Isaac Deutscher 1966

The February Regime

Source: The Times Literary Supplement, 14 July 1966; Marxism in Our Time (The Ramparts Press, Berkeley, 1971). The text that appears in Marxism in Our Time contains several variations from the original, one substantial addition has been shown in a footnote, the others are very minor and have not been indicated in the text below. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Alexander Kerensky, The Kerensky Memoirs: Russia and History’s Turning Point (Cassell, London, 1966)

The Kerensky Memoirs are an essential part of the historical documentation of the Russian Revolution; and their publication on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the fall of Tsardom is to be welcomed. True, this volume is, as critics have pointed out, largely a rehash of the author’s earlier Prelude to Bolshevism and Crucifixion of Liberty. But those books, published in 1919 and 1934 respectively, have long been out of print; and young readers have now their first opportunity to acquaint themselves with the self-portrait of the man whose name has been the symbol of the ‘February regime’ of 1917 and with his account of ‘History’s Turning Point’. The fact that Mr Kerensky, now in his middle eighties, does not try to startle us with new revelations, but repeats the version of events which he gave when his memory of them was fresh, speaks in his favour. And although he is not by any means an outstanding writer this is a readable book: it still has the breath of great events about it. It contains vivid scenes and character sketches, those, for instance, of the Tsar and the Tsarina, of ministers of the ancien rĂ©gime, and of a few Conservative and Cadet leaders, though, characteristically, none of the men of the left ever comes to life. And although there is no lack of heavy emotional overtones, the Memoirs are not quite as overloaded with polemical and stylistic excesses as was The Crucifixion of Liberty – whoever has done the pruning has rendered the author a good turn.

* * *

For all that, the present volume is not likely to enhance Mr Kerensky’s historical reputation. His name remains the epitome of utter failure in revolution. Of all the men whom the great wave of 1917 raised up, none had been less prepared for his role in the drama and none was more fortuitously involved in it. The early, strictly autobiographical chapters confirm Trotsky’s verdict: ‘Kerensky was not a revolutionist; he merely hung around the revolution.’ A revealing incident shows the author at the opening of his legal career, just before the 1905 revolution:

To be called to the Bar one had to give the names of three references... I put down a former Governor, a former Prosecutor... and... a member of the State Council... But I had made a mistake... these highly-placed references were unacceptable to the Board of Junior Barristers... I was rejected on the grounds that my references were from higher bureaucratic circles.

And this is how the author describes the mood in which he received the Tsar’s October Manifesto of 1905, with its spurious promise of freedom:

I spent the rest of that night in a state of elation. The age-long bitter struggle of the people for freedom... seemed to be over... A wave of warmth and gratitude went through my whole being, and my childhood adoration for the Tsar revived.

He was disconcerted by the fact that not only the Workers’ Deputies of St Petersburg but even Professor PN Milyukov, the Liberal leader, rejected the Manifesto with the words: ‘Nothing has changed; the struggle continues.’ Mr Kerensky was elated even by the so-called Bulygin Duma, the State Consultative Council, a parody of Parliament, which the whole Opposition boycotted.

* * *

Yet before the year was out the young lawyer became disillusioned with the Tsar and volunteered to participate in an attempt on his life. But ‘my requests had been turned down because I had no experience of a revolutionary and could not therefore be relied upon’. The political volatility, the proneness to illusion and gesture, and the lack of political sense he exhibited in this prelude to his career were ominous. After a brief imprisonment in 1906, he kept aloof from politics for years, except that he acted as Counsel of Defence in political trials, and so as a lawyer he was in some touch with clandestine Socialist circles. In 1912, almost fortuitously, he entered the Fourth Duma:

I had never given much thought to the future and I had had no political plans. My only desire, since the beginning of my political life, had been to serve my country. As a result I had been taken unawares when... asked... to consent to stand for election to the Fourth Duma as a Trudovik candidate. [The Trudoviks were semi-Liberals and semi-Populists.]

It was not Mr Kerensky’s fault that the Fourth Duma was the least representative and the most discredited of the Tsar’s pseudo-Parliaments; but it was through its rusty door that he was to enter the stage of revolution.

