Response: Christine Stansell

Response: Christine Stansell

I very much appreciate the manifest content of Eugene Genovese’s piece, although I’m impatient with its deeper import. As for the first, I agree entirely that it remains difficult, often impossible, to discuss publicly within the sociable circles and academic settings that are the strongholds of the American left how wrong most of us were in even our tepid tolerance of the communist dictatorships and our distrust of anticommunism—even that articulated by dissenters from within the Eastern bloc—as inherently right wing. Energetically political people well into the 1980s spoke of these states as worthy places, despite some regrettable abuses of human rights, and then after 1989, without missing a beat, slipped into the Opposition to cheer on workers’ uprisings. Old dogmas about the high quality of social services in the socialist countries and the communists’ abilities—whatever their problems! —to subordinate ethnic rivalries to the requirements of coherent national entities still surface as vague and confused nostalgia.

So Genovese has done us all a service by raising these questions. Whether his piece moves toward a new sort of politics or replicates the very structures of authoritarianism he now repudiates is another matter. There is a vanguardist and self-important cast to his polemic, an elision of personal recantation with the great drama of world revolution that seems to me entirely of a piece with familiar, worn, moral narratives of the left, old and new. Is Genovese apologizing? And to whom? The millions of dead?

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