Reportedly, the Russian revolutionary and pioneering Marxologist David Riazanov once insulted Stalin to his face at a party meeting held during the mid-1920s. At the time, the major topic of debate was over the feasibility of socialism absent a revolution in the West. In the years that followed October 1917 the fledgling Soviet regime had survived brutal winters, food shortages, and an international blockade while fighting off a bloody domestic counterrevolution staged by disparate elements of the old regime (the Whites) with the support of foreign powers (the Allied Intervention). The civil war was over, but revolution had elsewhere stalled out as the USSR’s borders stabilized: the European proletariat failed to overthrow the crisis-ridden bourgeois governments of France, Germany, England, Austria, and a host of other nations. Now the question on everyone’s mind where the Bolsheviks should go from there. Could socialism could be established in one (relatively backwards) nation?
Bukharin was the chief architect of the program for those who affirmed that it could. His days as a left communist behind him, Nikolai Ivanovich had meanwhile succumbed to pragmatism and unimaginative Realpolitik. Market reforms put in place by Lenin under the New Economic Policy after 1921 were to be continued, and the transition to “a higher stage of communist society” delayed, but its achievement no longer depended on the spread of world revolution. Eager to make a name for himself as a leading theoretician, Stalin interjected with some comments of his own. “Stop it, Koba,” Riazanov acerbically replied. “You’re making a fool of yourself. We all know theory isn’t exactly your strong suit.” Little wonder, then, that Stalin would later want Riazanov’s head on a platter; he’d inflicted a deep narcissistic wound. For as Trotsky would later point out, in a two-part article mocking “Stalin as a Theoretician,” nothing was more important to the General Secretary than to be regarded as well-versed in the science of dialectical materialism.
Years earlier, Riazanov had provoked the wrath of Lenin by failing to pick a side in the famous Menshevik-Bolshevik split that resulted from the party congress in 1902. Others had also decided to remain independent, of course, most notably Lev Davidovich. But Riazanov’s refusal to fall in with either tendency especially enraged Lenin. In 1909, the Bolshevik leader referred to Trotsky as “a despicable careerist and factionalist of the Riazanov-and-co. type” in a letter addressed to Zinoviev. Goldendakh, as Riazanov was originally known, was considerably older than either Lenin or Trotsky, however, becoming a Marxist while abroad in 1889. He’d initially been close with Plekhanov, but the two had a falling out after the former argued for a stricter stance toward party membership under the pen-name Riazanov in the pages of Bor’ba [Struggle]. Bor’ba, an émigré paper based out of Paris, wasn’t all that far off from Lenin’s Iskra in terms of its line, and the two collaborated in the lead-up to the 1902 congress. This is perhaps why Lenin scolded Riazanov so harshly after this point, expecting him to rally to the side of the Bolsheviks during the controversy. When Riazanov vacillated, instead taking on a “conciliatory” role, Lenin was deeply disappointed.
Nevertheless, upon returning to Russia in 1917, both men came to an agreement. Riazanov was stuck in England for a time, so Lenin arrived earlier. From February onward, though, he belonged to the Bolsheviks. After the October Revolution, Lenin appointed Riazanov to a prestigious research position charged with publishing the remaining works of Marx and Engels. During the twenties and thirties, then, Riazanov headed the renowned Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. Under his supervision, scholars like the economist Isaak Rubin and the critic Georg Lukács would uncover a vast fund of archival material. Carl Grünberg, first chair of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, coordinated the photostat copying of documents still in the possession of Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky. In Vienna, a young Roman Rosdolsky would serve as a correspondent to the Moscow Institute from 1928 to 1931. Lenin frequently wrote to Riazanov with questions about unpublished letters and rare articles by the founders of scientific socialism. “Do you at the library have a collection of all the letters of Marx and Engels from the newspapers and separate magazines? For example, about materialism in Leipzieger Volkszeitung (1894)?” Etc.
