Isaac Deutscher

A Reply to Critics


First Published: Originally written for the French monthly Esprit (March 1954).
Transcribed: Martin Fahlgren
Online Version: Marxist Internet Archive 2013
HTML Markup: Martin Fahlgren, 2013

My book Russia After Stalin, which I wrote and concluded within a few weeks after Stalin's death, is appearing in a French translation shortly before the first anniversary of that event. This is a short interval; yet it has been crowded with startling events, and during it Russia has moved quite a distance from where she stood on 6 March 1953. It is enough to recall what some of the best known commentators and experts predicted at the time, to realize how far indeed Russia is now from that point of departure. Some of the experts, for instance, argued, not without superficial logic, that in a Police State the police was the decisive factor of power, and that consequently Beria, its head, was by definition Stalin's real successor, sure to oust Malenkov and Molotov. Other reputable analysts assured us stolidly that there was and could be ”nothing new in the East”, because Stalin had settled beforehand the issue of the succession and because his heirs, tied by the strongest bonds of solidarity, saw eye to eye with one another over all major issues of policy.

The most obtuse Stalinists and the bitterest anti-communists expressed this view with equal self-confidence. Curiously enough, this was also the view held even later by so intelligent a writer as Mr. George Kennan and expressed in his critique of my book. I know of another very shrewd man, the Moscow Ambassador of a great Western power, who spent the whole evening of 9 July 1953 arguing that my analysis of the Russian situation, given in Russia After Stalin, was utterly wrong because it presupposed a cleavage within the Soviet ruling group. He, the Ambassador, knew from close observation and long study that no such cleavage existed : that Malenkov, Beria, Molotov, and Khrushchev thought and acted in unison, knowing full well that their chances of survival depended on their absolute unity. Having thus destroyed my analysis and hypothesis once for all, His Excellency went to bed only to awaken next morning to the dramatic news about Beria's downfall... .

I know well where my own work might gain from some corrections, and what revision would be advisable in the light of recent events. But such corrections and revisions would not yet go beyond retouching a paragraph here and changing slightly the emphasis of my argument there. Far from refuting my prognostication, events have confirmed it; and they have done so in the only way in which they confirm a theoretical formula, namely by showing a pattern of development which, although it harmonizes basically with the prediction, is naturally more complicated and dynamic than any theoretical formula.

My prognostication has not been basically refuted by events perhaps because from the outset I approached my task somewhat more modestly than many another writer on this subject. I did not pretend to know what would be the fate of this or that personality in the Soviet ruling group. I drew no personal horoscope for Malenkov, or Beria, or Khrushchev. Instead, I concentrated on outlining, summing up, and projecting into the future the broad social trends at work in contemporary Russia. This led me to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was approaching a critical turn of its history at which it would be compelled to begin to move in a new direction, and that Stalin's death, far from being the main cause of the change, would merely speed it up and underline its inevitability.

My analysis and conclusions have become the subjects of an animated controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. It is hardly surprising that some of my fiercest critics are precisely those luckless soothsayers who either had already seen Beria in Stalin's place, or had been quite sure of the ”absolute ideological solidarity” of Stalin's heirs. I have also drawn the wrath of the professional propagandists of the cold war, and quite especially of the anticommunist crusaders fighting under the lofty banners of the ”Congress for Cultural Freedom”. On the other hand, many serious and able writers have defended my views with much conviction and effect. This controversy has already found its echoes, both friendly and hostile, in the French Press as well; and I propose to deal here especially with M. Raymond Aron's extensive critique of my views which appeared in the October issue of Preuves... .

Any realistic analysis of the Stalin era and of its conclusion must draw a balance of the Soviet industrial revolution of the last twenty-five years, the revolution by force of which Russia has from one of the industrially most backward nations become the world's second industrial power. This process was accompanied by vast educational progress, into which the bulk of Soviet society has been drawn. Stalinist despotism and terrorism drove the Soviet people to carry through this industrial revolution, in part despite themselves, at an unprecedented pace, and in the face of unprecedented difficulties. The ”primitive magic of Stalinism” reflected the cultural backwardness of Soviet society in the formative years and in the middle stretches of the Stalin era. From this argument I concluded that with the progress achieved in the 1950's, the Stalinist terrorism and primitive magic had outlived their day and were coming into conflict with the new needs of Soviet society. The higher level of industrial and general civilization favoured a gradual democratization of Soviet political life, although a military dictatorship, of the Bonapartist type, might also arise amid mounting international tensions. Both these prospects signify an end to Stalinism. An attempt to galvanize the Stalinist regime and orthodoxy was still possible and even probable; but it could hardly meet with more than episodic success.

