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WAS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE TO STALINISM IN THE USSR?
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The following is the text of the lecture given by Professor Vadim Rogovin on
February 27 at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The lecture was
sponsored by the MSU Center for European and Russian Studies and the
Department of History. The exchange of questions and answers that followed the
lecture will be contained in another post.
Professor Lewis Siegelbaum of the Center for European and Russian Studies
introduced Dr. Rogovin.
WAS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE TO STALINISM IN THE USSR?
A lecture by Vadim Z. Rogovin
I WOULD like to say first of all that I am very pleased that my lecture tour
in the United States is beginning at a university that is well known
throughout the world, Michigan State University. I would like to thank most of
all the Center for Russian and Eastern European studies and Professor
Siegelbaum for extending the invitation to give the lecture here today. Now
let me pass on to the theme of my lecture.
A few years ago an American journalist said the following: in the Soviet Union
not only is the future unpredictable, but the past is unpredictable as well.
What he had in mind, of course, is the fact that our history has continuously
been rewritten and at different times certain historical personages and events
have been presented in an entirely different light.
Among the historical myths that were spread over decades in the Soviet Union,
there were two basic forms. The first could be called the Stalinist school of
falsification. A second school we could call the anticommunist school of
falsification. It is quite curious that in many places the explanation of our
history coincides when presented both by the Stalinists and by the
anticommunists. For instance, one central thesis they agree upon is that
Stalin was the natural continuation of Lenin's cause. Earlier there was one
slight difference when they said that Stalin was the good continuation of a
good cause, the cause of Lenin. Now they say, on the contrary, that Stalin was
the wretched continuation of an evil policy by the evil Lenin.
There are certain theses that are affirmed by both the Stalinist and the
anticommunist propagandists. The first is that the Bolshevik Party was always
a monolithic party, and there was no serious differentiation or opposition
within the party to the events which unfolded. The second, more fundamental
thesis is that Stalinism was the logical outcome or continuation of the
October Revolution and Bolshevism. The next thesis is that none of those who
suffered at the hands of the Stalinist repression were guilty of anything,
including opposition to Stalin. It should be noted that those who present such
historical mythology appeal not to people's reason, but rather to their
emotions. They appeal not so much to the truth, but to public opinion, or to
their own opinions.
OPINION VS. HISTORICAL TRUTH
Here we should touch upon the question of the relationship between truth and
opinion when one approaches history. In the West the following position is
often presented. It is said that you might assess Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and
other figures in a certain way, while others present the question in an
entirely different manner. But it's their right to present it in one way, and
the other people's right to present it the other way. Of course, truth always
arises in the course of discussion and debate. But if you absolutize that
position, then you can't speak about the development of history as a science
in any genuine way.
Opinion is a category of everyday knowledge or common sense. Opinion refers to
events or things that are taking place about which we don't have either
complete knowledge or sufficient knowledge to make a more scientific judgment.
Truth, however, is a scientific category that arises as a result of an
assiduous and objective study of facts and events, of a very rigorous study of
Of course, in society public opinion plays a great role, particularly when one
discusses the future. The future, of course, presents many possible variants,
no one of which we can say absolutely will unfold, will actually take place,
become reality. Therefore, when we talk about the future we inevitably come up
against various opinions.
Public opinion also plays a major role when one discusses the present, because
when something is taking place we do not as yet have full information about
it; we don't have an all-exhaustive set of criteria by which to judge.
But when one talks about the past, then the role of opinion diminishes
greatly. No one would dare say: In my opinion the South won the American Civil
War. Of course this principle also relates to much broader historical
generalizations, which are based upon a wider gathering and analysis of
Therefore, historical myths and falsifications arise not so much from a lack
of sufficient historical facts; rather they are due more to the deliberate
passing over in silence of certain historical facts, motivated by political
considerations. Also, for very political and tendentious reasons, certain
facts are deliberately highlighted. And at times there is a direct and open
falsification or distortion of historical facts.
AMERICAN HISTORY WITHOUT LINCOLN?
