Isaac Deutscher 1955

Mr E H Carr as Historian of the Bolshevik Regime

Source: Isaac Deutscher, Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays (Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The publication of the fourth volume of Mr Carr’s History of Soviet Russia offers a welcome opportunity for a general survey of his work and for an appraisal of the place it occupies in the field of Soviet studies [1].

It is difficult not to begin these remarks with a reflection on the state in which the writing of the history of the Russian Revolution finds itself at present. It is an almost incredible fact that not a single work deserving the name of a History has yet been produced inside the Soviet Union. True, the first decade of the Soviet regime brought a vast number of valuable contributions to a History, many special monographs, and collections of documents. In the intellectual Sturm und Drang of that period Soviet historians initiated ambitious projects of research. This, they thought, was the first time that Marxists were going to write history in all seriousness, backed up by the resources of a great state and the abundance of all the state archives recently thrown open, and sure to find response in the intense curiosity for history which had been awakened in the young generation. When if not under such circumstances should Marxism prove its unrivalled merits as a method of historical inquiry and analysis?

However, the advent and consolidation of Stalinism cast a blight upon the whole field of historical study. The Stalinist state intimidated the historian, and dictated to him first the pattern into which he was expected to force events and then the ever new versions of the events themselves. At the outset the historian was subjected to this pressure mainly when he dealt with the Soviet revolution, the party strife which had preceded and which had followed it, and especially the struggles inside the Bolshevik Party. All these had to be treated in a manner justifying Stalin as the Leader of monolithic Bolshevism. Later the rewriting of history extended backwards to past centuries, and outwards to the history of other countries, until Clio was degraded to be not just the dignified servant of Politics – a role to which she is well accustomed – but their slave. The verve and passion with which historians had thrown themselves on the archives found a deadly enemy in secrecy which barred access to documentation. The historians could not be allowed to inquire into the facts because free inquiry was incompatible with falsification. Finally, all the chronicles of the party and the revolution, even those written in the Stalinist spirit, were banned, until at every level of teaching, from the rural party cells to the academic seminaries, students were allowed to draw from one fount only, the Short Course of the History of the CPSU, [2] that bizarre and crude compendium of Stalinist myths, written or inspired by Stalin himself.

This deterioration of historical standards was not without precedent. For a long time the French Revolution fared no better with its historians. Napoleon and his Prefects and Censors kept a suspicious eye on those ‘ideologues’ who tried to delve into the great revolutionary drama which preceded the Empire. The security of the Empire required that a curtain should descend upon the great revolution, that its ghosts be laid, and its republican and plebeian ideas be banished from people’s minds. Napoleon could afford to vent openly his antipathy for ideologies and ideologues; and so, unlike Stalin, he did not even bother to dabble with history writing. He had no need to falsify history – he suppressed it. The first histories of the revolution began to appear only during the Restoration, and they were written by the enemies of the Bourbons. Stalin, placed as he was at the head of a party proud of its historical materialism, could not even attempt openly to suppress the history of the revolution: all the more savagely did he have to cripple and mutilate it.

Curiously enough, none of the many Russian émigré groups has used its enforced and long-lasting political idleness to produce anything like a history. There exists no serious Monarchist version of the revolution, no Cadet version, no Menshevik account, and no Social Revolutionary interpretation. The White Guards produced their accounts of the civil war, among which Denikin’s five volumes [3] are still the most important, despite all their lack of sophistication. Miliukov wrote his History [4] in the heat of the civil war; but it was little more than an inflated pamphlet indicting all anti-Cadet parties; and Miliukov himself was too great a scholar not to realise this. In the Preface to his work he virtually disavowed as an historian the account of events which he had given as a leader of his party. Nor have the Mensheviks, among whom there were more gifted writers and theorists than in any other émigré group, made any notable historical contribution. The apologetic books by Kerensky and Chernov [5] contain no serious attempt at a reconstruction of the historical process; and even Dan’s posthumous work Proiskhozhdenie Bolshevisma [6] offers a certain interest as a retrospective self-criticism of Menshevism but not as a History. To all these parties and groupings involved in the struggles of 1917 the revolution was such an unmitigated disaster and their role in it appeared to themselves so incongruous and inexplicable that their theorists and writers preferred not to return as historians to the scene of those struggles. A notable exception is Trotsky’s History, [7] which alone transcends the limitations of apologetic writing and is a lasting literary-historical monument to 1917.

