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John G. Wright

The Hunt for Trotskyist Contraband

History Books for Sale!

The New Revision Under Way in U.S.S.R

(29 February 1936)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 9, 29 February 1936, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

From the Kremlin down, the Stalinists in the Soviet Union are having the jitters from a recent epoch-making and horrible discovery made by none other than Stalin.

While Stalin and his suite were marching from one “irrevocable” triumph to the next, an unbelievable situation continued to develop in the rear: “On the Historical Front.” While Stalin was busy making history in the very frontlines, his flunkies in the rear were manufacturing it according to the day-to-day prescription. With the changes in the objective situation, the means and ways of falsifying history were varied.

But now it turns out – as a matter of incontrovertible fact (for, Stalin himself says so) – that the science of history in the Soviet Union is, by and large, in the camp of counter-revolution!

The gravity of the situation is illustrated sufficiently by the fact that on January 26, 1936, a special Commission of Twelve, with Zhdanov as Chairman, was appointed by Stalin to save what can be saved.

Naturally, the Commission faces a colossal problem. In its work it runs up against tremendous difficulties. In the words of Pravda itself:

“Strange as it may seem, this work has run up against difficulties in the sphere of the History of the U.S.S.R. It is well worth dwelling upon these difficulties because they concern not a small group of authors but the condition of our Historical Science.” (Leading article in Pravda, Jan. 27, 1936. Our emphasis)

“Liquidating” Pokrovsky

On the 19th year of the October revolution, on the very threshold of Communism, after all classes had been irrevocably eliminated, “our historical science” is in such an awful and ominous condition that Stalin must intervene and appoint no less than twelve specialists (including Radek and Bukharin) to relieve the situation. This is not only a strange state of affairs, but a condition well worth looking into.

The first inkling of the crisis “on the historical front” came to the uninitiated in the form of a world-wide attack launched by Stalin’s pen-prostitutes (with Radek at the head) against the historian M.N. Pokrovsky.

This late and unlamented scholar was one of the recognized figureheads of the official school of Stalinist historians. In the textbooks he was invariably referred to as the “Great Historian”, which translated into English means that his particular version of history was assumed by the bureaucracy to be entirely in its own interests. But that was yesterday. Today, Pravda has irrevocably declared that:

“The harmful traditions of the school of M.N. Pokrovsky have not been liquidated in the sphere of the History of the U.S.S.R.” (Jan. 27)

In other words, we have here an official decree to “liquidate” immediately Pokrovsky (already a successful corpse) ... and “his school”. But as we have already learned from Pravda itself, this is not any historian living or dead but a condition of things that surpasses mere liquidation of individuals. The name of Pokrovsky is merely a symbol to denote that the evil extends even to the Hereafter. In point of fact, the Stalinist bureaucracy is now in process of liquidating its own falsification of history served up in its own school books.

The Official Decree

The decree issued by the C.E.C. of the C.P.S.U. and the Council of People’s Commissars makes no reference to Pokrovsky or any school but bluntly states the following:

“A Commission composed of comrades Zhdanov (Chairman), Radek, Svanidze, Gorin, Lukin, Yakovlev, Bystrianski, Zatonski, Falsulla Khodjaiev, Bauman, Bubnov and Bukharin is appointed to examine and improve and wherever necessary revise the already written textbooks on history.

“The Commission is empowered to organize groups to examine specific textbooks, and also to announce prize competitions to replace those textbooks which it will find necessary to revise fundamentally. First and foremost are to be examined the textbooks on the elementary course in the History of the U.S.S.R, and Modern History. (Our emphasis)


(Signed) J. Stalin
V. Molotov

We reprint this decree in full because it best characterizes the real appraisal of the condition of the Stalinist Science of History. Stalin (in the name of the C.P.S.U. and the Soviet Union!) has repudiated lock, stock and barrel his own “science.” To our knowledge, this is the first public admission of failure on such a wholesale scale by the Infallible and Beloved Scientist.

But the causes for this remarkable admission, for this sudden evaluation of historical values are very plain and rather simple. Indeed, they can be summed up in a single word: Trotskyism!

Yes, “Trotskyism”, so often liquidated, exterminated and buried by Stalin and his henchmen is now amass movement in the Soviet Union. During the recent “technical check-up”, thousands of Trotskyists were “expelled” from the party. No sooner was this cleansing concluded than it was immediately necessary to institute another purge (this time, a mere exchange of “new party cards for the old and tattered ones”). A persistent drive on a vast scale is now going on to prepare and execute this new purge. We shall content ourselves here by quoting an eloquent paragraph from an article by V. Shuhrikov, secretary of the Quibishev District:

“We must not forget revolutionary vigilance for a single moment. We have no right whatever to think all the alien and hostile class elements have already been exposed and driven out of the party. We have no right to allow our class vigilance to flag for a single moment. We have learned a great deal during the check-up of party credentials. But we must not forget that the class enemy, too, has learned something. For, we exposed not a few double-dealers, Zinovievists, Trotskyists, and all sorts of other anti-Soviet elements whose party papers were in perfect order. As is well known, a section of the Trotskyists, Zinovievists had a close conspirative organization, carrying on their undermining activities under the mask of ‘honest’ and ‘devoted’ party members.” (Pravda, Feb. 3, 1936. Our emphasis)

These words hardly require any comment. Every syllable sounds the alarm. The entire Soviet press is now urging full blast all its local G.P.U. agents to be on guard, not to relax their vigilance for an instant,and not fail “this time” to do a thorough and final job of “unmasking and expelling” the Trotskyists.