The cold war propagandist bases all his arguments and slogans on the assumption of an unchangeable and irredeemable evil in Stalinism or communism at large. Remove that evil, and all his ideological thrusts strike into a vacuum. He therefore stubbornly refuses to see that the ”evil” has been historically determined and that the profound transformation of the structure and outlook of Soviet society cannot fail to have far-reaching political consequences.

At this point my critics, especially M. Raymond Aron, accuse me of all the mortal sins of Marxist determinism: I am said to deny the importance of human will in history; to eliminate the role of the individual, especially that of the grand homme and leader; and to ascribe one-sidedly to the economic structure of society that determining influence on human affairs which it does not and cannot possess.

I have, of course, never denied my Marxist convictions, but I try to stand on my own feet without leaning on Marx's much abused authority. As a matter of principle I have always endeavoured to develop my argument in such a way that its validity should not depend on any specifically Marxist assumptions. One need not be a Marxist at all to agree with me on the impact of the Soviet industrial revolution upon Soviet politics. It has not occurred to a single historian of the XIXth century, conservative or liberal, to ignore the impact of the English industrial revolution upon the politics of Victorian England. Not a single historian can ignore the connection between that revolution and the gradual broadening of the franchise, that is the gradual democratization of England. It is a truism that modern forms of democratic life have developed mainly in industrialized nations and have, as a rule, failed to develop in nations that have remained on the pre-industrial, semi-feudal level of civilization. But what is accepted as a truism in the modern and contemporary history of the non-communist world is, in the eyes of our critics, totally inapplicable to the Soviet Union: there it is simply preposterous to expect that massive industrialization, urbanization, and educational progress may foster any democratic trends and tendencies.

A few of the critics have put forward an argument which I am not inclined to dismiss out of hand. What about Germany? they ask. Has a high level of industrialization and mass education prevented Germany from producing the worst authoritarianism and totalitarianism? Did Nazism not have its ”primitive magic”? How can one speak about Russia ”outgrowing” Stalinism when Germany never really ”outgrew” Nazism, which was destroyed only from the outside, through war?

I ought, perhaps, to remark that I have nowhere said or suggested that industrialization and educational progress automatically guarantee a democratic development. All I have said is that industrialization tends to awaken democratic aspirations in the masses. These aspirations may, of course, be frustrated or defeated by other factors. But even in Germany industrialization did foster the democratic trend. The four decades between Bismarck's Ausnahmegesetz and Hitler's rise saw a very considerable expansion of the democratic forms of political life, at first under the Hohenzollern Empire and then under the Weimar Republic. The German working class was the chief factor of that democratization — it wrested one democratic concession after another from its ruling classes. That it was not persistent and that it abdicated at the decisive moment, in 1933, does not obliterate the historical connection, evident even in Germany, between industrialization and democratic politics.

What Germany's history proves is this : the democratic trend was strong while German society was growing and expanding on a capitalist basis. It withered and gave place to the totalitarian trend in a decaying society based on a shrinking capitalist economy, such as Germany's economy was on the eve of Hitler's rise. Unemployment of millions, an all-pervading sense of social instability, mass fear and mass hysteria, these were the basic elements that went into the making of Nazism. In addition there was the envy, the hatred, and the contempt of the Kleinbürgertum for the labour movement; the illusion of that Kleinbürgertum that it could assert itself against both the Grossbürgertum and the proletariat; the determination of the German industrial and financial barons to use the lower middle class run amok against the proletariat; the internal division and impotence of German labour; and — last but not least — Germany's national pride wounded since the 1918 defeat and her acute craving for revenge. This was the specific and very complex combination of factors which produced the particular German brand of a totalitarian regime on the basis of a capitalist economy.

