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Albert Goldman

Trotsky’s Book: ‘Edited’, Then Suppressed

Malamuth ‘Edits’ the Biography of Stalin to Suit Himself and
State Dept. Has Its Publication Held Up for the Duration

(31 January 1942)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 5, 31 January 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Harper and Brothers announced their decision to withdraw Trotsky’s biography of Stalin from circulation, it was not difficult to detect the finger of Stalin behind that decision. At the present moment Stalin’s influence with the government authorities is such that he would not have to exert great pressure to have them suggest to Harpers that it is not advisable under the circumstances to issue an objective biography of an ally of the United States. This is the time when the diplomatic prostitutes, serving the interests of American capitalism, will have the entire field to themselves in writing in praise of the great democratic leader in the Kremlin.

Not the objective biography of Stalin by Leon Trotsky is required by the State Department, but the mediocre and dishonest book of an American lawyer who, by virtue of his ability to marry a wealthy woman, obtained a position as American Ambassador to Moscow.

Motive of the State Department

That the decision of Harper and Brothers to withdraw Trotsky’s Stalin from circulation was not taken on their own initiative can be taken for granted. The fact is that the manuscript was printed some months after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, and copies of the book were sent to reviewers only recently. It was only after this came to the attention of Mr. Litvinov, Stalin’s agent in Washington, that the hint was passed on to the State Department, and in turn to Harpers, that in view of the present international situation the book should not be distributed. Furthermore, it is hardly conceivable that a publishing company, anxious to get back the money it invested in a book, would be swayed by motives of patriotism.

If the action of the State Department would have the effect of stopping permanently the sale of a book which the publishers had no right to publish in the manner that they did, we would be inclined to overlook its criminal character, for then it would have prevented the perpetration of a great fraud on the American public by Harpers and by the “editor” of Trotsky. Since, however, the motive of the State Department in putting an end to the circulation of the biography at the present time was to help Stalin and not to prevent a crime by the publisher and “editor”, we can only say that the crime of the State Department is in addition to the one committed by the publisher and by Mr. Charles Malamuth, the “editor.”

At the time of his assassination Trotsky had completed seven chapters of the biography. There were left notes which constituted a very rough draft of an introduction and five additional chapters. By the last will and testament of Trotsky, recognized in the Mexican court, all of his property, including, the draft of the last chapters of the Stalin biography, was left to Natalia Trotsky. The publishers had no claim on it whatever, legal or moral, even though they had advanced money to Trotsky for the writing of the book. What Trotsky agreed to furnish the publishers was a completed manuscript and not notes or a draft. The publishers had the right either to publish the seven chapters that were completed, or to return the manuscript and ask for a refund of the advancement.

Naturally, both the widow and the close political associates of Trotsky were anxious to see the Stalin biography published, including both the completed chapters and also the rough draft of the introduction and the additional chapters. The publishers were contacted and the president of the concern readily accepted the proposition of publishing the rough draft either as an appendix or as additional chapters.

It is here that Mr. Charles Malamuth enters upon the scene. He had been hired to translate the manuscript from the original Russian into English. I do not know his merits as a translator, but I shall assume they are high. Mr. Malamuth was an active participant in the arrangements for the translation of the draft. Those who spoke of him with reference to it will testify that at no time did he utter a single word which would indicate that he intended to promote himself from translator to “editor” – of course with the consent of Harpers. It was taken for granted by everybody that no one would dare tamper with Leon Trotsky’s draft, except to insert a connecting phrase or sentence wherever necessary to make the meaning of the text clear. It was on the basis of that understanding that the notes were given to Harpers. There was, of course, no obligation on the part of Natalia Trotsky to give these notes to Harpers. They were her sole and exclusive property, and she could do anything she pleased with them.

A letter written by Mr. Malamuth after he had undertaken the job of translating the draft clearly indicates that he promised the representatives of Natalia Trotsky to keep the number of connecting sentences down to an absolute minimum.

Malamuth’s Promotion

It was only after Mr. Malamuth completed his task and showed Trotsky’s friends in New York a copy of the finished manuscript that we became aware of the fact that a change had taken place in his position, that he was no longer a translator, but an “editor”. Mr. Malamuth must be a man who does not permit opportunities to pass by without taking advantage of them. The assassination of Trotsky afforded him an opportunity of a lifetime, and he seized it. It was irksome to be a mere translator with the knowledge that all of his translations would be carefully scrutinized. Stalin gave him the chance that he was looking for – to write and present his own ideas in a book bearing the name of Trotsky.

