Skip to main content

Daniel Bensaïd (1997): Stalinism against communism

11 June 2024
Work at White Sea Canal (Belomorkanal) in the Soviet Union (from october 16, 1931 until august 30, 1933).Most of the work was done manually by forced labour

This text was originally published in 1997 as a supplement to Rouge. Writing in response to The Black Book of Communism, Bensaïd discusses the Stalinist counter-revolution.i

As long ago as 1995, François Furet proposed as the tombstone of a vanished communism his massive volume The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century.ii In 1997, a team of historians coordinated by Stéphane Courtois published an even more monumental work, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression.iii Eight hundred pages listing the crimes of communism around the world and counting the corpses littering its history. This time, the aim was to bring communism out of its grave and put it on trial. Out of fear, perhaps, that it still haunts the world...

Nazism had its Nuremberg. ‘What are we waiting for to organize a Nuremberg for Communism?’, asks our historian, who makes himself a judge and delivers his verdict: Communism, intrinsically linked to Stalinism, was at least as criminal as Nazism. This is a formidable enterprise in obscuring reference points and disorienting consciences, at the end of which the century is no more than a pile of corpses, the October Revolution a horrible blunder and the Communist ideal a disastrous monstrosity.

If history is not to be reduced to repression alone, if reason is not to give way to rage, and if we are not to confuse victims and executioners, we must first look back at October, to study it and to draw lessons for the future. An October far too great to be ground down by some historian enthroned as an inquisitor:

For such a phenomenon in human history is not to be forgotten, because it has revealed a tendency and a faculty in human nature for improvement such that no politician, affecting wisdom, might have conjured out of the course of things hitherto existing, and one which nature and freedom alone, united in the human race in conformity with inner principles of right, could have promised. But as far as time is concerned, it can promise this only indefinite and as a contingent event.

But even if the end viewed in connection with this event should now not be attained, even if the revolution or reform of a national constitution should finally miscarry, or, after some time has relapsed, everything should relapse into its former rut (as politicians now predict). That philosophical prophecy still would lose nothing of its force. For that event is too important, too much interwoven with the interest of humanity, and its influence too widely propagated in all areas of the world not to be recalled on any favorable occasion by the nations which would then be roused to a repetition of new efforts of this kind.iv

In 1798, at the height of the reaction, Immanuel Kant wrote of the French Revolution that such an event, beyond its failures and setbacks, cannot be forgotten. For, in this tear in time, there was a glimpse, however fleeting, of the promise of a liberated humanity. Kant was right. Our problem today is to know whether the great promise attached to the proper name of October, this shaking of the world, this glimmer of light emerging from the darkness at the hour of the first world carnage, can also be ‘remembered’ by the peoples. What is at stake is not a ‘duty to remember’ (an overused notion today), but the work and struggle of remembrance.

The eightieth anniversary of the October 1917 revolution risked going unnoticed. The publication of the Black Book of Communism will at least have had the merit of bringing the ‘October affair’, one of those great quarrels that can never be reconciled, back into the spotlight. Clearly stated by Stéphane Courtois, the book's mastermind, the aim of the operation was to establish strict continuity and perfect coherence between Communism and Stalinism, between Lenin and Stalin, between the radiance of the initial revolution and the icy twilight of the Gulag: ‘Stalinist and Communist, it is the same thing’, he wrote in the Journal du Dimanche (November 9, 1997).

It is crucial to give a straight answer to the question posed by the great Soviet historian Mikhail Guefter:

This is the problem we have to untangle: is this march of events indeed continuous, or are we talking about two series of events that are intrinsically linked, but which nevertheless refer to different lives, to two distinct political and moral worlds? If we fail to untangle this problem, we could inadvertently become dangerous even today. For the unreflected past reanimates the worst prejudices and prevents historical awareness from entering the political arena.v

A decisive question, in fact, which concerns both the intelligibility of the century now drawing to a close, and our commitments in the tormented century that lies ahead: if Stalinism was, as some maintain or concede, no more than a ‘deviation’ or ‘tragic extension’ of the communist project, we would have to draw the most radical conclusions about the project itself.

A fin de siècle trial

This is exactly what the promoters of the Black Book are aiming at. Stéphane Courtois' cold-war tone, and that of certain articles in the press, is surprisingly anachronistic. While after the disintegration of the Soviet Union capitalism, modestly renamed ‘market democracy’, eagerly proclaims itself to be without alternative and the absolute winner at the end of the century, this relentlessness in fact reveals a great repressed fear: the fear of seeing the wounds and vices of the system all the more glaring now that, with its bureaucratic double, it has lost its best alibi. So it's important to preemptively demonize anything that might suggest another possible future.

It's at the very moment when its Stalinist counterfeit disappears in its collapse, when its bureaucratic confiscation ends, that the specter of communism can once again come back to haunt the world. 

How many zealous former Stalinists, having failed to distinguish between Stalinism and Communism, ceased to be Communists when they ceased to be Stalinists, and rallied to the liberal cause with the fervor of converts? Stalinism and communism are not only distinct, but irreducibly antagonistic. And remembering this difference is not the smallest duty we owe to the many communist victims of Stalinism.

Stalinism is not a variant of communism, but the proper name for bureaucratic counter-revolution. It makes no difference that sincere militants, caught up in the urgency of the struggle against Nazism, or contending with the consequences of the global crisis of the interwar period, did not immediately realize this, and continued to generously offer their torn existences. To answer Mikhail Guefter's question, we are dealing with ‘two distinct and irreconcilable political and moral worlds’. This answer is the antithesis of Stéphane Courtois’ conclusions in The Black Book.

Courtois sometimes denies having called for a ‘Nuremberg for Communism’, probably embarrassed to join in a formula so dear to Jean-Marie Le Pen. And yet, the staging of the Black Book tends not only to erase the differences between Nazism and Communism, but also to trivialize those by suggesting that a strictly ‘objective’ and accounting comparison turns out in the former's favor: 25 million dead versus 100 million, 20 years of terror versus 60. The first edition of the book came covered in a ribbon loudly declaring a100 million deaths. The authors' count comes to 85 million. With 15 million difference, mr. Courtois is not far off. He handles corpses with a spade. There's something cynical and deeply disrespectful of the victims in this macabre wholesale accounting, of mixing up countries, eras, causes and camps.

