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 system of special stores for party officials which continues to provide them at special prices with luxuries not available elsewhere. “Gradually” party officials “acquired other privileges, too: their own hospitals, free rest homes, dachas, and so on.” In that same period “a peculiar habit began to appear: the party aktiv were given expensive gifts for holidays, congresses and conferences.” In 1932, the maximums on party salaries established under Lenin were formally abolished, bringing a new increase in the real income of officials.

New privileges were nevertheless added to the old. “A system of representatives’ subsidies was established for all officials at the level of the chairman of a city Soviet and higher.” Officials also began to hold more than one job, receiving full pay for each. During the war and postwar years when worker wages fell again, official salaries continued to rise. “That was the period,” Medvedev writes, “when the disgraceful system of ‘packets’ was introduced in the higher state and Party institutions.” Each month “almost every high official would receive an envelope or packet containing a large sum, often much higher than the salary formally designated for his post.” These payments “passed through special financial channels, were not subject to taxes, and were kept secret from the rank-and-file officials of the institution.” To refuse this graft could be risky:

Some Communists found the courage to refuse these packets. E. P. Frolov tells how M. D. Kammari, an editor of the journal Kommunist, never went to get his packets from the bookkeeper’s office, which put the head bookkeeper in a difficult position. “I don’t need so much money,” Kammari used to say. “My salary is enough for me.” But he had few imitators among his colleagues. On the contrary, many of them began to look at him suspiciously, regarding his behavior as a challenge and a protest.

The venality and corruption did not end with “the cult of personality”: “the counter-measures taken since Stalin’s death have not been sufficiently effective: in 1962 the death penalty was authorized for bribe-taking.” It must be pretty widespread if such severe penalties are considered necessary to deter it.


It should not take advanced studies in dialectical materialism to see that a bureaucracy that enjoys such fat emoluments must favor continuation of the censorship, the passivity, and the fear that preserve and keep them secret. This is a major reason why it resists de-Stalinization, but Medvedev does not draw this obvious but dangerous inference. He entangles himself in contradictions, perhaps in the hope that by blurring his conclusions he might get his book published in the Soviet Union. He denies that a new class of “bourgeoisified officials” grew up in the Soviet Union but admits that “clearly defined elements of a bureaucratic oligarchy and a caste system” appeared in the higher and middle levels. The fine distinction did not help him, especially since he followed this with a savage portrait drawn by the late Konstantin Paustovsky of this new caste.

In the short-lived “thaw” after Stalin died, Dudintsev’s novel Not By Bread Alone drew in the character of Drozdov an acid picture of the typical Stalinist bureaucrat. Paustovsky declared that “the new caste of Drozdovs is still with us” and described those he had encountered in a vacation trip around Europe on the Soviet steamer Pobeda. His little Canterbury tale is a portrait in miniature of Soviet society as it is today:

In the second and third classes there were workers, engineers, artists, musicians, writers; in the first class were the Drozdovs. I need not tell you that they had and could have absolutely no contact with the second and third classes. They revealed hostility to everything except their position, they astounded us by their ignorance…. One of the Drozdovs, standing before “The Last Judgment,” asked: “Is that the judgment of Mussolini?” Another, looking at the Acropolis, said: “How could the proletariat allow the Acropolis to be built?” A third, overhearing a comment on the amazing color of the Mediterranean, asked severely: “And is our water back home worse?”

These predators, proprietors, cynics, and obscurantists, openly, without fear of embarrassment, carried on anti-Semitic conversations worthy of the Nazis…. Where did they come from, these bootlickers and traitors…? They are the consequence of the personality cult: the situation trained them to think of the people as dung to fertilize their career. Intrigues, slander, moral assassination and just plain assassination—these are their weapons, as a result of which Meyerhold, Babel, Artem Vesely are not in this hall with us today. The Drozdovs destroyed them. The cause that moved them was their own prosperity.

Their own prosperity is the cause that still moves them today, and it moves them back toward Stalinism, albeit in the hope that it can be modified just enough to protect them from a new monster. Their success is indicated by the fact that no published source is cited for Paustovsky’s speech, in spite of his eminence as a critic and his popularity as a writer; that nothing has been heard again in years from the brave and gifted Dudintsev; and that Medvedev’s book could not be published in the Soviet Union and he has been expelled from the Communist Party.1


The truth is that this, the most complete and the most outspoken history of the Stalin years to come out of the Soviet Union, was by passed by events while it was being written. The battle the book fights to prevent the rehabilitation of Stalin has not yet been entirely lost. But without wholly rehabilitating Stalin, Khrushchev’s successors are moving steadily toward neo-Stalinism. Roy is the son of a Soviet Marxist philosopher who fell victim to the terror of the Thirties. He joined the Communist Party after the 20th Congress in 1956 shattered the Stalin cult. After the 22nd Congress in 1961 reaffirmed the call for de-Stalinization, he began to write this book. But by the time he completed it in 1968, Khrushchev had fallen from power, and the Stalinists had begun their comeback.

Within a month of Khrushchev’s ouster in October, 1964, the chairman of the KGB, the head of the secret police, was promoted to full membership in the Central Committee. When the 23rd Congress met in March, 1966, Alexander Tvardovsky, editor of the liberal Novy Mir which had published Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was excluded although he was a candidate member of the Central Committee. His exclusion left no one to answer the scurrilous attack that Sholokhov launched on the liberal writers or Sholokhov’s defense of the imprisonment of Sinyavsky and Daniel. Their trial, which had just ended, and the news that the regime had begun sending radicals to lunatic asylums, indicated that the Stalinist apparatchiki were back in the saddle again.


