WHAT is "BLOODLANDS" and WHY DO WE NEED to EXPOSE IT?
In 2010 a book was published that rewrites the history of the Soviet Union, Poland, and Ukraine between the years 1932 and 1945. Its title is Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.(1) Its author is Timothy Snyder, a professor of Eastern European history at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. In Bloodlands Snyder equates the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany and Stalin with Hitler.(2)
Bloodlands is a worldwide success. It has been lavished with praise in dozens of book reviews worldwide, "praised as a work of near-perfect history by many critics." A selection of the awards and praise can be seen at the special web page created for this book.
Editor's Pick, New York Times Book Review; Die Welt, Book of the Week, El País, Book of the Week; NDR Sachbuch des Monats; New York Times non-fiction bestseller; Der Spiegel non-fiction bestseller (Germany); Gazeta Wyborcza non-fiction bestseller (Poland), Wall Street Journal #1 hardback history bestseller.
It has received high praise not only from predictable right-wing sources but from liberal outlets like The Nation (New York City). It has been translated into at least 25 languages, including Ukrainian, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, and all three Baltic languages, plus German, French, Spanish, and all three Scandinavian languages.
And yet it is a complete fraud, false from beginning to end. It is no exaggeration to say that Snyder's Bloodlands is a litany of falsehoods. That fact is exemplified by the following story.
(2) Although Snyder concludes that the Nazis did kill somewhat more people than did the Soviets, he still equates them in a moral sense.
During 2011 and 2012 Snyder had a standard book talk on Bloodlands that he delivered many times. Here are some passages transcribed from the Youtube video of that standard talk as delivered in Chicago in 2011:
This is a difficult book to introduce, and I'd like to introduce it by way of what's most important to me - namely, the individuals who are its subjects.
In early 1933, in what was then the Soviet Ukraine, a young man dug his grave. The reason he dug his grave was that he was sure he was going to die of starvation - and he was right. The other reason he dug his own grave was that he knew that once he died his body would lie in a field beside the road until it was picked up, thrown in the back of a cart, and then dumped with a number of other corpses in a mass grave where there would be no marker. So he knew that he was going to die but he wished to preserve some element of dignity. So he dug his own grave. Then when the day came he went there.
Snyder returns to this story at the end of the talk:
So 14 million is not just 14 million but it is 14 million times one, where that one is not just an interchangeable unit but that one is an individual who is different than the individual that came before and the individual who came after. In other words, the book is ultimately about people and it succeeds insofar as it turns numbers back into people. I can't succeed with a lecture like this but what I would like to leave you with is the names of the three people that I mentioned at the beginning. The young man in Ukraine who dug his own grave is Petro Veldii...
This incident is described in Bloodlands on page 47, where it reads as follows:
To die of starvation with some sort of dignity was beyond the reach of almost everyone. Petro Veldii showed rare strength when he dragged himself through his village on the day he expected to die. The other villagers asked him where he was going: to the cemetery to lay himself down. He did not want strangers coming and dragging his body away to a pit. So he had dug his own grave, but by the time he reached the cemetery another body had filled it. He dug himself another one, lay down, and waited.
Snyder''s source for this story (n. 69, p. 466) is as follows: "On Vel'dii, see Kovalenko, Holod, 132." Snyder spells the man's name "Veldii" in the text but "Vel'dii" in the footnote (the apostrophe is the transcription of a Ukrainian letter.) As we shall see, neither is correct.
Kovalenko's book is rare in the United States, so few if any readers will check this story.
Here is the original, at page 132:
Бачу як сьогоднi: йде селом Бельдiй Петро, несе в руках якийсь клуночок. Люди стоять бiля сiльради, на майданi. Йде Петро у святковiй полотнянiй сорочцi, штанах полотняних, з цiпком у руках. «Куди?» - питають люди. «На цвинтарь.» - «Чого?» - «Умирати. Таки не хочу, щоб мене на гарбi вивозили, йду сам». Пiшов, але яма, яку сам для себе ще ранiш був виколав, була уже зайнята. Петро ще виколав собi ямку i таки помер на цвинтарi.
I can see like [it happened] today: Petro Bel'diy is going to the village and is carrying in his hands some kind of little bundle. People stand by the village Soviet, in the square. Petro is walking in a festive linen shirt, linen trousers, with a tsipok (07) in his hands. "Where are you going?" - the people ask. To the cemetery." "Why?" "To die. Since I do not want to be carried in a cart, I will go myself." He went, but the pit that he had dug earlier for himself was already occupied. Petro dug himself another grave and so died at the cemetery.
Snyder has seriously distorted this story.
* The man's name was not "Veldii" or "Vel'dii" but "Bel'diy."
* There is nothing at all about starvation or famine in the story. There is no indication that Bel'diy is even hungry.
* The original has nothing about Bel'diy "dragging himself through his village." It simply says that he walked to the village.
* Snyder's phrase "dragging himself" suggests weakness, and is no doubt also intended to suggest starvation and the famine. It permits Snyder to claim that "Veldii" "showed rare strength." But the original suggests nothing of the kind. In it the villagers standing around the village Soviet (local government headquarters) just wonder what he is doing.
* In the original Bel'diy is carrying a "little bundle." This account does not say what was in it. One likely possibility would be food. Snyder omits the bundle altogether.
* In the original Bel'diy is dressed in his holiday clothes. Clearly he wants to be buried looking his best. Snyder omits this detail.
* Snyder claims that Bel'diy "did not want strangers coming and dragging his body away to a pit." But there is nothing like this in the original. Kovalenko quotes Bel'diy as telling some of his fellow villagers that he did not want to be carried away in a cart. Since this is what normally happens when a person dies - the body is taken away in a cart - it means that Bel'diy has some private reason for not wanting this.
* In the original Bel'diy dies in the cemetery after digging himself a second grave. In Snyder's version he "lay down and waited."
* In his book talk Snyder calls "Veldii" a "young man." But in Snyder's source there is no indication at all of his age.
Snyder has falsified this story. He has appropriated it to the famine by adding some details that are not in the original story while omitting other details that are in it.
Even in Kovalenko's book the story says nothing at all about the cause of the 1932-33 famine, or anything about any famine at all. But more than that - Snyder's version simply can't be true. This man who, in Snyder's version, was starving to death - starving so badly that he thought he would die on that very day - dug not just one grave, but two!
It's no good to dig a shallow grave - the body would probably by dug up by dogs. Digging a deep grave is hard work. It shows exactly the opposite of the lassitude that accompanies slow starvation. But according to Snyder "Veldii" was not just starving - he was so far gone that expected to die that very day!
