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Roger Protz

Lenin as Linguist

(Autumn 1966)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 26, Autumn 1966, p. 34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Three Who Made a Revolution
Bertram D. Wolfe
Penguin, 12s 6d

After Louis Fischer’s Lenin, a prolonged piece of literary self-abuse, this seems a very good book. Wolfe, unlike Fischer, was no sycophantic pen-pusher at the court of King Joe and has no apparent need to smooth over youthful indiscretions by trotting out the tired old formula that Lenin begat Stalin.

Scholarly, even sympathetic though the book is, nevertheless we end with that very formula that has provided a convenient jumping-off point for every faded academic pink – a formula that shows just how successful the capitalist denunciation of bolshevism has been (‘undemocratic,’ ‘authoritarian,’ ‘no belief in the freedom on the individual’) in academic circles most susceptible to bourgeois ideas.

But the thesis that Lenin was ‘responsible’ for Stalin – I suppose that if I kill someone in my Anglia, Bertram Wolfe would blame Henry Ford – only marginally detracts from a very useful work, especially for younger members of the socialist movement who want a simple exposition of the rise of social democracy in Russia and the struggle to forge a revolutionary leadership, before they move on to the works of the ‘masters.’

Wolfe succeeds in bringing Lenin to life. He emerges from the pages as a lively human being, not the heartless dictator painted by the right, nor the automaton drearily portrayed by Stalinists. For me the most human touch is Lenin, convinced that he can learn to speak any language by swallowing the grammar whole, haranguing the citizens of any country he happened to be in and showing surprise when no one could understand a word he said.

Trotsky, as ever, is larger than life, mercurial, temperamental and, clearly, a most unpleasant little swot when he first went to school. But he, too, must bear some of the responsibility for Djugashvili – the theory of permanent revolution lead inexorably to the one-party state, Wolfe opines.

As for the bastard child of revolution himself, he remains a coarse thug who, had he lived in Chicago in the era of prohibition, would have made Al Capone look very small beer indeed.

In spite of the title, the book is also about the Russian masses, moving sluggishly, then speedily on to the pages of history and providing the vital steam for Trotsky’s dialectical piston box.

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