Medvedev set himself the task of completing Khrushchev’s work. Whatever Khrushchev’s own failings, he liberated Russia from the Stalin legend as no one else could have done. Events since his fall have shown how easily Stalin’s successors might have hushed up the story of the dictator’s crimes, even though hundreds of “ghosts” returning from the Siberian labor camps were spreading the story underground. According to a disclosure Khrushchev did not make until the 22nd Congress in 1961, Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov, Voroshilov, “and others” on the CP Presidium of eleven objected to raising the question of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress in 1956. Khrushchev was able to overcome their resistance only by threatening to “let the Congress delegates decide.”2 Apparently fear of letting the fight come into the open and being defeated in the Congress led Molotov and his “anti-party” allies to give in.

But only a year later they mustered a majority in the Presidium and but for a hastily called Central Committee meeting would have ousted Khrushchev. According to an account which leaked out to the Italian Communist paper L’Unita, Khrushchev was accused—in typical Stalinist fashion—of Trotskyism.3 How easily in the good old days Khrushchev might have been arrested and shot as a Trotskyist! How happy the Communists and their fellow travelers would have been to be assured that the charges against Stalin were only a Trotskyist fabrication! How comfortable if the benign old father figure had been restored!

Khrushchev in his speech to the 22nd Congress put his finger on another of the main obstacles to de-Stalinization. He said the “anti-party” group opposed to it “did not cease their struggle even after the [20th] Congress; they did everything they could to hamper an investigation of abuses of power, afraid that their role as accomplices in mass repressions would be revealed” (our italics). But this fear can hardly be limited to the men at the top. Medvedev writes:

Thousands of people exercised extraordinary power during the years of the cult. New commissars, directors of major enterprises, obkom and raikom secretaries, state security officials, heads of “special departments” and so on, got the right to decide the fate of Soviet citizens. Each of them was almost absolute master of his domain, and many used their power to get rid of people they did not like. Cliques of unprincipled careerists took shape, dedicated to the preservation of their power. Imitating Stalin, they set up cults of their own personalities, turning any criticism into a state crime.

These thousands of little Stalins must now fear the exposure of their crimes as thousands of little Hitlers in postwar Germany feared punishment for theirs. The resistance to de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union can be understood in the light of the resistance to de-Nazification in Germany. It was difficult enough in the Reich under an occupying army with Hitler defeated. Imagine the difficulties if Hitler had survived the war as a victor and the truth about his crimes had not been officially revealed until his death a decade after the war was over. Imagine a Nazi reformer trying to “liberalize” the regime while exposing Hitler’s crimes. Thousands of Nazi bureaucrats would have trembled lest they, too, be put on trial.

This seems to be the most delicate of subjects in the Soviet Union. To raise the question of punishing the surviving little Stalins, many of whom have probably risen higher in official rank, would intensify bureaucratic opposition to de-Stalinization. Roy Medvedev touches on this very gingerly and in passing. “Many people,” he writes, “actively helped Stalin in his crimes and [sic] made for lawlessness themselves, slandering citizens on their own initiative. Such aides to the executioner should be covered with shame and punished by the court.” Those two sentences are all I could find on the subject in his 584-page book.

Stalin’s usefulness as a scapegoat is limited by fear that full exposure will bring to light his many accomplices, some of whom no doubt exploited his paranoia to advance themselves at the expense of other people’s lives.

Not all the crimes originated with Stalin. Let us take as one sample the case of Isaac Babel, one of the many great Soviet writers—and gifted Russian Jews—who lost their lives in the terror. The persecution of Babel originated with the party hack writers who began to ride herd on their betters early in the Twenties. Gorky, his protector, at one point went to Stalin and got Stalin to say a friendly word about Babel at a banquet. This inhibited the hacks for a time, but after Gorky died they finally succeeded in silencing and destroying Babel. Who led the campaign of persecution? Were false documents used? What kind of orders accompanied him to the camp from which he never emerged? Why he was arrested, how he died, when and where, whether by typhus or shooting, and if by shooting who shot him and on whose orders—all this is still unknown. All these questions could be duplicated in thousands of cases which cost the Soviet peoples many of their best writers, their best scientists, their best soldiers, their best officials, and their best communists.

How many prosperous and sleek higher-ups in the bureaucracy today are guilty of frame-up and murder? Some may plead “superior orders”—a plea that was disallowed at Nuremburg. But how many others deliberately used the terror to get rid of rivals? Will justice never be done? Without bringing at least a few of the little Stalins to trial, how can a new crop be prevented? When are the Soviet peoples going to turn against the communist bureaucrats their favorite chestnut about not being able to make omelets without breaking eggs? If so much injustice is justified—in a stale and mangy paradox—on the grounds of creating a more just society, how much more justifiable would be a little justice for the same great purpose? The Soviet Union will never reach the rule of law until the main source of lawlessness—its own officials—are taught the hard way that their violations of the law will be punished. That is what the bureaucracy sees ahead if de-Stalinization ever took on momentum, and this is another reason why they prefer to move back toward re-Stalinization, even at some risk to themselves should a new Stalin appear.


