considering the fact that mmost of the data became available after 1991 -revised eddition has just as much value as the first one -that is zilch. as for the ways Conquest argues...Matt H. wrote:Because in fact he was in the intelligence services run against the Soviet Union and hence an excellent place to create just the type of propaganda that he creates. He doesn't use archival sources and only interviews nationalists which he bases all his 'facts' on as well as hearsay. "Harvest of Sorrow" is an excellent example of the type of lies and twisted facts he is capable of, as is "The Great Terror." Look toward Thurston and Getty's accounts for a truthful assesment of what happened as well as Mark Tauger for the Famine in Ukraine, not man made nor controlled by Stalin. As for "The Great Terror" being acknowledged as a 'definitive account' by whom exactly?
Sorry, but this "oh it was written during the Cold War" excuse won't wash. Conquest's detractors appear quite ready to believe information coming from the Soviet Union concerning the West in the years 1945-1991, but nothing from US and British sources. A little bit of double standards, methinks. As for The Great Terror, yes, he did have access to the archives -- that's why he wrote a revised edition in 1991, using new information recently revealed by the Glasnost archives. What makes the revisionist interpretation of Stalin's Russia any more valid than the traditionalist historiography? Historical investigation is bound to produce differing opinions, but your dismissal of Conquest as a propagandist is highly akin to a smear tactic.
Unlike you, I don't believe history or historians should be forgotten. Only through a free exchange of information shall we form our conclusive opinions. Robert Conquest has just as much right to be remembered as
1) On the comment of Professor Conquest
The main point of my article was to show that there is no serious contradiction between the data on arrests and sentences and those on flows into and out of the different aspects of the penal system. I pointed out that the prisoners came into the system through two channels: the normal criminal sentencing system and the political sentencing system. I provided a detailed table of criminal convictions and sentences in table A2.1, as well as the better known data concerning political sentences in table A2.2. I also pointed out that the category of arrivals and departures in the camp system (the Zemskov data) was the result of an aggregation of data from individual camps and so is better understood as arrivals and departures from ‘other camps’. This is similar to the accountancy procedures used in the Tsarist penal systems . When these two points are taken into consideration, it can be shown (pp. 325-9, tables 2-4) that there are no substantial contradictions between these data sets. Professor Conquest’s claim that there is a contradicton is consequently groundless.
Conquest’s comment only makes one specific reference to my main argument on the comparability of these data sets:
‘Meanwhile, let us note that Wheatcroft’s interpretation of the Zemskov tables (better seen in the original Russian version than in his redeployment of them) is contrary to the natural reading of its categories—and contradicts his own treatment of the 1937-38 figures.’ (p.1481)
It is difficult to treat this comment seriously. It is unclear what he means by claiming that my interpretation of the data is contrary to ‘the natural reading of the categories’. And it is not explained why he thinks that the contradiction remains.
Few scholars today would subscribe to the notion that there is such a thing as a “natural” approach to the interpretation of historical events. Conquest’s use of the term “natural” would appear to be an attempt to bolster his own position. If, however, we take a “natural” reading of the data to be opposed to a specialist reading based on detailed historical knowledge of how the data were actually put together and how they related to Tsarist-era practices of reporting penal movements , then I would have no objections to his describing my reading as “unnatural”.
Conquest does not elaborate upon how my specialist reading of these data ostensibly ‘contradicts my treatment of the 1937-38 figures.’ I have explained in some detail on pages 325-9 how I think my readings of the 2 sets of data in fact support one another. I was delighted to see that Professor Keep found my interpretation of these data useful and presumably satisfactory. As will be explained below Professor Keep has raised some justifiable queries about my earlier interpretation of the post WW2 prison and camp flow data, and I will address these queries directly below. I can see no basis, on the other hand, for considering seriously Professor Conquest’s unsubstantiated claims on this, the main point of my argument.
Instead of addressing the main points of the argument Professor Conquest devotes most of his article to sniping at minor points and introducing a series of misleading or even inaccurate claims of what he alleges that I had said either in this article or apparently in private discussions with students.
It would prove to be a very lengthy and tedious task to correct each of Conquest’s numerous misstatements of my position. The reader is advised to handle very carefully any claims that Professor Conquest imputes to me. A typical example is provided by Conquest’s claim that ‘Wheatcroft now accepts that the Shvernik execution figures for 1937-38, even taken as correct, need to be augmented by some 50%.’ . Conquest gives no source for this statement, and it is unclear what he means by it. At any rate, I certainly do not agree that the Shvernik execution figures for 1937-38 need to be augmented by some 50%. Furthermore, I did not admit that the Shvernik report was false for the period of 1939-40. I did argue that it was understandable that a report commissioned in 1956 to describe the level of repression experienced by the Soviet population might exclude repression carried out in newly annexed areas of the USSR. This does not so much represent the falseness of the data as reflect the need to take care when determining which areas were covered by the data.
