Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 14, 2017

New Communists? A reply to Jacobin Magazine

Filed under: Jacobin,Lenin,Russian Revolution,two-party system — louisproyect @ 6:03 pm

Adaner Usmani

Connor Kilpatrick

In the latest issue of Jacobin devoted to commentary on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, there’s an article co-written by Adaner Usmani, a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute of Brown University, and Jacobin editor Conner Kilpatrick titled “The New Communists” that basically urges the left to put that revolution stuff behind us or, more exactly, the far left, which I most certainly belong to as an “unrepentant Marxist”. The two young political scientists advise: “And yet the far left today embraces the Soviet obsession like a vampire hunter wields garlic. The problem is that garlic repels far more than just monsters — it makes you stink.”

Although Jacobin prides itself on being stylistically polished, I am not sure whether the words “embraces the Soviet obsession” is in keeping with its lofty aspirations. What does it mean to embrace an obsession, which almost sounds like obsessing over an obsession? If I were editing the smart magazine with its even smarter graphics, I might have changed that to “embraces the memory of the Soviet Union” or better yet to drop all the circumlocutions about “new communism” and simply say “And yet the far left today embraces Marxism like a vampire hunter wields garlic” because buried beneath all the clever prose is an agenda that might have not sat well with Jacobin subscribers. In keeping with the vampire-hunting analogy, the true goal of Usmani and Kilpatrick is to plunge a wooden stake into the heart of Marxism.

Since the article is behind a paywall, I will quote more liberally from the article than I do ordinarily in posts to this blog. So please forgive me in advance. To understand the dodgy approach of the authors, you have to begin with the fact that the word Marxism appears only 3 times in the article and only as a referent to states that have little to do with Marxist politics. For example, they write:

At its peak, some variation of the USSR’s flag flew over 20 percent of the Earth’s habitable landmass. But while McDonald’s has now spread to over 120 countries, today only three of the four ruling Communist parties left fly the hammer and sickle. Of the five nations that claim Marxism-Leninism, the hammer and sickle appears on the state flags of none. Once the symbol of the struggle for a better world, today the hammer and sickle is a sign of little more than single-party sclerosis.

But what does it mean to claim “Marxism-Leninism”? Is the presence of a hammer and sickle supposed to be some kind of genealogical marker indicating that the carrier has something to do with Karl Marx’s ideas? Missing from the article is any engagement with Stalin’s legacy, a dictator who made the hammer and sickle a symptom of sclerosis at least 85 years ago. The only reference to Stalin in the article is this:

Counterfactuals have become the stuff of lifelong sectarian debates for the socialist left: “if only Germany had gone the right way, if only Lenin had lived, if only Stalin had been isolated, if only, if only . . .” In almost every instance of mass revolt they find the Bolshevik’s October — Germany in 1918–20, France in 1968, Egypt in 2011, and everything in between — revolutions made mere “revolutionary rehearsals” by conniving bureaucrats or naive cadre.

This is quite a mouthful. Although it would take far too many words to unpack the sophistry embedded in this paragraph, suffice it to say that the mass revolt in France nearly 50 years ago came to an end because the French Communist Party had the numbers and the influence in the working class to break the back of the resistance and help Charles De Gaulle restore order. It is not a question of being “naïve”. Rather, it is one of being too small. It is also one of being disunited. In 1968, France’s far left was divided into many Trotskyist and Maoist sects. If it had learned to overcome its differences and constitute a united revolutionary front, it would have been much more difficult for the CP and the Gaullists to seize control. If there is one thing that Jacobin can contribute to now, it is serving as a catalyst for left revolutionary unity. Unfortunately, it appears to be far more interested in functioning as the ideological mouthpiece of the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

Usmani and Kilpatrick want to cleanse the left of its self-righteous sectarians who insist on ideological purity:

At its worst, in this crowd, isolation is proof of revolutionary virtue, rather than political calamity. Particularly in a country like ours, the politics of “Yay revolution! Boo reform!” has led to a rhetorical arms race in which the most virtuous, maximalist positions are the most progressive.

