By Rabbil Sikdar (reblogged from Medium, here)
I wear my socialism on my sleeves and will never shy away from that. Every Political Compass test has me basically nailed down as a ‘hard left’ person. The things I believe in, radical to some, sensible to others define my sense of socialism: fair wages, fair taxes, strong public sector, social housing and a compassionate welfare system. My socialism comes from my experiences and values, in growing up in east London and seeing a community fall victim to poverty and gentrification.
In an age where compromise is needed to move forward, I won’t apologise for that. But I will for being so slow to realise how Morning Star was positioning itself across a wide variety of issues.
I’m not a factional socialist; I’d happily write for the Morning Star and at the same time agree with people from Progress. Mostly though, when I initially began writing for the Star I did so as someone so happy to be writing for a newspaper. I did not know Star’s history but I would come to learn of it later; I waved it away thinking these were different times. Besides, at the start we had more in common. We both wanted a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.
That was then. I no longer write for the Star and for a while had been winding down my contribution. By the end it was just sport content because of my respect for the sports editor. For the other part, I have a lot of things to be angry about with the Star.
For a newspaper that subscribes to left wing values, that should include free speech and right to criticise politicians. Unfortunately this never extended to criticism of Corbyn’s failing leadership, or Diane Abbott; it didn’t include the ‘Lexit’ vote — and where it mattered most crucially, it did not include Russia and Assad.
The paper has never criticised the Assad regime or Putin. Lines that go along with “we’re no fans of the Assad regime but…” are poor condemnations. In fact, they’re not condemnations at all. Someone recently described it quite well as imagining defenders of the British Empire dismissing the Amritsar Massacre. Likewise, saying “we condemn all bombings” gravely misunderstands who is doing the bombing and draws a false equivalence between aggressive actors and those responding to the violence. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in 2015 that the Assad regime was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths. ISIS, for all their barbarism, had killed just over a thousand. Since then, those statistics have continued in underlining the basic fact that Assad — backed up by Russia — has been responsible for the brutal carnage.
This is the humanitarian war crime of our time, a genocide that we watched live on television Facebook for years — and we did nothing. We have witnessed ethnic cleansing, repeated breaking of ceasefires and remorseless ruthlessness towards civilian population. The Syrian resistance against a fascist dictator desperately needed solidarity from the international community, and especially the left.
Some gave it; I’ve seen some fantastic leftist activists bravely holding everyone to account; Oz Katerji, Idrees Ahmad and James Bloodworth being some of them. The late Jo Cox was a strong supporter of the inspirational White Helmets. Read the rest of this entry »
Dale Street reviews Kasztner’s Crime by Paul Bogdanor (Transaction Publishers 2016)
Was Rezso Kasztner, leader of the Budapest-based Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee during the Nazi occupation of Hungary, a hero who saved the lives of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust? Or was he a collaborator who knowingly played an indispensable role in assisting the Nazis in the deportation and murder of nearly 500,000 Hungarian Jews in a matter of weeks?
To answer that question Paul Bogdanor has examined previously unused documentation, including Kasztner’s private papers, and evidence provided by Kasztner himself in two libel trials held in Israel in the 1950s. Bogdanor’s answer is summed up in the title of his recently published book: Kasztner’s Crime. (Bogdanor’s own politics are certainly not socialist. His personal webpage is the cyberspace equivalent of “The Black Book of Communism”.)
Bogdanor concludes that Kasztner deliberately withheld information about Auschwitz from Jewish communities in Budapest and the Hungarian provinces, and then misled them into believing that the Nazis were deporting them to another part of Hungary rather than to Auschwitz. Kasztner also undermined and blocked rescue activities organised by other Jewish activists, knowingly delivered hostages to the Nazi SS, misled foreign contacts about the fate of Hungarian Jews, and betrayed to the Gestapo Jewish paratroopers sent to help organise resistance in Hungary.
After the war Kasztner gave evidence at the Nuremberg Trials in defence of high-ranking Nazi war criminals who, as he knew full well, had played a central role in the Holocaust. Bogdanor describes Kasztner as “a high-level informer for the Gestapo” and “a collaborator in the genocide of his own people”. He was someone who had been “recruited by the Nazis as a collaborator” and who “betrayed his duty to rescue the victims and placed himself at the service of the murderers.” Kasztner occupies an almost iconic status in those “anti-Zionist” versions of history which claim that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis in carrying out the Holocaust, as part of their “strategy” to achieve the creation of Israel.
