STALIN'S daughter has taken leave of the West, which gave her refuge after she took leave of Russia in 1966 to go to India. She has gone back to Moscow, where she has voiced angry recriminations against everyone from her American ex-husband and the CIA to her lawyers and publishers.
On all this hangs a small story that may reveal something about this deeply unhappy woman who seems driven by an inner demon to turn against places where she has been and to condemn and cast out of her life various people with whom she has associated, thereby winding up in a prison of self- created loneliness.
When she made Princeton her first American home in 1967, I was among those who became acquainted with her. As a scholar working on an interpretive history of the Stalin era, I made my biographical interest in her father clear to her at the outset.
Her book, "Twenty Letters to a Friend," which she wrote in Russia and arranged to send out to India before going there herself, appeared in English translation in late 1967. As a biographer I was grateful for information that the book contained on Stalin's little- known private life and character as Svetlana had observed it up close.
Therefore, when The Slavic Review invited me to write an article about it, my review essay, "Svetlana Allilueva as Witness of Stalin," focused more on these positive contributions than on the unconvincing passages that assigned responsibility for Stalin's misdeeds, or some of them, to his security chief, Lavrenty Beria.
After reading that review, she phoned and offered to answer questions about her father that I might want to put to her. We spoke a couple of times, on which occasions she was not very communicative. Once she broke out with, "Why aren't you writing a biography of Lincoln?".
Why wasn't she more responsive to questions about Stalin when she had written about him at length in her "Twenty Letters"? Perhaps, I thought, she didn't want to go beyond what she had said there. More speculatively, any such discussion possibly threatened to confront her with something she could not admit to herself -- that despite everything she was, in some sense, like her father. Her resistance to that thought is evident from "The Faraway Music," a book recently published in India, in which she writes: "I am a daughter of Nadya Allilueva, not of Stalin."
Not that she was just like her father. There were contrasts. For example, she showed little interest in politics and seemed to shun publicity, except through her books. But there were subtle likenesses. Her extremely low speaking voice resembled his, as described by eye witnesses of him in group discussions. Her eyes had a yellow glint, as his did. She was outwardly modest and shy, even somewhat withdrawn. Yet he too, as observed by foreign visitors, had an unassuming manner which belied his inner imperiousness.
As events would show, she also did not take kindly to criticism, and had high expectations of others which would cause trouble when, as happened often, they went unfulfilled. Some of these things only dawned on me in the course of time.
Toward the end of 1968, she phoned and said she had written a new book. It was about her first year abroad. The title was "Only One Year." Would I be good enough to read the manuscript and give her my comments? I agreed, read the typescript of her Russian text and turned over to her -- after discussing them with her -- a dozen or more critical comments and suggestions. Several dealt with the book's single chapter on Stalin. There were a few factual corrections, the suggestion of an index and glossary of names and some questions about one or another point about Stalin.
The principal suggestion, however, was that she change the title. "Only One Year" expressed only superficially what the book was about. Besides, when read closely, this book had a deeper theme that tied it together. It told a story of repeated departures, of how and why she was impelled to take leave of one place in search of peace and happiness in another -- of leaving her homeland for India, India for Switzerland and Switzerland for America.
"Leavetaking" seemed an appropriate title. Curiously, she herself now says in "The Faraway Music" that her second book was "a book about defection" and "the story of a complete change, defection from the USSR, from Communism and from my own past."
But the idea of using "Leavetaking" as her title was one of a majority of my suggestions that she did not accept, although in January 1969 she sent me a note of thanks for them, which I kept. When the book was published, it had a dedication "To all new friends to whom I owe my life in freedom." There was also an afterword in which she thanked several people, me included, for reading the manuscript.
That afterword caused me an unpleasant moment on a trip to Russia in December 1970. The Friends Service Committee invited me to join a group of Americans who were sent to discuss problems of Soviet- American relations with a Soviet group. One afternoon, the Americans were taken to Moscow State University. The man who escorted us around the university introduced himself as a specialist in international law.
The unpleasant moment occurred as we Americans were putting on our coats to leave. The escort approached me just then and said in Russian that he had recently read "Only One Year" and thought it worse than Svetlana's first book. I answered, truthfully, that I thought her first book better than the second. Then he made a nasty remark, saying, "We knew her as a student here and she couldn't even write a course paper on her own."
"Only One Year," he went on, was written in the spirit of American anti-Soviet propaganda -- and I was one of the persons thanked in the afterword. Then he leaned very close to me and said in an intense voice: "You wrote that book." If he believed that, I answered, he didn't understand Svetlana. She was not one to accept easily a person's critical suggestions, much less to allow somebody else to write her book. It would offend her pride of authorship. At that, the exchange ended with a frosty smile on our escort's face.