This is impossible. A starving person would not have had the energy to dig up these two graves - one some days before, when he must have been starving as well (or why dig the grave?) and another on the very same day he expected to actually die of starvation (in the original story, he does die). Sure enough, the original story has nothing about starvation, famine, "dragging himself," "strangers dragging his body to a pit," or even anything that suggest hunger.
This story has the form of a legend or folklore: "The man who dug his own grave and then waited for death to come." Here is a similar story about a legendary French Canadian voyageur, preserved in a ballad or folk-song:
Pursued by the Indians through the forest, Cailleux gradually weakened; he dug his own grave, erected a cross above it and composed a ballad about his misfortune, which he wrote in blood on birchbark; it was found by those who came to look for him.
In any case, no conclusion can be drawn from this rumor, or from any rumor. It does not even mention famine or starvation. Even if the original version in Kovalenko's book could somehow be verified it would not prove anything relevant to Snyder's book.
(7) 'Tsipok' can mean a stick or cane. Bel'diy is dressed in his best! The cane would suggest he was elderly or infirm. I have been informed that tsipok can also mean one of several different kinds of digging implements depending on the specific area in the Ukraine where the word is used. Since Bel'diy thinks his grave has already been dug, he would probably not bring a digging implement. But then how does he dig himself another grave?
This book was the first collection in Ukraine of testimonies about the famine. Under the prodding of the anticommunist "Memorial" association Stanislav Kul'chyts'kyy, a Ukrainian scholar, published an advertisement in the widely-circulated newspaper Sil's'ki Visti ("Rural News") in which he solicited letters from those who had experienced the famine. He obtained 6,000 replies. According to Ukrainian scholar Heorhiy Kas'ianov:
Paradoxically, these questions and the memories they stimulated, regardless of the motives that led to their appearance, could have become one important element in a more adequate reconstruction in the picture of the events of 1932-33. However, the final product, that is the book created on the basis of the materials thus gathered, testified to the fact that at the turn of the 1990s the concept of the project had changed fundamentally. For the book they selected only information from eyewitnesses who painted terrible pictures of people dying in their own homes and related excesses.(09)
Though Kovalenko's book, from which Snyder took this story before falsifying it, is hard to find in the USA it is famous and widely available in Ukraine.
In fact it is famous as the first collection in Ukraine, still at that time a Soviet Republic, of stories by those who lived through the famine of 1932-33. The book is so well known that we might expect that the Ukrainian translation of Snyder's book would reprint the original story from Kovalenko's volume. But instead, it translates Snyder's distorted version, even to the point of getting Bel'diy's name wrong as Snyder did!
Петро Вельдiй виказав рiдкiсну силу волi й з останнiх сил пiшов у село в день, коли чекав, що по нього прийде смерть. Односельчани питали його, куди вiн iде: на цвинтар - лягати в могилу. Вiн не хотiв, щоб чужi люди тягнули його тiло у яму. Тож вiн викопав собi могилу, але коли дошкандибав до цвинтаря, там уже лежало iнше тiло. Вiн викопав собi ще одну, лiг i почав чекати (69).(10)
Petro Vel'diy showed rare strength of will and with his last strength went into the village on the day that he was waiting for death to come for him. His fellow villagers asked him where he was going: to the cemetery, to climb into a grave. He did not want strangers to drag his body to a pit. So he dug himself a grave, but when he reached the cemetery, another body was already lying in it. He dug himself another grave, lay in it, and began to wait.
Anyone who checks the original version of this story against Snyder's version would see immediately that Snyder has seriously falsified it. It is hard to believe that no one - the translator, the Ukrainian publisher, the Ukrainian historians who work with Snyder, those who arranged for his many talks to Ukrainian audiences in Ukraine, the US, Canada - has ever done this. But they chose to remain silent about it.
The "Petro Veldii" story is an example of something we will see a great many times in this book: Snyder cannot be trusted to use his sources honestly. When Snyder makes an assertion of fact, or fact-claim, about something involving communists, the Soviet Union, or Stalin, the sources for this fact-claim must be double-checked.
Upon checking Snyder's source we normally find either (1) that his source does not support what Snyder's text says or imply that it does; or (2) that the source does reflect what Snyder says in his text but that source itself is dishonest, in that (a) it does not reflect what its own evidence states or (b) its source is yet another secondary source which, when examined, does not support the fact-claims given; or (c) it cites no evidence at all.
In his standard book talk Snyder names three people who were, supposedly, victims of Hitler and Stalin. He claims that two of these were in fact victims of Stalin. One is "Petro Veldii." That story is a fabrication. In fact the falsification goes far beyond the story of this one man. We shall show that there was no "Holodomor" at all - no "deliberate" or "man-made" famine in 1932-33.
Snyder's "Petro Veldii" falsification ought to make us curious about the second "victim of Stalin" whom Snyder features at the start of his book talk. He is Adam Solski, one of the Polish officers whose corpse was disinterred by the Nazis at Katyn in April-June 1943. Unlike "Veldii / Vel'dii / Bel'diy" there is no doubt about Solski's identity: he was a real person whose corpse was indeed unearthed by the Germans at the Katyn forest. However, the evidence available today points to the German rather than Soviet guilt in the murders of Solski and the other Polish prisoners. We will discuss the "Katyn massacre" later in this book.
The present book presents a detailed, heavily documented critique of Bloodlands. It concludes that virtually all of Snyder's charges and statements about Stalin and the Soviet Union are false. I prove this by checking the evidence Snyder cites; by including when appropriate the evidence Snyder's sources cite; and by citing other evidence he omits.
Snyder's book has become a Bible for East European neo-Nazis and right-wingers generally. Here is a collection of articles from the Holocaust research site "Defending History" (collected February 2014):
Foreign Minister of Lithuania invokes Timothy Snyder in launch of newest European Union campaign for Double Genocide
Vytautas Magnus University professor tells Lithuanian daily that Timothy Snyder is the one great hope...
Kaunas Professor tells the leading Lithuanian daily that the reburial of the wartime Nazi puppet prime minister reconfirms the "drama of Lithuanian history" while attacking "the Jews" who allegedly threatened university and national officials with "getting hit over the head with a club" over the reburial. He also refers to Timothy Snyder as his one great ray of hope.
Book Event for Lithuanian Edition of Bloodlands at Lithuanian Foreign Ministry; Historians Use the Occasion to Besmirch Holocaust Survivors who Joined the Anti-Nazi Partisans and to Cement Red-Equals-Brown Equation
Professor tells Lithuanian radio audience that 'It's not all hopeless' thanks to - Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands.