While it is obviously true that a high industrial civilization does not preclude the growth of totalitarianism, it should be even more obvious that it is not that civilization per se which is responsible for that growth. In each case the specific causes of totalitarianism must be examined. I have tried to expose the specific sources of Stalinism in the state of Soviet society of the 1920's, and to show that these sources have been drying up in the 1950's. It is therefore no answer to say that from very different sources, namely from the ferments of the German society of the 1920's and 1930's, there came something that was outwardly, and only outwardly, very similar to Stalinism. I insist on the analysis of specific causes and consequences, while my critics reason very much like that old Polish peasant who argued with his children that it was useless to cure tuberculosis in the family, because, having cured tuberculosis, they would die from some epidemics sooner or later. I maintain that urbanization and modernization are ”curing” the Soviet Union from Stalinism. ”But think of the epidemic of Nazism”, some profound thinkers reply, ”to which Germany succumbed; and in view of it how can one speak about Russia curing herself of Stalinism?”

Certainly, if conditions like those that gave rise to Nazism — mass unemployment, a shrinking economy, a sense of social insecurity, national humiliation, fear, and mass hysteria — were to appear in the Soviet Union, the result would probably be very similar. However, even my critics do not expect such conditions to arise in the Soviet Union within the foreseeable future. (Such conditions might appear in consequence of Russia's defeat in a third world war, and the result would certainly be not democracy but some form of a fascist totalitarianism, if these political terms were still to retain any meaning after an atomic war.)

It can never be sufficiently strongly emphasized that Soviet society, no matter whether one views it with hostile or friendly eyes, or only openmindedly, cannot be understood at all if one of its basic characteristics is ignored, namely the fact that it is an expanding society and that it expands on the basis of a planned economy making it immune from that extreme economic and moral instability which in bourgeois society tends to produce fascist mass neuroses. The Soviet Union is emerging from Stalinism with all the conditions necessary for continued expansion, expansion not merely during certain phases of the industrial cycle or during armament booms. Continuous expansion is in fact inherent in planned economy of the socialist, or even of the present Soviet type, as the basic form of its movement, just as the ups and downs of the trade cycle represent the forms of movement peculiar to ”normal” capitalism. (This is the hard core of truth in all communist propaganda; and it is all too easy to overlook or rashly to reject it because it is usually wrapped up in thick layers of crude fiction.) Stalinist totalitarianism and primitive magic, belonging essentially to an earlier transitional period, become irrelevant, anachronistic, and untenable in this expanding society at its present level of productive forces. How much more irrelevant to the problems of that society are the phenomena of Nazism or fascism born from social decay and disintegration.

One of my French critics claims that in expounding this determinist view I am reducing ”le rôle de la volonté humaine” and the role ”des grands hommes” in history. I may perhaps be allowed to ask: reducing in relation to — what? To their actual role in the historical process? or to the critic's grossly exaggerated idea of that role? I certainly take the view that the human will is ”free” only to the extent to which it acts as the promoter of ”necessity”, that is within limits circumscribed by conditions external to it. The will of the grands hommes represents only one particular case of the general problem of the human will: le grand homme ”makes” history within the limits which his environment and the existing balance of social forces, national or international, allow him to do so. My French critic seems flabbergasted at my suggestion that the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 could perhaps have taken place even without Lenin. He, on the contrary, sees Lenin as the sovereign maker of that revolution, and Lenin's personal role as more important than all ”objective trends”, than the ”Spirit of the time”, and the ”laws of history, and similar abstractions” (the use of some of which he ascribes to me altogether fortuitously). My French critic — M. Raymond Aron — is therefore quite consistent with himself when he writes : ”Peut-être aurait-il suffi que le train plombé qui transportait Lenin à travers l'Allemagne [in 1917] sautât ou que Trotsky fût retenu aux Etats-Unis ou en Angleterre, pour que l'Esprit du temps s'exprimât autrement.” [”Perhaps it would have been enough had the sealed train which carried Lenin across Germany smashed up, or that Trotsky had been detained in the United States or England for the Spirit of the times to have expressed itself differently.”] Thus my critic takes us back to the crude belief in the decisive role of the accident in history — to the old quip that the history of the Roman Empire would have been quite different if the shape of Cleopatra's nose had not been what it was — and also back to Carlyle's idea of the ”hero in history”, an idea perhaps indispensable to fascism, Stalinism, and ... Gaullism. At this point I plead guilty : in relation to this view of history I do reduce the role of the volonté humaine and of le grand homme: I do not worship at their temples. [1]

