Isaac Deutscher 1963

Interview with Isaac Deutscher

Source: The Review, Volume 5, no 3, 1963. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Interviewer: Mr Deutscher, could you tell me, what is – in your opinion – the balance-sheet of the first decade after Stalin’s death? What were the main changes that occurred in these ten years in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe, and in international Communism in general?

Deutscher: This is a rather complicated balance-sheet. In some respect the changes have been tremendous, far greater and far more startling than anyone had expected. In others, they have been relative only, important but not fundamental; and in yet other respects they have been almost insignificant. I should say that the one field in which the changes have been most important, far greater than anyone expected, is that of Soviet economic, technological and scientific developments. Ten years ago, no one had expected that Russia today would hold the leading place that she does hold in astronautics, in satellites and in the production of missiles, and that Russian scientific thought would be as advanced as it is.

Interviewer: Do you think that these developments were more important than the ideological changes?

Deutscher: They are not necessarily more important. They are interconnected. I would like to come back to this question a little later. Yet let me dwell for a moment on the aspect I have just referred to.

This is an important aspect, because... Well, you were not here, in the West, ten years ago and you do not know what views about Russia’s economic conditions prevailed in the West at the time. Contempt, neglect, the conviction that Russia is, and is bound to remain, a backward country for an indefinite future. Whatever was being said about Russia’s industrial and scientific progress was held to be mere Stalinist propaganda. These convictions were absolutely dominant in the West. All talk about the great advance Russia was achieving was treated as bluff. Goodness knows how many times I was attacked or even ridiculed because in my biography of Stalin, published in 1949, I had stressed very strongly Russia’s industrialisation and educational progress. I remember, thirteen years ago, I wrote an article for the New York Times, in which I predicted that Soviet heavy industry would soon catch up with Western Europe; the Editor sent me back the article with the remark: ‘Surely, you must cut this out. We cannot give Russia so much credit.’ I refused to change the article, and I ceased to contribute to the New York Times. I could quote dozens of such cases from my own experience.

Interviewer: Did your prediction sound incredible?

Deutscher: Absolutely incredible.

Interviewer: What do you think was the main reason for this sudden outburst of scientific achievements in the Soviet Union? Was this connected with the lifting of the ideological pressure upon scientists?

Deutscher: The answer is more complicated than you seem to suggest. You see, the Sputnik which catapulted into outer space in 1957 had not been prepared in one year, or two... The outburst of Russian scientific achievements wasn’t an outburst at all. It was a long process and most of it had been going on in the Stalin era. Now it is unpleasant to accept a view that human thought, scientific thought, could develop under so cruel a tyranny as Stalinism. But this was not the first time in history that the human mind progressed even in shackles... Then a point was reached at which further advance became incompatible with the tyranny – it could not take place while the human mind was in shackles; and therefore you had the bursting of these shackles after the death of Stalin, not all of them but the heaviest shackles that burdened the human mind in Russia. And, of course, the scientific developments were themselves parts of far wider economic developments; the economic successes would not have taken place without a tremendous educational progress. Ours is not an age in which it is enough for a small élite of technicians to possess technological secrets in order to develop the productive capacities of society. This is an age when great masses, many millions of workers, have to be skilled, trained, taught, educated, in order that the advance should become possible. So, what was involved here was not a narrow process that was of interest only to economists or sociologists, but a thorough upheaval of society in every field of its life, especially in education, a flowering of scientific thought and an upsurge of human ambition.

Interviewer: Would you give credit to the Stalin regime for furthering education?

Deutscher: Yes, I do give it the credit for carrying out an educational revolution, which created the preconditions for the economic and technological triumphs of the post-Stalin era. But like everything that Stalinism achieved, the achievement was contradictory. It had positive and negative elements. The positive element was that millions, tens of millions of people were mentally awakened, raised from illiteracy, raised up from the lowest possible level of civilisation. On the other hand, Russia’s advanced intellects were pressed down, flattened, tyrannised. I should say that Stalinism developed Russia intellectually and educationally in breadth, at the expense of depth. And now, in the post-Stalin era comes a compensation and Russia is regaining in depth what she had lost under Stalin. This is going on not only in Russia but in Eastern Europe as well... and this is the broad background to the political and cultural characteristics of the period we consider.

Interviewer: Could you say something more about the effect of Stalin’s autocracy on intellectuals?

Deutscher: One should distinguish between the impact of Stalinism on intellectuals, and its effect on Russia’s intellectual potentialities. The two questions are not identical. If you take the national process as a whole, the Stalin era resulted in a considerable enlargement of the intellectual potentialities of the Soviet people. As for the impact of Stalinism on intellectuals, I am only reformulating in other words what I have just said, that under Stalin Russia’s intellectual and cultural life spread but lost in depth.