The most notorious example of this is Jim Allen’s play ‘Perdition’. Dating from 1987, it purports to be a dramatised version of a libel trial dealing with the role played by a Dr. Yaron (i.e. Kasztner by another name) in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Allen described his play as: “The most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches at the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, which is itself racist.”
In summing up the play’s central argument, one of the characters talks of “the Zionist knife in the Nazi fist”, describes Israel as “coined in the blood and tears of Hungarian Jewry”, and claims: “To save your hides, you (Zionists) practically led them (Jews) to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”
The play treats Yaron/Kasztner not as an individual but as the embodiment of Zionism per se. The now defunct Flame magazine summed up the central argument of the play: “There is a story here which the Zionists do not want you to know … about the role of the Zionist movement in the war and its collaboration with the Nazi regime. The Zionist leadership of Hungary bought their freedom in a shameful deal with Eichmann, whilst the Jews of Hungary were led to the gas chambers.”
“The Zionist movement stands accused of sacrificing the majority of the Jews in Hungary so as to save a thousand Jews to fulfil the Zionist conquest of Palestine. Clearly, the Zionist movement regarded the establishment of the state of Israel as a higher priority than saving their brethren from the concentration camps.”
Bogdanor makes passing mention of the controversy about ‘Perdition” and the identification of Kasztner as “the avatar of a Zionist-Nazi conspiracy to murder the Jews of Europe in order to justify creating the ‘fascist’ state of Israel.” Bogdanor’s riposte: “such ideas, if they can be dignified as such, have no contact with reality.”
In Nazi-occupied Hungary, there was no “neat” dividing line between bad Zionists (or bad Zionist leaders) and good anti-Zionists. On all sides there were people foolishly thinking Jews could benefit from trying to do deals with the Nazis. The Budapest Judenrat (Jewish Council), for example, was created by anti-Zionist community leaders acting under instructions from the Nazis in March of 1944.
It “demanded blind obedience to the Nazis from the Jewish community” and was “enlisted in Eichmann’s effort to deceive the widest strata of Jewry.” By 24 April it was “summoning selected Jews for ‘internment’ – which in reality meant death – at the hands of the Nazis.” Only in mid-June did it reverse its “previous decision to handle news of the slaughter [in Auschwitz] confidentially” and begin to “circulate the eye-witness report [of Auschwitz] among the Hungarian elite.”
Far from being the ultimate expression of Zionism, Kasztner himself repeatedly came into conflict with other Zionist activists who were doing exactly what ‘Perdition’ claimed they were not doing, i.e. opposing the Nazis and trying to save Jewish lives.
In late 1943, Hungarian Zionists began organising an armed underground movement in preparation for a possible Nazi occupation. The movement was to be open to all Zionist parties (apart from the Revisionists) and to non-Zionists. But Kasztner scuppered the plans for armed resistance in favour of “negotiations” with the Nazis. Hungarian Zionists also helped to smuggle Jews out of Poland and Austria and issued them with forged Hungarian ID papers, as well as providing financial support to Jews in the Polish ghettoes and Jews in hiding in Austria.
Kasztner wanted an end to such activities, for fear that they would jeopardise his “negotiations” with the Nazis. But the Zionist youth ignored Kasztner’s instructions and continued their activities, with the support of most of the Hungarian Zionist leaders. When the deportations of Jews began in Hungary itself, Hungarian Zionist youth activists set about encouraging Jews to flee the Nazi-created ghettoes in Budapest and the provinces. Again, Kasztner sought to undermine and block such activities. Other Zionists organised “protected houses” in Budapest (i.e. houses covered by Swiss diplomatic immunity, or by the protection of other foreign missions) and children’s homes with Red Cross extraterritorial status which provided safety for thousands of Jews.
As Bogdanor points out, the number of Jewish lives saved by Zionists without any help from Kasztner is an indication of how many more could have been saved if Kasztner, as head of the Relief and Rescue Committee, had not placed himself at the service of the Nazis. The gap between Kasztner and the broader Zionist movement is further underlined by the fact that in mid-April of 1944 the entire Hungarian Zionist movement was banned by the Nazis. Kasztner’s Relief and Rescue Committee, on the other hand, enjoyed the patronage first of the Abwehr and then of the SS.
From the BBC News website:
On foreign affairs, Mr Smith suggested the so-called Islamic State would eventually have to be brought into peace talks if there was to be a settlement to Syria’s civil war.