Nor can Western historiography be proud of its achievements. This is so not merely because wer den Dichter will verstehen muß im Dichters Lande gehen, [8] although it will certainly be the Russians themselves, who, after they have recovered from the intellectual slump of the Stalin era, will eventually write the great and revealing histories of the revolution. The failure of Western historians to produce an adequate interim account has also been due mainly to preoccupation with current politics. Western historiography has rarely been guilty of wholesale falsification, but it has not been innocent of suppression of facts. It has as a rule shown little or no insight into the motives and minds of the social classes and political parties and leaders engaged in the Russian struggle; and most recently the cold war has had almost as blighting an effect on research as had Stalinism itself.

It is Mr Carr’s enduring and distinguished merit that he is the first genuine historian of the Soviet regime. He has undertaken a task of enormous scope and scale; and he has already performed a major portion of it. He views the scene with the detachment of one who stands if not au dessus de la mêlée, than at least au delà de la mêlée. He wishes to leave his readers with understanding and he searches for both the facts and the trends, the trees and the wood. He is as austerely conscientious and scrupulous as penetrating and acute. He has a flair for seeing the scheme and order of things and is lucid in the presentation of his findings. His History must be judged a truly outstanding achievement.

To be sure, Mr Carr has been able to use only such sources as have long been available to students: he has had no access to unpublished documentation. But from these admittedly limited sources he has been able to extract the utmost; and to weave it into a close textured narrative. For the period he has covered so far the published documentation is indeed so abundant and reliable that it is doubtful whether archives, when they are opened, will compel the historian to revise fundamentally the view which can be formed now on the basis of materials already published. This, incidentally, is my own experience with the Trotsky Archives which I have studied at Harvard. These contain a great number of important documents, and their knowledge causes me to disagree with Mr Carr on certain specific points. But on the whole these disagreements, in so far as they concern the facts, are not fundamental. [9] It may therefore be assumed that Mr Carr’s study of Soviet Russia up to 1924 is as definitive as any historical work can be.

Mr Carr is an historian primarily of institutions and policies, of which he traces the origins and the development in minute detail. He shows the Soviet state in statu nascendi; and this he does with a masterly grasp. But he is preoccupied primarily with the state, not with the nation and society behind it. Moreover, his interest is focused on the very top of the state machinery so that it might be said that his History of the Soviet Union is primarily a history of its ruling group. In part this is unavoidable: an historian reconstructs the historical process on the basis of documentary evidence which emanates mostly from the rulers, although in the years of the revolutionary upheaval Soviet society was by no means as amorphous and inarticulate as to form merely a mute background. But this characteristic of Mr Carr’s work is also in part due to his basic approach. Whenever he refers to developments in the social background, his references are subsidiary to his analysis of what was going on inside the ruling group. He tends to see society as the object of policies made and decreed from above. He is inclined to view the state as the maker of society rather than society as the maker of the state.

This approach creates a priori certain difficulties for the historian of a revolution, because a revolution is the breakdown of the state and demonstrates that in the last resort it is society which makes the state, not vice versa. Mr Carr approaches the revolutionary upheaval with the mind of the academic scholar interested above all in constitutional precepts, political formulæ and machinery of government, and less in mass movements and revolutionary upheavals. His passion is for statecraft, not for ‘subversive’ ideas. He studies diligently the subversive ideas but only in so far as they may provide a clue to the statecraft of the triumphant ex-revolutionists. If he had chosen to epitomise his work in some epigrammatic motto he might have opened his History in the Churchillian manner with the following text: ‘How Russian Society Collapsed Through the Folly and Ineptitude of its Old Ruling Classes and Through the Utopian Dreams of Bolshevik Revolutionaries, and How These Revolutionaries in The End Saved Russia By Giving Up Their Quixotic Delusions and Learning Arduously and Painfully the ABC of Statecraft.’

