Monday, December 6, 2010

From The International Newsletter of Communist Studies Online XVI

2010, no. 23, p. 159-160

Not many members of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union survived Stalin's terror regime. Those who wrote about their experiences of struggle and repression constitute even a lesser quantity. In 2005, the OGI publishing house released such a rare document – the first volume of the memoirs of Grigorii Isaevich Grigorov (1900-1994), revolutionary, scientist, dissident and GULAG inmate. Born into a Jewish craftsman family, Grigorov joins the revolutionary movement as a teenager, takes part in the revolutions of February and October 1917, fights on the side of the Reds in the Civil War, becomes imprisoned by Denikin and is freed again by Nestor Makhno. After the war, Grigorov succeeds in obtaining a proper education through rabfak institutions, specializes himself in philosophy and becomes a "red professor", obtaining a doctoral degree with a monograph on Spinoza and being close to Abram Deborin, Evgenii Preobrazhenskii and David Riazanov. Having an independent mindset and not being content with the bureaucratization of the party, Grigorov associates himself with the Opposition from 1923 on, and is forced to move to Siberia, where he can work relatively freely due to his friendship with Vladimir Kosior. From 1926 on, when the struggle between the United (Communist) Opposition and Stalin's circle reaches a new level, Grigorov takes part in the work of clandestine circles, crossing paths with Lev Trotskii, Karl Radek, Victor Serge and other prominent oppositionists. The first volume ends with the author's expulsion from the party in 1927.
A planned 2nd volume did not see the light in Russia for unknown reasons. Instead, Grigorov's son, who lives in Israel, has put out a very limited print run of the 2nd volume in 2008. Dealing with the period between 1928 and 1972, it proves to be a fascinating and highly valuable source on the Stalin era. In 1928, after the "capitulation" of Radek, Preobrazhenskii and Smilga, Grigorov is more than ever active for the Opposition – yet in a way that fails to please him: Carrying out the controversial tactical decision of the Left Opposition's leadership to disband on oppositionist groups in order to be able to operate within the party, he goes on a liquidatory mission into the Soviet province , including the Caucasus, and is confronted with frustration of rank-and-file oppositionists who are not at all willing to give up the organized struggle. In the same year, Grigorov faces arrest and deportation to a village in the Ural, where he spends the next two years together with Decist leader Vladimir Smirnov, first-hand experiencing the brutal peasant collectivization. After a brief period of freedom back in Leningrad, Grigorov and his wife (an old Bolshevik revolutionary herself) get arrested straight after the Kirov murder in 1934. What follows is an odyssey through several GULAG camps, where the couple manages to stay together for most of the time. Grigorov experiences the Trotskyist prisoners' famous hunger strike in Vorkuta (in which he does not take part) and the massacre that followed thereafter – and it is striking that the information on these events, which he brought to paper in the 1970s-1980s without access to any sources, corresponds with the findings of recent research.1 After being released in 1939, again his freedom does not last long: he is mobilized into the army for the war against Finland, captured by enemy troops and spends the following (comparably easy) years as a POW in Finland. In 1944, after the Soviet Union made peace with Finland, Grigorov is arrested again by the infamous SMERSH counter-intelligence, and another period of GULAG imprisonment begins, ending only in March 1955. During the times of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, Grigorov works as a schoolteacher and succeeds to get back into science, shifting to geology (using the experience he gained participating as forced laborer in geological expeditions during his imprisonment). His monograph on the entanglements of philosophy and geography gets published in Kiev in 19832, while his memoirs, which he has been secretly writing from the mid-1960s until 1983, of course remain unpublished during Soviet times. During late perestroika, in 1988, Grigorov writes a letter to Soviet historian Vladimir Billik where he shares his memories on the encounters with Trotskii.3 Shortly after, in 1989, he immigrates to Israel together with his son's family, where he dies in 1994.
The memoirs of Grigorii Grigorov, contemporary of the 20th century in a literal sense, have an immense historical value for scholars of the Left Opposition, but also they are fruitful as a source for several aspects of the Russian Revolution, the early Soviet Union and the times of Stalinism. And, above all, they are highly fascinating read.
While volume one is sold out, volume two can be obtained from Grigorov's relatives for € 20 incl. shipping. Orders may be directed to fluffy2001 at gmail dot com (you can write in Russian, English, and Hebrew).

Gleb J. Albert, Bielefeld

1 Comp.: Jean-Jacques Marie: Der Widerstand der Trozkisten im Gulag 1936 bis 1938. Der Hungerstreik und das Massaker in Vorkuta. In: Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung (2007), pp. 117-136; ld.: Les trotskystes a Vorkouta in: Cahier du movement ouvrier (2007), N0 34.
2 G.I.Grigorov: Prichinnost' I sviazi v geografii. Metodologicheskii askept, Kiev, Vishcha Shkola, 1983.
3 Grigori Grigorov: Souvenirs sur Trotsky. In: Cahiers du movement ouvrier (2005), N0 27, pp. 67-72.

Grigorij Grigorov: Povoroty sud'by I proizvol. Vospominanija. 1905-1927 gody, Moskva, OGI, 2005. 536 p. (Chastnyi archiv). ISBN 5-94282-281-6; Grigorij Grigorov: Povoroty sud'by I proizvol. Vospominanija. 1928-1972, s.p., [2008]. 682 p. No ISBN.

1 comment:

Ludwik Kowalski said...

Depending on children is not very reliable, as far as trying to make important preserving memoirs of parents. My own memoir is certainly not as important as that of Grigorov but I do not want it to be lost after my death. That is why I turned it into a FREE ON-LINE book

I am promoting that testimony in nearly everything I post on the Internet (this is an illustration). My advice to Grigoriev's sun is to do the same. Preserving testimonies of those who participated in the first "laboratory testing" of Marx's idea of proletarian dictatorship is very important.

Ludwik Kowalski (see Wikipedia)
Professor Emeristus,
Montclair State University,
Montclair, NJ, USA