Referring to his experience as an adviser to Labour’s former Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy, he said: “Ultimately all solutions to these sorts of international crises do come about through dialogue.
“So eventually, if we are to try and solve this, all of the actors do need to be involved.
“But at the moment, Isil are clearly not interested in negotiating.”
He added: “At some point, for us to resolve this, we will need to get people round the table.”
Asked the same question, Mr Corbyn said: “They are not going to be round the table. No.”
Speaking after the debate, Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign described Mr Smith’s on comments on IS as “hasty and ill-considered”.
The spokesman said: “Jeremy has always argued that there must be a negotiated political solution to the war in Syria and the wider Middle East, and that maintaining lines of communication during conflicts is essential.
“But Isis cannot be part of those negotiations. Instead, its sources of funding and supplies must be cut off.”
The comments were also seized on by the Conservative Party, with Tory MP and member of the Defence Select Committee Johnny Mercer saying it showed Mr Smith’s “unfitness for leadership”.
“It shows that whoever wins this increasingly bizarre leadership election, I’m afraid Labour just cannot be trusted with keeping us safe,” added Mr Mercer.
But Mr Smith’s campaign said he was “clear” there should be no negotiation with the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh as it is also known, “until they renounce violence, cease all acts of terror and commit themselves to a peaceful settlement”.
“Owen’s experience of helping to bring about peace in Northern Ireland is that eventually all parties who truly believe in delivering peace have to be around the table.
“In the Middle East at the moment that clearly doesn’t include – and may never include – Daesh.”
What an effin’ idiot …
As the war criminal and genocider Rodovan Karadzic – handpicked for his position by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic – finally receives something approaching justice, it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t just Serb nationalists who supported and excused him, Milsosevic and Mladic: a lot of the so-called “left” have some answering to do, as Stan Crooke explains below. The particular culprits here are the SWP, who a few years later started puffing themselves up as “fighters for Muslims”. At the time they refused to side with the Bosniac and Kosovar Muslims fighting Serb conquest, focusing their sympathies on Serbia as the victim of NATO. They quietly went along with those who anathematised the Bosniac Muslims (mostly secularised) as the catspaws of Islamic-fundamentalist conspiracy.
It’s come to something, hasn’t it, when (not for the first time) “communists” ally with fascists…
We’re talking SWP and their equally shameful, Chomskyite offshoots like ‘Workers Power’, ‘Counterfire’… and perhaps most notoriously, the so-called ‘LM‘ outfit (since reborn as ‘Spiked Online’ and ‘The Institute of Ideas’).
We republish, below, an article by Stan Crooke written just after the arrest of the Bosnian Serb general and war criminal Ratko Mladic in May 2011, and published in Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity:
The “safe haven” of Sarajevo was besieged for 44 months by Serb forces, the longest siege in modern warfare. Serb forces stationed on the surrounding hills used artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles against the civilian population.
An average of 300 artillery shells a day hit Sarajevo during the siege. On just one day in 1993 more than 3,500 shells hit the city. Overall, an estimated 10,000 people were killed and another 56,000 wounded during the siege. 35,000 buildings were destroyed, including 10,000 apartment blocks.
Ethnic cleansing and war crimes were also carried out by the forces of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg Bosnia.
In February 1994 an American-brokered deal, the Washington Agreement, brought an end to the fighting between Bosnian and Croatian forces. In September 1995, NATO finally moved against Milosevic and his allies, in a month-long bombing campaign.
Workers’ Liberty commented: “Yes, the Western powers are hypocrites… But to reckon that NATO’s bombardment of Mladic’s siege guns calls for protest meetings, and Milosevic’s atrocities do not, is to condone Serbian imperialism… Sarajevo relieved by a NATO offensive designed as a lever for an imperialist carve-up is bad; Sarajevo still besieged is worse.”
Others on the left rallied to a “Committee for Peace in the Balkans” focused on denouncing NATO. They said NATO action was about “enforcing Western interests” on Serbia. Back in 1991, the SWP had disdainfully said “neither of the nationalisms currently tearing Yugoslavia apart has anything to offer”. It had maintained the same disdain towards the Bosniacs’ struggle against Serbian conquest and ethnic cleansing. It backed the anti-NATO campaign.
