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Roy Medvedev — Stalinist purveyor of half-truths

By Felix Kreisel, November 1999

The historical conceptions of Roy Medvedev

In the past in his books written in the seventies and eighties Medvedev defined the Soviet society according to the familiar Stalinist formula as a stateless socialist society, albeit with many defects and distortions. In the Tamizdat book written circa 1971 "On Socialist democracy" he uses typical Stalinist conceptions: "socialist camp", "leaders chosen by the people and the Party", "socialist legality", etc. (Tamizdat means published outside the Soviet Union, as opposed to Samizdat, or self-published clandestinely within the USSR).

Medvedev characterizes socialism in a typically Stalinist manner: nationalized economy plus central planning. In his description of the Soviet Union he stressed primarily the economic and industrial development of the country in its relation to the advanced capitalist states. According to Medvedev, socialism in the USSR was definitely possible; it was only necessary to execute a series of social and economic reforms, speed up the economic development, enhance the involvement of the Soviet people in "socialist construction". Medvedev calls all of this together "socialist democracy". This book, as well as most of the other works which he published at the time, was written in the spirit of advice on the QT into the ears of the ruling bureaucracy: take this advice, allow more democracy, it is not so very dangerous, just the opposite, it may prove quite useful.



Here is a typical phrase:

"Our whole society is interested in the rapid development of socialist democracy: the workers, employees, collective farmers and the intelligentsia. Only a tiny minority, primarily the bureaucratic elements within our management apparatus, resolutely oppose the development of socialist democracy. They frighten and deceive many uninformed people about the possible consequences of democratization and present its threat to the bureaucracy as a threat to the whole society" ("Kniga o sotsialisticheskoi demokratii", "Book on socialist democracy", Amsterdam-Paris, 1972, p. 40).

In his other works he accepted the existence of socialism in the USSR as an obvious fact and spoke for "harmoniously combining socialism and democracy" ("Dissent and Free Discussion", Political Essays, Spokesman Books, 1976, p. 35). It must be noted that in this book, published by moderate western social-democrats, Medvedev takes an even more moderate position that the academician Sakharov. Medvedev rejects the radical democratic demands of the latter and proposes "slow and gradual evolutionary change" (ibid., p. 37). Further down he tries to reassure the ruling partocracy that if it were to allow some democratic freedoms its political power would not be threatened:

"If one realistically assesses what exists, it is not difficult to demonstrate that the realization of even the most maximum demands of today's democratic movement (for example, on the creation of social and political organizations and organs of press independent of the CPSU) would lead neither to the collapse of Marxism nor to the renunciation of the leading role of the CPSU" (ibid., p. 38).

Reform from above or the political revolution


In his own words Medvedev was an insider among certain groups of the Soviet leadership. In the book "O Staline i stalinizme" ("On Stalin and Stalinism"), which he finished in May, 1990, he writes:

"In the 1950's I had already begun to consider writing a large book about Soviet history, but it was not till 1964 that I was able to discuss its initial drafts with many friends, and also in the office of the Director of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, the Chief Editor of the Politizdat (the State Political Publishing house), and in certain offices of the Central Committee of the CPSU" ("O Staline i stalinizme", Moscow, 1990, p. 6).

In his historical works Medvedev constantly takes the side of the Stalinist bureaucracy against the Opposition. Of course, he does so with some reservations that on this or that point Trotsky and the Opposition were right, but generally speaking Stalin was correct and the Party did well to support him.


For example, discussing the criticisms made by the United Opposition in 1926-27 against the policies of Stalin-Bukharin Medvedev writes:

"Being unable to analyze in this book all the details and episodes of the struggle inside the party we cannot but admit that many critical assessments of the Opposition were without a doubt correct. For example, the deeply rooted bureaucratization of both the Soviet and the Party apparatuses was far from being a myth. There was much justice in its criticism of some aspects of the economic policy … (We omit Medvedev's remarks about the economic problems pointed to by the Opposition. F.K.) … Quite justified was the demand of the Opposition to denounce the theory of "social-fascism" — this concept was at that time used to describe the role of the social-democracy. The theory of "social-fascism", for which not only Stalin, but also Zinoviev bore responsibility, compromised the communists in the eyes of the left wing social-democracy, helped its right wing leaders and undermined the unity of actions of the working class against the fascist advance.

"However, the general orientation of the Opposition's political platform was erroneous, despite its many correct remarks.

"The Opposition continued, as always, to defend the thesis on the impossibility of constructing socialism in a single given country, like the USSR, in the absence of state intervention of the western proletariat …

"The Opposition leaders, swept up by the heat of polemics, radically exaggerated the existing deficiencies, and this provoked protest from the Party cadres. An incipient tendency was presented as a process well under way; the degeneration which had at that moment touched only a part of the Party apparatus was painted as a full blown degeneration of almost the whole apparatus" (Ibid., p. 140-141).


Dear reader, let us take stock, let us examine which side, Stalin's or Trotsky's, has been proved right by history. Medvedev himself admits that in 1) the bureaucratization of the regime, 2) economic problems and 3) the most important policy of the Comintern, the relationship to fascism and social-democracy, the Opposition was correct. (By the way, when the theory of "social-fascism" came into its widest and most fatal practice Zinoviev had already been pushed out of the leadership of the Comintern. By this reference to Zinoviev Medvedev simply confuses his readers.) As to the fourth question, that of the degeneration of the regime, the Opposition looked ahead, they realistically showed that the monopoly of political power under conditions of Russian poverty and backwardness lead to decay and degeneration of the casual everyday behaviour, the morals and outlook and the ideology of the Party apparatus. Medvedev blames the Opposition for foreseeing this degeneration and for arming the working class against it.


We cannot analyze all the works of Roy Medvedev within the space of a relatively short brochure. We cannot deny the assiduousness of this writer; he has completed dozens of books totaling some thousands of pages. His books can be, roughly speaking, divided into three sorts. Firstly, the history of Stalin and Stalinism published under different titles, in various formats and varied thickness of volumes: "Let History Judge", "Before the Court of History", "On Stalin and Stalinism", etc. Secondly, he wrote biographies of the various leaders of Stalinism: Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Suslov, Andropov, Gorbachev, Kalinin, etc. Without a doubt, Medvedev had inside information about the subjects of his research. During his long career as the recognized "communist-dissident" he collected masses of materials about their individual biographies. Such essays and books during the 1970's and 1980's were especially well regarded by the western Sovietologists: these researchers found the clues to the twists and turns of Soviet internal and foreign policy in the squabbles taking place in the offices of the Moscow bureaucracy. Thirdly, Medvedev's books consist of general discussions about the mistakes of Lenin, about the advantages of social-democracy, about the dissidents. Often such brochures and books were written jointly with various western Euro-Stalinists, for example, Giulio Chiesa. On Leninism



As we have said before, we cannot in the space of a brief essay analyze all of Medvedev's works. Hence, we shall concentrate our attention on the following issues: bureaucratization and degeneration of the Soviet regime (we unite these two points since they were united in reality by the development of Stalinism); fascism and Hitler's victory; the economic development of the USSR and the key theoretical question of the possibility of building socialism in one country, since this will give us the key for understanding the world view and the mistakes of Medvedev.

Bureaucratization and degeneration of the regime (Thermidor)

Of all the various ideological and political groupings within communism the Left Opposition was one of the most sensitive to the tendency of leading cadres to degeneration. We don't want to diminish the contributions of such groups within the AUCP(B) as the Democratic Centralists, the Workers Thought, Workers Truth, the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists and other left opponents of the bureaucracy; however it was the Left Opposition around Trotsky which raised the problem of Thermidorean degeneration to the necessary theoretical level

During the 1920's the well known oppositionist journalist Lev Sosnovsky wrote a number of satires about the everyday debauchery within the different layers of the bureaucracy and identified the "automobile-harem factor" in the degeneration of Party and state leaders, who, under the influence of power and its privileges turned from revolutionists into comfortable and arrogant office holders. In exile in Astrakhan in August, 1928, Christian Rakovsky wrote a brilliant essay on the "professional risks" of power. This essay raised the problem of the degeneration of party cadres to a high theoretical level:


"When a class takes power, one of its parts becomes the agent of that power. Thus arises bureaucracy. In a socialist state, where capitalist accumulation is forbidden by members of the directing party, this differentiation begins as a functional one; it later becomes a social one. I am thinking here of the social position of a communist who has at his disposal a car, a nice apartment, regular holidays, and receiving the maximum salary authorized by the party; a position which differs from that of the communist working in the coal mines and receiving a salary of forty or sixty rubles per month. …

"Another consequence is that certain functions formerly satisfied by the party as a whole, by the whole class, have now become the attributes of power, that is, only of a certain number of persons in the party and in this class" (Selected Writings, Allison & Busby, London, 1980, p. 126).

