[Marxism] Trotsky's title for the 1936 book on the USSR

Brian Shannon Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Fri Aug 12 17:59:34 MDT 2005

Regarding the question of the historical titles for what we know as 
“The Revolution Betrayed,” I received the following from George 
Saunders, who was a translator and editor at Pathfinder Press during 
most of the 1970s, and worked closely with Pathfinder editors George 
Breitman, George Weissman, and others in bringing out dozens of volumes 
of Trotsky’s writings, many never before in English, many translated or 
edited by him and Marilyn Vogt. He also worked with George Breitman in 
preparing the consolidated Table of Contents and the preface to the 
four-volume reprint of the Russian-language “Biulleten Oppozitsii” 
(Bulletin of the Opposition):


During the 1970s a Russian-language edition of Trotsky’s manuscript on 
the USSR, written in 1935-36, was circulating (with the hopes that it 
would reach pro-socialist, pro-working class, revolutionary-minded 
dissidents in the USSR). This was a facsimile reprint of Trotsky’s 
original manuscript. The facsimile was published by the comrades at 
Rouge, at 10 Impasse Guemenee, Paris 4-eme.

This book in Russian (of 250 pages) had Trotsky’s original title: “Chto 
Takoye SSSR i Kuda on Idet?” (What Is the USSR and Where Is It Going?).

I cannot document this right now, but I have a strong recollection from 
correspondence I read in Trotsky’s papers at the Harvard Library--- or 
perhaps I was told this by Jean Van Heijenoort, who was a consultant on 
the Trotsky papers at the Harvard library at that time --- that Trotsky 
wanted to use the “What Is the USSR” title for the English translation. 
The American publisher (Doubleday) wanted the title to be jazzier. It 
was the publisher who proposed “Revolution Betrayed,” and Trotsky 
reluctantly agreed. As I recall, he made some disparaging remark (to 
the translator, Max Eastman?? or to Van??) about book promotion methods 
and “catchy” titles distorting the meaning and content of books. But he 
didn’t publicly object to the title.

Of course the title he preferred remained as the subtitle of the 
Doubleday edition.

A title is only a title. No brief formula can encapsulate the complex 
body of ideas expressed in “Chto Takoye SSSR?”

Along these lines, perhaps it’s relevant to quote from Trotsky himself:

In a March 6, 1938, letter to one “Mrs. Celarie,” Trotsky said: “It is 
very difficult, Madam, to expess in one brief formula the 
irreconciilable differences that exist between Stalin’s poltiics and 
mine.” He then refers her to the French edition of his book on the USSR 
(Grasset, 1936), and adds: “If I may use a concise formula, I will say 
that my politics represent the interests of the laboring masses, those 
who made the October Revolution. Stalin’s politics represent the 
interests of the bureaucracy, this new caste of parvenus who dominate 
and oppress the people....” (See “Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement 
(1934-40),” Pathfinder, 1979, p. 765.)

An earlier book, published in French, has the title “La Revolutiion 
Disfiguree.” Joaquin Bustelo is right in saying that book was roughly 
the equivalent of the collection of documents published in English as 
“The Stalin School of Falsification” (to which, incidentally, I wrote 
an introduction in the 1972 Pathfinder edition).

(That, too, we hoped would get into the hands of left-minded dissidents 
amid the ferment of post-Khrushchev conditions in the USSR.)

Had it not been for the Barnes leadership team’s turn away from 
Trotskyism in 1981 and after, we would surely have brought out several 
more valuable volumes in English of Trotsky’s writings, especially 
material from the former “Closed Section” of the Trotsky papers at 
Harvard University Library and some related papers that turned up at 
the Hoover Institute in the 1980s.

As it is, a lot of Trotsky’s writings (not major works, but still 
writings of interest and value) remain untranslated into English.
--- George S.

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