We asked Grover next about his recent research about Lenin’s Last Writings, and the So-Called “Last Testament of Lenin.”
Briefly put, some of the last writings of Lenin are sharply critical of Stalin and appear to be sympathetic to Trotsky. The genuineness of these documents was not questioned at the time, that is, when Lenin was alive, and certainly not after he died. They were featured by Khrushchev – these documents were not suppressed but they were not emphasized, Khrushchev did emphasize them, Gorbachev more so, and the Trotskyists of course are delighted by these documents, where Lenin appears to side with Trotsky against Stalin.
After the end of the Soviet Union, some of the primary sources, the originals, of these documents, became available to Russian scholars. One scholar, a professor at Moscow University, Valentin Sakharov — no relation to the dissident [Andrei] Sakharov — Professor Sakharov got access to these primary documents. Some of these documents showed that there are a lot of problems, not only with the contents but with the documents themselves: changes, deletions, etc. Very interesting stuff.
As a result, he began to study them. Eventually, around 2002, he finished his doctoral dissertation on this subject and it was published, as a book – you know, revised – published as a book by Moscow University Press in 2003. It’s 700 pages long, in Russian, of course, and it is devastating, the argument that he elicits from them. He shows that precisely the documents that are anti-Stalin and pro-Trotsky in Lenin’s last writings are false, are fakes, that they were faked at that time. Now, he also published a few short summary articles about this, but short summary articles can’t contain the evidence.
When that book came out in 2003 I bought a copy, and since then it’s been put on line – scanned, OCR’d, put on line in HTML, in PDF. It’s widely available now, you don’t have to have an actual copy. But, of course, it isn’t very widely read. You’re talking about a 700-page book, very scholarly, full of footnotes, not very clearly written, the style that academics write in, not very lucid in places, and of course not translated. I read a bit of it years ago, when I bought the book, and I set it aside, and I said to myself that some day I’d get back to it.
Well, in 2014, a Princeton professor named Stephen Kotkin, who is, I would say, at the very top, in the world, among researchers on the Stalin period, among the top anticommunist researchers of the Soviet period, the Stalin period, Stephen Kotkin published volume one of a projected three-volume biography of Stalin. It goes up to 1928. And in that very interesting biography – of course, it’s full of anticommunist and anti-Stalin asides and statements – but in many respects it’s not bad. One of the striking things about it is he studied Sakharov’s 700-page book very, very carefully, and he agrees with it. So that, in that volume one of Kotkin’s biography of Stalin, he uses Sakharov’s research and agrees with Sakharov’s conclusions – that these documents where Lenin appears, in these documents, to be very critical of Stalin, wants Stalin removed from the office of General Secretary, and appears to side with Trotsky, Kotkin agrees with Sakharov that these documents are fake. Now, that’s pretty striking, because Kotkin is an anticommunist and in general these documents have been grist for the mill for anticommunists. And I would say that they are the foundation stones on which the Trotskyist movement worldwide is based. Without those documents, Trotsky’s claim to be Lenin’s chosen successor to Lenin himself – disappears.
So a year ago – more than that, maybe two years ago, as I was concluding a different research project — I decided that I really had to go back and study Sakharov’s book on Lenin’s last writings. And I realized that this would be a big, big job. It’s not just a question of reading the book, it’s a question of studying it, of making careful notes on it, of looking up many of the secondary sources, many of the sources he cites, checking them – it’s going to be a big project. And I’m about three-quarters of the way through that project now. And during this year, 2020, I hope to draft a book on this subject which will not represent my own independent research, nothing that I have discovered independent of others, but really in most respects it will be a popularization and to some extent a reorganization of Sakharov’s research. Because if I don’t do it, I don’t know who is going to do it. And because the political and historical implications of the fact that these documents, anti-Stalin and pro-Trotsky, are false, are fakes – is significant. Significant for the Left, but also significant in general.
I should mention that Kotkin had a motive for seizing on Sakharov’s conclusions, although I think he was correct to seize on them. His motive is to psychoanalyze Stalin. Kotkin comes to the conclusion that Stalin was driven paranoid by these documents. And therefore, in volume two of Kotkin’s projected three-volume biography of Stalin, Kotkin says that it was Stalin’s paranoia that caused Stalin to kill all these people, to accuse all these people – old communists – of conspiracy, of collaboration, and to execute them. So this paranoia is responsible for Stalin’s atrocities and paranoia of the 1930s. And that’s all wrong, completely.