Further on, Rakovsky drew an analogy with the Great French Revolution and the Thermidor which followed the overthrow of Robespierre. Babeuf, upon leaving the prison in 1794, noted that the workers of the red suburb of St. Antoine had lost their former fighting spirit while their leaders, the former Jacobins now residing in the Convent, had become filled with self importance and arrogance and threw over their old ideas of equality and fraternity. Rakovsky drew an analogy with post Revolutionary Russia: the Russian proletariat had become in the past few years far less active, while the party heads, on the other hand, gained self importance and assumed an unbelievable arrogance with respect to the rank and file party members. Towards the end of this essay Rakovsky suggests, in addition to the other measures proposed by the Opposition:

"In my opinion, the first condition necessary to make the leadership of our party capable of exercising an educative role, is to reduce the size and functions of this leadership. Three-quarters of the apparatus should be done away with. The tasks of the remaining quarter should have strictly determined limits. This should apply equally to the tasks, the functions and the rights of the central organisms. The members of the party must recover their rights which have been trampled upon and be given worthwhile guarantees against the despotism to which the leading circles have accustomed us" (ibid. p. 135).

We may note that sixty years after Rakovsky wrote these words many critics of Stalinism, including also Medvedev, would suggest this measure for restraining the bureaucracy, a measure, which by this time would become completely inadequate.

The struggle against Trotsky, a conspiracy against the party and historical falsification.

With Lenin's illness there had begun in the top echelons of the party's leadership a struggle for power. After Lenin, Trotsky was the best known and the most authoritative and popular leader in the Russian CP and within the Comintern. He was viewed with hostility and jealousy by many of those "Old Bolsheviks" who valued their length of party membership above all else and whom Lenin had consigned in April of 1917 to a "place in the archives". The struggle against Trotsky was conducted initially in the name of "collective leadership" and against the "haughty and arrogant" "red Bonaparte".

Gradually, and partly against the conscious intentions of the participants, this struggle for power took on a more malicious and reactionary character. In his autobiography Trotsky explains the relationship between the goals and the methods of political struggle:

"Political morals proceed from politics itself, and are one of its functions. Only a politics that serves a great historical task can insure itself morally irreproachable methods. On the contrary, the lowering of the level of political aims inevitably leads to moral decline" ("My Life", Pathfinder, p. 490).

Against Trotsky there had begun a campaign of rumors, malicious gossip, dirty tricks. Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin created around themselves a tightly knit group which tried to ease Trotsky and his supporters away from the levers of power, to build for themselves more support within the apparatus. After Lenin's death this group formed a "Septumvirate" bound by group discipline and conspiracy. This "Septumvirate" consisted of the Politburo members Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky and the Chairman of the Central Control Commission, Kuibyshev. The "Septumvirate" bound itself to a tight fractional discipline and in secret from the party and its Central Committee discussed and decided on the schedule of problems which to bring before the Politburo, and how these were to be resolved at the official meetings of the Politburo (of which Trotsky continued to be a member). This illegal "Septumvirate", unknown by and hidden from the party, in reality managed the party and state affairs during two years, 1924-1925. The documents published by the CPSU in "Izvestiia TsK KPSS" in 1990 and 1991 have confirmed the accusations which Trotsky and the Oppositionists had published long ago. Medvedev had not, even in his 1990 book on Stalinism, informed his readers of this anti-Party conspiracy and only talks evasively about Stalin's blocs with Zinoviev or Bukharin and some unspecified organizational apparatus measures.

The logic of such cynical struggle against both the formal party statutes and the actual will of its members had led to a deep moral degeneration of the participants in this conspiracy. Having begun with a personal struggle against Trotsky, justifying their actions by the "need to defend the collective leadership against the pretensions of the Commissar for War", Bukharin, Kamenev and the other conspirators had become more cynical and treacherous in their political and personal life. Starting with small tricks and rumors, the struggle against Trotsky's authority had led these leaders to significant falsifications of the history of the party and the Revolution, to more and more rapid political backsliding and betrayal of the doctrine of Marxism and communism.

Let us examine two portraits of Bolshevik leaders presented by Medvedev and compare his pictures with reality.


One of the pictures in Medvedev's portrait gallery of the leaders of the party and the state is that of Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin, the Chairman of VTsIK, then TsIK of the USSR, and of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. This portrait is written in the spirit of respect for this "experienced statesman" who was, in Medvedev's words, highly valued by Lenin (this was written when Medvedev still proclaimed his piety towards Lenin).

"When the NEP started the opinions and suggestions of Kalinin gained great weight because, as it turned out, these suggestions of the former peasant from the province of Tver and a former Petersburg worker were often much more reasonable than the suggestions of the self assured and Europe-trained Trotsky" (Sviaz vremen, p. 222).

With the authority, which was just now gained by trashing Trotsky, Medvedev then quotes a fragment of the latter's article written on the death of Avel Yenukidze, the long time secretary of the CEC and a close colleague of Kalinin:

"It was not rapidly that Kalinin learned to recognize himself under this exalted pseudonym. Former peasant of Tver and worker of Petersburg, he stuck to his unexpectedly elevated post with sufficient modesty, and in any case, prudence. It was only little by little that the Soviet press built up his name and his authority in the eyes of the country. Indeed, the directing layer for a long time did not take Kalinin seriously Thanks to the extensiveness of his acquaintances and his conversations he brought to the meetings not a few valuable matter-of-fact observations" (Writings, 1937-38, Pathfinder, 1970, p. 166).

Let us check which of Trotsky's brushstrokes Medvedev has scraped off this picture, what is hidden behind the innocent ellipsis? (I highlight the excerpt which Medvedev found of benefit to excise from this quote.)


"It was not rapidly that Kalinin learned to recognize himself under this exalted pseudonym ("head of state", FK). Former peasant of Tver and worker of Petersburg, he stuck to his unexpectedly elevated post with sufficient modesty, and in any case, prudence. It was only little by little that the Soviet press built up his name and his authority in the eyes of the country. Indeed, the directing layer for a long time did not take Kalinin seriously, in reality does not take him seriously even now. But the peasant masses were progressively habituated to the idea that "solicitation" must be done through the intermediation of Mikhail Ivanovich. This, moreover, was not limited to the peasants. Former Czarist admirals, senators, professors, doctors, lawyers, artists, and not least, actresses were received by the "head of the State". All had something to request: about the sons and daughters, the requisitioned houses, the firewood for museums, the surgical instruments, even the securing of cosmetic materials from foreign countries needed for the theater. With the peasants Kalinin found the necessary language without difficulty. Before the bourgeois intelligentsia he was diffident during the first years. It was here that he was particularly in need of the aid of Yenukidze, better educated and more worldly-wise. In addition Kalinin traveled frequently; therefore at the receptions of the presidency he was replaced by the secretary. They worked together amicably. Both of them by character were opportunistic; the two always searched for the line of the least resistance, and they adapted themselves well to each other.

"In view of his high functions, Kalinin was placed on the Central Committee of the party and even among the candidates for the Political Bureau. Thanks to the extensiveness of his acquaintances and his conversations he brought to the meetings not a few valuable matter-of-fact observations".

Trotsky later explains his cursory aside about Kalinin and the actresses when he describes Stalin's methods of blackmailing his colleagues in the Politburo, exploiting their everyday venial transgressions:

"And the "head of the State" began to comprehend that the strength was now not in the masses, but in the bureaucracy and that the bureaucracy was against the "permanent revolution", for the banquets, for the "happy life", for Stalin. Kalinin himself by this time had succeeded in becoming another man. Not that he greatly completed his knowledge or deepened his political conceptions; but he had acquired the routine of the "Statesman", elaborated the particular style of an astute simpleton; he had ceased to lose countenance before the professors, the artists, and above all, the actresses. Little knowing of the behind-the-scenes life in the Kremlin, I learned of Kalinin's new manner of life with great delay and, moreover, from a source completely unexpected. In one of the humorous Soviet revues, there appeared in 1925, as I remember it, a cartoon displaying — difficult to believe! — the head of the State in a very compromising situation. The resemblance left place for no doubt. Besides, in the text, very risque in style, Kalinin was named by the initials "M. I." I could not believe my eyes. "What is this?" I asked several people close to me, among them Serebriakov. "That is Stalin giving a last warning to Kalinin". "But for what reason?" "Surely not because he wishes to oversee his morality. It must be something in which Kalinin is offering opposition". In reality, Kalinin, who knew recent events too well did not wish for a long time to recognize Stalin as chief. In other words, he feared tying his future to him. "This horse," he said in closed circle, "will some day drag our coach into the ditch." It was only little by little, murmuring and resisting, that he turned himself against me, then against Zinoviev, and finally with yet more resistance against Rykov, Bukharin, and Tomsky, with whom he had been tied in the closest way through his moderate tendencies" (Ibid. p. 167).

