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Medvedev is a Soviet Marxist educator, son of a philosopher killed in the '30's and brother of Zhores Medvedev, who exposed Stalinist repression in The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko (1969) and The Medvedev Papers (1971). This book, billed as the first scholarly history of Stalinism to come out of the U.S.S.R., is a weighty achievement. We are briefly told that it was rejected by a Russian publisher, hence sent abroad. Drawing on unpublished manuscripts and archival material, jabbing at official distortions and omissions, he documents Stalin's early career as anything but Lenin's right-hand man, and the intraparty struggles which laid the basis for his deliberate achievement of one-man rule. Stalin's personal psychopathology is granted but remains secondary. The Moscow Trials, the purges of intellectuals, non-Russian and foreign party members, and the army are detailed, showing how Stalin ruled the party ranks and the masses themselves through the cult of personality, exploitation of the fortress mentality, secrecy, and of course police terror. Medvedev's basic theory is that Stalin sought mass repression, not just the eradication of independent cadres, in order to obliterate all criticism and uphold absolute power; repression spread through careerist subordinates' vendettas in a chain of dictatorial terror. Stalin's rule, he insists, was not inevitable, even after Lenin's death; collectivization, though necessary, need not have been so brutal and indeed self-defeating; and industrialization itself could have been more effectively achieved. Here Medvedev is less apologetic for Stalin than many Western scholars. Moving to examine social processes, he views bureaucratization as cause and consequence of the Bolsheviks' degeneration, notes that it was a problem of backward workers as well as petit-bourgeois functionaries; and sees a perversion of democratic centralism, though he locates Stalin, not Lenin, as dissolver of the soviets, ignoring Luxemburg's criticisms on this point. Medvedev identifies, but perhaps underestimates, the need for scapegoats and ""wreckers"" as economic difficulties persisted; he briefly notes the economic functions of the labor camps but in general he is weak on economic theory, failing to connect the ""bureaucratic deformity"" with conditions of backwardness and scarcity and barely sketching the economic programs of the various oppositions to Stalin. On these questions scholars will be particularly interested in his tacit affirmations of, and explicit quarrels with, Trotsky's critique of Stalinism. A contribution of great intrinsic interest as well as political significance.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1971
Publisher: Knopf