In the case of the Soviet Union, it comes to a total of 20 million victims, although we don't know exactly what this figure covers. In his contribution to the Black Book, Nicolas Werth corrects the current rough estimates downwards. He asserts that historians, on the basis of accurate archives, now put the number of victims of the great purges of 1936-1938 at 690,000. This is already enormous, beyond horrifying. He also arrives at an annual average of around two million Gulag inmates, of whom a larger proportion than previously thought may have been released, replaced by new arrivals. To reach the total of 20 million dead, we would therefore need to add to the figures for the purges and the Gulag, those of the two great famines (five million in 1921-1922 and six million in 1932-1933), and those of the civil war, which the authors of the Black Book cannot demonstrate, and for good reason, were ‘crimes of communism’, in other words, coldly decided extermination.

With such ideological procedures, it wouldn't be very difficult to write a Red Book of Capital's crimes, adding up the victims of colonial plunder and populicide, world wars, the martyrology of labor, epidemics and endemic famines, not just yesterday, but today. In the 20th century alone, the number of victims could easily run into the hundreds of millions. In the too-often forgotten second part of her trilogy, Hannah Arendt saw modern imperialism as the matrix of totalitarianism, and the colonial concentration camps in Africa as the prelude to many other

If it is no longer a question of examining specific regimes, periods or conflicts, but of incriminating an idea, how many deaths over the centuries can be attributed to Christianity and the Gospels, to liberalism and laissez-faire? Even if we accept Mr. Courtois's fantastic accounts, capitalism would have cost Russia far more than twenty million deaths in two world wars this century than Stalinism.

The crimes of Stalinism are so appalling, so massive, so horrific, that there's no need to add more to them. Nut unless you deliberately want to blur the lines of history, as we saw on the occasion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution, when certain historians readily blamed the revolution not only for the Terror or the Vendée, but also for the deaths of the White Terror, the deaths in the war against intervention, and even for the victims of the Napoleonic wars!

That it is legitimate and useful to compare Nazism and Stalinism is nothing new—didn't Trotsky refer to Hitler and Stalin as ‘twin stars’? But comparison is not understanding, and differences matter as much as similarities. The Nazi regime fulfilled its program and kept its sinister promises. The Stalinist regime was built in opposition to the communist project of emancipation. To establish itself, it had to crush its militants. How many dissidents and opponents in the interwar period illustrate this tragic reversal? The suicides of Mayakovsky, Joffé, Tucholsky, Benjamin and so many others?vii Can we cite Nazi crises of conscience in the face of the ruins of a betrayed and disfigured ideal? Hitler’s Germany had no need, like Stalin’s Russia had, to transform itself into a ‘country of the great lie’: the Nazis were proud of their work while the Stalinist bureaucrats could not look themselves in the face in the mirror of original communism.

By diluting concrete history in time and space, by deliberately depoliticizing it, by choice of method (Nicolas Werth frankly admits to ‘putting political history in the background’ to better trace the linear thread of a decontextualized history of repression), all that remains is a theater of shadows. It is no longer a question of trying a regime, an era or identified executioners, but an idea: the idea that kills. In this genre, certain journalists have had a field day. Jacques Amalric records with satisfaction ‘the reality engendered by a deadly utopia’.viii Philippe Cusin invents a conceptual heredity: ‘it is in the genes of communism: it is natural to kill’.ix When will come to conceptual euthanasia of the crime gene?

Putting on trial, rather than facts or specific crimes, an idea inevitably establishes collective guilt and a crime of intent. According to Courtois, the court of history is not only retroactive. It becomes dangerously preventive, when he regrets that the ‘work of mourning the idea of revolution is still far from complete’ and expresses indignation that ‘openly revolutionary groups are active and express themselves in complete legality’!

Repentance is certainly fashionable. That Furet or Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, or Annie Kriegel or Courtois himself have never finished their work of mourning, that as inverted Stalinists they drag their bad conscience around like a ball and chain, that their atonement is baked in resentment, that is their business. But those who remained communists without ever celebrating the Little Father of the Peoples or chanting the Little Red Book of the Great Helmsman, what do you expect them to repent for, Mr. Courtois? No doubt they were sometimes mistaken. But, seeing the world as it is, they have certainly not been mistaken in their cause, nor in their adversary.

To understand the tragedies of the century that is drawing to a close, and to draw useful lessons for the future, we need to go beyond the ideological stage, to leave behind the shadows that agitate it, to delve into the depths of history and follow the logic of political conflicts in which the choice between several possibilities is decided. 

Revolution or coup d’État?

A critical review of the Russian Revolution, on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of October, raises a great number of questions, both historical and programmatic. The stakes are high. What is at stake is nothing less than our capacity for a future open to revolutionary action, for not all pasts have the same future.

Yet, even before entering into the mass of new documents made accessible by the opening of the Soviet archives (which will undoubtedly shed new light and renew controversy), the discussion comes up against the dominant ideological cliches, whose hold is well illustrated by the recent consensus of obituary tributes to François Furet. In these times of counter-reform and reaction, it is hardly surprising that the names of Lenin and Trotsky are becoming as unpronounceable as those of Robespierre or Saint-Just were under the Restoration.

To begin clearing the way, we need to take up three ideas that are widely accepted today:

1. Rather than the name of a revolution, October is the emblematic name of a conspiracy or a minority coup d'état that imposed its authoritarian conception of social organization from above, for the benefit of a new elite.

2. The entire development of the Russian Revolution, and its totalitarian misadventures, would spring from a single germ, as a kind of original sin, in the revolutionary idea (or ‘passion’, according to Furet): history is then reduced to the genealogy and fulfillment of this perverse idea, disregarding the great real convulsions, the colossal events, and the uncertain outcome of any struggle.

3. Finally, the Russian Revolution would be condemned as a monstrosity for having been born in a ‘premature’ historical birth, of an attempt to force its course and rhythm, when the ‘objective conditions’ for overcoming capitalism had not been met: instead of having the wisdom to ‘self-limit’ their project, the Bolshevik leaders were the active agents of this setback.

A truly revolutionary elan

The Russian Revolution was not the result of a conspiracy, but the explosion, in the context of war, of the accumulated contradictions of the autocratic conservatism of the Tsarist regime. At the turn of the century, Russia was a society at an impasse, an exemplary case of ‘uneven and combined development’, a country both dominant and dependent, combining the feudal traits of a countryside where serfdom had been officially abolished for less than half a century, and the traits of the most concentrated urban industrial capitalism. A great power, it was technologically and financially subordinate (the well remembered Russian loan!). The list of grievances presented by Father Gapon during the 1905 revolution is a veritable record of the misery reigning in the land of the Tsars. Attempts at reform were quickly blocked by the conservatism of the oligarchy, the stubbornness of the despot and the inconsistency of a bourgeoisie buffeted by the nascent workers’ movement. The tasks of the democratic revolution thus fell to a kind of third estate in which, unlike that of the French Revolution, the modern proletariat, though a minority, was already the dynamic and forward-driving part.