In an editor’s note Mr. Malamuth offers his opinion that “... under the circumstances extensive interpolations by the editor were unavoidable but were, nevertheless, kept down to a minimum consistent with achieving the maximum of clarity and fluency.” (Page IX) The terms ‘clarity and fluency’ are quite flexible and can, of course, be interpreted in accordance with one’s desire. To show what a very sweeping interpretation Mr. Malamuth gives to these words, it is necessary only to point out that Chapter XI of the biography consists of 29 pages, with approximately one-half of that number of pages belonging not to the author, but to the “editor”. Undoubtedly Trotsky would have developed those notes and perhaps the chapter would have been longer even than it is now, but if anything is certain, it is that Mr. Malamuth’s additions do not add any clarity to the original notes.

How Engels Edited Marx

I presume that there have been quite a few cases where a work left unfinished by an author was edited after the author’s death. One example that occurs to me is the editing of the second and third volumes of Marx’s Capital by Engels. But the difference in the situation of the editing of Marx by Engels and the editing of Trotsky by Malamuth is so great that no comparison is possible. One is simply left gasping at the colossal nerve of Malamuth to undertake to do for Trotsky that which Engels did for Marx. Only an individual completely innocent of his own limitations and bereft of any sense of decency could have done what Malamuth did. But perhaps we should , be charitable and blame it on the boss, Harper and Brothers.

Engels assumed the task of editing Marx’s unfinished manuscript because he was the closest co-worker of Marx, knew all his theories and agreed with them completely. The interpolations of Engels really explained those sections of Marx’s draft which, because of their brevity, were not understandable. Malamuth was not interested in explaining Trotsky’s ideas. He was interested, under the guise of an explanation, in putting forth his own ideas, which are directly contrary to those of Trotsky.

If the publishers and Malamuth had been interested in explaining certain sections of the notes, they certainly would have submitted the interpolations either to Natalia Trotsky or to the closest co-workers of Trotsky, but no such thing was done. Their failure to do so is conclusive proof that they were not interested in explaining anything, but in contradicting the whole theory propounded by Trotsky in the biography. It is not necessary to stress some factual errors made by Malamuth indicating that his knowledge of the history of the Bolshevik party is not as extensive as he would like people to believe, nor is it necessary to mention the fact that Malamuth had evidently read and re-read Souvarine’s Stalin before editing the biography.

How Malamuth Distorts Trotsky

It would have been bad enough had Malamuth written unnecessary interpolations even if they were more or less correct. His crime consists in injecting, at times subtly and at times not so subtly, into his running commentary, the theory championed by so many intellectuals to the effect that Stalinism is a logical and inevitable product of Bolshevism, a thesis which the author of the biography took particular pains to disprove in the biography itself.

In many respects Malamuth’s editing is nothing but a running polemic with the author of the book. Would Trotsky have spoken of the “vaunted democracy of the Soviets?” (Page 339) Would the author of the biography have made the statements that “the trend toward centralization, that sure precursor of totalitarianism, went on within the Bolshevik party itself?” (Page 339) Would Trotsky have considered that “the political administration Sverdlov headed was the precursor of the contemporary one-party State?” (Page 340)

We are, of course, the last to deny Malamuth the right to present his theories, but We do deny his right to take advantage of the name of Trotsky for the purpose of doing so. Quite obviously Mr. Malamuth understood that a book presenting the theories of Mr. Malamuth and written by Mr. Malamuth would have a slight chance of being published, and if published, would hardly be a best seller, and so Mr. Malamuth, interested in presenting his ideas to the world, shrewdly chose to do so in the form of “editing” Trotsky’s last notes on the biography of Stalin.

Our protests to Mr. Malamuth and to the representatives of Harper and Brothers were of no avail. The former feigned astonishment at our irritation and anger and asserted rather plaintively that he had nothing to do with the matter and that he had simply obeyed the orders of his boss. The president of Harpers, Mr. Canfield, was not so apologetic, but rather truculent. He had advanced money and was, not only entitled to the draft, but to do anything he pleased with it.

The Case Is Still Pending

A suit to enjoin the publication and distribution of the Stalin book with the Malamuth interpolation was filed, but alas, to get an injunction it is necessary to file a bond, and those who filed the suit were in no position to do that, and so the publisher could and did go ahead with the printing of the manuscript which included the Malamuth interpolations. The case is still pending, and all that we can do is hope that the judge will make the decision of the State Department permanent and clear the way for the publishing of the biography without the benefit of the “clarity and fluency” added to it by Mr. Malamuth’s editing.

Here it must be added that both Malamuth and the representatives of Harper and Brothers undoubtedly belong to the tribe composed of people who wax indignant at the “amoralism” of Bolshevism.

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