Isaac Deutscher 1958
Source: Saturday Review, 23 August 1958. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
The Russian Revolution, by Alan Moorehead (Harper, pp. 301, $5), is an account of men and events in Russia during the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. It is reviewed by Isaac Deutscher, who is the author of Stalin: A Political Biography, Russia in Transition and many other books about the Soviet Union.
The publishers introduce this book as a ‘unique’ and ‘utterly objective history’ of the Russian revolution, which allows us at last to ‘see that from the Finland Station [that is, from Lenin’s arrival in Russia in 1917 – ID] to Berchtesgaden and Buchenwald, to Korea, to Hungary, is a very short, straight road’. (Mr Moorehead himself makes similar claims in the preface.) Such statements must inject doubt into the mind of any reader inclined to think that that road, like most other historic developments on such a scale, may, on the contrary, have been rather long and tortuous.
Mr Moorehead’s book is, unfortunately, neither objective nor history. He reveals lack of objectivity at the outset when he says that his theme is ‘the technique of the Bolshevist conspiracy’. This is the propagandist’s language, not the student’s, who cannot even think of reducing the most momentous event of this century – and Mr Moorehead acknowledges the Bolshevik revolution as such an event – to a ‘technique’ and a ‘conspiracy’. The author himself avows that he is no historian. He says that he has no ‘specialised knowledge of Russia or the revolution’. He evidently reads no Russian and has had to rely only on sources available in English, the advice of some ‘Sovietologists’, and ‘the secret records of the German Foreign Office’.
It is a pity that Mr Moorehead, a talented popular journalist and imaginative reporter, has allowed himself to be tempted into this incredible venture. What would he think of someone who would write a history, say, of the French revolution without even knowing French and would rely only on English sources and the secret records of the British Foreign Office?
With this parlous equipment the author sets out to destroy the icon of Lenin and to demonstrate that the Bolshevik revolution was ‘corrupt’ at its very birth. The icon of Lenin, produced by official Soviet scribes, has, of course, nothing to do with the writing of history. Nor has Mr Moorehead’s anti-icon.
Lenin the devil is a myth just as worthless as Lenin the saint or demigod. What doesn’t Mr Moorehead do to achieve his purpose? He puts more or less thick layers of whitewash on such figures of the ancien régime as the last Tsar and Tsarina, Stolypin, Kornilov and even Rasputin – all emerge as almost gentle, almost innocent, or almost attractive creatures. If occasionally they dealt mercilessly with opponents, well, their intentions were good all the same and circumstances compelled them to act as they did – an excuse which is, of course, hardly ever allowed the Bolsheviks.
It is impossible in a short review to deal with the striking errors of fact and distortions with which this book is teeming. This is a ‘rewrite’ of history, no more true than the Stalinist ‘rewrites’. We are asked to believe that the masses that supported the October revolution were nothing but crazy and demoralised mobs and that the Bolsheviks and Lenin were a gang of cranks, villains, criminals and German spies. It is here that the ‘secret records of the German Foreign Office’, captured after the last war, allegedly come in as evidence that Lenin had made the revolution ‘with German money and German help’.
Fortunately, the most important of these records (of which Mr Moorehead produces not a single piece) are available in English in a volume edited by ZAB Zeman and published recently by Oxford University Press. What these records show abundantly is that the Kaiser and his ministers did indeed spend a lot of money on promoting ‘subversion’ in enemy countries, especially Russia. But these documents contain not even a hint of evidence that Lenin ever accepted that money or that he and the Bolsheviks worked in collusion with Hohenzollern Germany.
What is clear from the captured German documents is what had been well known anyhow, namely that the Germans had hoped to use Lenin and that they were bitterly disappointed; that Lenin was on his guard against German agents who tried to approach him; that he would have nothing to do with them (indeed he denounced them publicly in the bluntest terms and not, as Mr Moorehead claims, ‘with indulgence’); that the German agents, especially Parvus, bluffed their paymasters about their ‘successes’, as such agents usually do; that the Germans themselves discovered this; and finally, that Lenin’s explanations about his journey through Germany, which he gave in 1917, immediately after his return to Russia, were scrupulously truthful in every detail. Indeed any historian who will approach the German secret records with an open mind and with a knowledge of the background will find that far from discrediting Lenin they only enhance his reputation for political integrity.
Habent sua fata libelli – libels, like books, can have strange fortunes. The accusation that Lenin was in German pay was first made by his enemies over forty years ago and given currency in the West during the years of Allied intervention in Russia, only to be discredited and forgotten for over thirty years. The Cold War has now given it fresh currency. Morally and historically the accusation is on the same level as the Stalinist charge that Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin and Tukhachevsky were Hitler’s spies. Both accusations spring from essentially the same political philosophy, a philosophy which opposes to the old Marxist view that ‘the history of mankind is the history of class struggles’ the profound idea that history consists of the intrigues and plots of espionage services. One should have thought that the American public has already been sufficiently misled by this philosophy and sufficiently overfed with it to be spared this fresh dose.