January 20, 2018

Stalin 'planned to send a million troops to stop Hitler if Britain and France agreed pact' By Nick Holdsworth in Moscow 18 Oct 2008

Stalin was 'prepared to move more than a million Soviet troops to the German border to deter Hitler's aggression just before the Second World War'

By Nick Holdsworth in Moscow
18 Oct 2008

Papers which were kept secret for almost 70 years show that the Soviet Union proposed sending a powerful military force in an effort to entice Britain and France into an anti-Nazi alliance.
Such an agreement could have changed the course of 20th century history, preventing Hitler's pact with Stalin which gave him free rein to go to war with Germany's other neighbours.
The offer of a military force to help contain Hitler was made by a senior Soviet military delegation at a Kremlin meeting with senior British and French officers, two weeks before war broke out in 1939.
The new documents, copies of which have been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, show the vast numbers of infantry, artillery and airborne forces which Stalin's generals said could be dispatched, if Polish objections to the Red Army crossing its territory could first be overcome.
But the British and French side - briefed by their governments to talk, but not authorised to commit to binding deals - did not respond to the Soviet offer, made on August 15, 1939. Instead, Stalin turned to Germany, signing the notorious non-aggression treaty with Hitler barely a week later.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, named after the foreign secretaries of the two countries, came on August 23 - just a week before Nazi Germany attacked Poland, thereby sparking the outbreak of the war. But it would never have happened if Stalin's offer of a western alliance had been accepted, according to retired Russian foreign intelligence service Major General Lev Sotskov, who sorted the 700 pages of declassified documents.
"This was the final chance to slay the wolf, even after [British Conservative prime minister Neville] Chamberlain and the French had given up Czechoslovakia to German aggression the previous year in the Munich Agreement," said Gen Sotskov, 75.
The Soviet offer - made by war minister Marshall Klementi Voroshilov and Red Army chief of general staff Boris Shaposhnikov - would have put up to 120 infantry divisions (each with some 19,000 troops), 16 cavalry divisions, 5,000 heavy artillery pieces, 9,500 tanks and up to 5,500 fighter aircraft and bombers on Germany's borders in the event of war in the west, declassified minutes of the meeting show.
But Admiral Sir Reginald Drax, who lead the British delegation, told his Soviet counterparts that he authorised only to talk, not to make deals.
"Had the British, French and their European ally Poland, taken this offer seriously then together we could have put some 300 or more divisions into the field on two fronts against Germany - double the number Hitler had at the time," said Gen Sotskov, who joined the Soviet intelligence service in 1956. "This was a chance to save the world or at least stop the wolf in its tracks."
When asked what forces Britain itself could deploy in the west against possible Nazi aggression, Admiral Drax said there were just 16 combat ready divisions, leaving the Soviets bewildered by Britain's lack of preparation for the looming conflict.
The Soviet attempt to secure an anti-Nazi alliance involving the British and the French is well known. But the extent to which Moscow was prepared to go has never before been revealed.
Simon Sebag Montefiore, best selling author of Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court of The Red Tsar, said it was apparent there were details in the declassified documents that were not known to western historians.
"The detail of Stalin's offer underlines what is known; that the British and French may have lost a colossal opportunity in 1939 to prevent the German aggression which unleashed the Second World War. It shows that Stalin may have been more serious than we realised in offering this alliance."
Professor Donald Cameron Watt, author of How War Came - widely seen as the definitive account of the last 12 months before war began - said the details were new, but said he was sceptical about the claim that they were spelled out during the meetings.
"There was no mention of this in any of the three contemporaneous diaries, two British and one French - including that of Drax," he said. "I don't myself believe the Russians were serious."
The declassified archives - which cover the period from early 1938 until the outbreak of war in September 1939 - reveal that the Kremlin had known of the unprecedented pressure Britain and France put on Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler by surrendering the ethnic German Sudetenland region in 1938.
"At every stage of the appeasement process, from the earliest top secret meetings between the British and French, we understood exactly and in detail what was going on," Gen Sotskov said.
"It was clear that appeasement would not stop with Czechoslovakia's surrender of the Sudetenland and that neither the British nor the French would lift a finger when Hitler dismembered the rest of the country."
Stalin's sources, Gen Sotskov says, were Soviet foreign intelligence agents in Europe, but not London. "The documents do not reveal precisely who the agents were, but they were probably in Paris or Rome."
Shortly before the notorious Munich Agreement of 1938 - in which Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, effectively gave Hitler the go-ahead to annexe the Sudetenland - Czechoslovakia's President Eduard Benes was told in no uncertain terms not to invoke his country's military treaty with the Soviet Union in the face of further German aggression.
"Chamberlain knew that Czechoslovakia had been given up for lost the day he returned from Munich in September 1938 waving a piece of paper with Hitler's signature on it," Gen Sotksov said.
The top secret discussions between the Anglo-French military delegation and the Soviets in August 1939 - five months after the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia - suggest both desperation and impotence of the western powers in the face of Nazi aggression.
Poland, whose territory the vast Russian army would have had to cross to confront Germany, was firmly against such an alliance. Britain was doubtful about the efficacy of any Soviet forces because only the previous year, Stalin had purged thousands of top Red Army commanders.
The documents will be used by Russian historians to help explain and justify Stalin's controversial pact with Hitler, which remains infamous as an example of diplomatic expediency.
"It was clear that the Soviet Union stood alone and had to turn to Germany and sign a non-aggression pact to gain some time to prepare ourselves for the conflict that was clearly coming," said Gen Sotskov.
A desperate attempt by the French on August 21 to revive the talks was rebuffed, as secret Soviet-Nazi talks were already well advanced.

It was only two years later, following Hitler's Blitzkreig attack on Russia in June 1941, that the alliance with the West which Stalin had sought finally came about - by which time France, Poland and much of the rest of Europe were already under German occupation.

January 19, 2018

100 YEARS KKE – A century of struggles and sacrifices January 19, 2018 ICP

Friday, January 19, 2018

The text below is a translated version of the first chapter of the Declaration of the CC of the Communist Party of Greece for the Party's 100th anniversary. The Declaration was published and circulated with the weekend edition of "Rizospastis" on 13-14th January 2018.

This year the KKE completes a century of struggles and sacrifices, remaining the only actually new Party of the Greek society, because it is the only one that struggles for the abolition of the exploitation of man by man. It was founded in a period when the flame of the October Socialist Revolution in 1917 gave a boost to the revolutionary labor movement internationally as well as in Greece.

With the foundation of the KKE, the working class acquired for the first time her own party in our country. From the first day of its foundation, the KKE firmly struggles for the only progressive future for humanity, so that the working class and the popular strata will be saved from the torments of exploitation, oppression, poverty, unemployment, state violence and repression, wars.

It fights for the abolition of any mode of exploitation and repression, for a new organisation of society, with social ownership in the means of production, in the land, through the scientific central planning of economy, with the active participation of the workers in the organisation and direction of social production.

It fights for socialism-communism, the only society which can ensure job for everyone, according to each one's specialization, with actual free time and enjoying high quality, free of charge social services of Health and Education, Sports, cultural activity, housing, vacation and high living standards in general, responsible participation to the organs of management and control in the whole climax of the workers' state.

