Max Shachtman


Fact or Fiction on Lenin’s Role

A Reply by Max Shachtman Reiterating
His Accusations Against Shub

(March 1950)

From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 2, March–April 1950, pp. 91–105.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Mr. Shub, familiar with the tradition of Bolshevik polemics, is not surprised that I abused, libeled and defamed him in my review of his book. He asks for space in our pages only because his claimed devotion to facts entitles him to it. That he should make this claim is not surprising either. But what is really impressive is the unselfishness he showed in denying himself the pleasures of this devotion to facts wherever it interfered with devotion to his opinions. Whether he has modified this unselfishness by so much as a hair in his reply to my review, the reader will judge. I will deal with Shub’s letter point by point.

1. In his first point, Shub suggests that my “error” comes from checking his version of what Lenin wrote with an English edition of Lenin’s writings, whereas I should have gone, as he went, to the original Russian editions of Lenin’s works, where I would have found Shub’s quotations from Lenin which are not to be found in the British edition. By this suggestion, Shub evidently feels that he has succeeded in mitigating his first fraud by substituting another.

In his book (p. 68), Shub quotes what Lenin wrote “with remarkable frankness,” as soon as “power was in his hands,” that is, “in 1918.” In checking the passage, I was under no greater obligation than to reread everything written by Lenin in that year. This obligation I fulfilled. As I wrote, the closest I could come to anything resembling what Shub quotes from Lenin, was the latter’s Izvestia article of April 28, 1918. I simply used the British edition because it was handy and obviated the need of another translation. The suggestion that the British edition is somehow deficient is quite groundless, at least with regard to the passages I cited – they are the same in the British, Russian, French, German or Greek editions.

And the Russian editions referred to by Shub? They cover the speeches and writings of Lenin in 1920! Shub now admits that the error in date in his book is his own, and not “the product of [Shachtman’s] inadequate grounding in the source materials.”

That would already weaken the effect he seeks to convey by his quotations of what Lenin said “in 1918.” What effect? That while Lenin was cunning enough not to say in so many words that he saw himself as “a future dictator” before the 1917 revolution; that while he came forward as a freedom-fighter before then; he put his real dictator’s cards on the table when “power was in his hands,” right after the revolution, “in 1918” (or as it is now, in 1920). Which goes to prove what point? That Lenin was, at bottom, not different from Stalin. That Lenin, unscrupulous demagogue that he was, tricked the Russian people into letting him impose his despotism over the nation.

But isn’t the change in date a small matter, after all? Aren’t the quotations from Lenin – be they from 1918 or from 1920 – the important matter?

All right, just bear in mind what Shub is trying to prove by the quotations: Lenin, once in power, began to justify, “with remarkable frankness,” his rule as dictator. Shub means it in the same sense that Stalin is the dictator in Russia today, or Hitler in Germany yesterday. Now let us look at the 1920 quotations, and in the unexceptionable original Russian editions, at that.

Shub quotes six sentences from Lenin. Upon checking, we find:

This method of tearing quotations out of their context, or out of several different contexts, then combining them with dots and presenting them as though they represented the straight-line thought of their author, is a familiar device of every yellow journalist and literary fraud. In countless instances, it has been used to twist and distort the true views of a person, to make him appear responsible for the very opposite of what he really stands for. Take anyone who often writes and speaks publicly – let us say, Norman Thomas, or Dwight Macdonald. By ingeniously cutting up their various public utterances and stringing the bleeding fragments together with the necessary dots, they could be made out to be apologists for Fascism or, heaven forbid, for Bolshevism itself. What would they call such an artist if they caught him red-handed? Or, suppose they could find an instance in Lenin’s writings where he could be convicted of quoting this way from a political adversary – just one single instance. What an occasion that would be for outraged outpourings on the morality (immorality) and ethics (unethicalness) of Bolshevism! The fact that Shub resorts to this method of quotation is enough to give us his measure and to establish the value of his book.

What did Shub string together in his sentences? The first two simply state a commonplace view held not only by Bolsheviks but by any number of bourgeois sociologists: “classes are led by parties” and “parties are led by leaders.” Shub tries to make that sound sinister by tacking on a few more sentences which deal with the question of “individual rule” and the “dictatorial powers of one man.” Shub quotes these phrases to show that Lenin was defending a concept of dictatorship like that of Hitler-Stalin, with himself as the dictator. What is Lenin talking about? I already indicated Lenin’s views on that subject in my review in the December 1949 issue. In 1920, that is still what Lenin is talking about, namely, the necessity of investing individuals with “dictatorial” powers in the process of production, but always under the control of Soviet democracy. In the very speeches from which Shub carves out his quotations, Lenin refers to this again and again, so that there cannot possibly be any mistake about it. Lenin is arguing for individual administration and, above all, responsibility, and against “collegial” (board) administration and responsibility in factories and industries. Shub himself, for example, may favor the idea of the Daily Forward printing-plant being managed by a board of five foremen instead of one foreman with plenary powers. Lenin himself may be right or wrong on this score, but what he is advocating is clear as day and has nothing – nothing at all or in any sense – to do with what Shub is trying to make him advocate. Thus:

But regardless of that, the unconditional subordination to a united will is an absolute necessity for the success of the labor processes which are organized after the type of big machine industry. For the railroads it is doubly and trebly necessary. (Speech at the 9th Congress)

[Again] And our whole task, the task of the party of the Communists (Bolsheviks) who give conscious expression to the aspirations of the exploited for emancipation, consists in recognizing this turn, to grasp the necessity for it, to stand at the head of the exhausted mass which seeks a way out, to lead them along the right road, the road of objective discipline, of composing the holding of meetings on working conditions with unconditional subordination to the will of the Soviet director [i.e., industry managers], of the dictator during work, (Ibid., emphasis in original.)

[And again] We must learn to combine the stormy, overflowing, democratic meeting-life of the toiling masses with iron discipline during work, with unconditional subordination to the will of one person, the Soviet director, during working time. (Ibid., emphasis in original.)

And because Shub knows the context, and because he knows and cannot but know that Lenin’s talk about “dictatorial powers of one man” – in 1918 or in 1920, in original Russian editions or in translations – has nothing whatever to do with the views he attributes to Lenin, I say again what I said with such restraint in December: Shub’s quotations are a fraud and so are their perpetrator.

2. I note, as a reminder to the reader, that Shub’s reply contains no reference to his quotations from Lenin’s State and Revolution. As is his custom, he bowdlerized the quotation, salted it with the inevitable dots, strung together into one passage two dissociated thoughts that are twenty-five pages apart in Lenin’s original text, and perverted these thoughts to make them fit his own twisted views of Lenin as a political monster. In my review, I proved this falsification to be what it was. Since Shub has nothing more to say about it, I can content myself with saying that, on this point, he is prudent. I employ this mild word only to please those delicate moral stomachs which so calmly digest any literary frame-up against Lenin but which burst with dispeptic rage when a conscienceless perpetrator is branded for what he is.

3. Again, a small point. Shub wrote that Martov was interrupted at the 1920 Halle Congress of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) by cries of “Hangman! Bandit!” directed by delegates against Zinoviev, the representative of the Comintern. For reference, he gave the official minutes of the Congress, including page numbers. I denied that there were such outcries. For reference, I too gave the official minutes of the Congress. Who, then, is in the right? I am. Why? Because I read the minutes before referring to them, and Shub referred to them without reading either the text or the page numbers, which might be said to place Mr. Shub at a certain disadvantage. He does not have the good grace to admit that he never read the minutes which he gives as his authority, and that the reference in his chapter notes is an imposition on the reader, but limpingly says that he is “partly responsible” for my error! What he really referred to, you see, was “the more complete account published in the Freiheit at the time;” and if I had “pursued [my] research” beyond the minutes (i.e., ignored them, as Shub did), I would have found the outcries in the Freiheit account.

The official minutes, not summarized but stenogrammed in full, were published in Berlin by the Verlagsgenossenschaft “Freiheit.” I have never seen their authenticity challenged, certainly not in Shub’s book, and they have been used unquestioningly by historians and students for about thirty years now. What makes the newspaper account in Freiheit, then the organ of the right-wingers, more authentic? I don’t know. Nor do I know why I was under any obligation, either to Shub or to the readers, to “pursue” my researches beyond the minutes to which Shub himself referred so inappropriately.

The official minutes are available to me, and without much difficulty to anyone else. Freiheit files are not to be found in any of the important libraries in New York, as I found out in my un-obligatory “pursuit.” If I am to be chided for not having checked a newspaper account of the USPD Congress, I would rather it not be by one who described the Congress without even checking the official and up-to-this-morning-highly-regarded minutes.

Shub wrote, with that fine feeling for the dramatic that is but one of his gifts, that Hilferding rose after Martov to speak of him with moving eloquence. I remarked that that was quite an exploit, even for Hilferding, since the latter spoke in the morning session and the former in the afternoon. It turns out that Hilferding had nothing to do with that chronological somersault that even the Fratellini Brothers might have envied. It was Shub’s and Shub’s alone. How did he manage it? In his book, he had Hilferding breathing lightning and hurling thunderbolts of defiance on the floor of the Congress (with non-existent pages of the Congress minutes given as reference) and right to Zinoviev’s face.