At a symposium of historians speaking for a wider Lithuanian audience, one accomplished professor put on the record, when discussing the difficulties in selling the revisionist history to the West: 'But it's not all hopeless. Timothy Snyder has written an important book called Bloodlands'.
Some Holocaust researchers have appealed to Snyder to dissociate himself from the political uses of his book:
List of Experts Cited during Preparation of Lithuanian Parliament Sponsored Film Glorifying the Local Holocaust Killers
For the record, I do sincerely regret the inclusion of Professor Snyder's name in the planning stages of a 2011 ultranationalist film, supported by the Lithuanian parliament, which glorifies the Holocaust-perpetrating LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front) as 'freedom fighters'. Its Vilnius premiere on 22 June 2011 included swastika stamped souvenir tickets (report on the event here; review of the film by the longtime editor of the last Jewish newspaper in Lithuania here; image of the souvenir ticket here).
I respectfully call on Professor Snyder to publicly disavow and/or sever any links to the planning for the film (which would have simply been naive), and to now condemn the final product as the product of ultranationalist, anti-Semitic East European Holocaust revisionism designed to glorify the perpetrators and deflect attention from local participation in the Holocaust in the making of state-sponsored revisionist history.
Good luck with that! There is no way that Snyder is not completely aware of the political tendency of Bloodlands and whom the falsehoods and distortions in his book benefit.
The page in question is titled "East European Nationalist (Ab)use of Timothy Snyder's 'Bloodlands'." But it is not an "abuse" at all. This is in fact the political terror of Bloodlands. The East European "nationalists" and neo-Nazis have understood it all too well.
I have specialized in researching the history of the Soviet Union during the Stalin years, particularly the crucial decade between 1930 and the Nazi invasion of June 22, 1941. I first became acquainted with Snyder's research some years ago when studying the Volhynian massacres, the mass murders by Ukrainian Nationalist forces of 50,000 to 100,000 or more Polish civilians in the Western part of the Ukrainian SSR then under German-occupation. In the 1990s Snyder published the only scholarly studies in the English language of these horrifying slaughters, although his anti-communism and tendency to minimize the crimes of anticommunist nationalists are already evident in these articles.
Several years ago a friend and colleague asked me what I thought about one of Snyder's essays in the influential American journal The New York Review of Books. There Snyder asserted, without evidence of any kind, that the famine of 1932-33 was "man-made" and deliberately directed by Stalin to kill and terrorize Ukrainians.
Serious students of Soviet history have long known that there is, in fact, no evidence of any "Holodomor", any deliberate famine. This has been described as a fiction by mainstream Western anticommunist scholars since at least Robert Conquest's book Harvest of Despair was published in 1987. Conquest himself has withdrawn his accusation that the famine was deliberate. We discuss this matter thoroughly in Chapters One through Three of the present book.
It is clear to any objective student of Soviet history that Snyder is wrong about the famine. But non-specialists like my friend and colleague do not know it. So I began collecting Snyder's essays. He publishes widely in intellectual and semi-popular journals, where he is assumed to be an expert on Eastern European history. It soon became clear to me that Snyder's book gives a false account not only of the famine of 1932-33 but virtually every point of Soviet history with which I was familiar.
It is the professional responsibility of historians to acknowledge disputes and disagreements in the fields they research. But Snyder never informs his readers about the scholarly disputes that exist over many of these issues, whether it be famine, the Ezhovshchina or "Great Terror," the "Katyn massacre," the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the partisan war, the Warsaw Ghetto revolt, the Warsaw Uprising, or others. Without exception Snyder repeats an anti-Soviet, anticommunist position without any qualification.
It is not only that many statements in Snyder's book are factually false. There are so many such false statements that they could not be the result of carelessness. Moreover, there is a systematic quality to all of them: every one is tendentiously anticommunist. I realized that I would have to systematically check every factual statement about the Soviet leadership or Soviet actions that had a negative tendency, every allegation of a crime or an atrocity.
In April 2012 Snyder was invited to speak at a Holocaust commemoration event at Kean University of New Jersey, not far from my own university. I wrote a two-sided flyer detailing a small number of Snyder's most brazen falsehoods and distributed 100 copies of it at the talk. The flyer was well received by the audience of students (who had been required to attend) and others interested in the Holocaust. I am pleased that the present book, in which Snyder's falsehoods about Soviet history are exposed and refuted in a more detailed and complete manner, is now available to readers.
Like any work of history Bloodlands contains a great many assertions of fact - statements that affirm that something occurred. The present book examines and checks all of the assertions of fact that have a clearly anti-Soviet or anticommunist tenor. It does not verify other of Snyder's fact-claims, in particular, Snyder's statements about Nazi Germany. There are a great many experts on the history of Nazi Germany. If Snyder has made any factual errors in his discussion of Nazi war crimes it is unlikely that this will escape notice.
My working hypothesis was as follows: I would find that many of Snyder's anti-Soviet assertions or "fact-claims" were false, not supported by the evidence Snyder cites or indeed by any other evidence. My further hypothesis was that the secondary sources Snyder cites in support of these statements would either not support Snyder's fact claims, or would themselves be fallacious, unsupported by the evidence (if any) that they cited.
My research has fully corroborated both of these hypotheses. In fact, I discovered that my initial hypothesis was too cautious. I have found not that many, but that virtually all of Snyder's fact-claims of an anti-Soviet and/or anticommunist tendency are false. In this book I present the results of that research.
The chapters in this book adhere to the following method of presentation. After an introductory section I quote every passage in which Snyder makes a fact-claim that accuses the Soviet Union or one of its leaders (e.g. Stalin) or communists generally of some crime or that tends to reflect negatively upon Stalin or Soviet actions. Then the evidence Snyder cites to support his statement(s), normally found in a footnote, is identified and, where possible, reproduced. Then each of the sources in that footnote, whether primary or, usually, secondary, is checked and verified in order to assess whether that source provides support for Snyder's fact-claim.
In the case of secondary sources I have checked further for the primary sources that these secondary sources use. This is essential because the fact that one historian agrees with another does not constitute evidence. Only primary sources are evidence. Accordingly, in each instance where Snyder cites another secondary source in his footnote I have obtained and studied the primary source evidence upon which that secondary source relies. This procedure continues until we reach the primary sources upon which all other secondary sources are based, or until we discover that, in reality, there is no primary source evidence supporting the series of fact-claims, which are thereby revealed to be falsifications. This method is essential in order to verify Snyder's fact-claims concerning Soviet "crimes" - or, as it turns out, in order to demonstrate that they are false virtually without exception.