The KKE hold high the flag of socialism-communism, even when the counterrevolutionary overthrow in the Soviet Union and the other countries of socialist construction was at her peak. The KKE had collectively conquered the needed class criterion and finally clashed with anticommunism, the domestic and internationalism opportunism which was projecting “perestroika”, the vehicle of counterrevolution, as progress and socialist renewal.

The KKE came into collision with the bourgeois and opportunist apologists of the capitalist system who were supporting that the “end of history”, the end of class struggle, had come. It highlighted that nobody can stop the course of revolutionary class struggle in historical evolution towards socialism-communism.

It highlighted that socialism, the immature level of communism remains necessary, realistic, hopeful. It illuminated that socialism's necessity doesn't depend on each time's correlation of class struggle in a country or internationally, a factor which is undoubtedly crucial about when a socialist revolution can be erupted, under what conditions it can win in a country or group of countries.

KKE projected that the working class, which creates the social product, is the only social force that can organise economy and society, having as a motive the satisfaction of the more and more increasing social needs. It is the class which can correctly estimate and ensure the interests of the popular strata of the city and rural areas.

The KKE, strongly believing in the right and the capability of the working class to know and change the world, fights from the very first time of its foundation so that it (working class) will be prepared through the daily class struggles as a leading force of socialist construction. It asserts and fights for the development of the scientific knowledge of the workers, for their physical and intellectual abilities, for their cultural development and cultivation of their esthetic criterion. It underlines and contributes so that the working class can utilize and use the book, new technologies, the internet.

The KKE highlighted and highlights the decay of capitalism, the relative stagnation and crisis in relation to the progress that can be made if capitalist ownership and the motive of profit are abolished.

Above all, with its positions and activity, the KKE illuminated that the only way that leads to social liberation is the way of socialist revolution, of the planned and organised revolt and attack of the working class and her social allies for the overthrow of the capitalist class' power.

The KKE is fighting on a daily basis for the development of the objective factor (labor movement, alliance with popular strata of the middle class), so that it will be ready, in circumstances of capitalist power's shaking, to correspond to its duty as a driving force of the victorious socialist revolution. It gives the fight daily in order to justify its pioneering role as a visionary, but also as an organiser of the struggle for the ultimate revolutionary overthrow of capitalist barbarity, for the construction of socialism-communism.

Translation: In Defense of Communism.

* The Declaration of the Central Committee for the 100 years of the KKE will be presented during a political and cultural event at the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus, on Monday 23 January 2018, at 7.00 pm. 

January 17, 2018

Sidney Finkelstein: an appreciation of the great Marxist cultural critic Written by Daniel Rosenberg