The extremely subjectivist and voluntarist approach of most of my critics allows them, of course, to ”reduce the role” of all objective circumstances, and more specifically to ignore the impact of economic processes, unprecedented in scope and momentum, upon the political, cultural, and moral future of the Soviet Union. They see the whole of the Russian revolution in terms of the bad faith or evil ambition, or ”Manichean-like” moods of a few Bolshevik leaders. These evil intentions or ambitions existed, of course, prior to the five Five Year Plans; and they continue to operate into an indefinite future. They enable one to ”explain” the whole development of the Soviet Union and of world communism as a single sequence of plots and conspiracies. How was it that Stalin first imposed upon his party, by fire and sword, the doctrine of ”socialism in one country”, that he compelled the whole of international communism to accept this doctrine, and that then he did more than anyone else to contribute to the spread of communism to a dozen countries? Was this perhaps a deep, and in a sense tragic contradiction of Stalinism, as I have tried to prove?

Nothing of the sort, say my critics. Stalin's fanatical preaching of ”socialism in one country” was either an irrelevancy or a fraud meant to mislead the world, more probably a fraud and a conspiracy. Like a certain type of anti-Semite who draws his inspiration from the ”Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, so the cold war propagandist at heart believes in the existence of some ”Protocols of the Elders of Communism” which one day will no doubt be unearthed and revealed to the world. And then it will be proven that all doctrines of Stalinism and the bloody struggles over them were only so much make-believe designed to cover up the communist conspiracy against the world.

Some of the critics, especially Russian veteran Mensheviks and their American pupils, dismiss the idea of a democratic evolution in the Soviet Union or in the Communist Party, because any such idea fails to take into account how inseparable the totalitarian outlook has been from the Bolshevik Party: Bolshevik totalitarianism goes back allegedly to Lenin's fight over the party statutes in 1903, the year when the Russian socialists split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Lenin then demanded that only active participants in the party's underground work should be recognized as party members, whereas the Mensheviks wished to grant membership to ”sympathizers” as well. It was then, we are told, that the issue was decided in advance, the issue which looms behind the great upheavals of this century, behind the sequence of revolution and counter-revolution, behind the massive reality of Stalinist totalitarianism, behind the cold war, and behind the dangers now threatening the world. All these have their origin in that idea about party organization which Lenin embodied in his first paragraph of the party statutes over fifty years ago. Thus half a century of Russian and even world history is seen as springing from Lenin's head, from a single idea in his brain. Should one really carry one's contempt for ”materialist determinism” as far as that?

The cold war propagandist conceals, cleverly and not so cleverly, his intellectual embarrassment or helplessness with the terms ”totalitarianism” and ”totalitarian”. Whenever he is unable or mentally too lazy to explain a phenomenon, he resorts to that label... .

Denn eben wo Begriffe fehlen
Da stellt zur rechten Zeit ein Wort sich ein.
Mit Worten lässt sich trefflich streiten,
Mit Worten ein System bereiten.

I should perhaps explain that I myself have occasionally applied this term to describe certain aspects of Stalinism — I have been doing this at least since 1932. But the term should be used carefully and sparingly. Nothing is more confusing and harmful than the habit of lumping together diverse regimes and social phenomena under one label. Stalinists have often lumped together all their opponents as fascists. The anti-Stalinist lumps together Nazis, fascists, Stalinists, Leninists, and just Marxists, as totalitarians, and then assures us that totalitarianism, being a completely new phenomenon, rules out even the possibility of any change and evolution, let alone quasi-liberal reform. A totalitarian regime, he claims, can never be reformed or overthrown from inside; it can be destroyed from the outside only, by force of arms, as Hitler's regime was.