To indicate the extent of distortions and falsifications in the history of the
October Revolution under Stalin, I would suggest the following: What would you
think of a historical account of the major wars involving the United States in
which the roles of Washington and Lincoln were completely ignored, covered up,
not mentioned at all? Or if it were said that Washington and Lincoln were
British spies, saboteurs or something along those lines?
But this is what took place in the Soviet Union. If you take all the Soviet
encyclopedias which were published before approximately 1987, you will find
entries discussing Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Goering and others, for
instance, but you won't find a single entry devoted to such leading figures of
the October Revolution as Trotsky, Bukharin, Rykov, Zinoviev, Kamenev or a
host of others.
But there was an even sharper side to the phenomenon of totalitarianism. Under
Stalin, if you kept at your home just one of Trotsky's books, even one of the
books officially issued by state publishing houses in the 1920s; if you simply
uttered a neutral sentence, not even particularly praising Trotsky, such as:
"Trotsky was a great public speaker and orator," or perhaps, "He played an
important role in the civil war"--a person who uttered such a sentence would
face immediate reprisal. This could take the form of being shot or being sent
to a concentration camp.
Of course, after Stalin's death the situation changed considerably. As a rule,
if you made such a statement after Stalin's death, you would not necessarily
be sent to prison or to a concentration camp. But if, let's say, during a
lecture such as I am giving here, you made such a remark, you would inevitably
be expelled from the Communist Party if you were a member, and you would be
removed from your position in the university or you would lose your job.
THE FALSIFICATIONS OF WESTERN SOVIETOLOGY
In this connection it is interesting to examine the opinions of several
Western historians. For instance, you probably know that one of the most
fundamental works devoted to the great terror in the Soviet Union was written
by Robert Conquest. Here we must keep in mind that all the reprisals during
the great terror of 1937-38 took place under the banner of a merciless
struggle against Trotskyism. One would think that this being the case, if you
discussed the great terror at length you would have to present a very detailed
study of the positions not only of Trotsky, but of his closest supporters
within the Soviet Union.
But in Conquest's book you will find approximately two pages devoted to
Trotsky, his ideas and his activities. And in the course of these two pages in
Conquest's book, I found no less than 10 erroneous positions which sharply
come into collision with the historical facts--which are quite simply not
I genuinely felt and hoped at the beginning of perestroika that with the
removal of the taboos on many of these subjects in Soviet history, the way
would be open to a serious and truthful analysis of Stalinism. Of course, the
memories of those very difficult years were close to the heart of every Soviet
It must be said that when the first accounts of the various crimes began to
appear in the Soviet press, they provoked tremendous interest among a broad
readership in the Soviet Union. It is a fact that on the pages of many
journals and in the newspapers there appeared not only works of fiction--
novels, short stores, etc.--but also historical documents and memoirs which
discussed this history that had been concealed for many, many years. This
interest explains why in the space of one or two years, the circulation and
press run of the major journals in the Soviet Union grew by a factor of four
and five, and often included as many as 2 or 3 million copies per month, and
daily and weekly newspapers had a press run of millions.
However, we must say that the direction of the explanation of this history
changed considerably during perestroika. Far from merely criticizing
Stalinism, a tendency began to emerge that went beyond Stalinism and attacked
Bolshevism, Leninism and Marxism as a whole. It must be said that all the
journalists and writers who were addressing such questions ignored completely
any communist opposition to Stalinism within the Bolshevik Party. The handful
of articles which discussed, for instance, the role of the Left Opposition, of
the Marxist and Trotskyist opposition to Stalinism, was overwhelmed by the
wave of purely and openly anticommunist publications.
HOW VOLKOGONOV REWROTE SOVIET HISTORY
There was a whole new version of Soviet historiography which we could say is
concentrated in the trilogy written by the writer Dmitri Volkogonov. The title
of this trilogy, referring to the leaders of the Russian Revolution, is
"Vozhdi". This means "leaders," but more in the sense of "fuehrers." The works
appeared in sequence: the first dealt with Stalin, the second with Trotsky and
the third with Lenin.