Whenever possible a summary title, or subheading, has been given to each of the passages from Snyder's book. The purpose of this subheading is to aid the reader in deciding whether he or she wants to examine these fact-claims, or wishes to pick and choose, examining some and passing over others.
In the case of the most famous alleged Soviet or "Stalinist" crimes: the 1932-33 famine, the "Ezhovshchina" or "Great Terror," the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the "Katyn massacre," the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, and Stalin's alleged antsemitism - I have preceded my investigation of Snyder's account with a section titled "What Really Happened."
No one else has taken the trouble to do this. This would not be a bad thing if Snyder's book were generally ignored. Historians of the USSR, like historians generally, should spend their time in discovering the truth rather than in double-checking every fact-claim and allegation made by other historians. But Snyder's book is very influential, as are his published articles in semi-popular journals. Snyder's fact-claims are normally assumed to be true while the reality is that they are virtually always false. Through books such as Bloodlands falsehoods become accepted as truths, the current of historical understanding polluted.
In the present book I demonstrate, using Snyder's own sources and other evidence, that the fact-claims in Bloodlands are false; that not a single one of the accusations Snyder levels against Stalin, the Soviet leadership, or pro-communist forces such as partisans, is true. Such a conclusion demands explanation, and I outline my own views in the Conclusion. One important element of that explanation is what I call the "anti-Stalin paradigm", about which a little should be said here at the outset.
Since the Bolshevik Revolution itself the academic field of Soviet history has been dominated by anticommunist bias. In February 1956, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushschev, First Secretary of the Party and leader of the Soviet state, gave a "secret speech" in which he accused Stalin (and Lavrentii Beria) of great crimes. Khrushchev and other Party leaders under him went ever further in their attacks on Stalin at the 22nd Party Congress in 1961. After that and until Khrushschev's ouster in October 1964 a flood of pseudo-scholarly Soviet works were published in which accusations about Stalin's "crimes" multiplied wildly.
Khrushchev's 1956 "Secret Speech", the anti-Stalin speeches at the end of the 22nd Part Congress and the ensuing torrent of Khrushchev-orchestrated fabrications became the basis for the avalanche of anti-Stalin books that followed. Notable among them was, for example, Robert Conquest's tome The Great Terror, which drew heavily upon these Khrushchev-era materials (although Conquest also used, indiscriminately, any and all anti-Stalin works he could find, including many that preceded Khrushchev's speech). In an earlier article Vladimir L. Bobrov and I examined the last chapter of Stephen F. Cohen's book Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution (1973), another of the anti-Stalin books based on Khrushchev-era materials. There we showed (a) that Cohen relied entirely upon Khrushchev-era "revelations" in this chapter of Bukharin's fate between 1930 and 1938; and (b) that every single "revelation" Cohen makes in that long chapter is demonstrably false, thanks to evidence from Soviet archives now available to researchers.
The Khrushchev-era Soviet works were not simply the result of bias. Rather, they were deliberate lies. Khrushchev and his men had all the evidence of the Soviet archives - everything we have today plus much, much more. The same is true of Gorbachev's people, who churned out another and even larger avalance of anti-Stalin falsehoods after 1987, an avalanche that continues to the present day.
The academic field of Soviet history of the Stalin period has been constructed around the more or less uncritical acceptance of, first, Khrushchev-era, and second, of Gorbachev-era and post-Soviet-era lies. These lies cannot be sustained in the face of the evidence now available from former Soviet archives. However, to admit this would entail exposing the fact that the work of dozens of historians of the USSR are poisoned at the root.
Therefore the "anti-Stalin paradigm," as I call this model of Stalin-era Soviet history, goes unchallenged. As long as it continues to serve anticommunist ideological purposes, and as long as the truth can be ignored, buried, hidden, or otherwise disregarded, the demonization of Stalin, the Soviet leadership of his day, and the communist movement continues to perform its useful function in the economy of anticommunist propaganda, propped up by the prestige of academic experts in many countries. This is the tradition that has produced works like Snyder's Bloodlands.
Books like Snyder's do not have to fear that their falsehoods will be exposed by their peers in the field of Soviet history because anti-Stalin lies are very seldom exposed as such. In such an atmosphere, where the historian can accuse Stalin and the USSR of almost any crime, can say virtually anything as long as it has an anti-Stalin bias, a kind of "Gresham's Law" comes into play. Bad research drives out the good or - at the very least - makes the good research very cautious, very careful not to challenge the prevailing paradigm. This is the academic and political environment that makes completely fraudulent works like Bloodlands possible.
Concerning the portrayal of Stalin by anticommunist historians like Snyder Professor Domenico Losurdo of the University of Urbino, Italy, writes:
Les philosophes aiment à s'interroger en évoquant non seulement les événements historiques mais aussi les catégories avec lesquelles nous interprétons ces événements. Aujourd'hui, quelle est donc la catégorie avec laquelle on interprète Staline ? Celle de folie sanguinaire. Cette catégorie a été déjà utilisée contre Robespierre, contre la révolution de 1848, contre la Commune, mais jamais contre la guerre, ni contre Louis XVI, ni contre les Girondins ou Napoléon. Pour ce qui concerne le XXème siècle, nous avons des études psychopathologiques sur Lénine, Staline, Trotski, Mao, mais pas, par exemple contre Churchill. Or, tout le groupe dirigeant bolchevik se prononçait contre l'expansionnisme colonial, tandis que Churchill écrivait « la guerre est un jeu auquel il faut sourire. » Il y eut ensuite le carnage de la Première Guerre mondiale, le groupe dirigeant bolchevik, Staline compris, est contre ce carnage, mais Churchill déclare encore : « la guerre ast le plus grand jew de l'histoire universelle, nous jouons ici la mise la plus élevée, la guerre constitue l'unique sense aigu de notre vie ». Alors, pourquoi l'approche psychopathologique dans un cas et pas dans l'autre?
In their discussions philosophers like to evoke not only historical events but also the categories with which we interpret these events. Today, what is the category with which Stalin is interpreted? That of bloodthirsty madness. This category has already been used against Robespierre, against the Revolution of 1848, against the Paris Commune, but never against war, or against Louis XVI, or against the Girondins or Napoleon. Regarding the twentieth century, we have psychopathological studies of Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, but not, for example, of Churchill. However, all of the Bolshevik leaders spoke up against colonial expansionism, while Churchill wrote: "War is a game at which one should smile." Then there was the carnage of the First World War. The Bolshevik leadership group, including Stalin, was against this carnage, but Churchill said again: "War is the greatest game in world history, here I play with the highest stakes, war is the sole acute sensation of our lives." So why the psychopathological approach in the one case and not in the other?