Sidney Finkelstein: an appreciation of the great Marxist cultural critic

by Daniel Rosenberg

Sidney Finkelstein: an appreciation of the great Marxist cultural critic
Dan Rosenberg offers an appreciation of Sidney Finkelstein, who died on 14 January 1974.
Out Jumped Sidney
The Marxist cultural critic Sidney Finkelstein lived in a suitcase in my mother’s closet. My parents never used the suitcase in question for travel. When I was around 13, in 1966, I asked my father what the deal was with this suitcase. He put it on the big bed and opened it up, and out jumped several hundred pamphlets, booklets, and magazines, with materials by Finkelstein among them. They were all publications of the Communist Party USA, to which my parents, along with Finkelstein, belonged. Having worn red diapers all my life I was not completely taken by surprise, but my dad went on to explain that during the McCarthy period of the 1950s, (coinciding with my infancy) we had gone underground.
My parents lived a secret existence on the recommendation of the Party in the face of potential fascism. And my mother and father had cleaned out many of their books, while locking up the remainder in the green suitcase, which remained in hiding for more than ten years.
Encounters with Jazz
Upon Sidney’s release from the suitcase, I was able to read his articles on the arts and proceeded to acquire at last his fundamental book on jazz: Jazz: A People’s Music. Sidney came out of the suitcase in the form of articles written for a magazine once called Masses & Mainstream and then Mainstream. My eyes rested first on one with an orange cover. Finkelstein had the headlining article: “Jazz: National Expression or International Folk Music.” It appeared in 1960. That was the year I had begun studying the drums under the percussionist Roger “Montego Joe” Sanders in Brooklyn, from whom I learned a bit about improvising. [I learned a little later that he worked with Nina Simone, and much later that he recorded with Max Roach].
After the Beatles appeared in the U.S. in 1964, I went hunting across the radio dial in search of as much of their music as possible. When I could not find it on the AM stations, I turned in frustration to the ones on FM. This became an adventure culminating in two jazz stations at the far end, reception fading in and out although they were right there in New York City where I lived: WRVR and WLIB-FM. On the latter, I encountered the pianist Billy Taylor one afternoon as I struggled with my maths homework. He was the station’s most illustrious disc jockey, and he explained and taught between the records. In time, I found “Just Jazz with Ed Beach” on WRVR, featuring two and four-hour programmes on particular musicians, with Beach’s puns in the interludes. The names then appeared to me for the first time: Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Mobley. I never abandoned the Beatles, but more often I lived on the edge of the FM dial. In the same year I read Sidney’s article on jazz in Mainstream, my dad took me to see Duke Ellington at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Around and about the Left movement in New York City, I certainly had heard of Sidney Finkelstein. My piano teacher knew him well, and spoke of him often when I mentioned my growing interest in jazz. Her appraisal in 1966 was a mixture of admiration and pity. He could have done so much, could have gone so far with his knowledge in a more tolerant society. She thought of him as simply brilliant, but spoke rather snidely of the fact that he could not play an instrument. She described to me his hands and fingers: fat, she said. Ungainly. Clumsy, cumbersome, too thick for the delicacy of piano fingering. She went on about her friend Sidney: he lacked style, and was a bit crude. I did not think much about this. I did not know him yet. Besides, she wasn’t such a great teacher.
Finkelstein’s Work
Meantime, I slowly made my way through the bushel of Finkelstein articles now free of underground existence. In a piece “How Art Began” (1954), Finkelstein discussed how early societies imaged their existences through artistic expression: pottery, increasingly embellished, for storage of food, water, and seeds; cave paintings, in depiction of the rituals of the hunt; burial tombs with carvings, portraits, and sculpture, culminating in pyramids; dances reflecting the rhythms of work, the gods, birth and death. Nothing arises from people more naturally than art, wrote Finkelstein. But in exploitive societies, the “ruling class sees only itself as human,” impacting the acceptable forms and depictions. Nevertheless, working and lower class populations find “ways and means to express in art the humanity of the ruled, the ‘nobodies.’”
He wrote on architecture, film, literature, painting, and poetry, and more than once on Shakespeare. I had difficulty understanding everything. Mainstream and Masses & Mainstream possessed an impressive board of editors, to which Sidney belonged from the outset in 1948. Screenwriters like John Howard Lawson, writers like Lloyd Brown, Howard Fast, Phillip Bonosky, Jesus Colon, Barbara Giles, and Shirley Graham, artists like Hugo Gellert, scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, Herbert Aptheker, and Annette Rubenstein. Paul Robeson’s name was always on the masthead.
Most were in or close to the Communist Party. Party members on the magazine belonged to the same Party club or branch of people working in the field of culture. Blacklisted journal full-timers were not among those who went underground but instead worked as open Communists, including Sidney. Masses & Mainstream started as a fairly appealing and large-format left-wing journal (taking off from the widely circulated but defunct New Masses), but the Cold War and anti-Communist persecutions beat it down into the narrower Mainstream.
My parents rebuilt their book collection even before they took the magazines out of the suitcase, but they owned none of Sidney’s books. Later I acquired Realism in Art, How Music Expresses Ideas, Art and Society, Existentialism and Alienation in American Literature, Sense & Nonsense of McLuhan, and Composer and Nation. I showed a deft hand in obtaining books, sometimes without the knowledge of their owners. But in my mid-teens, Jazz: A People’s Music was the one I wanted. My aunt had a substantial collection of old jazz records, given by her father: a good deal of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and Teddy Wilson. She had a four-album set of Louis Armstrong, also Duke Ellington’s Masterpieces by Ellington. Of these, she made a present to me in 1970. And when I was about to leave her house with the record-laden shopping bags, she gave me Jazz: A People’s Music. It appears that she was not the only one who made a present of it.
 DR book front
Back home, I studied it like the Bible. To this day, I am surprised that so few jazz historians and observers have mentioned his book. Then again, it was written in Cold War times. The well-known jazz critic Martin Williams certainly knew of Finkelstein, but told me in 1985 that he found it laughable for Marxists to write about jazz. His guffaw was instructive. Of those who commented favorably or drew upon the book, most were on or close to the Left: Francis Newton (the British historian E.J. Hobsbawm), Frank Kofsky, Amiri Baraka, and Ross Russell stood out. In his biography of Charlie Parker, Russell referred to Sidney as “a recluse,” “tough and hardboiled,” and “proletarian.”
I was soon thrilled to learn that Finkelstein would be coming to our house to lead a discussion on culture, sponsored by my parents’ Party club. I determined to obtain his autograph on the sacred day, which was a Friday in December 1970. The crowd was already sitting in our living and dining rooms when he arrived. I had been clutching the holy book all night, and I came running when he rang the bell. He entered the house and I was rendered speechless with fright. I quickly gave Jazz: A People’s Music to my brother Jesse and whispered that he should get Sidney to sign it for me. Sidney happily complied but autographed it “To Jesse with regards,” an everlasting humiliation whose ink is sadly still visible.
Jazz: A People’s Music
Finkelstein published his book on jazz in 1948. He dedicated it to the birth of modern Israel, which took place that year. There had as yet been no wars between Israel and the Arab states. Finkelstein hoped that Jews and Arabs might live together peacefully. Finkelstein’s subtitle, A People’s Music, reflected his belief that African-Americans were its initiators and developers. The belittling, ignoring, ridiculing, stereotyping, and commercializing of jazz, in his view, belonged to the overall oppression of African-Americans. Supporting, appreciating, teaching, listening, and exploring the theories and accomplishments of jazz musicians were on the other hand part and parcel of fighting for equality. Leftwing artist Jules Halfant supplied illustrations for Finkelstein’s book. As Art Director of Vanguard Records during Finkelstein’s later years, Halfant hired Sidney to write liner notes. Sidney often gave Joan Baez and other Vanguard LPs to his friends. When I knew Halfant, he was on the board of a progressive Jewish children’s school in Brooklyn, which one of my brothers attended.