In 1928 Stalin opened up the fight against the "rightists" Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov. To the surprise of many observers, Kalinin and Voroshilov, who for a long time had sympathized with the moderates, on this occasion betrayed their co-thinkers and enabled Stalin to gain an easy victory over Bukharin and his friends. Trotsky's reminiscences help in explaining the mechanics of these backroom deals and, in particular, the cause for the apparent cowardice on the part of Kalinin and, perhaps, Voroshilov. Medvedev's essay, on the other hand, erases and hides the mechanics of Stalin's struggle for power.


Kalinin did not leave behind any political heritage: doctrine, school, pupils, supporters or followers. Bukharin is a different matter. Roy Medvedev, and he was not alone in this, in all his works stated that it was Bukharin, not Trotsky, who represented the real alternative to Stalinism. During a prolonged period there grew among Sovietologists, especially the liberal revisionists who gained in ascendance during the 1970's, an opinion that Bukharin personified, in the words of his biographer and apologist, Stephen F. Cohen, the "Good Bolshevik" (Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, Vintage books, New York, 1973, p. 220). The idea that the "right wing communism" of Bukharin was a viable alternative to the forced collectivization and industrialization of Stalin appealed to many western observers.

This idea logically led to counterpoising Stalin to Bukharin as two opposing protagonists, two moral opposites. On the one side was Stalin, the cruel, treacherous absolute dictator. On the other side, the soft, kind, honest and open Bukharin. In this mythology Trotsky was assigned the role of Stalin's precursor: self assured, proud, leaning on authoritarian methods of rule, fanatically convinced in his own correctness, and so on. When today some Russian historians maliciously describe Trotsky as the "Demon of the Revolution" they only translate into the Russian language a theme well worked over in the West.

In his day Gorbachev had also tried to get on his side the shade of Bukharin. The "Right Opposition" was politically rehabilitated, the works of Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky began to be published in huge editions, the ideologists of Perestroika tried to find in Bukharin's works the roots of Gorbachev's policies.

Medvedev quotes Cohen's flattering description of Bukharin:

"The gentle, open, good-humored Bukharin, who in his traditional Russian blouse, leather jacket, and high boots was the most likable of the Bolshevik leaders. There was about him none of Trotsky's intimidating hauteur, Zinoviev's labored pomposity, or the intrigue and mistrust surrounding Stalin" (ibid. p. 219)

Let us check what hides behind Medvedev's ellipsis this time? (We shall again highlight the fragments left out of Medvedev's picture.) Originally Cohen wrote:

"The gentle, open, good-humored Bukharin, who in his traditional Russian blouse, leather jacket, and high boots conveyed the aura of Bohemia-come-to-power, was the most likable of the Bolshevik oligarchs. (Trotsky remarked that "Bukharin remained at bottom an old student.") There was about him none of Trotsky's intimidating hauteur, Zinoviev's labored pomposity, or the intrigue and mistrust surrounding Stalin" (ibid. p. 219)

Firstly, we note that the word "oligarch" is mistranslated as "leader". Secondly, Cohen cites Trotsky, implying that his evidence can be trusted. Thirdly, Cohen's description (based on Trotsky's evidence) of the bohemian characteristic of Bukharin is omitted from Medvedev's icon-like portrait.

Bukharin has become, in Lenin's words, "the party's favorite" because he for a long time was active on its maximalist and idealist wing. He was on the left in the revolutionary 1917, he led the Left Communists during the Brest Litovsk negotiations, he took the left most position during the discussion on the trade unions in 1920. Although he went too far a number of times, it was precisely for his maximalist excesses that he enjoyed the sympathy and even love of the party masses: the young party members (we must remember that the Bolshevik party was very young) saw in these "left wing infantile" strivings a reflection of their own enthusiasm.

After Kronstadt, and especially following the failure of the German revolution in the autumn of 1923 Bukharin moved from the left wing of the party to its right wing. By 1925 he had become the outstanding theoretician of the "snail's pace advance to socialism", of gradual national reforms. We shall not consider here his political and economic ideas and shall limit ourselves to the moral and psychological aspect of his degeneration.

Below we cite a few jokes penned by Bukharin in 1925 for his friends and his diary and, thus, reflecting his private thoughts. These aphorisms were published during the final year of Perestroika in the monthly journal of the Central Committee of the CPSU. We shall explain the meaning of these jokes.

A skeptic's aphorisms

Izvestiia TsK KPSS, 1991, #8, p. 182.

I tell you, never write any Introductions! Bukharin refers to "The Lessons of October", Trotsky's Introduction to the 3rd volume of his Collected Works. Influenced by the defeats of Communist actions in Bulgaria and Germany in 1923 and in Estonia in 1924 Trotsky reviewed the victorious experience of 1917. In the essay "Lessons of October" he describes the vital role played by the leadership of the proletarian party during the quickly changing revolutionary situation. Trotsky vividly described the groupings within the Bolshevik party and the actions of its leaders. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Rykov and many others badly suffered from this truthful description of their policy of compromise, vacillations and defeatism during the period between February and October. After this Volume of Collected Works was printed and distributed there broke out within the party a so called "literary discussion" which initiated a series of systematic falsifications of the history of the party. The other party "chiefs" furiously attacked Trotsky, all the more so if he dared to mention their own vacillations in 1917.
If you want to be the War Commissar, you'd better malign Trotsky.

In 1923-1924 the ruling Triumvirate (Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin) conducted a surreptitious campaign to discredit and distort Trotsky's work at the head of the War Commissariat. Everyone knows that Trotsky played a key role in organizing the Red Army and led it from March of 1918 till January of 1925. During 1923 and 1924 the party clique around Stalin and Zinoviev secretly schemed against Trotsky, demoted his friends and supporters from leading posts, appointed its own people, conducted a campaign of rumor mongering, dirty tricks and lies in order to destroy Trotsky's authority. This campaign succeeded in January of 1925 by removing Trotsky from his posts in the War Ministry.

Unlike bequests, always carry out the Testament in reverse.

Here Bukharin refers to Lenin's Testament in which Vladimir Ilich points to the animosity between Stalin and Trotsky and recommends removing Stalin from his position as General Secretary. The epigones (Bukharin and Co.) on the contrary removed Trotsky from his posts in the leadership.


Betrayal of his youthful ideals changed Bukharin from an enthusiast into a cynic. He continued to wear worn out boots and torn leather jackets, continued to live the life of a bohemian student, he read a great deal and charmed his followers with erudition, but in his heart of hearts he no longer fought for ideals and ideas, just the reverse, he maligned those oppositionists who continued to live for their ideas and to fight for them openly.

Bukharin and antisemitism.

In order to complete the story of the spiritual collapse and degeneration of the highest ruling circles we need to describe another episode of the internal struggle. This is doubly important since it involved Bukharin personally. Medvedev avoids any mention of this story, this time brazenly omitting even a shame faced ellipsis. In this omission he, however, follows the example of his American colleague, Stephen Cohen, who in his biography of Bukharin also steers clear of this episode. Cohen, in a careful small-type note #119 at the end of the book (where the careless reader may not even look) passes the buck to Deutscher for discussing this episode: "For a somewhat misleading account, see Deutscher, Prophet Unarmed, pp. 257-8. This will be discussed in Chapter 7" (Bukharin, p. 420). Unfortunately, Cohen does not find in Chapter 7 any room to explain to his readers the facts of the matter.

Our readers may to their great educational benefit read Deutscher's book; fortunately, it has been translated into Russian. However, we, unlike Medvedev and Cohen, feel duty bound to explain this incident. Essentially, this story deals with Stalin's use of antisemitism in his struggle against the Opposition. Medvedev does condemn Stalin's antisemitism, but only in reference to the post-War scandals over the "Anti-Fascist Committee", the "rootless cosmopolitans" and the Kremlin Doctors' Plot. Thus, Medvedev attempts to leave his readers with the impression that Opposition was exaggerating when it accused Stalin's leading circle of using antisemitism during the party struggles in the 1920's. To absolve Stalin of this accusation Medvedev even refers to his newspaper articles denouncing antisemitism. Such ritual denunciations of antisemitism were part and parcel of the Stalinist hypocritical machine of state.

The development of the workers and socialist movement in Russia was and is indissolubly tied to the struggle against antisemitism and any and all varieties of petty bourgeois nationally delimited thinking. In Czarist Russia this was perhaps even more important than in countries with a longer period of capitalist development and a more organic growth of the proletariat. The young Russian industry at the end of the 19th and early in the 20th centuries rapidly recruited its labor force among the peasantry. Hence, Russian workers suffered from all the weaknesses peculiar to the peasant psychology: illiteracy, a naive belief in God, a narrow view of the world, medieval superstitions, national prejudices, small town chauvinism, etc. Frederick Engels in his book "On the Housing Problem" wrote about the "isolation and stupor, within which the rural population vegetates" in England and Western Europe. This judgment was even more applicable to the dwellers of the backward and isolated villages in Czarist Russia.

In their struggle for a socialist consciousness in the working class the social-democrats relied on the tendency of all productive and economic relations towards globalization and on the international character of their doctrine. So as not to get sidetracked we shall only refer to Lenin's remark about the three roots of Marxism: English economic development, French politics and German philosophy.