When Conquest does eventually get around to discussing the data on the scale of repression (p. 1481) he reveals that he thinks that such estimates as those made by Alexander Weissberg and his colleagues still have some current validity. ie. that they make some ‘contribution’ to our current understanding of the scale of the prison and camps population. Weissberg’s calculation was based on his estimates of the numbers on receipts issued to prisoners in his own prison in Kharkov between March 1937 and February 1939. After making a series of estimates aimed at establishing the feeder area of his prison, he estimated that 5.5% of the local population had been arrested between 1937 and 1939. If this proportion had applied to the entire Soviet Union it would have meant that roughly 9.4 million people had been arrested (ie. 5.5% x 170 mln ). By comparison with this figure, Conquest’s own estimate of 7 million arrests seems quite reasonable. The data in the archives would indicate a maximum of about 3 million sentences (2.3 million excluding non-custodial sentences). These would comprise 1.4 million political sentences (see my appendix table A2.2) and 1.7 million criminal sentences of which 0.7 were to loss of freedom or death (see Appendix table A2.1).
As I understand the situation neither Conquest nor I are arguing that either set of data is absolutely reliable. We would both agree in theory that no statistical source or estimate is perfect. But the devil is in the detail.
The detail in the archival series is fairly clear. I would argue that changes in administrative boundaries, particularly in 1939-41 and during WW2 would result in the exclusion of some regional categories, which in the case of Poland, Western Ukraine and the Baltic States would be significant. As far as other regions are concerned, however, the data seem to be as reliable as the internal penal records of other countries. The Weissberg data may have served a purpose at the time by indicating that large numbers were being arrested, ie. hundreds of thousands of people. But I do not believe that they can be relied on to distinguish between 30 hundreds of thousands or 94 hundreds of thousands.
Conquest now appears to be backing away from detail, and I think that that is very wise of him. His claims now appear to boil down to the following:
1) that the Weissberg data and similar types of data make some contribution; and
2) that the archival data may in certain regards be incomplete.
Now, I do not fundamentally disagree with these basic points. I am prepared to accept that Weissberg made a contribution by pointing out that we were dealing with very large figures ie. tens of hundreds of thousands of people at the national level. And, as explained above, and in my previous article I agree that the archival data need to be treated very carefully and that in certain regards, especially concerning the regional coverage on formerly non-USSR territories they may be incomplete.
What I do strongly disagree with is Conquest’s apparent claim that the Weissberg figures and similar sources render a careful reading of the archival data superfluous, and his continued dismissing of the archival data as inherently false. This is an attitude that can only stifle future research in this area and should thus be opposed by the profession. I would like to repeat the words with which I began my previous article:
Are we going to progress in our level of understanding? Are we going to respond positively to the new circumstances in which large amounts of detailed archival materials are available? Are we going to critically assess the reliability of these data? Are we going to provide credible indicators of the Soviet experience that we can compare with other societies?
Conquest’s response to these questions is disappointing, but not totally unexpected .
I would have been delighted if Conquest had surprised me by demonstrating his interest in these questions, but his comment indicates that he has not changed.
I do not think it is necessary to repeat the arguments that I have already made concerning most of Conquest’s other points. Professor Conquest continues to fail to understand the difference between necessary operating stocks and emergency reserves. There was no half million reserve stocks in the USSR at the time of the famine. There were 1.9 million tons of operating stocks which were considered an insufficient amount to see the regime through the transition period before the new harvest came on stream- but there were no reserves
It is regrettable that exchanges with Professor Conquest degenerate into personal accusations. I stated in my article that in the past I had found his work on the ‘casualty figures’ to be useful. I have always argued that the official Soviet view on the scale of repression, and those who supported this view were wrong, and that ‘Conquest was correct to argue that the scale of violence was of demographic significance’. I am happy to acknowledge that his work in this area served a positive purpose in its time. But it became apparent a long time ago that Conquest’s estimates of the exact size of the labour camps and the extent of mortality in the camps were excessive. For economic and demographic historians trying to make sense of how the Stalinist society worked, it was simply impossible to incorporate into their models of the Soviet economy and society the figure of 8 million in the camps in 1938 that Conquest was proposing. The work of the specialist sociologists, demographers and economists that contradicted these large estimates as early as in the 1950s were Timoshenko, Lorimer, Redding, Bergson, Jasny. These are the academics to whom I specifically referred in my article. Conquest is wrong to suggest that I was referring to academics like Sir Bernard Pares or the Webbs. And although I would not be so ‘intemperate’ as to claim that their work was ‘valueless’, as does Professor Conquest, I would certainly agree that non-specialists like the Webbs had little to contribute on this topic.
It is not my intention to join Professor Conquest in the kind of arguments that he is making (and that he has made before) regarding the alleged intemperance, sectarianism, lack of capacity or humanity of those critics who challenge his views. And I do not intend to respond to his personal attacks on me. However concerning the final point, I should note that no-one can deny the existence of mass graves in the Soviet Union. What is at dispute is their scale and significance.
from The scale and nature of Stalinist repression and its demographic significance: On Comments by Keep and Conquest by S.G.Wheatcroft