The History boys (and too few girls)

October 5 2016 at 3:00 PM
A Worker Who Reads 

Response to Accounts of our failures & misteps

I don't think you should rush to reject serious examinations of Comintern/Communist history written by non-communists or by Marxists of those heretical varieties you mentioned.
As Francis King has pointed out, so much of the raw materials are there that it is really up to us to present our own estimations of these times.
As far as historians from the Trotskyist movement are concerned, I find them drearily predictable in their attempts to shoehorn facts into their own dogmas - a sin too many communists were guilty of too, to be fair. Pierre Broue is worth a read on Spain and Germany but in the end a sectarian account of the comintern is what shines through.
On China, Gregor Benton has written some very valuable studies on the CCP, but when it comes to British Trots on the CPGB or Comintern I don't really think there is much to be said. Take the awful Dave Renton book on the CPGB as an example, I think Graham Stevenson did a fairly creditable critique of that.
I did recently come across a history of the Spanish Civil War by Andy Durgan (SWP) which I found remarkably good, not without weaknesses, but essentially departed from the usual script.
I always found Monty Johnstone's writings valuable, although some would dismiss them as "euro" but so what? Reading the articles he put together in the 1970s on the Popular Front etc, he would be seen as very conservative in his conclusions in some respects.
One very recent contributor to this site, Geoff roberts has written some absolutely marvellous stuff on Soviet policy during the Stalin period - I can't recommend his Stalin's Wars and Stalingrad enough. I'm working my way through his tome on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact right now. He was a "Euro", he now says he is on the non-communist left, but the test surely is has he written good history? Do you learn from his work, by which i mean not do you agree with his conclusions but do they provoke the reader to think for themselves, to question assumptions or even to have assumptions confirmed.
I almost never agreed with Hobsbawm's views on contemporary issues but his historical writing is magnificent. He also warned of the challenges of communist historians writing about the histories of their own party or wider movement.
I think he had a point.

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