Who is Volkogonov? This is a man who for approximately 40 years before
perestroika occupied very high posts. He wrote extremely dull works, which
were very difficult to read, so nobody read them. He enjoyed the trust of the
ruling elite to such a degree--not only under Brezhnev, but also under
Gorbachev and subsequently Yeltsin--that he was given exclusive access to the
formerly closed archives. The fact that he could fill his first work, the one
on Stalin, with many citations from formerly unknown sources did provoke
Volkogonov's book on Stalin appeared in 1988-89. In it he wrote with great
respect and warmth about Lenin and about Bolshevism in general. But with
regard to the earlier anti-Stalinist oppositions, he largely maintained the
Stalinist and Khrushchevite approach.
However, between the first book, on Stalin, and the third volume, on Lenin,
there occurred a two-step reversal of plus signs into minus signs.
Since Volkogonov knew very well that there had already appeared many serious
and objective works about Trotsky in the West, he felt a bit constrained, and
it must be said that his second book, which deals with Trotsky, has many
rather objective passages. However his attitude to Bolshevism, Leninism and
the October Revolution began to make a 180-degree turn. He was now writing in
a spirit which completely contradicted what he had written for the previous 40
years, and his new position would undergo a further change over the following
He would then write that from the very beginning socialist and communist ideas
were completely utopian; that their realization in practice could have led to
nothing other than a bloodbath; and that from the very beginning Bolshevism
contained the seeds of the great terror. Now Volkogonov maintained that
Bolshevism was bound to lead to the violent repression of all opposition.
EQUATING STALIN'S TERROR WITH THE CIVIL WAR
Volkogonov's books, and others like them, contain the following thought: the
great terror, the great purge of 1936-38, was the logical continuation of the
Russian civil war. Both of these periods are treated in the same negative
Now the civil war in Russia which followed the 1917 revolution was not in any
principled way a new phenomenon in history. Trotsky saw very much in common
between the American Civil War and the Russian civil war. He even wanted to
write a book on this topic, but was never able to do so. By the way, the
percentage of the population which died in the American Civil War exceeded the
percentage of the population which died in the Russian civil war.
On the other hand, the great terror, the great purges of 1937, did not have
any precedent in world history. This was a merciless reprisal against unarmed
people who were completely innocent and who ended up in the torture chambers
of the secret police, the GPU and NKVD, where false confessions were extracted
by torture methods unseen since the inquisition of the Middle Ages.
Approximately 2 million people fell victim to the great terror. Approximately
40 percent of those 2 million were shot during this period. The vast majority
of the remaining percentage ended up in concentration camps, and you have
undoubtedly read much about this in the works of Solzhenitsyn and other
SETTING THE HISTORICAL RECORD STRAIGHT
Observing this new flood of falsifications, I came to the conclusion that I
should write a history, not only of our country, but of the international
communist movement. I decided to shed light on the inner-party struggle within
the communist parties against Stalinism as it was refracted both in the
Communist Party of Russia and throughout the Comintern.
Since this is a very complex conception, I decided I would have to write six
books about this history under the general title: "Was There an Alternative?"
Half of my conception has been realized. I have been able to write the first
three volumes of this series. The first volume is devoted to the legal
opposition within the party, which took place in open discussions from
approximately 1922 through the end of 1927.
The second volume is devoted to 1928-1933, the period of forced
collectivization, a period of tremendous economic problems in the Soviet
Union. This was a period when opposition to Stalin could not be carried out
through open means, since it had been made illegal by the regime. Towards the
end of this period, there occurred the unification of various opposition blocs
which existed within the Communist Party.
The third volume is devoted to 1934-36, a period of what one might call the
crystallization of Stalinism. This period witnessed a relative liberalization
in comparison to the previous years of the first Five Year Plan. But already
there was a sharpening of the political consequences, which I will begin to
The next volumes will be devoted to the events of 1937, the year of the great
terror, and will advance new conceptions about the terror. The volumes will
extend up to and including the assassination of Trotsky in 1940.
TROTSKY'S LEFT OPPOSITION VS. STALINISM
Now I would like to touch upon a few conclusions which I have already drawn in
the course of my investigation. Already by the mid-1920s, the Bolshevik Party
had split into two irreconcilably opposed tendencies, that of Stalinism and
that of the Left Opposition, or, as they called themselves, the Bolshevik-
Leninists, which was led and headed by Trotsky.