Contraband in Official Textbooks

The bureaucracy is in a frenzy over the “great deal” that it has learned during the last check-up,and the “great deal” it obviously expects to learn from its present purge (February 1 to May 1) – evidently a great deal more than it had ever surmised. In their fury, the Stalinist usurpers are seeking to plug any possible channel through which revolutionary ideas might seep into the consciousness of the student youth and the new generations of workers.

Today, the Stalinists think that they have uncovered one of the important leaks through which “Trotskyism” finds its way to the masses. No more, no less. The falsifiers of history are certain that their own textbooks are not false enough. The trouble, you see, lies with the way history is being taught in the schools!

“Our historical science” is in a terrible condition, says Pravda. Why? Listen:

“... In the sphere of Russian history, there has not yet (!) been accomplished the work of scrapping non-Bolshevik traditions which ... comrade Stalin (posed) in his work Some Questions Relating to the History of Bolshevism, which, as is well known, posed in its full scope before our historians the question of liquidating semi-Menshevist, semi-Centrist ideas, and Trotskyist contraband in our historical literature.”

Radek Whines

A task set by Stalin in January 1932 remains “unfulfilled” by January 1936. What was Stalin doing all this time? He was very busy. Small wonder, that Radek was instructed to write a tremendous article in the self-same issue of Pravda (Jan. 27). Our Mademoiselle Fifi in journalism, too, whines:

“Our historians have not yet assimilated the great historical legacy of Marx, Engels and Lenin; thisi s very clearly proved by the very fact of the supremacy of the school of Pokrovsky in the sphere of Russian history, by the fact of the insurmountable influence of Luxemburgism and Trotskyism, in the treatment of modern history as a whole, at a time when the stormy course of history has placed the historians face to face with a whole series of questions of paramount importance.” (Our emphasis)

Their own falsified history looms as a source of danger in the storms they see ahead. The “enemy” lurks in most unexpected places. Even the Captain himself is no great comfort against the tempest. He adds his own thunderbolts to the already overcast skies, and only provides the enemy with ammunition.

A “Faction of Communism’’

He is thundering today as he did in August 8, 1934 against the fact that the textbooks do not properly treat: “the struggle; of tendencies in the ruling Communist Party in the U.S.S.R., and the struggle against Trotskyism as a manifestation of petty bourgeois counter-revolution.” (Decree signed by Stalin, Zhdanov, and Kirov, August 8, 1934). But in January 1932 he also thundered against the wrong line of his historians: “There are some Bolsheviki who are of the opinion that Trotskyism is a faction of Communism, and though it is erroneous and commits foolish and even anti-Soviet acts still it is a faction of Communism”; and he called upon all historian to struggle against Trotsyism as the “advanced troop of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie” (On Some Questions Relating to the History of Bolshevism, see The Communist, p. 75, Jan. 1932). Yet Stalin himself insisted that Trotskyism was (once upon a time) a “faction of Communism”. Back in the same year, 1932, after Stalin had already “posed in its full scope before the historians the question of liquidating ... Trotskyist contraband in our historical literature,” one of his zealous historians immediately tried to oblige him by broadcasting the historical fact that Trotskyism never had anything to do with Communism, being an unadulterated and permanent species of counter-revolution. What did Stalin do? Absorbed as he was constructing socialism in the Soviet Union, and helping Hitler come into power in Germany, he nevertheless took time off to reply to this historian, one Olekhnovich. Chiding him, he wrote:

Stalin’s Letter

Dear Comrade Olekhnovich,

Your letter received. Excuse the delay as I am overloaded with work.

I find myself utterly unable to agree with you, comrade Olekhnovich. And here is the reason why:

It is not true that Trotskyism was never a faction of Communism ... IT WOULD BE LUDICROUS TO DENY FACTS THAT ARE KNOWN TO EVERYBODY, as a faction in the C.P.S.U., recorded in the resolutions of conventions and congresses of the C.P.S.U. ... (Our emphasis)

Ergo: It is impermissible to assert that Trotskyism (Trotskyites) WERE ALWAYS a faction of Menshevism, for such a supposition must logically lead to the notion that during the period from 1917 to 1927 our party war the party of a BLOC between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and not a MONOLITHIC Bolshevik party, which is utterly incorrect and incompatible with the foundations of Bolshevism ... (Emphasis in the original)

What other way out remains? Only one, namely: let us agree upon the fact that during a ‘certain historical segment of time’ Trotskyism represented a faction of Communism – a faction vacillating between Bolshevism and Menshevism.

(Dated) Jan. 15, 1932

(Signed) J. Stalin

Today, any historian, any time,anywhere in the U.S.S.R. who would dare to repeat this species of Stalin’s permanent vacillation would find himself rotting in jail for life.

Only four years ago (see, Bolshevik, No. 16, Aug. 30, 1932, pages 46–48) the Jovial Captain himself was of the opinion that it is absurd to deny “fact known to everybody,”and was obviously convinced that the task of historical science consisted in fitting well-known (and unfortunately recorded) facts into a tissue of “interpretation,” and falsifications. That, in his eyes, was the great merit of the “Pokrovsky school in history”. Under the guise of erudition, facts, dates and documents, they falsified history to meet the needs of their master.

But our Captain, as usual, proved infallibly wrong. Today, he is a danger to himself. Today, his old falsification of history is no longer adequate – it is only 99.9 percent falsified: here and there a fact floats to the surface, and muddle up the clear waters. A new school of historians is therefore necessary. Men unaccustomed to dealing with facts are needed. Men more cunning than the schemer in the fairy-tale who tried to steal Aladdin’s magic lamp.

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