Victor Serge in his 1947 Memoirs of a Revolutionary recalled meeting Lukács and his wife “in 1928 or 1929 [Serge misremembered the date; it must have been 1930 or 1931], in a Moscow street. He was then working at the Marx-Engels Institute; his books were being suppressed, and he lived bravely in the general fear. Although he was fairly well-disposed towards me, he did not care to shake my hand in a public place, since I’d been expelled and a known Oppositionist. Lukács enjoyed a physical survival, and wrote short, spiritless articles in Comintern journals.” Riazanov apparently joked, Lukács revealed in an interview decades later, that he’d been “Cominterned… that is, put out to nonpolitical pasture.” Questioned about Riazanov’s fate, Lukács glumly remarked that “nothing further was known” after the 1931 conviction in the infamous Menshevik trial. Serge detailed this a bit further in his Memoirs:
I was on very close terms with several of the scientific staff at the Marx-Engels Institute, headed by David Borisovich Riazanov, who had created there a scientific establishment of noteworthy quality. Riazanov, one of the founders of the Russian working-class movement, was, in his sixtieth year, at the peak of a career whose success might appear exceptional in times so cruel. He had devoted a great part of his life to a severely scrupulous inquiry into the biography and works of Marx — and the Revolution heaped honor on him, and in the Party his independence of outlook was respected. Alone, he had never ceased to cry out against the death penalty, even during the Terror, never ceased to demand the strict limitation of the rights of the Cheka and its successor, the GPU. Heretics of all kinds, Menshevik socialists or oppositionists of Right or Left, found peace and work in his Institute, provided only that they had a love of knowledge. He was still the man who had told a conference to its face: “I am not one of those Old Bolsheviks who for twenty years were described by Lenin as old fools…”
I had met him a number of times: stout, strong-featured, beard and mustache thick and white, attentive eyes, Olympian forehead, stormy temperament, ironic utterance… Of course his heretical colleagues were often arrested, and he defended them, with all due discretion. He had access to all quarters and the leaders were a little afraid of his frank way of talking. His reputation had just been officially recognized in a celebration of his sixtieth birthday and his life’s work when the arrest of the Menshevik sympathizer Sher, a neurotic intellectual who promptly made all the confessions that anyone pleased to dictate to him, put Riazanov beside himself with rage. Having learned that a trial of old socialists was being set in hand, with monstrously ridiculous confessions foisted on them, Riazanov flared up and told member after member of the Politburo that it was a dishonor to the regime, that all this organized frenzy simply did not stand up and that Sher was half-mad anyway.
During the trial of the so-called “Menshevik center,” the defendant [Isaak] Rubin, one of Riazanov’s protégés, suddenly brought his name into the case, accusing him of having hidden in the Institute documents of the Socialist International concerned with war against the Soviet Union! Everything that was told to the audience was engineered in advance, so this sensational revelation was inserted to order. Summoned on that very night before the Politburo, Riazanov had a violent exchange with Stalin. “Where are the documents?” shouted the General Secretary. Riazanov replied vehemently, “You won’t find them anywhere unless you’ve put them there yourself!” He was arrested, jailed, and deported to a group of little towns on the Volga, doomed to penury and physical collapse; librarians received the order to purge his writings and his editions of Marx from their stocks. To anybody who knew the policy of the Socialist International and the character of its leaders, Fritz Adler, Vandervelde, Abramovich, Otto Bauer, and Bracke, the fabricated charge was utterly and grotesquely implausible. If it had to be admitted as true, Riazanov deserved to die as a traitor, but they merely exiled him. As I write this book I learn that he died a couple of years ago (in 1940?) alone and captive, nobody knows where.
Rubin did not give up his mentor willingly. Indeed, his persecution at the hands of Stalin’s men was possibly even more brutal and tragic. From 1905 on, Rubin had been involved in the Marxist movement in Russia as part of the Menshevik faction. Though not quite as encyclopedic as Riazanov, in terms of his breadth of knowledge, Rubin was a far more original theorist. You can download his Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value (1926), his lecture “On Abstract Labor” (1927), and his History of Economic Thought (1928) by clicking here. But the sad story of what happened to Rubin between 1930 and 1937 is recounted below by his sister, in testimony compiled in 1971 by the dissident historian Roy Medvedev (who’s now a shill for Putin). This is then followed by an article Trotsky wrote in Riazanov’s defense upon learning of his arrest in 1931.