The ideological force of these two opposed tendencies was inversely
proportional to the material means which they had at their disposal. The Left
Opposition, which was the most active opposition force within the party, made
an all-sided, all-embracing criticism of Stalinist policy. The Left Opposition
criticized the forced collectivization; the forced tempo of industrialization,
which led to lower living standards for the masses; the suppression of
intellectual freedom in general and the ever more cruel forms of the political
regime; the bureaucratic distortions of centralized planning. Most of all it
criticized the growth of social inequality. At every point the Left Opposition
developed a positive program and an alternative to Stalinism.
I cannot go into the fundamental changes and the basic points of this program
from year to year as it unfolded, but I would like to introduce the words of
Trotsky himself when he explained why it was that the Left Opposition was
facing such severe persecution in the Soviet Union. He said: We are facing
persecution because we demand both freedom and equality for the masses, which
the Stalinist bureaucracy simply cannot allow.
The fundamental contradictions which developed after the October Revolution
can be summed up as follows: The October Revolution brought down the former
ruling elite and eliminated their privileges. But after that revolution, which
occurred under the banner of social equality, new privileges began to arise
within the ruling elite. The Left Opposition spoke out most sharply against
this internal aspect of Stalinist politics. The bureaucracy, of course,
couldn't openly say that it was persecuting the Left Opposition because the
Left Opposition was advocating greater social equality; hence, the continuous
growth of repression against the Left Opposition and in the end the fantastic
falsifications, the frame-ups and show trials.
The opposition forces were accused not of what they were actually engaged in,
but of carrying out espionage, of being in the service of foreign intelligence
services, of being agents of the Gestapo, etc.
INTERNATIONALISM VS. NATIONAL SOCIALISM
Of no less importance are the international aspects of the persecution of the
Left Opposition. The Left Opposition protested strongly against the fact that,
certainly by the 1930s, the Stalinist regime had abandoned the world
revolution and begun to subordinate the whole communist movement, which was
the largest mass political phenomenon in world history, to the immediate needs
of the Soviet state as Stalin understood them.
A further conclusion of my research, which has a certain hypothetical
character, is that despite the fierce persecution and reprisals carried out
against the Left Opposition, there was a continuous growth in its influence
and an increase in the numbers of the opposition, not only internally in the
Soviet Union, but also abroad.
One indicator of the growth of these opposition forces was a bloc that was
formed in 1932. This bloc then became a victim of a preemptive strike on the
part of the Stalinist bureaucracy; they were arrested. It is interesting that
none of those arrested revealed the existence of the 1932 bloc, and that
Stalin only learned about it after Kirov's assassination in 1934.
The next conclusion--which hasn't been fully confirmed yet, but I think is a
good working hypothesis--is that by the beginning of 1937, when the height of
the Stalinist terror was beginning to unfold, there arose a military and
political conspiracy directed against Stalin. But Stalin was able to fence in
this opposition, to block them and eliminate them before they were able to
carry out the conspiracy.
Thus the great purges of 1937-38 were not some wild outburst of paranoia on
the part of Stalin. This was the only possible means Stalin had of struggling
against the opposition. It was directed not only at exterminating the bearers
of these oppositional ideas, but also the very spirit of Bolshevism. The great
purges exterminated hundreds of thousands of Soviet people, but also tens of
thousands of foreign communists who were then living in the Soviet Union. This
was such a severe blow against the entire world communist movement that it has
never been able to regain its footing, even to the very present.
In every communist party people were found who were willing participants in
these repressions. Usually only two examples are given from the postwar period
of people who fought against Stalinism. First there is Imre Nagy, the prime
minister of Hungary who took part in the 1956 uprising against Stalinism and
was subsequently shot. Recently documents have been published both in Hungary
and in the former Soviet Union showing that Nagy himself worked for decades
for and with the NKVD. He wrote secret denunciations of hundreds and hundreds
of Hungarian, Bulgarian, German and other communists.
