Happy Birthday

The Impact of the Russian Revolution 1917-1967: The Influence of Bolshevism on the World outside Russia Affairs

issued under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International
Oxford, 357 pp., $7.50

The Unfinished Revolution: Russia 1917-1967

by Isaac Deutscher
Oxford, 115 pp., $3.75

Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat

by Israel Getzler
Cambridge and Melbourne, 246 pp., $12.50

Memoirs of a Revolutionary

by Eva Broido, translated and edited by Vera Broido
Oxford, 150 pp., $11.50

Cast your mind back half a century ago, if you can, and try to recapture the mood—a mixture of bewilderment and exaltation—stirred in millions of people all over the world by the news from Petrograd (soon to be called Leningrad) in the late autumn of 1917. Then try to imagine the enthusiasm which the fall of the Bastille in 1789 evoked in an earlier generation of bystanders soon to be appalled by news of the Terror. If you are historically minded, compare the Jacobin record with that of the Bolsheviks. Note the differences: the Jacobins were a club, the Bolsheviks a disciplined and centralized party. Note too the similarities (in outlook and temper, if not in doctrine). Bear in mind that Lenin’s predecessors among the Russian radicals of the 1870s were proud to style themselves “Jacobins.” Recall that this nomenclature had been rendered plausible by the resemblance which the last of the Romanovs bore to the least fortunate of the Bourbons. The fall of the autocracy in March 1917 (February according to the old Russian calendar) closely paralleled the demise of the ancien régime in 1789). But in France it took three years before liberalism and constitutionalism yielded to civil war and dictatorship. In Russia the corresponding historical space was traversed in eight months. Moreover, the Bolsheviks, unlike the Jacobins, retained power (and wrote the history books). There was violence and terror in plenty, and for three dreadful decades the rule of a savage despot; but no restoration.

Or try another approach. Stalin was Lenin’s successor, and Lenin prided himself on being a Marxist. But everyone (even in his own party) knew that his Marxism was unorthodox. In the 1920s, when such candor was still barely permitted, a few Soviet historians even possessed the temerity to suggest that Lenin had, as it were, synthesized Marx and Bakunin. Others, especially among the exiled Mensheviks, recalled the links between Lenin’s faction and the Narodovoltsy of the 1870s and 1880s who preceded Marxism. But then the Marxists did not have an altogether unambiguous record on the issue of dictatorship. Their grand old man, Plekhanov, in 1903 delighted the future Bolsheviks at the famous Second Party Congress by exclaiming salus revolutionis suprema lex! Not a very democratic utterance, though perhaps understandable in the circumstances. At any rate Lenin on this occasion was very pleased with Plekhanov and went so far as to call him a “true Jacobin”: the highest praise he could think of. In 1917-1918 Plekhanov, by now a democrat and even a “social-patriot,” denounced the Bolshevik seizure of power as madness, and was in turn excommunicated from the newly founded Communist movement.

By then Menshevism had reorganized itself under the leadership of Martov, who until the end of 1920 kept a “loyal opposition” going in Moscow: loyal to the Soviet regime in the civil war, but disloyal from the Bolshevik standpoint, since Martov insisted upon a speedy return to democracy and would have nothing to do with terrorism or the one-party regime.…

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $99.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.