Episode 24: Combating Tankie Denialism: Specialist in Soviet History Rebuts Grover Furr

Brendan and Andrew interview Lesley Rimmel, a professor emerita of history at Oklahoma State University who specializes in the history of Russia under Stalin. Rimmel pushes back against the efforts by Grover Furr––a Maoist writer newly popular among pro-Stalinist (“tankie”) youth––to “normalize” and defend Stalin. She and the co-hosts discuss Stalin’s direct role in the mass repression campaign of the late 1930s––which Furr has characterized as a rogue anti-government operation!––as well as Furr’s contention that Stalin persistently attempted to “democratize the government of the Soviet Union.” The discussion then turns to considering Furr’s work, and young tankies’ embrace of it, as an instance of denialism, and to exploring how to fight this and other forms of denialism.

During the discussion of the mass repression campaign, reference is made to the infamous 1937 Politburo order No. 00447. For further information, see: an image of its first page; a Russian transcription of the order’s full text; and historian Nicolas Werth’s account of it. Elsewhere in the interview, reference is made to Rimmel’s doctoral dissertation; to Furr’s book Khrushchev Lied and his two-part article alleging that Stalin struggled for democratic reform; and to short pieces in which Deborah Lipstadt and Robert P. Crease discuss denialism and how to fight it.

Plus: current-events segment on how to de-Trumpify America after Trump. The co-hosts intervene in a discussion recently kicked off by John Feffer and Paul Rosenberg.

Radio Free Humanity is a podcast covering news, politics and philosophy from a Marxist-Humanist perspective. It is co-hosted by Brendan Cooney and Andrew Kliman. We intend to release new episodes every two weeks. Radio Free Humanity is sponsored by MHI, but the views expressed by the co-hosts and guests of Radio Free Humanity are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of MHI.

We welcome and encourage listeners’ comments, posted on this episode’s page.

Please visit MHI’s online print publication, With Sober Senses, for further news, commentary, and analysis.

Click here for more episodes.

August 14, 2020


  1. Why don’t you invite Grover Furr to present evidence from Soviet archives against the claims that he is a Maoist made by retired “specialist” in mainstream Soviet history from Oklahoma State. This is not a balanced approach to the truth. It is a biased attempt to silence anyone who challenges the truth about Stalin and others circulating among mainstream Soviet historians and other darlings of mainstream history. This is fascist freedom of speech repression.

    • Give us a break. Just how does inviting a historian to rebut Furr count as “fascist freedom of speech repression,” rather than the exercise of free speech? Just how is it a biased (or any) “attempt to silence” Furr or you? Just what is “unbalanced” about Furr saying his thing while the historian and the co-hosts say their things?

      Are you suggesting that every single thing published should contain “both sides”? In that case, we look forward to co-authoring a revised version of Furr’s book, to be retitled Khrushchev Lied? Or Furr Lied?. And we look forward to your demanding that one of the tankie podcasters crawling all over YouTube invite MHI folks on their shows.

      Your charges seem to disclose a totalitarian mindset according to which any expression of ideas and info you don’t like counts as “fascist … repression.”

      Are you concluding–without any evidence for that conclusion whatsoever–that we will refuse to invite Furr? (This goes to the issue of your side’s alleged desire to draw conclusions strictly from evidence.) In fact, we are writing to Dr. Rimmel to ask whether she wishes to engage with Dr Furr directly. And the co-hosts have indicated that, whether or not she does, they’re open to engaging with him on the podcast.

    • Having not (yet) even listened to the episode, I find Sotillo’s comments to be, uhm, irrational, to put it kindly. How is this ‘fascist’!? Even if, hypothetically, they were cherry picking information to present on their website, that too wouldn’t constitute fascist repression. Wtf…

  2. To Whom It May Concern:

    In the interest of truth-seeking and open debate, I urge you to invite Professor Grover Furr to respond to various allegations about his scholarship that have recently appeared in this publication.

  3. Dear friends,
    I think it would be appropriate, after the critique you have made of Grover Furr’s research, to allow him to respond. As many people do seem to be finding some substance in his research, a dialogue is called for.

