by Alfonso Casal
There are certain assumptions one can make, with a high degree of certainty, regarding Grover Furr’s Khrushchev Lied. The first is that, had Furr written a similar book in any area of historical specialization other than Soviet-era studies, Khrushchev Lied would be immediately hailed as a work of major significance. Had Furr succeeded in proving that Thomas More’s biography of Richard III was pure invention and that, far from being Shakespeare’s resentful deformed villain, Richard was a kindly and benevolent monarch; or had Furr demonstrated that Tacitus consciously twisted his account of the Julio-Claudians in order to willfully defame the first Roman emperors; had Furr, in short, managed to definitively prove that a major historical source, one on which the interpretation of an entire epoch is often based, was fraudulent, Furr and his book would have been catapulted to the center of scholarly debate. There would have been workshops and symposia; indeed, a special issue of the American Historical Review would have likely been printed, featuring essays arguing pro and con Furr’s findings. Needless to say, that has not been the case, for the simple reason that Furr’s book deals with Soviet history, specifically with the history of the Stalin period; and here different rules apply.
Despite the advance praise for Khrushchev Lied offered by Soviet-era specialists such as Robert Thurston and Lars Lih, one searches in vain for any scholarly journal reviewing the book. Indeed, aside from comments posted on online political blogs, of both Left and Right, it would appear that the historical profession has chosen to ignore Khrushchev Lied. This is the second assumption one could have safely made. Khrushchev Lied directly challenges the anti-communist, Cold War paradigm still dominant in academia. Not only that, Furr manages to demonstrate that one of the essential documents on which that paradigm rests is a tissue of lies. Not only historical interpretations are at risk here, but academic reputations, and entire careers as well. Thus, a conspiracy of silence has descended on a book that merits the widest possible readership and discussion.
Again, in and of itself, this is nothing new. Baldly put, any book that presents a positive interpretation of the Stalin period or that disputes the conventional wisdom that the Soviet head of state was a blood-soaked megalomaniac will have a difficult time finding a publisher. This is not to say that there have not been a number of non-paradigmatic studies of the Stain era published. Books by Getty and Kirkpatrick, to cite just two authors, have put a dent in the dominant view of Stalin and his government held in academia. However, there is a question of balance and accessibility. For example, in the years since the collapse of the USSR, there has been a tidal wave of studies of the Stalin years published in Russia. Some of these studies are critical of Soviet policy during that period, others praise those same policies. Interestingly, none of the those supportive of the Stalin regime are translated into English; while a number of Russian works hostile to Stalin or the Soviet experience of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s have been issued by major American publishers.
Of all the recent reassessments of Soviet history, Grover Furr’s Khrushchev Lied strikes at the very heart of Cold War history, Nikita Khrushchev’s famed “Secret Speech” to the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Presented to a closed session of the Party Congress on 25 February, 1956, Khrushchev’s speech, putatively, denounced Stalin’s many “crimes” and lay bare the former Soviet leader’s reign of error and terror. Khrushchev’s denunciations of Stalin caused a crisis in the world communist movement, providing, as it seemed to, an “insider’s” confirmation of all the worst accusations raised by anti-communists for decades. An immediate result of Khrushchev’s efforts was the political isolation of his opponents within the Soviet Communist Party, Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, etc., who still upheld Stalin’s legacy. A longer-term consequence was a split within international communism, with those who seemingly defended Stalin, led by Albania and China, breaking with the Soviet Union and those parties worldwide which hewed to the new Soviet line. Furthermore, the “Secret Speech” became a cornerstone of modern history, and the main documentary buttress for anti-Stalin interpretations of Soviet history and politics.
Furr set for himself the task of examining each and every one of the accusations Khrushchev leveled at Stalin (and Beria as well) and examining, point by point, their veracity or falsity. The conclusion he came to is evident in the title of the book. Furr divides Khrushchev’s charges into nine general categories, ranging from “Lenin’s Testament” to Stalin’s supposed complicity in the Kirov assassination, to Stalin’s supposed mismanagement of the Soviet war effort in World War II to Stalin’s last years when he, according to Khrushchev, was planning a major purge of his oldest associates and collaborators. In determining his findings, Furr based himself exclusively on primary sources and archival materials, many of which he has scanned and uploaded for public review at http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/research/kl/bibliography.html.
The essence of Furr’s investigation is the claim that not one accusation leveled by Khrushchev against Stalin and Beria is true. Not one. Indeed, Furr becomes the accuser, in turn, and charges Khrushchev with consciously and maliciously warping the truth about Stalin for political gain. Furr provides a mountain of documentation refuting Khrushchev. So much so, that, in fact, this becomes the book’s main shortcoming. Furr is so painstaking and meticulous in marshalling his evidence that the reader is often numbed by the sheer volume of documents, quotes, and citations he provides. This is not a book for the casual reader or for anyone not versed in Soviet history. However, despite its non-reception in professional historical circles, Khrushchev Lied is an essential work of Soviet history. Moreover, it is a work that not merely solidly proves its premise; but one that stands out as a courageous effort to restore historical truth and balance.
Khrushchev Lied is solid in its research, thorough in its method and scope, sound in its judgments and conclusions, and deserving of the highest praise. It is a book every serious student of Soviet history and politics must read and grapple with. It is, in a word, a major contribution to historical science.