A Soviet Historian & the Gorbachev era

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Thu Nov 6 20:21:33 MST 2003

At the start of the historic 19th conference of the Soviet Communist Party,
the newspaper Pravda published an assault on the views of historian Yurii
Afanasiev. In a piece entitled "Perestroika and Historical Knowledge",
Afanasiev raised the question as to whether there could have been an
alternative to the path followed by Stalin in his drive to industrialise
Russia, and implied that the gradual approach favoured by Nikolai Bukharin
would have been both possible and preferable.

He challenged the common notion that Stalinism had ended with the
dictator's death and his denunciation by Khrushchev: "Stalinism continued
to exist decades longer, in modified form, until the April 1985 plenum of
the Central Committee." And he went on to suggest, by implication, that
contemporary Soviet society did not deserve the title of "socialist" at

"The greatest achievement in the development of our society is supposed to
be the liquidation of private property. But is it really liquidated? How,
for example, are we to answer A. Karpinskii, who advances the idea that we
have before us, rearing up on its hind legs, private property in the form
of ownership of functions, positions and offices?"

The Pravda critique, entitled "Questions to a Historian" and written by one
Pobisk Kuznetsov, was designed to intimidate Afanasiev. French journalist
K.S. Karol explained: "In his critique of Afanasiev, Kuxnetsov used the
time-honoured technique of formulating questions that allow the subject 
enough rope to hang themselves. In fact all the Pravda questions could be
boiled down to a single enquiry: Professor Afanasiev, do you consider that
our society is socialist or not? God help him if he says no." 

Immediately after the conference closed Afanasiev sent his reply, "Answers
from a Historian", to Pravda. Karol continues: "It took Pravda 25 days of
consulting with the powers that be to decide to publish Afanasiev's
well-argued article. His views were unprecedented in the history of the
paper. To soften the blow, it was accompanied by an editorial commentary,
as conventional  as it was defensive, which only served to relaunch the
debate. Four days later, two other personalities 
 the assistant director
of  the CPSU theoretical review The Communist, Otto Latsis, and a leading
writer of the same review, Igor Diadkov, took their turn.  They criticized
Yurii Afanasiev for his impatience, but mostly refuted Pravda's view that
nationalisation of industry guaranteed  once and for all the socialist
character of the USSR and put an end to exploitation.

For the rest of the story, and a discussion of the Gorbachev era, go here:

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