BOOKS The Two Faces of V. I. Lenin
By GEORGE KATKOV N enigmatic face with V-shaped eyebrows stares from the glossy dust-covers. The blurbs, for which we fervently hope the authors are not responsible, inform us that 'few people are better qualified than Louis Fischer to write a major life of the father of the Soviet system,' While `Dr. Possony has been enabled to cut through the prevailing myths of Communist sources . . .' etc.
The Life of Lenin by Louis Fischer* belies the bombastic claim of the blurb. Of the 675 pages of Fischer's book, not more than 140 deal with the first forty-seven years, while two years of the seven with which Fischer's book is mainly con- cerned can be written off as spent in a losing fight against an implacable brain disease. There- fore Fischer's Life of Lenin would be best described as 'Lenin in Power.' Indeed we do not
learn very much about the formation of Lenin's political character before he seized power. The author shows astounding discretion in his deal- ings with Lenin's activities as the leader of an underground subversive political group of pro- fessional revolutionaries. Nor has the author anything to say about the involvement of the Bolsheviks with the Germans in 1917. We would not quarrel with Mr. ,Fischer on this point had he not strained discretion about Lenin's con- spiratorial techniques to the point of withhold- ing all discussion of the reasons why Lenin was arraigned for subversive activities by the Pro- visional Government in 1917.
Fischer's narrative is frequently interrupted by personal reminiscences and asides based on his earlier works. Although of little relevance to 'the life of Lenin,' these marginalia are extremely interesting in, themselves. The interpretations of Lenin's many casual notes, showing his minute supervisio'h of Soviet administration in the early years of the regime, make useful reading for the student of Soviet history.
At one point Fischer betrays a basic weak- ness in his conception of Lenin's character.
Fischer is no newcomer to the field of Soviet history and the views he now professes are at times very different from his earlier ones. He has become more critical of his hero and more dis- illusioned and sententious in assessing Lenin's political achievements. And yet, the refurbished portrait he presents shows many characteristic traits of neo-Leninist iconography familiar from Soviet publications. Louis Fischer is worried by Lenin's attitude to power and its abuses. His book is full of righteous condemnation of the degeneration of political power into a self- sustained and self-preserving system of tyranny. And yet he tries to absolve Lenin from personal
responsibility for this degradation. Lenin—we learn with surprise early in the book—was not
a follower of those Russian conspiratorial anarchists like Tkachev and Nechayev who were ideologists of terror and violence in politics. For these, Fischer says, 'violence was a principle and supreme political weapon, to Lenin it was a sub- ordinate means.'
This argument fails to convince both on his- torical and on logical grounds. A weapon is always an instrument and a means for an ob-
jective and may often become supreme. Lenin had been warned many times that his political philosophy would make him resort to terror if he secured power. And this is what eventually happened when he established in December 1917 a most arbitrary and all-pervading terror machine. The way in which Fischer refers to this momentous decision reflects the confusion in his mind: 'Lenin created the Cheka,' he writes (page 520), `to cope with panic-making counter- revolution, banditry, sabotage and chaos.' One of the first tasks, we learn, was to stop the 'wine pogroms,' that is, the drunken orgiei following the looting of large wine cellars in the Winter Palace and the big mansiops of the aristocracy. The Cheka as a means to bring temperance to Soviet Russia! What a sad relapse into the old cant which led to the glorification of the mon- strosities of the Cheka's successors in 1937 by the Webbs and Mr. D. N. Pritt, QC! Mr. Fischer says that Lenin was not merely a 'power- man' who 'placed a high evaluation on political instrumentalities like the Cheka and the com- munist party,' but also an 'economic determinist' who knew that 'the Bolshevik regime could not live on terror and poor administration alone.' We could add that he loved his mother and adored children. But what has it to do with the introduction of a system of terror as an instru- ment of class struggle?