There is a third obstacle to internal reform in the Soviet Union: the habit of acting by command. Tito touched on this in a speech at Pula after his visit to the Soviet Union in November, 1956, during the Hungarian uprising. He said the strongest opposition to de-Stalinization came from the middle echelons of the bureaucracy. Tito said the unrest shaking the communist world had its roots not just in the cult of personality but in the “system” which made its emergence possible, “in the bureaucratic apparatus, in the methods of leadership…and in the ignoring of the role and wishes of the working masses4 (our italics).

This is a problem which Roy Medvedev, as a middle-of-the-road Marxist dissident, finds it hard to deal with. At one point he blames. “bureaucratic degeneration” on “petty bourgeois and careerist tendencies.” (The workers are assumed—in Marxist theory—to be prima facie spotless. If they turn bad they are by definition “petty bourgeois.”) But Medvedev is too clear-sighted not to recognize that this is not the whole truth. Soon he is writing that “in the late Twenties and early Thirties, degeneration affected a significant part of the Leninist old guard.” While “in most cases” this degeneration did not reach “criminal extremes,” they “gradually acquired the habit of commanding, of administration by fiat, ignoring the opinion of the masses.”

This is the easy way, the natural way, for any bureaucrat to act in any government and in any corporation, capitalist or socialist. But these natural tendencies are intensified by a system that remains intensely coercive fifty years after the revolution, that restricts the movement of workers and peasants by an internal passport system, and that allows no independent trade union movement. The Soviet Union operates, on a more systematic national scale, as the coal and steel barons did in Western Pennsylvania and other coal-iron regions of our own country before the New Deal, with company towns, company stores, company police, and company unions; coal and steel workers were little better than serfs.

Andrei Amalrik, a more radical dissident than Medvedev, provided a fuller glimpse of these realities in his famous and intrepid interview with William Coles of CBS5 when Amalrik said, “The farm workers are dissatisfied with their lack of rights, in that they cannot leave the villages…. The workers are discontented because of their low wages, high work quotas, and the efforts to force them to stay at their work places.” Where peasants cannot leave their villages without permission and workers can only leave their jobs with difficulty, the dictatorship of the proletariat after fifty years of development looks like a form of industrial serfdom, too.


How did this happen? How can it be changed? The weakest part of Roy Medvedev’s monumental study of Stalinism lies in its efforts to answer these questions. We know from earlier issues of the Chronicle that by 1969 his book, in the shape of a three-volume, 1,400-page transcript, had already begun to circulate widely in the Soviet Union. 6 The book has to be judged in the West from two points of view. Perhaps the first and most important task it had to perform in the Soviet Union was to document the case against Stalin, using both official documents and unpublished affidavits and memoirs.

The Western reader now knows incomparably more about the misdeeds of Stalin and Stalinism than does the Soviet. In the West, what Medvedev has to tell about Stalin is less important and less novel than his revelations about current conditions and his answers to the questions of the future. But in the Soviet Union, where efforts to rehabilitate Stalin and Stalinism began almost as soon as the 20th Congress was over,7 the more urgent political task, the necessary first step toward change, is to complete the job of exposing the past, or—desperately—at least to prevent a total whitewash.

The second point to be kept in mind is that Let History Judge was written by a then member of the Communist Party in the hope that it might be published in the Soviet Union. As his brother Jaurès disclosed,8 at the end of 1968 Roy “was beginning a new revision and expansion of the manuscript, intending after this to submit it to the Central Committee of the CPSU for consideration and determination of its future fate.” He added that “as a member of the Party, my brother could not offer the manuscript of such a book to any of the Soviet publishing houses before it had been considered by the Central Committee.”

Read as a book that the author hoped to get by the Central Committee, it is extraordinary in its courage and even more extraordinary in its optimism. Only a new Candide could imagine that the cautious and colorless group which makes up the Central Committee today would approve a book that quotes Bakunin and Trotsky with respect.9

There is a passage in Amalrik’s book Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?10 which seems, without mentioning the Medvedevs, to describe their political point of view. He calls it the “ideology of reformism” and says it holds that by gradual and piecemeal changes “a certain ‘humanization of socialism’ will take place.” He says it is “based on the belief that ‘Reason will prevail’ and that ‘Everything will be all right.’ ” Amalrik says this is popular in academic circles “and, in general, among those who are not badly off even now and who therefore hope that others will also come to accept the view that it is better to be well fed and free than to be hungry and enslaved.” Amalrik believes “that all the American hopes about the Soviet Union are derived from this naive point of view.” He does not think that it finds much support in history, particularly Russian history.

Amalrik declares that “the current process [already reversed since he wrote and since he was sent to Kolyma] of ‘widening the area of freedom’ could be more aptly described as the growing decrepitude of the regime which is simply growing old and can no longer suppress everyone and everything with the same vigor as before.” This is much the same answer I got in talking with dissident intellectuals in Madrid five years ago when the outlook there was a little more hopeful than now. When I asked whether Franco Spain like the Soviet Union was undergoing a “thaw,” they said, “No, the regime is just rotting away.”

