Socialist Resurgence would like to pay tribute to the memory of our comrade George Shriver, a long-time revolutionary socialist writer, translator, and activist, who died on April 24. Since the early 1990s and at his death he lived in Tucson, Ariz. Some Socialist Resurgence members worked together with George for many years and value his work and his comradeship immensely.
George was born in southern India on Dec. 5, 1936, the child of Episcopalian missionaries. In 1945, as India’s independence movement heated up following World War II, the family moved to the United States. As an undergraduate, he attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., transferred to Harvard in 1957, and graduated with a major in Russian and Eastern European Languages in 1960. He married Ellen Preston Robinson (Shriver) in 1959 and they moved to Bloomington, Ind., where George pursued a Master’s Degree in Russian and Eastern European Studies at Indiana University. Their daughter Jennifer was born in 1962.
In Socialist Action newspaper, Jennifer Shriver writes of her father: “During his time in Bloomington, George organized a chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, seeking to discourage U.S. aggression against the new people’s government in Cuba. He and his wife, Ellen, were so involved that they became known as “Mr. and Mrs. Fair Play.’
“In the early 1960s, George and his family moved to New York City, where he wrote for the Militant newspaper and Intercontinental Press, and was an active member of the Socialist Workers Party. Over the next decades, with his colleagues and comrades, George was part of a team that translated the diaries and letters of Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian (Soviet) Revolution of 1917.
“During the 1960s, George worked as an editor for Macmillan Publishing, contributing to several English-language dictionary projects. In the early 1970s, he began his career as a self-employed Russian translator, working from his family home on Cape Cod in Sandwich, Massachusetts. During this time, George and his family were active in the movement against the Vietnam War.”
After the 1983-84 purge of Trotskyists from the Socialist Workers Party, at which time George was expelled from the SWP, he joined the Fourth Internationalist Tendency, and later, Socialist Action. Many of George’s articles are published under the pen name “George Saunders.” We print below a commentary on George Shriver’s political life by one of his close collaborators, Marilyn Vogt-Downey.
My Personal Recollections about George Shriver
By MARILYN VOGT-DOWNEY
George Shriver was a remarkable person. He played an enormous role in transforming my life, and I am sorry I never had a chance to thank him. He was the one the Socialist Workers Party assigned to contact me in 1971: Referring to the fact that I had indicated I knew Russian on a questionnaire I filled out at an SWP Oberlin summer conference, George asked me to come work with him at Pathfinder Press translating works by Leon Trotsky for the Trotsky Writings series that Pathfinder was undertaking. On those Oberlin questionnaires comrades were asked to indicate foreign languages they knew. This was in 1971. I, of course, told George “yes, I would,” and that launched me into an entire new dimension of my life: translating Russian. I had earned a BA in Russian Language in 1964, but had moved on to a Masters degree in Latin American Studies, only just happening to make mention of that Russian language background on the application but not expecting to use it.
But I did use it for much, because of George. He integrated me into the Pathfinder Writings team of editors and proofreaders in the Pathfinder office we worked in—like Naomi Allen, Sarah Lovell, and John Britton—translators along with George—such as Russell Block, Bob Cantrick, and Will Reisner—the very talented graphic and cover designer Dennis Edge—and, of course, the comrade who brilliantly oversaw the entire project, George Breitman.
George Shriver was a critical component of this team that assembled and prepared the historically invaluable Writings series, the Challenge of the Left Opposition series, and numerous other volumes of works by Trotsky published by Pathfinder in the 1970s. We were determined that the documents that were assembled in these volumes would ensure that Trotsky’s invaluable Marxist literary and political legacy would be assembled, presented, preserved and published by those who appreciated Trotsky’s work, with introductions that explained to the readers the vital importance of Trotsky’s contribution to them today instead of by people who were his detractors, as had widely been the case up until then.
This team—led by the two Georges—George Shriver and George Breitman—was of phenomenal importance to presenting and explaining the real history of the Russian Revolution, its success in creating humanity’s first workers’ state and in explaining the processes that were to lead to its degeneration under the Stalin regime and ultimately to its collapse in 1991. All these writings by Trotsky, all this material, could not have been assembled in this way in English translation without the work of George Shriver.
In pursuit of these goals, George and I also collaborated to prepare Trotsky’s journal published all during his exile from the “Soviet” Union in 1929—The Bulletin of the Opposition—for clandestine distribution in the “Soviet” Union. George convinced me that I could learn to type on a Cyrillic typewriter, and I did!! and I typed up the “Table of Contents” for all four volumes!!!! I was honored and very privileged to have been part of that entire team.
But George also helped direct the SWP’s work—and my work—in defending then what were called “the Soviet dissidents.” In the early 1960s and 1970s, there had emerged, after Stalin’s death in 1953 and Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” to the Communist Party Congress in 1956, a “thaw” or partial opening for people to speak and write freely without fear of repression. However, in the early 1960s with the rise of Brezhnev regime, this openness was sharply curtailed and people began to be arrested and sent to prison camps again and even to psychiatric hospitals for saying and writing things that were critical of the current government policies or of policies during the Stalin years: for dissent. They were called the “Soviet dissidents.”
