Christian Rakovsky: socialist, internationalist, anti-Stalinist – the definitive biography - Toledo Translation Fund

Christian Rakovsky: socialist, internationalist, anti-Stalinist – the definitive biography

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It is almost impossible to conceive that the rise and fall of the international Marxist movement in the late-19 th century – mid-20 th century could be embodied in the life and fate of one individual. It is no exaggeration to say, however, that Christian Georgievich Rakovsky (1873-1941) exemplifies, almost like no other, a generation of European left-wing intellectuals who were embedded in the socialist and labour movements, an unswerving commitment that defined their lives from beginning to end. The drama of the upheavals that engulfed Eurasia in those decades can be charted by the arc of Rakovsky’s life: student, labour and anti-war activist, political publicist, prolific author in numerous languages, medical doctor, Bolshevik leader, head of the infant Ukrainian state, Red Army leader, Soviet diplomat, anti-fascist, and anti-Stalinist.

Virtually erased from history by his executioner Joseph Stalin, now, for the first time, Rakovsky and his monumental legacy will be brought to life in an English-language translation from the definitive Russian language biography first published in 2014, which is more than 500pp long. Three distinguished scholars, Georgy Chernyavsky, Mikhail Stanchev and Maria Tortika, have scoured more than 20 archives in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Britain, and the United States to portray Rakovsky’s multifaceted political and personal life, which embodied his revolutionary internationalism.

Bulgarian by birth, Romanian by citizenship, French by education, he was extremely politically active from the Balkans to Zurich and St. Petersburg. Deportation and incarceration became fixtures of Rakovsky’s curriculum vitae. Campaigning against the Balkan and First World Wars, he became a close friend of Leon Trotsky, like whom he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. Such was Rakovsky’s stature that in 1919, as civil war raged, he was nominated by Lenin to head the fledgling Soviet Ukrainian Government. It was in this position that in 1922-23 he confronted Stalin’s ‘great Russian chauvinism’. The result was banishment as Soviet ambassador to Britain and France (1923-1927), a prelude to joining Trotsky’s Left Opposition (1927), expulsion from the CPSU, arrest, exile, show-trial and ultimately execution. This majestic biography casts new light on an erudite Marxist who, as Bolshevik leader and Left Oppositionist, analysed and confronted some of the major challenges to the Soviet revolution, not least nationalism, internationalism and Stalinism. As war rages in Ukraine, publication of this scholarly portrait of Rakovsky’s political legacy could
not be more timely.

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Table of contents

Introduction to the English language edition – Roger D. Markwick
Foreword – Georgy Chernyavsky


Chapter 1. Between past and future: From Krystyu Stanchev to Christian Rakovsky
1. Scion of Bulgarian rebels
2. In the international socialist movement
3. The unification campaign and the Bulgarian newspaper “Forward”
4. Balkan centrist-Zimmerwaldist

Chapter 2. Soviet statesman (1917 – 1923)
1. Political evolution: 1917
2. The making of a diplomat: Negotiations with Romania
3. Duel with Shelukhin: Truce with Ukraine
4. The duel continues: Peace negotiations and their breakdown
5. Ukraine: Head of Government and People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs
6. Genoa and Lausanne
7. Challenging Stalin’s power

Chapter 3. Soviet Ambassador in London and Paris (1923 – 1927)
1. Dismissal and appointment
2. First contact and de-jure recognition
3. British-Soviet Conference: General and trade treaties
4. The “Zinoviev letter”
5. En route to Paris
6. A new position and negotiating debts and credit
7. Contacts and plans in London and Paris
8. European and global concerns

Chapter 4. United Opposition activist and political exile (1927-1934)
1. Joining the Opposition fight
2. Persona non grata
3. On the eve of the Party congress
4. At the XV all-Union Party congress
5. Exile in Astrakhan
6. “Letter to Valentinov”
7. Saratov and Barnaul

8. “At the congress and in the country”

Chapter 5. Intermezzo: on the loose and Stalinist terror (1934-
1. Renunciation of opposition activities
2. In the Commissariat of Health
3. A conference in Tokyo
4. Impending arrest
5. Arrest and interrogation
6. Farcical justice
7. Unrighteous execution

About the authors