Volkogonov was brought up in, and later headed a school of historiography which was remarkably crude and unsophisticated. Unlike Western historians, Stalinists did not need to make their stories coherent or even related to historical facts. Nevsky, Yaroslavsky, Gusev, Zhdanov, Suslov and Volkogonov got to the top of this school by concealing facts, silencing and murdering witnesses, pulping history books, inventing tales out of whole cloth. The ruling elite needed massive doses of lies precisely because it was a living lie. The Stalinist bureaucracy pretended to be Communist, and was not; it pretended to be revolutionary and progressive, yet was one of the most reactionary forces in history; it pretended not even to exist, yet it was the most visible, overstuffed, corrupt and corrosive malignancy within the Soviet system.
It is beyond the scope of these short notes to present a thorough analysis of the lying myths weaved by Volkogonov. I also ask you to forgive me for not reading Volkogonov's books from cover to cover; they are, mildly speaking, uneducational and intellectually stultifying. They do not present any coherent or consistent picture of the developments. I shall therefore simply present some of the more outrageous falsehoods found in his three last major works. I am citing from the Russian language editions of these books and am translating on the fly.
Book 1, part 1, p. 52: "Despite his mediocrity, Nicholas II had for a long time and quite craftily zigzagged, searched for compromises, was ready to make partial concessions to the bourgeoisie, all in order to save the monarchy". This weird remark is one of the few describing the tsarist regime and the social, political and economic conditions prevailing in the Russian empire. We simply do not know what caused the Revolution. In any case, this description of Nicholas II as a crafty politician is way off the mark.
Book 1, part 1, p. 76: Here Volkogonov continues to perpetuate an old Stalinist lie of a mythical Military-Revolutionary Center which assisted Trotsky's Military- Revolutionary Committee. This was one of the oldest falsifications designed to give Stalin that leading role in the October uprising which the historical record had denied him. On the next few pages Volkogonov will tell it another way, i.e. Trotsky led the uprising, Stalin was invisible. The goal of Volkogonov seems to be to set both Stalin's lies and Trotsky's truth on an equal footing and present it as a moot point where both antagonists just try to aggrandize themselves.
Book 1, part 1: In describing the last years of Lenin's life Volkogonov performs mental gymnastics to denigrate Trotsky and Trotsky's struggle against Stalin. On the one hand, Lenin does want to remove Stalin, on the other, Lenin does not want to block with Trotsky. Volkogonov is most crude on page 183 where he accuses Trotsky of falsifying the meaning of Lenin's Testament.
On page 256 Volkogonov practically accuses Trotsky of responsibility for Stalin's murder of the members of Trotsky's own family. On the following pages Volkogonov accuses Trotsky of betraying his country (p. 259), of historical falsifications (ibid.), of anti-Russian chauvinism (p. 260).
This book was written in 1988 when Gorbachev pretended to be a "democratic Communist" a la Bukharin. In conformance with Gorbachev's social requirement Volkogonov tries with all his might to present Bukharin in the best light possible. That is especially true of Book 1, part II, chapter "Dictatorship or a dictator?". The moral of the story seems to be: Bukharin was the real alternative to Stalin's totalitarian deviation.
But let us move on.
In early 1991 Volkogonov completed his biography of Trotsky. In his earlier work about Stalin he had already begun to carry out the social requirement of the Stalinist-restorationist regime: deny that Trotsky presented a socialist alternative to Stalinism. In this two-volume work Volkogonov is under two kinds of pressure. On the one hand, the works of Trotsky, and in particular his "Revolution Betrayed" had already appeared in the Soviet Union. Therefore Volkogonov needed to present a half way accurate review of Trotsky's work and publications. On the other hand, Volkogonov had already dispensed with Gorbachev and the old style Union-Party hierarchy and threw in his fortune on the side of Yeltsin's privatizers and anti-Communists. The result of these contradictory pressures is an unobjectionable, although patchy, retelling of Trotsky's life. There is still no real historical living reality, but at least the crude lies are missing.
It is interesting to look at Volkogonov's changed evaluation of Trotsky's worldly, international mind set and viewpoint. In 1988 Volkogonov accuses Trotsky of hatred of the Slavs, of anti-Russian chauvinism. In 1991 Volkogonov congratulates Trotsky on his immersion in Europe, praises his knowledge of Western literature, art, psychology, and flatters him as being the "most European among the revolutionaries" (see Book 1, pp. 94-96).
Frankly, I prefer an established Western biographer of Trotsky who does not change his evaluations on the orders from above.
By now, Volkogonov has come full circle in his political-historical reorientation. In 1988 he was a "Marxist-Leninist". Lenin was God, Stalin was a fallen angel, Trotsky was an anti-Communist and anti-Soviet renegade. But now, Volkogonov has seen the light. He has discovered that Lenin was an evil genius who masterminded the abominable October putsch. Stalin was a true Leninist who continued in the work of his master. Trotsky was, is and will always remain awful, a Demon of revolution, worse tyrant than Stalin, etc. and so on.
Again, I did not have the moral fortitude to subject myself to a careful reading of this anti-historical, anti-communist diatribe. The absurdities of Volkogonov's presentation are glaring. Taking advantage of the general condemnation of Marxism by both the Western and the ex-Stalinist "historians" he again resorts to the method of the Big Lie. Here are just a few examples.
Writing about the opening of WW I: "The Russian Emperor, Nicholas II, undeservedly forgotten as a peacemaking Tsar, tried to stop the slaughter" (vol. 1, p. 183). On the same page Volkogonov continues to defy reason by praising Nicholas.
Volkogonov resurrects the hoary tale of German gold financing the Bolsheviks and Lenin being a German agent. Evidence -- the same insinuations about Ganetsky and Parvus which had been discarded decades ago by serious historians.
Flipping the pages at random we encounter the following pearl: "…the Orthodox religion is deeply humanistic in its spirit. It did not know Inquisition, did not burn heretics on the stake, did not organize religious Crusades. The Orthodoxy had always condemned violence". (Vol. 2, p. 225). Reminded of the Jewish pogroms, the anathema pronounced against Leo Tolstoi and the Beylis trial, one wonders whether Volkogonov has any sense of humor.
In general, Volkogonov's method in this book is unabashed ahistorical amalgam: mixing up of circumstances and historical context. In condemning the anti-democratism of Lenin he leaves out of consideration the circumstances of Civil War, foreign intervention and blockade. One is left to wander what we are to think of the horribly anti-humanist actions of George Washington in suppressing the pro-British loyalists of upstate New York during the War of Independence, or of the orders given to General Grant by Abraham Lincoln to burn Georgia down during the American Civil War.
Alas, the cause of Volkogonov's speedy conversion from an "atheistic Marxist-Leninist" first to a humanistic democrat, then to a God-fearing Russian nationalist lies not in the intellectual liberation of a historical scientist. The reason for this ideological metamorphosis is much more pedestrian. The revival of Russian capitalism has much in common with some Voodoo cult of raising the dead. (In defense of Voodoo, it must be said that they try to raise the freshly dead while Russian capitalism collapsed some four score years ago). Russian capitalism has played itself out historically in 1917 and it cannot be resurrected now. Hence, the ideologues of capitalism must turn to myths, shamans, quacks and other miraculous forces.
Here is a typical scene of this modern resurrection of Russian capitalism. On December 3rd the "New York Times" reported on the opening of a new Coca-Cola bottling plant near Moscow. This miracle of capitalist rebirth was anointed with Holy Water by a Russian Orthodox priest, complete with his beard, his princely robes and a mitre.