These economic, technological and educational developments form the basis for the further political and cultural evolution of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the political-cultural evolution looks rather disappointing in the balance of the first post-Stalin decade. I am saying this, although the last few months have brought so many symptoms of a genuine intellectual and literary revival... exemplified by Solzhenitsyn’s writings and much else that appears in Novy Mir and other Russian periodicals. When one compares, for instance, the poetry of a Yevtushenko or a Vozniesensky with Ehrenburg’s Thaw, and Dudintsev’s Not By Bread Alone, one sees already what a stretch of road Russian literature has travelled in the last few years. The Thaw and Dudintsev’s novel were very mediocre works compared with Solzhenitsyn or... Yevtushenko. True, they were symptomatic. Nevertheless, if I were asked ten years ago what I thought Russian literature would look like in the 1960s, I would have imagined that it would be more ahead than it is now and that Soviet intellectual life would recover from the debilitating and devastating effects of Stalinist totalitarianism quicker than it has recovered.

Interviewer: Perhaps you were too much of an optimist?

Deutscher: I say frankly, I was mistaken on one point – I expected ten years ago that there would be more political freedom in Russia than there is now. Granted that the GPU terror has vanished, that the mammoth concentration camps have been disbanded, etc – still, I expected more. I hoped that by 1963 it would be possible for a Russian citizen to stand up and criticise... Comrade Khrushchev, or whatever other ‘comrades’ would be in the party leadership. This has not happened. [After a pause] Nevertheless, I think that developments in Russia and in most Communist-ruled countries, in the Communist movements, at large are moving towards such a state of affairs, towards a rebirth of internal democracy. I have misjudged perhaps the pace but not the direction that the events have taken. As to the direction, my optimism was fully justified. What I am diagnosing here is a disproportion between the economic and social trends and the political, cultural and moral evolution in post-Stalin society. I think that politically, morally and culturally Soviet society is still in a state of convalescence from Stalinism. It has not yet emerged from that phase. It is still feeble, it still lacks vigour, independence and the venturesomeness which it shows in the economic, industrial and technological fields.

Interviewer: Would you say that this recovery was much quicker in some Eastern European countries, notably in Poland? There is, I should think, much more intellectual freedom and interesting thought...

Deutscher: It was quicker perhaps, but also more superficial. Over the ten years there were certain variations in the pace of progress between Russia and Poland and Hungary; but the problems are different in these countries. Neither Poland nor Hungary have had behind them thirty years of totalitarianism, forty years of a single-party system and so on... Therefore the convalescence in these countries was much shorter and – I don’t know whether it has been a real convalescence. I believe that the processes of de-Stalinisation are much more serious and go deeper in Russia, than either in Poland or in Hungary, or in any other country; despite the more dramatic demonstrations of de-Stalinisation in Hungary or Poland. Yet in these countries de-Stalinisation meant something very different from what it meant in Russia. In Russia this has been a progressive reaction against Stalinism taking place, in the main, on the basis of the Russian Revolution. In Hungary and in Poland the reaction against Stalinism was mixed – it contained the most diverse and contradictory elements. There was, on the one hand, a Communist revulsion against Stalinism and on the other, a pre-Communist and anti-Communist reaction, a left-wing and a right-wing reaction at the same time.

Interviewer: Yes, that is true.

Deutscher: Overshadowing it all was an understandable explosion of outraged nationalist emotion. I had the feeling at the time that in Hungary and to some extent in Poland, the bourgeois, nationalist, essentially anti-Communist current was getting stronger than the progressive, essentially Socialist or Communist trend.

Interviewer: Well, this is a disputable question.

Deutscher: Yes, it is. In any case, in Russia the problem was and is different not only in scale but in character. Quite different. What we see there is an organic development of a revolution, going through various phases and cycles, because in Russia the revolution was a genuine historical event, a genuine national experience in a sense in which the revolutions in Poland and Hungary were not... These latter revolutions were events created for Poland and Hungary by Russia. This is why the further development in Russia goes far deeper, and is, I think, far more promising for the future.

Interviewer: It depends from what point of view you are looking at it.

Deutscher: I don’t want to deny the positive influence which the anti-Stalinist demonstrations in Poland and Hungary had...

Interviewer: ... on Soviet affairs?

Deutscher: I should say that their influence on the Soviet Union was mixed. The immediate effect was to strengthen the Stalinists. The Hungarian revolt gave the Stalinists an argument against any further reform. During the six, seven or nine months after the Budapest fighting, Molotov and Kaganovich were almost on the point of ousting Khrushchev, which would not have mattered much, but with them there would have come back a sort of neo-Stalinism, bitterly and irreconcilably opposed to further reform. This was the negative effect of Hungary on Russia, where everyone, the new Stalinists, the old Stalinists and even the reformers were frightened.