In fact, the NATO bombing paved the way for an American-brokered peace deal, the Dayton Agreement. It ended the massacres, and set up Bosnia-Herzegovina as a quasi-independent state, for most purposes a loose confederation between Serb and Croat-Bosniac units, with an external “High Representative” as overlord.
In the course of the war between 100,000 and 176,000 people had been killed. More than 2.2 million had fled their homes. 530,000 of them had managed to reach other European countries, despite the European Union responding to the outbreak of war by imposing a visa regime on Bosnians.
After the end of the fighting Mladic continued to live openly in the Serb-controlled area of Bosnia. In the late 1990s he moved to Belgrade. Only after the overthrown of Milosevic in 2000 did Mladic go more or less underground.
Meanwhile Kosova, an area under tight Serbian control but with a 90% Albanian-Muslim majority in the population, was stewing.
The Kosovar majority organised a virtual parallel society, with underground schools, hospitals, and so on, beside the Serbian-run official institutions.
The big powers opposed Kosovar independence, but pressed Milosevic to ease off. From mid-1998 Milosevic started a drive to force hundreds of thousands of Kosovars to flee the province. The big powers called a conference and tried to push Milosevic into a compromise deal.
Milosevic refused. NATO started bombing Serbian positions, apparently thinking that a short burst of military action would make Milosevic back down. Simultaneously the Serb chauvinists stepped up the slaughter and driving-out of Kosovars. After two and a half months of bombing (March-June 1999) the Serbian army finally withdrew. By then around 850,000 Kosovars had fled.
From 1999 to 2008 Kosova was under UN rule. During that period there were a number of persecutions of the small remaining Serb minority in Kosova. In 2008 Kosova declared independence.
Far from being converted by the war into a crushed semi-colony of some big power, Serbia benefited from its defeat. In October 2000, following rigged elections, Milosevic was ousted by mass protest in the streets, and Serbia’s chauvinist frenzy began to dissipate.
Dispute on the left over the Kosova war was sharper than over Bosnia. Workers’ Liberty said that, while we could not and did not endorse NATO, the main issue was Kosovar self-determination. The SWP and others threw themselves into a “Stop The War Campaign”, later recycled for use over Afghanistan and Iraq and still in existence.
“Stop The War” here meant “stop NATO and let Milosevic have his way”. On Milosevic, their main message was that he was not as bad as painted; and on Kosova, that the reports of massacre were probably exaggerated, that nothing could be done about it anyway, and that the Kosovar revolt was undesirable because it could destabilise the whole region.
Michael Barratt Brown, a veteran socialist economist, was typical of a whole school of thought on the left claiming that the driving force in what he called “The Yugoslav Tragedy” was a conspiracy by Germany in particular, and the West in general, to gain “control over the oil supplies of the Middle East”.
He wrote “Once Croatia’s independence was recognised … war between Serbs and Croats was assured inside Croatia.” In fact the big powers pressed the subject peoples of Yugoslavia not to declare independence. Germany was less convinced about that than other states, but even Germany did not recognise Croatia until six months after the outbreak of war. And why shouldn’t states recognise Croatian independence demanded by over 90% of the people?
Consistently, Brown wrote of the actions of Milosevic and the Serbian government as if they were mere responses to the actions of Bosnian and Croatian nationalists, rather than the expression of an aggressive regional imperialism.
“Nationalists in Serbia followed enthusiastically where Slovenes and Croats had led”, he wrote, but he praised the “federal” army, which had already committed a succession of war crimes by the time Brown wrote his book, as “the one remaining force representing Yugoslavia”, and one which was engaged in “a state-building project.”
In To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, published in 2000, Michael Parenti argued that the West’s hostility to Milosevic was triggered by the Serbian government’s commitment to the defence of the country’s “socialist heritage”:
“After the overthrow of Communism throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia remained the only nation in that region that would not voluntarily discard what remained of its socialism and install an unalloyed free-market system… The US goal has been to transform Yugoslavia into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities.
“As far as the Western free-marketeers were concerned, these enterprises [in Serbia] had to be either privatised or demolished. A massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq (in the first Gulf War) might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.”
In fact, the Serbian government pursued privatisation and pro-market policies of its own volition from the late 1980s, imposing cuts in public services and increasing social inequalities. And its old reformed-Stalinist structure was nothing to cherish.
After the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in 2001, the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic said:
“Crimes were committed in Yugoslavia, but not by Milosevic. … His real offence was that he tried to keep the 26 nationalities that comprise Yugoslavia free from US and NATO colonisation and occupation.”
