Fred Hall

[War of Intervention]

(March 1973)

From Review, International Socialism (1st series), No.56, March 1973, p.25. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

White Eagle, Red Star
The Polish-Soviet War 1919-20

Norman Davies
MacDonald £5.50

At War with the Bolsheviks
Allied Intervention in Russia 1917-20

Robert Jackson
Tom Stacy £3.40

Here are two very different books which deal with a subject which is – or ought to be – of the greatest interest to socialists. The civil war and the intervention of 14 foreign armies against the infant Soviet republic changed the whole course of the Russian Revolution. Immense difficulties would have faced the isolated workers’ revolution in a backward country even without intervention. The intervention turned crisis into catastrophe, shattered the already feeble industrial base of the revolution, strangled soviet democracy and forced the Soviet government to subordinate the whole economic life of the country to a struggle for bare survival.

A single statistic, recorded by Norman Davies, tells us more of the reality of the Russia of 1920 than all the fantasies and atrocity stories of ‘libertarian’ and bourgeois propagandists. At the height of the Soviet-Polish war one quarter of the entire grain supply of the Soviet republic was swallowed up by Tukhachevsky’s ‘Western Army Front’ deployed against Poland. One quarter! And the cities were starving, the peasants bitterly resentful of every requisition.

White Eagle, Red Star is a serious study of the political and military struggle as seen at government and high command level on both sides. It is ‘objective’ in Ruskin’s ‘candid but not impartial’ sense. Though there are one or two errors (for example, Rykov is listed as a leader of the ‘Workers’ Opposition’ in the Russian CP), the author seems to be exceptionally well-informed. And the book is very readable.

Robert Jackson’s book is not in the same class. The style and content is in the ‘Regimental History’ tradition. ‘A small party led by Captain Smith manhandled an 18-pounder to within 1,000 yards of the enemy outposts at No 8 siding’; ‘Sergeant Pearse cut his way through the enemy wire under very heavy fire’; ‘On the left, Major Yeats-Brown was on the move again’ and so on. There is a corresponding weakness in the treatment of the war as it appeared to the respective senior commanders and their governments. Jackson sees the intervention entirely through ‘white’, indeed largely British, eyes. The book’s politics are abysmal, but it is vividly written and a useful reminder of the extent and importance of British involvement in the counter-revolutionary effort.



1. Fred Hall was a pseudonym occasionally used by Duncan Hallas.


Last updated on 19.10.2006