The other example generally cited is Tito. I don't have to explain to this
audience who Tito was. There is no evidence that he was a direct agent of the
NKVD. But together with his supporters who later ended up in power in
Yugoslavia, he conducted a ruthless purge of his own party and wrote a mass of
pro-Stalinist apologetics. To Tito belongs the following curious statement:
"Some people say I'm not a Trotskyist but I'm not a Stalinist either. Whoever
says such a thing, he is without doubt a Trotskyist."
Finally, I would like to present one last conclusion: socialism was betrayed
twice, the first time by the Stalinist leadership and the second time by the
present leaders of the former CPSU, whether it be Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Yakovlev
or Shevardnadze. The socialist idea ceased to be attractive in the eyes of
many millions of people, both within our country and beyond its borders.
But contrary to what is often said in our country, as well as in your country,
this does not signify that communism has died. I think numerous things can be
observed which will undoubtedly have a profound effect on the masses of
workers in the near future. On this soil it is inevitable that there will be a
new growth of socialist ideas in broad masses of the population. The success
of this rebirth of socialism will depend to a large degree upon the way in
which present-day communists and future communists will be able to understand
and reexamine the history of totalitarianism; to reexamine not only the
successes, but also the defeats of the past socialist movement; to learn the
lessons of the inner-party struggle of the 1920s and 1930s.
Was there an alternative to Stalinism in the USSR?
THE DISCUSSION FOLLOWING PROFESSOR ROGOVIN'S LECTURE AT MSU
QUESTION: Why are you optimistic there will be a rebirth of socialism instead
of fascism? I hope you're right, but I would like to know why you feel that
ROGOVIN: We're talking about two completely different sets of ideas which
form the basis of two mass political tendencies which have arisen in the
twentieth century. At the heart of fascism is the idea of the superiority of
one race or one nation over others. At the heart of a genuine conception of
socialism are such noble ideas as social equality, social justice and the
equality of nations; ideas such as internationalism, ideas of collectivism.
The first ideology, fascism, might attract lumpen elements and other ignorant
elements. The second can't help but attract humanistically-oriented people
throughout the world.
QUESTION: You've mentioned many names, but does the name Nikolai Kondratiev
mean anything to you with regard to the late '20s and early '30s? Where did he
ROGOVIN: You have in mind the famous Russian agronomist and economist. This
doesn't really fall within the framework of my lecture, but I can simply say
that he was one of the most brilliant scholars and was very close to the
Social Revolutionary Party. During the 1920s, he did in fact collaborate with
the Bolsheviks, and in the beginning of the 30s, when there were ferocious
attacks upon nonparty scholars and intellectuals, he too faced repression.
Inside the offices of the GPU, the secret police of that time, they dreamt up
a completely false party, a political party that supposedly existed, the so-
called Workers Peasant Party. Unlike the trials that were being held against
the so-called industrial party or against the Mensheviks--two trials that did
take place--there was no open trial of this so-called party. Kondratiev, like
many of his colleagues, was shot in 1937.
QUESTION: The common view is that the main opposition between Stalin and
Trotsky was that they were faced with what to do in the post-civil war period.
The Russian economy was destroyed, and there was the failure of the
international revolutionary situation, which ended in 1919. Stalin came up
with the position that it was just necessary to build socialism in one
country. I was wondering what, then, was the position of the Left Opposition?
ROGOVIN: From my standpoint, the ideas of world revolution did not undergo a
defeat in 1919. The first tremendous revolutionary upsurge only began to ebb
and only really receded in 1923, when there was a revolutionary crisis in
Germany. Many countries entered into periods of revolutionary struggles and
civil wars. For instance, in 1926 there was a general strike in England, in
1925-27 there was revolution in China and after that 20 years of civil war,
finally culminating in the Chinese revolution. There was a revolutionary
crisis in Germany in the early '30s, in 1936 came revolutionary events in
France, then the civil war in Spain. After World War II, there were national
liberation struggles and revolutionary struggles throughout Asia and in other
countries such as Cuba.