It will surprise, even shock, many to learn that a major work by a prominent historian can be, at base, nothing but a chain of untruths, its scholarly trappings a demonstrable fraud, a trap intended to lure the unwary or the hopelessly biased into believing falsehoods. Yet Bloodlands is precisely such a book. That is the inevitable conclusion of my study.
It will appear to readers that many of Snyder's fact-claims are almost certainly "lies" in the strict sense. That is, they must have been made by conscious decision rather than as the expression of bias coupled with ignorance. At the same time many readers will assume that the word "lie" should only be used when deliberate dishonesty by a writer can be clearly demonstrated.
For this reason I am reluctant to have recourse to the word "lie." In all cases where the deliberate intent to deceive cannot be clearly demonstrated by the evidence I use another term such as "fabrication" or "falsification" that connotes something made up, not contained in any of the evidence cited. As I have previously written elsewhere,
[I]t is easy to underestimate the power of a well-established, privileged preconceived framework of analysis on the minds of any researcher who is himself seriously biased. The pressures, both psychological and academic, to reach a conclusion acceptable to leading figures in the field of Soviet history, as well as to officials in Russia who control access to archives, are considerable indeed. Consequently, the disadvantages, professionally and otherwise, of reaching a conclusion that, no matter how well demonstrated, will be displeasing to powerful forces in the archival, political, and academic communities, are clear to anyone who is familiar with the highly politicized nature of the field of Soviet and indeed of all communist history.
Accordingly I consider the word "lie" to be appropriate only when the evidence clearly shows that Snyder has made a statement in flagrant disregard for the truth, such as a statement that is not supported in the source Snyder cites in support of it or is even contradicted by that source. Yet even in such cases we should not rule out the power of a preconceived framework plus a strong bias to "blind" a non-objective historian like Snyder to inconvenient evidence and conclusions.
It is a commonplace today that Stalin committed mass murders and gross atrocities. This belief is like the notions almost universal before the 20th century (and by no means dead today) that women and non-whites were "intellectually inferior." Those notions were "common sense", taken for granted by almost every "white" male of European ancestry, including scientists. They were questioned by few, firmly rejected by fewer still. Yet they were never true. They were (and are) avidly promoted because they served (and, in some circles, still serve) definite political and economic interests.
An objective study of the evidence now available shows that, contrary to "whatever everybody knows" - what I call the "anti-Stalin paradigm" - none of the mass murders and atrocities alleged against Stalin and the Soviet leadership of his day can be verified by the evidence.
Because this conclusion will strike many readers as outrageous, the evidence supporting it must be more fully expounded than is normally the case in historical studies. After all, a major conclusion of this book is that, on any important matter, the fact-claims of historians should not be simply "believed" - accepted as true - but must be verified. Why, then, should any reader believe the fact-claims in this book - namely, that some statement in Bloodlands is false - when the same book cautions them not to believe Snyder?
Accordingly, the footnotes, references, and - where necessary - the primary documents essential for any reader to check my conclusion, are reproduced here. This adds to the length of this study. But there is no other way to document such a travesty of historical scholarship as Bloodlands presents us with. In some cases I have put longer passages from primary or secondary sources on the Internet as web pages and provided URLs to them.
The aim of the present study is to examine the allegations by Snyder against Stalin, the Soviet leadership, and pro-communist forces. Although Bloodlands reads something like a "prosecutor's brief" against Stalin and the USSR the present study is fundamentally different. It is not a "defense attorney's brief." Is is not an attempt to prove either guilt or innocence. Rather, it is an attempt to find the truth.
I have tried hard to do what an investigator does in the case of a crime in which has has no parti pris but only wishes to solve the crime. This is what all historians are supposed to do, and what most historians who investigate the more distant past do all the time. I wish to persuade the fair-minded, objective reader that I have carried out a competent, honest investigation. Namely, that I have done the following:
* collected all the evidence that Snyder has cited to prove his allegations against Stalin et al., and also any "negative" evidence that contests those allegations;
* studied all this evidence carefully and honestly;
* drawn my conclusions on the basis of that evidence.
Political prejudice predominates in the study of communism and in particular of Soviet history. Conclusions that contradict the dominant anti-Stalin paradigm are routinely ignored or dismissed. Conclusions that cast doubt upon accusations against Stalin or whose implications tend to make him look either "good" or even less "evil" than the predominant paradigm holds him to have been, are called "Stalinist." Any objective study of the evidence now available is bound to be called "Stalinist" simply because it must reach conclusions that are politically unacceptable to those who have a strong anticommunist bias, those who are in thrall to the false "anti-Stalin paradigm."
I wish to persuade the objective reader that I have reached my conclusions on the basis of evidence and its analysis and not on any other basis such as political bias. My aim is neither to arraign or "convict" Snyder nor to "defend" Stalin, the Soviet leadership, or pro-communist forces. Specifically, I assure the reader that I remain ready to be convinced that Stalin et al. did commit the atrocities alleged by Snyder if and when evidence is disclosed that supports that conclusion and that evidence can withstand the scholarly scrutiny to which all evidence should be subject.
Before proceeding to study the relevant evidence we must briefly consider the question of evidence itself. Whereas "documents" are material objects - in our case, writing on paper - "evidence" is a relational concept. In the present study we are concerned with investigating Snyder's allegations in Bloodlands of criminal, atrocious activity by Stalin, the Soviet leadership, and pro-communist forces.
There is no such thing as "absolute" evidence. All evidence can be faked. Any statement - a confession of guilt, a denial of guilt, a claim one has been tortured, a claim one has not been coerced in any way - may be true or false, an attempt to state the truth as the speaker (or writer) remembers it or a deliberate lie. Documents can be forged and, in the case of Soviet history, often have been. False documents have on occasion been inserted into archives in order to be "discovered." Or it may be alleged that a given document was found in an archive when it was not. Photographs can be faked. Eyewitnesses can lie, and in any case eyewitnesses are so often in error that such evidence is among the least reliable kind. In principle there can be no such thing as a "smoking gun" - evidence that is so clearly genuine and powerful that it cannot be denied.
