Medvedev Dumped in ’69 : Soviet Party Reinstates Anti-Stalinist Historian
Roy A. Medvedev, a leading Soviet historian who was expelled from the Communist Party 20 years ago for exposing the extent of the dictator Josef Stalin’s crimes, has been fully exonerated and reinstated as a party member, the official Tass news agency reported Friday.
The party’s control committee, which reviewed Medvedev’s case, for years a focus of controversy, “concluded that he had been expelled from the party without grounds,” Tass said. The committee reinstated him as a member since 1959, the year he was originally admitted as a full member.
His expulsion in 1969, Tass said, was due largely to his book, “Let History Judge,” on the nature and consequences of Stalin’s rule, particularly his personality cult, and the resulting distortions of socialism in the Soviet Union. A seminal study of Stalinism, the book has recently been serialized here, and it will soon be published in full, 18 years after it appeared in the West.
Medvedev’s rehabilitation could signal a series of important political shifts here--a new willingness of the Soviet leadership to acknowledge not only Stalin’s misdeeds but its own mistaken efforts to cover them up, a further outreach to those whose principles turned them into dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s and an acceptance of the people’s judgment in electing men like Medvedev to the new Congress of People’s Deputies.
“I have not changed my views,” Medvedev said Friday. “The turnabout occurred in the party, in the Central Committee.”
Decision Up to Party
Several months ago, he said, senior party officials asked if he wanted to become a member again. Such a decision was up to the party, he replied, for he had not resigned but been expelled.
“They asked me how I would react if I were reinstated,” Medvedev recalled, “and I said, quite honestly, that I would not object, for I was and have remained a Marxist, and I fully share the goals of the party today.”
After two decades in the wilderness, when he a “nonperson” in the Soviet parlance of the time and could only publish his work abroad, Medvedev has within the past year emerged as a major political figure, well within the mainstream of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s reforms.
He was elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies earlier this month after defeating five other candidates in a key Moscow district. He is now interviewed regularly by Soviet news media on historical questions and current events, and his long suppressed books on Stalin and the devastating effects of his rule are being published here. And he again lectures on his specialty--leadership politics in the Soviet Union.
“After so many years as a supposed heretic, it is hard sometimes to understand that what I hold, and have always held, is now the new credo,” Medvedev, 63, said in a recent conversation in his book-filled apartment. “But I am ready to contribute in any way I can. After calling for democracy for so long, I have no choice but to do what I can and what those who have supported me want . . .
“Rehabilitation is, quite naturally, very satisfying for me, but it is very, very important in the larger context, in its implications for the official attitudes to such questions as Stalin’s crimes and the long-term effects of his personality cult and simply for the way that politics are conducted here.”
The silver-haired Medvedev has retained his ironic sense of humor and bemused view of the world. To old friends, who recall the policemen who used to sit at his front door, he jokes, “I am sorry I no longer have a doorman” as he welcomes them--and ushers out a government film crew that had been taping his comments on Stalin for an official documentary.
Under Gorbachev, criticism of Stalin and his crimes no longer is dissent, or “anti-Soviet propaganda,” as it was called when people were imprisoned for it. But the party’s official position, and Medvedev’s scholarly works, more than two dozen books, appear with their tempered judgments likely to become the starting point for the next evaluation of Stalin, who died in 1953 but with whose legacy the country is still grappling.
Medvedev has estimated that 40 million Soviet citizens were either killed, arrested or otherwise repressed under Stalin, and his figures, along with his remarks about Stalin, have been published in the official Soviet press.
Like many others of his generation, Medvedev brought a personal perspective to the question. In 1938, when he was 12, his father, Alexander, a Communist Party professor of philosophy and middle-grade army officer, was arrested and convicted on false charges and sent to an Arctic labor camp, where he died in 1941; he was posthumously rehabilitated in 1956 after Stalin’s death.
His twin brother, Zhores, a biochemist and gerontologist, was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and effectively exiled while traveling abroad in 1973. Zhores had been forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital for circulating his book, “The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko,” about the corruption of Soviet science under Stalin.
Released after a massive campaign within the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the broader intellectual community, Zhores became Roy’s closest collaborator in a series of dissident activities, including publication of an important underground newsletter, “Political Diary.” He now lives in London.
Among the leading Soviet dissidents of the 1970s, Roy Medvedev took a different stance from that of Andrei D. Sakharov, the nuclear physicist, who won the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights activities, and Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, the exiled Russian writer and the 1970 Nobel laureate for literature.
While protesting the party’s abuse of power at home and abroad, he advocated a liberal, reformed, more human Marxism, closer to the democratic socialism of Western Europe and its multiparty systems. Perestroika, as Gorbachev’s reform program is known, has already gone further, he says, than the goals he outlined in a 1970 program of his own.