The political views of the Medvedevs reflect the fact that they belong to a privileged stratum of Soviet society, indeed the only one outside the bureaucracy and the party, the scientific elite. The regime needs scientists, especially those who work on matters related to armaments, and scientists of this kind can exert a powerful influence if they have the nerve. In Let History Judge, Medvedev tells a story which illustrates this. In 1939 Stalin turned down appeals from Einstein and the Joliot-Curies on behalf of two foreign physicists, Houtermanns and Weissberg, he had arrested. He turned them over to the Gestapo. In the same period the physicist L. D. Landau was crazily accused of being a German spy, though he was Jewish. He spent a year in prison, “And it was clear,” he related in 1964, “I wouldn’t last another six months. I was simply dying.” At that point the physicist Peter Kapitsa went to the Kremlin, demanding Landau’s release and threatening otherwise to quit the Institute of Physical Problems which was specially created for him when he returned from England in 1935. Stalin gave in and freed Landau.


The history of freedom in the West is in large part the story of men brave enough to deny the state something it needed unless concessions were made to them. Among them were feudal lords who withheld armed men from kings, burghers who withheld taxes, and, later, workers who withheld their labor, though strikes were then as illegal as they are in the Soviet Union today. In a milder way something of the same sort seems to be going on in the Soviet Union between the state and the scientific elite. Jaurès Medvedev got out of a mental hospital because his brother could marshal so many scientists at home and abroad in protest. The regime needs to keep the scientists happy. Thus, as an outstanding example, Andrei Sakharov’s famous liberal manifesto, Progress, Co-existence, and Intellectual Freedom, was published abroad and he has led the Human Rights Movement—so far with impunity. As the “father of the Soviet H-bomb” he is indulged in these little quirks. But not all scientists are as brave as Kapitsa, Sakharov, and the Medvedevs. Many can be bought off, as many have been bought off by the military-industrial complex here. Scientists can hardly be considered a revolutionary vanguard.

Roy Medvedev writing as a Communist Party member and as a member of a privileged class, hoping for official permission to publish his work, takes the politic line that Stalinism was a perversion, “a phenomenon profoundly alien to Marxism-Leninism, it is pseudocommunism and pseudosocialism.” Pseudocommunism and pseudosocialism it may be when measured by the hopes it once aroused, but can Stalinism be “a phenomenon profoundly alien to Marxism-Leninism” when many of its roots go back to Lenin and before him to Marx himself?

Medvedev is not a Trotskyist but like them he indulges in the Golden Age legend of dissident Marxists—the myth that there was something called “Leninist democracy” before Stalin came along. Lenin was in truth a far superior man to Stalin and he was troubled deeply before his death by the corruption and the elitism of the bureaucracy, by the backwardness of Russia and the arrogance of the Great Russian in dealing with minorities. The anguish is reflected in much that Medvedev quotes from him and may be seen more fully in a book like Moshe Levin’s Lenin’s Last Struggle,11 which also reflects the Golden Age illusion. But Lenin’s solution for the bureaucratic evils he saw around him was to pile another bureaucracy on top of the existing one in the shape of RABKRIN—a Workers and Peasants Inspection. Its inefficacy as a power for reform was demonstrated when Stalin used it on his climb to power.

Medvedev, to show the contrast with Stalin, quotes the praise Lenin often had (along with some very nasty polemics) for opponents like Kautsky, Martov, and Rosa Luxembourg. I checked one footnote to see Lenin’s praise for Rosa. It turned out that what Lenin liked was that she had written that “since August 4, 1914, German Socialist Democracy has been a stinking corpse.” But Lenin did not approve and Medvedev did not have the temerity to quote her criticism of the Soviet dictatorship as it was practiced under Lenin, though what she had to say then was prophetic and charts the way back toward freedom. How badly the Soviet Union and its satellites need to hear the words she wrote in 1918, long before Stalinism, when Lenin and Trotsky still ruled:

Freedom for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party—however numerous they may be—is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently…. Lenin and Trotsky have laid down the Soviets as the only true representation of the laboring masses. But with the repression of political life in the land as a whole, life in the Soviets must also become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep…a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously—at bottom, then, a clique affair—a dictatorship to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians.12

How clearly Rosa Luxembourg saw what was coming. How her direct and burning eloquence contrasts with the devious way even a brave dissident like Medvedev must write in the suffocating atmosphere of the Soviet Union when he finally touches on this basic problem. The twists and turns can only be appreciated if the passage from Medvedev is quoted in its entirety. Medvedev writes in a chapter, “Conditions Facilitating Stalin’s Usurpation of Power”:

Although the Bolsheviks’ treatment of the other democratic parties was not beyond reproach, it should be pointed out that the Communist Party’s monopoly of political activity was a product of history; in a certain period it was an important condition for the realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But while the one-party system has some positive aspects, negative tendencies result from its prolonged existence. Serious mistakes of the leadership are not discussed in the open, the leaders’ responsibility for their actions is reduced, bureaucratic degeneration and even a transition to a despotic system are facilitated. That was the evolutionary pattern of the Stalinist regime. It is not surprising that today almost all the Communist parties of Western Europe have declared their opposition to a one-party system.

From a Western point of view this is equivocal. From a Soviet point of view it is daring. The bare mention of a multiparty system is regarded as counterrevolutionary. So it is not surprising that Medvedev concludes lamely that “of course, in the Soviet Union today a change to any sort of multi-party system is not possible or feasible.” (He does not, however, demean himself by saying it wouldn’t be a good idea.) “But this very fact,” he goes on, “greatly reinforces the need to create specific safeguards against arbitrary rule and bureaucratic distortions, safeguards built into the structure and working methods of the ruling Party itself.”