At the time Jazz: A People’s Music was published Finkelstein held to the Communist Party’s view that the African-American people in the United States were an oppressed nation. U.S. Communists particularly applied the thesis to the contiguous areas of black majority or near majority in a region of Southern states, strongholds of slavery a century before. Their espousal of “self-determination” shared certain characteristics with anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa.
Finkelstein’s first chapter is one of the clearest outlines of the emergence of a field of music. He asserts, “This genuine creation within jazz is an imposing production, the most important and lasting body of music yet produced in the United States.” Thanks to the best in jazz (for he saw the influences of commercialism and branding), “our age will be respected in the future.” But jazz stemmed from many influences, thus assimilating old elements into a “wholly new music.” Since its main innovators came from “the most exploited people among us,” Finkelstein was not surprised that by its white evaluators “it is called…‘barbaric.’” Significant achievement lay in their incorporation of African musical styles, “European hymn tunes, French folk songs, Spanish songs and dances, mountain songs and dances which were transplanted growths from Europe.”
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The Black Belt, 1936
It was above all “a fresh and new musical creation” of the “Negro people.” And, wrote Finkelstein in 1948, they constituted “a group within America, a nation within a nation.” Bringing together the Marxist criteria, he observed that African-Americans, “bound together by their common economic life and struggle…have built up a history, tradition, and cultural life of their own, along with a growing sense of their own nationhood.” U.S. Communists would eventually abrogate the nationhood theory in the face of crucial socio-economic developments. But they nonetheless maintained the conviction that the fight for black equality was indeed a “national question” central to the rights of all working people.
Ellington’s Role
Finkelstein explained that jazz is both simple and intricate, containing group, individual, social and reciprocal components. He objected strenuously to biased assertions of the “subconscious,” natural,” and indeed “primitive” attributes of jazz improvising. On the contrary, “jazz is a flow of emotion in music guided by the most conscious skill, taste, artistry, and intelligence.” The notion that “musicians who can’t read notes” create jazz tends to cheapen the integrity of improvisation. His extended treatment of the magnificent Duke Ellington is a comprehensive argument for the intelligence at the core of jazz. More than anyone else, submits Finkelstein, Ellington’s “handling of instrumental sound, …power of melody, …rightness of harmony and interweaving of melodic lines…made many products of the conservatories seem, by comparison, mechanical and bloodless.” Ellington’s “unity and variety” often appeared through three movements of a composition: “an opening theme, which is actually a group of two or three melodies, and is antiphonal from the very first bars.” This “A” section of a piece might be played twice. The “B” which followed was “frequently the section where the blues enter, often treated as a series of solos or duets.” The closing reiteration of “A” always contained “a new harmonic twist, a cadence of instrumental reply, rounding out the performance like the classical ‘coda.’”
Finkelstein made many of the same points on jazz complexity in his other writings on music. The same year that Jazz: A People’s Music came out he published “What About Bebop” in the September Masses & Mainstream. Here he discussed the latest genre in greater detail than in the book. He defended the startling new sound, whose beacon was Charlie Parker, as in full keeping with the “constant experiment and change” characteristic of the “main line of jazz.” He showed its constituent past, the blues and the music of Kansas City and the Southwest epitomized by Count Basie and Lester Young. He pointed out that a certain “bitterness” came through this particularly “witty” music marked by “unresolved dissonances, chromatic notes, common chords with raised or lowered notes.” It demanded “musical tight-rope walking” and “the most knowing musicianship.” Finkelstein reminded his readers that bebop again revealed “the pre-eminence of the Negro musician in every new development of jazz.”
His bebop article welcomed the other heralds of the new style: trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, drummers Max Roach and Art Blakey, saxophonists Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, and Lucky Thompson, pianists Thelonious Monk and Tadd Dameron, trombonist J.J. Johnson. In another venue, Finkelstein warned: “Always in jazz, each innovation that found a public was immediately vulgarized, commercialized, and imitated by white musicians who made far more money than the genuine black originators.” Elsewhere he added that black jazz musicians faced pressures not to remain creative: “to clown, to play a role dictated by managers, agents, and sensation-mongers.” Moreover “powerful commercial music houses” would rather the artist “plug” or “put over” the “songs they want to make into hits.” And in “Jazz: National Expression or International Folk Music” (mentioned above), he took issue with his fellow Communist E.J. Hobsbawm for failing to appreciate the crucial role of African-Americans in shaping jazz, to which he devoted the entire final chapter of his history of classical music, Composer and Nation.
A Master Class with Finkelstein
On the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend 1971, about a month before my 18th birthday, I went over to Sidney Finkelstein’s house. He had just moved to our neighborhood. I brought Jazz: A People’s Music with me. While at college that Fall I had made careful notes about music I wished to explore and discuss with him. Although my earliest jazz discoveries included the musicians most eminent when I was a teenager, particularly John Coltrane, my focus on this day was the tenor saxophonist Young and the alto saxophonist Parker. I especially wanted to listen to Young’s recordings with Count Basie from the 1930s.
True, I had picked up a Basie album in one of the record stores in the town of State College, Pennsylvania, but it dated from the 1940s band that had Lucky Thompson on tenor. I would come to respect Thompson as a superior musician and composer, but at the time I was set on deepening my understanding of Young, and his disciple Parker. Finkelstein remarked that Count Basie “was strong in the one point where [Duke] Ellington had been comparatively weak. Ellington had never made much of the solo tenor sax…” This point may have been truer when Sidney’s Jazz was published (though at the same time he recognized the importance of tenorist Ben Webster to Ellington), but Ellington would make much greater use of tenor soloists in later years, especially Paul Gonsalves. In any case, I wanted to hear the Basie sound with Young, which Sidney described so evocatively: the opening spare piano on so many pieces, the powerful bass and rhythm guitar, the drummer Jo Jones’ mastery of the high-hat, and the powerful riffs behind and in between the soloists.
DR lester young
Lester Young
Sidney opened up the door and let me in. It was a sprawling house. A burly fellow, he drew me into his living room, which contained built-in bookcases on every wall. Perhaps he had more upstairs. I was envious, books were packed like commuters struggling to breathe on the subway, floor to ceiling. My one-time neighbor, the great Puerto Rican Communist writer Jesús Colón, who had been an editor with Sidney of Masses & Mainstream, had had a similar set-up. But Jesús had lived in an apartment, towering his books in the hallways.