George, along with Joseph Hansen and Gerry Foley, introduced the SWP and its press to this whole world of information and history and current events. As a result, I turned my attention to the vast array of writings—called samizdat after the Russian words for “self-published” writings, that is, those that were “printed”—or most-often typed—and circulated person to person but denied official publication. We learned of and supported Communist dissidents—such as Pyotr Grigorenko, Alexei Kosterin, and Leonid Plyusch—led campaigns to defend them and also to free some from prisons and/or psychiatric hospitals; and translated their writings as we received them for The Militant and Intercontinental Press. Our goal was to demonstrate that supporters of the Left Opposition led by Trotsky defended workers’ democracy and open public discussion and not the repression presided over by the post-Lenin Stalinist regimes.
Of course, George and I collaborated on the volume Samizdat: Voices of the Soviet Opposition (1976), which contained a number of very valuable historic writings from opponents of Stalinism that emerged during that period. Through this work, we learned about the Ukrainian anti-Stalinist and Marxist opposition and their revival of the writings of Lenin on the national question and his Ukrainianization policy that had been destroyed by Stalin and the bureaucracy when they imposed Russification on Ukraine in the 1920s. We translated and published the writings of activists and launched defense campaigns for Russian and Ukrainian dissidents and for victims among other oppressed nationalities.
It was through George that the SWP received—via dissident Russian historian Roy Medvedev and his college roommate, Bukharin scholar Stephen F. Cohen—the samizdat manuscript by Ukrainian Left Opposition supporter in the 1920s Mikhail Baitalsky, Notebooks for the Grandchildren, which I translated for the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism in the 1990s and which was published as a book and which I am now improving for republication. This incredible historic document came to us through George.
George was a very, very careful worker. He worked very slowly and deliberately. Everything he (and others!) did was subjected to his rigorous and critical thought process. Sometimes, this meant that we did not meet deadlines, that we had to wait and wait and wait. But that was because he was a perfectionist. I had never before and have never since met anyone like that. He was very rare and invaluable. I am sure that everyone who worked with him felt the same way. It could be annoying at times. But it was for a good reason (usually).
After Pathfinder ran out of funds for the Writings series in December 1975, I got a job in the bourgeois world and our paths didn’t cross so often except when we went to Pathfinder to continue on our projects after work. We met up in 1980 at Harvard when the Trotsky Archives opened. But by that time, we were no longer collaborating on projects.
We were both expelled about the same time from the SWP, as were all those who worked on the Trotsky Writings series project as the SWP leadership abandoned Trotskyism. We both ended up joining the Fourth Internationalist Tendency in the 1980s and we both contributed to the FIT’s publication Bulletin in Defense of Marxism into the 1990s. But George had moved to Arizona and we were not working closely on projects any more and were rarely in contact.
But what a comrade George was!! An intellectual, a devoted revolutionary and a scholar, single-mindedly determined and focused, a formidable comrade he will forever be.
Long Live George Shriver!!!
George Shriver’s political and professional writings and translations include:
- Articles and editing for the Bulletin In Defense of Marxism, Labor Standard, Socialist Action, the Militant, and Intercontinental Press.
- Samizdat, Voices of the Soviet Opposition, ed. by George Saunders (Shriver), (Monad Press,1974)
- Writings 1930-31 (Writings of Leon Trotsky) G. Saunders(Shriver), Sarah Lovell, George Breitman, (Pathfinder Press, 1974)
- The Challenge of the Left Opposition 1923-25, by Leon Trotsky, ed. by G. Saunders (Shriver), N. Allen, (Pathfinder Press, 1975)
- Leon Trotsky, “Deportation from the Soviet Union,” in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1929, ed. George Breitman and Sarah Lovell, trans. George Saunders (Shriver) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975)
- Portraits, political & personal, by Leon Trotsky; edited by George Breitman and George Saunders, (Shriver), (Pathfinder Press, 1977)
- The Challenge of the Left Opposition 1926-1927, by Leon Trotsky, ed. Naomi Allen and George Saunders, (Shriver), (Pathfinder Press, 1980)
- An End to Silence, Uncensored Opinion in the Soviet Union, From Roy Medvedev’s Underground Magazine ”Political Diary,” Edited and With Introductions by Stephen F. Cohen, Translated by George Saunders (W.W. Norton & Co. 1982)
- Let History Judge, the Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Aleksandrovich Medvedev, translated by George Shriver, (Columbia University Press, 1989)
- How It All Began – The Prison Novel, Nikolai Bukharin, Introduction by Stephen F. Cohen. Translated by George Shriver, (Columbia University Press 1999)
- Khrushchev, in Power: Unfinished Reforms,1961–1964, Sergei Khrushchev Trans. George Shriver, (Lynne Reinner Publishers 2014)
- The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, Volume II.
- Economic Writings 2, Edited by Peter Hudis and Paul Le Blanc, Translated by Nicholas Gray and George Shriver, (Verso, 2016)
- The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg. VolumeIII:
- Political Writings 1: On Revolution 1897-1905. London, Verso, 2019. Edited by Peter Hudis, Axel Fair-Schultz, and William A. Pelz. Translated by George Shriver, Alicja Mann, and Henry Holland. Pp. 557 + xxvii. ISBN: 9781786635334.