Identifying, locating, gathering, studying, and interpreting evidence are skills that can be taught to anyone. The most difficult and rarest skill in historical research is the discipline of objectivity. In order to reach true conclusions - statements that are more truthful than other possible statements about a given historical event - a researcher must first question and subject to doubt any preconceived ideas she may hold about the event under investigation. It is one's own preconceived ideas and prejudices that are most likely to sway one into a subjective, inaccurate interpretation of the evidence. Therefore, the researcher must take special steps to make certain this does not happen.
This can be done. The techniques are known and widely practiced in the physical and social sciences. They can and must be adapted to historical research as well. If such techniques are not practiced the historian will inevitably be seriously swayed from an objective understanding of the evidence by her own pre-existing preferences and biases. That will all but guarantee that her conclusions are false even if she is in possession of the best evidence and all the skills necessary to analyze it.
Nowhere is a devotion to objectivity more essential or less in evidence than in the field of Soviet history of the Stalin period. As it is impossible to discover the truth absent a dedication to objectivity, the present study strives to be objective at all costs. Its conclusions will displease, even outrage, a good many persons who are dedicated not to objectivity and the truth but to promoting some nationalist anticommunist narratives or to defending the Cold War-anticommunist paradigm of Soviet and European history.
Throughout this essay I have tried to anticipate the objections of a skeptical critic. This is no more than any careful, objective researcher should do. In the body of the essay I follow each presentation of evidence with a critical examination.
Scholarship is the attempt to ascertain the truth. Arguments that proceed not from an objective search for truth but from some other motive, such as an attempt to attack or defend some specific allegation or historical paradigm, may fairly be labeled "propaganda." When accompanied by the trappings of scholarship - references, bibliography, assurances of objectivity devoid of its essence - such writing in reality constitutes not scholarship but "propaganda with footnotes." It is the conclusion of the present study that Bloodlands is precisely such a work.
I am aware that there is a subset of readers for whom evidence is irrelevant, for whom - to put it politely - this is not a matter of evidence but one of belief or loyalty. In any historical inquiry as in any criminal case "belief" and "loyalty" are irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of the hypothesis. By definition, a belief that is not rationally founded on evidence cannot be dispelled by a sound argument and evidence.
However, those who cannot bring themselves to question their preconceived ideas may nevertheless by provoked by those same prejudices to look especially critically at the evidence and to find weaknesses in its interpretation that might escape other readers for whom there is less at stake. This sometimes makes objections from such quarters worthy of attention. I have tried hard both to anticipate and to deal with such objections in an objective and satisfactory manner.
The results of my study of Bloodlands are so overwhelmingly negative that some readers may suspect that this study lacks objectivity. I wish to assure the reader that I have done my best to point out those very few cases in which Snyder makes a fact-claim about the Soviet Union that both is of a negative tendency and is true.
Snyder's falsehoods about Soviet history are not original to him. Snyder is a captive, albeit a willing one, of right-wing Polish and Ukrainian nationalists who have ruled these countries since the end of the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc. The lies and other falsehoods Snyder repeats come mainly from those sources.
This fact can be most easily seen from the books Snyder cites. When writing about Soviet history Snyder almost never cites Russian-language sources. His main sources are in Polish, secondarily in Ukrainian. But Snyder also frequently cites Ukrainian and Belarusian works in Polish translation. Polish nationalist, anticommunist writers, then, are the main fount from which Snyder draws.
I ask the reader to imagine how competent research on, say, the history of the United States could be done without citing a great many sources in the English language, or the history of France written without a preponderance of French sources. Yet Snyder seldom uses a Russian-language source. The blatant fraudulence of such an approach should be obvious - though many reviewers, sympathetic to Snyder's anti-Stalin and anticommunist bias, seem not to have remarked on it at all!
Snyder repeats and thus conveys to an unsuspecting audience the mythology of Polish and, secondarily, of Ukrainian nationalists. This is the distortion of history that is taught as truth in today's Poland and Ukraine, but also in Eastern Europe generally and increasingly, thanks to books like Bloodlands, in the rest of the world as well.
Here are some of the chief elements, the principal falsehoods, of Polish and Ukrainian historical mythology that compose the framework around which Bloodlands is constructed. We will examine all of them in the course of the present study.
* The USSR was an "ally of Hitler's."
* The "Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics," popularly known as the "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact" and called "The Hitler-Stalin Pact" by anticommunists, was an agreement to "attack" and "divide up" Poland and the Baltics.
* Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia were integral "parts of Poland", the "kresy wschodnie" or Eastern territories.
* The Soviets aimed to "eliminate the Polish elites" - a kind of "genocide" not unlike that of the Nazis.
* The Soviets shot about 22,000 Polish prisoners of war in the massacres called the "Katyn Massacre."
* The Polish "Home Army" (Armia Krajowa, AK), loyal to the Polish exile government in London, fought the Nazis but was duplicitously betrayed by their supposed ally the USSR.
* The Red Army stood by and allowed the German Army to suppress the Warsaw Uprising.
* Polish Home Army soldiers who remained armed and underground after June 1945 were fighting for "independence" and were unjustly hunted down and "repressed" by communist security forces.
* The Polish government and civilians were no more anti-Semitic than many other Europeans.
* Stalin and his henchmen created the famine of 1932-33 by their criminal plan to collectivize agriculture.
* Then they deliberately starved Ukrainian peasants in order to "punish" Ukraine and/or to sell its grain abroad.
* The Volhynian Massacre during the war of 50,000-100,000 or more Polish civilians by armed forces of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), who were armed by, allied with, and loyal to Nazi Germany, was a minor episode unworthy of more than the briefest attention.
* The Ukrainian nationalists in the OUN were "freedom fighters", "against both Stalin and Hitler." They were not significantly implicated in the Jewish Holocaust or other mass murders.
* The armed Ukrainian nationalist forces who remained after the war in the underground, killing Soviet civilians, soldiers, and policemen, were not terrorists but "heroic freedom fighters."
It is hard to exaggerate the vehemence with which these false historical mythologies are officially propagated in Poland and Ukraine, as well as in the rest of Eastern Europe. Snyder feeds them to a largely Western public that is unaware of the history of Eastern Europe and has been indoctrinated over many years to accept as true any accusations of crimes against Stalin and the Soviet Union.
Both nationalist mythologies are based on historical falsehoods. Both mythologies are aimed to cover up the crimes of the Polish and Ukrainian nationalists of the 1930s and wartime period. These crimes include:
* Poland's imperialist invasion of Soviet Russia in 1919.
* Poland's seizure by conquest of Western Ukraine and Belorussia, ignoring the Curzon Line drawn by the Allies to show were Poles were in the minority.
* Poland's killing of between 18,000 and 60,000 Russian prisoners of war in Polish POW camps.