This approach is reflected even in the composition of Mr Carr’s work. The major part of his introductory volume deals with Bolshevik constitution-making, which seems to me to have been the least important, the most shadowy, aspect of the story. Another major portion of the same volume is devoted to ‘policy, doctrine, machinery'; and still another, by far the best, describes the ‘dispersal’ of the Tsarist Empire and its ‘Reunion’ under the Soviet flag. What is lacking almost completely is the social background of 1917. To the academic scholar steeped in the study of constitutions, this is of course the most natural line of approach, but it is not one which is best suited for the study of a society in the throes of revolution. As he proceeds with his work Mr Carr progressively overcomes the limitations of this approach to quite a remarkable extent. By an almost heroic, self-critical effort of his analytical mind, he has come much closer to the understanding of the strange phenomenon of the Russian Revolution than his starting-point allowed to expect. But that starting-point is still reflected in his treatment of the subject and underlies much of his reasoning.

Mr Carr has been censured by academic critics for his attitude towards Leninism and his alleged worshipping of Lenin. One of the critics has remarked that Lenin occupies in his work the place which Caesar holds in Mommsen’s History. [10] This criticism seems to me groundless. Mr Carr is too sceptical, too acute and too strongly aware of Lenin’s inconsistencies to be his worshipper. What is true is that in his presentation Lenin’s figure dominates and overshadows the revolution, the Bolshevik Party, the Soviet state. It does so in part because of the inadequate picture of the social background, and in part because Mr Carr is not sufficiently aware of the formative processes by which Lenin’s political thought was shaped and of the extent to which, even in the years of his mature leadership and ascendancy, Lenin’s mind was formed by his environment and influenced by the ideas of his followers. In this respect Mr Carr’s work suffers from a certain lack of political and psychological insight.

But what is more important is that Mr Carr’s ‘apotheosis’ of Lenin applies to Lenin the statesman and the self-taught master of statecraft as distinct from the Marxist revolutionary and thinker. It is the Lenin who builds a state that evokes his admiration, not the one who overthrows a state, and certainly not the one who obstinately dreams about the eventual ‘withering away’ of the state of his own making. Mr Carr views the story of Lenin the revolutionary as the indispensable prelude to Lenin the statesman, and he has little more than a polite smile of condescending irony for the Lenin who, at the summit of power, still had his gaze fixed on the remote vision of a classless and stateless society. Yet these different and seemingly conflicting aspects of Lenin’s personality were so closely integrated that neither of them can be isolated and understood in isolation. To the reader of Mr Carr’s History it must remain something of a puzzle how Lenin came to achieve the stature of statesman which Mr Carr ascribes to him. Did he perhaps even as builder of a state find his strength in the resources of his revolutionary thought and dream?

By implication, and sometimes explicitly, Mr Carr answers this question in the negative. He is impressed by those features which Lenin may have had in common with, say, Bismarck, rather than by those in which his affinity with Marx, the French Communards or Rosa Luxemburg shows itself.

Reading Mr Carr’s pages I could not help thinking of a confession once made by an eminent Polish liberal publicist Konstanty Srokowski, [11] who knew Lenin during the latter’s stay in Cracow before the First World War. Having spent much time with Lenin, arguing about politics and social affairs and playing chess, Srokowski confessed later that in 1912-14 he regarded Lenin as a well-meaning but utterly impractical man with no chance whatsoever to make any impact on practical politics:

Whatever subject we approached [Srokowski related] Lenin would begin with expounding one of the tenets of Marxist philosophy. He never stopped quoting Marx as if he deluded himself that he had found in Marx’s writings a master-key to all problems preoccupying mankind. I could only shrug shoulders. It was interesting to argue with Lenin for he was a man of intellect and education. But he seemed to me a quixotic visionary. I was sure that every one of our minor socialist politicians and trade-union leaders was superior to him as a man of action. When I then learned that the same Lenin was the leader of a revolution and the head of a great state I was dumbfounded. I lost confidence in my judgement. How, I wondered, could I have committed so cardinal an error in appraising the man. There must have been something wrong in my approach to him and to politics in general.

The old Polish publicist had, of course, an exaggerated respect for practical politics and all too little regard for ‘revolutionary romanticism’. Sometimes I wonder whether Mr Carr’s view of Lenin would have been any different, if he had met Lenin, say, in 1912? Essentially it is not very far removed from that view even in the History where it is only Lenin the successful master-builder of Soviet Russia who seems to redeem in Mr Carr’s eyes Lenin the revolutionary dreamer.