As an historian no less than as a politician he rides incessantly on the high horse of moral principle in a flood of sentimental phrases, and hardly ever has the time to put two and two together. Relating the outbreak of the First World War, he proclaims categorically his ‘contention that the Great War was absolutely contrary to the national interests and aims of Russia in 1914'; and he is unaware that in saying this he is politically knocking the ground from under his own feet. After all, the wicked Bolshevik defeatists said nothing else, only they acted on their conviction, whereas Mr Kerensky speaks in the same breath of the nation’s sacred, patriotic duty to wage the war that was so ‘absolutely contrary’ to its interests. ‘I felt’, he confesses, ‘that the battle we had been waging against the remnants of absolutism could now be postponed.’ ‘On my way back to St Petersburg I worked out a plan of action for the war, based on a reconciliation between the Tsar and the people’, a plan of which the men of the Duma did not even want to hear. As late as in the days of the Rasputin affair, he still believed that ‘the best solution to the problem’ would be that the Tsar should save his throne by ‘sending the Empress away to the Crimea or to England’. Who would have thought that this loyal though discontented subject of Nicholas II would turn so soon into the very embodiment of republican virtue?

* * *

The monarchy was already in ruins and the Petrograd Soviet being formed when Mr Kerensky tried to induce the men of the Duma to make some move. ‘From the very beginning’, he remarks, ‘my relations with the leaders of the Soviet were strained’, although those leaders were the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries who supported him. He considered that ‘the Duma was the only national centre of power’, the Duma whose rapid fading away in impotence and ignominy he himself describes. As, in one of the last days of February, masses of rebellious soldiers and workers converged upon the building of the Duma, he suddenly felt in himself an upsurge of subversive energy similar to that which had led him once to volunteer for an attempt on the Tsar’s life:

Without stopping to put on a coat, I ran out through the main entrance to greet those for whom we had been waiting so long. I hurried through the centre gate and shouted some words of welcome on behalf of the Duma... I urged the soldiers to follow me into the Duma building in order to disarm the guard and defend the building in case of attack by troops loyal to the government.

For a moment the young lawyer, all legalistic scruples gone, was carried by the whirlwind. He ordered the arrest of various Tsarist dignitaries, among them of Shcheglovitov, former Minister of Justice and President of the Imperial Council. Prince Lvov offered him the portfolio of Minister of Justice in the first Provisional Government:

It was not until I reached home that the full impact of recent events hit me. For two or three hours I lay in a semi-delirious state, then suddenly the answer to my problem came to me in a flash: I must telephone my immediate acceptance of the government post...

Oddly enough, my decision... was strongly influenced by the thought of the prisoners in the Government Pavilion. If any Minister from the Progressive Bloc could succeed in protecting them from the fury of the mob and keep the revolution free from bloodshed, it was I.

In a different context he states: ‘I had no use for people who could not genuinely accept the fait accompli of the revolution.’ He himself had certainly accepted what he thought was the fait accompli. It was his misfortune that he mistook the prologue of the revolution for its epilogue.

What then brought the young political dilettante so soon to the top, as Minister of War and Premier of the Provisional Government? His personal qualities? Yes, to some extent. The upheaval brought out in him unsuspected gifts, an ability for political manoeuvring, oratorical talent, and a flair for ‘projecting his image’. But behind these qualities there was neither genuine revolutionary conviction nor conventional realistic statesmanship. His declamatory speeches intoxicated the masses while these were in a holiday mood, rejoicing rather prematurely in their triumph and being unaware of the grave issues posed by the fall of Tsardom. Of that holiday mood Mr Kerensky was the sonorous mouthpiece, pouring forth generalities and pious wishes, which for a moment sounded meaningful, even sublime, and brought bliss to many. Yet it is impossible to quote a single memorable phrase of his, a phrase of the kind that springs from deep feeling or thought. His audiences mistook his self-intoxication for his own slogans and appeals for sincerity for revolutionary fervour. ‘From the moment of the collapse of the monarchy...’, he says:

I found myself in the centre of events. I was, in fact, their focal point, the centre of the vortex of human passions and conflictive ambitions which raged around me in the titanic struggle...