It is with all this that ‘holy Russia’ could represent the ‘weak link’ in the imperialist chain. The ordeal of war ignited this powder keg.

The development of the revolutionary process between February and October 1917 clearly shows that this was not a minority conspiracy of professional agitators, but the accelerated assimilation of political experience on a mass scale, a metamorphosis of consciousness, a constant shift in the balance of power. In his masterly History of the Russian Revolutionx, Trotsky meticulously analyzes this radicalization among workers, soldiers and peasants, from union election to union election, from municipal election to municipal election. While the Bolsheviks accounted for just 13 per cent of delegates at the June Congress of Soviets, things changed rapidly after the July days and Kornilov’s attempted putsch: at the Second Congress in October they represented between 45 per cent and 60 per cent.

Far from being a coup d’état achieved by surprise, the insurrection represents the culmination and the provisional denouement of a feat of strength that had simmered all year long, during which the state of mind of the plebeian masses had always been to the left of the parties and their leaderships, not only those of the Socialist-Revolutionaries [SR], but even those of the Bolshevik Party or part of its leadership (up to and including the decision to stage an insurrection).

Historians generally agree that the October uprising was the dénouement, hardly more violent than the storming of the Bastille, of a year of decomposition of the old regime. That is why, compared to the violence we would witness since, it was not very costly in terms of human lives. This relative ‘ease’ of the Bolsheviks’ insurrectionary seizure of power illustrates the powerlessness of the Russian bourgeoisie between February and October, its inability to re-establish a state and build a modern nation out of the ruins of Tsarism. The choice was no longer between revolution and democracy, but between two authoritarian solutions: either revolution or the military dictatorship of Kornilov or someone similar.

If by revolution we mean an impetus for transformation from below, from the people’s deepest aspirations, and not the fulfillment of some brilliant plan dreamed up by an enlightened elite, then there can be no doubt that the Russian Revolution was one, in the full sense of the word, starting from the fundamental needs of peace and land. One only has to review the legislative measures taken in the first months and year of the new regime to understand that they signified a radical upheaval in property and power relations, sometimes faster than planned and desired, sometimes even beyond what was desirable, under the pressure of circumstances. Numerous books bear witness to this break in the world order (see John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the Worldxi) and its immediate international repercussions (see La Révolution d’Octobre et le mouvement ouvrier européen,xii).

Marc Ferro points out that, at the time, not many people mourned for the Tsar’s regime or its last despotxiii. Ferro insists on the contrary on the reversal of the world so characteristic of a genuine revolution, right down to the details of everyday life: in Odessa, students dictated a new history syllabus to teachers; in Petrograd, workers forced their bosses to learn ‘the new workers’ law’; in the army, soldiers invited the chaplain to their meeting to ‘give a new meaning to their lives’; in some schools, children demanded the right to learn how to box to make themselves heard and respected by the grown-ups…

The Test of the Civil War

Despite the disastrous conditions, this initial revolutionary impetus remained active during the civil war from summer 1918 onwards. In his contribution to the Black Book, Nicolas Werth provides a well-documented list of all the forces the new regime had to contend with: not just the White Armies of Kolchak and Denikin as well as the Franco-British foreign intervention, but also massive peasant uprisings against requisitioning and workers’ riots against rationing. When reading it, it is difficult to see from where the revolutionary power got the strength to defeat such powerful adversaries. It would appears as if this was the mere effect of minority terror and the enlistment in the Chekaxiv of a lumpenproletariat that was ready for anything. This explanation falls short of accounting for the organization of the Red Army and its victories in just a few months. It is more realistic to consider the proper importance of the civil war and to admit that antagonistic social forces were mercilessly pitted against each other.

According to the authors of the Black Book, the civil war was intended by the Bolsheviks, and the terror unleashed in the summer of 1918 was the original matrix of all the crimes committed since then in the name of communism. Real history, made up of conflicts, struggles, uncertainties, victories and defeats, is irreducible to this dark legend of the concept’s self-development, where the idea engenders the world.

The civil war was not intended, but foreseen. This is more than a difference in nuance. All revolutions since the French Revolution have inculcated this painful lesson: emancipation movements clash with conservative reaction; counter-revolution follows revolution like its shadow, in 1792, when Brunswick’s troops marched on Paris, in 1848 during the June massacres (on the bourgeois ferocity of the time, read Michelet, Flaubert or Renan), during the Bloody Week of 1871. Since then, this rule has never let up, from Franco's pronunciamento in 1936 to Suharto's coup d’état in 1965 (which left over 500,000 dead in Indonesia) or Pinochet’s in Chile in 1973. Like the French revolutionaries in 1792, the Russian revolutionaries did not declare civil war. Nor did they call on French and British troops to intervene and overthrow them! By the summer of 1918, Nicolas Werth reminds us, the White armies were firmly established on three fronts, and the Bolsheviks ‘controlled little more than a territory reduced to historic Muscovy’. The terror measures were taken in August-September 1918, when foreign aggression and civil war had already begun. Similarly, during the French Revolution, Danton proclaimed the Terror to channel the spontaneous popular terror that erupted with the September massacres in the face of the threat posed to Paris by the advancement of Brunswick’s coalition troops.

Nicolas Werth admits then that responsibility for the outbreak of civil war does not lie with the revolution. If the horrors of the civil war are from now on shared between ‘reds’ and ‘whites’, the matrix of all future terrors lies in a hidden war, a war within the war, against the peasantry. In order to include the victims of the famine of 1921-1922 in the list of communist crimes, Nicolas Werth sometimes tends to present it as the result of a deliberate choice to exterminate the peasantry. Documents on the repression of villages are often overwhelming. But is it possible to separate the two problems, that of the civil war and that of the agrarian question?

To face to the aggression, the Red Army had to mobilize four million fighters in just a few months, fighters who had to be equipped and fed. In two years, Petrograd and Moscow lost more than half their population. Devastated industries produced nothing. Under such conditions, what other solution was there to feed the cities and the army than requisitions? With the benefit of hindsight, we can no doubt imagine other forms, taking into account the logic of a political police force and the dangers of bureaucratic arbitrariness exercised by improvised tiranny. But this is a concrete discussion, in terms of political choices, of conceivable alternatives in the face of real trials, and not of abstract judgments.