This is what I learned from my brother. When he was arrested on December 23, 1930, he was charged with being a member of the “Union Bureau of Mensheviks.” This accusation seemed so ridiculous that he immediately submitted a written exposition of his views, which he thought would prove the impossibility of such an accusation. When the investigator read this statement, he tore it up right there. A confrontation was arranged between my brother and Yakubovich, who had been arrested earlier and had confessed to being a member of the “Union Bureau.” My brother did not even know Yakubovich. At the confrontation, when Yakubovich said to my brother, “Isaac Il’ich, we were together at a session of the Union Bureau,” my brother immediately asked, “And where was this meeting held?” This question caused such a disruption in the examination that the investigator interrupted the examination right there, saying, “What are you, a lawyer, Isaak Il’ich?”
My brother in fact was a lawyer, had worked in that field for many years. After that confrontation the charge that Rubin was a member of the “Union Bureau” was dropped. Soon after, my brother was transferred to Suzdal. The circumstances of that transfer were so unusual that they were bound to inspire alarm and fear. On the station platform there was not a single person; in an empty railroad car he was met by an important GPU official, Gai. To all of Gai’s attempts at persuasion my brother replied with what was really true: that he had no connections with the Mensheviks. Then Gai declared that he would give him forty-eight hours to think it over. Rubin replied that he didn’t need forty-eight minutes…
The examination at Suzdal also failed to give the investigators the results they wanted. Then they put Rubin for days in the kartser, the punishment cell. My brother at forty-five was a man with a diseased heart and diseased joints. The kartser was a stone hole the size of a man; you couldn’t move in it, you could only stand or sit on the stone floor. But my brother endured this torture, too, and left the kartser with a feeling of inner confidence in himself, in his moral strength… Then he was put in the kartser for a second time, which also produced no results. At that time Rubin was sharing a cell with Yakubovich and Sher. When he came back from the kartser, his cellmates received him with great concern and attention; right there they made tea for him, gave him sugar and other things, and tried in every way to show their sympathy. Telling me about this, Rubin said that he was so amazed: these same people told lies about him and at the same time treated him so warmly.
Soon Rubin was put into solitary confinement; in those circumstances he was subjected to every kind of tormenting humiliation. He was deprived of all the personal things he had brought with him, even handkerchiefs. At that time he had the flu and walked about with a swollen nose, with ulcers, filthy. The prison authorities often inspected his cell, and as soon as they found any violation of the rule for maintaining the cell they sent him to clean the latrines. Everything was done to break his will… They told him his wife was very sick, to which he replied: “I can’t help her in any way, I can’t even help myself.” At times the investigators would turn friendly and say: “Isaac Il’ich, this is necessary for the party.” At the same time they gave him nighttime interrogations, at which a man is not allowed to fall asleep for a minute. They would wake him up, wear him out with all sorts of interrogations, jeer at his spiritual strength, call him the “Menshevik Jesus.”
This went on until January 28, 1931. On the night of January 28-29, they took him down to a cellar, where there were various prison officials and a prisoner, someone named Vasilyevskii, …to whom they said, in the presence of my brother; “We are going to shoot you now, if Rubin does not confess.” Vasilyevskii on his knees begged my brother: “Isaac Il’ich, what does it cost you to confess?” But my brother remained firm and calm, even when they shot Vasilyevskii right there. His feeling of inner rightness was so strong that it helped him to endure that frightful ordeal. The next night, January 29, they took my brother to the cellar again. This time a young man who looked like a student was there. My brother didn’t know him. When they turned to the student with the words, “You will be shot because Rubin will not confess,” the student tore open his shirt at the breast and said, “Fascists, gendarmes, shoot!” They shot him right there; the name of this student was Dorodnov.
The shooting of Dorodnov made a shattering impression on my brother. Returning to his cell, he began to think. What’s to be done? My brother decided to start negotiations with the investigator; these negotiations lasted from February 2 to 21, 1931. The charge that Rubin belonged to the Union Bureau had already been dropped in Moscow, after the confrontation with Yakubovich. Now they agreed that my brother would consent to confess himself a member of a program commission connected with the Union Bureau, and that he, Rubin, had kept documents of the Menshevik Center in his office at the Institute, and when he was fired from the Institute, he had handed them over in a sealed envelope to [David] Riazanov, as materials on the history of the Social Democratic movement. Rubin had supposedly asked Riazanov to keep these documents for a short time. In these negotiations every word, every formulation was fought over. Repeatedly the “confession” written by Rubin was crossed out and corrected by the investigator. When Rubin went to trial on March 1, 1931, in the side pocket of his jacket was his “confession,” corrected with the investigator’s red ink.