Of course I'm running a bit ahead here. Throughout the '20s and '30s, the Left
Opposition fought for the strengthening and extension of revolutionary forces
is in every country where there was revolutionary crisis. The Stalinist
leaders and Stalinized Comintern actually did everything possible objectively
to prevent revolutions, or guarantee that the revolutionary situations in
these countries ended in defeat. Of course, to prove this would take a very
concrete analysis of each of those revolutionary events, which exceeds the
bounds of this lecture.
QUESTION: How do you evaluate the role of the October Revolution in Russia?
Was it historically inevitable?
ROGOVIN: I consider that the October Revolution in Russia was the greatest
historical event of the twentieth century. This may sound a bit paradoxical,
but it seems that the October Revolution brought greater gains to workers in
other countries than in the Soviet Union itself. Facing the fact that the
socialist revolution had occurred in one country, and, indeed, a very large
country, and that there was a growing wave of socialist upheavals in other
countries, the ruling circles in those countries were forced to embark upon
very considerable social concessions to the working class.
In that regard I would like to relate here the opinion of one very
authoritative figure. Harry Hopkins, the aide to Franklin Roosevelt, says in
his memoirs that at the Teheran conference Churchill raised a toast to
Roosevelt, declaring that by improving the conditions of the poor, Roosevelt
had prevented a socialist revolution in America.
I think that without the October Revolution, there were not have been such
concessions; the new Deal would not have taken place in America.
QUESTION: What do you mean when you say that Mikhail Gorbachev was a betrayer
ROGOVIN: In his writings, if we reread them, we can see that Gorbachev said a
lot of general things about socialism, and he even said that the main task of
perestroika was more socialism. If we look at what actually began to unfold
under Gorbachev, the policies that he actually carried out, they became more
and more procapitalist.
Under Gorbachev the road was prepared which has since been taken--what is
called wild capitalism, drawing an analogy with the American "wild west."
QUESTION: Do you feel that a strong, central figure such as Stalin was
necessary for Russia to defend itself and defeat fascist Germany?
ROGOVIN: No. I consider that the Soviet people conquered fascist Germany
through an extraordinary exertion of its own forces, in opposition to the
policies carried out by Stalin, not only before the war, but during the war.
QUESTION: Do you think that the invasion carried out by Germany was a
ROGOVIN: This idea unexpectedly emerged from the pages of a book written by a
genuine traitor in our country. It is completely dreamt up and there are no
facts confirming it whatsoever. Of course, Germany was preparing for war
against the Soviet Union. The commanders of the Red Army understood this very
well. They were preparing for war against Germany. But if you believe the
version by this man, Suvorov--that's a pseudonym, he's written several books--
if you believe that the Soviet Union was preparing to attack Germany in July
1941; if this were true, then you couldn't explain the fact that within the
first six months of the war in 1941, 4 million persons were taken prisoner. In
other words, the military forces in the Soviet Union were completely
QUESTION: In 1927, was the resistance of the Left Opposition within the
Communist Party the motivating force that helped Stalin consolidate his policy
in China and crush the opposition there?
ROGOVIN: I don't think the Stalinist policy in China was directed at crushing
the Left Opposition, at least in any direct way. Stalin carried out a policy
of entering into the Kuomintang, of uniting with Chiang Kai-shek and forcing
the Communist Party in China to follow suit. The Kuomintang entered the
What was the difference between the Stalinist group and the Left Opposition on
this question? The Left Opposition was convinced that the Kuomintang and
Chiang Kai-shek were a bourgeois political party and leadership and that they
would inevitably betray the Chinese revolution. Of course, the warnings made
by the Left Opposition were completely confirmed by the subsequent events in
China. There were a number of bloody suppressions of the Chinese working
QUESTION: Nevertheless, would you say that the revolution in Russia was
necessary, and did it bring positive results for the Russian working class?
ROGOVIN: I feel that despite all the monstrous crimes of Stalinism, without
the October Revolution, Russia--and then what became the Soviet Union--would
never have turned into a superpower; it never would have become a powerful
country on a world scale.
QUESTION: Could you shed some light on something that you touched on, and
that is the absorption of the Comintern leadership into the Stalinist
bureaucracy. I am thinking particularly of the Italian, Togliatti. What role
were they to play in the great purges?
