons, subject to harassment and restrictions would also be offended if these issues aren’t raised.
It is for these people that David Cameron should raise human rights issues with President Xi. He doesn’t have to ‘offend’ him, he’s a politician and perfectly capable of doing so with in a principled, forceful and specific way, both publicly and in private.
There may be thousands of miles between the UK and China, but the brave human rights lawyers, activists and defenders there are watching developments here.
This is Mr Cameron’s opportunity to show that the UK doesn’t put trade and prosperity above people – and that is why we stand together with the Chinese people in defence of human rights.
Follow @amnestyuk on Twitter as hundreds protest outside Buckingham Palace during President Xi Jinping’s visit
As a general rule I’m against calling for the expulsion of anyone from the Labour Party, if only because I’m well aware that in doing so I could well be making a rod for my own back.
I also tend to agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s approach of appeasing more centrist individuals within the PLP and keeping the likes of Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle inside the tent.
But surely an exception should be made for Lord Andrew Adonis, the ex-SDP uber-Blairite who has accepted George Osborne’s offer to head up the newly-created national infrastructure commission? This is such a gross act of betrayal, not just of JC personally, but of the Party as a whole, that I’m sure the public would understand – even applaud – a sharp, punitive response.
Mind you, it’s unclear whether or not the serial-turncoat Adonis has simply resigned the Labour whip in the House of Lords, or resigned from the Party itself. Most reputable reports suggest it’s the former, but today’s Times suggests the latter:
So, what should Corbyn do if this scum-bag has already resigned from the Party? Well, here’s a suggestion: when I helped form a certain far-left group in the mid-seventies, we inherited a practice from a predecessor group – that we wouldn’t accept any member’s resignation; instead, we’d expel them (for the record, this practice was eventually dropped). A bit of toytown Bolshevism, perhaps -but what an excellent idea for dealing with Adonis, if it turns out he’s already resigned from the Party.
I doubt that Mr Nice Guy Corbyn will do it, though: I fear he really is a nice guy.
Above: ‘Stop The War’ placards outside US embassy, June 2013
30 Sept 2015: A Russian general asked the U.S. to remove its planes from Syrian airspace Wednesday, just hours before Russian airstrikes began there.
The Russian three-star general, who was part of the newly formed intelligence cell with Iraq, Iran, and the Syrian government, arrived in Baghdad at 9 a.m. local time and informed U.S. officials that Russian strikes would be starting imminently—and that the U.S. should refrain from conducting strikes and move any personnel out. The only notice the U.S. received about his visit was a phone call one hour earlier.
The Russian strikes were centered about the city of Homs, according to initial accounts in the local press and in social media. That’s significant, because Homs is not known to be an ISIS stronghold (CNN)
The leaders of the Stop The War Coalition claim to be against all interventions into Syria (without a UN mandate) … so we can expect a, STW-organised demo outside the Russian embassy any day now, eh ..?
John Rees of Stop the War Coalition flanked by Cage representatives, making excuses for ‘Jihadi John’ earlier this year
I personally find it extraordinary that any sane person could have any moral or political objection to the British government’s killing of ISIS fascists. The organisations that have been bleating about this – CND, Reprieve and Stop The War, have long since exposed themselves as outfits who will sympathise with any forces, no matter how barbaric, who oppose the ‘West.’ At least Reprieve is in business to mount legal challenges to the government when it believes human rights are a stake (though they seem mightily selective about whose human rights they’re concerned with); but what the hell is CND doing commenting on this issue? As for the misnamed Stop The War Coalition – we all know that they operate on the basis of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and will ally with some of the vilest organisations and individuals on the planet, in the name of supposed “anti-imperialism.”
But what about the legal grounds for the killings? Leading legal blogger Carl Gardner opines that the action was probably legal, but acknowledges that it’s not entirely clear-cut:
Some would argue that an armed attack has to be by a State, or attributable to one, before the UK can defend itself. Here, the RAF’s attack violated Syrian sovereignty but Khan’s plans, whatever they were, can’t obviously be blamed on the Syrian regime. But I don’t think this is a strong argument against the UK .
In any event, the insistence that self-defence can only be invoked against sovereign states seems to me unreal after 9/11. Either international law on the use of force is an ass, unfit for purpose in the 21st century; or its principles must be capable of application to today’s real threats to peace and security. I think the latter.
Read the rest of Gardner’s opinion here
From the Jewish Chronicle:
There is growing unrest within Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team over his approach to dealing with issues of concern to the Jewish community, the JC can reveal.
One well-placed source within his team said that the unwillingness to deal “head-on” with these issues had come from Mr Corbyn himself.
The reluctance, according to the source, was because the frontrunner in the Labour leadership campaign was “partly casual about Jewish concerns, partly [because he knows] hostility to ‘Zionist neocons’ plays well to his constituency”.
Media interest in Mr Corbyn’s association with Holocaust deniers, antisemites and other extreme figures has grown in the past three weeks since the JC posed a series of questions for him to answer.
Another senior Corbyn campaign member indicated this week that the issues raised by this newspaper were not being taken seriously by Mr Corbyn and his team and said some within the team have grown concerned at the Islington North MP’s reluctance to speak in more depth publicly about the Jewish community’s concerns.
“This comes from Corbyn himself,” the source said.
(After Eliot’s Macavity the Mystery Cat)
Our Jeremy’s an activist, he is the brand new hope,
As he pushes Labour to the edge of a slippery slope,
He is the Blairites’ nemesis, the Moderates’ despair
But when you try and pin him down, Our Jeremy’s not there.
