Last year there was a big scandal about the History Teacher’s Guide titled “History of Russia in 1945-2007” written by a certain Filippov who turned Stalin into an “effective manager” and explained necessity of the “sovereign democracy”. Indignant were members of the academic community, politicians, pubic figures and cultural workers. Teachers also refused to accept obediently the suggested recommendations, and numerous amendments arrived from the regions. All that made the Publishing House “Prosveshenie” invite the well-known author of the new history textbooks, Dr. of History Alexander Danilov, to write the textbook. The book was published under his editing and many disputable moments were corrected.
A year passed and a new scandal broke, when a memorandum titled “On conception of the course of history of Russia in 1900-1945” was published on the Internet on the site of “Prosveshenie” House. That concept suggests that teachers explain to the pupils “the motives and logic of the actions by authority” (including those done during repression times); the “vertical of power” is mentioned in relation of as far back as Nikolai II, and all the Russian problems are reduced to harmful influence of “western feeling and trends”. Alexander Danilov was mentioned as the head of the author’s collective that prepared the published scandalous conception. We decided to ask professor Danilov himself about what is happening to the history textbook this time.
Alexander Anatolyevich apologized at once for his emotionality:
A: One periodical has accused me of distorting the facts. That’s nice! They speak and write about something that does not exist yet. The whole matter is about a textbook that has not yet published.
Q: But the conception has.
A: This is no conception. I was against calling that material to be conception. This is an addition to the existing conception of historical instruction, uniting the academic books published by “Prosveshenie” House. This has to deal with notes about what should be given attention to, so that to make the whole picture full and objective. But now I am accused of uncaring about how many people were killed and what price was paid for all our achievements. What a sane person could not care about that? Who can say so?
Yes, in soviet times the history textbooks spoke only about our successes and did not mention the price paid for that. Then we began to talk about what we did not know before; the pendulum swung and we forgot about our successes. It was inevitable that the pendulum had to go in opposite direction again, but we tried to gather the complete information and to show positive and negative sides. It is often that our opponents are far from history; they deny not only concrete-historical approach, but even the obvious facts. They write just scandalous things. We are accused of something which we did not write about Golodomor, Katyn, or Big Terror.
I do not know whether you need this, but I would like to clarify right now about those positions.
We are blamed and said that we wrote there was no starvation, there was no Golodomor and, the third position, there was no specially organized starvation. Who can dare to affirm there was no starvation when millions of people died! But the term “organized starvation” implies exactly the purpose of killing people with it. What authority can set a goal of organizing starvation in one’s own country? That’s impossible. In this sense, there was no Golodomor, as it is understood now in Ukraine, i.e. as a specially organized action. And anyway that was not genocide against a concrete people. People of different nationalities died then. Another matter is how to consider that starvation period. We wanted to show that all that was caused with a series of circumstances. First of all, it had to deal with a natural disaster. Second, it was about the fundamental change related to building up the kolkhoz system. The solid layer of economically stable peasants existed then no longer (you call them “kulaks”), and those people had provided for significant part of commercial grain before. And Kolkhozes had not gained strength yet. Another factor was necessity of securing the cities with the grain. This is why cordon squads were organized. From the authority’s point of view, they were organized so that to prevent people from escaping to towns in the hope of being able to get food there, while peasants themselves were to produce the food. I repeat it that from the point of view of authorities it was necessary to make people stay in the country. However, the way it was done and what happened during that process, of course, all that aggravated the situation and caused the mass death of people. Now about the Big Terror. Some books, including the textbooks from the previous years, made an impression that Big Terror was done nearly through all the period from 1918-1952. However, this is a concrete historical concept, limited with a period from July 1937 to early November 1938. That was the time of rapid growth of arresting and executing people, with political motives. That was unprecedented time for the whole soviet period and for other periods in our history. Why Big Terror fell on that concrete time and what it differed with from what was before and after it, this is what our note for the teachers dealt with so that they were able to explain that to pupils. We explained that Big Terror was caused with concrete historical circumstances. Judging from the opinions, that was for some reasons taken as an attempt of justification. But that was just a necessary explanation of the circumstances the authority was guided with. Many events may be referred to as such factors. For example, the adoption of democratic Constitution of 1936. According to it, the restrictions of the electoral rights were abolished, that had applied before to a number of categories. Then there was adoption of Constitutions of the soviet republics and preparation for elections under the new Constitution. The authorities, mostly regional ones, apprehended of the free elections and were afraid that people far from Communist views might come to power and could pose a threat for their position. If I’m not mistaken, there is a record within Churchill’s memoirs of 1944. That’s mentioning about talk with Stalin. Churchill asked him which historical period was most critical for Soviet Russia. Stalin said then it had been sure about collectivization, the period where struggle was waged against those peasants who did not recognize the authority. Stalin named the figure of 10 million people. And now those people were given the right to vote. Of course, Stalin was afraid of them. He really apprehended of their possible revenge. This is proved by our colleagues, historians from FSB, who have access to relevant documents. During the elections the voters might stake at those people not because of their political views or rejection of the soviet power, but because of their strong personal qualities: ability of working, integrity, honesty. Such a peasant could be offered to become a deputy. This was the reason why local authorities assaulted the center with letters appealing to taking urgent measures. That was a weighty argument in the central authority’s actions.