In his reply to my review, it turns out that, just as I had claimed in my review, the speech was not made at the Congress after all. It was made (or so Shub now says) before another assembly at another time. The right-wingers met separately, after splitting away from the Congress where they had been voted down by the majority of the delegates. It was at this USPD-rump meeting that Hilferding “delivered his fine speech,” according to Shub No. 2, and not at all at the Congress, where he “followed” Martov, according to Shub No. 1. I must add that since my first appraisal of Mr. Shub as a responsible scholar and painstaking research-worker was close enough to zero to be its equivalent, his standing cannot be reduced much further by the additional evidence he now offers of the shoddiness and sloppiness of his work.

What Hilferding said at the rump meeting I do not know and I have no reason to take Shub’s word for it. But I do know, and it is not too hard for anyone else to find out, what he did say at the Congress itself, after Zinoviev and before Martov.

That he was not a communist is so well known that Shub was wasting space if that was all he intended to prove. What is interesting for an objective historian, however, is what even the non-communist Hilferding said then about the vital political problems of the day. Not only did Hilferding vehemently proclaim his support of the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and indignantly deny that he dreamed of reforming capitalism, but he went out of his way to emphasize that it was not the German communists, but he, Hilferding, and his comrades who had followed in Germany of 1919 the wise revolutionary policies that Lenin and his comrades had followed in Russia of 1917!

These passages from Hilferding make such interesting and significant reading that they would find their place in any worthwhile, objective biography of Lenin, especially one that goes out of its way to mention the name of Hilferding. Which is precisely why they do not find their way into Shub’s biography of Lenin.

4. I reproduced, in my review, the “evidence” on Trotsky during the defense of Petrograd from Yudenich which Shub adduced with a straight face from the memoirs of the “former Bolshevik Alexander Naglovsky.” After all, it is hardly a trifle that is involved. Trotsky arrives in Zinoviev’s Petrograd office, summons the party military leaders before him and his Cheka aide, shouts a few wild questions at them, and then, because he is not satisfied with the situation, and because these are Zinoviev’s men, and because he hates Zinoviev personally, for the two are rivals for Lenin’s succession, he summarily orders his Chekist “to arrest immediately and shoot the entire staff for the defense of Petrograd!” That very night, sure enough, they are all shot, down to the last man. In his letter to the editors, Mr. Shub has noted his dislike of abuse, libel and defamation. He should have added that his dislike is not immoderate. In any case it is not the consuming passion of his life. He prints the blood-curdling yarn about Trotsky with the same indifference with which he would write up yesterday’s weather report for his paper.

Since I also dislike abuse, libel and defamation, especially when directed at the dead who can no longer defend themselves, I simply asked: “Who is the peddler of this story – Naglovsky? What makes him an authority? Did he witness this melodramatic episode? From whom did he hear about it? Nobody knows.” Now we have the rebuttal of Mr. Shub, who dislikes defamation, and after reading it, I repeat: “Nobody knows.” All we learn from Shub is that Trotsky himself emphasized the blanket powers of life and death Lenin gave him during the civil war and that Trotsky had iron tenacity which (this with irony as subtle as a steamshovel) “Mr. Shachtman seems to underrate.”

This is highly interesting, but it is not what was asked. That Trotsky had great powers during the civil war has been recorded, as I recall, a few hundred times in a few hundred places. His role as organizer of the victory in that war is familiar even to sparrows and does not need Shub’s belated revelation. What I asked, however, was: what makes Naglovsky an acceptable authority on the events he describes and which Shub reproduces without blinking? Was he present at this shooting spree? Who that was present told him about it?

Suppose I write a book. In it I describe a visit by General Eisenhower to the front headquarters of some subordinate officers. I quote what happened there, according to the memoirs sent me by some army lieutenant or other. He writes that Eisenhower, furious at the situation which his subordinates had allowed to develop, turned to his aide, ordered him to arrest the whole staff at the front and have them shot that evening. Suppose Mr. Shub flatters me by reviewing my book and asks: “But what makes your Lieutenant Smith-or-Jones an authority for this story? Was he present?” And so on and on. And suppose that in reply I write airily: “This Smith-or-Jones was an army officer. As for Eisenhower, Mr. Shub ought to know that he was the main organizer of the victory over the Germans; he had iron tenacity; he had powers of life and death; and besides, it is well known that it is under his orders that thousands were killed.” How would Shub have the right to characterize me under such circumstances? Well, that’s how I characterize Shub.

I claim that the whole Naglovsky story is a vicious fable, and for this claim there is, it seems to me, evidence of a kind which is most significant and conclusive in a case where what did not happen has to be demonstrated.

