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The Maximalist: On Vasily Grossman

Not so inexplicable after all

In his superb review of the recently republished writings of Vasily Grossman, Jochen Hellbeck said that a Grossman story showing the "corrosive impact of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on the crew of the Enola Gay" had been "inexplicably left out of the present collection." But Hellbeck also noted that the US editor of the Grossman volumes, Robert Chandler, retailed a false description of the Ukraine famine under Stalin that aligned with the propaganda of Ukrainian rightwingers. Bear those two editorial choices in mind and the omission of the story is no longer "inexplicable." Grossman was anti-totalitarian but not anti-socialist. He was not a cold warrior. But clearly Mr. Chandler is. He preferred, like an American version of a Soviet cultural apparatchik, to censor Grossman rather than to expose readers to Grossman's critique of the potential for totalitarianism inherent in US imperialism.

Does capitalism equal democracy? Clearly, Grossman did not think so, and thus the principles that emerge in his works were/are heretical to both Soviet totalitarians and American free-market utopians. When the US cultural establishment was touting the Soviet dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov as a champion of freedom, it practiced censorship similar to the "inexplicable" editing noted above. Sakharov's views on Chile (he was pro-Pinochet and anti-Allende); South Africa (Sakharov was pro-apartheid and anti–African National Congress); the US civil rights movement (he was pr-discrimination) were hidden. Meanwhile, the cultural hacks of neoliberalism/neoconservatism created a prize celebrating "Freedom of Thought" in his name.

Thanks to Professor Hellbeck's insightful review, Nation readers have learned that there is more to Grossman than the editors of these books may have wanted us to see.

 

John Woodford

Ann Arbor, MI

Dec 18 2010 - 2:20am

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