Rubin’s position was tragic. He had to confess to what had never existed, and nothing had: neither his former views; nor his connections with the other defendants, most of whom he didn’t even know, while others he knew only by chance; nor any documents that had supposedly been entrusted to his safekeeping; nor that sealed package of documents which he was supposed to have handed over to Riazanov.
In the course of the interrogation and negotiations with the investigator it became clear to Rubin that the name of Riazanov would figure in the whole affair, if not in Rubin’s testimony, then in the testimony of someone else. And Rubin agreed to tell the whole story about the mythical package. My brother told me that speaking against Riazanov was just like speaking against his own father. That was the hardest part for him, and he decided to make it look as if he had fooled Riazanov, who had trusted him implicitly. My brother stubbornly kept to this position in all his depositions: Riazanov had trusted him personally, and he, Rubin, had fooled trustful Riazanov. No one and nothing could shake him from this position. His deposition of February 21 concerning this matter was printed in the indictment and signed by Krylenko on February 23, 1931. The deposition said that Rubin handed Riazanov the documents in a sealed envelope and asked him to keep them for a while at the Institute. My brother stressed this position in all his statements before and during the trial. At the trial he gave a number of examples which were supposed to explain why Riazanov trusted him so much…
Putting the problem in such a way ruined the prosecutor’s plan. He asked Rubin point-blank: “Didn’t you establish any organizational connection?” Rubin replied, “No, there was no organizational connection, there was only his great personal trust in me.” Then Krylenko asked for a recess. When he and the other defendants got to another room, Krylenko said to Rubin: “You did not say what you should have said. After the recess I will call you back to the stand, and you will correct your reply.” Rubin answered sharply: “Do not call me any more. I will again repeat what I said.” The result of this conflict was that, instead of the agreed three years in prison, Rubin was given five, and in his concluding speech Krylenko gave a devastating characterization of Rubin like that of no one else. Everyone interested in the case could not understand why there was so much spite and venom in this characterization.
Rubin set himself the goal of doing everything in his power to “shield” Riazanov… At the trial the possibility of defining in this way his position with respect to Riazanov gave Rubin a certain moral satisfaction. But these legal subtleties made little sense to anyone else. Politically, Riazanov was compromised, and Rubin was stricken from the list of people who have the right to a life worthy of man. Rubin himself, in his own consciousness, struck himself from the list of such people as soon as he began to give his “testimony.” It is interesting what my brother felt when they took him back to Moscow from Suzdal. When, sick and tortured, he was put into the sleigh, he remembered, in his words, how self-assured and internally strong he had been when he came to Suzdal and how he was leaving morally broken, destroyed, degraded to a state of complete hopelessness. Rubin understood perfectly well that by his “confession” he had put an end to his life as an honorable, uncorrupted worker and achiever in his chosen field of scholarship.
But that was not the main thing; the main thing was that he was destroyed as a man. Rubin understood perfectly well what repercussions his confession would have. Why had Rubin borne false witness against himself? Why had he also named Riazanov? Why had he violated the most elementary, most primitive concepts of human behavior? Everyone knew with what mutual respect these two men were connected, Rubin and Riazanov. Riazanov, who was considerably older than Rubin, saw in him a talented Marxist scholar who had devoted his life to the study and popularization of Marxism. Riazanov had trusted him unreservedly; he himself was bewildered by what had happened. Here I want to recount an episode, a very painful one, the confrontation between Rubin and Riazanov. The confrontation took place in the presence of an investigator. Rubin, pale and tormented, turned to Riazanov, saying, “David Borisovich, you remember I handed you a package.” Whether Riazanov said anything and precisely what, I don’t remember for sure. My brother right then was taken to his cell; in his cell he began to beat his head against the wall. Anyone who knew how calm and self-controlled Rubin was can understand what a state he had been brought to. According to rumors, Riazanov used to say that he could not understand what had happened to Isaac Il’ich.