It is not difficult to detect that Mr Carr has formed his view of the Bolshevik revolution, at least partly, in opposition to the outlook of Western diplomacy in the years of the anti-Bolshevik intervention. The generation of Western diplomats which witnessed the rise of Bolshevism and resisted it with all its might was notoriously incapable of comprehending the phenomenon against which it struggled. Mr Carr may be described as an intellectual expatriate from that diplomacy – a rebel criticising its tradition from the inside, as it were. We know of no other man of Mr Carr’s background who has proved capable of even a small part of that enormous mental effort which Mr Carr has made to grasp the inner logic of Leninism. Even so, the peculiar limitations of the diplomatic mind can sometimes be sensed between the lines of his History.

Watching the earthquake of the Russian Revolution, Mr Carr surveys the landscape to see what has happened to so familiar a landmark as the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is puzzled, bewildered and worried by its disappearance. He cannot believe that the breakdown of diplomacy, brought about by the revolution, can serve any useful purpose, or that it can last. And he is relieved to find that when the dust settles diplomacy and its landmarks seem to be back where he expected them to be. The rare moments when he gives vent to irritation with the Bolshevik leaders are those in which he relates their initial hostility towards conventional diplomacy and their indulging in ‘the illusion that foreign policy and diplomacy were no more than an evil legacy of capitalism’. The Bolshevik Utopians could well reply that they were forced to take up diplomacy only because the ‘evil legacy of capitalism’ was much heavier than they had feared. If one views the prospect of an international socialist society as utterly unreal, and if one sees the future of mankind as a perpetual rivalry between nation-states, then, of course, one must consider diplomacy, its institutions and its procedures, to be inseparable from the history of mankind. The Leninists believed that the national diplomacies of our age would one day appear as anachronistic as the diplomacies of the particularist, feudal and post-feudal, princedoms appear today; and that the unifying historical process which had merged those particularist entities into nation-states would eventually merge nation-states into an international community which will have no use for diplomacy. Mr Carr will have none of this nonsense, and he is glad to get away from it, and to applaud generously the Bolsheviks when, like repentant prodigal sons, they give up their ‘haughty contempt for the ordinary conceptions and procedures of foreign policy’ and reopen a normal chancellery. Of this he repeatedly speaks as of the ‘normalisation’ of Soviet policy, although what may seem normal by one standard may be highly abnormal by another.

How self-revealing is, for instance, Mr Carr’s description of the scene of Trotsky’s departure from the Soviet Foreign Office on the conclusion of the Brest Litovsk Treaty:

The fiery revolutionary agitator was succeeded by a scion of the old diplomacy whose early [?] conversion to Bolshevism had not effaced a certain ingrained respect for traditional forms... After Trotsky’s whirlwind career at Narkomindel, Chicherin sat down to a patient and less spectacular task of organisation.

This contrast between Trotsky, the fiery agitator, and Chicherin in whom the virtues of the conventional diplomat had survived despite his Bolshevism, is somewhat dubious. Chicherin was as unconventional a Bohemian as one can imagine; and he was anything but a patient organiser. Trotsky, on the other hand, was in personal behaviour and habits much less eccentric than Chicherin; he easily switched from fiery revolutionary agitation to the most correct diplomatic negotiation; and he was certainly a patient organiser. Nor would the suggestion be well-founded that Chicherin’s influence came to supersede Trotsky’s in the conduct of Soviet diplomacy. Mr Carr is aware that Chicherin was a mere executor of the Politbureau’s decisions on which, in so far as they concerned diplomacy, Trotsky’s influence was second only to Lenin’s or equal to it. We now know from the documentary evidence in Trotsky’s Archives that it was Trotsky who in 1920 strove, much more insistently than Lenin, for British-Soviet agreement, for peace with Poland, for a normalisation of Russia’s relations with the small Baltic states; [12] and Mr Carr himself relates some of the preliminaries to the Rapallo Treaty from which it is clear that he was also one of the chief inspirers of Rapallo, probably its chief initiator. But this scene of Trotsky’s departure and Chicherin’s arrival, drawn with such unmistakable relish, illustrates a conception according to which the Soviet regime gained its raison d'être only when it discovered its raison d'état.

