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New Left Review I/96, March-April 1976

Tamara Deutscher

Intellectual Opposition in the USSR

In ‘The Autocracy is Wavering’, written in 1903, Lenin observed that ‘there is no more precarious moment for a government in a revolutionary period than the beginning of concessions, the beginning of vacillation.’ [1] Lenin, Polnoye Sobranie Sochinenii, 5th Russian edition, Vol. 7, pp. 123–8. The Soviet hierarchy is, of course, perfectly well aware of the dangers of ‘vacillation’. Yet, since the death of Stalin, and especially since the 20th Congress—now two decades in the past—it has been granting innumerable concessions to its critics and opponents. Not that the concessions go far enough: on the contrary, they are disappointingly meagre, and the method of granting them has been desperately inconsistent and whimsical, testifying not to a coherent policy or well thought out programme of gradual change, but precisely to vacillation and uncertainty. This is not the place to survey at length the enormous transformation that the Soviet Union has undergone during the last two decades: the power of the political police has been broken, the univers concentrationnaire—the Gulag Archipelago—has been largely dismantled. The old days when any Soviet citizen, any member of the Politbureau or Central Committee (except Stalin), could be taken from his home and shot in the dead of night are over. True, there is a lack of freedom, there is persecution, there are psychiatric prisonhospitals and horrors of all kinds, perpetrated on a smaller scale than before, but not therefore any the less reprehensible. But half-hearted and miserable as the concessions have been, they have nevertheless created conditions in which the emergence of a vague, unformed and unorganized opposition has become possible. This opposition has found its voice in Samizdat, compilations of uncensored literature circulating in typescript, in innumerable copies.

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