On the face of things this is true; in a deeper sense it is an illusion. He was the ‘focal point’ and ‘the centre of the vortex’ for as long only as the ‘passions and ambitions’ were in a state of unstable equilibrium and relative rest. In all parties, on the left and the right, there were men of incomparably greater weight and stature: he loomed large while they were marking time. He moved with panache, before the blows came down, between anvil and hammer, kicking the anvil, shaking his fist at the hammer, and imagining himself to be in control.

* * *

When Mr Kerensky became Prime Minister he took over a hopeless legacy. The summer offensive of the Russian army had ended in appalling disaster, and Petrograd had just lived through the convulsion of the ‘July Days’. The Bolshevik Party was being denounced for demoralising the troops and was driven underground. Lenin, branded as traitor and paid agent of the German General Staff, had gone into hiding. Trotsky and most Bolshevik leaders were imprisoned. Even now Mr Kerensky echoes volubly the old anti-Bolshevik accusations, although he also states that ‘the main reason for the failure of the offensive... was that the Russian army was opposed by first-class German troops’ and that two-thirds of the Russian infantry had been killed or wounded during preceding years. Not surprisingly, he relies heavily on the recently published German diplomatic archives for ‘incontrovertible evidence’ that the German General Staff had indeed financed Lenin and the Bolsheviks, as he, Mr Kerensky, had known all along.

This is hardly the place to go into that ‘new evidence’. [1] Here it will be enough to say that the German documents, handy though they were, a few years ago, for propagandists of the Cold War, have not done anything at all to substantiate the accusation against the Bolsheviks. What the documents show is what had long been known anyhow, namely that the German government spent during the war much money on propaganda and espionage in Russia (though it appears that they spent there only one-tenth of their expenditure in other Allied countries); that, having been made aware by the notorious Parvus – Helphand of the importance of Lenin’s party, they sought to establish contact with it; that Parvus, whom Lenin had denounced in 1915 as one who had ‘sunk to the gutter of German social imperialism’ and who subsequently had no connexion whatsoever with the Bolsheviks, bluffed the German diplomats and generals, in truly Falstaffian manner, about his influence with the Bolsheviks, promising to work miracles in Petrograd and pocketing meanwhile millions of marks for himself. But not a single piece of evidence has been found in the German archives to show that Lenin and his party ever entered into any secret contact with the Kaiser’s government or accepted any money from it. (There is enough evidence from other sources to show that they never did anything of the sort.) Mr Kerensky now produces various conflicting sets of figures about the German ‘Secret Funds for Propaganda and Special Expeditions’ with so triumphant an air that one might think that he was producing receipts from Bolshevik headquarters. If not as an historian and political leader, then at least as a lawyer, he might have spared us such hocus-pocus. He is understandably concerned with justifying his action in prosecuting the Bolshevik traitors in 1917. But what a peculiar lack of historical sense, if not of elementary respect for his own nation, he exhibits when he still maintains that all the upheaval that Russia has been undergoing for half a century was set in motion by the German Secret Service and a few Russian criminals and spies.

Mr Kerensky’s next historic quarrel was with General Kornilov and the general’s sponsors and adherents. His account of that conflict is very instructive indeed. If Lenin aroused in Mr Kerensky the most intense animosity and suspicion from the outset, Kornilov inspired him with the utmost confidence. In the early days of the February regime he entrusted the general with responsibility for the Tsar’s detention; and no sooner had he himself become Prime Minister than he appointed him Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s armed forces. Almost at once the general began to work for the overthrow of Mr Kerensky’s government and for the suppression of the Soviet and the parties of the left. Mr Kerensky leaves us in no doubt that Kornilov, who looks here like a prototype of Spain’s General Franco, was backed by many influential Russian bankers, industrialists and generals, and also by the Allied embassies in Petrograd. What Mr Kerensky says about this agrees with what the Bolsheviks, who did not know the ‘inside story’, were saying in 1917; and reading his account of the affair, one sees very well why even Mr Kerensky’s Menshevik and Social Revolutionary supporters suspected him of complicity with Kornilov in the early stages of the plot. The military coup was defeated without firing a shot, because Kornilov’s soldiers refused to fight for him and the workers rose en masse. The Provisional Government was saved, but only for a few weeks. As Mr Kerensky rightly points out, Kornilov’s defeat had set the stage for the Bolshevik insurrection.

