Carr on the Comintern

History of Soviet Russia, Volume 7 (Socialism in One Country, 1924-6, Volume 3 on foreign policy, in two separately bound books)

by E.H. Carr
Macmillan, 1050 pp., $17.50

With the publication of these two books, one of the great historiographical enterprises of our day has been advanced. Mr. Carr has now given us three volumes on the 1917-23 period (one on domestic politics, one on economics, one on foreign affairs); the so-called Interregnum (1923-4) in one volume; and 1924-6 (surely no less an Interregnum) in volume 5 on domestic politics, volume 6 on economics, and now volume 7, in two books, on foreign policy. Since everywhere he has gone back to the original sources to produce a fresh and accurate narrative, the achievement is immensely impressive.

Reviewers of previous volumes, and indeed of Carr’s work generally, have criticized his Hegelian humility before the victors of history.

Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht.

Subsidiary faults, they claim, have flowed from this: the attribution of omniscience, omnipotence, unity, and infallibility to the Soviet government; neglect of anti-Soviet source material; over-reliance on official documents and explanations; understatement of the danger the Soviet power was in, and of the weight of opposition to it—all culminating in the celebrated one-and-a-half pages devoted to the Kronstadt revolt. These faults, in this volume, are present, if at all, in minor degree: perhaps only in the denial that Comintern and Foreign Office (Narkomindel) pulled different ways, or that Socialism in One Country meant a real shift The narrative is a great deal more objective and less pro-Communist than in previous volumes. Rather does this volume show a separate fault: the diplomatic historian’s characteristic incapacity to omit and to generalize. Frightened, perhaps, of accusations of bias, the author seems to have reacted by a failure of selectivity through the high level of detailed scholarship continues.

“There is no more erroneous or harmful idea,” said Lenin, “than the separation of foreign from internal policy.” This apt quotation is an essential insight into the affairs of the USSR at any time. The Marxist, with his insistence on a unitary view of human events and his ready rejection of empirical evidence, is far more prone than other politicians to hitch his foreign policy to some general turn in domestic affairs.

Yet the structure of these volumes on 1924-6 is such as almost to deny Lenin’s dictum. The fifty-fifty ratio between foreign and other affairs, so much greater than what the author has accustomed us to in his treatment of earlier years, is surely wrong. Over-whelmed, as he confesses, by an unexpected mass of information, he has forgotten the crucial art of omission. Instead of giving us the main turning points alone, he gives us an almost blow-by-blow account of the office day of both Zinoviev and Chicherin, plus a potted history of every important Communist party. In the case of Communist-dominated Mongolia this becomes a whole history of the Mongolian people, economic and social as well as political, written out of Comintern reports. It appears to be an important and original work of scholarship, and I for one am very grateful for it. But what is it doing here?…

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