Kotkin’s historiography is poisoned by this notion of psychohistory, I think perhaps because his most influential professor at Princeton was a man named Robert Tucker, now dead, who wrote a psychohistory of Stalin back in the 1970s, a terrible book, intellectually dishonest, worthless as history, but evidently a major influence on Kotkin. But for whatever – for that or for some other reason, Kotkin does endorse Sakharov’s research in volume one of his biography. And so I’m working hard on this, and I’m going to come out with a book on it in the next year or so.
I should say one more thing about this. In the late 1960s a scholar of the Soviet Union published a book called Lenin’s Last Struggle. This was a man named Moshe Lewin, he is now dead, but he was a prominent anticommunist scholar. Lewin had been raised in the Soviet Union, on a collective farm. So he not only knew Russian but also had some first-hand knowledge of the Soviet Union. Lewin wrote this book, Lenin’s Last Struggle, assuming these last documents of Lenin’s were all genuine. The reason he assumed them to be genuine is because in the earlier 1960s the 5th edition, the “full complete edition” as it’s called in Russian, of Lenin’s works was published by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow. This was the Khrushchev era, and the volumes that were published about Lenin’s last writings during that time, by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism under Khrushchev, falsified some of these documents, in conformity with Khrushchev’s attacks on Stalin. Khrushchev was trying to uphold Lenin, but trying to attack Stalin’s reputation. Lewin took the versions of these documents and the commentaries that were published in the 5th edition under Khrushchev, took them at face value. And he wrote this book called Lenin’s Last Struggle and comes to conclusions there that are very agreeable, not so much to the bourgeois, anticommunist pro-capitalists, but to Trotskyists, and he comes to the conclusion that certainly Lenin would have endorsed Trotsky as the leader of the Soviet Union and gotten rid of Stalin as a prominent Soviet leader had he lived. And this is a book that continues to be very influential, that was actually reprinted 15 or 20 years ago. But it was simply reprinted. There are errors in it, factual errors, spelling errors, that were not even corrected. It was simply reprinted, with a new introduction by some more recent Soviet scholar. So it’s a book that continues to be influential. And so for all these reasons I think that a study of these last documents and an attempt to popularize, to make available to people who are not prepared to, or able to, read a 700-page densely-written, scholarly work in Russian, is an important enterprise, and that’s what I’m working on now, and hope to publish it in, say, 2021.
On the topic of reading materials for listeners to delve into, we asked Grover about any books he’d recommend, including books about the young Stalin.
Well, OK, let me deal with that. There is no evidence that Stalin was involved in the Tiflis bank robbery – gold-train robbery – in 1906. It is often stated that he was involved. But there is no evidence that he was involved. I’m not saying that he wasn’t – there is simply no evidence that he was. Simon de Montefiore states outright that he was. Kotkin does not insist one way or the other, he just assumes that Stalin must have had something to do with it, but doesn’t really deal at length with that. So I think that one should not simply assume that Stalin was involved in that particular heist, much of the money – I’m not even sure where it went – did it end up in the Bolshevik coffers? I’m not sure. It makes a great story if you’re interested in portraying the Bolsheviks as basically thugs and criminals. That’s really what Simon de Montefiore does in “Young Stalin”.
There are no good biographies of Stalin. That is to say, they all reflect the Anti-Stalin Paradigm (ASP). There are no good histories of the Soviet Union, that is to say, they all reflect the ASP. The books that were written during the Stalin period, some of them are certainly worth reading. But, as you would expect, that are (a) one-sided about the successes of the Soviet Union, and do not deal with the contradictions in it thoroughly, and therefore, (b) from our point of view today, they are outdated. But at least they are not dominated by the ASP. Some of them may be dominated by the pro-Stalin paradigm. But for the most part good books include those by Andrew Rothstein, I’m sure he’s a figure you’re familiar with, in the UK – well, you’re not in the UK – he wrote his History of Soviet Russia that covers the Stalin period. It’s not bad, although it’s one-sided and outdated. The book by Sayers and Kahn, called The Great Conspiracy, is very accurate. It does not include the evidence – a lot more evidence – that we have today about the conspirators, about Trotsky, about the Moscow Trials and others. It really reflects the official Soviet view as it was in, say, 1945 or ‘46. It’s still worth reading, to give you an idea of the scope of the attacks by anticommunist forces, by Western forces, against the Soviet Union.