Interviewer: But in the long run the effect of the developments in Poland and Hungary were to the advantage of the reformists. Wouldn’t you agree?

Deutscher: Well, the effect, especially that of the events in Hungary, was to create an obstruction to reform in Russia. Fortunately, this obstruction proved to be only temporary. In the long run all the shocks of 1956 have helped reform. Yet the mainspring of the movement for reform lay, and still lies, in the needs of Soviet society. This is the main factor. Compared with it influences coming from Hungary or Poland – I am Polish by origin, you are Hungarian: let’s have some national modesty about this – the influence of our countries on what happens in Russia is very, very marginal. What really matters is the needs of Soviet society and the degree of its maturity and immaturity. The impact of Russia on Eastern Europe is far greater than the impact of those countries on Russia. Genuine democratisation in the USSR would entail a corresponding trend all over the Soviet sphere of influence.

Interviewer: I am not so sure about that... whether democratisation could be carried out to the same extent in countries like Rumania and Bulgaria on the one hand, and Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary on the other.

Deutscher: The situation in each of these countries is the resultant of very many factors. The degree of local social and political maturity or immaturity can be a decisive factor. It is not surprising if, for instance, Rumania finds herself behind other countries...

Interviewer: Or if indeed she were to resist democratisation.

Deutscher: But as long as Stalinism, or something like Stalinism, or even Khrushchevism, is dominant in Russia, the limits to any movement for democratisation are still very narrow in Russia and even narrower in Eastern Europe. The determining factor is what happens in Russia. [After a short pause] I have spoken about the disproportion between the dynamics of economic development and the relative sluggishness of political, cultural and moral progress. What accounts for this disproportion? I can’t help giving an answer in Marxist terms, because I think these are the only terms in which we can understand these very complicated problems. The economic development is so powerful and dynamic in the USSR because of the progressive character of the social structure, the nationally-owned planned economy. That is the basic force of progress in Russia! It is not the good will or the enlightened mind of Mr Khrushchev. To some extent, Russia’s progress is going on despite her ruling group. To some extent, also the ruling group does something to foster progress... Forty years ago, one of the leaders of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Communist Party, Preobrazhensky, said: ‘Our economic system is far more progressive than our leadership – and it will assert itself despite our leadership.’ And this has happened now. But economic progress, important though it is as the precondition for a general advance, does not by itself guarantee the political and cultural progress. For this any nation must be educated. But to educate a nation, educators are needed – and who is going to educate the educators?

Interviewer: Certainly. This is one of the main problems. Stawar points out in his book [1] that the low level of the bureaucracy’s intelligence is a major obstacle in the way of progress in the Soviet Union.

Deutscher: Yes, but I think that Stawar took too pessimistic a view of the situation, of the prospects. Fortunately, Soviet society is now far more intelligent than its rulers. This was not so in the Stalin era. Or it was not quite so – even then, however, some elements in society were far more intelligent than the ruling group; and the latter therefore fought a struggle of life and death against them. Still, the anti-Stalinists and those on whom they could count were then an isolated minority. Now, it is different. Education has spread incomparably wider. The intelligentsia, the modern working class are far more numerous and self-confident. They force changes of policy and they force the leadership to renew itself. One of the interesting facts in recent years has been the rejuvenation of the party hierarchy and of the ruling and managerial groups. The places of people in their fifties and sixties have been taken, to a great extent, by much, much younger people, by many in their thirties, who have not been brought up in the Stalin school and have not suffered from the traumas of the Great Purge.

Interviewer: Do you have in mind people of the type of... Polyanski?

Deutscher: I would rather avoid names of party leaders – one knows too little about each of them personally. Take Yevtushenko, as the poetic spokesman of this generation.

Interviewer: Surely, he does not belong to the bureaucracy?

Deutscher: I am speaking of the new generation at large, which imposes its own standards and its own way of thinking on the bureaucracy, which enters the bureaucracy and changes its composition. And Yevtushenko is not perhaps so very far removed from the young elements in the bureaucracy...

Interviewer: Well, but we got a bit far from our...

Deutscher: I hope that in this coming decade the disproportion about which I am speaking will disappear; that Russia’s economic development will undoubtedly proceed at an even quicker pace and that, standing with one foot in a new century, it will go forward with the growth of a new industrial society, which will also advance much faster politically and morally. It did not so advance in the past decade, because it was recovering from a paralysis, it could not regain command and control of its intellectual and moral capacities all at once: this takes time. We cannot be too impatient with history. Certain processes must take their time and no attempts to force them lead anywhere.

Interviewer: Do you believe in a logic of history?