At the end of the civil war, it was no longer the base that carried the leadership, but the will of the leadership that endevaroued to carry the base along. Hence the mechanics of substitution: the party replaces the people, the bureaucracy replaces the party, the leader appointed by history replaces the whole. In this process, a new bureaucracy emerges, the fruit of the legacy of the old regime and the accelerated social promotion of new leaders. After the massive recruitment of the ‘Lenin levy’ in 1924, the few thousand October militants no longer weighed heavily in the party’s numbers compared to the hundreds of thousands of new Bolsheviks, including careerists rushing to the aid of the victors and recycled elements of the old administration.

The heavy legacy of the civil war

The civil war was a terrible foundational experience. Paired with the outbursts of the world war, it created jaded habituation to the most extreme and inhuman forms of violence. It forged a legacy of bureaucratic brutality, of which Lenin would become aware during the crisis with the Georgian Communists, and which Trotsky describes in his Stalinxv. Lenin's ‘Testament’ and the ‘Diary of his Secretaries’ bear witness to this dramatic awareness of the problem in his dying daysxvi. While revolution is a matter of peoples and multitudes, the dying Lenin was reduced to weighing up the vices and virtues of a handful of leaders on whom almost everything now seemed to depend.

Ultimately, the civil war meant a ‘great leap backwards’, an ‘archaization’ of the country compared to the level of development achieved before 1914. It drained the blood of the country. Of the four million inhabitants of Petrograd and Moscow at the start of the revolution, only 1.7 million remained at the end of the civil war. In Petrograd, 380,000 workers had left production, while only 80,000 remained. The devastated towns had become parasites on agriculture, forcing the authoritarian confiscation of supplies. And the Red Army reached a strength of four million. ‘When the new regime finally got the chance to lead the country toward its declared goals’, writes Moshe Lewin, ‘the point of departure turned out to be more backward than it would have been in 1917, let alone 1914.’xvii Through the civil war, a ‘backward, statist socialism’ was forged, a new state built on ruins: Indeed, the state was emerging on the basis of a social development in reverse.’xviii

Here lies the essential root of the bureaucratization of which certain Soviet leaders, including Lenin, became aware early on, while despairing at their inability to curb it. The terrible weight of circumstances and the absence of a democratic culture had combined effects. There can be no doubt that from the moment on that power was seized, distinctions between the state, the party and the working class became blurred. This confusion, taking place under the banner of the expected rapid decline of the state and of the disappearance of contradictions among the people, considerably favored the statification of society, rather than the socialization of state functions.

Learning democracy is a long and difficult process. It does not move at the same pace as economic reform decrees, especially when a country has virtually no parliamentary or pluralist traditions. It requires time, energy and resources. The hustle and bustle of the committees and soviets of 1917 illustrated the first steps in this apprenticeship, as a civil society took shape. In the face of civil war, the easy solution was to subordinate the organs of popular power, councils and soviets, to an enlightened guardian: the party. In practical terms, this also meant replacing the principle of electing and controlling officials by their appointment on the initiative of the party, in some cases as early as 1918. Finally, this logic led to the suppression of political pluralism and the freedom of opinion which is necessary for democratic life, as well as the systematic subordination of law to force.

This spiral is all the more dreadful in that bureaucratization results not just from manipulation from above. Sometimes, it also responds to a demand from below, a need for order and tranquility born of the weariness of war and civil war, deprivation and fatigue, while democratically conducted controversies, political agitation and the constant pressure to take responsibility disturb the need for peace and order. 

Marc Ferro has rightly highlighted this terrible dialectic in his books. He reminds us that there were indeed ‘two foci: democratic-authoritarian at the base, centralist-authoritarian at the top’ - at the start of the revolution, whereas ‘there was only one in 1939’. But, for him, the question was practically settled within a few months, as early as 1918 or 1919, with the demise of the neighborhood and factory committeesxix. Following a similar approach, philosopher Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe is even more explicit in declaring Bolshevism ‘counter-revolutionary from 1920-1921 on’ (i.e., even before Kronstadt)xx.

This is a matter of the highest importance. There’s no question of contrasting point by point, in a Manichean way, a golden legend of ‘Leninism under Lenin’ to Leninism under Stalin, the luminous twenties to the dark thirties, as if nothing had already begun to rot in the land of the Soviets. Of course, bureaucratization was immediately at work, of course, the Cheka’s police activity had its own logic, of course, the political prison on the Solovki Islands was opened after the end of the civil war and before Lenin’s death, of course, party pluralism was suppressed, freedom of expression was limited and democratic rights within the party itself were restricted as early as the Xth Congress in 1921.

But the process of what we call the bureaucratic counter-revolution was not a one-time event with a clear date, symmetrical with the October insurrection. It did not happen overnight. It involved choices, confrontations and events. The actors themselves never ceased to debate its periodization, not for the sake of historical precision, but to try to deduce political tasks from it. Witnesses such as Alfred Rosmer, Max Eastman, Boris Souvarine, Panait Istrati, Walter Benjamin, Mikhail Bulgakov and Yevgeny Zamyatin (in their letters to Stalin), the poetry of Mayakovsky, the torment of Osip Mandelstam or of Marina Tsvetaeva, Babel's notebooks, etc., can help to shed light on the many facets of the phenomenon, its development and progressionxxi.

Thus, while the disastrous repression in Kronstadt during the spring of 1921 raised awareness of the need to reorient economic policy, and the civil war ended in victory, democratic freedoms were once again restricted rather than extended: the Xth Party Congress banned tendencies and fractions. 

With the benefit of historical hindsight, it is necessary to return to these issues of representative democracy, political pluralism, censorship and the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, in order to formulate theoretically the problems faced by the pioneers of socialism, and to reflect upon their lessons. There can be no doubt that the legacy of Tsarism, the four years of worldwide butchery during which over fifteen million Russian soldiers were mobilized, the violence and atrocities of the civil war, all weighed infinitely more heavily on the future of the revolutionary regime than the doctrinal faults of its leaders, however serious.

In an article on ‘The Revolution and the Law’ published in Pravda on December 1, 1917 (!), Anatole Lunacharsky, future Minister of Education, began with the observation: ‘A society is not a unified whole.’ It took a long time and many tragedies to draw the full consequences of this little phrase. Because a society is not unified as a whole, even after the overthrow of the old order, we cannot pretend to socialize the State by decree without running the risk of statifying society. Because society is not unified as a whole, trade-unions must remain independent of the state and parties, and parties independent of the state. The contradictions between the interests at work in society must be expressed by an independent press and a plurality of forms of representation. This is also why the autonomy of legal form and norms must ensure that the law is not reduced to the perennial arbitrariness of force.