The defendants in the case of the “Union Bureau” were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, and all fourteen men were transferred to the political prison in the town of Verkhneuralsk. Rubin, sentenced to five years, was subjected to solitary confinement. The others, who received terms of ten, eight, and five years, were placed several men to a cell. Rubin remained in solitary confinement throughout his imprisonment. During his confinement he continued his scholarly work. Rubin became sick in prison, and lip cancer was suspected. In connection with this sickness, in January, 1933. he was taken to Moscow, to the hospital in Butyrskaia Prison. While in the hospital Rubin was visited twice by GPU officials who offered to make his situation easier, to free him, to enable him to do research. But both times Rubin refused, understanding the price that is paid for such favors. After spending six to eight weeks in the prison hospital, he was taken back to the political prison in Verkhneuralsk… A year later, in 1934, Rubin was released on a commuted sentence and exiled to the town of Turgai, then an almost unpopulated settlement in the desert. Aside from Rubin there were no other exiles there.
After several months at Turgai, Rubin was permitted to settle in the town of Aktyubinsk… He got work in a consumer cooperative, as a plan economist. In addition he continued to do his own scholarly work. In the summer of 1935 his wife became seriously sick. My brother sent a telegram asking me to come. I went right away to Aktyubinsk; my brother’s wife lay in the hospital, and he himself was in a very bad condition. A month later, when his wife had recovered, I went home to Moscow… My brother told me that he did not want to return to Moscow, he did not want to meet his former circle of acquaintances. That showed how deeply he was spiritually shaken by all that he had been through. Only his great optimism that was characteristic of him and his deep scholarly interests gave him the strength to live.
In the fall of 1937, during the mass arrests of that time, my brother was again arrested. The prison in Aktyubinsk was overcrowded, the living conditions of the prisoners were terrifying. After a short stay in the prison, he was transferred somewhere outside of Aktyubinsk. We could find out nothing more about him.
At the moment we write these lines, we know nothing about the expulsion from the party of Riazanov except what is communicated in the official dispatches by Tass. Riazanov has been expelled from the party, not for any differences with the so-called general line, but for “treason” to the party. Riazanov is accused — no more and no less — of having conspired with the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries who were allied with the conspirators of the industrial bourgeoisie. This is the version in the official communiqué. What does not seem clear at first sight is that for Riazanov the affair is limited to expulsion from the party. Why has he not been arrested and arraigned before the Supreme Tribunal for conspiracy against the dictatorship of the proletariat? Such a question must pose itself to every thoughtful person, even to those who do not know the accused. The latest communiqués say that Riazanov is named in the indictment by Krylenko. To be a defendant tomorrow?
The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries represent parties which seek the reestablishment of capitalism. The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries are distinguished from other parties of capitalist restoration by the fact that they hope to give the bourgeois regime in Russia “democratic” forms. There are very strong currents in these parties which believe that any regime in Russia, regardless of its political form, would be more progressive than the Bolshevik regime. The position of the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries is counterrevolutionary in the most precise and objective sense of the word, that is, in the class sense. This position cannot but lead to attempts to utilize the discontent of the masses for a social uprising. The activity of the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries is nothing but the preparation for such an uprising. Are blocs of the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries with the industrial bourgeoisie excluded? Not at all. The policy of the social democracy throughout the world is based upon the idea of a coalition with the bourgeoisie against the “reaction” and the revolutionary proletariat. The policy of the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries in 1917 was entirely based upon the principle of the coalition with the liberal bourgeoisie, republican as well as monarchical. The parties which believe that there is no way out for Russia other than a return to a bourgeois regime cannot but make a bloc with the bourgeoisie. The latter cannot refuse aid, including financial aid, to its democratic auxiliaries. Within these limits everything is clear, for it flows from the very nature of things. But how could Comrade Riazanov happen to be among the participants in the Menshevik conspiracy? Here we are confronted by an obvious enigma.
When Syrtsov was accused of “double-dealing,” every conscious worker must have asked: How could an Old Bolshevik who, not so long ago, was put by the Central Committee into the post of chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars suddenly become the illegal defender of opinions which he refuted and condemned officially? From this fact one could only establish the extreme duplicity of the Stalinist regime, in which the real opinions of the members of the government are established only by the intervention of the GPU.