Another point was that the Spanish experience was also taken into consideration – that was about the danger of appearance of the fifth column in the USSR. Stalin meant that the authority had to be strengthened in all directions, and that was to be done under conditions of preparation for big European war. These and many other factors explain the mass repressions during the period of Big Terror. The blow was stricken preventively not on the real enemies, but on the strata potentially dangerous for the authority. And the figures really look terrible. Just within slightly over than 15 months arrested were 1,600,000 people and over 680,000 were sentenced to execution as “people’s enemies”. And this figure relates only to arrests made by NKVD, while arrests also were made by militia.
But we just wanted to explain what the period of Big Terror differed from what happened next, when repressions were continued, but their scale was reduced to “usual” traditional limits. I don’t know who can see there an attempt for justification. We wanted to show that Beria, who began to head NKVD in autumn 1938, provided an economic reason for repressions. The people’s-economic tasks, posed by the authority, were to be solved by the prisoners, especially in the under-populated regions exposed to possible attack by Japan. I repeat: this is not my logic, this was the logic by Beria and by those who took decisions being based on his notes. To my mind, it is difficult to define what was more terrible: struggle with “enemies” or the planned and consistent breaking the human lives for the sake of economic and defense power of the country. What we are doing is trying to show with documents, given in relevant sections of the textbook, that there is principal difference between the periods. But of course, there can’t be any justification to none of them.
Then we are reproached that we try to reduce the whole matter only to the executed persons, and that we do not consider other subjects to repressions to be victims to the terror.
Q: The conception says so.
A: And yet a quite different thing was meant there. I can explain why this thesis appeared. The figures, adduced in the academic literature before, were related to all the categories of the repressed people.
Q: To all the categories of those who suffered.
A: Yes, they even tried to count those who were not born. Some even add there 27 million of the killed in the WWII. What kind of relation does all that have to Big Terror? In his time, Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn named the figure of 120 millions of victims of the soviet regime. Approximately same figure was given by Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev. And we say that the figures must be precise and proved. Are more precise and lower figures to be considered justification of the regime? And can we say that if the number of victims was 1.5 million instead of 120 millions, then it was not so great loss?
Unfortunately, the exact figures proved with statistics may be given only about Big Terror. If we take the whole soviet period, such figures do not exist or they have to be given a serious scientific comment which would be inappropriate in a school textbook.
Q: But after Big Terror Beria came and repressions were continued. When the textbook gives the number of killed in Big Terror, it cannot be confined only to that number?
A: You did not wait till I finished. Yes, Beria came and repressions continued. But their scale and motivation changed. This gives grounds for some authors to say that Beria was almost a “humane” head of NKVD, at whom nearly liberalization of the repressive practices began… Beside the figure of victims of Big Terror, which is not doubted by anyone, there is another figure to be mentioned in principle. According the Russian justice narkomat, the courts of the first instance delivered 22,000,000 sentences within the period from 1926-1952. Can we use this figure? I don’t think so. That could have been cases where one person was sentenced several times during that time. Besides, this figure does not provide for distinction of criminal and political sentences. And the legislation itself should be analyzed carefully. Should we consider a case, for example about a few spikelets stolen by a starving person to be a criminal case? Then it would turn out that too many people became criminals under the soviet power. I want to stress this point: people only see the figure. They do not even notice the explanation about this figure. And it turns out that the given figure does not allow the idea of the real figures of people put under repressions. We cannot say how many people were fired, expelled from the Communist party and Komsomol, and from schools and institutes. In other word we cannot say exactly how many fortunes were ruined then. But we have other figures; they are adduced in the textbooks intended for the 9th grade. This is about the deported peoples. And those figures are exact to a single man. There is tragedy of personality and the whole people beyond each of those figures. This is why we say in the new textbook that beside the victims of Big Terror during the soviet power years, there were millions of people put in prison camps, exiled, deported, and died in the camps and exiles. Along with that we, of course, do not give the number of those “unborn” because of the repressions.