But this was a battle fought and lost in the early Twenties before Stalin’s climb to absolute power; indeed the principles established then made Stalinism possible. The Bolsheviks spoke more candidly in those days, and one can see the real issues and the real obstacles in two speeches by Zinoviev against the Trotskyists in 1923 from which Medvedev quotes (p. 387). In the first Zinoviev told a party conference in Leningrad that the leadership preferred “to cut off a very considerable section of the party” to achieve “monolithic” unity rather than “a parliament of opinions.” He saw factions as “parallel embryonic governments” and said “the slightest division of power” would mean “ruin for the dictatorship of the proletariat.” There is no reason to believe that Stalin’s successors feel any differently today.

A few days later in a speech to Moscow activists, Zinoviev was even franker and laid bare more fundamental issues. To “stormy applause” he said the time had not come “and will not come” for factions. “It cannot come,” Zinoviev concluded, “because this issue is connected with the issue of freedom of the press, and in general with the issue of political rights for the nonproletarian strata of the population.”

In one vital respect even this was not completely truthful. The immediate issue was not political rights for the “nonproletarian strata,” above all the peasant majority and the intellectuals. The issue by then was the denial of political rights even to the proletariat. The Tenth Party Congress two and a half years earlier, the last one over which Lenin presided, had crushed the so-called Workers Opposition and with it not only the political rights of the proletarian strata but the rank-and-file of the party itself. Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Stalin were united in resisting the demands for inner party democracy and working class demands for greater freedom of speech and press outside it. The whole terrible story is spelled out in Chapter 17 of Leonard Schapiro’s The Origin of the Communist Autocracy.13 Neither Lenin’s greater humanity nor the dreadful conditions of the time should be allowed to hide this essential reality. The Soviet Union and the communist movement will never find their way to freedom until Stalinism’s roots in Leninism are honestly faced up to. This is perhaps the most difficult task confronting Soviet dissidents.

Tactically it is easier to portray Stalinism as a historically accidental deformation of Leninism rather than to criticize the Father of the Revolution. The dissidents may find, in the voluminous writings of Lenin, texts that can be used as arguments for greater democracy and for the proposition that repression was only supposed to be temporary. But in any battle of theological exegesis the neo-Stalinists can find far more support than the dissidents in these sacred texts.

As early as 1902 in What Is to Be Done? Lenin said that the working class left to itself would only develop a trade union consciousness and that socialist ideas would have to be imposed from above. That is where “Stalinism” started, and that is where the struggle to de-Stalinize must begin. After a visit to Russia in 1920, Bertrand Russell14 foresaw that what was most “likely to happen” there was “the establishment of a bureaucratic aristocracy, concentrating authority in its own hands, and creating a regime just as oppressive and cruel as that of capitalism.” Stalinism was the end result of Leninism.


“Were it left to me,” Jefferson once said in a much quoted remark, 15 “whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” To a lifelong newspaperman like myself it is thrilling to see that in every revolt against the communist bureaucracy one of the first demands is for freedom of the press. This was the cry raised by the workers of Csepel outside Budapest in 1956, by those who tried to create a new communism “with a human face” in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and by the workers who attacked party and secret police headquarters in Poland’s Baltic uprising in December, 1970.

It is also one of the main demands today of Soviet dissidents. Medvedev raises the issue, too.16 He begins with a quotation from Marx I had never seen before. But what Marx had to say then fits the situation in the Soviet bloc with precision. Marx wrote that a censored press creates hypocrisy on the part of the government and passivity on the part of the people. “The government,” he added, “hears only its own voice…and demands that the people support this self-deception.”17

Medvedev also comes up with an extraordinary quotation from Lunacharsky, who was Commissar for Education until 1929. In an article “Freedom of the Press and the State” in 1921 he defended censorship but only as a temporary necessity. He then attacked “the person”—the very kind who rules the Soviet Union today—who says, “Down with all these prejudices about free speech; state control of literature suits our Communist system; censorship is not a horrible feature of the transitional period but something inherent in a well-ordered socialized life.”

Lunacharsky said that such a person “shows only that under the Communist, if you scratch him a little, you will find a Derzhimorda.” The reference is to a character in Gogol’s Inspector General whose name has become an eponym for the kind of official who rules by browbeating and force. Lunacharsky said presciently, “We do show such symptoms; we cannot help it, we are a people with too low a level of culture.” He warned that “the danger of a strong proletarian regime” turning into “a police regime, an Arakcheev regime,18 is real and present, and must be avoided by every means.” The easiest and simplest means was to lift the censorship. But Lunacharsky never dared propose it and even Medvedev never comes out plainly and says it.

In keeping with the cult of Lenin, Medvedev distorts and prettifies the Leninist period, but still he cannot come up with a single quotation from Lenin defending freedom of the press. Medvedev says, “The proletarian revolution had to liquidate bourgeois newspapers and journals that called for the overthrow of the Soviet regime.” Neither Gorky’s Novaya Zhizn nor Martov’s Vpered were bourgeois or called for the overthrow of the Soviet regime. But Lenin had closed both down by the middle of 1918, ending freedom of the press even for proletarian and Left Menshevik supporters of the revolution19 and giving the Bolsheviks a monopoly their successors have never relinquished.

