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International Socialism, Summer 1967


John Barber

Dim View


From International Socialism (1st series), No.29, Summer 1967, p.38.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Allied Intervention in Russia 1918-1919
John Swettenham
Allen & Unwin, 42s

It would be difficult, one might think, to write a banal book on a subject as crucial as the Allies’ attempt to smother the nascent Bolshevik republic in its cradle. But in this, and in this alone, the author has succeeded. Quite why he should imagine it possible to produce an authoritative or even useful work on such a subject from the vantage point of Toronto is a mystery. It is true that a certain amount of revealing material has been gleaned from the official Canadian papers concerning the motives of and dissensions between the interventionist powers – but this hardly compensates for ignorance of the relevant British, French and American documents, or for the failure to consult the Trotsky Archives, arguably the richest source of information for the Civil War period.

This book grew out of research done for the official history of the Canadian Army in World War I: and it displays all the faults of military historiography. Thus there is no attempt at a systematic analysis of post-revolutionary conditions in Russia. Thus no effort is made to explain the relation between the Allied intervention and the Civil War. Thus we are given long and tedious accounts of logistical developments, while the mutinies of British, French, Canadian and American contingents in February and March 1919 are dealt with in one short paragraph. The ideological distortion is crude even by the standards of the genre. The victorious proletariat of 1917, for example, is betrayed as ‘the irresponsible masses (to whom) destruction and loot were much more attractive than helping to build up law and order once again.’ The Bolsheviks’ title to govern is rejected on the grounds that ‘Lenin had not the slightest shred of legal authority to justify his assumption of power: the country had not elected him.’ Similarly ‘the gimcrack Bolshevik regime’ with its ‘insane programme’ is shown as seeing to ‘the enforcement of Lenin’s decrees,’ for ‘the state religion was now Leninism.’

As a history of the War of 1918-20, this book is really of little use. Even as an account of one side’s military activities it is very deficient. Essentially it amounts to little more than a Cold War tract, designed to show the consequences of ‘insufficiently understanding Communist aims and methods.’ ‘It was not until after the Second World War,’ it concludes, ‘that American eyes were opened; and when they were, the determination to check the spread of Communism ... at last began to offer an effective barrier to Communist expansion.’

This is a book which the IS reader – indeed any student of Soviet history – can afford to miss.

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