[Marxism] The Russia Question

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 23 16:02:14 MST 2009

Paul Flewers wrote:
> What I found somewhat worrying about some of the 'revisionist' historians in
> respect of the Terror was that there seemed to be an attempt to detect a
> democratic impulse during the purges, as if denouncing your boss for
> sabotage to the secret police was somehow on a par with the workers'
> struggles for their class interests in the soviets during the time of the
> October Revolution.
> I wonder if the former is a conscious or unconscious reflection of the
> Maoists' romantic portrayal of the Cultural Revolution as a working-class
> uprising, rather than as a squalid dog-fight within the Chinese bureaucracy.


The Institute of Historical Research
Paul Flewers, The New Civilisation? Understanding Stalin’s Soviet Union 
1929-1941, Francis Boutle, 2009

Reviewed by Geoffrey Foote

This is a very carefully researched and well-written account of 
reactions within Britain to the Soviet Union during the 
industrialisation and forced collectivisation programmes of the 1930s. 
It brings to light much new material, and should be a valuable 
contribution both to the origin of Soviet studies in Britain and to the 
political nature of British intellectual assumptions in the face of what 
appeared to many as the final collapse of capitalism.

Dr Flewers writes with a sense of urgency and direct interest which 
makes a refreshing contrast to the languid wit and detachment which 
often surrounds intellectual history. His commitment is openly Marxist, 
a courageous stance in the academic world during the last 20 years, but 
that commitment is generally unobtrusive in a study which avoids crude 
rhetoric and polemic, and avoids the simple ‘Stalin-or-Trotsky’ 
alternatives usually attributed to Marxist writers on the USSR. He draws 
on an impressive range of references, and demonstrates a thorough 
acquaintance with authorities such as Paul Hollander and Abbot Gleason. 
Most importantly, he refuses to be hypnotised by the deification (or 
demonization) of Stalin and the USSR; he recognises that, while moral 
outrage is understandable, it is no substitute for a cool analysis.

An important aspect of this book is its attempt to classify the broad 
and varied contemporary literature on the USSR in a comprehensible 
manner, something regarded as impossible by Walter Laqueur in The Fate 
of the Revolution back in 1967.(1) Dr Flewers distinguishes a critical 
if inchoate third group, a ‘centre ground’ distinct from apologists and 
enemies, and in his organisation of their arguments he is able to 
demonstrate a multiplicity of approaches and motivations among observers 
and political activists. In doing so, he valuably extends our knowledge 
of the variety of reactions to the USSR.


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