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To: "H-Net Network on American communism and anticommunism" <H-HOAC@H-NET.MSU.EDU> Sent: Friday, October 10, 2003 12:58 PM Subject: Conquest is unscholarly Prof. Beichman wrote: > As a colleague and friend of Dr. Conquest, I ask Dr. Furr to publish what he finds so repellent in Dr. Conquest's scholarship? ... I ask Dr. Furr to explain to this audience what Dr. Conquest, whom he finds guilty of politicization, has done that is unscholarly.< I never said I found Dr. Conquest's scholarship "repellent". Here's the problem. The study of communism generally, and the USSR during Stalin's time particularly, is so highly politicized that finding out what happened is very difficult. The field of Soviet studies itself is very polarized. You cited Pipes' criticisms of "the revisionists." There are a lot of remarks like those. I could give examples, but again, this isn't a list on the USSR. The "limits of respectable opinion", if I may put it that way, are broader in Russia than they are here. There's a "Cold War orthodoxy" about these matters. In the "West", works that argue real nonsense -- e.g. that "Stalin killed more Ukrainians than Hitler" (Applebaum) -- are published regularly, and such statements are very often simply taken as "fact." But books arguing that, e.g., the USSR was not guilty of the "Katyn" massacres of Polish officers; that the defendants in the Moscow Trials and the Military Purges were guilty; that Stalin was trying to institute democratic changes in the USSR - simply are not, and CAN not be published, because such conclusions are "beyond the pale." I suspect that a scholar who even seriously entertained such ideas could not get a job in the field of Soviet history in the US or UK. But such books are regularly published in Russia. It's a fine thing that they are, too. Not that "they are all true" -- any more than "all" of the works published in the West are "true." But they show a far less blinkered approach to the Soviet era. Scholars -- even "politicized" scholars -- who argue such points turn up new evidence, and give old evidence a different reading. The breadth of "acceptable" viewpoints gives us access to more evidence, demands we question old preconceptions, look with renewed skepticism at what we've too often taken for granted, and generally enriches the study of history. That's true in any field, and certainly in the study of the USSR. The main problem with Conquest is his sources. He uses even terrible, i.e. mendacious, worthless sources, if they are highly anti-communist. This utterly destroys the value of his work as history. For one example, Conquest's book on the Ukrainian famine was roundly criticized by major Sovietologists when it came out. And, of course, it was published right when there was a major discussion of these matters in, for one place, _Slavic Review_. I don't want to rehash this whole matter here. After all, this is a list on _American_ communism. There has been lively discussion for the past two decades in the major Soviet history journals -- especially Europe-Asia Studies (until 1993, Soviet Studies), in which Conquest's views have been subjected to devastating criticism. It's not that Conquest is the only highly politicized, highly anti-communist scholar. Another example of a highly-politicized "scholar" is Anne Applebaum, in her latest book _Gulag_. Again, this is not the place to get into a detailed criticism of it, but "sources" are the main problem. Applebaum does not even acknowledge the fact that there has been a huge discussion over precisely the subject of her book -- the GULAG -- in the major Soviet studies journals over the past 20 years. Instead, she just takes Conquest's work as "the truth." All history has, no doubt, political implications of some kind or other. In the study of communism, the USSR, Stalin, etc., those implications very often drown out the search to discover what actually happened, how and why. That's the problem. Sincerely, Grover Furr Montclair SU