ROY MEDVEDEV became well known in the West as the leading dissident Soviet historian during the Brezhnev years. He was expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1969, when his letter to the editor of the CPSU's theoretical magazine Kommunist, protesting against the appearance in that journal of an article defending Stalin, found its way abroad and was published in West Germany. In 1971, following the publication in the West of his monumental study on Stalin, Let History Judge, he was dismissed from his academic position and forced to work as a freelance historian and sociologist. Many of his books, including A Question of Madness (with his twin brother, Zhores, 1971), On Socialist Democracy (1975) and The October Revolution (1979), have received critical acclaim in the West.
Medvedev was elected to the USSR Congress of People's Deputies in 1989, readmitted to the Communist Party and elected to its Central Committee in 1990. On October 1 he was interviewed for New Left Review by RENFREY CLARKE and JONATHAN STEELE. In the following extract from the interview, Medvedev discusses the situation facing Soviet Communists following the failed August 19 coup.
Could you tell us more about the problems of the Communist Party? It's not at all clear what the legal basis was for the steps that were taken. Did Gorbachev call on the Central Committee to meet after the coup collapsed?
No, he didn't convene the Central Committee. Gorbachev simply renounced his powers as leader of the party. He didn't convene the Central Committee, he took the decision himself.
The Central Committee is made up of people who live throughout the territory of the Soviet Union. Central Committee plenums take place four or five times a year, and people assemble from throughout the USSR. The Central Committee was established along regional lines, and the members live throughout the country. So Gorbachev didn't convene the Central Committee. He simply didn't recognise that he had any obligation to do this.
Of course, he's no longer general secretary, and he has no powers to order it to convene.
Absolutely no powers. Gorbachev, at the same time as renouncing his powers as a member of the Central Committee, issued a decree temporarily suspending [its] activity.
Yeltsin issued a decree suspending the activity of the Central Committee and of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and despite all of the contradictions and objections — I myself spoke out strongly against these moves — took the decision to suspend the activity of the party temporarily. They took advantage of the complicity of the party leadership in the putsch, and took the decision to halt the activity of the whole party.
This was an unlawful and unjustified decision, and incomprehensible from any reasonable point of view. For example, if certain members of the British Conservative Party were shown to have engaged in illegal activity, the British parliament would not have resolved to ban the ty or to suspend its activity. All that would happen would be that particular individuals would be forced to answer for their actions.
How long is this suspension to apply?
Until the process of investigating the Communist Party has been completed. The prosecutor's office has been entrusted with making thorough investigations in order to establish the degree of participation by the party in the putsch, and the matter is then to be handed over to the Supreme Court. The final decision will be in the hands of the court. These investigations are going ahead, but not especially fast, because the consequences of the coup are unfolding much more rapidly.
Moreover, these investigations have a rather pointless character. To investigate the activity of the entire party would take years. There are huge quantities of documents and archival materials, and all these would need to be gone through and studied. For the moment, this work is not going ahead. The archives are sealed, the filing cabinets are sealed, the Central Committee building is locked, and as a result, the Central Committee of the party is prevented from meeting.
What we're seeing, in effect, is an attempt to achieve the dissolution of the Communist Party through these methods.
The goal has in fact been to dissolve the party, but this will not succeed, since the party will be reborn in the shape of a number of other parties with different names, programs and statutes. The truth is that the party is a part of our social fabric; it represents part of our social life, of the social consciousness of many millions of people.
What's happening with the property of the party? Gorbachev's decree didn't hand the property over to the state.
Seals have been placed on the property of the party, and the accounts have been frozen, so the property doesn't belong to anyone at present. Formally speaking, it remains vested in the party, but the party can't make use of it.
That suggests that [Moscow May Gavriil] Popov shouldn't be using it either.
He shouldn't be. But all the same, the expropriation of party property is going ahead.
Russian government ministries have now been moved into the buildings of the party Central Committee, because Russia is now establishing new administrative organs; it's now taking over the administration of many branches of the economy that used to be the responsibility of the union ministries, and is establishing new ministries to administer them.
There are no premises in Moscow for these ministries, and the buildings of the Central Committee are standing empty, so sections of these buildings are being taken over. This is of course quite illegal. All over Moscow, the buildings of the party regional committees have been placed under seal, and now in some cases the regional People's Courts are being transferred into these buildings.
In the past, the regional courts have had to put up with very poor premises. So the People's Courts are being urged to move into the buildings of the party regional committees. For the present, most of the People's Courts have refused to do this, since they're organs of law enforcement, and they understand that what they're being urged to do is unlawful.
The Ministry of Justice doesn't want to carry out this decision of the mayor of Moscow either. Besides, what if the Supreme Court decides to resurrect the party and restore its property? The Supreme Court hasn't so far handed down a decision. The amounts of property involved were very great — this was a ruling party.
And of course, the Communist Party's newspapers were taken from it.
The newspapers are now coming out again. They're being put out by their editorial collectives, which in effect have taken over the papers temporarily as their own property. But the printing works and other production facilities are all the property of the party. The newspapers are being permitted to use these facilities, but they've been told that this will only be until November. And after this? Unless it has printing facilities, a newspaper can't come out. So the newspapers are setting out to prove that they've long since paid off the cost of their premises and equipment.
The paper Pravda made big profits, which it paid into the party accounts. Its staffers calculated how many hundreds of millions of roubles the paper had contributed to the party, and on this basis they demanded that all the buildings and equipment be declared the property of the paper. But the court has still to make a decision on this claim. So these matters are now subject to a regime of complete arbitrariness.
Closing the party papers turned out to be a very unpopular step for Yeltsin and the "democrats". It was met with outrage even by people who were opponents of the party, but who maintained that the freedom of the press had to be general. So Yeltsin was forced to allow all the party papers to resume publication.
Pravda is appearing as an independent publication, and not as an organ of the Central Committee of the CPSU. But it makes clear that it is a party newspaper, that it holds to the views of scientific socialism and that it will defend the interests of the rank and file members of the party, while not mentioning the apparatus.
So now all these papers are coming out, and the local party newspapers in each of the provinces are also continuing to appear.
But Popov, Yeltsin and various other "democrats" are preparing a new attack on these papers, which are making wounding criticisms of the "democrats". Now that these papers are in opposition, they're criticising the "democrats" quite effectively. In general, the "democrats" have found themselves in a difficult position, because the Communist Party has ceased to function as a distinct structure, so there is no-one to blame for all the failures of the economy, for all the mistakes made in solving economic problems.