Recalling the Legacy of Professor Stephen F. Cohen
I was deeply saddened—and still in shock and grief—to learn of the death of Professor Stephen F. Cohen, not only because his was a voice of sanity and reason, a voice for peace in an increasingly fractured world, but also because personally I was always excited and delighted to read his books and see his appearances, on television with Tucker Carlson and on alternative news platforms, including The Grayzone, RT, and even an interview with Lew Rockwell. Another example is that with Professor Cohen’s permission, Ron Unz created an extensive database of his writings on his site. Despite differences in political views, Professor Cohen never hesitated to speak to those who were willing to listen, to those interested in peace, to those willing to learn the truth and not be swayed by propaganda and lies.
What made, to me, Professor Cohen unique and special was not limited to his great knowledge, his warmth, his kindness, his scholarship; no, to me it was his , that is he looked at the “enemy,” specifically the Russian people, and saw in them human beings who had suffered greatly and saw a missed opportunity in America not respecting and working with Russia to the mutual benefit of both nations. Not only in his interviews but in his books this perspective is made very clear, and his written work is an important legacy that those who love peace and do not fall prey of the dictates of those in power in America who want to make enemies out of entire nations—not just Russia—will find words of great power in his published writings. Among his books, Professor Cohen discussed roads not taken, that many of the worst aspects of the Soviet Union might not have come into being and, how perhaps most relevant to us now, that the breakup of the Soviet Union that caused a catastrophic loss of life comparable to war, was clearly avoidable and that the policies of the Obama administration set into motion this “new cold war” (centered in Ukraine) or since it is more dangerous, to use a British expression, a “war of nerves” that is resulting in casualties.
In his earlier book, Professor Cohen writes a work that “shows that what US officials and other experts call ‘reform’ has for most Russians been a catastrophic development―namely the unprecedented de-modernization of a twentieth-century country―and for the United States the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam” and “an indictment of American journalists and policy makers who failed to see or report the truth about the complicity of U.S. policy in a great human tragedy.” That Russia has now turned around so completely is certainly remarkable and a testament to those officials in its government—including President Putin—who wanted to reverse the devastation and help their suffering people live normal lives.
In Professor Cohen writes of the human cost of Stalin’s Gulags, for “During the Stalin years, it is thought that more innocent men, women and children perished than in Hitler’s destruction of the European Jews. Many millions died in Stalin’s Gulag of torture prisons and forced-labour camps, yet others survived and were freed after his death in 1953. This book is the story of the survivors. Long kept secret by Soviet repression and censorship, it is now told by renowned author and historian Stephen F. Cohen, who came to know many former Gulag inmates during his frequent trips to Moscow over a period of thirty years. Based on first-hand interviews with the victims themselves and on newly available materials, Cohen provides a powerful narrative of the survivors’ post-Gulag saga, from their liberation and return to Soviet society, to their long struggle to salvage what remained of their shattered lives and to obtain justice.”
But more than writing history, giving a voice to the victims, Professor Cohen showed his compassion towards the victims personally, in his kindness towards the widow of Bukharin, which was revealed in the obituary published by The New York Times, “Stephen F. Cohen, Influential Historian of Russia, Dies at 81.”
A prolific writer who mined Soviet archives, Professor Cohen first came to international attention in 1973 with “Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution,” a biography of Lenin’s protégé Nikolai Bukharin, who envisioned Communism as a blend of state-run industries and free-market agriculture. Critics generally applauded the work, which was a finalist for a National Book Award.
“Stephen Cohen’s full-scale study of Bukharin is the first major study of this remarkable associate of Lenin,” Harrison Salisbury’s wrote in a review in The Times. “As such it constitutes a milestone in Soviet studies, the byproduct both of increased academic sophistication in the use of Soviet materials and also of the very substantial increase in basic information which has become available in the 20 years since Stalin’s death.”
After Lenin’s death, Mr. Bukharin became a victim of Stalin’s Moscow show trials in 1938; he was accused of plotting against Stalin and executed. His widow, Anna Mikhailovna Larina, spent 20 years in exile and in prison camps and campaigned for Mr. Bukharin’s rehabilitation, which was endorsed by Mr. Gorbachev in 1988.
Ms. Larina and Professor Cohen became friends. Given access to Bukharin archives, he found and returned to her the last love letter that Mr. Bukharin wrote her from prison.