Sidney shelved his records similarly, in the dining room: all the walls were covered, even above the windows. He filed them by type: classical, folk, jazz, blues. Within each, he classified them by period and genre. At the end of each shelf, he attached a sign to guide his searches. The majority of his records were 78 RPMs, no surprise considering that this format had characterized music releases for most of his life. We had some 78s at home as well. From Sidney’s records, the root of the “album” concept was pretty obvious: a collection of songs, like a collection of photos. Here were a number of Teddy Wilson’s records with Billie Holiday and Lester Young, in a hardcover binder containing ten 78s, with two songs apiece. Over there were Benny Goodman sets, with Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, and Wilson. Like books, the spines of the binders held the titles.
But thousands of LPs took up one side of the dining room. I do not know how Sidney could get the ones from the upper reaches. I did not notice a ladder enabling him to do so, or to pluck a book from the thin atmosphere by the ceiling. I’m sure he had a way. I had told Sidney over the phone of my concentration on Young and Parker. In the most extreme Brooklyn accent I had ever heard, he confirmed the goal of our session. While he went over to the stacks of 78s, I browsed his long-playing records. Sidney knew where the desired 78s were, so I did not have much time. He had one shelf with the modern jazz names with which I had become initiated into jazz. I remember in living color: Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus, Charles Mingus’ Pithecanthropus Erectus, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, an elite representation for sure.
Young and Parker
Sidney came back to the record player with a stack of albums of 78s. We began with “Lester Leaps In,” went then to “Dickie’s Dream” and “One O’ Clock Jump” (on which Young played the second tenor solo).....
.....and on to “Lester Leaps Again,” all with Basie. This was the first time I heard what Finkelstein had described as Lester Young’s “cloudier” tone on the tenor (contrasting nicely with the growl of his bandmate Herschel Evans), airy, lagging the beat, over and above the just plain cool rhythm section. I could not imagine a more effective platform for improvisation than Basie. “Setting the tone” was putting it mildly, cool, laid-back, but jumping. Finkelstein would start and stop the records to point things out to me, to suggest other songs to hear, to show contrast and dynamics. I recall that he was easy to talk to, unpretentious. Some of the other intellectuals in Communist circles were on the contrary quite stuck up.
My head was full. He asked if I wanted some tea. To me, tea was only something I drank when I was sick. I would have it on a tray with a thousand pounds of sugar, and drink it with a spoon. I said sure, and he disappeared into the kitchen. I listened to more music, and glanced again at the wall with LPs. Soon he returned, with tea, sugar, and a spoon. Though quite healthy, I was able to drink the stuff as accustomed. I asked if we might turn our attention to Charlie Parker. He walked over to the appropriately marked section of 78s and took down a few albums. In his book, he had emphasized “Slam Slam Blues,” “Congo Blues,” “Get Happy,” “Hallelujah,” “Ornithology,” “Buzzy,” and “Parker’s sick, nerve-wracked ‘Lover Man,’ made when he was at the point of collapse.” (Parker suffered a nervous breakdown in 1946). These were the pieces I wanted to hear.
DR charles parker
Charlie Parker
To be sure, I was no perfect stranger to Parker. I had an LP of his called “Now’s the Time,” from the early 1950s. One of the 78s given me by my aunt was “Sweet Georgia Brown” from a 1946 concert. But I felt a need to seriously build up my appreciation of musicians before Coltrane, and to see how developments evolved. Sidney meanwhile asked if I wanted a ham and cheese sandwich. A fussy eater, I was no fan of ham, but said yes. I figured Sidney did not have much else in the refrigerator. It is possible that Ross Russell’s reference to Sidney, quoted above, as a “recluse” was accurate. Sidney put on the first 78, with “Hallelujah” on one side, with phenomenal solos by Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The riff at the end was explosive. It was interesting to me that the pianist and tenor sax player were the relatively more “traditional” Teddy Wilson and Flip Phillips, respectively.
Finkelstein showed me that while jazz styles were distinct, they borrowed from and coexisted with older ones. We chomped and listened. He turned the record over. Parker continued. We heard “Congo Blues” (with another powerful closing riff and a sweeping solo by Wilson) and “Get Happy.” Eventually, during “Ornithology,”.....
....Sidney pointed out that it was based on another song called “How High the Moon,” an example of which he promptly withdrew from one of the shelves.
After this we listened to Parker’s “Buzzy.” We talked only between songs and between musicians. My tea got cold. I had been there three and a half hours. We had begun to tire. Wrapping up the lesson, I asked Sidney if I might borrow several LP albums to tape-record. I didn’t want to appear too greedy, so I narrowed my request to Coleman Hawkins’ The Hawk Flies High, a collection of Charlie Parker’s performances on the Dial record label (highlighted by “Cool Blues”), Charles Mingus’ Pithecanthropus Erectus, and Ben Webster’s Soulville. My stereo equipment at home was barely primitive. I would place a tape-recorder in front of the speakers of my record player. The resultant cassettes included my brothers laughing, my parents calling me down for dinner, arguments, and slamming doors. But I would have the music in any case.
However, this was only the first of our jazz conversations. About a month later, Sidney came over to my house for a meeting of the local Communist Party club, of which my parents were leaders. I brought down the albums I’d borrowed, and also had him listen to John Coltrane’s piece “Olé,” which was based on the melody of an anti-fascist song of the Spanish Civil War, “El Quinto Regimiento.” Finkelstein loved the extended performance, which featured Coltrane on soprano saxophone, Eric Dolphy on flute, and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, all pacesetters.
And thereafter, whenever I saw Sidney, whether at a neighborhood political activity, a meeting, a demonstration, or a celebration, we talked about jazz.
I remember when Sidney passed away. I heard about it from my mother. I had actually seen him the summer before, at a petition drive on one of the main thoroughfares. He looked alright, but didn’t stay. But in early 1974, my mother told me that he wasn’t answering his phone or his doorbell. No one knew what had happened. The sense of concern extended to his lifelong friends Phillip Bonosky and Herbert Aptheker. Those closest to him did not know if he had a family. There was no one else to call. Finally, some of the club members were able to get into his house. He lay sprawled in a corner against a wall, beneath a column of books. He had had a stroke.
In Sum
He died soon after, at 64. My teenage mind had played tricks on me back when we’d gotten together two years earlier: I’d thought he was ancient. Young folks are susceptible to vague calculations of advanced age. I may have known him, but I clearly did not know much about him. A New York Times obituary was bare bones. However, his personal papers at the University of Massachusetts show the scope of his work and career. He had two master’s degrees, including one earned when in his 40s. The notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities obliged him to testify in 1957 upon the subject of his Party membership (banned under the Smith Act). His reviews of culture had begun at several well-established papers prior to the Cold War. He had worked for the U.S. Post Office, before serving in the military during World War II. His second master’s thesis was on Picasso. A background note supplied by the University of Massachusetts library observes that he was the Communist Party’s “leading musical and cultural theoretician.” It calls Jazz: A People’s Music his “most famous” book.
I wonder how famous Finkelstein was and is. His books exerted a pull beyond the Left, but certainly did not draw the attention they merited when he was alive. Jazz: A People’s Music is now 70 years old. It remains in a second printing with a marvelous preface by Professor Geoffrey Jacques of the University of California at Santa Barbara, who traces many of the jazz developments after 1948 and places Finkelstein in historical context. Hundreds of works on jazz, many quite perceptive, have filled the genre’s shelves in the past seven decades. But Sidney’s is a foundational text. Analyses of jazz and society will therefore run aground if they fail to consult Jazz: A People’s Music.
Dan Rosenberg's writings include New Orleans Dockworkers: Race, Labor, and Unionism, Racism, Dissent and Asian Americans, Underground Communists in the McCarthy Period, and Between Mission and Market: The Freshman Year in a Corporate Age.