Q: Why? Is it difficult to count?
A: it’s impossible to count. Alas…But when listing all those categories, we say about many millions of victims.
Q: Is it that the secret archives were open just to be able to speak about “many”. Besides, there is the Act “On rehabilitation of victims” where it is defined who is to be considered repressed.
A: Yes, and those people still receive benefits from the state.
Q: Does that mean all of them are counted?
A: No, they are not counted. And this is why some cannot receive benefits and many of those victims died then, and they did not have relatives. If someone possesses exact data, let them give it to us, and we shall publish it. But such data must be proved. The historians do not have possibility to show correctly the number of victims. That has no relation to their unwillingness to do that. In relation to the polemic going on I reckon it is possible to mention in the textbook that among those suffering from juridically ungrounded mass repressions were members of the old and new social groups of the soviet society. According to modern data, 11.8 million people went through labor camps during the period from 1930-1953. 6.5 millions of people went through the penal colonies. The total is 18.3 millions. Out of that figure 3.7 millions (or 20.2%) of people were sentenced for counter-revolutionary actions. 786,980 people were sentenced to capital punishment. From the point of view of the morals, the death and ruined fortunes cannot be justified with anything. This position is presented in the textbook.
At the same time, it’s obvious that 18.3 millions of people is not all the victims. Suffered not only people who were killed or were put in the camps and colonies. There were more victims. But it is not possible to go just the way of mechanical addition, as same person might be arrested, then sentenced, and may be executed afterwards.
It is unfair to reproach us that we do not understand that or want to hush it up.
Q: Well, it seems the conception was written poorly.
A: That’s no conception. I think it has been removed from the Internet site.
Q: It’s still there.
A: It should be removed. This is just a memo, not intended for publication. The document was made for a particular working meeting where accents had to be put to what had been expounded before. Publishing one part without publishing the other previous part is equal to laying oneself open. This material should be removed.
Q: And this conception was passed to the courses of methodologists on history at the Academy of Advanced Learning for the educational workers.
A: This is not for courses.
Q: The author’s collective of the Teacher’s Guide on history of Russia in 1945-2007 was reproached for the lack of professionalism.
A: In publications they accuse us of being the advocates for the authority. At the same time, the journalists do not mention their own role. I consider it that the historian must not be an advocate and even less must he be a prosecutor. Judging from the polemics in the press, some of my colleagues are willing to put on an executioner’s hood to be able to hide their face and strike a prepared blow. To my mind, the historian cannot be even the chair of the jury judging about the past. Historian must be historian. One must try to show the truth and remember that the truth is not a choice between white and black; this is a unity of numerous mosaic different parts. One cannot become similar to the soviet textbooks that saw only part of the truth. However, the praised textbooks of the ‘90s saw only part of the truth too. It is necessary to consider objectively what exactly happened to us so that not to repeat the mistakes, committed by the emperor’s power (which was never sinless), and at soviet power, and in the troubled ‘90s. And now our reality is far from being ideal. The life itself demonstrates to us rather often that something is wrong. Along with that, we must treat history calmly and respectfully, as it has already happened, and our task is learning lessons out of it.
Another point is that we are reproached that the memo (and conception mentioned) and the teacher’s guide for the second half of the 20th century allegedly were written from the point of view of the authority and the man was just lost in it. That’s no true. Just read the previous textbooks, including those written by me. Depicting of the everyday life and the particularities of the cultural life was always a weak point there. Now the sections written by Professor Irina Semenenko, dedicated to the history of mode of life and to the culture, are most roomy in the new textbook. A good teacher can take an opportunity there to create an excellent basis for the class. So how can it be affirmed that we lost the man in our textbook?
On the other hand, has it ever been in our history that the role by the state was insignificant enough not to mention it? To my mind, the role by the state is reflected in the book proportionately to the actual role by the state in the society.
Q: From this statement it’s not far to what was used in the conception: Stalin used terror because the regime really had enemies. Even if he defended not himself, but the regime, and if the regime had so many enemies, maybe it was objectively necessary to change the regime?