The fact is that nearly all modern revolutions (the Paris Commune, the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the Central European revolutions of 1918, the Chinese revolution of 1948-9) and even most democratic reforms, have come in the wake of war and military defeat, not as a result of purely internal developments; and this has been so even in non-totalitarian regimes. Yet it would be a striking mistake to treat totalitarianism metaphysically as a state of society's utter immobility, or of history's absolute freezing, which excludes any political movement in the form of action from below or reform from above. is true, of course, that the chances of such action or reform were negligible under Stalin. But they have grown enormously since the critical moment, at the end of the Stalin era, when the crisis in leadership coincided with the accumulation of changes in the depth of society. In denying this, my critics imperceptibly abandon their extreme opposition to determinism and themselves adopt an utterly unrealistic brand of determinism. They, too, argue now that Russia's political future is predetermined, only that it is not the economic and cultural data — the fact that the Russian steppes and the wastes of Siberia are covered by thousands of new factories, that Russia's urban population has grown by over 40 million souls within a little more than twenty years, or that proportionately more young people attend schools in Russia than anywhere else in the world — it is not these facts that can determine Russia's political future, in the critics' view. It is the politics of the Stalin era and they alone — the single party system, the absence of free discussion, the leader cult, the terror of the political police, and so on — that are going to decide the shape of things to come. Their ”determinism” amounts to this : politics is determined by politics alone, it is self-sufficient and independent of other fields of social life. To be sure, in my view the economic processes are of primary importance, but they are closely connected with cultural developments and the moral climate; they are dependent on the political circumstances and themselves have a powerful impact on those circumstances. The critics' pseudo-determinism is one-dimensional, whereas the much abused and ”old-fashioned” Marxist determinism has at least the advantage that it tries to grasp reality as it is: multidimensional in all its aspects and dynamic.

A certain type of ”left-wing” cold war propagandist, who has not yet had the time to shed the infantile diseases of ex-communism, approaches the issue from a ”Marxist” angle, and turns against my analysis the ”weapon” of economic determinism. A break with the Stalin era and a democratic evolution, he argues, are excluded because they would go against the class or group interest of the privileged and ruling minority of Soviet society. The argument, be it noted, was first advanced partially by Trotsky, although Trotsky cannot be held responsible for the oversimplifications of the Trotskyites.

The managerial and bureaucratic class, it is said, has a vested interest in maintaining the economic and social inequality of the Stalin era. It must therefore preserve the whole apparatus of coercion and terror which enforces that inequality.

This argument assumes

(a) that there exists a high degree of something like class solidarity in the Soviet bureaucratic and managerial groups; and

(b) that the ruling group is guided in its policies by a strong awareness of, and concern for, the distinct class interest of the privileged.

These assumptions may or may not be correct — in my view the evidence is still inconclusive. A weighty argument against them is that we have repeatedly seen the privileged and ruling minority of Soviet society deeply divided against itself and engaged in a ferocious struggle ending with the extermination of large sections of the bureaucracy. The victims of the mass purges of 1936-8 came mainly from the party cadres, the managerial groups, and the military officers' corps, and only in the last instance from the non-privileged masses. Whether these purges accelerated the social integration of the new privileged minority, or whether, on the contrary, they prevented that minority from forming itself into a solid social stratum is, I admit, still an open question to me.

In any case, we cannot say beforehand to what degree the privileged groups may resist any democratic-socialist and egalitarian trend emerging in Soviet society. It may be that they will defend their privileges tooth and nail and fight any such trend with stubborn cruelty. But it is at least quite as possible that the ”class solidarity” of the privileged minority should prove weak, that its resistance to the democratic-socialist trend should prove half-hearted and ineffective, and that the first impulse for quasi-liberal reforms should come, as it has already come, from the ranks of the bureaucracy itself. This is not to say that one ought to expect democratization to be brought about exclusively by reform from above : a combination of pressure from below and reform from above may be necessary. Yet at a certain stage of development it is the quasi-liberal reform from above that may most effectively spur on a revival of spontaneous political action below or create the conditions under which such action may become possible after a whole epoch of totalitarian torpor.

But even if we assume, for the sake of the argument, that Soviet bureaucracy does represent a single social and political interest, it would still not follow that that interest must lie in the perpetuation of the extreme inequality and oppression of the Stalin era. That inequality was the direct outcome of a poverty of available resources which did not permit not merely an egalitarian distribution but even a distant approach to egalitarianism. As I have pointed out at greater length in Russia After Stalin, a strong differentiation of incomes was the only way in which Russia could develop her resources sufficiently to overcome that initial poverty. In other words, the privileges of the managerial and bureaucratic groups coincided with a broader national interest. Yet, with the growth of productive forces, which makes possible an alleviation of the still existing poverty in consumer goods, a reduction of inequality becomes possible, desirable, and even necessary for the further development of the nation's wealth and civilization. Such a reduction need not take place primarily or mainly through the lowering of the standards of living of the privileged minority, but through the raising of the standards of the majority. In a stagnant society, living on a national income the size of which remains stationary over the years, the standard of living of the broad masses cannot be improved otherwise than at the expense of the privileged groups, who therefore resist any attempt at such improvement. But in a society living on a rapidly growing national income, the privileged groups need not pay, or need not pay heavily, for the rise in the well-being of the working masses; and so they need not necessarily oppose the rise.