* * *

About the October dénouement, the author has nothing of historical interest to say; he can only curse it. He concludes with several melancholy chapters describing his last months in Russia, spent in hiding; his escape on board a tiny British trawler; and his experiences in Western Europe. Here and there in these pages there is a touch of tragic pathos, but under Mr Kerensky’s pen it resolves into melodrama. He describes, for instance, how in January 1918, he came from hiding to Petrograd, just at the moment when the Constituent Assembly was convened, and he volunteered to address the assembly. His closest political friends, however, did not want him to do so: ‘The situation in Petrograd has changed radically [they warned him]. If you appear at the assembly it will be the end of all of us.’ The author has the honesty to relate this – or is it that in his self-righteousness he does not realise what a devastating verdict on him these words implied? He hints that he intended to commit suicide while the assembly was in session; but: ‘I did not cross the Rubicon of death.’ No less disheartening were his later meetings with Lloyd George and Clemenceau, who, having in the meantime put their stakes on Admiral Kolchak, Kornilov’s successor, had no longer any use for the democratic ex-Premier.

Behind this tale of woe there looms, of course, the fundamental question of whether a bourgeois democracy could have been established in the Russia of 1917 or of subsequent years. Mr Kerensky is convinced that he would have established it, if only he had not received so many ‘stabs in the back’ from Milyukov and Kornilov, from the industrialists and bankers, from Lenin and Trotsky, from the Mensheviks, from his closest political associates, and from the Allied embassies. But do not all these ‘stabs in the back’ add up to the conclusion that a parliamentary democracy had no chance of survival in Russia’s political and social climate? It took the nations of Western Europe centuries, during which revolutionary convulsions alternated with long, slow and organic growth, to develop their parliamentary democracies, of which outside the Anglo-Saxon countries few were really stable. It was the height of naivety to imagine that Russia, having in the middle of a war emerged from centuries of autocracy, with a shattered semi-feudal structure, with a land-hungry peasantry, with an underdeveloped bourgeoisie, with the national minorities in uproar, and with a highly dynamic, Marxist-oriented and ambitious working class, could be charmed into the mould of a constitutional monarchy or a liberal republic. No doubt, Russia is now sick with the terror and bureaucratic dictatorship of recent decades and appears to be laboriously groping towards some kind of freedom, perhaps towards a socialist democracy. Of that democracy, however, Mr Kerensky is not likely to be the tutelary spirit.

* * *

It is an extraordinary thing that whilst on the political plane British intellectuals have lost their prewar pro-Communist blinkers, there is one corner in their hearts which is forever Trotsky – and that is the story of 1917.

What can be more contrary to the normal tenor of British thought than to accept the dogma – so ably expounded by your reviewer of The Kerensky Memoirs (30 June) – that to be a national leader in time of war and revolution one should be a professional revolutionary, so steeped in ‘realism’ as to accept defeat at the hands of a ruthless foreign power to avoid being overthrown by native left-wingers?

Those who argue like that with the advantage of hindsight seem to forget that even hindsight has its pitfalls. Had Russia dropped out of the war early in 1917, the Kaiser would have overrun all Europe just as easily as Hitler did in 1940 and historians would have had a very different hindsight to fall back upon – and especially so if the suggested course of action had prevented the Bolsheviks from getting into power – whereupon they would have gone down in history as ‘harmless agrarian reformers whom Kerensky set up as bogey-men to frighten the country into one of the dirtiest acts of betrayal in world history’.

To read your reviewer’s comments one would not suspect that Kerensky has at least two credits to his name.

Item: He fought the Communists tooth and nail from the word ‘go’ before slower wits realised that their bloodthirsty cries should be taken seriously. (Compare Roosevelt, after twenty-five years of watching them in action, still believing that dear old Uncle Joe is less imperialist than Churchill. Or the even more recent Western misjudgement of those harmless agrarian reformers in China.)

Item: At the cost of (by World War standards) a minor military operation, Kerensky drew to the Russian Front a greater number of German divisions than had ever faced the Tsar’s ‘Russian Steamroller’. Who can doubt that in that darkest hour of the war this was an essential ingredient of Allied survival?

Indeed, Kerensky displayed some ‘unsuspected gifts’. But unsuspected by whom? By the Tsarist judges who found that Tsarism itself was in the dock while the accused went free? By the labour group in the Duma of which he was both the youngest member and the leader? By the Petrograd Soviet who coopted him as vice-chairman at their very first meeting on 27 February, though he was not even a member? Or by the press which found it worthwhile to devote long blank ('censored’) columns to his speeches?

Even if your reviewer is unaware that Trotsky was a professional of double-talk and Newthink,[2] should he not ask himself how much understanding of current political life and personalities Trotsky could have acquired from twelve years of Marxist polemics abroad, followed by total immersion into tub-thumping and clandestine plotting with other newly-returned émigrés? It is even doubtful whether he had ever seen Kerensky at less than 100 paces.

It is easy to claim that a loser was not competent to win. But by your reviewer’s yardstick of dilettantes ‘hanging around’ politics neither Cromwell nor Washington should have meddled in a revolution.

Gleb Kerensky

9 Grosvenor Road, Birkdale, Southport

* * *

For a brief but painful moment, the reviewer of The Kerensky Memoirs raises his finger and the tone of his voice. He asks: ‘But what a peculiar lack of historical sense, if not elementary respect for his nation, he [Kerensky] exhibits when he still maintains that all the upheaval that Russia has been undergoing for half a century was set in motion by the German secret service and a few Russian criminals and spies.’

That indignant sentence follows upon a number of errors of fact. The reviewer states that Alexander Helphand (Parvus) had ‘no connexion whatsoever’ with the Bolsheviks after Lenin had denounced him, in 1915, as having ‘sunk to the gutter of German social-imperialism’. In fact for nearly two years before the revolution in Russia, Jakob FĂĽrstenberg-Ganetsky, Lenin’s trusted friend who later became a prominent Soviet banker, was a director of one of Helphand’s business companies in Scandinavia, while Ryazanov, the future head of the Marx – Lenin Institute in Moscow, was receiving a retainer from Helphand. Karl Radek greatly admired Parvus, and willingly acted for him as an unpaid public-relations man.

Helphand himself may have bluffed the German diplomats and generals, but he never did so about his influence with the Bolsheviks; nor is there any evidence that he ‘pocketed meanwhile millions of marks for himself’. On the latter point the reviewer shows surprising ignorance of Helphand’s circumstances, as well as of the way in which he acted during the war. In 1916 and 1917 Helphand was a very rich man; in 1924 he died intestate and practically penniless. His only interest in money derived from the political uses that could be made of it.

I think it fair to mention that Mr Kerensky, when writing his book, was quite legitimately concerned with the factors that made for Bolshevik victory in November 1917. He may have overestimated the role of German aid: that is a matter of interpretation. If he did so, he is not alone among Russian revolutionary leaders. Trotsky himself expressed the opinion that had it not been for the decision to allow Lenin to cross Germany in April 1917, there probably would have been no Bolshevik revolution.

ZAB Zeman

Department of Modern History, St Salvator’s College, St Andrews

* * *

I was interested to read ‘The February Regime’ on 30 June, inspired by the publication of The Kerensky Memoirs last May. Yet I was disturbed by the remarks concerning the Kornilov ‘revolt'; that there was such an incident you do not question.

Leonid I Strakhovsky, one-time professor of the Department of Slavic Studies at the University of Toronto, states clearly that there was no revolt but rather a plot against the general by Kerensky. The latter had begun to fear Kornilov as a rival to his own position. The stationing of the Third Cavalry Corps outside Petrograd, taken to be the beginning of the ‘revolt’, was at the request of Kerensky to protect the city against a possible Bolshevik uprising.