A: Ok, what would have come out if the regime had been changed? Actually, it was changed in the long run. Here are two documents for you. One of them is regulation by the Temporary Government dated 25 March 1917, the other is the decree by VZIK dated 9 May 1918. Both documents deal with catering problem. Two different powers, and same problem – no possibility to feed the army and the cities. Peasants were never cared about too much, as they were thought to be able to live off the land and survive through that. If we put away the headings, we shall see that both documents suggest doing same things. So there was no other solution. Does it mean that any authority in that particular situation had no choice and alternative?
Q: But you said that the big terror of 1937-1938 was unprecedented.
A: People get angry when we propose the concrete-historical approach. But you could just immerse into concrete circumstances and analyze the concrete day of this leader. And try to think what kind of decisions he could take being based on the reports he received.
I have seen the reports received by Stalin when he was treated in Sochi in 1945. On one of days he got 175 documents. Not only had he to read them, but also to take decisions affecting fortunes of many people. What did he proceed from? He had his own system of priorities, but he proceeded from the information he got. This is no justification for him, but one should have a clear idea of the historical situation in which he had to act.
Q: This is what I am saying about. Learning that one or one’s regime has so many enemies, one could determine oneself to leave, as it is not that people are made to serve the authority; it is just the other way about.
A: Do you believe seriously in a possibility that any of those leaders just could quit?
Q: And why a need appeared in the new textbook? Was it necessary to balance the pendulum that in the ‘90s swung towards exposing the crimes by the authority?
A: The “pendulum” existed objectively. It seems to me that even before we have done rather much for unbiased picturing of the events. In 1995 the first edition of my textbook was published where there was narration about the events of 2003. While that material was being written, shooting had not been finished in Moscow yet. And with further re-publications it was not needed to change anything in the text. The textbook is no loyal to anyone, it is just verified, although it is very difficult to do.
Last year I met with Dmitry Medvedev and we talked about textbooks on history. We also talked about assessment of the current historical period. The future President asked me whether such assessment was given in the textbook. I said that traditionally the materials of the textbooks deal with the completed periods, so that to make it possible to make assessments. Even in tsar’s times the textbooks never wrote about the standing monarch. Then Dmitry Anatolyevich gave me an important advice. He said it was better not to give any assessments, but just to provide for documents and to present different points of view, allowing the students analyzing that by themselves. I said then it was possible only about the textbook for the 11th grade, as in the 9th grade, where the modern history is also studied, the children are not adult enough to be able of making their own matured judgments about the topic. I did not want to take too much time of Mr. Medvedev’s, but actually the choice of the facts to be presented also reflects a certain attitude.
It is known that the new standards are oriented to a new approach: it is necessary to form one’s own point of view with the pupil. This is why the statement saying that we want to present only one point of view is no true. In all the regional conferences discussing the issues of teaching the history I gave my point of view that there must not be the only and united textbook. Textbooks must be different and must present different points of view. If we take a look at the federal list, we shall see a variety of the textbooks. Another matter is who will choose which of them.
Q: It was said about teacher’s guide and the textbook dedicated to the second half of the 20th century, written last year, that they were ordered by the President’s Administration. Is this new textbook also an ordered one?
A: To my knowledge, no budget means were allotted for making this textbook. This is just a regular work by “Prosveshenie” Publishing House.
Q: It’s interesting to know how such a big author’s collective works. How do you manage to agree about conceptual things?
A: Well, it’s difficult. We all are independently thinking people. It’s impossible to direct anyone and order to write this or that way. I’ve been writing the books for 15 years. It has been hard times. However, no one ever told me to write this way or other. In 1993 I was suggested by the ministry to write a liberal textbook on history. I told them I would do it only my own way. I had my own understanding of the processes that took place then, and I was willing to work only on that basis. Probably, that work was successful, as the book has been republished 15 times.
Q: All what you are saying is about that the textbook on history must reflect search for truth in the historical science. And at the conferences of the last year it was voiced that the textbook must give a positive image of the country and cultivate patriotism. And the conception in question speaks about the same – the history not only with cuts but also with garbling. And how do the authors of the conception treat patriotism? Exposing the vices of one’s own country – is it non-patriotic? Solzhenitsyn, Pushkin, Nekrasov – weren’t they patriots? And how are we supposed to develop critical thinking?
A: This question was also asked at the teacher’s conferences. Forming patriots, can we hush up the shadowy past? No, we cannot, of course. Another question asked was “should we bring up the pupil based on the country’s victories or based on the truth?” Well, it is necessary to do a kind of synthesis, but not distorting the truth. The history of the motherland must be the history of achievements; I don’t say “victories”. Along with that, we should not forget what a progress is. This is elevation of the personality, of the man. Otherwise, there is no sense. As for garbling in the new textbook, I do not agree that there is any.