January 16, 2018

Book Review of Samir Amin's The Reawakening of the Arab World, Socialism and Democracy, vol. 31, no. 3,

“Must-Read for understanding Arab Spring”: Socialism & Democracy on The Reawakening of the Arab World

The Reawakening of the Arab World: Challenge and Change in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring
248 pp, $24 pbk, ISBN 9781583675977
By Samir Amin
Reviewed by Yousef Khalil in Socialism and Democracy, vol. 31, no. 3, pp 167-70
Samir Amin is best known for his 1989 book, Eurocentrism, a seminal entry in critical theory on the Middle East which remains essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the political and economic problems facing the region today. Amin’s present book places the Arab Spring into the theoretical framework of Eurocentrism. It insightfully argues that the uprisings of 2011 fit into the long struggle for emancipation in the Arab Middle East that goes back a century.
The Reawakening is a rigorous and expansive materialist analysis of the Arab world’s history from the advent of the capitalist world system right up to the Arab Spring. In the first two chapters, “An Arab Springtime?” and “The Geostrategic Plan of the US in Trouble,” Amin lays the foundation for his broader argument by analyzing the post-2011 developments in each country that has experienced an uprising, focusing on the role that imperialist and sub-imperialist powers have played in shaping events He then goes back into Eurocentrism’s territory, effectively situating the present-day Arab world in a broad historical context extending from the decline of Islamic civilization, to European colonization, to the Bandung Era of state-led development (1952–1975), and finally to the neoliberal “drift” that created the social conditions which led to the Arab uprisings.
Chapters three and four, “The Middle East as Hub of Ancient World System” and “The Decline: The Mamluk State, the Miscarriage of the Nahda and Political Islam” serve to position contemporary developments within Amin’s broader historical argument that the relationship between Islamdom and Europe was inverted as the capitalist world system replaced the tributary system. The Arab world in particular, stood as the first major obstacle to European dominance of world trade, owing to its geographic position at the intersection of key trade routes. This dynamic produced a hostility on the part of the West that “has been pursued and has found expression in a particularly neurotic attitude towards Muslims which generated in turn a similar response in the opposite direction” (120).
But the tensions that characterize the contemporary relationship between the Arab world and the West center upon the key contradiction of bourgeois modernity. The universalist promise of modernity – that human beings “make their own history” – is made impossible by the constraints of the political and economic system which that promise birthed: world capitalism. The spread of those systems across the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth century necessitated the subjugation of the Arab world to European powers, and facilitated the Nahdaor Arab Renaissance in response, which posited that the Arab world needed to return to its authentically Islamic roots in order to reverse its subordination to Europe. This nostalgia for the past is, for Amin, “the result of a violent and justifiable revolt [against modernity] that becomes neurotic and powerless” (131) as it unconsciously internalizes the Eurocentric distortion of modernity. That this “truncated” modernity experienced in the peripheries of the world system invites such culturalist ideological responses is crucial to understanding Islamism in the contemporary landscape.
The peripheralisation of the Arab is followed in Amin’s analysis by “Leap Forward: The Bandung Era and Arab Popular Nationalisms” and “The Drift of the National Popular Project towards ‘Re-Compradorising’,” which provide a useful summary of the successes and contradictions of the state-led modernization efforts of the Bandung Era regimes. The “drift” away from this project, towards the nihilistic neoliberalism that characterized the last four decades in the Arab world came in the wake of Egypt’s policy of infitah or “opening” of the economy, and abandonment of its anti-imperialist positions in favor of alignment with the US and a separate peace with Israel. This opened the way for other “national populist” Arab regimes from Algeria to Syria to embrace the logic of neoliberalism in response to economic and social problems caused by the contradictions of stateled industrialization and an unfavorable turn in the international economic order.
Neoliberal restructuring laid the foundation for the social explosion in 2011, as fiscal solvency in the service of national debt took priority over the regimes’ social commitments. In many ways the current crisis in the region is the political fallout of the decades-long collapse of the social and economic modernization project that characterized the Bandung Era, through a region-wide embrace of neoliberal economic logic. The abandonment of political and social commitments also facilitated the rise of Islamism as an oppositional discourse, creating an ideological binary between the old regimes and Islamist opposition movements that dominates the politics of the region to this day. Amin’s conclusions, including an interesting revamping of pan-Arabism to suit the dire conditions of the present, as well as his proposal that the region de-link from the global economy are surely worth considering.
The problem of Islamism is perhaps the central question raised by the Arab Spring. Amin’s broad historical approach is essential to addressing it. However, Amin’s analysis of Islamism often sits alongside an over-emphasis on the role of the US. The Arab Spring, which took the West completely by surprise, has severely eroded the grip of US hegemony in the region, demonstrating precisely how weak American influence has become. While it is undoubtedly a goal of US policy to support economic liberalization and oppose any challenge to its hegemony in the region, its efforts surely pale in comparison to the deep ideological crisis caused by the collapse of Arab nationalism. Furthermore, while US policy objectives and those of the Gulf States, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), are broadly in alignment, the events of the Arab Spring have at times widened the divergence of goals among these actors. The US detente with Iran in the final years of the Obama administration demonstrated such a divergence with the KSA most clearly, and the KSA and Qatar competed with each other for regional influence by backing opposing parties during the early period of the Arab Spring.
Islamism as an ideology can best be understood through an analysis of the material and social conditions created by the collapse of state-led industrialization and subsequent embrace of neoliberalism by the Arab regimes. Overall, The Reawakening provides such an analysis and is therefore, despite its overemphasis on the influence of the imperialist powers, a must read for those looking for a deeper understanding of the Arab Spring. The left needs, above all, to come to terms with an ideological milieu in the Arab world that reflects the tragic failures of a generations-old emancipatory struggle.
Yousef Khalil
The New School
New York City