But in general, there is no good history of the Soviet Union because of the ASP. I have to say that if you want to start to discover the truth about Soviet history of the Stalin period, you have to read the books that I have written. I have written those books because I have discovered that the history of the Soviet Union of this period is falsified to an almost unbelievable extent. And, as far as I know, nobody else is doing this kind of work. That’s a sad statement, and I hope that others will pick it up and start doing it. But I can’t say otherwise.
For example, I wrote a book called “Yezhov vs Stalin” which is about the so-called “great terror” – I dismantle that term in the book – it’s about the period of Yezhov’s mass murder of Soviet citizens in 1937-1938, and I go into the primary-source evidence. There are a number of other fairly recent books about that period. All of them are completely dishonest. Either dishonest or incompetent – probably the two feed into one another, dishonesty and incompetence – just really worthless stuff, very false, misleading. So I recommend that if you want, get some of my books. By the say, some of them, if you scout around on the Internet, are available for download for free. I didn’t make them available for download for free, some other people have scanned them and put them on the Internet. They didn’t ask me, but hey, as long as they are there, if you don’t mind reading big books in digital format, you can download them for nothing. Otherwise, they are available now in Europe via Amazon outlets in Europe. That means you can get them without having to pay the shipping prices from the United States that up until 18 months ago or so you did have to pay. It used to be that if somebody in Asia, Africa, or Latin America wanted to read one of my books they had to really pay double the price: they had to pay the price of the books, and then they had to pay the shipping costs, which basically doubled the price. Now that’s not the case. Amazon carries my books in all of their European outlets, Australia, and that makes them very widely available.
But there really is nothing else good about the Stalin period. I mean there are good studies of specific questions. I recommend Mark Tauger’s research, which I use and praise, I think very highly of it, about Soviet agriculture. It’s very good. Tauger is not pro-communist in the slightest. You know, he makes, on occasion, some negative remarks about Stalin this, Stalin that, but I mean his research is excellent. He sticks to the evidence. He is the best researcher on Soviet agriculture, the best researcher on famine and on collectivization. There are a few researchers like that. I have not researched World War 2. I don’t want to get into that morass of stuff, researching battles, and strategies, which general made the correct decisions and which didn’t, so I don’t have anything to say about that. And there are no good books about Soviet history from the end of World War 2 until the death of Stalin either.
So I’m afraid that I must recommend my own books, which are not expensive. And if you read them, you will see the extent of the dishonesty of mainstream Soviet studies. And let me say one more thing about that. My first real book in English about all of this is called Khrushchev Lied. It’s the evidence that Khrushchev, in his famous Secret Speech, the anti-Stalin speech at the 20th Party Congress in February, 1956, that every accusation he made against Stalin is false, every one. Well, there’s one that I couldn’t prove but it’s very minor. Basically, it’s all false. Now that book is well known in the field of Soviet studies. But it’s never referred to. The fact that Khrushchev lied in that speech is well known by mainstream researchers all over the world in Soviet studies. And they never mention that … And it’s no miracle that they don’t. Because that’s the beginning of the unravelling of the ASP. So, with that level of dishonesty going on in the field of Soviet studies, I can’t recommend anything but my own works. And by the way, I don’t make a cent on any of my books. I don’t get any royalties; the publishers don’t pay me anything. My publishers are small left-wing publishers. They make a little bit of money, or at least they pay for their own labor. I write these books because I think that it’s an important thing to do. And when somebody goes out and buys a copy of my book, not one red cent of that comes to me.
We finally asked Grover about the criticisms that the Hoxhaist and Maoist trends of Marxism made of Stalin.
I don’t know anything about what Hoxha had to say about Stalin, so I don’t have anything to say about it. I can talk about Mao a little bit.
