From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.1, Winter 1959, pp.29-30.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Russia Since 1917. Four Decades of Soviet Politics
by Frederick L. Schuman
Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1957. 508 pp. $6.50.
A note by the publisher informs us that Dr. Schuman, Professor of Government, Williams College, is an “outstanding interpreter” of Russian affairs. Russia Since 1917, written after his recent third visit to the Soviet Union, is in many respects a follow-up of his former Soviet Politics published in 1946. That this latest book was, in part, written to cover up the most flagrant misconceptions and misinterpretations so authoritatively presented before, he practically admits. “Many judgments” he writes, “on many matters offered a decade ago have been much modified in view of new facts, precisely as many of the evaluations here set forth may well be in need of alteration a decade hence.”
Dr. Schuman is too optimistic. Many of his present evaluations already need alteration – only one year hence.
Schuman’s failure of interpretation and his need for continual alteration “in view of new facts” stems from his superficial method. He bases his analyses on temporary conjunctures. This leads one to believe he has never conscientiously studied the fundamentals of the new Soviet society, has no understanding of Marxism, and lacks awareness of revolution as a motor force of history.
Schuman has observed Stalinism in action. For him that suffices. So he concludes that Stalinism equals Marxism, for Marxism is “a cosmology, a creed, a gospel” and the works of Marx and Engels are to Marxists “revelation, sacred writings and scriptures.” “... the very history of the USSR refutes the relationship that Marx assumed”; so
“The economics and sociology of Marxism are simply wrong as an analysis and prognosis of ‘capitalism.’ In advanced industrial communities the ‘proletariat’ grows richer ... ‘workers revolutions’ can come about only in backward rural economies ... Marxism in practice serves purposes and fulfills functions that have nothing in common with the postulated aims and goals of Marxist theory.”
Having built his thesis on such an untenable foundation, little wonder Schuman finds constant shifts in interpretation necessary!
If this renowned professor of politics and history had not gone in for what his publisher calls his “prophetic analyses” and had adhered to the use of authenticated; well-documented historical facts, he could have produced a book of lasting value for reference. For mixed with his analytical nonsense he gives in condensed form a lively account of Soviet versus capitalist diplomatic parrying in the hot and cold wars from the time of the 1917 Revolution to the crises of 1956.
His review of the ten days that shook the world; of the diplomatic perfidy of the Allies after the Revolution; the brutality they perpetrated in the civil war; his evidence that there was no popular support for the Constituent Assembly; his ridicule of the slanders of the Bolsheviks in the United States press – all this is valuable history concisely presented.
But then we step into a morass of falsehood and slander in Schuman’s account of Soviet development after Lenin’s death. This stems from Schuman’s Stalinist leanings. In his Soviet Politics of 1946, Schuman accepted as authentic Stalin’s falsifications of history and presented Stalin as the great leader and the real architect of Soviet progress. He repeated Stalinist slanders of Trotsky and for good measure added a few of his own. He revealed a hatred of Trotsky and all that Trosky represented. Which, after all, is not surprising. One of Schuman’s petty-bourgeois persuasion more often than not tends to gravitate to a Stalin rather than a Trotsky. Stalin had the power. And, as Trotsky himself wrote of such characters as Schuman:
“The machinery of state! Every petty bourgeois is brought up in adoration of this mystic principle ... Removing in imagination not only his hat but his shoes too, the petty bourgeois comes tip-toeing into the temple of the idol in stocking feet ...”
But Russia Since 1917 was written after the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. This made it obligatory for Schuman to modify his tributes to Stalin. This he does, at times being severely critical. However there is no softening in his hatred of Trotsky. While admitting that Stalin had Trotsky’s role in the civil war expunged from history, Schuman still accepts the Stalinist version of the disputes about industrialization and other economic developments in the USSR.
Schuman states categorically: “On all points Trotsky was wrong. Being wrong he was never able to forgive Stalin for being right.” And as a measure of his hatred of Trotsky, he still refers his readers to that compilation of slanders, The Great Conspiracy by Sayers and Kahn.
In 1946 Schuman accepted the Stalinist version of the Moscow trials. In 1957, in spite of all the “new facts,” he repeats his vilification of Trotsky and the Left Opposition. Only in a footnote does he suggest that there might be doubts about the authenticity of the evidence by his admission that “The injustices and abuses were of gargantuan proportions.”
But then he also states: “It is still conceivable that some of the ‘confessions’ were partly true rather than wholly false ... other evidence in support of the view that an actual conspiracy existed need not be ignored ...” Furthermore Schuman does his best to cast doubt on the idea that Trotsky’s murder was Stalin’s GPU agent, seeming to prefer the murderer’s own explanation that he was a disgruntled “Trotskyite.”
It is also necessary for Schuman to ignore all of Trotsky’s writings on the rise of fascism and its causes, particularly his warning to the Soviet Union of the danger it faced if Hitler came to power. It is Schuman’s contention that Stalin was driven inexorably, by Allied rebuffs, to the deal with Hitler which, says Schuman, “... outchamberlained Chamberlain in a masterly super-Munich.”
That the German CP was guilty of betrayal of the world proletariat, would, of course, never occur to Schuman, just as he could see no betrayal of the workers and of Marxist principles in Stalin’s later role, of which he wrote with apparent approval:
“He urged French Communists to support De Gaulle, and Italian Communists to accept King Victor Emanuel and Badoglio. He urged Tito to accept the monarchy and cooperate with Britain. By the same logic he urged Mao-Tse Tung to compromise with Chiang Kai-shek ...”
Schuman’s review of Allied diplomacy in the 1930s is, however, keen and cogent. His presentation of capitalist maneuvering in the cold war and Korean war periods gives a clear-cut picture of the antics and cloak-and-dagger performances of Western statesmen.
His argument that the double-crossing and chicanery of Allied diplomacy was due to the hope that the “Fascist Triplice” would save “civilization” from Bolshevism, is ironclad. His review of how the East European countries were sold out to Hitler by Allied statesmen should be required reading – in public – for their counterparts of today, who, hypocritically, bemoan the plight of these satellites.
Also, in these days of “indirect aggression” Schuman’s record of the diplomatic lying and the falsification of news by such authorities as Secretary of State Byrnes and the New York Times, particularly as preparation for the Truman Doctrine, is pertinent history. Likewise his listing – and an impressive listing it is – of the many incitements to war against the Soviet Union by United States congressmen, generals and their public mouthpieces who voiced such sentiments as “the vitals of the Soviet state will be scorched and destroyed by the terrible fire of the atomic bomb.”
Hearing such threats, the Soviet people can hardly be blamed for extreme distrust of Western governments. They know what war means. Schuman reminds us of this: “So appalling was the devastation of [Russian] homes and lives and livelihoods that no alien observer could reasonably imagine any recovery within less than a generation.” What it means to rebuild after such devastation the Soviet workers also well know, since they accomplished it in one decade. Schuman reminds us that “this miracle of restoration, unlike its counterpart in West Germany, Normandy and other battle-scarred regions was achieved without foreign aid.”
Dr. Schuman has a special reason for his praise of the USSR. He is a man with a mission. He has a plan for world salvation based on his final thesis that the two great powers, the US and the USSR, already have reached a degree of what he calls “cultural convergence.” He thinks this trend will of necessity continue. That divergence, not convergence, is the trend would be obvious surely to any political realist. But divergence doesn’t fit Dr. Schuman’s thesis. He ends his muddled peroration with a prayer expressed in the words of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah. It is an ending most fitting.
Last updated on: 1 May 2009