Prince Lvov was sent by Kerensky to discuss with Kornilov how the Provisional Government could best be reorganised to deal with the developing crisis. Kornilov advised that, in view of the low morale at the front and the destructive influence of the Bolsheviks in the rear, only a dictatorship, coupled with the establishment of martial law, could best reshape the nation. But Kornilov emphasised that he did not want power for himself, and would willingly serve under Kerensky if he was to be the principal figure in the new administration. It seems that on hearing this news of Lvov, Kerensky distorted the facts to make it appear as though the general was preparing to effect a coup.

We have also the evidence of Zinaida Gippius, Kerensky’s former friend, but since disillusioned. She says ‘there was no Kornilov rebellion’: her impression of Kerensky ‘a cowardly and irresponsible’ person.

One certainly is tempted to doubt the sincerity of Kerensky, so adept at pointing the finger, saying that he was betrayed left, right and centre. Why doesn’t he let the facts speak for themselves? Was he more concerned with the preservation of his own power rather than looking to the best interests of Russia?

JP Lovett

34 Walton Road, Sidcup, Kent

* * *

Our Reviewer Writes: I wish Mr Gleb Kerensky’s argument were a little more coherent, though I must admit that his comparison of Mr Alexander Kerensky with Cromwell and Washington strikes me as highly original. I do not see what connexion Trotsky has with all this; and I wonder whether Mr Alexander Kerensky really ‘deserves the credit’ of having ‘fought the Communists tooth and nail’. That he fought them is, of course, true; but – ‘tooth and nail'? What I have tried to show is that he utterly lacked both ‘tooth and nail'; and some may hold this to be one of his redeeming features.

Mr Zeman does not answer my contention that ‘not a single piece of evidence has been found in the German archives to show that Lenin and his party ever entered into any secret contact with the Kaiser’s government or accepted any money from it’. Neither FĂĽrstenberg-Ganetsky (or rather Hanecki) nor Radek nor Ryazanov was a Bolshevik in the years before the Russian revolution; the first two were Polish Social-Democrats, active also in the German Socialist movement, and uncompromisingly opposed to the German ‘war effort’. (Their own party was at that time illegal in German-occupied Poland, and its chief leader, Rosa Luxemburg, spent the years of war in the Kaiser’s prisons.) Ryazanov stood close to the Mensheviks. Hanecki was Parvus’ commercial employee; but he had politically no truck with his employer. All three – Hanecki, Radek and Ryazanov – later joined the Bolsheviks; but Radek and Ryazanov (whom Mr Zeman by implication presents as German agents) led the ‘Left Communists’ who demanded that Russia should wage a ‘revolutionary war’ against Germany; and Ryazanov left the Bolshevik Party in protest against the Peace of Brest-Litovsk. Does Mr Zeman suggest that Parvus (and the Germans) maintained contact with the Bolsheviks through these men?

If Mr Zeman had read more carefully the German documents he himself has appended to his own book Germany and the Revolution in Russia, he would have found there sufficient evidence that Parvus bluffed the German diplomats and generals about his influence on the Bolsheviks. May I refer him to the secret German memorandum, dated 24 December 1917 (reproduced on pp 109-10 of his book), where one of the German diplomats, who kept in touch with Parvus, warns his superiors about the bluff? ('How far his [Parvus'] influence over the Russian socialists extends is not clear... He says that neither of these [Radek and Vorovsky] makes a move without his knowledge. I have found out quite definitely that he is totally mistaken... Vorovsky is extremely suspicious of him and says that nobody [scil, nobody among the Bolsheviks] really trusts him.’) The German diplomats came to suspect Parvus’ bluff only at the time of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, after they had really established contact with the Bolsheviks – until then he practised on their credulity with huge success.

Mr Strakhovsky’s view of Kornilov is not shared by the overwhelming majority of historians; your reviewer accepts broadly the version of the Kornilov plot given in The Kerensky Memoirs.

May I briefly comment on the interesting points raised by your reviewer (14 July) in his reply to my letter?

The fact that Radek and Hanecki were ‘Polish Social-Democrats’ and Ryazanov ‘stood close to the Mensheviks’, and that they all joined the Bolsheviks ‘later’, at an unspecified date, could not have prevented them from establishing a connexion between Parvus and the Bolsheviks at any point between March and November 1917. The relations of Hanecki in particular with Parvus and Lenin are examined in Dr Scharlau’s and my book, The Merchant of Revolution.

