Robert Conquest: Good Riddance!
Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 1:15PM

Like all institutions under capitalism, universities and colleges serve the needs of the ruling class. They slant their research to cloud the reality of class conflict and to advance the bosses’ lethal anti-worker ideologies: racism, sexism, nationalism, imperialism, anti-communism. In the U.S., nowhere is their agenda more brazen than in the field of Russian or Soviet studies. Leading departments—at bastions like Harvard and Columbia—were essentially created in the Cold War 1950s by alumni of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. From the start, their mission was to promote anti-communist propaganda masquerading as academic scholarship.
On August 3, Robert Conquest, academia’s most influential anti-communist of the 20th century, died belatedly at the age of 98. Predictably, the capitalists’ liberal media celebrated his work. Citing Conquest’s cynical fictions as fact, the New York Times lauded his “landmark studies of the Stalinist purges and the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s [that] documented the horrors perpetrated by the Soviet regime against its own citizens.” The Guardian called him “the man who told the truth about the terror [of the ‘30s], and Stalin’s murderous tyranny.”
A Capitalist Secret Agent
In actuality, Conquest was a bought-and-paid-for agent for the ruling class. His career stands second to none for dishonesty and deceit; his shoddy research—and its formidable reputation—speaks volumes about how the capitalist “academy” distorts history. His bibliography is a testament to the work of Nazi propagandists. Here are the facts about one of the bosses’ top hatchet men in their ideological war against the international working class:
1. A dual British-U.S. citizen by birth, Conquest received his doctorate in Soviet history from the University of Oxford, the crème de la crème of capitalist higher education. There he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1937—and then left it two years later after the party denounced World War II as capitalist and imperialist (The Guardian, 8/5/2015).
2. In 1948, after a wartime stint as a British intelligence officer, Conquest joined the newly created Information Research Department (IRD), a secret section of the British Foreign Office. Christopher Mayhew, the Labour minister who invented it, called the IRD a covert “propaganda counter-offensive” against the Russians. Its job was “to collect and summarize reliable information about Soviet and communist misdoings, to disseminate it to friendly journalists, politicians, and trade unionists, and to support, financially and otherwise, anticommunist publications” (New York Review of Books, 9/25/2003). This was known as “gray propaganda”—heavily spun and vaguely official material that always concealed its source.
3. Conquest officially left the IRD in 1956, but continued to work closely with his British intelligence connections even as he forged a career as a writer and historian. His first free-lance job, at his handlers’ request, was to edit eight volumes of IRD documents into a “Soviet Studies Series” that was reprinted in the U.S. by the Praeger Press, a publisher subsidized by the CIA (The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Frances Stonor Saunders, The New Press, 2000).
4. In 1968, Conquest published the book that would become the bosses’ basic anti-communist manual: The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties. In an analysis that violated every rule of demography and scholarship, he wildly estimated that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people. (He later revised his estimate to “thirteen to fifteen million.”) The Great Terror was finished and published with the help of the IRD; a third of the publication run was bought by the Praeger Press (
    5. In 1981, Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute asked Conquest to write a book on the so-called “Holomodor” (or “terror-famine”) in the Ukraine in 1932-33. The pot was sweetened by an $80,000 subsidy from the Ukrainian National Association, a New Jersey-based group whose newspaper, Swoboda, was banned by Canada during World War II for its pro-German sympathies (Village Voice, 1/12/88).
    6. The resulting volume, The Harvest of Sorrow, makes the utterly unsubstantiated claim that Stalin deliberately starved millions of men, women, and children to consolidate the collectivization of agriculture. Though the book was favorably reviewed by The New York Times and The New York Review of Books, it was slammed by a number of top Soviet scholars. “This is crap, rubbish,” said Moshe Lewin, a self-described anti-Stalinist at the University of Pennsylvania (Village Voice).
7. Facts never got in Conquest’s way. In The Great Terror, he states: “Truth can thus only percolate in the form of hearsay….On political matters basically the best, though not infallible, source is rumor.” This approach gave Conquest free reign to rely on the self-serving memoirs of virulently anti-communist Ukrainian nationalist emigres, many of whom were Nazi collaborators during World War II.
8. In the 1990s, after the Soviet archives began to be opened to historians, Conquest asserted that this primary source material supported his slanders against Stalin. In fact, these claims were based on the big lies put forward by Soviet revisionist misleaders, notably Nikita Krushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev. Honest historians like J. Arch Getty (at UCLA) and Grover Furr (at Montclair State University) have found that the Soviet archives contradict Conquest at every turn.
Why the Bosses Hate Stalin
Capitalism relies on racism and sexism to divide the working class and enlist them as fodder for their imperialist wars. The 1917 Russian Revolution revealed that another system was possible. Under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union went further than any other society in eradicating racism and sexism. Anti-communism smears the great advances made by the Soviet working class and builds the lie that there is no practical alternative to capitalism. By attacking Stalin and the Soviet Union, the bosses seek to distract the working class from the horror house of capitalism. PLP stands by the successes of the Soviet Union, criticizes its mistakes, and fights to teach the working class the truth!
In the bosses’ eyes, the true “crime” of Stalin’s leadership was the Soviet Union’s commitment to the international working class. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin’s leadership was instrumental in creating the heavy industry needed for war materiel. This was a monumental task, since factories had to be dismantled and rebuilt far east of the Ural Mountains while being strafed by Nazi warplanes. The Stalin leadership’s greatest achievement may have been the development of the Red Army, a multiracial, multiethnic force composed of many languages and hundreds of ethnic groups. Not only did the Red Army defy worldwide expectations that they’d collapse within six weeks, but they drove the Nazis all the way back to Berlin and flew the red flag from the roof of the Reichstag. Workers throughout the world were saved from Nazi fascism because of the Red Army.
As in any revolutionary movement, the Stalin leadership made mistakes. They reflected the mistakes of the Soviet working class, the first to wage armed revolution and learn how to run society to serve workers’ needs. In spite of its many serious weaknesses, which PLP has analyzed elsewhere, Stalin’s leadership represented the best of the international working class. It is a legacy that inspires today’s communists and helps us grow..PLP sustains that legacy in our fight for communism, and in our relentless struggle against the horrors of capitalism that vermin like Conquest defend.

Article originally appeared on The Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party (
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