But in the Syrtsov case, it was only a matter of a conflict between the centrists and the right-wingers of the party, and nothing more. The Riazanov “case” is incomparably more significant and more striking. All of Riazanov’s activity was manifested in the realm of ideas, of books, of publications, and by that fact alone it was under the constant scrutiny of hundreds of thousands of readers throughout the world. Finally, and most importantly, Riazanov is accused not of sympathy for the deviation of the right-wingers in the party, but of participation in the counterrevolutionary conspiracy.
That numerous members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, theoreticians and practitioners of the general line, are Mensheviks without knowing it; that numerous former Mensheviks, who have changed their names but not their essence, successfully occupy the most responsible posts (people’s commissars, ambassadors, etc.); and that within the framework of the CPSU no mean place is occupied, alongside the Bessedovskys, the Agabekovs, and other corrupted and demoralized elements, by direct agents of the Mensheviks — on that score we have no doubts at all. The Stalinist regime is the breeding ground of all sorts of germs of decomposition in the party. But the Riazanov “case” cannot beset into this framework. Riazanov is not an upstart, an adventurist, a Bessedovsky, or any sort of agent of the Mensheviks. Riazanov’s line of development can be traced year by year, in accordance with facts and documents, articles and books. In the person of Riazanov we have a man who for more than forty years has participated in the revolutionary movement; and every stage of his activity has in one way or another entered into the history of the proletarian party. Riazanov had serious differences with the party at various times, including the time of Lenin or, rather, especially in the time of Lenin, when Riazanov participated actively in the day-to-day formulation of party policy. In one of his speeches Lenin spoke directly of the strong side of Riazanov and of his weak side. Lenin did not see Riazanov as a politician. Speaking of his strong side, Lenin had in mind his idealism, his deep devotion to Marxist doctrine, his exceptional erudition, his honesty in principles, his intransigence in defense of the heritage of Marx and Engels. That is precisely why the party put Riazanov at the head of the Marx-Engels Institute which he himself had created. The work of Riazanov had international importance, not only of a historico-scientific but also a revolutionary and political character. Marxism is inconceivable without the acceptance of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. Menshevism is the bourgeois-democratic refutation of this dictatorship. In defending Marxism against revisionism, Riazanov, by all of his activity, conducted a struggle against the social democracy and consequently against the Russian Mensheviks. How then is Riazanov’s principled position to be reconciled with his participation in the Menshevik conspiracy? To this question there is no reply. And we think that there cannot be a reply. We are absolutely certain that Riazanov did not participate in any conspiracy. But in that case, where does the accusation come from? If it is invented, then by whom and toward what end?
To this we can give only hypothetical explanations, based, nevertheless, upon a sufficiently adequate acquaintance with the people and the circumstances. We will assist ourselves, moreover, with political logic and revolutionary psychology. Neither the one nor the other can be abolished by Tass dispatches.
Comrade Riazanov directed a vast scientific institution. He required numerous qualified personnel as collaborators: people initiated in Marxism, the history of the revolutionary movement, the problems of the class struggle, and those who knew foreign languages. Bolsheviks having the same qualities occupy, almost without exception, responsible administrative posts and are not available for a scientific institution. On the other hand, among the Mensheviks there are numerous idle politicians who have retired from the struggle or who, at least pretend to have retired. In the domain of historical research, of commentary, of annotation, of translation, of important correction, etc., Comrade Riazanov based himself to a certain extent on this type of Menshevik in retreat. In the institute they played about the same role that the bourgeois engineers play in the State Planning Commission and the other economic bodies. A communist who directs any institution, as a general rule defends “his” specialists, sometimes even those who lead him around by the nose. The most illuminating example of this is given by the former chairman of the State Planning Commission, member of the Central Committee Krzhyzhanovsky, who for many years, foaming at the mouth, defended against the Opposition the minimum programs and plans of his saboteur-subordinates. The director of the Marx-Engels Institute felt impelled to assume the defense of his Menshevik collaborators when they were threatened with arrest and deportation. This role of defender, not always crowned with success, has not been practiced by Riazanov only since yesterday. Everybody, including Lenin, knew it; some joked about it, understanding perfectly well the “administrative” interests that guided Riazanov.