For its part, the Czarist reaction consciously utilized antisemitism and chauvinism as one of its most effective methods to distract the working class from the general social questions, to redirect its indignation into Jewish or Armenian pogroms. Czarism was only partially successful in its use of antisemitism during the 1905 Revolution. The ministers and provincial governors aided and abetted such Black Hundred organizations as the "Union of Russian People" and the "Union of Archangel Michael"; the police chiefs helped start Jewish pogroms. A few years later, when the labor movement, having recovered from the defeats of the first revolution, was again on the rise, the Czarist government and the Black Hundred Russian Orthodox Church again tried to use antisemitism in order to forestall the revolution. The Beylis Affair in 1912 was such an attempt to use the medieval superstitions and ignorance of a part of the small town and village population against the revolutionary tide.

In 1917 and again during the Civil War the Bolsheviks had to constantly struggle against antisemitism, which had become one of the trump cards of the White movement. White generals like Denikin, Mamontov, Shkuro and others attempted repeatedly to attract the Russian and Ukrainian population to their banners with the use of Jewish pogroms and slanders about the "Yid Bolsheviks".

At the end of 1925 and in early 1926, when the "Triumvirate" of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev had fallen apart and the Leningrad Opposition began its struggle against the Stalin clique within the CC, Stalin's supporters in the leadership turned to Black Hundred methods in their attacks on the Opposition. One who distinguished himself particularly in this campaign was N. A. Uglanov, who was appointed as the chief of the Moscow party organization in autumn of 1924 to replace a supporter of Kamenev. Playing on the fact of Jewish origin of Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev the paid secretaries and agitators sent to the primary cells and factories began to make more and more open allusions that the "Jews are making trouble", that the Opposition is mostly Jewish and it is trying to unseat the native Russians, and so on.

On March 4th, 1926, Trotsky wrote a letter to Bukharin about this Black Hundred agitation within the party and invited him to go together to a workers party cell meeting to check these rumors (see "The Challenge of the Left Opposition, 1926-27", Pathfinder, 1980, pp. 44-46). Bukharin did not reply to this letter, and when Trotsky raised the question of widespread antisemitic agitation at a meeting of the Politburo, Bukharin and the other supporters of Stalin avoided answering directly and accused Trotsky of paranoia, factionalism, etc.

Medvedev states in his books that the Opposition exaggerated and maliciously distorted the situation prevailing within the party apparatus, that the party leaders still remained convinced revolutionists, modest in their everyday life, honest in their dealings towards the party rank and file. We can now see for ourselves that the Opposition was quite correct when in the mid-twenties it warned the Russian working class and the Communist International about the material and spiritual degeneration of the party chiefs and about the danger of Thermidor.

Foreign policy and the struggle against fascism.


"Foreign policy is everywhere and always a continuation of domestic policy, for it is conducted by the same ruling class and pursues the same historic goals. The degeneration of the governing stratum in the Soviet Union could not but be accompanied by a corresponding change of aims and methods in Soviet diplomacy. The "theory" of socialism in one country, first announced in the autumn of 1924, already signalized an effort to liberate Soviet foreign policy from the program of international revolution" (The Revolution Betrayed, Chapter 8).

In 1924—27 the increasingly rapid right turn of the ruling clique in the Kremlin in the direction of a policy of the "snail's pace" and accomodation to the bourgeois strata inside the USSR led, on the world arena, to make peace with the status quo in world politics. Having after the fact recognized a stabilization in Europe and making a prognosis of many more years of capitalist boom, the duumvirate of Stalin-Bukharin directed the Comintern to join in with the labor opportunists in Europe (the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee) and with the bourgeois nationalists in the East (imprisoning the Chinese Communist Party in a union with Chiang Kai Shek).

The internal policy of leniency towards the bourgeois tendencies within Russia soon led to a dead-end: the state industry developed too slowly, the rich peasants (kulaks) and the NEPmen (petty capitalists) in the towns grew stronger much too fast. The social base of the regime, the industrial workers, felt their economic and social position weaken, and it was their own party which conducted this bloc with the internal bourgeoisie. The weakening of the socialist forces and the strengthening of the capitalist forces threatened to undermine the foundation of the workers state. This situation was made worse by the persecutions aimed at the most conscious elements within the Bolshevik party: the Opposition militants were already being rounded up and shipped into faraway exiles and prisons. The right wing faction of Bukharin and Rykov proposed to patch the holes within the national economy by further appeasement of the rich. After the organizational and police destruction of the Left Opposition the centrist faction around Stalin in 1928 made a sharp turn to the left and opened a course of "total collectivization" and forced industrialization "at any cost".

Change occurred also in foreign policy. The opportunist blocs with the labor bureaucrats in Britain and with Chiang Kai Shek in China in 1925-27 led to catastrophes. The right turn of the Comintern eliminated independent communist policies and thereby ruined the Chinese revolution and the British General Strike. In 1928 Stalin prepared his organizational basis for overthrowing Bukharin, who still remained as the official head of the Comintern and whose supporters still held some of the most important and visible posts within the leadership. By this time the Comintern was completely bureaucratized: the internal democracy of its early years was destroyed, the leaders of the national sections were appointed from the Kremlin, discussions were forbidden, opponents and dissidents were being expelled and ostracized. The bureaucratic terror within the CPSU was accompanied by an analogous policy of bureaucratic administration throughout all the sections of the Comintern: advanced fighters were hounded out, their posts were taken by lackeys obedient to the orders from the Kremlin. Principled Marxist agitation and propaganda were supplanted by unprincipled zigzags and ultimatums issued in a strident ultra-revolutionary language.

Thus, starting around 1929 the left turn within the USSR was accompanied by a left zigzag on the international arena. The Kremlin ideologists gave fascism an overly simplistic definition as the most aggressive phase of imperialism. This definition left out of account the mass petty bourgeois base of fascism, the radical plebeian coloration of its slogans, its origins in the defeats and mistakes of the proletarian revolution. The Stalinist policy turned a blind eye to the important fact, known already from the Italian example, that victorious fascism destroys all labor organizations, including also the reformist ones, that the reformers and fascists cannot coexist and that the working class must, lest it be annihilated, unite for struggle.

In 1929 Bukharin was replaced by Molotov at the head of the Comintern. The servants of Kremlin proclaimed the opening of the "Third Period" in the revolutionary struggle: now the communist parties were to prepare for an immediate struggle for power and the main enemy consisted of the reformist social-democratic parties. Social-democrats were labeled "social-fascists" and the Comintern approved any and all measures to fight them, up to and including implicit deals with the fascists and other antidemocratic right wing forces to undermine the social-democrats. For example, in August of 1931 the German CP voted with the National Socialists in the so called "Red Referendum" aimed against the social-democratic government of Prussia.

In the West the story of the growth of German fascism had been well researched. All honest historians had long ago justifiably condemned the fatal adventurist policy of Stalin (social-fascism) and the myopic policy of the social-democrats (support for Hindenburg and the bourgeois legality), and had admitted that Trotsky's policy (united front of the working class) was the most promising response of the proletariat to the threat of fascism. In their time even the East German Stalinists had retroactively admitted the fatal errors of their party and the correctness of Trotsky's policy.

The German social-democratic party was a leading political force in the country, it often had a place in the cabinets of ministers. Its policy consisted of supporting the Weimar Constitution at all costs, in backing up the liberal, or at least, the less reactionary bourgeois parties. Under conditions of an unbearable economic crisis, while the masses of population searched for a radical alternative to the unbearable conditions, this policy of propping up the status quo repelled the petty bourgeois layers away from the working class and towards the National Socialists who promised radical changes for the better. The SDP continued to act within the bounds of the constitution even when the armed storm troopers of the SA began their fight to take control of the city streets, when they broke up workers' demonstrations, attacked and destroyed their clubs, printing shops and trade union offices. The Social-Democrats continued this myopic policy even after Hitler had come to power and begun to arrest their leaders and activists, and up until their dissolution in May of 1933 they tried to adapt to the Nazi dictatorship.

All the while Trotsky and his supporters actively agitated in favor of a united front of workers' parties, trade unions and cultural organizations against the fascist danger. This agitation did not at the time succeed in breaking through the obstacles which the party bureaucracies of both the Communist and the Social Democratic parties put in the way of the few supporters of the Left Opposition. Hitler's eventual victory, his destruction of all the workers' parties and organizations acted as a horrible confirmation of the correctness of the analysis and program of the Trotskyists.

Members of the foreign sections of the Communist International under the threat of ostracism and expulsion maintained their silence about these events and their own mistakes. Inside the USSR any talk of the criminal mistakes of Stalin or about the correct policy of Trotsky were punished by death. Only following the 20th Congress in 1956 it became easier to make some careful allusions to these events. The East German Stalinists in their official party history were forced to condemn their own policy, but without once mentioning the alternative suggested by Trotsky (cf. Geschichte der Deutscher Arbeiter Bewegung, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1966, bd.4, pp. 168, 171, 239, 288, etc.).