The privileged minority in the U.S.S.R. has no absolute interest — it may still have a relative and a temporary one — in perpetuating the economic discrepancies and social antagonisms that were inevitable at a lower level of economic development. Nor need they cling to a political regime designed to suppress and conceal those antagonisms behind a ”monolithic” facade. Stalinism, with its orthodoxy, its iron curtain, and its elaborate political mythology, kept the Soviet people more or less in the dark about the scope and depth of its own social divisions and cleavages. But with the phenomenal growth of Soviet wealth these divisions tend to become softened; and the orthodoxy, the iron curtain, and the elaborate mythology of Stalinism tend to become socially useless. Only inertia may still keep them in being for a time, but the inertia is bound to spend itself; and the open-eyed observer of the Soviet scene can hardly fail to see that it is already beginning to spend itself.

More than at any previous time in history the political evolution of nations depends now on international as much as on internal factors. Nowhere in the world does the danger and fear of war strengthen democratic institutions. It would be idle to expect that any democratic trend in the U.S.S.R., which would, in any case, have to contend against so much resistance, could be strengthened while a war-like mood prevailed in and outside the Soviet Union. Any further growth of international tension would most probably arrest the democratic trend and stimulate a new form of authoritarianism or totalitarianism. Since the Stalinist form has outlived its relative historic justification and since danger of war enhances the already strong position of the armed forces, that new authoritarianism or totalitarianism is likely to assume a Bonapartist form. A Soviet version of Bonapartism would in its turn increase the danger of war or perhaps make war unavoidable.

This trend of thought seems to have come as a shock to my critic. M. Aron whom I have already quoted poses a question: ”Pourquoi un regime Bonapartiste signifierait-il la guerre? Un général, qui s'efforcerait de liquider le terrorisme du parti, serait normalement enclin à un accord avec l'Occident.” [”Why should a Bonapartist regime mean war? A general who tried to end the terrorism of the party would normally incline towards the West.”] I re-read these sentences and rub my eyes : is it possible that they should have been written by a Frenchman, and a French ”political philosopher”? ”Pourquoi un regime Bonapartiste signifierait-il la guerre?” Why indeed did it signify that? And why does the assumption that a similar regime in Russia would also signify war seem so far-fetched? Because a general ”liquidating the terrorism of the party” should in fact be peacefully minded. But — the question must be asked — was not the domestic terrorism of the Jacobin party finally liquidated under Napoleon? And did not Napoleon project in a sense that terrorism on to the international arena?

No matter to what historical school we belong, Bonapartist or anti-Bonapartist, pro- or anti-Jacobin, we cannot deny the seeming paradox that, for all their domestic terrorism, the Jacobins conducted their foreign policy much more pacifically than Napoleon did, who in domestic affairs stood for law and order. Did not the warning against carrying revolution abroad on the point of bayonets come from Danton and Robespierre, the revolutionary terrorists? The Jacobins suppressed by means of the guillotine the domestic tensions which the revolution had brought into the open or had created, while Napoleon could deal with those tensions only by finding foreign outlets for them. To be sure, this was only one aspect of the problem — the other was the attitude of counter-revolutionary Europe and England — but it was a most essential aspect.

It will now perhaps be seen why a Russian analogy to this is not altogether unreal. A Russian general or marshal may install himself in the Kremlin, ”liquidate the terrorism of the party”, and have the most peaceful intentions towards the outside world. But his intentions may carry little weight compared with the circumstances in which he has assumed power. He will have inherited the most severe strains and stresses from the Stalinist or post-Stalinist regime. There will be tensions between town and country, between collectivism and individualism in the countryside, and between Russia proper, the Ukraine, Georgia, and the other outlying Republics. Stalinism had almost continually suppressed these tensions by terroristic methods. This was precisely why it was on the whole pacific in its foreign policy. Stalin was preoccupied with his domestic problems; and his manner of dealing with them was such that, never being quite free from those preoccupations, he had to maintain an essentially defensive attitude towards the outside world. In 1948-52, when Russia's immediate military pre-eminence in Europe was undeniable, a Russian Bonaparte might have issued marching orders to the Soviet army — Stalin, despite his ”Manichean-like attitude” and ”messianic fervour”, did not. Whatever the clichés of vulgar history writing and propaganda may say about this, Stalin's domestic terrorism and cautious, ”peace-loving” foreign policy were only two sides of the same medal.