There is no doubt that certain Menshevik collaborators, perhaps the majority, used the institute to cover up their conspiratorial work (concealment of archives and documents; correspondence, contacts abroad, etc.). One can imagine that Riazanov was not always sufficiently attentive to the admonitions coming from the party, and showed an excessive benevolence toward his perfidious collaborators. But we think that this is the extreme limit of the accusation that might be leveled against Comrade Riazanov. The books edited by Riazanov are before the eyes of everybody: there is neither Menshevism nor sabotage in them, as in the economic plans of Stalin-Krzhyzhanovsky.
But if one accepts the fact that Riazanov’s mistake does not exceed credulous protection of the Menshevik specialists, where then does the accusation of treason come from? We know from recent experience that the Stalinist GPU is capable of sending an officer of Wrangel into the ranks of irreproachable revolutionists. Menzhinsky and Yagoda would not hesitate for a moment to attribute any crime whatsoever to Riazanov as soon as they were ordered to do so. But who ordered it? Who would have gained by it? Who sought this international scandal around the name of Riazanov?
It is precisely on this that we can advance explanations that are compellingly dictated by all the circumstances. In recent years Riazanov had withdrawn from active politics. In this sense he shared the fate of many old members of the party who, despair in their hearts, left the internal life of the party and shut themselves up in economic or cultural work. It is only this resignation that permitted Riazanov to insure his institute against devastation in the whole post-Leninist period. But in the last year it became impossible to maintain oneself in this position. The life of the party, especially since the Sixteenth Congress, has been converted into a continual examination of loyalty to the chief, the one and only. In every unit, there now are agents fresh from the plebiscite who on every occasion interrogate the hesitant and the irresolute: Do they regard Stalin as an infallible chief, as a great theoretician, as a classic of Marxism? Are they ready on the New Year to swear loyalty to the chief of the party — to Stalin? The less the party shows itself capable of controlling itself through ideological struggle, the more the bureaucracy is forced to control the party with the aid of agent provocateurs.
For many years Riazanov was able to hold his tongue very prudently — too prudently — on a whole series of burning questions. But Riazanov was organically incapable of cowardice, of platitudes; any ostentatious display of the sentiment of loyalty was repugnant to him. One can imagine that in the meetings of the institute he often flew into a passion against the corrupted youngsters of that innumerable order of young professors who usually understand very little of Marxism but can excel in falsehood and informing. This type of internal clique, no doubt, for a long time had its candidate for the post of director of the institute and, what is still more important its connections with the GPU and the secretariat of the Central Committee. Had Riazanov alluded somewhere, even if only in a few words, to the fact that Marx and Engels were only forerunners of Stalin, then all the stratagems of these unscrupulous youngsters would have collapsed and no Krylenko would have dared to make a complaint against Riazanov for his benevolence toward the Menshevik translators. But Riazanov did not accept this. As for the general secretariat, it was unable to make any further concessions.
Having acquired the power of the apparatus, Stalin feels himself weaker than ever internally. He knows himself well and that is why he fears his own position. He needs daily confirmation of his role of dictator. The plebiscitary regime is pitiless: it does not reconcile itself with doubts, it demands perpetual enthusiastic acknowledgment. This is why Riazanov’s turn came. If Bukharin and Rykov fell victim to their “platform,” which it is true they have renounced two or three times, Riazanov fell victim to his personal honesty. The old revolutionist said to himself to serve while holding one’s tongue with clenched teeth — good; to be an enthusiastic lackey — impossible. That is why Riazanov fell under the justice of the party of the Yaroslavskys. Then Yagoda furnished the elements of the accusation. In conclusion, Riazanov was declared a traitor to the party and an agent of the counterrevolution.
In the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and in the Western parties of the Comintern, there are many who observe with consternation the activities of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But they justify their passivity, saying: “What can be done? One must hold one’s tongue in order not to shake the foundation of the dictatorship.” This possibilism is not only cowardly, it is blind. Instead of the foundation of the dictatorship, the apparatus of the official party is more and more being converted into an instrument for its disintegration. This process cannot be arrested by silence. Internal explosions are occurring more and more frequently, each time in a more threatening form. The struggle against the Stalinist regime is a struggle for the Marxist foundation of a proletarian policy. This cannot be won without party democracy. The plebiscitary regime of Stalin by its very nature is not durable. So that it shall not be liquidated by class enemies, it is indispensable to liquidate it by the efforts of the advanced elements of the Communist International. This is the lesson of the Riazanov “case”!