Trotsky himself has written about this sort of story during the civil war. He cites but one example: In December, 1918, he ordered the execution of the commander and the communist commissar of the 2nd Petrograd Regiment, which abandoned a crucial front, seized a steamer and sailed away down the Volga. The communist, Panteleyev, was shot, after a trial, for deserting his post. Important is this fact: when the fight was launched against Trotskyism in 1923 by Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, the story about Panteleyev, distorted, of course, was made the subject of more-or-less open attack upon Trotsky for “having good communists shot” or for having them shot “without a trial,” even though an official party commission, set up on Trotsky’s demand, had cleared him of all accusations on this score as early as 1919. In one form or another, the Panteleyev story is to be found running for years in the Russian anti-Trotskyist press.

Now, is it conceivable that if there were an ounce of truth in the Naglovsky-Shub story about Trotsky’s summary execution of the “entire staff for the defense of Petrograd” – Zinoviev’s own staff, so to speak – the story would not have been made public during the big anti-Trotsky campaign in Russia? Zinoview stopped at very little in his fight against Trotsky; Stalin stopped at nothing: truth (a few grains), half-truths, half-lies and out-and-out lies. Would they have told the “Panteleyev story” and remained strictly silent about the “Petrograd story”? I claim that such a conclusion is inconceivable. I claim further that anyone who is even moderately familiar with what was done in the anti-Trotsky campaign, as Shub is, must also find such a conclusion inconceivable.

The trouble is that when I say “anyone” I mean, of course, anyone who is honest and objective.

5. The way Shub answers the point I made in my review about his chapter on the Kronstadt uprising is typical of both his book and his reply. It shows that I am not dealing with an honest critic, that’s all. Did I deny that there was an uprising in Kronstadt? Did I deny that Tukhachevsky or Trotsky or Lenin or any other Bolshevik took full political responsibility for quelling the uprising? Did I deny that many men – just how many, I do not know and Shub does not know – were killed in the conflict? Of course not. I asked just one simple question: Who is this Roman Goul from whom Shub quoted what Tukhachevsky said to Trotsky about the blood-horrors of Kronstadt and what Trotsky said about shooting the Kronstadters man by man “like ducks in a pond”?

What does Shub have to say about Goul now, since he said nothing about him in his book? He squeezes himself up to his full height and says that Goul’s fight against the Bolsheviks is not sufficient evidence to discredit his writings and label him a liar and nonentity. At any rate, he, for one, doesn’t believe it is. Shub, for one, is not going to convict anyone of anything unless the evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive – not in the case of Lenin or Trotsky, to be sure, but at least in the case of Roman Goul. Now, that’s genuine dignity and human decency for you. But while it is very moving, it is not enough to move my question out of the way.

That Goul is a nonentity is wrong, and I penitently retreat. It is now clear that he is one of the distinguished men of our time, for who else would be the editor of a Russian periodical, and an excellent one to boot? It is true that it is his only claim to distinction, yet if that one is enough for Shub it will have to do. But what makes him an authority-beyond-question on the passages quoted from his book by Shub? Goul quotes a conversation by Tukhachevsky that he could not have heard if he were living in Moscow at the time, let alone Berlin, where he actually lived. All I said was that this nonentity (there! it slipped out again!) invented the conversation, and could not but have invented it, in order to make the Bolsheviks look like bloody monsters. All I suggested was that Shub, who read Goul’s book (this is a daring assumption, but I make it nevertheless), saw and could not but have seen that Goul invented the conversation, as anyone who reads a single one of its lurid pages can see immediately.

Then why did Shub quote from Goul, without giving the slightest indication that his authority’s only claim to credibility was a diseased imagination? Only one answer is possible: because to print between impressive quotation marks what was said about Kronstadt by a Bolshevik who actually led the troops against it would convey to the defenseless reader a horror against Bolshevik bloodthirstiness which a quotation from a Kronstadter or a Berkman could not convey. What other conceivable point would there be to the quotations from Tukhachevsky and Trotsky?

But what if there are no such quotations? Hmm! that’s a problem, but only for an ordinary historian. The extraordinary historian, who is “sufficiently familiar with the tradition of Bolshevik polemics,” solves it with a twist of the wrist: he takes the quotations from another extraordinary historian, who is not a legally certified liar, but only a mediocre inventor, and reprints them as if they were well authenticated.

But what if a reader looks in back of the book to see what his references are? Nothing to worry about! The reader does not know who the distinguished men of our time are, and when he reads that the quotations come right out of a book by Roman Goul, he will immediately assume that Goul was not a nonentity but must have been, at the very least, the bosom friend of Tukhachevsky’s up-to-now-completely-unknown mistress – another Elizabeth K., as it were – or perhaps even Tukhachevsky’s adjutant in the Red Army.

But what if another reader proves that Goul cannot possibly be regarded as any kind of authority for the Tukhachevsky-Trotsky “conversation”? Nothing to worry about! Just repress your embarrassment, assuming you feel any, and reply – with dignity – that Goul’s fighting in the war against the Soviets is not enough evidence to prove him a liar and, besides, he is editor of an excellent Russian periodical.

And Shub did all that? Yes.

But a man who would do that is –

You needn’t say it. That is my opinion exactly.

6. Shub says something about Goul, but he has nothing to say now about Balabanova, who is not a nonentity, and who figured in his book as a star witness to prove the casualness with which Lenin had people shot – even his own comrades – for the least of their deficiencies. I did not merely assert that the “Lenin letter” to Balabanova was a forgery, I proved it. Shub owes his readers an apology, or at least an explanation. But instead of paying the debt, he is silent. Did he compare the second, “improved” version of Balabanova’s memoirs with the first version? Silence.

I, a reviewer of a book, am called upon to check jumbled-up quotations from Lenin with non-existent Russian volumes and quotations from Hilferding with unavailable newspaper files. Isn’t Shub, the author of the book, a man of high (i.e., anti-Bolshevik) morals, called upon to check with Balabanova’s first version of a letter which, the way he prints it, is so damaging to the name of the man whose biography he is writing? Silence.

Is it outrageous to call Shub’s Mr. Nonentity a nonentity on the basis of more-than-sufficient evidence, but perfectly proper to brand Lenin a light-minded killer of his own comrades on the basis of fraudulent evidence? Silence.

Even in the second version of her memoirs, Balabanova says many things which give a true picture of Lenin. Why did this objective historian ignore them all and pick out the one “letter” which “reveals” Lenin as a despot who uses the firing squad like a village teacher the birch rod? Silence. Is Shub’s silence dictated by a sense of honor or a sense of prudence?

8. Shub is not prudent enough to remain equally silent about his titillating story about “Lenin’s Romance with Elizabeth K.” I quoted his proud observation that “Their [Elizabeth K.’s and Lenin’s] relationship was so discreet and so outside the normal orbit of Lenin’s life that it has heretofore completely escaped the notice of his biographers.” Lenin’s biographers number dozens upon dozens: personal acquaintances and strangers; Russians and non-Russians; friends and enemies; Bolsheviks, anti-Bolsheviks, non-Bolsheviks, Stalinists. It should, then, be perfectly clear that if this story “completely escaped” the notice of all of them, that was because of one of two considerations: either there never was such a relationship, or else all of Lenin’s biographers felt that there was some other good reason for ignoring it.

But there was at least one person who would not be effected by such considerations, and that was the one who first published the story: Alexinsky. His utter unscrupulousness and leprous morality were so notorious that he was shunned and damned not only by the Bolsheviks, but by the Mensheviks and SRs as well. The man who helped forge the accusation of “German agents” against the Bolsheviks in 1917 would hesitate even less to forge the piece of gutter-journalism about “Elizabeth K.” That’s why no serious writer would touch the story with a barge pole.

Bertram Wolfe, who has not only devoted himself to an extensive and critical study of Lenin’s life and work, but who had the advantage of working and living in Russia among Lenin’s closest personal acquaintances for years, disposes of the story in a contemptuous footnote, which is what it merits:

This same Alexinsky later invented the legend of a love affair of Lenin with a mysterious Elizabeth K. and even offered the world a poem which Lenin is alleged to have written in 1907. This poem Lenin is supposed to have written after a comrade, whom Alexinsky leaves nameless, told Lenin that it was harder to write poetry than prose. It comes from Alexinaky’s hitherto unpublished papers and bears the marks of his own vulgar boulevard style rather than of Lenin’s ... all the available evidence on the love affair can be found in David Shub: Lenin, a Biography.

That is, Shub is worthy of his Alexinsky. Now he authenticates the story with a new witness, Paul Berline. And, if I may repeat my now tiresome question, what makes this new witness an authority? Was he a friend of Elizabeth K.? Was he at least a friend or intimate of Lenin? No, but he has five other outstanding qualifications: He lived at the same time Lenin did; he wrote a biography – not the third, nor the second, but the first – of Marx; he is or was a Marxist; he is a Russian; and above all, he considers Shub’s biography excellent. All this is very pleasant news, but even if Shub had added that Berline used to write somewhat academical treatises on economics in the old, old Russia, what would it all have to do with the matter in hand? What makes him an authority on the Elizabeth K. story?

We read his statement and we have the answer: he knows no less about it than Shub does, and also no more. Alexinsky is an authority because Shub has no doubt about him. Shub is an authority because Berline has no doubt about him; and Berline is an authority because he liked Shub’s book.

There remains the perplexing reference to Professor Kinsey. Is he, too, an authority on Lenin’s discreet romance? Apart from the fact that he did not write the first Russian biography of Marx, I see no special reason why the professor is less qualified to speak on the subject than Mr. Berline.

As for my blushes, I was unaware of them, but even so Mr. Shub misreads them. They obviously rise from the thought that our human race, which produces so much nobleness and integrity, can also produce Alexinskys.

9. I blush, this time not with shame but with fury, at the thought that more than thirty years after the Russian Revolution it seems still to be necessary to deal with the venomous old calumny about the Bolsheviks and the Kaiser’s gold. And deal with it against whom? Against a smug little man, a “socialist,” who will have nothing, absolutely and positively nothing, to do with the “Bolshevik tradition” of defamatory and abusive polemics; and against score-card philistines whose stomachs are so much sturdier than their vaunted morality that they can read this calumny today without turning sick. But evidently it must be gone into again, if only because this generation did not live through the early days of the Great Slander against the Bolsheviks which no clean person, and certainly no clean socialist of whatever tendency, would touch lest he foul himself from toe to crown.

a) The interested reader is referred, first of all, not only to Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, but especially to his autobiography (My Life) in which he devotes an entire chapter (Concerning Slanderers, which is unmentioned by Shub, of course) to a shattering attack on Kerensky’s “proof” of the “German gold” slander against the Bolsheviks. Kerensky’s proof is, substantially, Shub’s proof. Only Kerensky finds himself obliged to conclude with dismay that, “We, the Provisional Government, in this way lost forever [!] the possibility of proving Lenin’s treason decisively, and on the basis of documentary material.” This startling statement by Kerensky is not quoted by Shub, even though it is enough by itself to dispose of the whole matter.

b) That the Hohenzollerns let Lenin go through Germany in a sealed train is not news, nor is it in dispute here. Since Shub mentions it, two things should be added: 1. What the Hohenzollern clique (like Ludendorff) wrote afterward, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks helped overturn the German imperial regime, which would indicate who made the best of the “sealed train” deal but about which Shub is also silent; and 2. that Martov, the Menshevik leader, and other Mensheviks, also used the German sealed-train method – it was the only one available to the Russian exiles in Switzerland – to get back to Russia, to find themselves subjected to the same slanderous accusations, based on the same forged documents, that were hurled at Lenin and Zinoviev, about which Shub, the Menshevik, is likewise conveniently silent.

c) Shub squirms about what I proved against him with regard to Alexinsky, who presented the forged “German gold” and “German spy” documents against the Bolsheviks to Pereverzev, the Kerensky Minister of Justice. In Shub’s book, this provocateur – no “other” member of the Bolshevik CC could conceivably be involved – is described as “a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee,” which is, if I may use a scientific term, a contemptible lie. Shub knows that it was Alexinsky who gave Pereverzev the documents, just as it was Alexinsky who immediately rushed the documents to the famous Preobrazhensky regiment to inflame the troops against the Bolsheviks. If Shub now says that he does “not pretend to know” whom Pereverzev had in mind, I say: He is not a liar – not at all! He is “simply” pretending ignorance. Everyone knew it was Alexinsky; Alexinsky himself did not hide it; and Shub knows this as well as anyone else who is even slightly familiar with the Russian events of 1917. Shub knows that Alexinsky was a rabid anti-internationalist from 1914 onward. And he knows, likewise, that during the war, before the revolution, Alexinsky had charged practically every Russian internationalist – not only the Bolsheviks – with being German agents. And this entitles me to repeat that Shub is worthy of Alexinsky. [1]

d) I, too, ask the reader to turn to pages 211–216 of Shub’s book to see what the “great deal more” amounts to. There are three pieces of “evidence” worth the paper they are written on. Here they are in full:

In one letter to Ganetsky (in Stockholm), Lenin wrote on March 30, 1917, “In maintaining relations between Petrograd and Stockholm do not spare funds.” In another letter to the same Ganetsky, dated June 12, 1917, that is, ten weeks later, Lenin wrote, “Until today we have received nothing, literally nothing from you, neither letters nor packets nor money.” (This was precisely the period when the Germans were supposed to be pouring hundreds of thousands of rubles or marks, and in Bernstein’s version, more than fifty million gold marks, into the Bolshevik propaganda fund!) And in the last letter, a few days later, Lenin wrote: “The money (2,000) from Koslovsky received.” Two thousand – rubles, marks, kronen, dollars or yen, it doesn’t really matter – that is all Lenin received from his comrades in Stockholm, Ganetsky and Koslovsky, out of the income they derived from the business enterprise in which they were engaged with Parvus, the ex-revolutionist who was indeed pro-German at that time, but nevertheless an extremely sharp entrepreneur.

A conscientious writer would at least make an attempt to reconcile the trivial “2000” contribution which Lenin received from a couple of comrades engaged in some risky business venture (smuggling? “black market”? I don’t know and there is no record of its exact nature anywhere) with the tens of thousands of tens of millions he is supposed to have received through these same two individuals as alleged intermediaries of the Kaiser’s government.