Deutscher: Not in any abstract logic but in a concrete logic of history. You cannot teach high mathematics to a child of six or seven. You cannot expect a convalescent to accomplish Herculean labours. Nations, after decades of an intellectual paralysis, cannot regain their abilities overnight. Also, an economic system which tries out a certain mode of production and a certain mode of living for the first time in history, must be given some credit and some time before it can produce the things which it set out to produce. I believe that it is going to produce them. I am not for quietism. I am not arguing for any passive waiting for what history may produce, because – obviously – men make history. But men can make it only at a tempo which accords with their abilities and with the circumstances in which they act.

Interviewer: Let me ask you a question about the present conflict between the USSR and China. Would you, as a biographer of Stalin, say that the roots of the conflict go back to Stalin’s days? Or is it a conflict of a very new, recent nature?

Deutscher: In some respects the conflict dates back to Stalin’s days, but in the main, it is a new phenomenon – a new alignment. To identify Maoism with Stalinism will not do. The Chinese also, whether they know it or not, represent a certain aspect of de-Stalinisation. Mao Tse Tung was never a Stalinist in the sense in which Khrushchev was. His recent flirtations with Stalinist orthodoxy are purely tactical, purely opportunistic; he sought to create for himself some echo in Russia, by appealing to Stalinism.

Interviewer: There were charges of Trotskyism against him as well.

Deutscher: And he charges Khrushchev with Trotskyism... There is some grain of truth, or a little more, in these charges on both sides.

Interviewer: Would you then say that this is a new, an entirely new kind of a...

Deutscher: It is a new alignment; yet not entirely new. De-Stalinisation is being carried out by halves, as it were, one half in Russia, another in China. In the internal regime of the USSR, de-Stalinisation is far more advanced than in China. This is understandable: Russia is much more of a modern society, far more advanced economically and in education; China shows once again that Stalinism was not a matter of chance, that it was not just a whim or the devilish creation of one evil man, it corresponded to the backwardness of society at a certain stage of development. To the extent to which the Chinese regime resembles Stalinism, it reflects the backwardness of Chinese society, but in the militancy of its Communism...

Interviewer: It resembles more Trotskyism...

Deutscher: Yes. In its revolutionary ardour which does not bow to diplomatic expediency, Maoism resembles more Trotskyism.

Interviewer: But do you think that the Chinese are evaluating the international situation in a realistic way, or perhaps their Trotskyism is an echo of...

Deutscher: Let me say this: Mao’s so-called Trotskyism is a rather crude version of the original. Trotskyism was sophisticated, European; it understood the West. It made many mistakes also, but Trotsky’s mind embraced the world. Mao’s doesn’t. But whether this is so or not, there is a certain – how should I put it? – a certain unopportunistic quality, a certain revolutionary integrity in Maoism.

Interviewer: Well, it depends again, what do you mean by revolutionary. If you mean radical, yes. Yet in some cases, at least I believe, revolution can be carried out with peaceful methods. As a matter of fact, this is one of the main matters of contention between the Soviet Union and China.

Deutscher: I don’t think that these are the real points of controversy. These are red herrings... The real issue is whether one should subordinate, whether Russia has the right to subordinate the interests of the labour movement and of foreign Communism to one country’s diplomatic calculations or ‘line’. That is the real problem. I do not think that Khrushchev believes that the Communists will ever take power by peaceful means in France, Germany or in Italy, whatever he says about it; and I do not think Mao believes that the French or the American Communists should call workers to arms within any near future.

Interviewer: Do you, then, blame mainly the Russians for the deterioration of the Russo-Chinese relations?

Deutscher: I don’t blame either of them – I am an outsider. I simply analyse a process without apportioning blame or praise.

Interviewer: Do you think that the international Communist movement or – let’s put it even widely – the cause of socialism would have any advantages out of the Sino-Russian conflict?

Deutscher: I think that in one respect this conflict is all to the good. It reopens in the Communist movement something that movement needs most: debate. There are many people, former Communists, who put a cross on that movement long ago and said: nothing good could be expected from it. Well, if anything good can still come out of the Communist movement, and I believe some good has come out and may yet come out of it, if politically and morally the Communist movement can still be creative, then on one condition only: if it relearns free debate, free discussion. The controversy between the two Big Brothers helps very many small brothers to open their mouths.

Interviewer: What do you think, why would Gomułka prevent Khrushchev from taking the debate into the open? That is, why would Gomułka try to moderate Khrushchev and not to give his unqualified support to an open rift? At least this is what was reported about him.

Deutscher: [Amused] I am not a Gomułkist and I think Gomułka is no better than Khrushchev. (This implies, of course, that I recognise his merits.) I don’t think Gomułka is more democratic. Gomułka is, unfortunately, also a product of the Stalinist school, he has also been a victim of Stalinism, like your Kádár.

Interviewer: I don’t quite like the comparison.