I do not intend to deny that there was an element of unreal dream in Bolshevik attitudes or the subsequent reassertion of the concepts and procedures of traditional government and diplomacy. But how we view these is a matter of proportion and evaluation; and my criticism applies to Mr Carr’s overemphasis on the Bolshevik return to the conventional concepts and procedures and to his inadequate grasp of the revolutionary ethos of the epoch.

Mr Carr is a great respecter of policies and – sometimes – a despiser of revolutionary ideas and principles. Again, this shows itself even in the composition of his monumental work. He relegates the ideas and principles of Bolshevism to Appendixes and Notes, treating them implicitly as points of only marginal interest, while his narrative is concerned primarily with policies. In Volume I he deals with Lenin’s theory of the state in a note, whereas one-third of the volume is devoted to constitution-making, although Soviet constitutions were honoured mainly in their breach and had little practical significance. Another note deals with the ‘Doctrine of Self-Determination’. In the second and the third volumes the Appendixes deal with the Marxist attitude towards the peasantry and the Marxist view of war. Yet these views and ideas were active and crucial elements in the developments described in the main body of the History, because they animated its characters. Mr Carr is, of course, familiar with the Marxian saying that an idea, when it gets hold of human minds, itself becomes a power. Historical realism cannot therefore consist in playing down the power of ideas, for this can only narrow and impoverish the historian’s perspective.

The validity of this criticism can be illustrated by Mr Carr’s treatment of the inner-Bolshevik controversy over the Peace of Brest Litovsk. His account of this is disappointing. Other writers, who lack Mr Carr’s scholarship and ability, have rendered this momentous episode with much greater insight and sense of drama. This is not mainly or even primarily a question of literary style. The Brest Litovsk controversy may be seen as a clash between political expediency and revolutionary idealism in which expediency gains the upper hand. This is a simplified but essentially correct view; and it is the one adopted by Mr Carr. But he grasps much more acutely the arguments of political expediency than the motives of revolutionary idealism; and he is not quite sensitive to the full force of the conflict between the two. Moreover, his predilections lead him astray as an historian: he describes accurately and in great detail Lenin’s arguments for peace, but he omits to give even a bare summary of the views held by the opponents of peace, who, as he knows, at first had behind them the majority of the party and repeatedly outvoted Lenin. Had Mr Carr given a little patient attention to Bukharin’s, Radek’s, Yoffe’s and Dzerzhinsky’s views, he might have found in them more than mere enthusiastic flamboyance and revolutionary phrase-mongering, of which there was admittedly no lack; he might also have found considerable realism and far-sightedness. Even if this should not be so, his omission to give an adequate idea of the arguments of the Left communists results in a curious gap.

On several occasions Mr Carr refers sarcastically to the Bolsheviks’ ‘Wilsonian’ ‘appeal from wicked governments to enlightened peoples’. But was that appeal so quixotic as Mr Carr suggests? Was it so impractical even from the viewpoint of the analyst of power politics? After all, the victorious revolution was nothing else but one great appeal ‘from a wicked government to an enlightened people’. Because of his contempt for that appeal, Mr Carr misses the revolution’s climate, its emotional atmosphere, its mass enthusiasms, its moral tensions, the high flights of its hopes, and the deep depressions of its disillusionments, all of which derived from the ardent belief of both the revolutionaries and the people in the reality of that ‘appeal’. Sometimes Mr Carr’s characters seem to move through an airless space and an emotional vacuum as if they were nothing but disembodied political conceptions and formulæ. In part this is due to the author’s preoccupation with scientific history writing, which to him seems to imply the exclusion of the emotional and spiritual colouring of the events. As an historian Mr Carr superbly surveys and scrutinises this period, but he does not relive it. Perhaps he does not consider it important and necessary or even admissible for the historian to do so. His approach has certainly its justification and validity: there are at least several legitimate ways of writing history, although the best histories are those that are works of imaginative insight and art as well as of science. But even within Mr Carr’s approach and style his insight would have gained in depth if it had not been held in check too strongly by his impatience with Utopias, dreams and revolutionary agitation.

Mr Carr is fascinated by the subtlety and flexibility with which Lenin adjusted his policies to events and circumstances. Sometimes, however, he magnifies the element of the opportunist in Lenin out of its real proportion and to the exclusion of other elements. Lenin, the Marxist, appears rather dimly in his pages. Mr Carr is not sufficiently aware of the strength of the Marxist tradition in Lenin. When he does refer to that tradition he seems out of his depth and makes curious errors of fact. (Thus he claims that Lenin based in part his Imperialism on R Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital, which is patently incorrect. Lenin’s Imperialism was entirely based on Hilferding’s Finanzkapital; and Lenin’s own economic thought, from his earliest writings to his final evaluation of Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas after her death, was strongly opposed to Luxemburg’s theory.) What Mr Carr describes as the ‘Wilsonian’ element in Leninism was indeed part and parcel of the Marxist internationalist tradition; and Mr Carr, misled by the outward similarity of some Wilsonian and Bolshevik slogans, tends to overlook the realities behind the slogans and the different and incompatible trains of thought from which political watchwords had sprang. Implicitly, Mr Carr treats the early Bolshevik internationalism as a purely ideological conviction, unrelated to the economic trend of the epoch, if not simply as a sentimental weakness. Marxists had always argued that the needs of capitalist development had been the main motive power behind the formation of nation-states; and that one of the central ‘contradictions’ of capitalism consists in the fact that the productive forces of modern society outgrow their national frameworks. According to this view, the conflict between the productive forces and the nation-state manifests itself in various forms: negatively – in the imperialist search for Grossraumwirtschaft; and positively, in the internationalist outlook of the proletarian revolution, which cannot settle down within the framework of any nation-state.

Stalinism neglected and then suppressed this aspect of Marxist internationalism and it sought to elevate the isolation of the Russian Revolution to a virtue and a theoretical principle. For all his conscious effort to resist the insinuating influence of the Stalinist way of thought, Mr Carr unwittingly sometimes views Marxism through the Stalinist prism, because his interest in Marxism is only secondary to his study of the Soviet state. But Stalinism itself carried with it its own self-justification for in its last expansive phase it bore reluctant but conclusive testimony to the conflict between the development of the productive forces of Soviet Union and its national boundaries. Yet, the habits of thought associated with Socialism In One Country, habits formed and consolidated in the course of a quarter of a century, persist and they colour the thought even of a student as critical and detached as Mr Carr. In the heyday of Stalinism it may have looked that Bolshevik internationalism had no more economic and historic substance behind it than had the abstract cosmopolitanism of the French Revolution (to which Mr Carr indeed relates it). But at present it should no longer be possible to take this view: it is more than clear that the Russian Revolution, unlike the French, has initiated not just a new type of the nation-state, but – for good or evil – a new and expanding international economy and society.

The vantage point from which history is written is of great consequence. It would have been natural for an historian of Mr Carr’s background to treat the early Bolshevik internationalism as Wilsonian and Utopian in, say, 1932, although even then this would not have been proof of great historical realism. But it is a positive anachronism to treat it so twenty years later. In the retrospective light of the Chinese revolution and of the expansion of Stalinism in Eastern and Central Europe, the early Bolshevik hopes for the spread of revolution appear to have been tragically ahead of their time, but by no means Utopian.

Perhaps the main weakness of Mr Carr’s conception is that he sees the Russian Revolution as virtually a national phenomenon only. He does not deny its international significance or its impact on the West. But he treats it as an historical process essentially national in character and self-sufficient within the national framework. He thinks in terms of statecraft and statecraft is national. His Lenin is a Russian super-Bismarck achieving the Titanic work of rebuilding the Russian state from ruin, and of reuniting its dissolved component parts. This view is correct and incorrect at the same time – it misses the broader perspective within which Lenin’s achievement places itself.

A Lenin shorn of his unmanageable revolutionary internationalism and shown as master of national statecraft may appear plausibly as nothing but Stalin’s legitimate ideological forebear. In the History Mr Carr has done very much to reconstruct the authentic picture of Leninism and to free it from Stalinist accretions. He has succeeded admirably in his presentation of facts which is, on the whole, irreproachable; but he has only half succeeded in some of the finer shadings of emphasis and interpretation. Unwillingly he overdraws those features through which Lenin may be seen as resembling Stalin and he blurs the others in which the dissimilarity and contrast are striking. Here, too, I would like to qualify the criticisms and to add that Mr Carr’s understanding of the subject deepens with the progress of his research; and that in this respect, too, his latest volume, The Interregnum, represents a notable advance. When he reaches the threshold of the Stalin era, Mr Carr is much more aware of the discontinuity between Leninism and Stalinism than he was while he analysed Leninism.

