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International Socialism, Autumn 1961


John Thomas



From International Socialism (1st series), No.6, Autumn 1961, p.31.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


International Communism and World Revolution: History and Methods
Gunther Nollau
Hollis and Carter, 35s.

In spite of its appearence of elaborate scholarship, this is a book to take with a pinch of salt. A translation from the German, it beguiles us with a maze of footnotes, references to most of the authorities, and a warm preface by Leonard Shapiro. But Mr Nollau seems to be careless, and the apparent erudition of his work, so often accurate as to appear reliable, is potholed with errors of fact, of judgement, and of understanding. In one volume of this size it is impossible to attempt more than a crow’s-eye-view of a subject so vast. But Nollau throws in for good weight potted accounts of the development of the first and second as well as the third Internationals, and the combined result is something like a cold-war Bradshaw. But it is a lop-sided cold-war Bradshaw, in which some of the detested trains have their every moment listed, whilst others are lost altogether, and yet others make a tantalising and unexplained appearance from nowhere, no less tantalisingly to disappear within the moment. Worse, some of the trains are to be found at the far terminus before they have passed the first stop, as for example, the French Communist Party, which is to be observed treating for a popular front in 1927!

Lots of little errors can be excused in any task as big as this one. But some big ones can’t. Nollau doesn’t seem to be at all clear about the differences between a popular front and a united front: nor about the underlying characteristics of either. Thus, he has the British Communists considering the penetration of the Labour Party in response to the campaign for the united front, whereas in fact they thought about this matter on quite other grounds. In general, Nollau has a tendency to threat his sources cavalierly, as if he has half-read them, Thus he quotes Khrushchev’s [1] alleged statement on the Chinese Communes, as reported by Senator Humphrey in 1958, without mentioning Khrushchev’s specific denial and repudiation of Humphrey in his summing-up at the 21st Congress of the CPSU, although he refers to the pamphlet in which this appears a few pages later in his text. We don’t know, of course, whether it is Mr K. or Senator H. who is telling the fib, but we do need to know that they call each other fibbers: and although Mr Nollau’s belief may be convenient, it would be more convincing if he quoted its contraries.

Read with some care this book will perhaps be useful to one who has more than an inkling of his way around the literature of this subject. But as an introduction to it, it fails. As politics, of course, it never started.

Note by ETOL

1. In the text the Russian leader’s name has been spelled ‘Khruschov’ – this has been replaced by the more usual transliteration ‘Khruushchev’.

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Last updated on 21 February 2010