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International Socialism, April-June 1972


Christopher Hitchens

Lenin’s Moscow


From International Socialism (1st series), No.51, April-June 1972, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Lenin’s Moscow
Alfred Rosmer
Pluto Press, £1.30.

For Marxists, a critical understanding of the history of their own movement is essential, and it is all too rare for us to have the opportunity of reading genuine first hand accounts. Too often the reviewer has to advise such things as ‘ignore the cold-war introduction’ or ‘read this book for information, not author’s opinions’.

With Alfred Rosmer, no such problem arises. Here is a book written not only about the struggle for workers government in Russia but from the living heart of that struggle; not only about the early years of the Third International, but from the experience of a genuine internationalist who made great sacrifices to reach the Soviet Union from France.

Rosmer did not do these things, and does not write about them, out of any feeling of fuzzy romanticism. He kept his eyes open and wrote, like Victor Serge, ‘for the bottom drawer and for history’.

It was also Victor Serge, another eye witness of the aftermath of October, who remarked

‘It is often said that “the germ of all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning”. Well, I have no objection. Only Bolshevism also contained many other germs – a mass of other germs – and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the victorious revolution ought not to forget it.’

The crucial thing about both Rosmer and Serge is that their accounts enable us to study the control conditions (to pursue the analogy) under which the various germs began to flourish or decline.

In this connection it cannot be said that Alfred Rosmer gives complete satisfaction. On the question of the Kronstadt revolt, he offers rather a confused and thin chapter which only reflects rather than resolves the painful polarities of the confrontation. And as Ian Birchall observes in his excellent introduction, the section on the trade union debate established consciousness, the is rather disappointing when one remembers Rosmer’s qualifications on the subject.

On the other hand, the chapter on the New Economic Policy is an excellent one, and Rosmer makes an ideal guide through the conference halls and the arriving delegates. In addition to which, the scope of the book is very much wider than the title suggests; Rosmer ranges freely across Europe to illustrate his points, and shows us the first tiny shoots . of the Third International as they make their appearance. He has been criticised for not stressing the dangers of Russian domination sufficiently, and this is a valid point, but there is enough material provided for the reader to form his own opinion on the matter.

Similarly, the rise of Stalin and Zinoviev is described in a very committed and forthright fashion, but with ample evidence supplied. In particular, Rosmer stresses the importance of honest accounting. Lenin would never conceal a mistake, or try to deflect the responsibility for it, but Zinoviev’s regime in the International made this practice assume the scale and proportions of an art. ‘It was never the fault of the centre.’ Readers of this book should pay special attention to the letter from Stalin to Brandler, which is described as far as I know for the first time on p.209.

The final section, in which Rosmer attacks the argument of continuity between Lenin and Stalin, is essential reading for this recurrent debate. Written by one of the losers, it is painful to read as it must have been to write, but ultimately hopeful that the web of Stalinist falsification can be penetrated.

It was written in 1952, before the death of the tyrant, and few of us can appreciate the faith in reason and revolution that must have animated its author in that dark period. Today, as the Stalinist regime is breaking up in Russia and internationally, and as its ideologues increasingly fail to reach the minds of workers, Rosmer’s book should be on the shelf of every militant as much for what it represents as for the theoretical and historical ammunition which it contains.

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