His most recent book is a collection and expansion of his radio broadcast conversations with John Batchelor, many of which were published on LewRockwell.com, warning of the risk of a “hot war” with Russia now that formal avenues of communication and alternative means of indirect contact, such as the ones used by President Kennedy, no longer exist. An excerpt from the book was published on LewRockwell.com here, “Russiagate or Intelgate?,” in which Professor Cohen’s thesis now appears vindicated, as recent coverage and facts emerge. Aaron Maté’s piece for Real Clear Investigations, “Analysis: That Senate ‘Collusion’ Report? It’s Got No Smoking Gun … but It Does Have a Fog Machine” provides additional facts but of course ZeroHedge’s recent piece continues with the “Russia Bad” thesis no matter what: Russia didn’t collaborate with Trump but with Hillary Clinton!
Since I never had the honor of either meeting or speaking with Professor Cohen, I am delighted a wonderful tribute to him was written by Lev Golonkin, “Stephen F. Cohen Kept the Faith” and the following is an excerpt:
In the spring of 2014, a war broke out in my homeland of Ukraine. It was a horrific war in a bitterly divided nation, which turned eastern Ukraine into a bombed-out wasteland. But that’s not how it was portrayed in America. Because millions of eastern Ukrainians were against the US-backed government, their opinions were inconvenient for the West. Washington needed a clean story about Ukraine fighting the Kremlin; as a result, US media avoided reporting about the “wrong” half of the country. Twenty-plus million people were written out of the narrative, as if they never existed.
I tried to explain to American friends what was happening, but quickly realized that ultimately, even friends believe what they read in the newspapers, and the newspapers were pushing the Washington line.
Except for Steve Cohen. Steve was the only major figure in America who insisted on remembering the Russian-speaking Ukrainians who, like my family members, distrusted and hated the new Kiev government. He spoke of neo-Nazi paramilitiaries who fought for the US-backed government committing war crimes against civilians in eastern Ukraine. He spoke the truth, regardless of how unwieldy it was.
And so I e-mailed him, asking for guidance as I began my own writing career. Of course, there were many who clamored for Steve’s time, but I had an advantage over others. Steve and I were both night owls, real night owls, the kind who have afternoon tea at three am. It was then, when the east coast was sleeping, that he became my mentor and friend.
There’s a lot to say about Steve. He was extraordinarily kind, never forgetting that in geopolitics, the ones who have the most to lose aren’t strategists but everyday individuals impacted by policy. He was a consummate teacher, insisting on giving mentees the skills to navigate the world, a real proponent of the Teach a man to fish philosophy. He had facets and stories and memories; he lived life with empathy and gusto.
But one thing Steve taught me is to stick to my strengths, and truth be told, there are others who can describe his life better than I. I’ll stick to what I learned during our conversations at three in the morning, which is that, above all else, Stephen F. Cohen was a man of faith.
Yes, Stephen F. Cohen was a man of faith and a man of conscience; perhaps by providence, a website I visit recently published an article about Conscience, from a religious perspective: “CONSCIENCE: God’s Voice In Mankind;” I don’t know if Prof. Cohen was religious to any extent or believed in God, but to me, his conscience—as all of us despite our sins have to varying degrees—was a gift to him from God and in him it was exceptionally powerful; his writing, his deeds, his goodness, his personal strength, his standing up for his beliefs no matter the “slings and arrows” hurled against him by far lesser people testified to that.
The author wrote:
The study of the relationship of conscience to the spiritual attributes of man is the domain of psychology. Psychologists attempt to clarify two issues: a) Is conscience an attribute of man with which he is born, or is it the result of learning and encountering life’s experiences in the environment in which he develops? b) Is conscience a result of the way our mind, feelings, and will operate, or is it an independent characteristic?
In response to the first question, closer examination of man’s conscience convinces us that it is not the result of learned attitude or physical instinct in man, but has an unexplainable higher source. For example, children develop conscience before any adult teaching or modeling takes place. If physical instinct dictated to conscience, then it would induce man to behave in a profitable or pleasurable way. However, conscience often induces man to do that which is unprofitable or unpleasant. In spite of the appearance that evildoers enjoy the good life and virtuous people suffer, conscience tells us that a higher justice must exist. Eventually all have to receive their just reward. The universal presence of conscience for many people is the most convincing argument for God’s existence and the immortality of the soul…
The Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans explains in some detail how moral law works in man.
The Apostle reproaches those who know the written Law of God but willfully violate it. He contrasts them with the pagans who not having a written Law, naturally observe the prescriptions of the Law. By this they show that the process of the Law is written in their hearts which is witnessed by their conscience and thoughts, which either punish or justify one another (Rom. 2:14-15). [Emphasis added.]
Yvonne Lorenzo [send her email] makes her home in New England in a house full to bursting with books, including works on classical Greece and Russian history and literature, and has contributed to LewRockwell.com, Unz.com and to TheSaker.is. Her interests include gardening, mythology, ancient history, The Electric Universe, and classical music, especially the compositions of Handel, Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Wagner and the Bel Canto repertoire. She is the author of : , and the just published