If a Soviet marshal were to take power, he would do so under conditions of domestic disorder and acute international tension= in a more normal situation he would hardly have a chance. He would either find the apparatus of Stalinist terrorism smashed or he himself would have to smash it in order to justify himself. He would thus be deprived of the old means for controlling and suppressing domestic tensions. The dangerous international situation would hardly allow him to deal with those tensions in a patient, slow, reformist manner. Instability and insecurity at home would impart an explosive character to his foreign policy — he would be impelled to find foreign outlets for domestic tensions. Having started out with the establishment of law and order at home and with the most peaceful intentions towards the outside world, the Russian Bonaparte, like his French prototype, would be driven into unpredictable military adventure, in part because he would not be able to exercise domestic control through intense terrorism. He would probably prove to be just as much more bellicose than Stalin and Molotov and Malenkov as Napoleon proved to be more bellicose than Robespierre and Danton.

I admit that I remain a determinist on this point : the ultimate course upon which a Soviet Bonaparte would embark would not greatly depend on his assumed personal inclination to come to terms with the West. He might be inspired by the most pacific intentions; he might even have his Peace of Amiens (over the meaning of which generations of historians would later argue); and yet he would in all probability be driven to war, even ”aggressive” war, by a combination of international and domestic factors.

My critics' approach is more often than not dictated by their prejudice against Bolshevism in all its phases, pre-Stalinist, Stalinist, and post-Stalinist. From this prejudice they engage in ludicrously belated apologetics for Tsardom and argue at length about the progressive features of the Tsarist regime, which, if only it had existed till now, would have taken Russia much further ahead on the road of industrial and cultural progress than the Bolshevik revolution has done. From the same prejudice they are prepared to hail the advent of a Soviet Bonaparte. ”Anybody, anybody is preferable to the Bolsheviks!” seems to be the maxim. Any talk about the proletarian democratic element in Bolshevism — an element strongly submerged yet genuine — seems to the critics to defy reality. Yet the vision of the angel of peace dressed up in the uniform of the Russian Bonaparte does not at all seem odd to them.

The alternative is still between a democratic evolution of communism and some sort of a military dictatorship. This, it seems to me, is the basic, the long-term alternative. It has never occurred to me that the historic choice will be made very soon after Stalin's death. At any rate, the full ”liberalization” of the regime or the full resurgence of the proletarian democratic tradition of communism could not be a matter of a few months or even years. What the events that followed immediately after Stalin's death could show and have shown is that the alternative outlined above is real, and that the impulses that may push the Soviet Union in one direction or the other are already at work and are already in conflict with one another. The long-term character of the prognostication frees me from the need to reply any further to those critics who point to the events of a few months to conclude that my forecast has been refuted. I can only express mild surprise at this naïve disregard of the time factor.

This is not to say that we can ignore the connection between the short-term and the long-term developments, or that we have fixed our eyes so exclusively on the latter that the former have caught us unawares. My prognostication made allowance for the short-term prospects as well. In Russia After Stalin I wrote that besides the basic alternative — military dictatorship versus socialist democracy — there was still the possibility of ”a relapse into the Stalinist form of dictatorship”. I added: ”A prolonged relapse into Stalinism is highly improbable” (p. 159 of the English edition). The adjective ”prolonged”, italicized in the original, pointed directly, though perhaps too laconically, to the probability of a short relapse. Something like it has in the meantime occurred and is still in progress — but even this relapse has been only partial and vague and feeble, and it is being carefully concealed.

History has only opened a new chapter on Russia — let us patiently watch her as she fills the pages.


[1] Curiously enough, a critic in The Times Literary Supplement (28 August 1953) thinks that I have ”tended to exaggerate the personal elements inherent in Stalinism”.

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