Deutscher, Tamara (1913–1990)
Deutscher, Tamara (1913–1990)
Polish-born British editor, researcher and author, who was the collaborator and wife of the socialist historian Isaac Deutscher. Born Tamara Lebenhaft in Lodz, Russian Poland, on February 1, 1913; died in London, England, on August 7, 1990; married Isaac Deutscher (a social historian); children: one son, Martin.
Played a crucial role in the research and writing of her husband's influential books and after his death edited his manuscripts; a believer in democratic socialism, she was highly critical of the repressive nature of the Soviet regime, and was active in British intellectual circles that defended the human rights of dissident elements in the Soviet bloc.
Although she was a talented writer and a respected intellectual in her own right, Tamara Deutscher chose to subordinate her own ambitions to those of her husband, the noted Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher. After his death in 1967, she divided her time and energy between her own writings and editing her late husband's manuscripts. Born Tamara Lebenhaft in Lodz, the leading industrial center of Poland, she grew up in an intellectual Jewish family fated to be almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust. Educated in Poland and in Belgium, she escaped to Great Britain in 1940 and quickly began a promising career as a literary critic. Charming and attractive, Tamara Lebenhaft met fellow Pole Isaac Deutscher, a journalist like herself, in London during World War II. Like herself, Isaac was an ardent Marxist who had doubts about the Stalinist version of Socialism. They fell in love, married, and she gave birth to a son, Martin. Young and talented, both Tamara and Isaac Deutscher traveled together during some of the most dramatic years of the 20th century as war correspondents in Germany. After the defeat of Nazism, they remained in occupied Germany as reporters.
Convinced that her husband was destined to do serious work, Tamara Deutscher encouraged him to abandon journalism in order to devote his full time and energy to writing books from an independent Marxist perspective. The early 1950s were extremely busy years for the Deutschers. While Isaac spent virtually all of his time researching and writing, Tamara was not only a wife and mother but also an indispensable collaborator as research assistant, critic, and copy editor. These were difficult years for the couple, not only financially but emotionally. As committed but independent-minded Marxists living during the most intolerant years of the Cold War, they found themselves both personally and ideologically isolated from the intellectual life of the Western world. As his books began to appear in print, this isolation was eased considerably. Isaac Deutscher was fully aware of the immense debt he owed to his literary collaborator and wife, and he dedicated his biography of J.V. Stalin to her as "a link in our friendship," also noting that her "critical sense [had] contributed to the shaping of every paragraph" in the book. On another occasion, he paid tribute to Tamara as "my first, the severest and the most indulgent critic."
In 1954, Isaac Deutscher published the first volume of his definitive biography of Leon Trot-sky. The critical response to the Trotsky project, which was completed in 1963 with the publication of a third and concluding volume, was highly favorable. By the mid-1960s, Isaac Deutscher had become an internationally recognized historian of Soviet leaders as well as a compelling advocate for an independent orientation within the Marxist ideology. A passionate critic of American involvement in Vietnam, he was well known in radical student circles both in Europe and in the United States.
Tamara Deutscher's world was shattered when her husband died suddenly in 1967. After the initial shock, she continued her life on the same path they had traveled on as a team since World War II. She organized his unpublished manuscripts and was able to see all of his major works published posthumously. She published a number of works of her own, including a well-received anthology on V.I. Lenin. A sharp observer of events in the Communist world, she remained highly critical of both the Soviet and Maoist versions of Socialism. Tamara Deutscher condemned Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and spoke out to defend the rights of dissidents in that country in the 1970s. Her skills as a researcher were utilized by others besides her late husband. Her research assistance to the noted historian E.H. Carr enabled him to publish in 1984 a highly detailed study of Soviet involvement in the Spanish Civil War of 1936–39.
In London during the last decades of her life, Deutscher was the doyenne of a small but intellectually passionate circle of intellectuals who remained convinced that despite its many setbacks, Socialism was the only system capable of liberating humanity from its ancient enemies of ignorance, poverty and war. Among the friends she made in the years after her husband's death were a new generation of British leftist intellectuals, including a group that published its analyses and polemics in the well-regarded New Left Review. Despite the universally acknowledged horrors of Stalinism and the collapse of Communist states in Europe a few months before her death, Tamara Deutscher believed to the end of her life that Socialism, human decency and democracy were all compatible ideals. She died of emphysema in London on August 7, 1990, loved and respected by an international coterie of friends.
Carr, Edward Hallett. The Comintern and the Spanish Civil War. Edited by Tamara Deutscher. London: Macmillan, 1984.
Deutscher, Isaac. The Great Purges. Edited by Tamara Deutscher. Oxford and NY: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
——. Marxism in Our Time. Edited by Tamara Deutscher. London: Jonathan Cape, 1972.
——. The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays. Edited and with an Introduction by Tamara Deutscher. NY: Hill and Wang, 1968.
Deutscher, Tamara, ed. Not by Politics Alone: The Other Lenin. London: Allen & Unwin, 1973.
——, et al. Political Prisoners in Czechoslovakia and the USSR: The Struggle for Socialist Democracy. Nottingham: Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation/ The Spokesman, 1975.
——, et al., eds. Voices of Czechoslovak Socialists. London: Committee to Defend Czechoslovak Socialists, 1977.
Horowitz, David, ed. Isaac Deutscher: The Man and His Work. London: Macdonald, 1971.
Ostrower, Heinz. "In Memoriam: Tamara Deutscher," in Monthly Review. Vol. 42, no. 11. April 1991, pp. 50–51.
Singer, David. "Tamara Deutscher," in The Independent [London]. August 10, 1990, p. 13.
"Tamara Deutscher, Writer, 77," in The New York Times. August 9, 1990, p. B12.
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia