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New International, September 1948


Philip Coben

Miscellany on Russia


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 7, September 1948, p. 223.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Politics (quarterly magazine), spring 1948 special number on the USSR
ed. by Dwight Macdonald
72pp. 75 cents.

Over half of this special number is devoted to a miscellany of articles on Russia, of very uneven interest and rather random in its overall plan – if there was any. There is a fair amount of interesting material in the lot, however, dealing with special subjects.

The matter of political interpretation or analysis can be disposed of quickly. Fortunately – considering everything – there is none, outside of incidental remarks. An introductory piece by Macdonald (USA vs. USSR) and a second piece by Anonymous (The Background) are quite empty, but beyond this point the reading becomes more worthwhile.

Three of the contributions are of particular value: USSR Today – Documents, consisting of “I Was There” accounts and interviews with Russian prisoners; Empire or Free Union? by Walter Padley, an ILPer, on the national question in Russia; and The Music Purge, by Nicholas Nabokov, a composer.

The first mentioned (Documents), offering fragmentary insights into Russian life and reactions, is intriguing – like all the other Russiana of its genre. They become bits of mosaic to be pieced together into an impression of life under Stalin, when taken together with all the rest of its kind that one has read.

Padley’s piece has the defect of being slightly rambling but is a good solid summary of facts needed to explode the myth of Stalin’s “solution of the national question.” He begins with the contrast between Lenin and Stalin on this question, goes through the 1937 purges, discusses Russification and the real face of “cultural autonomy” in the national republics, the evidences of Great Russian chauvinism during the war and after it, and tops off with an intelligently argued demonstration of the correctness of labeling Stalin’s Russia “imperialist.” He asks:

“And Stalin’s speech on May 24, 1945, in which he said that the Russian nation was ‘the most outstanding of all the nations of the Soviet Union’ and as such the ‘directing force of the Soviet Union,’ adding that it was the confidence of the Russian nation in the Soviet government which ensured the victory over fascism – was that imbued with the imperialistic spirit?”

Padley, of course is here affirming the imperialist nature of the Stalinist state with relation to the national republics of Russia itself – a facet of Stalinist imperialism which has tended to become lost in the shuffle of Russia’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

Appended to Nabokov’s article is the text of the decree on music by the Central Committee of the CP of Russia, reprinted from the Daily Worker of March 12. Reading it reminds one to point out that no anti-Stalinist should be without his own personal copy of this document – even if the back number of the DW does cost 20 cents.

Vladimir Weidle’s Origins of Soviet Literature (a translation from the monthly Critique) makes an interesting point. On the basis of a literary evaluation, he comes to the conclusion that 1930 marks a watershed in the character of Russian literature; we do not have the space to indicate his train of thought, but the reader will doubtless make the political correspondence himself.

A short piece on The Varga Episode by Louis Clair and Sebastian Franck is good but – short, therefore skimpy. This reader would not have minded if the subject had gotten fuller treatment. And there, is another piece by Macdonald, Bureaucratic Culture: Nicholas I and Josef I. After the slighting remark made above about his introductory article, I wish I could be kinder to this one, merely in order to prove there is no rancor involved (Marxists are suspect, you know, ever since the time when Marx’s carbuncles used to get the better of him). It does contain some interesting matter, including statistics, and it does head toward a point (Stalin’s purely political control of all aspects of culture is “something new in the world”), so that it may be our disappointment is based on greater expectations.

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