On the relationship between Parvus and Hanecki, Soviet historians have been more cautious than your reviewer. The editors of the protocols of the Bolshevik Central Committee for August 1917 to February 1918 knew that the relations between the two men were not as simple as your reviewer believes – ‘Hanecki was Parvus’ commercial employee’ – and they decided to exclude all the references to the Hanecki affair from the protocols. I am referring to note 23 in the new, 1958 Moscow edition.

Your reviewer claims to be well acquainted with the German documents. My selection of them contains, I fear, no direct evidence that Parvus bluffed the German diplomats about his influence with the Bolsheviks. The example your reviewer gives is a piece of second-hand evidence: it refers specifically to Helphand’s influence with the members of the Bolshevik mission to Stockholm, more than six weeks after Bolshevik victory, at a time when Helphand was not acting as an adviser on Russian affairs to the German Foreign Ministry, when in fact he was having an argument with the Ministry as well as the Bolsheviks. Indeed, if your reviewer’s standards of evidence were applied to the rest of the documents, no further proof of Berlin’s financial support of the Bolsheviks would be necessary. A German diplomat said that Helphand overestimated his influence with Radek and Vorovsky; another diplomat, who was, incidentally, much better informed, wrote that Bolshevik political activities could not have been developed without a ‘steady flow of funds’ from Berlin. On both points the evidence is equally indirect, and it is difficult for an historian to accept it on its own, at its face value.

May I suggest that your reviewer, by an imprecise use of German evidence, and by any use at all of concepts such as ‘agents’ and ‘Cold War’, does little service to an important and controversial area of historical research. Such an approach is out of step with the recent work on East European socialism, all of it dedicated to the task of cutting through layers of political propaganda from the left, right and centre, done by Dr Futrell, Dr Keep, Mr Nettl, Professor Schapiro and Dr Scharlau. Many problems still remain to be examined: there is nothing to be gained by treating them as though they had either never existed, or else had been solved long ago.

ZAB Zeman

43 Flask Walk, London, NW3

* * *

Our Reviewer Writes: One does not ‘cut through layers of political propaganda from the left and right and centre’ by refurbishing one of the most notorious and discredited pieces of such propaganda. I can only repeat that Mr Zeman does not answer my contention that ‘not a single piece of evidence has been found in the German archives to show that Lenin and his party ever entered into any secret contact with the Kaiser’s government or accepted any money from it’.

Now Mr Zeman is referring to himself as the authority on Parvus’ relations with the Bolsheviks and then dismisses a document exposing Parvus’ bluff about his influence on the Bolsheviks – the document I have quoted is from Mr Zeman’s own book – as ‘second-hand evidence’. He goes on to state that any evidence pointing one way or the other is only indirect. But surely if the allegations that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were German agents in German pay were true, definite proof of this should have been found somewhere in the top secret German archives that fell into Allied hands in 1945.

Mr Zeman quotes, finally, a statement by a German diplomat, that the Bolsheviks owed the success of their agitation to ‘a steady flow of funds’ from Berlin. This assertion is of the same order as the ‘information’ that Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador in Russia in 1917, recorded at that time in his diary, namely, that the Bolsheviks carried out the October Revolution with the help of ‘six German officers attached to Lenin’s staff in the Smolny Institute’. There was no excuse (except perhaps on the grounds of utter incomprehension and credulity) either for Mr Kerensky or for the diplomats who in 1917 held that the Bolsheviks could not have won without the assistance of German officers or the ‘flow of German gold’. But what is one to think of historians who are no wiser half a century later?


1. The version of this article that appeared in Marxism in Our Time adds after the word ‘evidence’ the following: ‘ – the reviewer intends to do so in a special study’ – MIA.

Deutscher’s review attracted the following letters from Gleb Kerensky, ZAB Zeman and JP Lovett, to which Deutscher provided a response. These appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, 14 July 1966. As the reviews in the TLS were at this time anonymous, it is not certain whether the correspondents knew of Deutscher’s authorship of the review.

2. Perhaps ‘Newspeak’, from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is meant here – MIA.

A further exchange between Zeman and Deutscher appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, 28 July 1966.