Like many of today’s dissidents, Martov and the Left Mensheviks, after their paper was shut down, fell back on appeals to the constitution Lenin had promulgated. This, like Stalin’s constitution of 1936, was advertised as the world’s most democratic because it guaranteed not only the “theoretical” freedom of the press known in bourgeois countries but assured the workers of “all technical and material means for the publication of newspapers, pamphlets, books and all other printed works” and for their distribution throughout the country. Similarly freedom of assembly was guaranteed by putting at the disposal of the workers “all premises suitable for holding popular meetings with equipment, lighting and heating.” What elaborate fakery all this turned out to be!20 Lenin was as deaf to constitutional appeals as are his successors today. Medvedev draws a curtain over this, as he does over the fact that one of the tasks Lenin gave the Cheka when he established it in December, 1917, was to “watch the press.”21

The road to a free press in the Soviet Union is full of pitfalls. Medvedev stumbles into one after another. He writes, after all, as a loyal party member, and if there is one idea that it is hard to get out of a party-line noggin it is that any difference with the Party—like God, always capitalized—is, after all, suspect. The revolution began with the idea that the press was to be taken away from the bourgeoisie and given to the proletariat. The idea lives on in Medvedev. But he says of the Stalin years, “The idea of a proletarian monopoly on the press was perverted.” The perversion began, as we have seen, before Stalin.

The very idea was full of logical and political fallacies. To start with, a proletarian monopoly of the press in an overwhelmingly peasant country meant treating the muzhik as a dumb ox and the radicals (like the Socialist Revolutionaries) who spoke for him as subversive and suppressible. Medvedev’s book describes the horrible way in which collectivization was brought about. The unspoken premise that the peasant’s opinion didn’t count led to these horrors and to the stepchild status that has crippled Soviet agriculture ever since.


It soon turned out that the worker’s opinion didn’t count either. By leger-demain worthy of the Hegelian dialectic, the working class was conceived of as some kind of monolith, a conceptual monster was substituted for the diverse living reality, the notion that there might be wide differences of opinion among workers was passed over as (metaphysically) unreal, the party as representative of the workers was assumed to be their voice, the opinions of dissident workers were therefore—by definition—excluded as nonproletarian. There emerged that favorite figment of speeches by communist leaders—“the honest worker,” i.e., the dope who does whatever he is told. The worker who insists on standing up for what he misguidedly regards as his rights can be disposed of as “an enemy of the people.” With a little climb into his family tree the KGB can then discover (as in the latest attack on Solzhenitsyn)22 that he had a grandfather who owned two cows and a goat and was therefore of “petty bourgeois” origin and outside the pale.

Medvedev finds it hard to get away from the idea that some censorship is justifiable. “The press was closed,” he writes again of the Stalin years, “not only to enemy criticism and mudslinging, which was quite proper [our italics], but also to criticisms from Party positions.” But in practice any criticism was and is still identified with the enemy, with mudslinging, and regarded as non-party. To say such restriction was “proper” is to provide an excuse for continued censorship, and as long as there is censorship the bureaucrats will decide what is enemy opinion, mudslinging, and “from a non-party position.” This is what happened to Medvedev’s book and this is what happened to Medvedev when he was expelled from the party. In principle, however, he does not differ from the slick interpretation with which Vishinsky in the Thirties made a nullity of the bill of rights in the Stalin constitution.

Article 125 of that constitution seems at first glance to be the strongest bill of rights in the world. It not only guarantees freedom of speech, press, assembly, and “street parades and demonstrations” but says these rights are to be assured by making available “the uses of printing establishments, stocks of paper, public buildings, streets, means of communication, and other material conditions essential for their realization.” In the underground Chronicle of Current Events, as in the annotated text made available in Peter Reddaway’s book, one can see how often the dissidents invoke Article 125 in defense of their right to protest. One can also see how often they raise the claim that Article 125 is violated by the two laws most frequently used against them: Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code which forbids “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” and Article 190/91, the anti-samizdat law, which forbids the oral, written, or printed dissemination of “deliberate falsehoods derogatory to the Soviet State and the social system.”23

In no case has the constitutional provision helped the dissidents. Their experience recalls a famous passage in our Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton, answering the objection that the proposed new constitution contained no bill of rights, argued that “whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution” about freedom of the press and other fundamental rights, they “must altogether depend on public opinion and on the general spirit of the people and of the government.”24 This is partly, though only partly, true. For there are times when the symbolism of a constitution and the existence of a liberal-minded judiciary have proven a bulwark against unthinking majority prejudice in our own country; our various Marxist parties—Communist, Trotskyist, and Maoist—would otherwise have been suppressed long ago. But Soviet experience certainly shows what can be done with “fine declarations.”