Even a village justice of the peace would demand of a prosecutor that he endeavor to make his charges fit together just a little bit before sentencing a man to thirty days. It is only in the big Stalinist frame-up trials that such crying disparities are ignored by the court, although even there the GPU at least made some effort to make the more violently jogged edges match up a little. Shub makes none.

The three sentences from Lenin are Shub’s only evidence that Lenin received any contributions from that suspect center, Stockholm. In the rest of the five pages, there is nothing but notorious, long-ago-discredited forgeries which were proved to be forgeries by internal evidence alone, plus the blandest assumptions and the dirtiest insinuations – that is all and nothing more.

e) The whole story about the mysterious Mme. Sumenson, or as some of the forgeries have it, Mme. Soumentay (that is the version of the high-born Princess Catherine Radziwill, who did not like Bolsheviks, i.e., Jews) or Mme. Simmons (that is the version for which Masaryk paid out good Czech, or American, money to illiterate Russian forgers) and about the Nea (or Nia, or Nya) Bank which “transmitted” the German money to the Bolsheviks, was given its widest publicity in the notorious Sisson Documents in 1918. Why doesn’t Shub mention them? They have everything that Shub has in his five pages and much, much more. Is it because the very words “Sisson Documents” make everyone who remembers them turn his face away? Is it because Dr. Bischoff, sponsored by the German Social-Democratic leader, Philip Scheidemann, collected the materials for a complete explosion of these preposterous and rotten forgeries three decades ago – which makes the name of Bischoff taboo to our objective author?

Everything is there: the “intercepted” telegrams that were also bought by French Intelligence in Moscow; the “evidence” that Czech Intelligence probably also bought from the same forgers and which Masaryk repeats; the Nia Bank; Mme. Sumenson; the “opening of accounts for Messrs. Lenin, Sumenson, Koslovsky, Trotsky and other active workers on the peace propaganda” as early as March 2, 1917, when Lenin was still in Zurich and Trotsky was still in the United States, not yet a Bolshevik (the clever Germans knew he would become one!); the “order” from the Germans to the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, on January 12, 1918, notifying him that the German General Staff “insists on” the election to the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets not only of Trotsky, Lenin and other Bolsheviks, but also of Martov (the Hohenzollerns were clearly opposed to a “one-party dictatorship”!); the letter of August 25, 1917, which presents Maxim Gorky, too, as a German agent; and three-score more of the same sort.

Edgard Sisson, at any rate, made no secret about how he got them: his Russian agents made a secret raid on Bolshevik headquarters in Smolny Institute in Moscow, found the stuff lying around there, and took it to Sisson – or so they told him, or so he told us. What could be simpler? Or cheaper? For this whole pile of documents Sisson tells us he had to lay out only $7,500, which is a ridiculous trifle compared with the tens of millions of gold marks the Hohenzollerns spent to set up a Bolshevik regime which double-crossed them by overturning the Kaiser.

e) Again the inevitable Mme Soumenson-Soumentay-Simmons. Watch carefully now, because Shub’s hand is quicker than your eye. He says in his letter that his book contains her admission that she had instructions – and then he quotes – “to give Koslovsky, then a Bolshevik member of the Soviet Executive Committee, any sum of money he demanded: some of these payments amount to 100,000 rubles.” The defenseless reader – the only kind Shub counts on – must imagine that Shub is quoting here from a statement made by Soumenson. Not at all! The twenty-six words between quotation marks are taken from what Shub says in his own book (p. 213)! He verifies his assertions by the wonderfully simple device of ... quoting them!

f) The “evidence supplied by” Jacques Sadoul is another hoax. Read the two quotations from Sadoul’s letters in Shub’s book. What is the “evidence” of Lenin receiving German gold? One sentence: “Our Intelligence Service has reported that Ashberg [the director of the Nea Bank] is serving as the go-between in the transfer of German money to the Bolshevik treasury.” (My emphasis – M.S.) That is, the same Intelligence Service which Shub quotes separately on another page as “additional” evidence, and whose evidence was the “intercepted” forgeries for which good French taxpayers’ money was thrown away, for which Mr. Sisson threw away 7,500 good American dollars.

g) The “revealing admission made by Ganetsky” in 1937. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Twenty years later even Ganetsky confessed! I will reproduce the “admission” just the way Shub has it, and let the reader – who will not see one word about Germany or German gold or any other kind of gold in it – judge for himself the kind of “evidence” that Shub compiles and takes seriously, or rather expects others to take seriously:

I made use of the diplomatic mail privileges of the government. The old Russian Ambassador, trying to demonstrate his loyalty to the Revolution, turned very liberal and began to express his sympathetic concern with the political émigrés. I made use of it and kept on sending sealed envelopes to the Petrograd Soviet through the embassy. I succeeded in convincing the ambassador that the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies wields as much power as the government. The ambassador was compelled to acquiesce and I used to wire instructions to Petrograd to visit the Foreign Ministry in due time in order to ascertain whether or not my seals had been broken.