Q: The statement saying that Stalin acted effectively makes one indignant.
A: When we look at the outcomes, the opportunity may appear easily for justification of any actions. Stalin said that our country in 10 years should go the way done by the leading western countries in hundreds of years; otherwise, we would be conquered. Someone might get surprised and say what a sagacious man Stalin was, as it was exactly about ten years remaining before the war, when he said that. And really the country managed to create the military-industrial complex in a super-short term; this was the task of the pre-war five-year plans. From that point of view, someone might think the successful outcomes might be a justification of everything that happened to us in the ‘30s. But we shall never write so, because we must not forget the price paid for all that by our multi-national people.
Q: They created the military-industrial complex through “mincing” their own people. Why did they set a goal for which they did not have resources?
A: Well, one might argue: was there any choice? I have read in one of the recent articles that Bukharin suggested an alternative, gradual rooting of the kulaks in the socialism, and so forth. Yes, he did. The problem was that the county did not have time for “gradualness”. One may reason easily, of course, in the theoretical manner, especially when events happened 70 years ago. This is why we say: yes, there have been achievements. But we must not forget about the price paid for that. At the end of the day, the price turned out to be too high and affected greatly the fate of the country.
Q: It’s obvious that the goal itself was criminal, when it was to be paid with such a dear price. Do you think our country needs a kind of “Nuremberg trial” in relation to the crimes by our authority towards its own people? If the crime was called crime not only in publicist definitions, but in juridical sense of the word, then no one would dare to justify the actions by the culprits. Do you consider it that such a trial on the culprits vested in power is not needed in our country?
A: I don’t think so. It would be strange. I can understand it when the war is over and the lost party is put on trial. But there were questions even to the Nuremberg trial on Nazi, by the democratically disposed people. And the accused did not recognize the legality of that court. They considered it to be “revenge by victors”. For us all that is just impossible. It’s not only because the comparison would look blasphemous. Those people are dead for long. No one comes to an idea of making up trial on Brute or assassins of the Pavel I. That could be rather trial of history. Sure, all those people are subject to it. But why do it on the pages of a textbook?
Q: So that to exclude any justification of the actions by the authority, in the textbooks.
A: I do not think it would be right. But it is quite possible to show different approaches and positions on such questions.
Q: Probably, this is possible because the culprits are not sentenced and one may not call them culprits.
A: Being based on the today’s positions, one cannot justify or condemn Chingiskhan. But can we try to see why he acted this or that way?
Q: Ethic appraisals change with time, they can vary with different groups of people, while juridical definitions last longer. When a crime is recognized to be a crime, that phenomenon gets marked. And when some publicists call something to be a crime, other publicist or scholar may apply concrete-historical approach and call that “effective management”.
A: Past is past. It is necessary to expose the phenomenon, without causing social antagonism within the society. I have seen interesting classes in Perm krai, and in Magadan, which proves that the historical memory about those victims to repressions is alive in the country.
Q: Would such classes be held after the new textbook is published or would there be a ban put on such work?
A: When the textbook is published, we can come back to this talk and discuss what we succeeded in and what we failed in. As for the methods and choice of forms of the classes, and possibility of discussions – who bans all that?
Incidentally, it seems interesting to me the onlooker’s vision of the problem. An American colleague of mine had studied all our textbooks since the early ‘90s. After that study he told me that if he were Russian citizen he would not like that his son use those textbooks. He did not find any textbook with us that promoted positive attitude towards our own history. He said that was impossible to imagine in the US and in other western countries.
I would add from myself that in most democratic countries there is a series of “closed” topics, interpretation of which is defined by the state structures. For example, the history textbooks in the US moderate single aspects of the civil war – everything related to murders, tortures and all that stuff that would be called “terror” today. Same applies to the period of the exploration of the “wild West” and everything that we could call genocide towards Indians today. All that is just absent from their textbooks. And there is no mentioning of questions of deportation of Japanese population from the western coast and putting it in the prison camps, after Pearl Harbor and beginning of war. Although the US leadership apologized to the victims of those actions, the American textbooks do not mention the topic at all. And our leaders not only apologized repeatedly, but the topic is duly present in our textbooks. So it’s not so bad about our historical memory.
However, not in the academic literature, but in the course of discussions held, sometimes authors take the position of our enemies in the war. This is difficult to imagine in any other country.
This is why I would like to express a wish that both our opponents and supporters try to make judgments about our past with consideration of the concrete historical situation and make the textbooks as objective and true as possible.