The big loophole in Article 125 of the Soviet constitution was opened by its preamble which says these rights shall be granted “in conformity with the interests of the toilers and to the end of strengthening the socialist social order.”25 This enabled Vishinsky, the recycled Menshevik, to explain smoothly in his Law of the Soviet State that “in our state, naturally, there is and can be no place for freedom of speech and press and so on for the foes of socialism.” Any attempt on their part to use these rights “to the detriment of all the toilers” was to be punished as “counterrevolutionary crime” under Article 58 of the Criminal Code. 26 Pravda put it more bluntly a few months before the new constitution was adopted, of course unanimously, by the Eighth Party Congress. It said, “We shall not give a scrap of paper nor an inch of room for those who think differently [from the party].” This was the jurisprudence that Stalin used to justify his bloodiest purges after adopting what he described to the Congress as “the only thoroughly democratic constitution in the world.”27

This is exactly the argument we had to combat from right-wingers, Legionnaires, vigilantes, and people like Richard Nixon in the days of the American witch hunt after the war. They, too, applauded the First Amendment but said, of course, it did not apply to those who wanted to undermine the American system. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the same doctrine one day from the new Nixon court. This is exactly the argument I had to combat when I attacked the indictment of the Trotskyists under the Smith Act in 1940 and the prosecution of the communists here under that act in the 1950s. Either there is freedom of political ideas for all or there will be freedom of political ideas for none.

This is a position most Soviet dissidents, especially of the privileged strata, hesitate to take. An example is Andrei Sakharov. Apparently Sakharov is more radical than Medvedev. In the former’s manifesto, Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom, Sakharov pays tribute to Medvedev’s Let History Judge, which he had read in manuscript, but says the compliment is unlikely to be returned since “Comrade Medvedev…finds elements of ‘Westernism’ in his [i.e., Sakharov’s] views.”28

The “Westernisms” are easy to spot. Sakharov wrote in his manifesto that “the key to a progressive restructuring of the system of government in the interests of mankind lies in intellectual freedom” and hailed the Czechoslovaks for their “bold initiative” in this direction; he was writing, of course, before the Red Army smashed them. Sakharov also says “liberalized directives” to Glavlit, the organ of censorship, are not enough. But then he backtracks.29

Major organizational and legislative measures are required, for example, adoption of a special law on press and information that would clearly and convincingly define what can and what cannot be printed [our italics] and would place the responsibility on competent people who would be under public control.

How square the circle? Who decides the competency of the press controllers? How do you have public control under a one-party system? A law that allows the state to decide “what can and what cannot be printed” is a law made to order for neo-Stalinism. More recently Sakharov, Roy Medvedev, and V. F. Turchin, in an appeal dated March 19, 1970, to Brezhnev, Kosygin, and Podgorny,30 asked that such a press and information law include “total abolition of preliminary censorship in all its forms” (our italics). This would presumably leave open criminal penalties for writers who went beyond the established legal bounds. This takes us back almost 200 years to the revolution of 1688 in England which abolished prior restraint but permitted prosecution of editors for criminal and seditious libel and for “constructive treason.”31

Thus the Russian dissidents would go back to the point where the struggle for real freedom of the press began in England and the American colonies. The case of the Pentagon Papers gave us our first taste of prior restraint since the foundation of the American Republic, even though only in a fleeting form. It is still a most dangerous precedent and carries us back, too—to the days before 1688.

I only want to add one more point to this quick look at the terrible obstacles our Soviet brothers face in the struggle to combine freedom and socialism. One basic factor in my opinion is philosophical. Soviet thinking is still impregnated with the metaphysical gibberish with which Hegel identified freedom with necessity and therefore obedience to the Prussian monarchy. The state is the final judge of truth in Marxism-Leninism as in Hegelianism. In that tradition man is made for the state. In the liberal tradition the state is made for man. The basic difference is crucial.

This is where the dispute between the Marxists on the one hand and the liberals and the anarchists on the other began in the nineteenth century. The evils identified with Stalin were foreseen by men like Bakunin and Kropotkin. The Marxist doctrine of the “withering away of the state” was propounded to meet anarchist criticism, but nowhere is there any evidence of withering. The ruling class in the communist countries is no more ready than any other ruling class in history to give up its privileges easily. It will be a miracle if the Russians find their way to freedom in our lifetime, but miracles sometimes happen. If the Catholic Church can have an åggiornamento, and the Jesuits suddenly become revolutionaries, anything can happen.

This is the only ray of hope I see and it is not much. Freedom requires risk, but so does repression. The new rulers of the Soviet Union showed in Czechoslovakia, as they continue to show by the new wave of arrests in the Soviet Union, that they, like the czars before them, prefer the risks of repression. No regime talks more of the masses, and none shows less confidence in them.

This is the conclusion of a two-part essay.

The Fakery in Nixon’s Peace Offer

Washington—In the Nixon revelations about his secret talks on Vietnam, we are dealing once again with “selective de-classification.” Experience should have taught us by now how easy it is to distort the record by omitting the details that do not serve the purposes of propaganda. This was how Johnson fooled the country time and time again.

The first deception in this tailored record is the claim that Nixon has already offered in private what the other side hinted to McGovern and others in the past might be acceptable—that is, a release of all prisoners for a total withdrawal. What Nixon offered last May 31 was total withdrawal for a release of prisoners and a cease-fire. The other side has always refused to accept a cease-fire until after a political settlement. Otherwise they ratify their own defeat. They may be willing to release the prisoners for our total withdrawal* and then take their chances militarily against the South Vietnamese regime. But they are not willing to lay down their arms and leave themselves at the mercy of that regime.

The biggest gap in the Nixon-Kissinger record is the role played in last year’s secret negotiations by the presidential election in South Vietnam which took place last October. In the interview the chief North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho gave Anthony Lewis last July (New York Times, July 6), Le Duc Tho said prisoners would be released in return for a total withdrawal including all US military advisers and a cessation of all bombing and shelling from Thailand and the 7th fleet. He said political talks would then follow between the Viet Cong “and the Saigon administration.”

