The Privileged and the Pillaged –
Changing History, 2

G. S. 
<george.salzman@umb.edu>

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/t/2009-10-13.htm

      Taking oneself seriously is a hell of an impediment to having fun, supposedly necessary for one's mental health. I believe it is important. At the very least one needs some diversion. So I thought I'd try some light reading. As it happens, Nancy was a student of literature at Swarthmore College. Her ancient copy of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's Don Quixote de la Mancha was at hand, a bit of classical literary culture for a change of pace, I thought. At the beginning I thoroughly enjoyed the absurdities Cervantes dreamt up to satisfy Don Quixote's lust for righteous adventures. Could it be that I too, in my passion for 'straightening out the world' am but one more possessed fool devoted to tilting with windmills? Of course I don't believe that for a minute. No possessed fool sees himself or herself in the caricature that may ring true for objective outside observers.

      It happened that Israel Shamir came into my life a few months ago, and with him came some light heartedness. I've joked about him, both to him and some mutual friends, claiming I know what's ‘wrong’ with him: he's just having too much fun doing what he's doing. Since I became 'entangled' with this charming but Oh! so ideologically difficult-to-pin-down artist of the written word, and a body of his uncritical admirers who gasp in admiration at his every pronouncement, mistaking art and audacity for raw truth, in fact my life too has been enlivened with fun.[1] Is he an anti-Semite, as some friends have cautioned me? I doubt it, but I don't care. I don't think he is a Jew-hater (the common but arguable meaning of the term anti-Semite), but that he wants to think of himself not as the Russian Jew of his upbringing but as the Eastern Orthodox Catholic to which he converted. When he chooses, Shamir can be as immune to rationality as was the Don Quixote of Cervantes' imagination. But he can also be wonderfully, shockingly rational. Incidentally, I got fed up with all the violence and mayhem of Don Quixote and quit in Chapter XXI at page 231, leaving not quite 3/4 of the volume unread. Enough is enough.

      Once you accept Shamir on his own terms and are willing to read him critically it can be both stimulating and fun. What you can be confident of is that you won't always get the unvarnished truth from him. For example, a note he wrote to John Spritzler and me:

Date: Mon, 21 Sep 2009 06:29:19 +0200 reads (in its entirety):
Hi John and George, you write:
The earlier Bolshevik suppression of workers at Kronstadt was a crime.
[he then comments] Incidentally, Stalin was AGAINST the raid of Kronstadt, Trotsky insisted and had his will enforced.
----------
In an addendum later that day Israel wrote us:
Date: Mon, 21 Sep 2009 11:11:43 +0200
PS re Kronstadt see Trotsky's letter to Lev Sedov dated 19.11.1937

      These notes were in support of Shamir's contention that Trotsky was worse than Stalin, for whom Shamir has quite high regard. Elsewhere he said our view of Stalin resulted from our living in the U.S. and accepting his demonization, but that Russians love Stalin. Neither John Spritzler nor I, nor Dave Stratman (a collaborator with John of the Boston-based New Democracy website [2]) found Israel's contention that Stalin had opposed the Bolshevik attack on the Kronstadt Naval Base at all credible. Dave's refutation is reproduced just below. Shamir offered only a weak, easily challenged letter from Trotsky to his son Lev Sedov to support his assertion.

Stratman's incisive challenge to Shamir's claim

From: Dave Stratman <newdem@aol.com>
Sent: 10/1/2009 9:07:21 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time
Hi, Israel--
      In reference to the claim that "Stalin was AGAINST the raid of Kronstadt, Trotsky insisted and had his will enforced." I understand that you later supported this claim by referring to a letter (in Russian) from Trotsky to his son in 1937.
      I am in no position to check this reference; if it exists, though, I doubt its value. Surely such a sensational bit of information, were it true, would have found its way into at least some of the many texts that trace the course of the Kronstadt revolt of March, 1921, Trotsky and Lenin's role in suppressing it, and the Tenth Party Congress which was in progress at the time, which Stalin as well as Trotsky and Lenin addressed.
      Neither Robert C. Tucker, Stalin as Revolutionary, perhaps the most likely author to offer evidence of such a surprising bit of information, nor Paul Avrich, in his painstaking and thorough treatment of the uprising in Kronstadt, 1921, say anything of any position, taken either in public or in private, by Stalin for moderation regarding Kronstadt, nor does Victor Serge--who supported the suppression and also supported Trostky--in Memoirs of a Revolutionary. E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution: 1917-1923, also keeps mum about this tantalizing claim.
      Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921, writes, "The Bolsheviks denounced the men of Kronstadt as counterrevolutionary mutineers led by a White general....Such was the turmoil [in the USSR] at the time that leniency towards the insurgents of Kronstadt was certain to be taken as a sign of weakness and to make matters worse." (pp. 511-12)
      Given the context and given Stalin's character, it frankly strains credulity to imagine that Stalin favored forbearance towards the Kronstadt revolt. The claim seems to me more an attempt to rehabilitate Stalin's image than an honest contribution to our historical understanding.

Shamir's healthy disdain for academic plodding —
maybe I ought to shrug off my total addiction to truth

      Not really, of course. I line up solidly with Stratman and Spritzler in believing that Stalin surely did not publicly oppose the attack on Kronstadt. But is it important enough to get into a 'knock-down drag-out argument, as though our personal worth somehow depends on 'winning' the argument? I don't think so. [This posting is still incomplete. I got lost trying to be upbeat when my mood was mostly depressed. I was kept awake nights — "those fucking Israelis" — how to stop the ongoing atrocities. Another Don Quixote? Another fool?]

NOTES[0]

[1]

[2] New Democracy World website in Boston. This upbeat site by Dave G. Stratman and John Spritzler makes the case, as its banner says, that We CAN Change The World. It's at http://www.newdemocracyworld.org/.


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