OK. The Soviet Union was giving tremendous aid to China during the 1950s, particularly during Stalin’s life. Then Khrushchev’s Secret Speech came out. This really knocked the world communist movement for a loop. Around the world, during the next year or two, at least half the communists quit their own communist party, not including Eastern Europe and China. In China, the Mao leadership at first in a kind of knee-jerk manner said yes, we support what Chairman Khrushchev said. Then they started to backtrack, to say that they did not approve what Khrushchev said. This led to what became known as the Sino-Soviet Dispute.
And it also led to Khrushchev, in the late 1950s, abruptly withdrawing all Soviet aid and repatriating all the Soviet experts, engineers and others, who were helping industrialize China. China had, up until that point, basically been following what we might usefully call the Soviet model or the Stalin model. That is to say, how do you build a modern state? You collectivize agriculture, and you industrialize without foreign investment. And that’s what China had been doing. And, just as what had happened in the Soviet Union in the midst of this process, a famine, so in China, in 1958-61, there was a big famine. We don’t know exactly how big, but it was significant enough. So that other leaders in the Chinese Communist Party – for of course Mao was not a dictator either – questioned Mao’s leadership, questioned either explicitly or implicitly the Soviet model of what we might call building socialism and modernization. Mao backtracked somewhat. Leaping ahead, without reviewing all of that, we can see that after Mao’s death the Soviet model was set aside. Under Deng Xiaoping and since then, the Chinese Communist Party decided to industrialize with foreign investment.
Now let’s get back to Mao. Now, because of Khrushchev’s betrayal of the Soviet promises to help China, and of course because Stalin had been helping China, and because Mao disagreed with the political direction that Khrushchev’s politics were going – for example, peaceful coexistence, the achievement of socialism with peaceful coexistence – Mao and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party became more and more hostile to the Khrushchev leadership.
But Mao did not have the evidence we have now. He did not know – he could not prove – that Khrushchev had lied in that speech. So in his remarks about Stalin, which were made in the early ‘60s and not published, I think, until after his death, or at least during the Cultural Revolution, in an unofficial manner, Mao made some statements about Stalin, based upon the assumption that Khrushchev’s statements in the Secret Speech were accurate. Mao did not know that they were not accurate. Mao estimated Khrushchev’s politics, estimated from what he could see of Khrushchev’s policies, didn’t like them, and assumed that they came from Khrushchev’s having mis-evaluated – mistakenly evaluated, or deliberately mis-evaluated – Stalin’s legacy.
But Mao did not really know what Stalin’s legacy was because Khrushchev had lied about it, and Mao didn’t know he was lying. So Mao’s statements about Stalin in those works written in the early ‘60s are not accurate. Mao was assuming that the Khrushchev analysis of Stalin’s policies was wrong, but that Khrushchev’s factual statements about Stalin were correct. And that’s not the case. So, had Khrushchev not made that speech, China would have continued to industrialize in the same manner it was doing, say, up to 1956-7, following, broadly speaking, the Soviet model. And that would have made the history of Communist China dramatically different from what it has been.
And, finally, let me say this one last thing. I want to repeat that there were problems with the Stalin model of building communism through socialism. It was assumed that socialism would lead to communism. That was the fundamental assumption of the whole communist movement, and of Stalin’s Soviet Union. That didn’t happen. Instead of producing a communist society, Stalin – the Soviet Union, the Communist Party – produced Khrushchev! Produced a generation, and several generations, of Soviet leaders who wanted to move away from egalitarianism [moving more and more towards communism] moving away from it, with the results that we ultimately see in Gorbachev who was not only incompetent in other respects, obviously, but who clearly didn’t know anything about Marxism-Leninism. How a person like this could become the head of the Soviet Communist Party — who clearly knew nothing about Marxism, nothing about Lenin, nothing about Soviet economics, history! But these people, particularly Khrushchev and his cronies, all came into prominence under Stalin. So there are some fundamental problems with the Stalin concept of how to build communism that are yet to be fully appreciated, fully analyzed. And obviously we can’t discuss them here and now, but that needs to be evaluated. You can’t simply go back and affirm Stalin and Stalin’s acts; the developments in the Soviet Union can’t be unequivocally affirmed. We need to also critically evaluate them and ultimately discover why they went wrong.