The defense of political pluralism is therefore not a matter of circumstance, but an essential condition of socialist democracy. This is the conclusion Trotsky draws from experience in The Revolution Betrayed: ‘classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution of common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendencies, groups and parties.’xxii This means that the collective will can only be expressed through a free electoral process, whatever its institutional forms, by combining direct, participatory democracy and representative democracy.

Without constituting an absolute guarantee against bureaucratization and the professional dangers of power, some answers and guidelines can nevertheless be drawn from experience. 

- The distinction between classes, parties and the state must be reflected in the recognition of political and trade union pluralism as the only way to organize the confrontation between alternative programs and choices on all major social issues, rather than simply the exchange of points of view emanating from local power structures.

- A form of democracy that combines councils based on productive activity and on territory, with direct expression and the right of control, not only by parties, but also by unions, associations, women's movements.

- Accountability and possibility of recall of elected representatives by their actual constituents, rather than an imperative mandate that would block any deliberative function of elected assemblies.

- Limiting the accumulation and renewal of elective mandates, and limiting the salary of elected representatives to that of a skilled worker or public service employee, in order to restrict the personalization and professionalization of power.

- Decentralization of power and redistribution of competences to the local, regional or national level closest to citizens, with the right of suspensive veto for lower authorities on decisions directly affecting them, and possible recourse to popular initiative referendums.

A democracy of the freely associated producers is perfectly compatible with the exercise of universal suffrage. Communal councils or territorial people’s assemblies can consist of representatives of work and housing units, and submit all important decisions to the vote of the populations concerned.

Recent experiments in Poland (1980-1981) and Nicaragua (1984) have put on the agenda the possibility of a bicameral system, one directly elected by universal suffrage, the other directly representing workers, peasants and, more broadly, the various associative forms of popular power. In theory, this solution (which may include a chamber of nations in multinational states) satisfies both the need for general elections and the desire for the most direct popular democracy possible. It ensures that the reality of society is not by decree confused with the sphere of the state, which is bound to wither away as self-management flourishes, expands and becomes more widespread.

These broad guidelines summarize the lessons of a painful history. They are neither an absolute weapon against the professional dangers of power, nor a recipe for every concrete situation. In retrospect, we can discuss the consequences of the Bolsheviks’ dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the respective representativeness of this Assembly and of the Congress of Soviets at the end of 1917, and whether it would not have been preferable to maintain a dual form of representation for the long term (a kind of prolonged duality of power). We might also ask whether free elections should not have been organized as soon as the civil war ended, at the risk, in a context of destruction and international pressure, of seeing the militarily defeated Whites gain the upper hand. Every situation depends on specific national and international balances of power. All historical experience, on the other hand, confirms the warning issued by Rosa Luxemburg as early as 1918: ‘Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.’xxiii The broadest possible democracy is of necessity also a question of freedom and a condition of economic efficiency: it is the only way to ensure that self-managed planning is superior to the automatisms of the market.

Will to power or bureaucratic counter-revolution?

The fate of the first socialist revolution, the triumph of Stalinism and the crimes of totalitarian bureaucracy are among the major events of the century.

For some, the principle of evil resides in the wicked depths of human nature, in an irrepressible will to power that can manifest itself wearing a variety of masks, including the claim to make people happy in spite of themselves, to impose on them the preconceived schemes of a perfect society.

The polemical aim of the Black Book is to establish strict continuity between Lenin and Stalin, to destroy ‘the old legend of the October Revolution betrayed by Stalin’: ‘The horrors of Stalinism are of one and the same nature with Leninism” (Jacques Amalric); ‘The early criminal impulse belongs to Lenin’ (Éric Conan, L'Express, November 1997). Failing to criticize its own past to the point of rigorously examining the periodization of the Russian Revolution, and the orientations that faced each other throughout the twenties and thirties, some PCF leaders content themselves with a vague self-criticism, and allow themselves to speak of the crimes of Stalinism as a ‘tragic prolongation’ of the revolutionary event (Claude Cabanes, L'Humanité, November 1997). If an implacable destiny, bringing such disasters, was on the way from day one on, why still claim to be a communist?

The twenties: pause or bifurcation?

Despite the bureaucratic reaction that early on began to ‘freeze the revolution’, despite shortages and cultural backwardness, the initial revolutionary impulse was still felt throughout the 1920s, in pioneering attempts to transform the way of life: school and educational reforms, family legislation, urban utopias, graphic and cinematographic invention. It also helps explain the contradictions and ambiguities of the painful ‘great transformation’ that took place between the wars when bureaucratic terror and the energy of revolutionary hope were still intertwined. This is not the least of the difficulties in grasping the meaning and historical significance of the phenomenon.

It is therefore important to grasp the deep roots and driving forces in social organization and the forces at work within and against it of what has sometimes been referred to as the ‘Stalinist phenomenon’. Stalinism, in concrete historical circumstances, is a manifestation of a more general tendency towards bureaucratization at work in all modern societies. This tendency is fundamentally fueled by the growth of the social division of labor (between manual and intellectual labor in particular), and by the ‘professional dangers of power’ inherent in it. In the Soviet Union, this dynamic was all the stronger and rapid because bureaucratization took place against a backdrop of destruction, scarcity and cultural archaism, in the absence of democratic traditions.

From the outset, the social basis of the revolution was both broad and narrow. Broad, insofar as it rested on the alliance between workers and peasants, who constituted the overwhelming social majority. Narrow, insofar as its minority working-class component was quickly wiped out by the ravages of war and the losses of civil war. The bureaucratic brutality was proportional to the fragility of its social base. It is part and parcel of its parasitic function. 

Nevertheless, there remains a rupture, an irreducible discontinuity, in both domestic and international politics, between the early twenties and the horrific thirties. Clearly, authoritarian tendencies had begun to take over long before. Obsessed with the (very real) ‘main enemy’ of imperialist aggression and capitalist restoration, the Bolshevik leaders began to ignore or underestimate the ‘secondary enemy’, the bureaucracy that was eating away at them from within and eventually devoured them. This unprecedented scenario was difficult to imagine. It took time to be able to understand it, to interpret it, to draw the consequences. While Lenin undoubtedly perceived the alarm bell sounded by the Kronstadt crisis, to the point of prompting a profound economic reorientation, it was only much later, in The Revolution Betrayed, that Trotsky succeeded in basing political pluralism in principle on the heterogeneity of the proletariat itself, a heterogeneity that remains even after the seizure of power.

Most accounts and documents on the Soviet Union or on the Bolshevik Party itselfxxiv make it impossible to ignore the great turning point of the thirties, one with a close combination of rupture and continuity. The rupture far outweighs it, evidenced by millions upon millions of deaths from hunger, deportation, trials and purges. It took the unleashing of such violence to bring about the ‘congress of the victors’ of 1934 and the consolidation of bureaucratic power.

