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John G. Wright

Wolfe Changes Masters

(March 1949)

From Fourth International, Vol. 10 No. 3, March 1949, pp. 90–91.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Three Who Made A Revolution
by Bertram D. Wolfe
The Dial Press, N.Y. 1948. 661 pp. $4.50.

The avowed design of this book is to explain the course of modern Russian events – from the Russian Revolution to its aftermath – in terms of the three main protagonists – Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin. But the real design is highly partisan and polemical. It is not at all, as the author pretends, to establish historical truth through conscientious and scientific research. The aim is rather to prove that Stalinism flows inexorably from Leninism; and that both Stalinism and Leninism, in their turn, flow just as “inexorably” from the soil, soul and “heritage” of Russia.

The history of Russia is pictured as the struggle between East and West for the “Russian soul.” In this scheme, so beloved by many renegades from Marxism, the West stands for everything cultured, humanitarian, progressive, and, of course, for the very incarnation of “democracy.” The East – or the “Slavic” – is made synonymous with the worst of Asiatic’’ barbarism, “authoritarianism,” far-flung in its “centralism” and “ubiquitous bureaucratism” and “million-headed armies” and the like. That’s what you always had in Russia; that’s what you have today.

In such a historical “heritage” there is no room at all for the Russian Revolution, or for the founding of the first workers’ state, and the entire world heritage contained in these decisive events of modern history; So all this is expunged. How? By converting everything into a mere episode of “Russian expansionism.”

The biographer grants in passing that the Russian Revolution did not at all begin this way. But what is a mere “beginning”? “In the end,” asserts Wolfe, the Russian Revolution simply provided “the greatest dynamic power of expansion that Russia had ever known.” Any historian who tried to explain the Great French Revolution as a phase of “French expansionism” would be laughed out of court. But today there is a whole school of “historians” who dismiss in this way the greatest social upheaval yet witnessed on our planet.

To make his three protagonists fit into this fraudulent pattern, the author cuts short all his “biographies” at the point where he must present his conclusive proofs. The Russian Revolution and its aftermath is likewise expunged from all three “biographies.”

Lenin is made to emerge in this book as a complex blend of “Slavic” (Asiatic) and “Western” psychical traits. Trotsky is depicted as a “romantic” and “promethean” type with somewhat greater leanings toward “Westernism” who in the end makes peace with Lenin’s “Slavism.” Stalin, on the other hand, begins and ends as a pure Asiatic.

In Wolfe’s eyes, Lenin was “by his convictions” a “democrat” with occasional leanings toward humanitarianism and other “Western” virtues. But by temperament and will and “the organizational structure of his party,” he was an “authoritarian,” i.e., a pure Slav.

This conflict between the barbarous Slav and the cultured Westerner was resolved in Lenin’s case in 1917.

For up to his seizure of power in 1917, Lenin always remained by conviction a democrat, however much his temperament and will and the organizational structure of his party may have conflicted with his democratic convictions.”

Such is the gist of Wolfe’s “researches.”

It is in this way that Lenin is represented as spiritually akin to Stalin; Lenin’s party is equated to its polar opposite – the party under Stalin; and the Soviet regime under Lenin and Trotsky to that of the Kremlin since Lenin died. This is not history but a despicable caricature.

Lenin, as a personality and a great historic figure alike, attained full growth precisely in the years of the revolution, the Civil War, the building of the young Soviet Republic and of the Communist International. The same is true of Trotsky.

Stalin, on the contrary, did not emerge as a prominent historical figure until after Lenin’s death. He was an obscure figure not only before 1917, as Wolfe concedes, but also during the entire initial period after’ 1917. It is impossible to squeeze Stalin into the role of the “third” protagonist in these great events, just as it is impossible to ascribe to him the role of Lenin’s “second” which Stalin arrogates to himself.

If one could speak of a “third” in the Russian Revolution itself, in addition to Lenin and Trotsky, it was Sverdlov, and could not possibly be Stalin. But Sverdlov died prematurely in 1919 and no one replaced him, least of all Stalin. In the galaxy of Bolshevik leaders who did play a prominent role it is not so easy to single out any one individual after Lenin and Trotsky, the two preeminent leaders at the time. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov, even Radek, played a far more prominent part from 1917 to 1923 than Stalin.

Stalin, as matter of fact, owed his rise to the post of General Secretary not to Lenin but rather to Zinoviev; and his actual rise to prominence dates back to the formation of the first real – and not fictitious – triumvirate in the history of the Russian Bolshevik Party – that of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. This was later supplanted by still another troika – that of Stalin-Bukharin-Rykov.

In terms of personalities that was the actual evolution of Stalin as he was to appear on the historical scene. But all this falls away in order to make possible the bracketing together of Lenin and Trotsky – the two unchallenged leaders of the Russian Revolution – with Stalin, who rose to power and prominence only as the undisputed leader of the counter-revolution.

Wolfe is no novice at this game. He served his apprenticeship in misinterpreting Russian events under Lovestone during the early years of the American Communist Party. He then tailored his quotations, facts and historical interpretations to suit the requirements of the Stalin-Bukharin-Rykov bloc in the Kremlin. Today, this ex-Lovestoneite serves different masters, whose requirements dictate a different approach to history. The “democratic” pattern of interpretation – in the service of American imperialism – differs in form but not in substance from the much earlier “anti-Trotskyist” pattern of this scholar. Both are equally false. But where before, posing as a Marxist, Wolfe slandered Trotsky and Trotskyism, today, as an anti-Marxist, he slanders both Lenin and Trotsky, the whole of Bolshevism, the whole of the Russian Revolution and the early history of the Soviet Union.

In this respect we have just another contribution from the pens of renegades from communism to the flood of anti-Marxist and anti-Leninist literature. The market, gentlemen, is already glutted.

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