* Poland's imperialist seizure by force of Lithuania's capital Vilnius in 1922, restored to Lithuania by the USSR in October 1939.
* The sending of Polish veterans as "settlers" (Polish "osadnicy") to "Polonize" the conquered territories.
* Polish racist oppression against Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Jews, and suppression of their languages and cultures.
* The pervasive nature of anti-Semitism in Polish society during the Second Republic (1919-1939), an anti-Semitism officially promoted by the Polish government and Polish Roman Catholic Church, which made Poland perhaps the most anti-Semitic country in the world at that time.
* The Polish government's deliberate sabotage of the Soviet attempts to build collective security against Hitler's Germany.
* Poland's participation with Germany in the partitioning of Czechoslovakia.
* The Polish government's abandonment of the country by fleeing to internment in Rumania on September 17, 1939, thus destroying the Polish state and condemning the Polish people to Nazi occupation and mass murder.
* The Polish Home Army's collaboration with the German Army against Soviet partisans and the Red Army.<*>The Polish Home Army's murderous anti-Semitism and anticommunism.
* The Polish Home Army's failure to help the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943.
* The crime of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
* The Polish Home Army's clandestine terrorism, murder and sabotage in socialist Poland after 1945.
Since the Second World War the two pillars of Ukrainian nationalism have been (a) the "Holodomor", or deliberate starvation of several million Ukrainians by Stalin in the so-called "mad-nade famine" 1932-33; and (b) the supposed "heroism" of the armed forces of the OUN as "freedom fighters" against both Germany and the Soviet Union, for independence.
Both are myths. No "Holodomor" occurred. The terrible famine of 1932-33 was caused by natural phenomena. The OUN forces were Nazis and Nazi-like mass murderers. We discuss the 1932-33 famine, and Snyder's lies about it, in a separate chapter. The principle characteristics of Ukrainian nationalism, all of which Snyder either omits or mentions only in passing, include the following:
* The fascist nature of Ukrainian Nationalism.
* The collaboration of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) with the Nazis during the invasion of the USSR in 1941 and during the war.
* The OUN's participation in the mass murder of Soviet Jews (the Holocaust) and of a great many other Soviet citizens.
* The mass murder by Ukrainian Nationalist forces of 50,000 to 100,000 Polish civilians.
* The OUN's underground terrorism against Soviet citizens after the war, including collaboration with the American OSS/CIA.
(18) In this chapter and the conclusion I have put scare quotes around the words "nationalism" and "nationalist." I do so because the right-wing "nationalists" claim that only anti-communists can be really "nationalist." Communist Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, and others claim "nationalism" too - "national in form, socialist in content" is one formulation. There is no reason that the right-wing, conservative, fascist, etc. definition of "nationalist" should be conceded to be the only "legitimate" nationalism. In fact the very concept of nationalism has long since been deconstructed, though we cannot go into that here.
During the period of the Cold War Polish and Ukrainian nationalists pushed this mythology hard. It is easy to understand why they did so. Their aim was to try to help the Western capitalist powers to weaken and perhaps overthrow socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Following the principles of the "Big Lie" outlined by Hitler they considered any means - in this case, any degree of lying and falsehood - to be legitimate towards this goal.
After 1990 (Poland) and 1992 (Ukraine) the nationalists found themselves in power in capitalist states. The goal of capitalists is to enrich themselves by extracting value from the working class. This meant lowering the standard of living of the working class of Poland and Ukraine. Nationalism - the myths of the "heroic past" and of the "two Holocausts", one by Nazis, the other by the Soviets - has been the main way the economic and intellectual elites of Poland and Ukraine have attempted to "create a history" useful to the new anticommunist ruling elites. By constructing nationalist lies they also cover up the shameful truth about the past. Such national mythology also serves the important function of distracting the population away from the fact that its own rulers, through their government, are exploiting them more, lowering their standard of living. Most other "post-Soviet" countries, from the Baltics to Hungary have witnessed the imposition of similar false nationalist and anticommunist historical constructions by their new capitalist rulers.
Until recently this nationalist mythology was virtually unknown outside Eastern Europe. Why is it now being popularized in the rest of the world? There appear to be several reasons.
The anticommunist motive is simplest to understand. Polish and Ukrainian nationalist mythologies, like those of the other former Soviet and Soviet bloc countries, rely on pushing anticommunist lies, the more the better. They do this in order to disguise or minimize the fascist, racist, and pro-Nazi crimes of their nationalist predecessors, most of whom are praised as "heroes" today.
For capitalists anywhere it is always logical to promote anticommunism in order to disarm protests against the injustices of exploitation. By demonizing communism, and then by describing protests against socio-economic inequality as "communist", capitalists attempt to delegitimize any protest against their exploitative policies. Militant trade unionists, students fighting for lower tuition or free education, struggles against imperialist wars and military expenditures - all can be, and are, condemned as "communist." If communism can be equated with Nazism, then anti-communism - and, thereby, exploitation - can be portrayed as praiseworthy, even virtuous. Meanwhile the essential similarity between Nazi-type anticommunism and ordinary capitalist anti-communism can be obscured, as can the fact that fascism was and is another form of capitalism.
Twenty years after the end of the Soviet bloc many citizens of Eastern Europe look back upon it with some, often much, nostalgia. Like the USSR these were social welfare states that provided basic benefits and jobs to all, or almost all, citizens: free or low-cast medical care, education, job training, retirement pensions, and many benefits for the youth. This basic economic security is entirely lacking in capitalist states, leaving most citizens vulnerable and fearful. Cultural activities were popular, free or low-cost, and encouraged by the government. Racism - the ethnic hatreds and rivalries that have been the curse of Eastern Europe in the 20th century and are now coming back - was a a minimum. The sense of internationalism within the socialist bloc, taken for granted at the time, is often remembered now with fondness.
The United States encouraged and aided the breakup of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc in an effort to weaken its main political and economic rival. An important ideological weapon in this effort was the demonization of the Soviet Union generally and especially of the Stalin era. Since then the United States and NATO have engaged in wars and killed civilians on a scale that no one could blame the Soviet Union for - a million civilians, mostly children, by the war and then boycott on Iraq from 1991-2003, and another several hundred thousand at least since then. This boycott and these invasions would have been impossible if the USSR and Soviet bloc had still been in existence.
Stimulated once again by the US and NATO ethnic hatreds have flared up again throughout Europe - hatred against immigrants, gypsies, and anybody of the "wrong" national background. These have led to terrible wars and anti-civilian atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, and to racist violence and murders and the rise of fascist parties throughout Europe.