The great turning point

Nicolas Werth emphasizes the continuity between the terror of the civil war and the great terror of the thirties. To do so, he has to relativize the significance of the twenties, the choices the decade presented, the conflicts of orientation within the party and reduce those to a simple ‘pause’ or ‘truce’ between two terrorist upsurges. Yet he himself provides evidence of a (quantitative) change in the scale of repression and a (qualitative) change in its content. In 1929, the ‘mass collectivization’ plan set the target of thirteen million farms to be forcibly collectivized. The operation provoked the great famines and mass deportations of 1932-1933: ‘The spring of 1933 marked the apogee of the first great cycle of terror launched in 1929 with the dekulakization program.’xxv. After the assassination of Kirov (Petrograd’s party leader), the second great cycle began in 1934, marked by major trials and, above all, the ‘great purge’ (yezhovshchina) of 1936-1938, which claimed an estimated 690,000 victims. Forced collectivization and accelerated industrialization led to massive population displacement, to the ‘ruralization’ of cities and the breathtaking growth of the Gulag.

In the course of the process, repressive legislation was developed and strengthened. In June 1929, at the same time as mass collectivization, a major reform of the detention system was introduced: prisoners sentenced to more than three years would henceforth be transferred to labour camps. Given the uncontrollable scale of internal migration, a decision in December 1932 introduced internal passports. A few hours after Kirov’s assassination, Stalin drew up a decree known as the ‘Law of 1 December 1934’ legalizing expeditious procedures and providing the main instrument of the Great Terror.

In addition to crushing the urban and rural popular movements, this bureaucratic terror liquidated what remained of the October legacy. We know that the trials and purges cut deep into the ranks of the party and the army. Most of the cadres and leaders from the revolutionary period were deported or executed. Of the 200 members of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, only three survived. In the army, more than 30,000 of the 178,000 cadres were arrested. At the same time, the administrative apparatus required for this repressive enterprise and for the management of a state-run economy grew explosively. According to Moshe Lewin, the number of administrative staff rose from 1,450,000 in 1928 to 7,500,000 in 1939, and the number of white-collar workers from 3,900,000 to 13,800,000. Bureaucracy was no empty word. It became a social force: the bureaucratic state apparatus devoured what remained of the party's militants.

The effects of this counter-revolution were felt in all areas, including economic policy (forced collectivization and large-scale development of the Gulag), international policy (in China, Germany and Spain), cultural policy (see Varlam Chalamov's Les Années vingt which highlights the contrast between these still effervescent years and the terrible 1930sxxvi), everyday life, with what Trotsky called the ‘thermidor in the family’, and ideology (with the crystallization of a State orthodoxy, the codification of ‘diamat’ - dialectical materialism - and the drafting of an official History of the Party).

We should call a spade a spade, and a counter-revolution a counter-revolution – a counter-revolution that is more massive, more visible and more heartbreaking than the authoritarian measures, however worrying they might have been, that were taken in the heat of civil war. Nicolas Werth, for his part, is torn between recognizing what was radically new in the 1930s and his desire to establish continuity between the revolutionary promise of October and the triumphant Stalinist reaction. He thus speaks of a ‘decisive episode’ in the establishment of the repressive system but also of ‘the last episode in the confrontation between the Bolshevik state and the peasantry that had begun in 1918-1922.’xxvii. Episode or decisive turning point, one needs to choose.

The prejudice for seeing continuity means that the twenties, with their controversies and stakes, are skipped over as if they were a mere parenthesis. A linear account of repression is taken out of context. It relegates to the background the conflicts surrounding crucial choices, both in terms of international policy (orientation during the Chinese revolution, attitude to the rise of Nazism, opposition to the Spanish war) and domestic policy (Trotskyist and Bukharinist opposition to forced collectivization, economic and social alternatives proposed in the name of a different idea of communism!)

Counter-revolution and restoration

The notion of ‘counter-revolution’ troubles some people, supposedly because it did not lead to the restoration of the previous situation. Historical time is not reversible like that of mechanical physics. The film does not run backwards. After Thermidor, Joseph de Maistre, a conservative ideologue during the Revolution and a connoisseur of reaction, noted with finesse that a counter-revolution is not a revolution in reverse, but the opposite of a revolution. The two processes are not symmetrical. A counter-revolution can produce something new and unprecedented. This was the case in Bismarckian Germany after the failure of the 1848 revolutions. Similarly, Thermidor was not yet the Restoration. The French Empire was a large gray area in which revolutionary aspirations and the consolidation of a new order were intertwined.

It was in a similar gray area that many sincere Communist militants lost their way, impressed by the successes of the ‘homeland of socialism’, without knowing or measuring the cost. Even if we didn’t know everything, a lot was known about the Stalinist terror in the 1930s, provided that we wanted to know. There were the testimonies of Victor Serge and Ante Ciliga, the counter-trial presided over by John Dewey, the testimonies against the repression in Spain of anarchists and of the POUM. But in those days of anti-fascist struggle and ‘bureaucratic heroism’ (to use Isaac Deutscher's phrase), it was often difficult to fight both the main enemy and the not-so-secondary enemy, one that came from within. Many of those involved (Jan Valtin, Élizabeth Poretsky, Jules Fourrier, Charles Tillon, the survivors of the Red Orchestra, and so many others) bear witness to these ‘torn lives’.

The Soviet Union under Stalin was not one of Brezhnev-style stagnation. It was transforming at breakneck speed, under the whip of an ambitious bureaucracy. The secret of this energy is not unrelated to that of Napoleon's energy, which fascinated Chateaubriand: ‘If Bonaparte’s bulletins, speeches, allocutions, and proclamations are distinguished by energy, that energy does not truly belong to him; it was of the age, it derived from revolutionary inspiration which weakened in Bonaparte, because he marched in opposition to that inspiration.’xxviii. This is not the only striking analogy between the two characters: ‘The Revolution, which was Napoleon’s wet nurse, quickly seemed to him an enemy; he never ceased opposing it’xxix.

Never before has any country in the world undergone such a brutal metamorphosis as the Soviet Union in the grip of a pharaonic bureaucracy during the 1930s. Between 1926 and 1939, the cities swelled by 30 million inhabitants and their share of the overall population rose from 18 to 33 per cent; during the first five-year plan alone, their growth rate was 44 per cent, almost as much as between 1897 and 1926; the salaried workforce more than doubled (from 10 to 22 million); this meant a massive ‘ruralisation’ of the cities, a huge literacy and education drive, and the imposition of a forced labour discipline. This great transformation was accompanied by a revival of nationalism, a rise in careerism and the emergence of a new bureaucratic conformism. As Moshe Lewin put it ironically, in this great upheaval, society was, in a sense, ‘classless’, because all the classes were shapeless, in a state of fusionxxx.

