The document printed below is without question one of the most important political statements to emerge from within the Soviet Union in recent years. Its author, Roy Medvedev, commands a personal authority in his field as an historian comparable to that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the domain of literature, within the Russian opposition. Born in 1928, Roy Medvedev is the author of the only major study of Stalinism that has been written within the USSR since the thirties—Let History Judge (English translation, London 1971), a work distinguished by its scruple and balance, that unsparingly exposes the crimes and blunders committed by Stalin both within Russia and in the international class struggle, and contains one of the most caustic and accurate analyses of the person of the dictator. Unlike the great majority of current Soviet oppositionists, Medvedev is a self-declared Marxist, whose constant concern has been with the real political history of the society created by the October Revolution, and with its impact on the world as a whole in the 20th century.

The present text is a statement written by Medvedev in Moscow, in the wake of a number of interventions in the international press by leading Soviet dissidents—Sakharov, Maximov, Solzhenitsyn and others. It is remarkable for its political dignity and intellectual honesty. The main purpose of the document is a reply to the increasingly reactionary overtones of the appeals addressed to the West by other prominent Soviet oppositionists, which towards the end of 1973 appeared in some cases to be moving even towards outright approval of the us war in Vietnam and the military counter-revolution in Chile. Medvedev insists on the brutal campaign of harassment and repression that has driven so many Russian intellectuals towards these extremities, and defends their right to express their opinions publicly, however mistaken, in a society that has by now outlived capitalism for over half a century. At the same time, he calmly and firmly rebukes the Russo-centred provincialism that—often understandably, in conditions of isolation and constraint—has come to characterize much of the present Soviet opposition. The warm note of socialist internationalism that marks the text—which singles out the massacres in Indonesia, the blockade of Cuba, the war in Vietnam, the racist regime in South Africa, and the terror in Chile as landmarks in the record of imperialism since the Second World War—is in striking contrast to the bulk of dissident utterances from the ussr today. Medvedev expressly criticizes Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov for their overtures to the Western Right, as a main ally in the struggle against the bureaucratic oppression of the Soviet State. As he correctly points out, such an attitude is even in its own terms self-defeating, since the North American and West European bourgeoisies have no interest whatever in promoting socialist democracy in the ussr. Likewise, naïve reliance on the hard-core Cold War lobby in the us Congress to secure rights of free emigration from the Soviet Union by the Jackson amendment, is not only illusory in principle, but may in practice simply serve to confirm the world market dominance of American heavy industry. The only real external ally in the struggle for a genuine democratization in the ussr is the international working class and its collective organizations. Diplomatic and economic détente between East and West, Medvedev argues, should not be expected to lead to any immediate relaxation of police pressures in the ussr: on the contrary, it has already produced a vicious intensification of them. But the short-term consequences of détente should be distinguished from the long-term prospects created by it—which he contends will eventually erode the entrenched positions of what he accurately describes as the ‘Right’ of the apparatus of the cpsu. This nuanced and dialectical analysis of the present diplomatic conjuncture is open to debate: in particular, the political advantages which imperialism seeks to gain from it in the ex-colonial and semi-colonial world do not appear to have been fully considered. But its sobriety and seriousness cannot be doubted.

The central question on which revolutionary socialists in the West will differ from Medvedev lies elsewhere—in his prognosis of the course of future political changes in the Soviet Union. In his view, progress towards socialist democracy in the ussr can in the present decade only come from ‘above’, in the form of initiatives by a younger generation of party leadership, rather than from ‘below’, in the form of mass struggles by the working class or peasantry. The only circumstances in which he envisages a scenario of mass upheavals against the present regime are major economic or political crises. These he judges ‘neither probable nor desirable’. Marxists outside the ussr, in many ways less intimately informed of Soviet realities than those within it, will respect this view and the depth of experience behind it; but they will not necessarily share either its prediction or its preference. footnote1 Their first duty, however, is to respond with active solidarity to the courageous initiative taken by Medvedev. There is no more urgent need today than for a comprehending and comradely dialogue between the forces of the Left in the Western capitalist countries and those within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Roy Medvedev’s text is a long overdue introduction to one.