The “revealing admission” obviously is that Ganetsky was an incurable idiot. He sent Lenin millions (2, 10, 50?) of German marks in sealed envelopes to the Foreign Office of the Kerensky Government! And suppose some Kerenskyite clerk, not drawing full pay from the Germans, had accidentally broken a seal before Lenin (or Trotsky? or Zinoviev? or Martov? or Gorky?) got there? That would have been infernally unpleasant. Lenin would have had to manage somehow on Koslovsky’s 2,000, which is a devilishly small subsidy in any currency.

h) And lastly, poor Bernstein. The enormity of his conduct is matched only by the effrontery of Shub’s. Just think of it:

Bernstein declares in public that he has “learned from reliable sources” that Lenin was bought by Imperial Germany to the tune of “more than 50 million gold marks” (same figure as in the Sisson Documents, which were bought a lot cheaper). The German communists call on him to make public his “sources” and his evidence or be branded as a “shameless and unscrupulous slanderer.” Bernstein refuses, reiterates his charges and challenges the communists to hale him before a court, which the communists fail to do. Says Shub: “That the evidence was not aired in open court was certainly not Eduard Bernstein’s fault.”

Imagine, if you can, anything more fantastic! Bernstein, called upon for evidence to support the gravest charges that could be made against revolutionists or a revolutionary government – that they were agents in the pay of a reactionary regime – simply refuses to present any evidence! Let us suppose that the reasons why the German communists did not take him to court were bad reasons. How in the world could that absolve Bernstein of the elementary duly to publish evidence of such tremendous historical, not to say international political, importance – a duty he did not fulfill to his dying day?

Let us forget the German communists. Shub does not tell us that in the German Reichstag Bernstein called for a commission to investigate his charges; that there, too, he failed to present a shred of evidence; and that the Reichstag therefore rejected his proposal. Perhaps the Reichstag was controlled by deputies who shrank from an exposure of their old government’s dealings with the Bolsheviks? All the more reason, you would think, why Bernstein should have turned in disgust from the Reichstag and produced his witnesses and evidence through the medium of the same public press in which he originally published his charges. But he did nothing of the sort. The names with which the German communists branded him in 1921 were not undeserved.

Just suppose that during the First World War, I made the public statement that the anti-war internationalist, Eugene Debs, was in the pay of the German imperial government in the amount of, say, 10,000,000 marks. Suppose the infuriated socialist press called upon me to submit the evidence for this monstrous accusation against a prominent socialist and public figure. I reply: take me to court, then I’ll talk. Suppose that, for good reasons or bad ones, wise or stupid, the socialist press does not take me to court, but keeps insisting that I make public the evidence I loudly proclaim I have in my pocket. For reasons best known to myself, I keep my evidence hidden and continue to repeat, wherever I go, that Debs is a bought-and-paid-for agent of the Hohenzollerns. Would not “mountebank” and “calumniator” be the mildest names that every decent person would rightfully apply to me?

And finally, suppose Shub were to write a biography of Debs many years later, stating it as a “fact” (as he does about Lenin) that during the war Debs was in the hire of the Germans who thus financed his revolutionary propaganda. Suppose he referred, for proof, to the “unchallenged” statements made in 1917 by Shachtman, who was not called into court by James Oneal or other editors of the old socialist Call. And suppose that he quoted, for corroborating proof, from the (truly) revealing memoirs of Captain von Rintelen, who was indeed in charge of German espionage and subsidization in this country during the war; and from a few unsavory insinuations by renegade socialists (there were plenty then, too) and even “documents” that appeared in the chauvinistic press about the link between the anti-war socialists and “other” pro-German elements.

Now I ask. what would any decent person say about him? What – just as an example – would Norman Thomas say about him, and with how much delicacy of language would he say it? How would such a “biographer” of Debs be stigmatised?

That is how I stigmatize such a biographer of Lenin.


1. Shub does not know that Alexinsky was an extreme reactionary. He was merely for an anti-Bolshevik front reaching – to the monarchists – that’s all. As for his anti-Semitism, I need only refer the reader to page 469 of Bertram Wolfe’s recent book, where he says: “In passing we might note that Alexinsky ... did eventually become a full-fledged anti-Semite.” As against that, Shub impresses the reader with the meaningless information that in 1947 a French publisher issued Alexinsky’s book. Just what is that supposed to signify?

Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 19 October 2018