An analysis of the Stalinist counter-revolution gives a clear answer to Mikhail Guefter’s essential question – whether there was a ‘continuous march’ between October and the Gulag, or ‘two distinct political and moral worlds’. The periodisation of the Russian revolution and counter-revolution is not a purely historical curiosity. It dictates political positions, orientations and tasks: before, we could speak of errors to be rectified, of alternative orientations within the same project; after, there are opposing forces and projects, organizational choices. This is not a family quarrel that can be used to show off yesterday's victims a posteriori as proof of a ‘communist pluralism’ that would bring together victims and executioners. Rigorous periodisation allows, as Guefter put it, ‘historical consciousness to penetrate the political field’.

A ‘premature’ revolution?

Since the fall of the Soviet Union a thesis has been revived: that the revolution was a doomed adventure from the outset because it was ‘premature’. This is the argument put forward by Henri Weber in an article in Le Monde (14 November 1997). This thesis has very early origins, in the discourse of the Russian Mensheviks themselves and in Kautsky’s analyses from 1921 on: ‘The Bolsheviks’, Kautsky wrote, ‘would have spared Russia four years of blood and tears and ruin if they had possessed the Menshevik self-restraint to what is achievable, in which the master shows himself ’xxxi.

The formula is revealing. Kautsky polemicizes against the idea of a vanguard party, but imagines himself a master party, an educator and pedagogue capable of regulating the march and rhythm of History as it pleases. As if struggles and revolutions do not also have their own logic. If we try to limit them when they arise, we soon find ourselves on the side of the established order. Then it is no longer a question of ‘self-limiting’ the party’s objectives, but of limiting the aspirations of the masses altogether. In this sense, the Social Democrats, the Eberts and the Noskes, by assassinating Rosa Luxemburg and crushing the Bavarian soviets, distinguished themselves as the virtuosos of ‘self-limitation’.

The seizure of power in October 1917 was the result of the inability of the bourgeois liberals and reformists to respond to the crisis in society and the state since February. Mikhail Guefter’s answer to the question ‘Was there a choice in 1917?’ is far more fruitful and convincing than the ‘prematurity thesis’; ‘The question is essential. Having given a great deal of thought to this problem, I can give a categorical answer: there was no choice. What was done at the time was the only solution to an infinitely bloodier overhaul, a debacle devoid of meaning. The choice came later. A choice that did not concern the social system, the historical path to be taken, but had to be made within that path. At stake were not variants (the issue was larger), not steps to climb to reach the summit, but a divergence, a series of divergences’.xxxii

These divergences, these bifurcations did not cease to present themselves and call forth different and opposed responses; in 1923, in the face of the German October, on the NEP [New Economic Policy], on forced collectivization, on accelerated industrialization and forms of planning, on democracy in the country and in the party, on the rise of fascism, on the Spanish civil war, on the German-Soviet pact. On each of these issues, proposals, programs and orientations clashed, demonstrating possible other choices and developments.

In truth, the prematurity thesis leads necessarily to the idea of a well-ordered, clockwork-like history, where everything comes in its own time, just on time. It falls back on the platitudes of strict historical determinism, so often criticized by Marxists, in which the state of the base closely determines the corresponding superstructure. It simply eliminates the fact that history does not have the force of destiny, but is punctuated by events that open up a range of possibilities, not an unending range, but a specific horizon of possibilities.

Reading the authors of the Black Book today, one gets the impression that the Bolsheviks, once they had succeeded in the October coup, would have at all costs clung to power for the sake of power. This is to forget that they never thought of the Russian Revolution as a solitary adventure, but as the first element of a European and world Revolution. If Lenin, it is said, danced in the snow on the seventy-third day of the seizure of power, it was because initially he did not hope to outlast the Commune. In his eyes, the future of the revolution depended on it spreading throughout Europe, particularly to Germany.

The convulsions that shook Germany, Italy, Austria and Hungary between 1918 and 1923 were the signs of a genuine European crisis. The failures of the German Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, the developments of the Chinese Revolution and the victory of fascism in Italy and Germany were not foreordained. After all, the Russian revolutionaries were not responsible for the abdications and cowardice of the French and German Social-Democrats.

Starting from 1923, it became clear that they could no longer count on the revolution spreading to Europe in the short term. A radical reorientation was needed. This was at the heart of the confrontation between the theses of ‘socialism in one country’ and ‘permanent revolution’, which tore the party apart in the mid-1920s. 

While not disputing the initial legitimacy of the Russian Revolution, some believe that it was based on an erroneous prediction and an impossible gamble. It was not a prediction, however, but an orientation aimed at eliminating the causes of the war through overthrowing the system that had engendered it. Between 1918 and 1923 the shock-waves that followed the war were all too clear. After the failure of the German October [1923], on the other hand, the situation had stabilized for a long period. So what was to be done? Try to gain time without the illusion of being able to ‘build socialism in a single country’, a country that all the more was ruined? This is what was at stake in the discussions and struggles of the 1920s. This is the political dimension of the question, the crux of the matter. In economic and social terms, NEP was part of the answer, but to apply it would have required a kind of educated personnel different from those trained in the rough and ready methods of wartime communism. Politically, it would have required a democratic orientation, seeking majority legitimacy through the electoral expression of Soviet pluralism. Internationally, it would have required an internationalist policy that did not subordinate, through the Comintern, the various Communist parties and their policies to the interests of the Soviet state. These choices were made, at least in part. They did not take the form of peaceful discussions but of merciless confrontations.

Those defeated in these struggles were not wrong. The German non-revolution of 1918-1923 and the defeated Spanish revolution of 1937 are not unrelated to the victory of Nazism and the disasters of the Second World War.

This is the thread that needs to be picked up and re-examined if real responsibilities are to be established; if history is to be periodised around the major political alternatives. To speak simply of a premature revolution on the contrary is tantamount to pronouncing the judgment of a historical tribunal, instead of grasping the internal logic of the conflict and the politics that confronted it. For defeats are no more proof of error than victories are proof of truth: ‘If success came to be equated with innocence; if, by corrupting posterity, it loaded it with its chains; if that suborned posterity, a slave hereafter, engendered by a slavish past, became the accomplice of whoever was to be victorious, where would the right lie, what would be the point of sacrifice? Good and evil rendered only relative, all morality would be effaced from human action’.xxxiii

While there is no final judgment in history, it is important that, in the face of every major choice, every major fork in the road, the path to another possible history is mapped out step by step. This is what preserves the intelligibility of the past and enables us to draw lessons for the future.