Back home afterwards, I recounted this Moscow experience to an old friend in Princeton who is very wise in the ways of Russia and asked for his interpretation. He suggested that those who engineered the incident suspected that someone other than Svetlana, such as I, might have drafted the book, and calculated that if unexpectedly confronted with the charge, I might blurt out a confession. That made sense and I dismissed the matter from my mind.
By then Svetlana had taken leave of Princeton to go West and marry, and I never told her the story. When she took leave of the West in 1972 and returned to live again in Princeton, we had one more meeting, which turned out to be our last: I now joined the list of those angrily cast out of her life.
Now, reading accounts in our newspapers of the press conference in Moscow on Nov. 16, in which she said that "Only One Year" was a "collective effort" in which she had been told what to write by others whom she "ironically thanked" in the afterword, the incident of 1970 in Moscow University came to mind. Could that "specialist in international law" be one of those coaching her now? Alternatively, she was just as much the author of her false disavowal of the book as she was of the book itself.
So Svetlana has taken leave once again, this time probably for good. She was always taking leave, of persons as well as places. Characteristically, she would leave in anger and seek refuge in a new place where there would be new persons with whom she could make contact. But sooner or later satisfaction would give way to a renewed feeling that this new place or these new people had failed her, anger would well up in her again and she would leave for still another place and other people. The journey has now ended in the place where it began. And the father-daughter resemblance that partly escaped me at first has become more clear.
Stalin, who destroyed countless millions of his countrymen and very nearly hrought about the destruction of Soviet Russia by the Great Terror that he perpetrated not long before Hitler's invasion in 1941, had baleful effects on his children too.
Yakov, the son by his Georgian first wife, reportedly committed suicide in a German prisoner-of-war camp during the war, after the camp loudspeaker transmitted a report that Stalin had said, "I have no son called Yakov." Vasily, his wastrel son by his second wife, Nadya Allilueva, who either shot herself or was shot to death in 1932, died of acute alcoholism at 40.
Alone of the three children, Svetlana, the youngest, seemed whole and unscarred enough to live life through more or less successfully. But she too was victimized, and Stalin did it by transmitting to her some of himself, of his character. The likeness was obscured by the fact that he became almightily powerful while she never got power over anyone save the daughter born to her in America.
In Svetlana's account, which is supported by testimony from other sources, Stalin was a man of enormous irascibility, which led to explosive outbreaks of anger that were terrifying experiences for people around him, not to mention others against whom this anger might at any given time be directed.
"Once he had cast out of his heart someone he had known a long time, once he had mentally relegated that someone to the ranks of his enemies, it was impossible to talk to him about that person any more," she wrote in "Twenty Letters."
"He was constitutionally incapable of the reversal that would turn a fancied enemy back into a friend. Any effort to persuade him only made him furious." And what would cause him to cast someone out of his heart? According to Svetlana's account, any indication of a critical attitude toward himself. If, for example, he was told that so-and- so "has been saying bad things about you" or "opposes you" and that there were "facts" to prove this, a "psychological metamorphosis" would come over him. He would implacably condemn that person.
What typically provoked Stalin's vindictive fury and punitive action was, thus, any word or deed that directly or implicitly contradicted his arrogant inner picture of himself as a manysided genius -- a picture concealed hehind a mask of modesty. That such grandiosity lay behind his unassuming pose is plain from many post-Stalin revelations. Once he acquired tyrannical power, the rage aroused in him by any failure to fulfill his impossibly high demands would result in the victimizing not only of individuals but of whole groups of the population.
To collaborate with the enemy in wartime, for example, was to negate the imagined Stalin who merited the boundless devotion of all his subjects.
Hence, the vangeful feeling that led Stalin at the war's end to decree the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars and other small nationalities into the interior because some few among them had collaborated with the Germans. Hence, the man who, according to the late Nikita Khrushchev's testimony in his secret speech at the 20th Soviet Party Congress in 1956, would have deported the entire 25-million strong Ukrainian people but for the fact that "there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them."
Stalin would often turn against and take leave of others. But when he did this, he would see to it that they themselves took leave of their lives or their liberty as punishment for whatever he fancied their sins to have been.
The same mechanism seems to operate in his daughter. She is driven to turn on those who disappoint some expectation she has of them. But all that she could inflict on the persons and places that aroused her ire was departure from them and verbal condemnation of them, in spoken words, in letters, in books. She could only say goodbye and slam the door as she did so.
Like her father, she would break relationships over and over again. But unlike him, who would destroy those with whom he broke, she could only flee, and this she has done once again. She is her father's daughter in a way that has finally brought her back to unfreedom, however gilded, from the free life in the West to which she dedicated "Only One Year." And this latest journey, it may be, is the last misfortune bequeathed to her by that terrible man who was her father.
All in all, it hardly seems appropriate for anybody on either side to make political capital out of this tormented woman's leavetakings.