Deutscher: Well, I don’t think there is much difference in quality between them, there is a difference in circumstances. I mean, Kádár could have been in Gomułka’s place, or Gomułka in Kádár’s place. They belong to the same family, I have known them from home: Gomułka had been brought up in the Stalinist school of thought and he reacts against it from within. It is all to the good, but he still shows the marks of product: ‘made in Stalinism’. He is not one who favours open debate. Far from it.

Interviewer: But he tolerates it.

Deutscher: No, he doesn’t.

Interviewer: In some cases, he did tolerate.

Deutscher: There is more open debate in Russia now, than in Poland.

Interviewer: All right, but this is a very recent development. One of the last two years.

Deutscher: Allow me to reassert that de-Stalinisation goes much deeper, is far more thorough in Russia than either in Poland or in Hungary. In Poland there was an outburst, or what we call in Polish a ‘straw-fire’, you know, a Slavonic straw-fire, but that has burnt out and, well, there are still some warm ashes left, they are still very warm, one can still warm one’s hands and one’s heart over them, but it’s ashes...

Interviewer: And there are no diamonds under them?

Deutscher: Maybe there are some. I don’t want to sound deprecatory – perhaps there are some diamonds. But in Russia it’s a tremendous, though slow moving, flame. This reminds me very much of an idea which Engels had when – some time after the Polish rising of 1863 – he wrote to Marx about Poland and Russia. Marx was a great ‘Polonophile’, and – as you know – he founded the First International on the occasion of a meeting of solidarity with the Polish rising of 1863. Engels, of course, participated in the venture and had also been a ‘Polonophile’: they supported the Poles as the enemies of their enemy, of the gendarme of Europe, Tsarist Russia... Yet after some years, Engels wrote to Marx that perhaps the hopes they both had placed on the Poles were a bit exaggerated: ‘There is not much to be expected in the way of revolutionary advance from the Poles.’

Interviewer: Not of socialist revolutionary advance.

Deutscher: Yes. At the same time, so much was happening in the revolutionary life of Russia, new elements appeared – and Russia, Engels pointed out, was much more important for the future than Poland. It was a cruel thing to say, especially, as both he and Marx were ‘Polonophiles'; but Engels had a hard, sober look at reality and saw that Poland was over her ears in a kind of a nationalist romanticism which was completely alien to the problems of the age.

Interviewer: But wouldn’t you think that in certain cases national romanticism can be transformed into very valuable realism? I think of the Yugoslav example...

Deutscher: But it needs to be transformed!

Interviewer: Don’t you think that Yugoslavia is an important factor?

Deutscher: Less than it appears. I know that this is a rather unpopular view. Now, Yugoslavia was a most important factor at a certain period, when its leaders were the only Communists who could say and said against Stalin what so many others in East Europe thought and felt and could not say because of the positions in which they were. But one flaw marks the Yugoslav achievement – extreme provincialism. Extreme self-centredness. This self-centredness had its great progressive value at a time when it gave the Yugoslavs strength to oppose Stalin. But it has lost its relevance since... With the progress of de-Stalinisation in Russia what can we still learn from the Yugoslavs?

Interviewer: Could you tell me now, how many changes were expected by you, or by any other expert of Communist affairs, say, a week after the death of Stalin?

Deutscher: Well, let me say pro domo sua, [2] that I am not an ‘expert’ on Communist affairs. I am a Marxist and never ceased to be one, as is clear from my writings. What was expected in the week of Stalin’s death? It was very nearly the consensus of opinion among the so-called experts in the West that Stalin’s death meant very little, or nothing, that little or nothing would change in Russia. I hope I shall not sound immodest when I say that mine was then a solitary voice, I was the only ‘expert ‘who stated emphatically that this was the end of a whole epoch, and that tremendous changes were beginning in Russia.

Interviewer: Did you state this view in an article?

Deutscher: I did it, inter alia, in the obituary of Stalin which I dictated over the telephone to the Manchester Guardian, before Stalin’s death was actually announced. This improvised obituary bore the title ‘The End of Stalinism: Soviet Union’s Coming Crisis’. I compared the situation with the conditions in Russia at the time of Lenin’s death, 29 years earlier, and I said:

Stalin’s death, like Lenin’s, will thus coincide with the accumulation of many elements making for an internal crisis, a crisis in the long run much more important than the immediate jockeying for power in the Kremlin. The development of that crisis may for some time yet remain invisible to Western eyes.

And I concluded:

While Lenin was on his death-bed, the revolution was evolving towards an autocracy and withdrawing into its national shell. While Stalin is wrestling with death, the Soviet people seem to be sick with the autocracy, and the revolution has long since broken out of its national shell... Stalinism has been half dead even before Stalin has died. [3]

I elaborated this analysis and forecast in many essays, articles and a book published in 1953, and later.

Interviewer: Let me ask another question. It seems that you have foreseen the succession crisis and have had a notion of the changes which have since occurred in the USSR. Were there some elements which came as a surprise to you?

