Re: Communists

Grover Furr (
Tue, 23 Apr 1996 11:59:20 -0400

In response to Kathleen's post: On the contrary; the
"counter-revolutionary" nature of the USSR was virtually an article of
faith during the '60s, even in SDS where many of us were attracted to
Marxism-Leninism. I think the Chinese were more often taken
uncritically than the USSR. In my experience, those (few) who were in
the CPUSA -- including the leader of the Princeton SDS chapter,
unbeknownst to the rest of us -- normally kept this fact carefully

The Chinese CP had a much more positive reputation, partly for
being much more democratic in mobilizing the peasants; partly for
going far beyond the Soviets into the commune movement (more advanced
form of collectivization than collective farms or Kolkhozes); partly
for their rigorous (as it seemed then) critique of the USSR from a
communist standpoing (the 'Sino-Soviet dispute', a very important
issue); and partly because of what seemed like a real attempt to take
on capitalism and imperialism, which we also were 'taking on' in the
anti-war and anti-racism movements, as many of us came to understand.

What was troubling about the Chinese was the "cult" around Mao,
beyond even what there had been around Stalin and clearly modelled on
it; and finally, in the end (end of '69 or beginning of '70 is when I
remember thinking about this) the rejection of the radical phase of
the Cultural Revolution, the 'Shanghai Commune' and, then, 'ping-pong
diplomacy,' crawling into bed with Nixon.

All the pro's and cons, successes and failures, of the Comintern
were hotly studied and debated, often in large meetings, in much more
mass ways than perhaps had EVER been done in the US. There was
certainly no uncritical assumption that "if you're not
pro-capitalist, you have to side with the Soviets", though no doubt
some people did, though I met maybe _one_.

I think the French Student-Worker Revolt of May '68 had a greater
impact on SDS and people I knew than almost any other event. It seemed
to be both a confirmation of the revolutionary nature of the working
class; a demonstration of the 'catalytic' role student activism could
play; and at the same time a living demonstration of the bankruptcy of
the Soviet Union, because the French C.P. so obviously saved De
Gaulle's ass and shot the whole revolt down.

I would probably have done some reading of Marx and Lenin without
the French events, but what specifically impelled me to get into a
reading group (while at grad school) where we read some Marx and Lenin
was in fact the New York Times reporting on the events in France. And
I soon discovered that the same thing happened to thousands of others
maybe to tens of thousands.

One of the legacies of the '60s was then the _critical_
assimilation, discussion, debate, study, of the history of the
communist movement and of left and working-class movements in general,
a very liberating thing, since this stuff was never taught except in
the most reactionary, Cold-War manner. In effect, we realized, we
were WORSE OFF than being entirely ignorant -- we THOUGHT we knew this
history, but "what we knew was wrong."

Same with the Cold War version of the history of communism -- we
"thought" we knew all about communism -- I certainly did -- but we

So critical thinking, not dogmatism, led me and many, many others
around the country and, in fact, around the world back to a critical,
creative look at Marx, Lenin, Mao, and so on.

Naturally I don't expect those steeped in the Cold War view of
things to "see" it this way. I think their vision is blurred. The few
social democrats (not to beat up on them, but just as an observation)
I knew then already were convinced that most of the "horror stories"
about the USSR were CORRECT. This was, and remains, the most common
'fatal error.' In this respect the Socialist Party, Harrington, Norman
Thomas, et al., were no further 'left' than the CIA. In fact, one of
the main Cold War journals purveying the imperialist viewpoint was
"The New Leader," organ of the socialist party. Harrington laments in
his autobiography how he was not far-sighted enough to kill SDS in its

Grover Furr