The chapter on the Bosnian war in The Liberal Defence of Murder, written by the SWP’s Richard Seymour and published in 2008, has similar arguments: Milosevic’s regime and its war crimes were not as bad as they were made out to be; the Bosnian and Croatian governments were not only at least as bad as that of Milosevic but were also guilty of the same kind of atrocities.
“In the run-up to that atrocity” [the Srebrenica massacre], he claimed, “a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs”.
The SWP itself, mostly, did not bother discussing the atrocities one way or another. It simply stated that NATO was “imperialism” and the job was to oppose “imperialism”. In other words, it put its opportunist concern to “catch the wind” of miscellaneous disquiet about or opposition to NATO military action in a region which most people knew little about above any internationalist concern for lives and freedoms in the region … (read the full article here).
A quite intense and heated debate has been taking place over at Left Futures, concerning the political basis of the Stop the War Coalition, and the motives of those who criticise it from the left. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that the StWC has been subjected to sustained criticism from the left – and they do not like it, or come of it well, having tried and failed with their usual line that all criticism is a matter of right-wing conspiracies/”smears”/ and “quotations from articles taken out of context”, etc, etc.
The relevant articles and btl comments at Left Futures can be found here, here and (most recently) here. I would urge anyone interested in the question of western intervention and “imperialism” to take the trouble to read all three articles, and the btl debates that have followed, the most recent of which is still continuing.
I have been particularly impressed by the btl contributions of one John Penney: I do not know Comrade Penney and do not have his permission to republish his most recent contribution (below) in response to a StW apologist (“James”) who’d tried to defend StW’s unprincipled alliances with supporters of Assad, Gaddafi, Milosevic, Putin and other totalitarians, dictators and genociders by claiming StW “is not an international group, it is a single issue national organisation against UK military action, end of.”
The cynicism and sophistry of Stop the War and its apologists
By John Penney
This is the purest, cynical, sophistry, James, as I’m sure you are very well aware. (though I may be wrong – you could just be a naïve dupe). CND can indeed be a “single issue campaign” , and not be implicated in turning a blind eye to mass murder .
Unfortunately in the complex multi-sided cauldron of the Middle East it is not morally or politically possible to blithely claim that StWC is “only concerned with opposing UK military action” , and claim that this leaves it’s organisational hands clean of the consequences of this cod pacifist position. The Kurds in particular, but also sundry other minorities facing enslavement and mass murder by the Daesh barbarians (and proxies of Turkish and Saudi regional imperialism) do require arms and close air support to fight off the better armed , death-loving fanatics of Daesh. It is purely a tactical issue as to where the Kurds and others get this military support. Simply having a blanket “no to any UK involvement” position is actually directly campaigning to leave the Kurds and other minorities to be slaughtered by Daesh. That is the direct consequence of the current unconditional StW campaigning demand.
Of course we’ve been here repeatedly before – in the case of sections of the Left blindly campaigning to stop NATO intervening in both Bosnia and Kosovo – to end the huge scale genocide being perpetrated by the ( supposedly “socialist” ?) Serbian regime. Again sections of the Left, 25 years ago, campaigned against the setting up, of a No Fly Zone in Northern Iraq to protect the Kurds from the then murderous campaign being waged by Saddam Hussein. In all three cases NATO intervention simply did quite evidently save hundreds of thousands of lives. Simply opposing all Western intervention as a matter of unconditional principle is schoolboy-level political posturing. This doesn’t for a moment alter the fact that NATO is the military arm of Western Imperialism – of course it is. However the Left needs to be more tactically flexible, and willing to prioritise and balance the real needs of masses of people in real peril, against the holding of inflexible political postures. For someone obviously as lost in the political maze of Stalinist political models as you evidently are , James, a concept which I don’t expect you are even able to imagine.
But then you probably actually know this quite well and are simply playing semantic games – to cover up your, and StWC’s leadership’s actual , undeclared, underlying, support for the Assad regime and its Russian imperialist backers. That is certainly the CPB member , and now new Chairman of StWC’s [Andrew Murray – JD] obvious personal political position.
Your blanket “opposition to NATO” is simply another cover for the ludicrously simplistic soviet-era politics which views ONLY US/Western imperialism as a barrier to socialist progress – with a range of bestial tyrannies like Iran, Assad’s Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, and Gaddafi’s Libya getting a “free pass” as members of some bogus “axis of Resistance”.
