International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 20 (1994): Capital, Labor and the Nation-State

A Letter to the Wall Street Journal

The following letter, written in response to a column by the historian Robert Conquest, was published in the “Letters to the Editor' section of the September 22, 1992, issue of the Wall Street Journal.

The title of Robert Conquest’s Sept. 15 editorial page essay, “Getting Communism Wrong,” is an apt description of his own understanding of Marxism. Although his books contributed to an exposure of the crimes of the Kremlin bureaucracy, he has always accepted uncritically the principal and self-serving political conceit of the Stalinists, i.e., that their policies were based upon Marxism and were the inevitable outcome of the program and ideals that inspired the October Revolution.

Since the failure of the 1991 coup in the Soviet Union, declares Mr. Conquest, “the people there are rid of Marxism-Leninism.” In fact, by the time of its demise there had not been a trace of Marxism or Leninism in the Soviet Union for more than a half-century.

Between 1936 and 1939, as Mr. Conquest’s “The Great Terror” documented, the Stalinist regime ruthlessly liquidated virtually all those who played any significant role in the October Revolution. Moreover, the killing was not confined to the political cadre of the old Bolshevik party. By the end of the 1930s, the Stalinists had murdered or imprisoned almost every notable representative of that extraordinary generation of socialist workers and intellectuals who had made the October Revolution and the initial social, economic, scientific and cultural achievements of the Bolshevik regime possible. Mr. Conquest provided many details of these horrifying crimes in “The Great Terror.”

But what Mr. Conquest, like so many other anti-communist historians, never cared to explain is why the Stalinist bureaucracy’s rise to power required this wholesale extermination of socialists within the Soviet Union.

Mr. Conquest writes not so much as an opponent of Stalinism as of revolution itself, which he rejects as an “impatient” means of effecting social change. He concludes his essay with a diatribe against socialism. He is entitled to his opinion. But as an historian Mr. Conquest should at least acknowledge that countless thousands of men and women within the USSR conducted, in the name of Marxism and socialism, a life-and-death struggle against the Soviet bureaucracy, and that several decades before Mr. Conquest wrote his own books the crimes and falsifications of the Kremlin regime had already been denounced and exposed by the greatest of all the Marxist opponents of Stalinism, Leon Trotsky.

David North

National Secretary Workers League Detroit