This history is until today unknown in Russia and the other ex-Stalinist states. The task of an honest historian would consist of explaining the facts to his readers. Let us check how Roy Medvedev carries out his responsibility.

In his essay, "The diplomatic and military mistakes of Stalin in 1939-1941", which was published in his collection of essays "Sviaz vremen" ("The ties of history"), Medvedev writes:

"This struggle (between communists and social-democrats, F.K.) continued also during the 1920's when not only Stalin but also Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other leaders of the AUCP(B) competed with one another in heaping abuse at the social-democrats. The accusation of social-democratic leanings was at that time perhaps the most abusive for a Bolshevik. One can find such erroneous definitions of social-democracy as "social-fascism", "the moderate wing of fascism", "the main social base of fascism" even in the documents and the programme of the Comintern adopted at its 6th Congress in 1928. However, in 1930-1932 such extremism within the Bolshevik leadership had become especially dangerous since it prevented the establishment of a united front of the working class in its struggle against fascist menace. … Stalin was especially assiduous in the early 1930's in attacking the left wing social-democrats who had a certain influence among the workers and were most active in opposing fascism. … It was in Germany, where the threat of fascism was most significant, that this sectarian position caused the most harm. … We need not doubt that if the united front had existed then the communists and social-democrats could have prevented the victory of fascism not just in 1930 but even as late as 1932. But all through that period they continued a cruel struggle against one another" ("Sviaz vremen", Stavropol, 1992, pp. 242, 243).

Let History Judge

In his main book "On Stalin and Stalinism" Medvedev writes in a similar vein (cf. "O Staline i stalinizme", Progress, Moscow, 1990, pp. 278-280). However, in the monumental work which made his reputation as an "honest socialist historian" he goes into much greater detail into the events of the late 1920's and 1930's, in a more vivid and factual manner describes the criminal role of Stalin who opened for Hitler the road to power and makes no mention of Trotsky at all:

"However, such definitions ("social fascism", etc., F. K.) were at that time often made by Bukharin, Kamenev and Zinoviev" ("K sudu istorii", New York, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 295).



This huge volume of 1136 pages was published in Russian in New York in 1974 and was then translated and published in an abridged form in various languages. As we have seen, the publications inside Russia libel Trotsky as a proponent of the same fatal "social-fascist" policy as Stalin's Comintern. In the version published abroad Medvedev restrains from such a crude libel; in this huge book he simply leaves out any account of the alternative program of Trotsky and the Left Opposition in favor of a united workers front against fascism.

We must conclude: on the question of fascism and the antifascist policy of the Comintern Medvedev's Russian publication in 1992 tries to leave his reader with the impression that Trotsky held to the same fatally erroneous policy as Stalin. Medvedev's publications abroad during the 1970's and 1980's were closer to reality, i.e., they did not insist on a falsehood, but neither did they tell the whole truth.

Economic development of the USSR and the Left Opposition

We briefly mentioned a few of the Opposition's proposals concerning the problems of economic development of the USSR. Beginning in 1923 the leading spokesmen of the Opposition, Trotsky, Ye. Preobrazhensky, L. Piatakov and others insisted on the need to put emphasis on long range planning and development of heavy industry. The Left Opposition proposed to increase taxation of the wealthier layers of town and country in favor of industrial development. Preobrazhensky elaborated the measures for the diversion of material means from the countryside to the industry and openly defined these measures as "primitive socialist accumulation", using this expression to draw a historical analogy with the epoch of initial capitalist formation. The proponents of "socialism in one country", Stalin, Bukharin, Rykov and others, objected that industrialization must be adjusted to and limited by the purchasing capacity of the middle and kulak peasant market. For example, in April of 1927 Stalin ridiculed Trotsky's proposal to build the Dnieper hydroelectric power station saying that to do so would amount to a peasant purchasing a gramophone instead of a milk cow.

The policy of the majority led in 1927 to a sharp goods deficit and a collapse of the grain trade and threatened the Russian working class with famine. At this point, and having by now defeated and silenced the Opposition, Stalin and his clique rushed from a policy of the "snail's pace" to the forcible industrialization and a "Five Year Plan in four years". The Opposition, as represented by its steadfast spokesmen, replied to this that collectivization conducted under the baton of the gendarme and industrialization "at any cost" will lead to chaos and huge overhead expenses. Many Russian historians have recently accused the Opposition of authorship of the ideas behind Stalin's industrialization and collectivization. We must reply that those former Opposition leaders, like Piatakov and Preobrazhensky, had begun to sing Hosannas to Stalin only after they surrendered to his torturers. The unyielding leaders of the Opposition continued to criticize the excesses of the "left turn" just as before they attacked the myopia of the "right turn".

Thus, the Opposition steered a course for a gradual planned industrialization while Stalin zigged and zagged from right to left, from one catastrophe to another. Here is what Medvedev writes about this:

"Trotsky's critical remarks concerning the policy of Stalin were for the most part quite correct. Trotsky proposed to stop total collectivization and switch to a careful policy of nurturing cooperatives on the basis of strict voluntary membership and in correspondence with the actual resources available to the country; to stop administrative dekulakization and return to a policy of limits on the kulaks; to set stricter limits on the impossible plans of Stalin's super-industrialization" ("O Staline i stalinizme", "On Stalin and Stalinism", p. 288).

The Left Opposition and the Fourth International throughout the whole existence of the USSR carefully analyzed the economic and political processes taking place within it. We pointed to the expensive eclectic zigzags of Stalin and his successors, which gradually undermined and finally destroyed all the gains of October. Until 1991 we called for a political revolution against the bureaucracy, which would have swept away the parasitic privileged elite and would have restored a movement towards social equality and workers democracy. As for Medvedev, he whispered advice in the bureaucratic ear and gave the rulers suggestions on how to conduct those reforms which would help this reactionary elite hold on to power.

Socialism in one country

The most important, the, so to speak, litmus test of our scientific-historical verification must be the question on the possibility of constructing socialism within a single country. Marx and Engels, Lenin, Luxembourg and Trotsky spoke continuously about the world socialist revolution; spoke that since capitalism exists as a world system, so must socialism be. In one of his earlier books, albeit written for the foreign audience, Medvedev admits that the idea of the impossibility of a single country socialism was one of the doctrinal statements of Marxism, including also all of the Russian Marxists of the generation of Lenin and Trotsky (cf. Leninism and Western Socialism, London, Verso Press, 1981, p. 169).

In 1930, in his introduction to the German edition of the book "The Permanent Revolution" Trotsky thus explains the starting point of Marxism:

"Marxism takes its point of departure from world economy, not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labor and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets. The productive forces of capitalist society have long ago outgrown the national boundaries. The imperialist war (of 1914-1918) was one of the expressions of this fact. In respect of the technique of production socialist society must represent a stage higher than capitalism. To aim at building a nationally isolated socialist society means, in spire of all passing successes, to pull the productive forces backward even as compared with capitalism. To attempt, regardless of the geographical, cultural and historical conditions of the country's development, which constitutes a part of the world unity, to realize a shut-off proportionality of all the branches of economy within a national framework, means to pursue a reactionary utopia. If the heralds and supporters of this theory nevertheless participate in the international revolutionary struggle (with what success is a different question) it is because, as hopeless eclectics, they mechanically combine abstract internationalism with reactionary utopian national socialism" (The Permanent Revolution, Pathfinder Press, 1969, p. 146).

The question of the possibility of building an independent socialist state is indissolubly tied to the theory of permanent revolution. Early in the 20th century Trotsky underscored the fact that world capitalist competition undermines the basis for further growth of capitalism in Russia and leaves the Russian bourgeoisie no possibility to develop further. First among the Marxists, soon after the 1905 revolution he developed a thesis stating that precisely because of Russian economic and cultural backwardness the future Russian revolution will bring to power a workers' government, and this government shall enact socialist economic and social measures. In the brochure "Results and Prospects" published in 1906 he wrote:

"In our view, the Russian revolution will create conditions in which power can pass into the hands of the workers — and in the event of the victory of the revolution it must do so — before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get the chance to display to the full their talent for governing" (Ibid. p. 63).

We should note that Roy Medvedev did not, in any of his books aimed at the Russian audience ("Before the judgement of history", "On socialist democracy", "On Stalin and Stalinism"), explain to his readers the crucial points of this theory (we would thank those readers who might point to our omission). In one of his books (however, it was directed at the Western reader), he does cite a fragment from Trotsky's "Permanent Revolution", but only the fragment from the brochure "Results and Prospects" where Trotsky explains that the victorious Russian proletariat cannot build socialism other than with the help of a socialist revolution in the advanced countries. When Medvedev wrote that book (1981) he ridiculed Trotsky for this "absurd" idea and maintained that socialism, albeit defective, was already built in Russia. As recently as 1990 Medvedev wrote:

"Even when Trotsky was forced to admit the considerable successes of socialist construction and the durability of the system created in the USSR, a regime "which had exhibited such a viability of which even the most optimistic of us could not imagine", he never forgot to add that the further successes of socialist construction are possible only on the basis of the world proletarian revolution and world economy" ("O Staline is stalinizme", "On Stalin and Stalinism", p. 289).