Book review by Dr Mark Tauger: R.W. Wheatcroft and Stephen G. Davies; "The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933"

Book review by Professor Mark Tauger, Department of History, West Virginia University, review published in EH.net (Economic History Association), November 2004
Reviewing: R.W. Wheatcroft and Stephen G. Davies; The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. xvii + 555 pp, ISBN: 0-333-31107-8. (This volume is the fifth volume in the series on Soviet history which Edward H Carr began in the 1950s and which ultimately ran to 17 volumes. R.W. Davies collaborated with Carr in the later volumes of the series, which continued into the 1980s.)
Book review by Professor Mark Tauger, November 2004:
Popular media and most historians for decades have described the great famine that struck most of the USSR in the early 1930s as “man-made,” very often even a “genocide” that Stalin perpetrated intentionally against Ukrainians and sometimes other national groups to destroy them as nations. The most famous exposition of this view is the book Harvest of Sorrow, now almost two decades old, by the prolific (and problematic) historian Robert Conquest, but this perspective can be found in History Channel documentaries on Stalin, many textbooks of Soviet history, Western and even world civilization, and many writings on Stalinism, on the history of famines, and on genocide.
This perspective, however, is wrong. The famine that took place was not limited to Ukraine or even to rural areas of the USSR, it was not fundamentally or exclusively man-made, and it was far from the intention of Stalin and others in the Soviet leadership to create such as disaster. A small but growing literature relying on new archival documents and a critical approach to other sources has shown the flaws in the “genocide” or “intentionalist” interpretation of the famine and has developed an alternative interpretation. The book under review, The Years of Hunger, by Robert Davies and Stephen Wheatcroft, is the latest and largest of these revisionist interpretations. It presents more evidence than any previous study documenting the intentions of Soviet leaders and the character of the agrarian and agricultural crises of these years.
This book is the fifth and latest in the series on Soviet history that Edward Carr began in the 1950s (and that ultimately ran to 17 volumes) and that Robert Davies (who collaborated with Carr in the later volumes of his series) continued in the 1980s. Like those studies, its format is chronological and narrative, but unlike most of the previous volumes this one relies very extensively on new archival and published archival sources. In the present volume, Davies and Wheatcroft pick up in the middle of the story that Davies began in volumes one and two (The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930 and The Soviet Collective Farm, 1929-1930), with chapters on the second campaigns of collectivization and dekulakization in 1930-1931. These campaigns were linked: the main means of collectivization was dekulakization, the removal from villages of allegedly “well-off” exploiting peasants and others who opposed too openly the program of collectivization, and officials considered dekulakization necessary to enable collective farms to work. These campaigns involved much less violence than the first such campaigns in early 1930, but also were more “successful”: more than 60 percent of peasant families were in collective farms by late summer 1931, a plateau not surpassed for three years.
The authors then narrate the cycle of agricultural policies and performance: sowing and harvest plans and actual work in 1931, the campaign to procure grain and other crops from the villages after the harvest, and the same cycles in 1932 and 1933. They describe how officials repeatedly projected unrealistically optimistic plans for plowing, crop sowing, and harvests, and how agricultural and peasant realities frustrated these plans to varying degrees, and how officials responded to these realities, in particular years. In 1931 the leadership projected the largest increase in sowings up to that time, and this plan was mostly fulfilled, but a severe drought in spring and summer reduced or destroyed much of the potential harvest, reflected in steadily declining estimates of the harvest on the part of government statistical personnel and increasing reports of starving villagers. Nonetheless, the regime projected high procurements and attempted to impose them, with the result that more regions of the country were left without food, causing millions of peasants, especially from Ukraine and Kazakhstan, to flee their homes seeking food and work. Similar conditions caused massive labor turnover in factories during this period, which Davies discusses in the preceding volume in the series (Crisis and Progress in the Soviet Economy). Meanwhile the government (exercising the foreign trade monopoly it had instituted in the early 1920s) exported some four million tons of grain to pay for massive imports of machinery, including tractors.
Agricultural planning and work in 1932 took place under much worse conditions than in 1931, with significant shortages and starvation in many regions. The authors narrate the high-level disputes and decision-making that led to emergency distributions of seed and food to shortage areas, the May laws of 1932 that legalized private trade (after three years of uncertain status), and in general a relaxation of policies. Farmers did not fulfill the sowing plans, however, and the harvest decreased even relative to that of 1931 by a complex mix of natural disasters and mismanagement. While official projections of the harvest dropped substantially, however, Soviet leaders refused to believe that another catastrophe like 1931 had occurred, and pressed forward with only a moderately reduced procurement plan. Implementing this plan, however, brought a tremendous struggle between regime and peasants, simultaneous with a disastrous decline in food supplies for the towns, and widespread theft and attempted theft at all stages of distribution. In response, Stalin wrote a law issued on 7 August that imposed death penalties or 10-year exile for theft of “socialist property.” The authors provide valuable detail about the alteration of harshness and moderation at different levels and in different periods in enforcement of this decree.
By the beginning of 1933, the procurement plan had not been fulfilled, and authorities at all levels received continuous reports documenting a massive famine, widespread deaths from starvation, and desperate demands from officials at all levels for food allotments from diminishing reserves. Peasants and workers around the country fled their homes seeking food and survival, and the authorities issued several additional laws attempting to prevent this movement, including the reestablishment of an internal passport system, harsh penalties for workers who left their jobs without authorization, and apprehension and return to their homes of peasants from the southern grain regions, most severely struck by famine. It was in this context of great economic crisis that the regime again undertook to plan and guide farm work. This time they lowered their targets, provided extensive albeit insufficient relief in food, seed, and forage, and dispatched more than 20,000 industrial workers, all Communist Party members, to eliminate opposition in the collective farms and mobilized them for the year’s work. The result, however, despite the horrible conditions, was a very successful harvest in 1933 that ended the famine in most regions.
The book then goes on to present capsule narratives of specific aspects of agricultural production and particular sectors. So production of crops besides grain, including potatoes, sugar beets, and fiber crops generally followed the same pattern as grain, and thus were directly or indirectly affected by the famine. Livestock breeding underwent a “disaster” because of losses from the process of collectivization, from crop failures that reduced forage, from mismanagement in the farms, from high procurements, and finally from the famine itself, as peasants slaughtered animals (ignoring laws prohibiting it) to survive. The worst region of the livestock crisis was Kazakhstan, where Soviet collectivization policies aimed initially to settle in villages the majority nomadic population (a policy similar to that employed in some colonial countries and in some developing countries since independence). In the face of a searing famine in the region and the flight (to China) or death of more than one-third of the population, the regime in 1933 relaxed its policies, but the effects of the famine were not overcome for years.
The authors also examine the two main socialist sectors. The state farms (sovkhozy), which were large, ideally mechanized specialized farms that held more than 10 percent of the sown area, had tremendous difficulties in these years after limited success in 1929-1930. In 1931-1932 these farms suffered catastrophic declines in production, from causes that included natural disaster, mismanagement, and shortages of equipment and supplies because of the overall Soviet economic crisis of the time. From 1933 on, the sovkhozy began a recovery, facilitated by the government’s transfer of land from these farms to land-short collectives. On the collective farms (kolkhozy) the authors examine in some detail labor organization and remuneration, which were difficult managerial problems to solve in these almost unprecedented institutions. The regime in these years moved from a network of varied farms following diverse policies to a system in which the main organizational structures and remuneration procedures were prescribed from central government agencies with the intent of insuring the proper mix of incentives and obligations.
The final chapter examines the 1931-1933 famine in comparison to the two most noted recent famines in Russian history, those of 1891 and 1918-1922. The authors describe how these earlier famines resulted from natural disaster and (in 1918-21) the difficulties the Bolshevik government had in moving food from villages to towns through requisitions. They then analyze the 1931-1933 crises in three categories: the urban food crisis of 1928-1933; the famine in Kazakhstan; and the rural famine of 1932-1933. They discuss different estimates of mortality, questioning the highest estimates but acknowledging the uncertainties in the population data. They estimate that mortality from the famine was in the range of four to six million deaths.
This chapter concludes with their explanation of the causes of the famine. They argue on the basis of the available data on food production and mortality that this was a famine caused by shortage, or “food availability decline” [FAD], in which “entitlements” or distribution factors played a contributory role (p. 417, using the terms employed by Amartya Sen). They emphasize, however, that the crisis of which the famine was the culmination began with the economic disruption caused by the massive investments of the first five-year plan and the simultaneous food supply difficulties of 1927-1929, the so-called “grain crisis.” By means of the first five-year plan and collectivization, Soviet leaders intended clearly to increase food production, but two years of natural disasters and agricultural disruption lowered harvests drastically and forced the government to ration food in insufficient quantities to all but the limited groups whom the authorities considered absolutely necessary to supply.
The authors attribute the small harvests in the crisis years to four factors. The intense sowing plans that demanded increased areas under crops disrupted the crop rotations left from the 1920s and thereby brought soil exhaustion. Draft forces declined, despite the import, production, and provision to agriculture of increasing numbers of tractors, because lack of forage (from both procurements and crop failures) and collectivization (which facilitated the spread of epizootics) brought massive deaths of horses. This draft situation in turn, combined with disaffection of the peasants, brought a decline in cultivation quality. Finally, exceptionally bad weather caused serious declines in output independently of all the other factors.
They conclude the main text with a brief summary of their discussion of the Soviet government’s confused and ambivalent responses to the famine. The authorities overestimated harvests and tried to impose high procurement quotas, but they also reduced those quotas when difficulties developed, and returned procured grain to villages for food and seed; they decided in the face of crisis to feed the cities as well as possible, but they also made significant efforts to support agricultural recovery, though this failed for millions of people. In response to intentionalist arguments (citing Conquest), they conclude that Soviet leaders, even if their actions contributed to the famine crisis, found it unexpected and extremely undesirable. They connect the famine crisis in larger terms to the Russian past, to the earlier agrarian crises, but most of all to the decision to industrialize at “breakneck speed” (p. 441). The book concludes with an appendix on grain harvest data, and 49 tables on farm production, food distribution, population, and certain other topics.
