Brian Pearce

‘Generously Described As Dubious’

(Autumn 1954)

From Anglo-Soviet Journal, Vol. 15 No. 3, Autumn 1954.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Barrington Moore, Jr
Terror and Progress USSR
Harvard University Press and Geoffrey Cumberlege, 36/–

The ‘Russian Research Center’ is a heavily-financed ‘Cold War’ organ attached to Harvard University and this is the latest of its publications. Based very largely on interviews with hostile émigrés from the USSR, it purports to examine ‘both the sources of stability and the potentialities for change in the Bolshevik regime’.

Mr. Moore remarks (p. 13) that, with some of his interviewers, ‘imagination, together with the refugee’s desire to compete for the attention of Western interviewers, led to sensational accounts whose connection with Soviet realities can be most generously described as dubious’. Many readers will feel that Mr. Moore has not always allowed for this factor in compiling a work which can hardly be regarded as a serious contribution to knowledge.

It is curious that he should mention (p. 54) the Soviet laws of 1940 restricting movement from job to job and penalising lateness at work, and build an argument about present conditions partly upon them, without mentioning that they were rescinded in 1951. The price reductions of April 1953 are presented (p. 5) as something new in principle, connected apparently with the death of Stalin, without any mention being made of previous price reductions in 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952.

One expects to find at least one major mistranslation in any book of this type, and, sure enough (p. 200), Stalin’s well-known phrase ‘cultures national in form and socialist in content’ is rendered as ‘cultures nationalist in form and socialist in content’.

Mr. Moore’s approach to this subject is that of a certain school of anthropologists, and there is in consequence a good deal of unintentional humour in this book. We learn, for example (p. 166), that vodka is ‘likely to generate a diffuse set of friendship obligations’ but is nevertheless ‘feared because it encourages the release of tension’. On page 20 Mr Moore observes:

There is good evidence, I believe, for the view that a substantial number of Russians shy away from cold, impersonal relationships that involve only a small segment of the personality. They tend to prefer and even demand a commitment of the whole personality.

Is this, I wonder, why they insist on foreign visitors knocking back their vodka in one gulp, and why they describe drinking on this ‘bottoms up’ principle as drinking ‘in the Russian manner’? As recipients of Russian hospitality well know, the Russians can be very firm about this point.

The title is as given above:

The fertile mind of my good friend, Professor Herbert Marcuse, of Columbia University, supplied the original suggestion for the main title of this book. He is sincerely thanked for his contribution. (p. 17)

Last updated on 6 June 2015