Deutscher: As I said before, what surprised me was the disproportion between the tempo of de-Stalinisation in various fields. Not the direction in which things have moved, but their pace. The slow pace in intellectual, literary, cultural affairs, in the moral-political atmosphere. I would have expected by now an open political debate to be possible in Russia. In this respect I was mistaken.

Interviewer: You were perhaps referring back to the tradition of the 1920s?

Deutscher: Yes, to some extent.

Interviewer: And this is... one could understand your expectations on the basis of your previous experiences.

Deutscher: You mean to say that I was looking backward, not forward? Yes, I agree, I was looking backward, but I think I also was looking forward. Sometimes the looking backward is looking forward. In historical development, when new things come, they always link up with something that happened in the past. Nothing comes out of a vacuum. I still think that anyone who wants to understand what is going on in Communism today must study and understand what went on in it during the 1920s, because this was the great formative period of various trends in Communism, some of which won immediately and came to the top, while others existed, so to say, deep under the surface, subterraneously... I believe that in politics – like in nature – nothing is lost and nothing vanishes altogether. These trends, Trotskyism, Bukharinism, have run like streams that go deep under the earth and although they seem to run out or run into sand, they...

Interviewer: They reappear in new forms.

Deutscher: Quite. I don’t expect Bukharinism, or Trotskyism, or Zinovievism to reappear in the forms in which they existed, but I believe that there is a certain continuity of thought in human history, and especially in socialist revolution.

Interviewer: Now, after having looked backward, could we look forward? Could you sum up your expectations for the next few years, what is going to happen – I am not asking for a prophecy or anything like that – I'd like you to make a rational evaluation of the perspectives of the present situation. Do you think, for instance, that Togliatti’s ‘polycentric’ trend will gain momentum?

Deutscher: Well, a Schlagwort like this is rarely illuminating. We are witnessing a chronic controversy between China and Russia, and a tendency of other Communist parties to line up either on Russia’s or China’s side, or to take independent attitudes, or to sit on the fence... Even such usually meek parties as the British Communist Party try to sit on the fence and develop their own views and the Scandinavian Communists are doing this, and the Latin Americans, and the Japanese. You already have polycentrism as a fact. Yet polycentrism in itself is not a perspective, a solution, all right, it is very good that there should be as many centres of thought as possible...

Interviewer: What is the solution then?

Deutscher: The next step is a sort of polycentrism within every Communist party. I mean to say: there must be a plurality of thoughts and ideas within the Communist movement, going through every Communist party. I don’t mean to say that I expect the Communist parties to become so tolerant as to tolerate anti-Communism within their ranks...

Interviewer: What about Social-Democracy? Should they tolerate Social-Democrats?

Deutscher: That’s a different question.

Interviewer: I thought this will link up with the next question you wanted to speak about and that is the new class.

Deutscher: Well... Let’s go back to Russia. To speak about tolerating Social-Democracy in Russia is a completely unreal question. In abstracto, I would say that after nearly fifty years, the Russian Revolution should be able to tolerate any party. But after nearly fifty years, a Social-Democratic party can hardly exist in Russia. It is just as if you wanted to resurrect in the England of today the parties that had existed before the Wars of the Roses! Social-Democracy makes sense only within the capitalist order, because the ‘ideological’ difference between the Social-Democrats and the Communists is or was whether capitalism can be overthrown only by revolution, or whether it can be transformed peacefully into socialism.

Interviewer: All right, let us speak about Democratic Socialism. This is what I really had in mind, anyway.

Deutscher: If what you have in mind is freedom of debate, freedom of criticism, freedom of expression, freedom of association, well, I think this is what Communism must accept, will accept, and is driven to accept! The single-party system isn’t a solution, it is only a state of siege during and after a revolution. But the state of siege is not one in which the revolution can fully develop; it has lasted immensely long in Russia, long enough... I believe that Russia is ripe, or nearly ripe even for a multiparty system. By this I do not mean anything like a reproduction of the multiparty systems of the bourgeois West, but a political regime in which there would be room for various trends and various programmes all based on the foundations of the revolution...

Interviewer: On socialism. But that is very near to the propositions of other people, who are being labelled ‘Revisionist’ in the USSR and in Eastern Europe.

Deutscher: One need not be a revisionist for that – and I am not a revisionist in the sense – one has to be only a Marxist. After all, before Stalin’s days, the single-party system had never been a Marxist ideal! It would not have occurred to any Marxist that this was a Marxist solution. That the single-party system was imposed upon Russia by the necessities of Civil War and other circumstances, first as a provisorium and then as an indefinitely prolonged provisorium – that is true. Nevertheless, I still believe that in the historical perspective that was a tragic provisorium, a provisorium that has, long, long overstayed its time.