Fischer comes back to Lenin's attitude to terror on page 649 and quotes from Lenin's letter of 1922 to the People's Commissar of Justice, in which Lenin explained that the courts 'should not eliminate terror; to promise that would be self-deceit or deceit. They must on the contrary vindicate and legalise it in principle, with clarity, without falsehood or embellishments.' Here again Fischer tries to weaken the overwhelming evidence of Lenin's dedication to terror: 'the question is'—he argues—'whether Lenin, in the last three months of the life of his brain, had new thoughts on dictatorship and terror.' Fischer finds an answer in the not altogether conclusive evidence that Lenin had second thoughts on the subject after December 1922, when his illness gave him `leisure. for, prolonged reflection.' What- ever leisure Lenin might have enjoyed between the successive strokes and the intense suffering of the last months Of his life, these second thoughts could have no effect on the state of affairs which he had established in Russia. To exculpate Lenin= from introducing a reign of terror is merely to contribute to the neo-Leninist legend by' which the present ruleri of the Soviet Union try to prolong the life of a regime which they allege had a glorious start and was only tem- porarily corrupted in the years of Stalin's 'person- ality cult.'
No one could reproach Dr. Possonyt with rehabilitating Lenin. He has drawn on a con- siderable amount of untapped evidence for every possible indictment against Lenin. He studied the files of the German Foreign Office which deal *Wcidenfcld and Nicolson, 63s.
t LENIN: THE COMPULSIVE REVOLUTIONARY. By Stefan T. Possony. (Henry Regnery Co., Chicago, $7.95.)
in Russia as well as the Austrian state archives and the documents of the Japanese Ministry of By themselves this and other similar howlers should not detract from our confidence in the author's findings in the special field of his in- vestigation. Unfortunately, there is ample reason to doubt these as well. Dr. Possony's book devotes much space to uncovering every prob- able, possible and plausible way in which Lenin could be accused of having maintained direct or indirect contact with the German government during the 1914-1918 war. One of the agents entrusted by the Germans with revolutionising Russia was Parvus-Helphand, whose activities have been of late the object of much research. Naturally, Dr. Poisony is con- cerned with Parvus's activities. Among Parvus's collaborators in Copenhagen, he mentions V. G. Groman, 'later a specialist in economic planning and victim of the purges of the Mensheviks in 1931.' At the time, however, Groman was active as an adviser to the Voluntary Organisations in Russia and was one of the prominent Men- shevik defensists. The Groman who was in Copenhagen was his divorced wife, a former mistress of Parvus. The question of how close the relations between Parvus and Lenin were is of paramount importance.
Possony claims that contacts between Parvus and Lenin existed throughout the war. He refers to the one meeting which we know had certainly taken place between the two revolutionaries in Berne in the early summer, 1915. But Di. Possony refers to this meeting misleadingly as 'one of his meetings with Lenin during this period' (page 233). Furthermore, Possony states that Lenin had corresponded with Parvus 'presum- ably in May-June 1917 and that Russian counter-intelligence had seized three letters by Lenin to Parvus.' If this were true, the case of the Provisional Government against Lenin as a paid German agent would be consider- ably reinforced. Yet Possony does not reveal that the alleged three letters of Lenin to Parvus, which a counter-espionage '°ti ew (Nikitine) reported having seen in 1917, were in fact addressed not to Parvus but to three different correspondents: Ganetsky, Radek and Karpinsky. They were published by Soviet his- torians in 1923. The overwhelming evidence for this is contained in a book by Melgunov which Dr. Possony quotes. To ignore it in a detailed account of the circumstances is unwarrantable.
There is no point in multiplying these in- stances of treatment of documentary evidence. The reader is warned not to take any such evi- dence for granted. Even so this publication is not entirely regrettable. The detective work of Dr. Possony has its merits and for those who will want to attempt the arduous task in which neither of our two authors succeeded, many a page and footnote of Dr. Possony's book will be a pointer and a stimulus.
Dr. Possony is obviously not a paragon of scholarly modesty and one is not surprised that the Director of Research in a great institution often tends to be patronising to fellow re- searchers. Yet it is painful to see him censure so eminent a scholar as S. P. Melgunov in terms so disparaging (`he failed to understand' . . . `he did not have pertinent information' . . . 'he misinterpreted' . . . 'and also misconstrued' . . .) as possibly to discourage the translation from Russian of that remarkable piece of research The Legend of a Separate Peace (Paris, 1957). Had Dr. Possony read the book, some irritating cqnfusions in his own work might have been avoided. But even when, as in the case of Dr. Futrell, who provided much of the evidence which Mr. Possony uses in such a cavalier manner, or of Professor Leonard Schapiro, he acknowledges the merits of a 'predecessor,' he does it ungraciously, quick to see the mote in another's eye, oblivious of the beam in his own.