J. T. Murphy

Book Review

A Remarkable Book

Source: The Communist Review, Vol. III May 1931, No. 5.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

By D. S. Mirsky
Holme Press

THERE has been published in England a remarkable book; it is written, not by an Englishman, but by a Russian. It is a book about Lenin, written by a man who once fought in the army of Denikin. It is not written against Lenin and Leninism and against everything for which Lenin stood, but for Lenin, for Communism. The name of the author is D. S. Mirsky, son of Prince Mirsky, Minister of the Interior in Tsarist Russia prior to 1905.

When I received a copy of this book from the publishers, the Holme Press, I tore open the wrapper expecting to find another of the anti-Communist series. Judge my surprise when a glance through the pages revealed at once the language of a Marxist. I started to read the book seriously, and, starting, read on and on until I had read it through at one sitting. It seemed incredible that such a book should come from such a publisher and such a writer. I at once wrote a note to the author expressing my pleasure and surprise. I got a reply saying that it was the hope of the author that “it would help the cause of Communism in England and America.”

The author’s preface is exceedingly interesting. It explains his progression from that of an émigré who began to feel that something was wrong in the counter-revolutionary rôle he had been playing, through a form of Soviet patriotism which recognized that the Bolsheviks had rescued Russia from its subservience to Western finance capital and established Russia as a truly independent country, to the acceptance of the international proletarian revolution as the way to the emancipation of mankind.

Describing the transition of intellectuals such as himself, Mirsky says:

“Before we became internationalists we had come to understand that, whatever else they might be, the Communists, who had vindicated the independence of a Workers’ and Peasants’ U.S.S.R., were better patriots than the ‘national Russians,’ who had allied themselves with foreign imperialism in return for help against their class enemy.

“This patriotic acceptance of Soviet policy led us to a closer study of the Russian Revolution, of the personality of its leader and of the State founded by him. Unescapably, this forced us to realize that it was impossible to accept the October Revolution without the idea that inspired it, and that ‘the Soviets without Communism’ and ‘the U.S.S.R. without the Comintern’—formulæ popular among us between 1925 and 1928—were self-contradictory and absurd. To recognize the unique greatness of Lenin had already become a commonplace among all the younger, émigrés of good faith by 1925, and his personality was the most powerful magnet that drew us nearer and nearer to Leninism. For my own part, however, I must acknowledge that it was only in the course of the present work—especially in the process of a systematic reading of his writings—that I was able to gauge the full extent of his greatness.”

The book then proceeds to portray the man, to show him inseparable from his work of building the Party, “changing the world.” His estimate of “Lenin the Man“ is an excellent chapter of the book, bringing out so clearly the Bolshevik characteristics of Lenin in a way that everyone who knew him must admire. Mirsky’s observations on Lenin as a writer are worth repeating and remembering. He says:

“The entirely unliterary excellence of Lenin’s style can only be gauged after one has [as the present writer has in the course of his work upon this book] passed a lengthy period of time in reading nothing but Lenin. The shock with which one returns to other authors, to find them loose, vague, slipshod and meretricious, makes one realize his uniqueness as a writer.”

But Mirsky’s book excels not only in its vivid portrayal of Lenin the man, but in the thoroughly Marxist way in which he unfolds Lenin at work in the making of the Revolution. The inner Party struggles, the fights with the Mensheviks and Trotsky stand out in all their historical significance, not as mere quarrels of persons as the bourgeoisie love to describe them, but as a Bolshevizing process in the forging of the party of the Proletarian Revolution, of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

His chapter on “The October Revolution” is as fine a condensed account of the outstanding features of this event and the rôle of Lenin in it as is to be found anywhere. He says of this great event in the world’s history:

“The October Revolution is the central fact in the life of Lenin, and the one which makes him what he is in history. It was not only the first successful Proletarian Revolution, it was the first revolution which displayed that complete co-ordination between the imperfectly expressed, dimly felt demands of the masses with the adequate leadership of scientific revolutionaries. The only revolution in the past, the only bourgeois revolution that comes anywhere near it is the August insurrection of 1792. But if the actual leadership in the August days was adequate (perhaps even superior to the tactical—as distinguished from the strategic—leadership in the October Revolution) the preparation for it was quite different. Danton was, as Marx has said, the greatest tactical leader of a revolution that ever was, but he belonged to the pre-scientific age. He had not all his life prepared for the Tenth of August, and he was not able to express his intuitive knowledge of what to do in universally useful forms. . . . The possession of the Marxian method—the first scientific method in history—by the revolutionary Socialist gives him an immense advantage over the pre-scientific revolutionary of the era of bourgeois revolution, and, indeed, over every non-Marxian politician of to-day. . . . The phrase of ‘man of action’ is thus seen to be an adequate term for Lenin. His action was not based on intuitive processes of thought, characteristic of the empiricist, which cannot be reconstructed by another thinker. Lenin’s thought preceded and accompanied his action, making it transparent—as transparent as economic relations must become under Socialism. It always remains within the field of consciousness and completely analysable. This leads to the fact, which may seem incredible to bourgeois politicians and historians, that Lenin’s writings, which are a direct part of his action, have at the same time all the characteristics of objective history. The letters he wrote to the Central Committee before the greatest action of his life may be recommended as the most objective and historically valid account of the state of real political forces in Russia on the eve of the October Revolution.”

Mirsky does not stop here; he brings out most thoroughly the fundamental difference between the Bourgeois Revolution and the October Revolution and sweeps onward with sure tread along the pathway of the international October.

What could be more clearly stated than this?

“It would be interesting to draw a parallel in this respect between the two great revolutions of history, the Russian and the French. Both found their embodiment in great men, but the former is embodied in the revolutionary, Lenin, the latter in the counter-revolutionary, Napoleon. . . . The parallel is instructive because it throws light on the laws conditioning the rise of great men. The source of the difference is the essential difference between a bourgeois and a proletarian revolution. A bourgeois revolution is objectively different from what it is subjectively. For those who make it it is the dawn of a new era of universal justice and of the happiness of the greatest number. But its objective goal is merely the establishment of a society fitted for the highest development of a capitalist industrial enterprise. Hence the unavoidable tragedy of its idealist leaders: what they believe to be their goal cannot be achieved by the means at their disposition. Thermidor is inescapable, and the ultimate outcome of the revolution is epitomized in the restorers of ‘order,’ and not in the conquerors of freedom, in Napoleon and not Robespierre.

“The Proletarian Revolution is subjectively the same as what it is objectively. The goal it sets itself is attainable by the means it uses. The end of the revolutionary struggle is the beginning of the age of Socialist construction. Its leaders are the heroes of victory, not of tragedy. Thermidor is only a bogey conjured up in the minds of men of little faith, who are dropped on the march (and thus on a minor scale become the tragic figures of the Revolution). The man who embodies the Revolution is Lenin, the demagogue of the revolutionary assault and the first architect of Socialist Construction.”

It would be possible to give many other passages worthy of quotation, but sufficient here to have brought forward evidence of a Marxist Life of Lenin worthy of ranking highly in the literature of the revolutionary movement of the Proletarian Revolution. It is an open testimony of an intellectual who dared to be honest with himself and face the consequences of a scientific understanding of history. Here and there are a few mistakes which may have arisen from condensation or from lack of information. For example, whilst he sums up the rôle of Trotsky well and tells him where he steps off, he does not show how deep were the differences between Lenin and Trotsky on the question of the war. Nor is his formulation on the export of capital and the industrialization of the colonies correct. Whether this latter error, in which he speaks of the “export of capital leading to the industrialization of the semi-colonies and colonies,” is due to an attempt at brevity we are not quite sure. Nevertheless the book is a bold exposition of Lenin’s life and work.

Coming from a man whose whole lifetime has been spent in the enemy camp, and who has fought his way single-handed into the camp of Marxism and the Proletarian Revolution without the aid, except from books, of the collective thought and activity of the vanguard forces of the Proletarian Revolution, it is not only a remarkable book; it is a political event of considerable importance. It is still further evidence of the disintegration in the ranks of the bourgeoisie when its honest intellectuals tell them plainly that their day is done and the day of the proletariat has arrived to lead mankind forward to new conquests in social evolution.