What shook the world in ten days cannot be erased. The promise of humanity, universality and emancipation that emerged in the ephemeral heat of the event is ‘too closely bound up with the interests of humanity’ for it to be forgotten. As custodians and stewards of a heritage threatened by conformism, it is our responsibility to create the circumstances in which it can be ‘remembered’.

List of persons

Vladimir Mayakovsky, revolutionary poet and critic of the bureaucracy. Took his own life in despair in 1930.

Adolf Abramovitch Joffé played a prominent role during the revolution, working together with Lenin. Represented the revolution in Berlin and later Tokyo. A friend of Trotsky, he was arrested and deported. Leaving behind a farewell letter to Trotsky, he took his own life in 1927.

Kurt Tucholsky, German publicist, a fierce critic of nationalism and militarism. The Nazis burned his books and stripped him of his citizenship. He fled to Sweden and took his own life in 1935.

Walter Benjamin, writer and philosopher. Fleeing Nazi barbarism, he tried to leave France and take refuge in the United States; stopped at the Spanish border, he took his own life on 26 September 1940. 

Sukarno, first president of independent Indonesia. After 1965, he was removed from power by general Suharto in a military coup that killed hundreds of thousands. 

Alfred Rosmer, writer, initially a revolutionary syndicalist and then a early leader of the French Communist Party. In contact with Trotsky since 1915 he was expelled from the party in 1924 because of his opposition to the campaign against Trotsky. Collaborated with the French Trotskyist opposition. 

Max Eastman, prominent American intellectual and translator, came into contact with Trotsky in 1922 in Moscow. 

- Boris Souvarine, one of the leaders of the Committee of the Third International, delegate of the French Communist Party to the International Committee of the Comintern. In 1924 he took a stand in favour of Trotsky and was expelled from the. Author of a major critical work on Stalin: Stalin - A Critical Survey Of Bolshevism, 1939.

- Panait Istrati, Romanian writer. After travelling to the USSR in 1929, he wrote a sharp critique of the regime: Vers l'autre flamme: Après seize mois dans l'URSS, 1927-1928, confession pour vaincus, Paris: 10/18, 1995.

- Yevgeny Zamyatin, Russian novelist, emigrated with Stalin’s permission in 1931.

- Mikhail Bulgakov, Russian writer, most of whose work was not published until after Stalin’s death.

- Ossip Mandelstam, Russian poet, arrested in 1933, deported, exiled, then deported again, he died in 1937 in a transit camp.

- Marina Tsvetaeva, writer and poet, took her own life 1941 after returning to the USSR.

- Isaac Babel, novelist and author of the story collection Red Cavalry, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Executed in 1941, rehabilitated in 1954.

- Joseph de Maistre, politician and writer. He emigrated in 1793. A monarchist, he wrote The Pope: Considered in His Relations with the Church, Temporal Sovereignties, Separated Churches and the Cause of Civilization, 1850 and Considérations sur la France, 1796.

- Victor Serge, revolutionary activist, member of the left-wing opposition. Writer, author of numerous stories and novels.

- Ante Ciliga, member of the CC of the Yugoslav Communist Party and the Comintern. He went to the USSR in 1928 and joined the left-wing oppositionist. Arrested and deported to Siberia, he was expelled in 1936. Author of the book The Russian Enigma, 1979 [1938].

- John Dewey, prominent American educator and philosopher. Joined the American Committee for the Defence of Trotsky.

i Original publication: Dossier Rouge n° 1755, 1997, available at []. Translation by Alex de Jong. 

ii François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

iii Stéphane Courtois, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Jean-Louis Panné, Nicolas Werth, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

iv Immanuel Kant, The conflict of the faculties, New York: Abaris Books, 1979, p. 159.

v Mikhaïl Iakovlévitch Guefter, ‘Staline est mort hier…’, L'Homme et la société Année, 1988, 88-89, pp. 35-54,there p. 46.

vi‘Imperialism’, part two of Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.

vii See list of names.

viii Libération, 6 November 1997.

ix Le Figaro, 5 November 1997.

x Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, 1932, [].

xi John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, 2007 [1919].

xii Collectif, La Révolution d’Octobre et le mouvement ouvrier européen, Paris: EDI, 1967.

xiii Marc Ferro, see especially La révolution de 1917, Paris: Albin Michel, 1997, and Naissance et effondrement du régime communiste en Russie, Paris: Le Livre de poche, 1997.

xiv The political police.

xv Trotsky, Stalin. An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence, 1941, []. 

xvi Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

xvii Moshe Lewin, Russia, URSS, Russia, New York: The New Press, 1995, p. 67.

xviii Lewin, Russia, URSS, Russia, p. 48.

xix Marc Ferro, Des soviets au communisme bureaucratique, Paris: « Archives »-Gallimard, 1980.

xx Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, revue Lignes, n° 31, May 1997.

xxi See list of names.

xxii Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, [].

xxiii Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, 1940, [].

xxiv Alfred Rosmer, Lenin’s Moscow, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016; Marcel Liebman, Leninism under Lenin, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017, Pierre Broué, Le Parti bolchevique, Paris: Minuit, 1972; Boris Souvarine, Stalin—A Critical Survey Of Bolshevism, 1939, []; Leon Trotski, Stalin.

xxv Werth, A State against Its People: Violence, Repression, and Terror in the Soviet Union’, The Black Book of Communism, pp. 33 – 268, there, p. 178.

xxvi Varlam Chalamov, Les Années vingt, Paris: Verdier, 1997.

xxvii Werth, The Black Book of Communism, pp. 167, 168.

xxviii François de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe, 2005, p. 743 [].

xxix De Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe, p. 746 [].

xxx Moshe Lewin, La Formation du système soviétique: essai sur l’histoire sociale de la Russie dans l’entre-deux-guerres, Paris: Gallimard, 1987.

xxxi Karl Kautsky, Von der Demokratie zur Staatssklaverei, 1921, [], quoted in Karl Radek, Les Voies de la Révolution russe, Paris: EDI, 1972, p. 39.

xxxii Guefter, ‘Staline est mort hier…’, p. 45.

xxxiii De Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe, p. 747, [].

© IIRE 2024

The IIRE is an international foundation,
recognised in Belgium as an
international scientific association
by Royal decree of 11th June 1981.

Lombokstraat 40
The Netherlands

T: (+31) (0)206717263
Email: iire @
Follow @twitter
Follow @Facebook