I. F. Stone Reports: Can Russia Change?

A Chronicle of Current Events Republished in English by Amnesty International Publications, Turnagain Lane, Farringdon St., London EC4, England

Journal of the Soviet Human Rights Movement
Published Bi-Monthly in Samizdat in Moscow. Issues No. 16 to 21, $10.00 a year

Let History Judge

by Roy A. Medvedev
Knopf, 584 pp., $12.50

Uncensored Russia: Protest and Dissent in the Soviet Union

by Peter Reddaway
American Heritage, 499 pp., $10.00 (to be published in March)

Underground political opinion in the Soviet Union, as revealed in the Chronicle of Current Events and other samizdat publications now available in English, is extraordinarily diverse. Under the frozen ideological tundra, all the old Russian tendencies from anarchist idealism to anti-Semitic reaction, almost Black Hundreds style, are still alive. The Medvedev brothers are themselves somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; they represent, in the new context of communism, a kind of neo-Kadet movement. They are constitutional democrats, who would keep the new communist czarism but limit its powers while expanding the rights of its subjects.

Were the lid completely lifted, the violence and variety of the opposition would prove deeper and more diverse even than that which the short “hundred flowers” period in Maoist China disclosed. Yet these oppositionist tendencies by their internal alliances and dynamic are marshaled into something that resembles a two-party system, one pro- and the other anti-Stalinist. The Communist Party officially stands between them, ideologically anemic, intensely conservative, as standpat as our stodgiest Republicans, fearful of moving in either direction, yet drawn by its bureaucratic nature toward neo-Stalinism. For the conflict raging around it is neither symmetrical nor equal. The anti-Stalinists, since the fall of Khrushchev, seem to be outside the party or silent within it, while the proor neo-Stalinists are strongly entrenched in the apparat, especially the secret police, and in the bureaucracies which ride herd on science, literature, the arts, and journalism. The tide is running toward repression.

The difficulty is how to manage a little freedom and a little law without letting them get out of hand—out of hand, that is, from the standpoint of the bureaucracy. What the bureaucracy would like is enough law and enough freedom to protect it from a recurrence of the cruel, arbitrary, and capricious terror it suffered under Stalin, but not enough law and freedom to endanger its own privileges and power. Its power rests, as Stalin’s did, on fear, and its privileges depend as in his time on the suppression of criticism. The little Stalins fear a new big one, but they fear as well that the rule of law and free speech would undermine them too. This is one basic reason why the regime wavers and cannot make up its mind.

Perhaps the most deadly revelation in Roy Medvedev’s Let History Judge is in the three pages toward the end where he sheds fresh light on the privileges and corruption of the Soviet bureaucracy. Here he is dealing not only with the past and Stalin’s crimes but also with the present. These few pages alone must have been enough to keep the book from being cleared for publication in the USSR.

The corruption of the bureaucracy set in early. As far back as October, 1923, a Central Committee circular ordered a halt to the furnishing of apartments and private dachas at state expense. A rapid rise in prices in the Twenties and early Thirties led to the creation of that …

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