  4. If you’re going to critique an author’s work then it seems like you should at least have the author on to discuss his research. Get Grover on the show! It will be a lively debate!

  5. Listened to the interview. You asked fair questions and appeared to be asking the historian guest about the soundness of Furr’s evidence. The historian’s response was weak and insufficient. Her counter-evidence was unconvincing. Please invite Furr so that we can get a fuller picture.

  6. I have heard Grover Furr speak on his work at conferences. Since your criticisms are pretty strong, I think it would be good if you offered him the chance to respond to your arguments. These are important issues and I think debate will help readers and others concerned about historical truth be better able to draw meaningful conclusions. Thank you.

  7. As part of the investigation of any complex subject over which there is intense disagreement, it would be very helpful for us to hear what Dr. Grover Furr has to say by way of counter-rebuttal to Dr. Rimmel’s account. Would you be willing to allow him to do that? Without that, the audience is almost forced to flip a coin or to simply rely on the most recently accessed account. Either way it would be left to a matter of chance rather than being an objective examination of conflicting evidence. Thanks for your consideration.

    • Dear Barbara Foley, Herbert P Michael, Jen Wa, FGR, Margaret Stevens, Patricia Keeton, and Bill Sacks,

      Please see our reply, above, to Susana Sotillo.

      To everyone else: in keeping with this website’s policy of not approving comments that basically just repeat already-posted comments, no additional demands that we invite Furr will be approved. So stop pestering us.

  8. Look, good historians debate. I’m not saying the mainstream historian is wrong, but a few of her claims are weak. How can a whole group of people “intuit” what people want. No one can read minds. Aside from this, if I were to say “let’s kill xxx president in the Us that would 100% get me investigated by the CIA/FBI. There were multiple attempts made on Stalin’s life. Is killing a whole guys family great? No. But she also doesn’t claim Stalin ordered them all killed. I am still at a cross roads in terms of opinions mainly because I genuinely don’t trust Us sources for this. Can’t say I agree with Furr’s whole torture confessions are valid. Point is, to have a real historical debate, you do need to have the author being discussed and the historian currently speaking in dialogue with one another. They both had access to the sources, they came to differing conclusions for differing reasons. Your refusal to have Furr on does you a disservice.

  9. Nico–Actually, I’d love to have Furr on the podcast. We haven’t refused; far from it.

    But it would be a crime against truth and reason to allow an interview with Furr to be turned into an infomercial for him, like CNN’s recent “town hall” with Trump and Kaitlan Collins was an infomercial for Trump. It needs to be more like the Nuremberg trials. Furr’s attempts to peddle his line need to be fact-checked in real time and method-checked in real time (given his penchant for playing fast and loose with the sources he favors–e.g., forced confessions–and disfavors–e.g., official admissions from the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR when addressing the 20th Congress of the Communist Party!) We owe our audience (and everyone fighting for human freedom) at least that much. We owe truth and reason at least that much.

    And that brings us to the problem, the thing that’s prevented us–thus far–from having Furr on the show: neither Brendan nor I have the specialized knowledge needed to fact- and method-check Furr in real time, and we haven’t yet found someone with the needed knowledge who’s willing to do so.

    My main problem with what you say is your comment that “I genuinely don’t trust Us sources for this.” Factual claims should be evaluated on the basis of the evidence and the soundness of the argumentation, not on the basis of which person (or perspective) one “trusts” and “mistrusts.” That’s an attitude of faith, not a scientific attitude. If one lacks the ability to evaluate the evidence and the soundness of the argumentation underlying a factual claim oneself, one should remedy that lack. Or, if one doesn’t have the time for that, then one should also not have time to believe (or disbelieve) the claim, as WK Clifford famously said.

    Although I would really like to find an expert to come on the show and fact- and method-check Furr in real time, I don’t take seriously your implied claim that “to have a real historical debate, you do need to have the author being discussed and the historian currently speaking in dialogue with one another” AT THE SAME TIME. Consistent application of that “principle” would require that, when Furr publishes a book, he also publishes what his critics (reputable historians) have to say–in the same book. He doesn’t do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.