This is perhaps the most difficult and complex problem by which the student of the Soviet Union is confronted. The historian’s mind grappling with this issue inevitably oscillates over the years; and as a fellow-worker in the same field I do not claim to have struck any faultless balance between the factors making for the continuity and the discontinuity of Leninism and Stalinism. Unlike the Stalinists, the Trotskyists and the vast majority of the anti-communist writers, for whom this problem does not even exist, Mr Carr comes to grips with it. To the Stalinist Stalin is the legitimate heir to the apostolic succession of Marx – Engels – Lenin. To the Trotskyist he is the traitor, grave-digger and renegade of Leninism. The great majority of anti-communist ‘Sovietologists’ also see in Stalinism a straight continuation of Leninism, while a minority accepts the Trotskyist version because it is polemically so convenient to denounce Stalinism as a devilish betrayal of the ‘true’ communism as well as a menace to Western values. Each of these schools is trading in half-truths, and refuses to face the fact that in some respects Stalinism is the ‘legitimate’ development of Leninism, while in others it is its negation. Mr Carr’s work is free from such simplifications and half-truths; but it nevertheless still seems to overdraw the Stalin in Lenin.

This inclination induces Mr Carr to antedate certain trends in Soviet foreign policy and to project back the Russian traditionalism of Stalin’s diplomacy on to Lenin’s conduct of foreign affairs. The antedating is noticeable in several instances, into which I cannot go here; but it is most striking when he surveys the Rapallo Treaty and the preliminaries to it – there he unwittingly injects the flavour of 1939 into the situation of 1921-22 and tends to treat Lenin as the straight precursor of the Stalin who was to share out Polish spoils with Hitler. Mr Carr sees an ‘ultimate alliance between Bolshevik Russia and a Germany of the Right’ as an historic inevitability manifesting itself in both situations:

Assuming that the Bolshevik regime survived, such an alliance would give the Reichswehr what it would one day need – a free hand against the West; and it would also give German heavy industry its indispensable market. (Volume 3, p 310)

The argument about the market cuts both ways, to say the least: twice within a quarter of a century German heavy industry backed not an alliance but an invasion of Russia in order to obtain control of that ‘market’ or, to put it more accurately, of Russian and Ukrainian sources of raw materials. Superimposing the pattern of 1939 on 1921-22 Mr Carr suggests that the Rapallo Treaty was directed against Poland and that underlying it was the perennial Russo-German striving for Poland’s dismemberment. That the idea of Poland’s dismemberment with Russian help lured the German Right even in 1920-22 is true, of course; but it is not true that it evoked any response in Soviet diplomacy or in the Bolshevik leadership of the Lenin era.

Indeed, nothing would show better the gulf between two phases of Soviet diplomacy than a careful comparison between Rapallo and the Nazi-Soviet pact. In both pacts Russia strove to strengthen her position by ‘exploiting the contradiction’ between Germany and the West while the West either ostracised Russia or worked to exclude her influence from European diplomacy. But in 1922 Russia joined hands with a Germany vanquished and outlawed, not with the imperialist incendiary run amok of 1939. At Rapallo the Bolsheviks made a sober deal without compromising their principles and their integrity and dignity: there was in their whole behaviour not even a hint of that state of mind in which, seventeen years later, Molotov could send Hitler the ill-famed telegram assuring the Führer of a ‘friendship cemented by blood’. And the Rapallo pact was not concluded at the expense of weaker neighbours: even in its secret parts it contained not a single arrangement made at the expense of Poland, for instance. Outwardly Rapallo and the Nazi-Soviet pact may look like two consecutive phases of the same policy; but they are set apart by the imponderable difference between the political morality of Leninism and that of Stalinism, a difference which Mr Carr tends to overlook. [13]

In spite of these flaws and limitations Mr Carr’s work will remain a great and enduring landmark in historical writing devoted to the Bolshevik revolution. Its merits are so obvious that they need no further underlining in a journal for specialists. Even the criticisms made here testify to its high standard, for they could not apply to a work less distinguished than this History is by consistency of method and unity of approach. In the future various schools of historians will study the Russian Revolution with the same interest and passion with which the records of the French Revolution have been searched for the last 130 years; and each generation and each school of historians will uncover new sources and throw new shafts of light on the great epic. But every future historian will have to turn to Mr Carr as his first great guide as the French historian still turns to the work of Thiers, [14] with which Mr Carr’s History has quite a few features in common. This comparison gives perhaps a measure of Mr Carr’s achievement.