Medvedev is absolutely right in addressing this "accusation" at Trotsky, and today we may see for ourselves the powerful vindication of this Marxist "dogma" on the impossibility of building a nationally delimited socialist economy. Socialism was constructed neither in Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union, nor in the countries of Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, North Korea or Vietnam. Social development is leading to various forms of capitalism in all these countries, in most of them to a backward, semi-colonial, compradore, police capitalism.

The shade of Georg von Vollmar


In his various books Medvedev often ascribed to Lenin the discovery that revolutionary Russia might build socialism alone. Usually, he would back it up by some vague references, some isolated quotes from Lenin's article in 1915 about "socialist victory in one country, for example, Switzerland", on some other misrepresented quotes. But in one of his latest works Medvedev goes much further and tries to put flesh and blood on his vague allusions and give a historical and theoretical gloss to this supposedly Lenin's idea:


"During the war years Lenin often thought about the possibility of the victory of socialist revolution initially in a few, or even in a single isolated country. Lenin gave, as we know, a positive answer: yes, socialism may conquer at first in a few on even in a single concrete country. The proletariat of other countries will support and join in later. Lenin was thinking here not only about Russia or France. The country which could start the world socialist revolution could even be Switzerland. This conclusion was significantly different from the views of Marx and Engels, but Lenin was not the first to speak and write about the possibility of socialist victory in a single concrete country. Back in 1880 Georg Vollmar (1850-1922), a young German social-democrat and theoretician, published in Zurich an article and later a brochure "The isolated socialist state". According to Vollmar, socialism need not come to power at the same time in all the civilized world, or even in a group of economically developed countries. Quite possible and viable would also be an isolated state organized socialistically. Vollmar wrote, "possible, nay, probable appears a victory of socialism in one country at first, while the other possibility appears very doubtful". Vollmar attempted to examine in his brochure the sort of economic and political measures of transition to socialism which would need to be enacted in this isolated socialist state. It is interesting to note that the author does not consider it necessary to either rush to destroy private property, nor to abolish commodity production. Trade would be regulated by the state which would compete with private traders on the market. The journal "Dialog", which had for the first time published in the Russian press the article of G. Vollmar, supposes that this article was known to Marx and Engels. However, there was no polemics around this article, and Lenin in all probability did not know of it" ("1917, the Russian Revolution: Victory and Defeat of the Bolsheviks", Moscow, 1997, p. 46).

This statement is a literary and historical amalgam, an agglomeration of half-truths, ignorance and lies. Medvedev tries thereby, without stating so directly, to leave the impression that Lenin was the ideological inheritor not of Marx … but of Georg Vollmar!

Georg Von Vollmar (1850-1922) was a young Prussian officer from a noble family, seriously wounded in the Franco-Prussian war and soon invalided out of service. He joined the Social Democratic movement in the mid-1870's and during the first years of party membership was noted for the radicalism of his views and actions. When on October 19, 1878 the German Reichstag adopted the Anti-Socialist law and the party was forced underground, Vollmar was for a period imprisoned along with some other party activists. The party leaders, Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, in consultation with Marx and Engels living in England, came to a decision to issue the central party organ abroad, in the relatively liberal Switzerland. Due to circumstances Karl Hirsch, the candidate of Marx and Engels to the post of editor of this journal, could not take up this work and the relatively young and inexperienced Georg Vollmar became the editor of the party weekly journal "Social Democrat" published in Zurich. Vollmar worked as the editor for 14 months from September of 1879 till December 1880. Due to his lack of journalistic experience as well as his lack of serious theoretical preparation the editorial work badly suffered. The journal made frequent changes of line: one week it would publish a moderate statement of the party's Reichstag deputies against a revolutionary rising, the next week it would issue a strident ultra-revolutionary call to arms.

Marx wrote to Friedrich Sorge on 14th November, 1879, about the "miserable" editorialship of the "Social Democrat". Engels complained to Bebel that the newspaper is run in the spirit of "petty bourgeois socialism", and in April 1880 he wrote to Becker about the contradictory political line of the paper. The scandalous inconsistency of the publication was such that Marx and Engels refused to write for it. If the article by Vollmar about "isolated German socialism" did not provoke any particular scandal it was only because his lack of political authority and the constant changes in his editorial line destroyed the authority of any statement published in the journal. One should also understand what meant, in the context of 1880, Vollmar's call for "socialism in Germany". The Paris Commune was defeated in 1871, Bismarck outlawed the German Social Democracy in 1878, the European workers movement at that time was at an ebb. Vollmar's slogan of "isolated German socialism", although it was theoretically absurd in and of itself, expressed to some extent the fighting energy of a young party recruit.

Vollmar was soon replaced as the journal editor by Eduard Bernstein, who was a truly well educated and thoughtful theoretician. In 1881 Vollmar was elected as a socialist deputy to the Reichstag, and from the mid 1880's on he gradually moved from the left to the right wing of the party. Never a theoretician, he was known as one of the best of the party's public speakers and his talents in the German SDP lay in the sphere of agitation and popular politics. In 1891 he came out with a series of articles and speeches which found deep resonance both within the party and in the liberal circles. Vollmar advocated the passage of a series of wide ranging social legislation. He developed this idea into a whole concept of "state socialism". Vollmar, David and some others represented in the early 1890's — i.e., even before the well known public statement by Bernstein on "evolutionary socialism" — the opportunist wing of German Social Democracy. In 1908 during the debates within the Second International about the tactics of social-democrats in case of a war Vollmar became notoriously well known by his statements within the party press and at party congresses advocating socialist patriotism. At that time he was one of the leaders of the extreme right wing of the German party.

It is futile for Medvedev to ascribe to Lenin an ignorance of Vollmar and the history of ideological struggles within the German Social Democracy. Lenin mentioned Vollmar many times while criticizing opportunism within the Second International. Here are a few of Lenin's descriptions of Vollmar (taken from the 5th edition of his Collected Works in Russian):

"at the head of opportunists" (23-368); "an example of classical opportunism", "the leader of German social-democratic militarists" (17-189); "notorious opportunist" (8-271); an example of "intelligentsia's opportunism within the social democracy" (15-242).

As to Vollmar's views concerning "socialism in a single country" and "state socialism", Lenin approvingly referred to Kautsky's article against Vollmar: "Kautsky wrote very well in one of his articles against Vollmar …" (6-338).

Secondly, Medvedev maliciously confuses his readers as to what Lenin meant when he spoke about the victory of socialism in a single country. In some cases Lenin spoke about socialists conquering power; in other places he referred to the construction of a socialist society. However, in his authoritative works about the goals of Russian revolution Lenin always expressed the opinion that Russia was too backward to build socialism. If we were to just string together various bare quotes from Lenin we would come to the conclusion that he kept contradicting himself. That is not so, but we must consider what Lenin had in mind in each case. Rather that collect quotations, let us think this through. One thing is for the socialist party to conquer state power. That has happened within the framework of a city, for example, the Paris Commune, or on a national scale, e.g. Russia. However, the construction of a socialist society is an altogether different matter. This is impossible because in the epoch of imperialism the world economy dominates over any national state. We have a multitude of examples: the USSR, China, etc. This idea is, after all, not very difficult, yet Stalinists had for decades confused and mystified the difference between a socialist uprising, the conquest of state power by a socialist party and socialism. Approaching this from another angle, if we believe Stalinists' (including Medvedev's) accusations of Trotsky we may indeed conclude that the theory of permanent revolution really does advocate a simultaneous socialist rising throughout the world!

To sum up: Can we really accept Medvedev's idea that after viewing Vollmar for many years as an extreme opportunist, Lenin would at the end succumb to his theory about an "isolated socialist state" and reject Marx and Engels on this. Can we really ascribe to Trotsky such an absurdity as the scheduling of a socialist rising throughout the world on one particular day?

What is the USSR?

Unlike Stalinists of all sorts, including also Medvedev, Marxists (Trotskyists) always defined the Soviet Union as a transitional society which included in its contradictory nature elements of both socialism and capitalism, and even of earlier social formations. In the interests of this important historical and political problem we cite below a longish quote from Trotsky's "Revolution Betrayed":


"To define the Soviet regime as transitional, or intermediate, means to abandon such finished social categories as capitalism (and therewith "state capitalism") and also socialism. But besides being completely inadequate in itself, such a definition is capable of producing the mistaken idea that from the present Soviet regime only a transition to socialism is possible. In reality a backslide to capitalism is holly possible. A more complete definition will of necessity be complicated and ponderous.

