T. Cliff


(Winter 1962)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.11, Winter 1962, p.28.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Lost Empire
Robert Conquest
Ampersand Books. 3s 6d.

The Kremlin Since Stalin
Wolfgang Leonhard
Oxford University Press. 42s.

Conquest’s little book deals with a very important problem – the national question in the USSR. It packs a large number of very interesting facts into a small space. The author presents a very balanced picture using only – or practically only – Soviet sources of information. The book tells the story of the National Republics dissolved by Stalin and the exile of their populations. Those affected were the German Volga Republic, the Chechens, the Ingushi, the Crimean Tatars, the Karachi, the Balkans, and the Kalmyks. The half-hearted restitution of 1957 is dealt with: there still remain in exile the quarter million Tatars and the half million Volga Germans. The tight control of Moscow over the non-Russian people, who make up nearly half the population of the USSR, is well described. The strongest chain of control is through the Ministries of Interior and the Ministries of State Security which are headed in all the National Republics by Russians.

Part and parcel of Russia’s imperialism under Stalin was the glorification of the Tsars who built the empire, and their generals: Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Suvorov, Kutuzov, etc. Stalin’s heirs continue in the same tradition. Special attention is devoted to the idealization of Tsarist imperialist expansion and annexation of non-Russian peoples, as when the Academy of Sciences of USSR in May 1959 declared: ‘The annexation of Turkestan to Russia was deeply progressive and marked the beginning of a new stage in the history of the people of Central Asia’. All nationalist movements which fought for independence for Tsarist Tsarist Russian rule are described as reactionary. Thus,

‘in a history of 19th century Kazakhstan, published in 1957 and written by ... Bekmekhanov, who less than ten years previously had described him as a “hero, of the national liberation”, Kenesary Kasymov is described as a cruel despot who carried out anti-national policies in order to increase his own personal power and acted in defiance of the wishes of the popular masses by his opposition to the annexation of Kazakhstan by Russia. (The Annexation of Kazakhstan to Russia, Moscow 1957, pp.118-119).’

As a chronicle of events in Russia since Stalin’s death Leonhard’s book is quite useful. However, anyone looking for an analysis and general interpretation of developments will be disappointed. The usefulness of the book for the journalist or general reader – for whom it is mainly intended – is unfortunately marred by an astonishing number of printing errors.

Last updated on 19 March 2010