1. EH Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1921 (three volumes, London, 1950, 1952, 1953); The Interregnum, 1923-1924 (London, 1954). Deutscher reviewed the first three volumes of Carr’s history in the Times Literary Supplement, 16 February 1951, 7 March 1952 and 5 June 1953 – MIA.

2. History of the CPSU(b): Short Course, available at < > – MIA.

3. Anton Denikin, Ocherki russkoi smuty (five volumes, Berlin, 1925-27) – MIA.

4. Paul Miliukov, The Russian Revolution (two volumes, Gulf Breeze, 1978, 1984) – MIA.

5. Alexander Kerensky, The Crucifixion of Liberty (New York, 1934); Victor Chernov, The Great Russian Revolution (New Haven, 1936) – MIA.

6. English translation: Theodore Dan, The Origins of Bolshevism (London, 1964) – MIA.

7. LD Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, available at < > – MIA.

8. Wer den Dichter will verstehen, muß in Dichters Lande gehen – Who wishes to understand the poet must go to the poet’s land – Goethe, from Der West-Östliche Diwan – MIA.

9. The importance of the Trotsky Archives for the years after 1924 is incomparably greater.

10. Theodor Mommsen, Römische Geschichte (three volumes, Leipzig, 1854-56; English translation, The History of Rome, three volumes, London, 1862-66) – MIA.

11. Konstanty Jastrzebiec Srokowski (1878-1935) – Polish Liberal politician, journalist and author, member of National Diet of Galicia and of the Supreme National Committee during the First World War – MIA.

12. See Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed (London, 1954), pp 461-71.

13. It is my duty to use this opportunity for explaining a curious incident in the preliminaries to the Rapallo pact. In his little book German-Soviet Relations, published in 1951, Mr Carr quoted Lenin as instructing his diplomats to ‘play the Polish card’ in negotiations with Germany. Mr Carr referred to the Trotsky Archives, and quoted myself as the source of the information. I feel therefore co-responsible for this error and obliged to put it right especially because the version given in German-Soviet Relations has been widely quoted by other writers. Among several documents bearing on the preliminaries to the Rapallo Treaty, the Trotsky Archives contain a ‘strictly secret’ memorandum addressed, on 10 December 1921, to Moscow by a cryptic German ‘negotiator’. The author of the memorandum, apparently an official German personality favouring agreement with Russia, surveyed the factors which operated in Germany against such an agreement and went on to advise the Bolsheviks what counteraction they should, in his view, take in order to prepare the ground for a diplomatic deal. Among other things, he suggested that the Bolsheviks should ‘play the Polish card’ especially in connection with the conflict which flared up over Upper Silesia. It was that German ‘well-wisher’ that used the phrase about ‘the Polish card’, not Lenin. In all the highly confidential and illuminating documents of the Trotsky Archives relating to this episode, there is not the slightest indication that Lenin’s government paid any heed to this advice. In those years the Politbureau had not yet sufficiently freed itself from ‘idealistic illusions’ to respond to such promptings. This was still Lenin’s not Stalin’s Politbureau; and its members could only contemptuously shrug shoulders over the ‘playing of the Polish card’. Mr Carr certainly does not treat as historical evidence for the opposite view the gossipy third-hand account of Enver Pasha, an adventurer-interloper who tried in vain to build himself up into a sort of a mediator between Moscow and Berlin and to whom the Bolshevik leaders made no confidences, as can be seen even from his own ‘report’. In the History Mr Carr himself corrects the version given in the Soviet-German Relations; but somehow that version still seems to reverberate in his reasoning.

14. Adolphe Thiers, Histoire de la Révolution française (10 volumes, Paris, 1835; English translation, History of the French Revolution, five volumes, London, 1895) – MIA.