Interviewer: And which developed into an autocracy.

Deutscher: Which developed into a negation of every Marxist ideal of a revolutionary regime! But I think the time is coming, when... It may well be that what is coming won’t take the form of a multiparty system. What is important is that people should have the freedom of expression and association. That is the classical old slogan of bourgeois revolution which has retained its validity in the proletarian revolution as well. Everyone should be free to criticise whomever he likes, and should be free to associate with other people who think likewise... and expound ideas in periodicals and newspapers, from platforms, etc...

Interviewer: Yes, but this was a very...

Deutscher: But! But for that a high degree of the consolidation of the revolutionary regime is needed. Frankly, I don’t think that even Poland and Hungary are ripe for this today. I think, Russia is.

Interviewer: It would surprise me if the multiparty system were introduced first in Russia.

Deutscher: Yes, I think a genuine freedom of expression and association may come earlier in Russia than in Poland and Hungary.

Interviewer: Mr Deutscher, you wanted to speak about the new class. Do you want to speak about it in general, or in Russia, or about Djilas’ concept of the new class?

Deutscher: I want to speak about it in general; but I must admit I couldn’t help smiling when you mentioned Djilas’s concept. As a student of history, I know that this concept has been ‘in the air’ at least since 1921, when it was first expressed by the Workers’ Opposition in Russia, expressed in a much more sophisticated and profound way than by Djilas, or by anyone in the West. Then, throughout the history of the Trotskyist opposition this problem was frequently discussed. In 1926 none other than Karl Radek maintained that the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union had already developed into a new class. (He later gave up this view.) Compared with a Radek, Rakovsky and others, Djilas is a very poor writer and a very minor theoretician.

Interviewer: Well, perhaps his merit was the rediscovery and redevelopment of this theme.

Deutscher: I doubt it. He only found much more resonance for this view in the West, and also in Eastern Europe, where disillusionment with Stalinism produced the echo. But you see, in the 1920s and 1930s, the West wasn’t at all interested in such debates going on in Russia and elsewhere, no matter how profound and illuminating they were, because the predominant Western interest in these problems stems far more often from power-political interest than from intellectual curiosity.

People so often understand ideas and respond to them only when some of their interests make them do so. However, I think that what this decade after Stalin has disproved is precisely the idea that the bureaucracy has developed into a new class. This decade has shown that the bureaucracy is something much more formless than it was thought to be, that it lacks a social spine of its own, that it is not really a coherent social organism, about which one could speak as a social class.

Interviewer: But this must be true mainly for the USSR and less true for other countries.

Deutscher: I am speaking about the Soviet Union. In other countries, I think, the processes are far less distinct. I want to mention one aspect of the problem, which formed part of my prognostication ten years ago: I forecast then (for example, in my book Russia after Stalin, 1953), that the post-Stalin era will bring about a revival of egalitarianism in the USSR. Again, I was attacked and even ridiculed for this forecast. That the revival of egalitarianism is a moral, cultural and political fact now, no one denies any more. What is more important is that it is also an economic fact – and few people here realise this, for to realise it one has to study the recent reforms and changes in the wage-structure in the Soviet Union. These changes have consisted in an elimination of the tremendous material discrepancy inherited from the Stalin era: the discrepancy between wages and salaries of the top people and of the average and low-paid workers. Ceilings have been put on high salaries and some of these salaries have been reduced, while low wages and salaries have been steadily raised. A great deal of inequality remains, and is bound to remain as an economic necessity. What is important is the trend, the tendency of the development – whether, in what direction, are social relations developing? During this decade they were developing towards equality, or to put it more accurately, they were moving away from the inequality of the Stalin era. This, in itself, indicates a retreat on the part of the privileged bureaucracy. Everything indicates that this tendency will grow in strength, and that the coming decade is going to bring a further intensified movement towards equality.

Interviewer: Would you say that ...

Deutscher: [Unperturbed] In a way, this is an economic necessity. With the development of modern technology and a modern industrialised society, the old divisions between the skilled and unskilled workers tend to vanish, or become blurred. Technology in itself is a great leveller, an equaliser. I am not ascribing the growth in equality to the good will or noble intentions... of the Soviet leaders, or of the bureaucracy. Technology, combined with a planned and nationalised economy, is a great leveller. The constant expansion of the planned economy means a constant change in the social structure of the nation. All social classes are in a state of flux; there are no limits to popular education. This being so, since popular education is expanding and will expand indefinitely, it breaks down the divisions between groups and classes and equalises society, when society is not kept in inequality and divided by property.

Interviewer: Don’t you think that there is a possibility of putting the clock back in the Soviet Union? That when Khrushchev goes, his successor... is it out of question that this development could be stopped?