Our Jeremy, Our Jeremy, opposer of austerity,
His rivals are so timid, and he’s full of temerity,
But when his friends say, Stone the Gays, he doesn’t really care
He suddenly goes deaf and dumb, no Jeremy’s not there,
Islamist mates say “Holohoax”, and he’s not au contraire,
They’re anti Israel, that’s enough, and Jeremy’s not there.
Our Jeremy’s not besuited, no he’s not poshly dressed,
His shirt lies open for us to see the collar of his vest,
He is the man of Islington, and when he’s holding forth,
His is the stripped pine wisdom that pours from London North,
His world view’s very simple, all wars are Nato’s fault,
And as for intervention – no, he will call a halt.
Our Jeremy, our Jeremy, there’s no one quite like Jeremy,
His followers worship him, yea, amen and verily,
You can see him on a podium, cursing Tony Blair,
But getting a straight answer – our Jeremy’s not there.
He doesn’t live it large at all, politicking is his life,
He doesn’t go out giggng, or dining with his wife,
His idea of an evening off or joyous holiday,
Is standing at a rally, to damn the USA,
His mother marched down Cable Street, so he boasts with pride,
But he won’t detect a Fascist if a Fascist’s on his side,
At shirts of black and swastikas, his rants will fill the air,
But put them in a keffiyeh, and Jeremy’s not there.
Our Jeremy, Our Jeremy, aghastness from posterity,
That eager young politicos were dazzled by sincerity,
His beard is prophetic white, his frame ascetic spare,
But query his alliances, Our Jeremy’s not there.
And they say that all the Andies, Lizzes and Yvettes,
Will be cordoned in a hollow square and stripped of red rosettes,
And the old team of door knockers will be promptly chucked
And social democracy is well and truly fucked.
Illustration by Sébastien Thibault
Owen Jones’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian – ‘Antisemitism has no place on the left. It is time to confront it‘ – acknowledges the fact that this foul poison exists not just on the traditional extreme right, but also within the pro-Palestine movement and sections of the left. To some of us, this is merely a statement of the obvious, and something that we have been banging on about for years. But the importance of Jones’s piece cannot be overestimated: much of the left (and that includes the Guardianista liberal-left) refuses to acknowledge that the problem even exists. It is to Owen Jones’s credit that he has broken this taboo.
Jones’s article has its shortcomings: he repeats, for instance, the old canard that “Some ardent supporters of the Israeli government oppose all critics of Israeli policy and accuse them of anti-Semitism (or, if those critics are Jewish, of being “self-hating Jews”)”: I, for one, have never heard such arguments being used by defenders of Israel, although the claim that they are is treated as an established fact by ‘anti-Zionists’.
And Jones does not deal with the crucial issue of ‘absolute anti-Zionism’ – a more widespread and pernicious problem on the left than crude, racist antisemitism. ‘Absolute anti-Zionism’ is opposition to the very existence of the Jewish state. From that all the overt anti-Semitism and covert softness on anti-Semitism to be found on the left and within the PSC and BDS movements, follows. It is the so-called ‘One-State solution’ and is the thinly disguised sub-text of slogans like “Palestine must be free – from the River to the Sea.” It is the policy of the SWP and much of the rest of the British kitsch-Trot left. Stalinists of the Morning Star variety in theory back the Two States position, but you’d be forgiven not realising this from what they say within the labour movement and write in the Morning Star. Until he very recently clarified his position, and came out clearly for two states, it seemed quite possible that Jeremy Corbyn was a one stater.
And on the subject of Corbyn, Jones’s piece is also weak: it’s simply not good enough to argue (as does Jones) that “He [ie Corbyn] could not possibly have known the personal backgrounds of every individual who has joined him at the many rallies he has attended over the years.” Whether Corbyn knew the politics of each and every one of the many anti-Semites he’s been filmed and photographed alongside, and in some cases is on record defending, is not the issue: the issue is that now that he does know who these people are, he should clearly denounce them and disown them by name – instead of blustering about how he deplores all forms of racism and is in favour of peace. And, surely, Corbyn knew exactly what the politics of Hezbollah and Hamas were when he welcomed them as “friends.” For the record, I make these comments as someone who has just voted for Corbyn.
For sure, Jones’s piece does not go far enough, or make its case as plainly as it should: but it’s an important breakthrough for the ‘anti-Zionist’ liberal-left, and all the more welcome because its published in the absolute anti-Zionists’ respectable, mainstream mouthpiece: the Guardian.
Above: Jones (left) with arch-critic Alan Johnson after the publication of Jones’s Guardian piece
The death yesterday of Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror, reminds us of the pathetic attempt by public school Stalinist hack Seumas Mine to challenge Conquest’s facts about the death-toll brought about by Stalinism.
The following article by Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. Until we republished it here at Shiraz (29 September 2012) it was not available anywhere else online, nor is it included in the 2012 book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. Conquest was a right-winger and virulent anti-communist: but he was an objective and thoroughly scupulous historian. Milne’s desperate attempt to challenge Conquest’s estimated death-toll (later verified as substantially correct when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991) is, perversely, a tribute to an honest man:
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930’s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950’s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,000 were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: This last comment (“it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war”), suggesting that Conquest’s aim was to down-play Nazi genocide, is a simply despicable piece of Stalinist guilt-by-innuendo against Conquest, a proven and consistent anti fascist (which is more than can be said for the tradition Seumas belongs to). It demonstrates just how well the contemptible Milne has leaned from the filthy, lying methodology of Stalinism.