"The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena.

"Doctrinaires will doubtless not be satisfied with this hypothetical definition. They would like categorical formulae: yes-yes, and no-no. Sociological problems would certainly be simpler, if social phenomena had always a finished character. There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it. In our analysis we have above all avoided doing violence to dynamic social formations which have had no precedent and have no analogies. The scientific task, as well as the political, is not to give a finished definition to an unfinished process, but to follow all its stages, separate its progressive from its reactionary tendencies, expose their mutual relations, foresee possible variants of development, and find in this foresight a basis for action".

Trotsky was the only observer who, behind the apparent omnipotence of Stalin's totalitarian state discerned the accumulation of contradictions within the Soviet regime which may lead to its collapse and to the restoration of capitalism. He even foresaw the forms of such collapse. In a phrase which should be famous, were it not suppressed so maliciously, he wrote:

"Will the bureaucrat devour the workers' state or will the working class clean out the bureaucrat? Thus stands the question upon whose decision hangs the fate of the Soviet Union".

The destruction of the Soviet regime at the hands of the ruling bureaucracy, the pilfering and fire sale of the nationalized industry and natural resources of the USSR, all that is today labeled "prikhvatizatsiia" (a play on words "privatizatsiia"="privatization" and "prikhvatit"="to grab", the whole concept meaning privatization by theft) or "nomenclature-bureaucratic capitalism". This variant was in 1936 described by Trotsky. Analyzing the two alternative paths of development he wrote:


"In order better to understand the character of the present Soviet Union, let us make two different hypotheses about its future. Let us assume first that the Soviet bureaucracy is overthrown by a revolutionary party having all the attributes of the old Bolshevism, enriched moreover by the world experience of the recent period. Such a party would begin with the restoration of democracy in the trade unions and the Soviets. It would be able to, and would have to, restore freedom of Soviet parties. Together with the masses, and at their head, it would carry out a ruthless purgation of the state apparatus. It would abolish ranks and decorations, all kinds of privileges, and would limit inequality in the payment of labor to the life necessities of the economy and the state apparatus. It would give the youth free opportunity to think independently, learn, criticize and grow. It would introduce profound changes in the distribution of the national income in correspondence with the interests and will of the worker and peasant masses. But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures. It would retain and further develop the experiment of planned economy. After the political revolution — that is, the deposing of the bureaucracy — the proletariat would have to introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.

"If — to adopt a second hypothesis — a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general. A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too. But a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party. The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production. First of all, it would be necessary to create conditions for the development of strong farmers from the weak collective farms, and for converting the strong collectives into producers' cooperatives of the bourgeois type into agricultural stock companies. In the sphere of industry, denationalization would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual "corporations" — potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the emigre former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration, the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social revolution".

Unlike Trotsky, Roy Medvedev over a period of decades was a proponent not of overthrowing, but of reforming the Soviet bureaucracy. All his publications were designed to assert that under the leadership of Stalin and the CPSU socialism was built within the Soviet Union, but became subject to the bureaucratic deformation, deviated from Lenin's ideas, fell victim to the excesses of the cult of personality, and so on. Here is his typical view in the early 1970's: Following the 20th Congress of the CPSU in the party there grew "mistrust of the wide popular masses for the party leadership". Two outcomes are possible:

"Some leaders might take the road of repression. However, in the absence of the necessary popular trust such repressions, which must also affect persons popular among the intellectuals, can only speed up the collapse of popularity and the masses' trust towards these leaders. This will only hasten their downfall. The strength of the regime, far from increasing, will diminish. That is an extremely dangerous path. The other and the only correct way consists in gaining popularity and political authority and strengthening the regime through some new policies and by carrying out democratic beginnings and programs popular among the people and the intelligentsiia. This will require the promotion of new leaders who will govern the country and the party probably through a compromise with many in the present leadership" ("O sotsialisticheskoi demokratii", pp. 351-352).

As we see, Medvedev's recipe is a ready made program adopted by Gorbachev in the mid-eighties.

The trajectory of Medvedev's writings

To evaluate Medvedev one must examine the trajectory of his thought from the 1960's to the present day. In his early works in publishing the Samizdat journal "Political Diary" in the 1960's one can notice much naivete and blank spots in the editor's own historical education. This was the consequence of the heavy pressure of Stalinist police dictatorship, censorship and mythmaking. The young Medvedev tried to give his reader at least fragments of the truth, but often he seemed to lack access to the sources. We have no reason to doubt that if Medvedev did have in hand Trotsky's works such as "The Revolution Betrayed", "The History of the Russian Revolution" or "My Life", he would have published them in the "Diary". But the fault lay with the reactionary Stalinist gendarme: Medvedev published those fragments which he could find. Unfortunately, he already began to publish some malicious and ignorant attacks on Trotsky penned by his political enemies, for example, the memoirs of the Menshevik M. P. Yakubovich, or the Polish "leftist" Andzei Stawar. Still, generally speaking Medvedev's attitude to Trotsky in the "Political Diary" was respectful and sympathetic.

In the 1970's Medvedev gained esteem in the West, if not inside the USSR. In an article about Stalin, which Medvedev published within the framework of an international symposium of historians and Sovietologists on the subject of Stalinism he quotes Trotsky's prophetic words written in March of 1929 which forecast the mass terror which Stalin was preparing to unleash at the revolutionary elements within the party. Medvedev finishes with the words: "In this instance Trotsky was wrong only about the timing" ("Stalinism", ed. by R. Tucker, W.W. Norton, New York, 1977, p. 212). Medvedev highlights the correctness of Trotsky's forecast by comparison with the majority of contemporary Western observers, who in 1929 saw in Stalin a much more sympathetic figure than the "fanatic" Trotsky.

In general, Medvedev's essay about Stalin does not discover America, makes no principled historical discoveries but, on the other hand, neither does it suffer from the absurdities and ignorance which during the Stalinist and post-Stalin period were so characteristic of the utterances of Soviet historians. The editor of this collection of essays, the well known American historian, Robert C. Tucker in his Introduction boasts about the unprecedented participation of a living and still breathing Soviet historian in this literary symposium. Such an unusual participation by a Soviet historian in a discussion about Stalinism gave the book a particular flavor and significance. For Medvedev, this participation was important as well: prior to him Soviet historians were not taken seriously in the West; the court liars like Yaroslavsky and Suslov earned nothing but derision. It is my opinion that Medvedev's sympathy for Trotsky expressed in front of all these advanced western researchers was somewhat hypocritical. Medvedev did not share Trotsky's revolutionary world view, but the ideas of Trotsky were so fruitful that they were for Medvedev, and not for him alone, a trump card in winning academic and public recognition. In the West, dozens and hundreds of young historians wrote dissertations and built their reputations by elaborating ideas which in his day raised and developed Leon Trotsky; his ideas fertilized the works of many a professor, and Medvedev was not loath from also working this golden vein.

In the 1970's Medvedev felt from whence the wind was blowing and his attitude towards Trotsky and the Left Opposition changed. In his book "Let History Judge" he takes every opportunity to declare that Trotsky was wrong on this or that thing. In particular, he accuses Trotsky of underestimating the peasantry ("Let History Judge", New York, 1971, p. 38). This accusation was the first one invented by the epigones in 1924 in order to undermine Trotsky's authority during their struggle for power. The main authors of this invention, Kamenev and Zinoviev, later admitted that it was a fabrication spun out of whole cloth and completely without content. Medvedev repeatedly makes statements like "Trotsky's criticism is correct, but in general he is wrong". We have already pointed out that in all his huge books he cannot find room to seriously discuss the ideas of the Left Opposition; his repetitions that "generally it was wrong" are obviously insufficient. His evaluation of Trotsky's role in history has been tinged with notes of hatred and malice, which recently have become intolerable. Here are a few examples.


"Following the dispersal of the Petersburg Soviet Trotsky was arrested and again exiled to Siberia" ("O Staline i stalinizme", "On Stalin and Stalinism", pp. 75-76).

Trotsky was the political and, following the arrest of Khrustaliev-Nosar, also the formal head of the Petersburg Soviet in November-December of 1905. On December the 3rd when Trotsky was presiding over the sitting of the Soviet a troop of Czarist gendarmes arrested all the members present with Trotsky at the head. The Czarist government put everyone on trial and throughout the public court hearings Trotsky brilliantly defended the work of the Soviet gaining thereby public respect for the ideas of revolution.

A page later Medvedev tries, not very well or coherently, to diminish Trotsky's role in 1917. His method in this operation is to assign to Lenin Trotsky's role of practical leadership of the Bolshevik uprising.

"The name of Trotsky in the days of October really stood side by side with the name of Lenin, but the phrase "side by side" and "equally" have a different meaning",

and again:

"Lenin, and only he alone was the inspirer and leader of the October Revolution".