When the USSR sent an army into Afghanistan in December 1979 the USA and Western capitalist governments howled with protest, cancelled the 1980 Olympic Games, and armed and trained the future Al-Qaida terrorists. In 2001 the United States invaded Afghanistan, in 2003 it invaded Iraq. Now the USA has gone far beyond what the Soviet Union ever did in the Middle East. The US is more heavily involved in military imperialist ventures in Africa as well. American influence has been challenged in Latin America by mildly reformist governments in Venezuela (Hugo Chavez), Ecuador (Rafael Correa), Bolivia (Evo Morales), and throughout the region.
In the Eurasian area one of the United States' main obstacles to expansion is Russia, still a major regional military and economic power now that the period of collapse and shrinkage of the post-Soviet period had ceased. China is now another major economic and military rival to American power - a fact which threatens to drive Russia and China into closer alliance against the United States.
This is the geopolitical context for the escalation of hostility in American scholarship and elite discourse concerning Soviet history, especially history of the Stalin period. The United States did not split up the Soviet Union. Top figures in the Soviet Communist Party did that. But the United States ruling elite has benefitted tremendously from the way the USSR broke up. Most of the countries that had previously been in the Soviet bloc, plus most of the new countries that had been part of the USSR itself, instantly became anti-Russian, more closely allied to the United States and Western Europe (NATO) than to Russia. This was a great geopolitical victory for the US ruling elite. It is presumably helpful to their interests to accept large parts of the nationalist mythology promoted by Polish and Ukrainian elites.
Russia is blamed as the successor state to the Soviet Union. The more crimes that can be attributed to the USSR, the more negative, even criminal Russia can be made to appear. The campaign to associate the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany serves to obscure the far more accurate parallels between the prewar capitalist states and Nazi Germany, and the fascist mass murders by capitalist states before and after World War 2. It is similar to the French and American "rewriting" of their wars to preserve colonialism in Vietnam by calling them "wars of liberation against communist aggression", since the anti-colonial movement in Vietnam was indeed led by the communist party.
One could argue that there has indeed been a "second Holocaust" - not by the Soviet Union during 1930-1945 but by the Western imperialist nations in their colonial empires during their final century of roughly 1880-1975, with tens of millions of victims. This "second Holocaust" has only escalated since the demise of the Soviet bloc.
The present book takes upon itself the task of examining and checking every single statement in Bloodlands that has an anti-Soviet or anticommunist tendency, and reporting the results of this research of verification. It presents for the reader's consideration the proof that virtually every fact-claim of an anti-Soviet tendency in Snyder's book is false.
Most people rely upon the statements by supposedly "authoritative" figures such as Snyder. They trust that scholars from respected institutions of learning with renowned academic reputations do not fabricate evidence and conspicuously lie about important historical events. It is this trust that enables false scholarship to shape opinion on important historical questions.
Most of the chapters in Snyder's book focus on a single event or chain of events; the famine of 1932-33 (Chapter 1); the Ezhovshchina (the anticommunist term is "Great Terror") (Chapter 2); the so-called "national operations", part of the Ezhovshchina (Chapter 3); the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Chapter 4); the Resistance (Chapter 9); the post-war deportations intended to separate people of different nationalities (Chapter 10); Soviet suppression of Zionism within the USSR during the period up to 1953 (Chapter 11). Chapters 5 through 7 are not organized about a single event but deal with a number of events related to the war. Only Chapter 8, "The Nazi Death Factories", which is devoted solely to Nazi crimes, contains no fact-claims of an anti-Soviet tendency.
It is no exaggeration to state that, as concerns Soviet history, Snyder's Bloodlands is a work of falsification from beginning to end. I have established that this is so through an exhaustive process of checking every footnote, every reference that Snyder cites in support of any fact-claim or statement of an anti-Soviet tendency.
A normal practice for those who intend to deceive others is to mainly tell the truth, and smuggle in the falsehoods intermingled among the true statements. Snyder did not choose to follow this technique of deception. Rather, Snyder employs the method of "The Big Lie." Though it is ostensibly not a work of propaganda Snyder's book follows the technique of propaganda recommended by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, such as the following:
The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.
It was absolutely wrong to discuss war-guilt from the standpoint that Germany alone could not be held responsible for the outbreak of the catastrophe; it would have been correct to load every bit of the blame on the shoulders of the enemy, even if this had not really corresponded to the true facts, as it actually did. (18)
The "Big Lie" was not original with Hitler. He learned of it by studying the anti-German propaganda put out by the Western Allies during the First World War. After the war a number of books were written, often by shocked and deceived journalists, exposing these Allied falsifications.
There is a large literature about these Allied lies. ...In the USA the so-called "Creel Committee" co-ordinated false propaganda for the American home front.Thus there was no need for Snyder to learn the "Big Lie" technique from Hitler. That Snyder does utilize this technique is beyond questions. The present book establishes this fact by carefully checking every one of the references Snyder uses to support his anti-Soviet fact-claims.
Snyder makes no attempt at objectivity. Indeed, his anti-Soviet hostility often boils over in passages of heated rhetoric, fervent moralizing, and moral condemnation that serve no analytical purpose. Yet objectivity is first among the requirements of any historian worthy of the name. If one does not strive for objectivity from the outset of one's study one will never discover the truth. The truth was never Snyder's goal in the first place.
Hitler also succinctly explained why the "Big Lie" technique is so effective:
In this they proceeded on the sound principle that the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil, and that, therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one, since themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others; yes, even when enlightened on the subject, they will long doubt and waver, and continue to accept at least one of these causes as true. Therefore, something of even the most insolent lie will always remain and stick - a fact which all the great lie-virtuosi and lying-clubs in this world know only too well and also make the most treacherous use of.(24)
Some readers may think that it is inappropriate to compare Snyder's method to Hitler's regardless of the apparent accuracy of that comparison. As understandable as such reluctance may be, the reader should note that Snyder often compares Joseph Stalin to Adolf Hitler but utterly fails to demonstrate that similarity because the "evidence" he cites in support of this "Stalin-Hitler" comparison is not evidence at all but is based on falsification.
Consciously or not, Snyder uses the "Big Lie" technique to compare Stalin to Hitler, the communists to the Nazis, communism to Nazism. This comparison falls apart if one sticks to the truth - the truth dismantles it entirely. Hence the lies and falsehoods, "deliberate" or not.
A full professor at Yale University, publishing with a major American commercial publisher, can rely on "credibility" - the only coin in the propagandist's purse. The present study shows this coin to be counterfeit.