With its extensive use and intensive examination of archival and published sources on high-level policy discussion and decisions in this crisis, including the formerly secret records of the Politburo (the special files or osobie papki) and the now published correspondence of Stalin with some of his top lieutenants like Kaganovich and Molotov, this study decisively refutes intentionalist explanations of the 1931-1933 famine. None of these sources contain any evidence indicating that Stalin or his officials intended or wanted to create a genocidal famine to suppress Ukrainian nationalism or any other such objective. The decisions that these officials made, such as the impositions and then reductions of procurement quotas, or the lowering of rations for certain sectors of the population, represented short term, desperate, and often mistaken responses to the developing emergencies of these years, and not components of an overarching destructive intent. Even the underlying fact of the overly rapid industrialization program and the disruptions it caused reflected not destructive but constructive aims, even if the implementation of these plans by ill-educated fanatics in various state agencies had disastrous consequences. This study, therefore, documents that great Soviet famine of 1931-1933 was a complex economic event first of all, rooted in environmental conditions as well as in Soviet policies.
Given this, however, and given the enormous amount of work that went into this study, like all of Davies’ previous work, nonetheless the authors make a number of important problematic assertions and leave certain crucial issues unresolved. I will focus on two of these.
First, the authors assert at the end of their chapter on the collective farms (p. 397) that because the kolkhozy transferred a large part of their produce to the state, these farms represented a throwback to serfdom, with the state as the serf owner. This point actually does not support the connection they make between the kolkhoz system and serfdom, in particular because they also document the fact, which has been clear from other sources as well, that ordinarily peasants received a significant share of their food supplies from the crops they grew on the collective farms’ fields, in addition to the crops they grew on their “private plots.” Under serfdom, the peasants received only the food they grew on their own lands; what they produced on the demesne lands went to the pomeshchiki (the Russian noble landlord), with the exception of famines when pomeshchiki by Russian law were expected to share some of the reserves with the peasants. One of the main points of this book (and of previous studies) is that the procurements took most or all of kolkhoz grain reserves in 1931 and 1932 because of the crop failures of those years, and did not represent the usual pattern: in all other years farms had substantial portions of their crops left over after procurements for their own use, as in 1933. It makes more sense economically and institutionally to interpret the high procurement quotas as combining elements of taxation and rent rather than exclusively as atavisms.
Furthermore, in the same section the authors show that the farms had significant incomes from their sales of crops and other products, even at the low state purchase prices as well as on the free market legalized in 1932, which they used to pay the peasant-members for their work, and to purchase new equipment and supplies, albeit in very limited amounts in 1931-1932. Under serfdom, peasants were not paid for their produce on demesne. Even given the situation in these crisis years, the kolkhozy were not recreated serf villages, but can be better understood as semi-autonomous production units highly subsidized by the government. The authors also document the significant movement of peasants from the farms by otkhod, labor migration, a process that was one of the objectives of collectivization and that the regime encouraged and relied on for industrial labor. The government did attempt to control this movement by means of the internal passport system, but that system was not imposed until 1933, in response to the famine crisis, and as earlier research has shown, the passport system restrained peasant movement, both temporary and permanent, from villages to towns very little.
Further, serfdom in early modern Russia was part of a whole complex of controls over the population that had the goal of limiting not only the geographical but also the economic and social mobility of almost the entire population, rural and urban, as for example in the elaborate regulations of the 1649 law code. The Soviet system of the 1930s, by contrast, was oriented toward social mobility, promoting and educating workers and peasants to responsible posts. For example, no Russian peasant ever came close to becoming a Russian emperor before 1917, but under the Soviet regime four men of peasant origin came to rule that country: Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev. Many other former peasants and workers moved up to high positions; while some tragically ended up victims of the great Communist witch hunts of the 1930s to the 1950s, most did not, and held positions that they would never have attained under the servile system. Even those who stayed in the farms in many cases attained technical knowledge and skills (despite the influence of Lysenko) and used it to bring about a significant increase in farm production in the 1950s to 1970s. To describe the kolkhoz as a revival of serfdom as Davies and Wheatcroft do here is a substantial distortion of historical fact.
Second, the book still does not satisfactorily explain why the famine took place when it did and especially why it ended. The authors’ chapters on agriculture and procurements in 1933, which was of course the crucial agricultural year because this was when the famine basically ended, are substantially shorter than those on 1931 and 1932 and have a certain “rushed” quality. Davies and Wheatcroft identify several objective factors to which they attribute the declines in food production in 1931-1933 that in great part caused the famine. Most of those factors that they identify for 1932, however, still prevailed or were even worse in 1933. The decline in livestock numbers and draft forces, for example, continued into 1933 and possibly 1934 (depending on how one calculates the value of a tractor); the disorder in crop rotation was not overcome even by the reduced sowing plans of 1933, or for some years thereafter. Most important, famine conditions were much worse. The authors cite a few sources claiming that peasants somehow knew in 1933 that they had to work hard (p. 238), but they also acknowledge in another context that at least some peasants worked hard in 1932 as well (p. 418). In any case, all evidence about peasants’ resistance is anecdotal and can be shown not to be representative of their views and actions generally (see my article ‘Soviet Peasants and Collectivization: Resistance and Adaptation’). Without any doubt, however, working conditions for peasants in 1933, because of the more severe famine conditions, were much worse in 1933 than in 1932.
Given these inconsistencies, there remains one factor in explaining the cause of the small harvest of 1932 that can account for the improved harvest in 1933, and that is the complex of environmental factors in 1932. As I documented in a recent publication, the USSR experienced an unusual environmental disaster in 1932: extremely wet and humid weather that gave rise to severe plant disease infestations, especially rust. Ukraine had double or triple the normal rainfall in 1932. Both the weather conditions and the rust spread from Eastern Europe, as plant pathologists at the time documented. Soviet plant pathologists in particular estimated that rust and other fungal diseases reduced the potential harvest in 1932 by almost nine million tons, which is the largest documented harvest loss from any single cause in Soviet history (Natural Disaster and Human Action, p. 19). One Soviet source did estimate higher rust losses in 1933 than 1932 for two provinces in the Central Blackearth Region, which is a small region of the country (approximately 5 percent of the total sown area). Davies and Wheatcroft cite this and imply that it applied to the rest of the country (p. 131-132 fn. 137), but that source does not document larger losses from rust in 1933 anywhere else. Further, the exceptional weather and agricultural conditions of 1932 did not generally recur in 1933. Consequently I would still argue, against Davies and Wheatcroft, that the weather and infestations of 1932 were the most important causes of the small harvest in 1932 and the larger one in 1933. I would also like to point out for the record here that the criticism they make (p. 444-445) of my harvest data is invalid and represents an unjustified statistical manipulation of what are in fact the only genuine harvest data for 1932 (see ‘The 1932 Harvest’, in references below).
And this leads to my main complaint about their work. It is true that this volume represents considerable work on their part. But it is also true that several other scholars, including the present reviewer, reached the same or similar conclusions that they reached, using some of the same sources and arguments that they did, years before them, and Davies and Wheatcroft were familiar with this earlier work. In my publications I also cited several other publications of other scholars and observers that reached or suggested similar conclusions. Yet they do not acknowledge anywhere in this book that their conclusions agree with those of earlier work. When they cite such earlier work, they almost always criticize it on some small point but never acknowledge that work’s contribution to the argument they are making. The fact that they reached conclusions similar to other sources does not absolve them of the responsibility of acknowledging their agreement with previous scholarship.
In making this complaint, however, I do not seek to minimize the enormous contribution that this study makes. The Years of Hunger represents a major step toward a more complete and unbiased understanding of this catastrophic event in Soviet and world history. While it adds conclusive evidence to refute intentionalist interpretations of the famine, however, it still leaves us with fundamental uncertainties about why the famine happened and why it ended when and in the way it did.
References:Robert ConquestThe Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford University Press 1986.
R. W. DaviesThe Industrialization of Soviet Russia:
  • v. 1: The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930, Harvard University Press 1980.
  • v. 2: The Soviet Collective Farm, 1929-1930, Harvard University Press, 1980.
  • v. 3: The Soviet Economy in Turmoil, 1929-1930, Macmillan 1989 (revised edition 1998).
  • v. 4: Crisis and Progress in the Soviet Economy, Macmillan 1996.
Mark Tauger, ‘Soviet Peasants and Collectivization: Resistance and Adaptation’ in Journal of Peasant Studies 31 no. 3-4April-July 2004
Mark Tauger, ‘Natural Disaster and Human Action in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933’, Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 1506, 2001
Mark Tauger, ‘The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933’, Slavic Review 50 no. 1, Spring 1990

Also by Mark Tauger:
Soviet peasants and collectivization of agriculture, 1930-39, a 2005 essay by Mark Tauger
This 2005 essay by Mark Tauger examined what he considered the false interpretation of the years of collectivization and industrialization of Soviet agriculture during the 1930s. Anti-Soviet historians have argued a “resistance interpretation” of those years in which peasants and peasant farmers were said to be utterly and universally opposed to agricultural reform. This interpretation has been accepted across the political specturm in the West, from left to right. Tauger documented the widespread acceptance of reform by peasants, though those reofrms were tragically disrupted and hobbled by a host of hostile factors.
“Resistance interpretation” is an historical cousin to the Ukrainian ultranationalist theory of ‘Holodomor’ which says the famine conditions that arose in Ukraine during 1931-33 (as they did elsewhere in the Soviet Union during the same years) were caused by a deliberte policy of ‘genocide’ against Ukrainian peasants and farmers by the Stalin-led government in Moscow. Here, too, Western opinion from left to right has accepted this claim.
Le Livre noir du Communisme on the Soviet famine of 1932-1933, published in 1997

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