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  • To the Editors
  • Kevin Murphy

In Revolution and Counterrevolution I seek to explain how a socialist movement “that promised thoroughgoing social equality transformed into its opposite—a system of exploitation and repression” (2).1 My conclusions represent a direct challenge to David Shearer’s scholarship—notably his conception of Stalinism “as one type of socialism” (238) that entailed “the virtual enslavement and sacrifice of millions of its working people” (248). The hostile tone of the review is therefore unsurprising, but an author has the right to expect an accurate summary of the source base and an honest representation of his or her perspective. Shearer provides neither, misrepresenting the archival breadth of my study and patching together a facile caricature of the theoretical framework upon which it is built.

In the very first sentence I write that the opening of the Soviet archives “altered fundamentally” the possibilities for understanding the revolution, “presenting historians … with both exciting opportunities and awesome challenges” (1), and I attempt to make the most of this potential. Shearer is mistaken when he asserts that unlike others who make “systematic use of police sources,” “Murphy overlooks” these (232). The endnotes show 80 police reports. Similarly Shearer is distressed at my failure to acknowledge Carr and Davies for their characterization of the New Economic Policy (NEP) as an “uneasy compromise” (231), but he apparently missed my full citation earlier in the same chapter (82). Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) “hardly make an appearance” (233), according to Shearer, yet the index (233) lists references to the SRs on 40 of 228 pages.

The effect of these and many other petty blunders is compounded by egregious misrepresentation. Shearer suggests I depict “a working class that was committed to the revolution and to the new Bolshevik government” [End Page 251] (239), but my own assessment is more qualified: I conclude the relevant chapter by asserting that “War Communism … fractured the relationship between the Soviet regime and an exhausted, demoralized working class” (74). When I write of a “high level of sacrifice” (65), I refer explicitly to a party cell of just over 20 members. My assessment regarding the “high level of political commitment” (65) concerns 250 Red Army volunteers in January 1918, before the onset of the Civil War. I find a sense of “civic responsibility” among “a minority section of the workforce” (71) but am forthright about the increasing difficulties faced by the Bolsheviks.

In charting the rise of Stalinism, I show that the relationship between workers and the state was dynamic, affecting gender relations, attitudes toward religion, ethnic tensions, and alcoholism. Clearly, the Party’s trajectory was toward bureaucratic rule and the gradual stifling of dissent. But amid conditions of extreme material deprivation, institutions charged with representing workers’ interests and imbued with egalitarianism persisted through the mid-1920s. Contrary to Shearer’s claims, the question of whether state power would be deployed in favor of or against working class interests was only resolved during the late NEP crisis. Shearer also asserts that Stalinism “may well have appealed to many workers” (239), but here he obviously missed one of the main points of my research. Hundreds of archival citations illustrate overwhelmingly that workers were fully aware of the growing contradiction between state rhetoric and policy, and therefore we no longer need to speculate about what workers thought. [End Page 252] Errata

Kevin Murphy
History Dept.
McCormack Hall 4-638
University of Massachusetts Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125-3393 USA


1. Kevin Murphy, Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005), reviewed by David Shearer in “Workers, Revolution, and Stalinism,” Kritika 12, 1 (2011): 227–48.



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pp. 251-252
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