The Future of Russian Society

The Future of Russian Society

The views of Isaac Deutscher, author of biographies of Stalin and Trotsky, on the future developments of Russian society have already occasioned much controversy. The article printed below presents what is perhaps the most systematic and concise exposition of his theories. It is the original version, printed here in English for the first time, of an article that appeared in different form in the French magazine, L’Esprit. Two comments on Mr. Deutscher’s article follow. There will be further comments in the next DISSENT. Mr. Deutscher will, of course, be invited to reply to his critics.

My book “Russia, What Next?,” which I wrote and concluded within a few weeks after Stalin’s death, is appearing in a French translation shortly before the first anniversary of that event. This is a short interval; yet it has been crowded with startling events, and during it Russia has moved quite a distance from where she stood on March 6, 1953. It is enough to recall what some of the best known commentators and experts predicted at that time, to realize how far indeed Russia is now from that point of departure. Some of the experts, for instance, argued, not without superficial logic, that in a police state the police was the decisive factor of power, and that consequently Beria, its head, was by definition Stalin’s real successor, sure to oust Malenkov and Molotov. Other reputable analysts assured us stolidly that there was and could be “nothing new in the East,” because Stalin had settled beforehand the issue of the succession and because his heirs, tied by the strongest bonds of solidarity, saw eye to eye with one another over all major issues of policy.

The most obtuse Stalinists and the bitterest anti-Communists expressed this view with equal self-confidence. Curiously enough, this was also the view held even later by so intelligent a writer as Mr. George Kennan and expressed in his critique of my book. I know of another very shrewd man, the Moscow Ambassador of a great Western power, who spent the whole evening of July 9, 1953, arguing that my analysis of the Russian situation, given in “Russia, What Next?” was utterly wrong because it presupposed a cleavage within the Soviet ruling group. He, the Ambassador, knew from close observation and long study that no such cleavage existed: that Malenkov, Beria, Molotov, and Khrushchev thought and acted in unison, knowing full well that their chances of survival depended on their absolute unity. Having thus destroyed my analysis and hypothesis once for all, His Excellency went to bed only to awaken next morning to the dramatic news about Beria’s downfall. . . .

I know well where my own work might gain from some corrections, and what revision would be advisable in the light of recent events. But such corrections and revisions would not yet go beyond retouching a paragraph here and changing slightly the emphasis of my arg...