The most significant revelation in Kissinger’s press conference has been overlooked. Perhaps inadvertently he disclosed something Nixon never mentioned in his broadcast. He revealed that the preparations for last October’s presidential elections in South Vietnam figured in the secret negotiations last summer. The other side may have hoped that a new and acceptable government would emerge from the elections. Kissinger let this slip when he said that our offer of August 16 included “specific proposals for American neutrality in the forthcoming South Vietnamese elections.” This offer was turned down by the North Vietnamese on September 13, Kissinger disclosed, on the ground that “a simple declaration of American neutrality while the existing government stayed in office would not overcome” its electoral advantage.

One possible concession was for Thieu to step down pending the outcome of the election. Another was to set up an electoral commission including the Viet Cong. These are indeed the two concessions offered, though in a minimal form, in the new eight-point plan. Kissinger says this was “essentially the proposal we made October 11.” But October 11 was exactly eight days after Thieu was re-elected in an uncontested election with 91.5 percent of the vote, the biggest electorate accolade since Hitler. Now we may begin to understand why the other side’s position hardened all through the summer and fall of last year.

Under the new Nixon eight-point plan, the electoral commission would “determine the qualifications of candidates.” This takes on meaning when we recall that last June 3 Thieu rammed through his legislature a law with such stringent qualifications for candidates as to pave the way for a one-man election. On the basis of that law his Supreme Court, last August 5, invalidated Ky’s candidacy, leaving Big Minh as the only opposition choice. Nine days later Minh presented to the US Embassy documents charging widespread intimidation of his supporters and a concerted plan to rig the election. When Washington declined to act, Minh on August 20 withdrew declaring the campaign “a dirty farce which would only make the people more desperate and disillusioned with the democratic system.”

The doves in our Congress demanded that we cut off aid if Thieu persisted. Even Jackson, on September 10, said the Nixon Administration “should stop pretending to be helpless” and transform “a pointless referendum” into “a meaningful political contest.” Nixon rejected these pleas at his September 16 press conference, and with more than usual smugness gave Thieu the green light. The election was a lost opportunity to give South Vietnam a representative regime and pave the way for peace.

The record is hardly calculated to inspire confidence in our promise of free elections. Under the new eight-point plan, the enemy would lay down its arms and surface to take part in a six-month campaign, laying itself open to Thieu’s police and soldiers, if not to future liquidation by Operation Phoenix. Thieu would step down but only for one month before the election. With the police and army solidly in his hands he could again expect to win. Even Lyndon never thought up a bigger swindle. And this one may soon be the excuse for renewed bombings.

January 31


You could become an informer, go mad, commit suicide, but if you wanted to live, the most convenient way for an unhappy, distraught, but honorable person clinging with his last ounce of strength to his place in society—I will repeat and go on repeating a thousand times—was to believe. To believe without reasoning, without second thoughts, without proofs, as people believe in omens, in god, in the devil, in life beyond the grave. The thought that all social actions could be prompted by the criminal designs of a single man who had appropriated the full plenitude of power, and that this man was Stalin, was blasphemous, was unbelievable.

—Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 365, quoting the writer
A. Pis’mennyi.—IFS


After this speech [by Molotov in the fall of 1939, in which he said, “It is Germany that is striving for a quick end to the war, for peace”], Beria gave a secret order to the GULAG administration forbidding camp guards to call political prisoners “fascists.” The order was rescinded only in June, 1941 [after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union].

—Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 443.—IFS


Q. Why doesn’t the leadership want to change?

A. Apparently because any change would mean for them the loss of a substantial part of their privileges.

Q. What is privilege here today and who gets the privileges?

A. …I had in mind primarily the privilege of ruling the country without being subject to public control, and…to enjoy all those material benefits which their way of running the country gives them.

Q. Is there any discontent among the people about the elite’s privileges?

A. Yes, I think there is.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

A. It has to be said that the ordinary people, including myself, are not well enough acquainted with the forms which these privileges take. But there is in any case among the people a great deal of dissatisfaction on account of the wide discrepancies in wage levels, extreme annoyance at the existence of special closed shops and stores, in which the ruling elite are able to buy goods which cannot be bought in the ordinary shops, and with other ways in which the nation’s wealth is unfairly distributed.

Q. Do you think this could lead to another revolution?

A. …What may lead to a revolution is the utter lack of good sense in the upper class which is trying to avoid any change and to prevent society from having any mobility, and…make permanent the breakup of our society into tightly closed castes.

Q. What in your opinion is really happening inside the Soviet Union?

A. What is really happening to the Soviet regime, in my opinion, is not that it is getting more liberal but that it is getting senile. “Liberalization” would presuppose that the regime was consciously undertaking some reforms, whereas the reality is that the regime is more and more losing control.

—Andrei Amalrik, author of Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?, interview with William Coles over CBS, July 28, 1970. Coles was expelled from the Soviet Union and Amalrik arrested shortly after the interview (full text reprinted in Survey, Autumn, 1970) and in November given three years in prison. See The New York Times, January 6, 1972, “Soviet Author, Mistreated, Said to Be Ill in Prison,” for his current fate.—IFS

This Issue

February 24, 1972