In his hypocritical sanctification of Lenin Medvedev descends into obvious falsehoods:

"As early as September of 1917 the whole work of the practical preparation of the armed uprising in October was conducted under the constant leadership of Lenin" (Ibid. pp. 78-79).

It is well known that Lenin was at that time (September-October of 1917) hiding from the reaction in Finland and did not know exactly which measures were being taken in Petrograd by the organizers of the uprising with Trotsky at the head; thus he sent to the Center letters and articles filled with the most desperate appeals for urgent action.

Medvedev writes that in the spring of 1918

"Trotsky was dismissed from the post of Commissar for foreign affairs" ("1917", p. 68).

In reality Trotsky left that post at his own request and was immediately appointed to the more important at the time position of Commissar of War. Medvedev attempts to give his reader the false impression that the Council of People's Commissars or the Bolshevik party were dissatisfied with Trotsky's work and demoted him.

We could continue citing Medvedev's slanders of Trotsky, but even the already cited instances lead us to two questions:

1) How is Medvedev able to write such crude falsehoods and distortions of historical facts? and

2) What is his moral basis and his motivation for condemning Trotsky?

Scientific scrupulousness

We have already noted the "artistic" use of ellipses by Medvedev in his quotations and his omissions of important facts. But here is his own judgement about the work of another historian, his political opponent. In a long brochure about Andropov Medvedev describes the following episode in publicistical activity of A. Avtorkhanov, a well known anticommunist author.

"I have no objections to the publication inside the USSR of the works of A. Avtorkhanov, as well as any other, even the most odious Western authors. But we must have an exact understanding who they are. It is difficult to agree with the editorial board of "October" which writes in its introduction that the text of Avtorkhanov's book "is abridged and partially reworked with the agreement and participation of the author". When I compare the publication in the journal with the book published in the West it becomes obvious that the editors of the journal carefully excised from the book not just the absurd and easily verifiable opinions of the author, but also his slanderous remarks about Lenin" ("Sviaz vremen", 1992, p. 501).

For our part, we also have no objection to Avtorkhanov's books being published in Russia, although we can provide an additional example of the double bookkeeping of this author. In the Russian edition of his book "The Technology of Power" Avtorkhanov includes a chapter "From the party of Lenin to the party of Stalin" in which he describes the huge difference between these two "communist parties". To please his Western audience Avtorkhanov thought it wise to delete this chapter from the English language editions of his book. We are in complete agreement with Medvedev that to change the description of a historical event in correspondence with the author's immediate political concerns is an immoral and antiscientific action.

But in this essay we are concerned with Medvedev himself, not with Avtorkhanov. We have already shown how Medvedev cuts up quotations and distorts historical facts. We may remember that during his participation in a high level scientific symposium Medvedev behaved normally, he wrote the truth about Stalin and Trotsky. But when Medvedev writes for the Russian audience, which had for decades been educated, to use the apt expression of Trotsky's, in the "Stalin school of falsification", he permits himself to invent stories, cut uncomfortable pieces from quotes, advance baseless hypotheses, in other words, to act subjectively and unscientifically.

We may derive the following general conclusion about Medvedev's method: when faced by audiences of knowledgeable critics he uses verified facts and describes events objectively; when writing for an audience, which for a variety of reasons doesn't know the true facts, Medvedev falsifies facts, hides events, writes falsehoods and reinforces the Stalinist mythology.

Personal morality

Roy Medvedev describes the most dramatic events in human history. The first socialist revolution occurred in one of the most backward states in Europe. Millions of people for the first time began to act independently, entered conscious political life, attempted to win freedom for themselves and liberate all mankind from the fetters of inequality, degradation and prejudice, to free themselves of the fetishism of money and possessions, of the blind laws of the capitalism market and the bloody wars brought by imperialism. The revolutionary wave raised on its crest Lenin, Trotsky and their friends. Then this wave ebbed. The backwardness and poverty of Russia, its low cultural level, isolation and the delay of the European revolution combined in a heavy weight to press down on the revolutionary vanguard.

The struggle of the Left Opposition against Stalinist reaction represents one of the most heroic pages in the dramatic history of the 20th century. A part of the older generation of revolutionists, with Trotsky at the head, and thousands of young activists had begun in 1923 a struggle against the growing and ever more cruel clique of usurpers, which grabbed power in the Soviet Union and betrayed all the ideals of socialism and Marxism. This struggle had continued for decades. Let us examine Roy Medvedev's attitude to this conflict.

In his essay about Kamenev Medvedev describes the events of 1928. Kamenev and Zinoviev surrendered before Stalin, recanted their opposition activity and were allowed to return from exile back to Moscow. Trotsky had continued from exile in Alma Ata his open struggle against the policy of Stalin and Bukharin. His underground supporters had organized Samizdat and published proclamations and reports. In Moscow, Kamenev and Zinoviev were drawn into the secret quarrels within the ruling circles and the various bureaucratic maneuvers against Stalin. In July Bukharin arranged a secret meeting with Kamenev to ensure that the still numerous supporters of the Zinoviev-Kamenev group would side with the Right. Kamenev wrote down the substance of the conversation and passed it along to Zinoviev and others. Medvedev writes:

"Representatives of the Trotskyist underground who did not, like their erstwhile supporters, give up their weapons and who went on in their hopeless struggle against Stalin had got hold of it" (the transcript of the Bukharin-Kamenev talk, F.K.; "Sviaz vremen", pp. 178-179).

First, we should note that Medvedev's use of the word "weapons" is questionable and misleading. The "weapons" of the Left Opposition consisted of their ideas. When Trotsky learned about the meeting between Kamenev and Bukharin and its contents he and his supporters published these facts in the open so as to raise this struggle from the level of private squabbles over ranks and personal power into the arena of policies and principles. Medvedev is trying to convince his readers that an open political and ideological struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition was misplaced. He suggests that it played into the hands of Stalin: "Stalin could not have hoped for a better present from Trotsky" (Ibid.). Finally, Medvedev calls this fight against Stalin "hopeless". This is not a scientific evaluation but the philosophy of a vulgar coward who always finds excellent reasons to run away from a principled fight.

We might add that this attitude is much worse that the Tolstoian or Christian philosophy of non-resistance to evil, when you yourself suffer from this evil; this is not turning another cheek, or even just running away. No, Medvedev and other apologists for Stalinism propound a philosophy much more vile than that: while observing the struggle of real revolutionists for the ideals of socialist revolution against its gravediggers, who would finally lead to the betrayal of all ideals, Medvedev & Co. moralize that the struggle is hopeless, that one should not annoy Stalin, that resistance to evil will provoke the villain to greater cruelty.

In 1989 Medvedev participated in a highly publicized discussion with Dmitry Volkogonov on the subject of Stalin (this discussion was widely reported in Soviet newspapers and journals). During the talk he said:

"Of course, Trotsky, by his publications, unintentionally pushed Stalin towards repressive measures against the former Trotskyists".

This thought sounded so vile and low that the moderator of the talk, L.I. Saraskina rejoined:

"One feels in what you say a certain element of rehabilitation of Stalin. It would appear that Trotsky somehow provoked Stalin into shooting the "ex-Trotskyists", that his books poured oil on the fire" ("Surovaia drama naroda", Moscow, 1989, p. 276).

Here is another example:

"At the first of the Moscow Trials in August, 1936, L. Trotsky was sentenced to death in abstentia. At that time he lived in Norway and was officially forbidden to take part in political activity. However, when he found the details of the Moscow trial Trotsky immediately broke this rule: he made public pronouncements, sent telegrams to the League of Nations, sent statements to various public meetings. The Norwegian government immediately reacted, and Trotsky was ordered out of the country" ("O Staline i stalinizme", "On Stalin and Stalinism", p. 349).

Here, Medvedev exceeds the bounds of human morality. As he himself had written in 1975, Trotsky had for a long time warned that Stalin would open bloody witch trials against the generation which led the Revolution and built Soviet power. In 1936 the Norwegian government, under pressure from Stalin, applied unconstitutional and totalitarian measures to assist Stalin in his witch hunts, to suppress Trotsky's voice of protest. By the way, Roy Medvedev's father, a military Communist, in 1937 was himself one of the victims in this genocide of Communists, that is, Trotsky was simultaneously defending the honor of Roy's father from Stalin's slanderous accusations of "betrayal", "counterrevolutionary activity", etc. But in 1990, Medvedev-son, many years after the Norwegian government had publicly apologized for its craven behavior, Medvedev-son comes to the defense of the Norwegian antidemocratic persecution of Stalin's main victim. Trotsky often said that History likes a good laugh and sometimes shows even smart people in a ridiculous light. Just think, where would mankind be today if Karl Marx were forbidden to do politics in London, or Lenin, in Switzerland?

Medvedev is far from being a fool, neither is he a scoundrel from birth. His stupid and vile position is caused directly by the false philosophical view and the reactionary political goals of Stalinism.

See also:

Roy Medvedev — Capitalism in Russia? — A book review