Writing to a friend I fell down the Stalin rabbit-hole. It started off reasonably for a sunday evening, thinking, because of some translation work I am doing, that we have a lot to learn from the ways Progress Press and the Foreign Languages Publishing House and David Ryazanov in the Marx-Engels Institute set the tone.
Soon after that though I was reading some scuttlebutt (?) about Isaak Illich Rubin and his execution as a Trotskyist – the key source of the Value Form theorists – Backhaus et al. He is accused of implicating Ryazanov in a faked Menshevik conspiracy, which got Riazanov removed from the Directorship of the institute (he had founded in 1921) and also eventually shot. Years of reading the Neue Marxlektüre and I’d forgotten this history, even though Rubin’s book was long before the arrests and show trials, it adds some sort of unresolved sour feeling. What to make of these stories that smell so much of red-baiting as well? I don’t even know if the opening of the archives on these archivists has produced any ‘better’ studies than that of Medvedev – Let History Judge – translated by George Shriver who also translated the volume of Rosa Luxemburg’s letters that is pretty great and edited Bukharin, who I am reading because Rosa’s anthropology volume (lecture course in the Complete works) and Bukharin’s Economics are a sort of dialogue. Of course I cannot do this in Russian, for which I blame my father for assimilationism in Australia – though at least he had me keep the German which he was more comfortable in anyway, even if not his first language it became his main one.
Ackk. I should not be reading about Medvedev, but I wonder about this sort of thing – Medvedev claims Stalin called Ryazanov a clown way back in 1921 (for supporting trade unionism, counter to the central committee). The source for all this is the testimony or memoir of Rubin’s sister… for [everyone’s] entertainment, four relevant paragraphs of the sister’s memoir as glossed by Medvedev. I cannot see if there is any corroboration of this memoir that ‘came into my hands’ (as Medvedev says) but what is tells of Rubin is classic grim reading in the disappeared mode and, well, who to trust? There must be something more from the recent archivists but I can’t find it.
Then, if you like this sort of sordid stuff, the page where Medvedev gives his penultimate assessment of Ryazanov, and it reads as the denouement of the conflict with Stalin already set up way back on page 70 in 1921. Stalin held grudges, but the leap from detail to general Trotsky line is suspect I think. I’ve no candle for Trotsky, but I also don’t trust the narrative here either. Especially as the final mention of Ryazanov says that though he respected Lenin, Lenin also mocked his points – Lenin treated everyone he disagreed with like this, its not unbelievable… what is unbelievable is the implied ‘long memory’ and score-settling that removes Ryazanov, by Stalin and by implication for Lenin. When I think it was more likely some much less calculated but more brutal bureaucratic cleansing… or.. Rubin did also have cancer we are told, and there is no direct evidence he was shot, just disappeared according to his sister.
I am well down the rabbit hole now. Does this backstory to the Marx archive matter. Ryazanov had done so much to bring out the german Ideology, the Paris Manuscripts and the various collected works, in Russian and in German.
I am wondering who I ask among the post-Soviet archivists for a view on all this.
Edit: Subsequently, the next hour was lost to reading a text that sort of regurgitates Medvedev’s account from Rubin’s sister, with the occasional not exactly corroborating reference to archival sources. Nevertheless, it is worth a look at: Ivan Boldyrev and Martin Kragh (2015). ISAAK RUBIN: HISTORIAN OF ECONOMIC THOUGHT DURING THE STALINIZATION OF SOCIAL SCIENCES IN SOVIET RUSSIA. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 37, pp 363-386 doi:10.1017/S1053837215000413
I picked out the best bits, so to speak. None the wiser really.