Your cynical sophistry is truly stomach churning. StW today is a cynically manipulative movement, playing on naïve general pacifist anti war sentiments , to promote the narrow sectarian interests of a StW leadership coalition of Islamic fundamentalist appeasers and supporters of the Assad regime and Russian imperialism – not by any means a “single issue campaign”.
There are plenty of good reasons to oppose the current , purely symbolic, tiny air intervention of the UK in Syria. Its total ineffectiveness and total failure to recognise and tackle the vital huge support for Daesh coming from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for one. But to object purely on a cod pacifist basis – and ignoring the murderous role of Assad and the Russians, is to be a stooge of these regimes – not proud evidence of being a clean hands “single issue” campaign.
Watch this before your next theoretical discussion about whether or not Daesh are fascists, whether or not any form of military action should be taken against them … and whether or not we’re doing enough for refugees fleeing them:
(UN Security Council, December 16 20015)
Muslim organisation says Emwazi was ‘evil’
Mr Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation – a Muslim organisation based in Greater Manchester – said the reported killing was “a significant moment in the fight to get justice for David Haines, Alan Henning and all the victims of this evil man”.
The Ramadhan Foundation joins the victims of ISIS and their families in preferring him to have being captured alive so he would have seen justice in a court of law but understand why this wasn’t possible. Extra judicial killing over justice in a court of law should not become the norm in fight against terrorism.
Mohammed Emwazi manifested the evil and barbaric nature of this terrorist entity called [ISIS] which has killed thousands of Muslims, Christians, Yazidis. There is nothing he said or stood for which would justify his barbaric crimes and actions.
ISIS distort Islamic teaching to justify their violent crimes and it’s this ideology which we have been confronting and will continue to do. Terrorism has no religion and there can never be any justification or excuses for such actions.
But the death of Emwazi – excellent though it would be, if true – is not the best news today in the fight against the Daesh fascists. This is:
Kurdish peshmerga forces have entered Sinjar “from all directions” to begin clearing the northern Iraqi town of Isis militants, the Kurdistan regional security council said on Friday.
Heavy bursts of gunfire could be heard in the town, as fighters filed down the hill overlooking the town from the north, some with rocket-propelled grenades on their shoulders, said witnesses.
The regional security council said peshmerga forces had seized key buildings and Isis were “defeated and on the run”. The Kurdish regional president, Masoud Barzani, is to hold a press conference later on Friday.
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.
On the 29th anniversary of the Sebrenica massacre/genocide, we re-publish this important critique of the role of much the international left towards the Bosnian war at the time. First published by Workers Liberty, June 2011:
31 March 2003: Relatives of some of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre search rows of coffins next to freshly-dug graves for loved ones
Ratko Mladic, who commanded Serb forces during the Bosnian war of 1992-5, was arrested on 26 May in a Serbian village, and will now face a war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
In July 1995, two of the areas which the United Nations declared “safe havens” in the midst of a fierce war were overrun by Serb forces under Mladic’s command. In Zepa, some 200 lives were killed, and the bulk of the population of 40,000 fled.
In Srebrenica, over 8,000 civilians were massacred. In classifying the massacre as an act of genocide the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia outlined what happened:
“They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”
Srebrenica was only the most infamous of the atrocities by Serb forces in the Bosnian war. Like the wars conducted by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia in 1991-5 and in Kosova in 1999, that war was an imperialist war in the most straightforward sense: a war by a dominant power to gain control over other nations, conducted without regard to the wishes or the lives of the subject peoples.
By now Milosevic’s wars have few defenders. Although many people in Serbia mourned Mladic’s arrest, Serbia’s government is in no danger of being toppled by protest against it handing over Mladic to The Hague. In Britain, even the Morning Star has reported the arrest in a manner suggesting neutrality or approval.
At the time, though — and the scandal should be remembered, and learned from — large chunks of the left betrayed the left’s basic values of consistent democracy and freedom for oppressed nations. Some sided with Mladic and Milosevic explicitly. Others, including the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), gave them backhanded support by way of a form of pro-imperialism posing as “anti-imperialist”. They claimed there was nothing to choose between the forces in conflict within Yugoslavia. The only “imperialist” thing, to be opposed with vigour, was the police actions against Serbia which NATO took to contain the conflict, in 1995 and in 1999. Thus they presented the Serbian state as not imperialistic, but the fighter against imperialism. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: genocide denier Chomsky