ROGOVIN: I think that, subjectively speaking, Togliatti was probably an
honest person. But he was so much drawn into this whole Stalinist system of
crimes that, for example, he played one of the most despicable roles in the
civil war which unfolded in Spain. He was sent there as the main
representative of the Comintern and he took an active part in the
extermination of Communists and other anti-Stalinist socialists and Marxists
After the exposures of what was called the "personality cult" in Russia, that
is, after the Khrushchev revelations of 1956, Togliatti wrote articles
protesting against these exposures. He said that they would bring no good to
the Soviet Union. Had he been more honest, he would have had to examine the
extent to which he himself had degenerated in the Comintern.
One more essential issue connected to your question is to the following: as
Khrushchev would later write in him memoirs, by the time of Twenty-second
Party Congress, the full rehabilitation of the victims of the Moscow show
trials had already been prepared. They carried out all the necessary
investigations in regard to these show trials; gathered all the necessary
But this did not take place because of sharp protests from the leaders of many
so-called fraternal communist parties, including Togliatti. They said directly
to Khrushchev: you will strike a tremendous blow against the membership of our
own parties; we were there at these trials and we returned to our respective
countries and convinced the workers of our communist parties that the trials
were true and necessary, and that the victims were indeed traitors.
This explains why it took all of 50 years before a full exposure of the
falseness of the Moscow Trials took place, in fact, just in the last few
QUESTION: On the relevance of Trotsky's policies, what is your opinion of his
policies, his program, in the former Soviet Union and in the United States?
ROGOVIN: Many of Trotsky's prognoses indeed did come true, although sometimes
a little bit later than he predicted. If his prognoses had come true exactly
according to the timetable that he indicated, then they would fall into the
realm of what religious people call prophesy, and history itself would bear a
During the 1930s Trotsky many times returned to the question of the
perspectives for the Soviet Union. As with every major prognosis, there were
many variants. In one variant he said that there would take place an overthrow
of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which he called a political revolution, since it
would not require a social revolution and the establishment of new property
Unfortunately, the variant that actually took place was the second, what I
would call counterrevolutionary, variant. According to this conception, the
bureaucracy, the ruling elite in Russia, would try to become property owners.
A new bourgeois party would be created.
Trotsky did say that the counterrevolutionary restoration of capitalism in the
Soviet Union would require a new civil war, which would be more destructive
than the civil war that had already taken place in Russia. Unfortunately, that
aspect of Trotsky's prognosis has already begun to bear itself out.
The contemporary situation in the republics of the former Soviet Union would
be best described by a formulation which is now very common: You would have to
call this a slowly ongoing civil war, with certain outbursts and new hot spots
continuously emerging--Tadzhikistan, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia. In
all of these areas there is bloodshed.
The number of people killed in those conflicts has now reached approximately
one-half the number killed in the course of the Russian civil war. If one
discusses the economic and social disintegration which Trotsky prophesied
about, for instance, the rapid fall in the level of culture, then this process
has taken on enormous proportions.
As far as the positive program which Trotsky presented, the main points of his
positive program of world socialist revolution still apply to the present day.
And you have to say the same about the basic ideas of Marx, of Engels and of
Marxism is an open system which must develop with the latest developments in
science and social science, where new discoveries are continuously made.
Therefore we couldn't mechanically transpose every single one of Trotsky's
ideas and apply it directly to the United States or to the Russia of today.
But his basic ideas are the main guiding ideas now for communist-inclined
people throughout the world.
QUESTION: Does the return of the former communist parties in Hungary,
Bulgaria and Poland signal a new phase of socialism in those countries?
ROGOVIN: I would have to say that I don't believe that genuine socialist or
communist parties have come to power in those countries. These are not
communist parties of the Bolshevik or the Leninist type. Of course, the
influence of various parties which call themselves communist is growing,
including in the formerly so-called socialist countries. But the unfortunate
aspect of this development is the fact that the leaders of these parties are
relentlessly driftig in the direction of Stalinism, chauvinism and anti-
Semitism, and they can't be called communist parties.