Peter Sedgwick

Life with Auntie

(Autumn 1964)

Peter Sedgwick, Life with Auntie, International Socialism (1st series), No.22, Autumn 1965. (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Memoirs of Ivanov-Razumnik, translated and annotated by P.S. Squire, Oxford 35s.

These overwhelming memoirs are drawn almost exclusively from the author’s years in various prisons of the GPU, a body which he refers to, with his customary lightness of touch, as ‘Auntie’. R.V. Ivanov-Razumnik was a literary critic, sociologist and Populist thinker with no very active interest in politics: Victor Serge recalls him gratefully in his own memoirs as one of the last and most humane representatives of the critical intelligentsia of old Russia. The present account is of some documentary importance since Ivanov-Razumnik underwent several periods of incarceration, including nearly two years from 1937 to 1939. He is therefore in a position to trace the ups and downs of Auntie’s tactics and pre-occupations throughout the Purge. He writes with a gently ironic humour and a plain-spoken inwardness of feeling that enabled him to survive horrifying extremes of suffering and degradation. It is evident that at its worst – and thousands experienced it at its worst – the GPU was no different from the Gestapo. Owing to his personal authenticity, his complete lack of respect for authority and his great gifts for identification with others, Ivanov-Razumnik manages to capture the immediacies of his prison experience with unusual sharpness. The different sections of the memoirs were begun as soon as possible after the events they describe, and were worked over in the author’s wanderings in later life; he died in Munich in 1946, having escaped execution by a succession of flukes.

The present work, excellently translated, is a testimony not only to the frightfulness of the Terror but to the unvanquishable humanity of those who endured it. More than any possible theoretical statement, it communicates and crystallises the socialist moral philosophy of personalism or ‘immanent subjectivism’ to which the author so tenaciously adhered.

Peter Sedgwick


Last updated on 20.8.2007