Deutscher: Out of question. I don’t rule out episodical relapses – there have been such relapses in this past decade also – they make two steps forward and one step backward, or sometimes two steps forward and one and a half backward. But the net result of these ten years in the USSR has been a very great reduction in inequality and oppression; and I foresee a further, accelerated reduction of these in the coming decade. Here is something that non-Marxist analysts tend to overlook and which is tremendously important: despite Stalinism, the egalitarian tradition of the October Revolution and its egalitarian aspirations have survived in the USSR and have revived in the minds of millions! They had been suppressed and repressed in the Stalin era, but they are coming back and they...

Interviewer: They will change the face of the Soviet regime in a positive way.

Deutscher: Yes.

Interviewer: I would agree with you. I was interested in your remark about the revolution being genuine in Soviet Russia. Would you think that in Eastern Europe it was less genuine and if so, is there a possibility that it would become genuine?

Deutscher: There is a possibility... In 1948, when I was finishing my book on Stalin, and even earlier in 1944-45, I was describing the revolutions in Eastern Europe as ‘revolutions from above and from without’. I was probably the first to apply this term to the upheaval in Eastern Europe. I said that these were ‘revolutions imported in the turrets of Soviets tanks: semi-conquest, semi-revolution’. Well, even in those years, I was often wondering whether it was possible that revolution brought from above or imposed upon a country from outside, something that was semi-conquest, semi-revolution, should gradually develop into a revolution, acceptable to society. I hope it can, but it hasn’t done so yet.

Interviewer: Don’t you think that such a development would be possible only through appealing to the genuine democratic and left-wing traditions, which are latently alive in Hungary?

Deutscher: Yes, of course, this is or should be an important element. Unfortunately, in our times class struggle and the logic of class struggle have been deformed and distorted – degenerated – by the fact that the class struggle has become transformed into the rivalry and clash of power blocs. Therefore it is the struggle between the power blocs that dictates the course of these things. If revolutions had developed in every nation by their own logic and by reflecting the balance of social forces in every country, this would not have happened... but revolutions had been imposed upon some countries and suppressed in others (in East and West alike), regardless of the local balance of social forces. It was the balance of international power that decided the issue in each case, and that, of course, was the tragedy of Hungary. Therefore, in Hungary also, what was revolution and what was counter-revolution was determined by the balance of international power, not by the balance of social forces in the country.

Interviewer: Yes. Well, Mr Deutscher, I think we had ...

Deutscher: Allow me, please, to add a brief remark on the subject of the new class. I think that what we are going to have is a further diminution of bureaucracy in Russia, of bureaucratic privilege and arbitrariness. I don’t deny that at present bureaucracy is a privileged social stratum – what I am saying is that it is not and cannot be a self-perpetuating social class. That it isn’t, in the Marxist sense, a real exploiter of Soviet society. Earlier in this interview, I quoted Preobrazhensky, this great theorist of the Trotskyist opposition in Russia in the 1920s, he was in opposition even before Trotsky. I quoted him as saying that ‘our’ – the Soviet – ‘economic system is more progressive than our political leadership’. He also discussed the problem of bureaucratic privileges and asked whether these would result in the formation of a new class. He replied with a very interesting argument. We have, he said, inequality within the working class, too, the inequality between the skilled and the unskilled men, the inequality in wages. But do skilled engineers form a special social class, different from the unskilled workers, the lumberjacks? No, they are various layers in the same social class. In the same sense, he argued, under a publicly-owned economy, the bureaucracy does not form a separate social class. Inequality there is, but that does not mean that there exists a different class, whose interests are, in the long run, opposed to those of the national economy and of the masses of the workers (yet, these interests conflict in the short run).

Interviewer: Could we now sum up what you have said: on the whole, you are expecting a great deal of change from the next few years, from the next decade, in the Soviet Union ...

Deutscher: That’s right.

Interviewer: ... on the basis of what has happened since the death of Stalin. Thank you, Mr Deutscher.


1. Andrzej Stawar (Edward Janus, 1900-1961) joined the Polish Communist Party in 1923, and was an independent Marxist after leaving the party in the mid-1930s. He worked in the Polish Ministry of Culture and Arts after the Second World War, but his insistence upon criticising Stalinism led to his writings being officially banned from the late 1940s, and he was restricted to translation work, mainly of Russian literary classics. He was a member of the Crooked Wheel Club during the post-Stalin ‘Thaw’ and contributed to Dialogu during 1956-58 and Nowej Kulturze during 1958-60. Stawar’s book referred to here is probably Pisma ostatnie, a selection of his writings published in Paris in 1961 – MIA.

2. Pro domo sua – for one’s home, that is, for the benefit of one’s own interests – MIA.

3. Isaac Deutscher, ‘An Obituary on Stalin’, Manchester Guardian, 6 March 1953; included in Ironies of History: Essays on Contemporary Communism (London, 1966), pp181-86 – MIA.