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International Socialism, February 1976


Sandy Irvine

Six Red Months in Russia


From International Socialism, No.86 (wrongly numbered No.85), February 1976, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Six Red Months in Russia
Louise Bryant
Journeyman Press, £1.25

Louise Bryant was an American journalist who went to Russia just before the Bolshevik Revolution and stayed there till the following January. Her husband John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook The World has always been more famous but her own account well deserves this new edition. It is very easy to read and captures the novelty, the excitement and the depth of the changes she witnessed.

The strongest feature of her book is that, although she interviewed several leading political figures and attended famous meetings, she gives equal attention to her conversations with ordinary workers, peasants and soldiers. So you get the flavour of what the revolution meant at street level, not just in the conference halls and political headquarters. As a journalist, she was able to circulate amongst the ‘other’ side and her account conveys how deeply the well-to-do hated the Bolsheviks.

There is a rich variety of eyewitness stories and of discussions with all manner of people, from Kerensky to Trotsky, from women in the all-female Death Battalion to workers in the Red Guard. It must have been a hectic six months. One moment she is watching the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly, then she is at the Bureau of International Revolutionary Propaganda. Particularly interesting is her description of Alexandra Kollantai and her work at the welfare ministry and of general social changes like that in the position of women.

As a job of reporting, the book can be recommended. She succeeds in giving a clear and simple picture of why the Bolsheviks won the grass roots support they did. When she does attempt political analysis, the results are less happy. The main exception is her excellent explanation of why the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly after its convening had been one of their main slogans before the Revolution. But on other matters she is often very unsatisfactory.

At times she makes it look as if the Bolsheviks simply expressed popular desires. This ignores the hard political work the Party did, its leadership, without which the dissatisfaction of the masses would not have been channelled towards socialist revolution and Soviet Power. She misses the inherent contradiction between the working class and peasant sides of the revolution. Perhaps that is why she makes the blunder of predicting a big future for the Left Social Revolutionaries, the radical peasant party.

Some of her judgements about people are rather odd. She talks about Lenin’s ‘absolute moral indifference’ and says he is less ‘human’ than Trotsky. A rather unfair assessment of the man who did the most to end the slaughter of Russia’s war commitments and who, from his death bed, tried the hardest to combat the first crimes of Stalin and his henchmen.

For a book over 50 years old, the publishers should have included an introduction putting Louise Bryant and her book into perspective. She comes across as a middle-class sympathiser not a Marxist. To see the difference, just compare her book with Rosmer’s Lenin’s Moscow (Pluto Press). She was no doubt very well-meaning, very liberal-minded. But that doesn’t excuse some of the more absurd remarks such as ‘Russians hate to kill’ or that ‘wine produces different effects in different races’. She notes the collapse of the old church but comments that ‘Russians will always be religious’ and that a new religion will emerge. Such arguments are not only inherently racialist but also serve to blunt the international significance of the Russian Revolution. Still for liberals, revolutions become the more attractive, the further away from home. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that after John Reed’s death, Louise Bryant went on to marry the man who became first American ambassador to Stalinist Russia. At times she is also patronising. I wonder what Natalia Trotsky would have thought about just being mentioned as ‘Trotsky’s pretty little wife’.

The book was written for an American audience, then as now, filled by the media with all kinds of absurd anti-communist lies and distortions. Even so, her desire to prove that Soviet Russia could still be a good anti-German ally if treated nicely seems based on some quaint notion that the Great War was a fight for democracy and decency not an inter-imperialist squabble.

Still, whatever its failings, this book is a mine of information, packed full with the sights and sounds of socialist revolution. The reader can come to his of her own political conclusions. At the very least, Louise Bryant disposes of a whole load of the myths that hostile writers are still spreading about the Bolshevik Revolution.

Read her book, but supplement it with Marxist analyses such as Trotsky’s own great History of the Russian Revolution.

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Last updated on 28.12.2007