Friday book # 35: I Write As I Please

Years ago, when I was working on my doctoral thesis in the archives at Columbia University, I met another researcher (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten just now), who was studying American journalists who reported from the Stalin-era Soviet Union. The most prominent of these were the New York Times’s Moscow bureau chief, Walter Duranty, and the New York Evening Post’s Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker. According to my fellow researcher, the archives showed clearly that both men were very well aware of the crimes committed by the communist government and that they deliberately covered them up in order to stay in favour with the Soviets. Both Duranty and Knickerbocker won Pulitzer prizes for their reporting from the Soviet Union, but in 1990 the New York Times declared Duranty’s work to be ‘some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper’. I don’t know if my archival colleague ever produced anything from his research, but he did give me this bashed-up copy of Duranty’s memoirs. Their title – I Write As I Please – seems very fitting.

duranty

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10 thoughts on “Friday book # 35: I Write As I Please”

  1. ” both men were very well aware of the crimes committed by the communist government”

    1) Crimes? What crimes? No, I’m serious here. Do you know the definition of the word “crime”?

    2) “Communist government” is an oxymoron. During the communism there is no government. In the USSR there were socialism, ergo the government. How can one make such elementary mistakes?

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      1. Oh, so the USSR in 1930s was a capitalist country, according to you?

        This raises next question -do you know what is “socialism”?

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    1. ‘What is socialism?’, you ask. The answer depends on whether you mean socialism in theory or socialism in practice, ‘real existing socialism’ as they said in the Brezhnev era.

      In the theoretical socialist utopia, the abolition of private ownership of the means of production has led to the elimination of classes, and since government is merely the means by which one class oppresses another, there is no need for government. The state ‘withers away’.

      In ‘real existing socialism’, the state, of course, didn’t wither away at all, and there certainly was a government. The idea that the USSR was ‘socialist’ and therefore the USSR didn’t have ‘government’ is absurd.

      In theoretical socialism, the elimination of private ownership of the means of production has resolved the problem of ‘alienation’. Without alienation, social problems such as crime, drunkenness, etc will ‘wither away’ too.

      In real existing socialism, crime and other social problems continued unabated. In fact, the rising tide of alcoholism, drug use, etc in the Brezhnev years suggested pretty strongly that the population was far from becoming less ‘alienated.’

      In theoretical socialism, each gives ‘according to his ability’ and receives ‘according to his needs’.

      In real existing socialism, the ‘new class’ of the nomenklatura had access to special shops and other privileges which enabled them to live a much better life than the hoi polloi forced to wait in line with their ‘just in case’ bags for ‘deficit’ goods.

      etc ….

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      1. You are talking about Brezhnev’s era. The book in question talks about much earlier period. Once again I think you are mixing up socialism and communism. Socialism does not deny the existence of the state.

        And the question about the supposed “crimes” remains.

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  2. Lyttenburgh,

    Paul is using a typically liberal turn of phrase whereby state repression is called a crime in order to signify moral revulsion and/or elicit a similar feeling to a previously neutral audience. There is of course no way that a state can be properly criminal, as a crime is a breach of the law and the state is both maker and enforcer of laws. Liberals of course believe in the ‘rule of law’, a notion that inverts this relation, ie, laws make the state, and therefore makes it possible for the state to ‘breach the law’. This is of course technically possible, but would only be significant if it were an exceptional or rare event, which is simply not the case, as anyone who has read the news ever should know. Therefore, the notion of ‘Stalinist crimes’ does not refer to any breach of actual laws but rather to actions that are in opposition to what are held by some people to be transcendent moral truths. Liberals believe in such things and communists (or rather, marxists) don’t.

    Instead then of engaging in a debate where you and Paul are going to argue past each other, I think a more pertinent question would be: Is it true that Duranty ‘covered up’ the ‘crimes’ of the Soviet government to keep in good terms with them? Might it not just be the case that Duranty was not a liberal and he just didn’t see state violence as a ‘crime’?

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    1. Thank you for your answer. I hoped to elicit the opinion of the Professor Robinson here. Oh, well!

      “Instead then of engaging in a debate where you and Paul are going to argue past each other, I think a more pertinent question would be: Is it true that Duranty ‘covered up’ the ‘crimes’ of the Soviet government to keep in good terms with them?”

      Actually, I asked myself a different question – whether such “cover up” continues even today, with cheap pressitudes lauded for their works as “paragons of the journalism”. At least. I hoped some other people would ask themselves this question. As for the answer – c’mon, that’s the New York Times we are talking about! 😉

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      1. Yes, it does absolutely! Have you ever watched Graham W. Philips for example? I realize this comparison may be offensive for Duranty but well, each empire has the poputchiks proportional to its power and dignity.

        As for “communist state” you’re engaging a typical marxian diversion tactics here. In modern politics a “communist state” is defined very pragmatically as a state that references communism as its primary objective and ideology. For example:

        установила диктатуру пролетариата и создала Советское государство — государство нового типа, основное орудие защиты революционных завоеваний, строительства социализма и коммунизма.

        Soviets simply argued they’re not there yet, but close.

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      2. “each empire has the poputchiks proportional to its power and dignity.”

        Western Empire has shit-rags like WaPo, NYT, The Economist and the Daily Mail. Among their most notorious poputchiks (absolutely wrong term) are Anne Appelbaum, Ed Lukas, Julia Ioffe, Bernard Henri-Levi, Anderst Aslund and Sasha Sotnik.

        No dignity at all.

        Oh, and what’s your beef with Grisha Phillips?

        “As for “communist state” you’re engaging a typical marxian diversion tactics here. In modern politics a “communist state” is defined very pragmatically as a state that references communism as its primary objective and ideology. “

        Defined by whom – ignorant people with more knee-jerk reactions and biases than knowledge? Even in the quote you are providing there is only talk about the Soviet state – not a word about communist state.

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      3. The quote comes from 1977 Soviet Constitution and it clearly states that “Soviet state is a state of new type, main tool of building socialism and communism”. A state whose constitution declares that it’s building communism can be quite precisely classified as “communist state”.

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