I wonder if the two understand how Marxists have used the term “maximalist” in the past. Generally (and most certainly prevalent in Maoist circles), this is the outlook of groups like Avakian’s RCP or the Spartacist League that are in the habit of reminding their readers that socialism is the answer to whatever problem confronts the working class. Maximalism tended to appear in its purist form on May Day demonstrations years ago, when CP-led parades would carry banners calling for a Communist America.

If the authors were more forthright and less bent on fighting straw men, they would simply come out and say that they are sick and tired of people making work inside the Democratic Party a litmus test. The far left is not really opposed to reforms as might be indicated by Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant’s tireless advocacy of a $15 minimum wage. Speaking as a former member of another Trotskyist group, I have no memory of ever saying anything like “Yay, revolution”. I do confess to joining the rest of the comrades in singing “The Internationale” but that was in another country, and besides the wench is dead.

The real divide is not over the need for reforms but how to fight for them. It has become clear that DSA’ers have begun to identify with the “sewer socialism” of elected Socialist Party members such as Victor Berger as illustrated by the election of DSA members in Somerville, Massachusetts. An article in CommonWealth made the comparison:

Somerville now has an opportunity to build a new kind of 21st century sewer socialism: getting the basics right while attending to the core distributional questions of municipal governance. The election showed that Somerville voters want to see their aldermen focus on issues of legislative policy. This is, of course, their primary task. The informal alliance of Our Revolution and the Democratic Socialists of America in Somerville has coalesced around the politics of development: affordable housing and the rights of tenants, workers, and immigrants.

What’s missing from the CommonWealth article and 9 out 10 written about the Somerville election is the fact that the DSA’ers ran on the Democratic Party ticket. In Victor Berger’s day, this never happened. Upton Sinclair’s 1934 End Poverty In California (EPIC) gubernatorial run marked the first time an SP’er ever ran as a Democrat. So upsetting was this to SP members that his own son broke ties with him.

Perhaps I have a different idea of what kind of reforms are needed. While one understands completely why someone running for alderman in Somerville might want to make an issue out of garbage collection, my idea of a reform would be something much more like what I was involved with in 1970, when I lived not far from Somerville. We tragically unhip Trotskyists got behind the Shea Bill, sponsored by state legislator James Shea. Jr. that authorized Massachusetts residents to refuse combat duty in wars Congress has not declared. It also instructed Massachusetts Attorney General Robert Quinn to defend and assist servicemen who refused to fight on such grounds.

Furthermore, whenever the Trotskyists got involved with any reform, whether for antiwar demands or abortion rights, it always stressed mass action such as rallies, petition drives, etc. If there is anything worth preserving from the long-lost Russian Revolution, it is the need for what we used to call “proletarian methods of struggle”. At the risk of sounding like a moldy fig, let me quote from Trotsky’s Transitional Program: “Self-reliance and proletarian methods of struggle. Only the workers themselves, organized to make full use of their massive numbers and social weight, can solve their problems. No wing of the ruling class is our ally. Strikes and other forms of mass action, which demonstrate the power of the workers’ movement in life, are the most effective.”

Usmani and Kilpatrick are anxious to remind us that even the Communists were “practical-minded” just like them:

The uncomfortable truth for both liberals and die-hard revolutionaries is that whenever and wherever Western Communist parties were strongest, it was because they were the most effective reformers, not revolutionaries. They won when they bested the social democrats at their own stated aims. It was not starry-eyed dreaming but everyday material victories that led 1.5 million people to attend Italian Communist Party leader Enrico Berlinguer’s 1984 funeral. The flip side of this fact is that in the pre–World War II period, European Communism was feeble and ineffective — with the telling exception of the French Communist Party during the Popular Front and the Spanish one during the Civil War.

When I read this, I spit the coffee out of my mouth that I was drinking. This is most shocking statement in the entire article. So, if in the rest of Europe Communism was “feeble and ineffective”, we can at least look back at the Spanish Civil War as an exception to that rule? Are these two brilliant political scientists for real? The goddamned Communist Party was one of the main reasons Franco triumphed. Unlike France in 1968, this was not just a victory of the right facilitated by the CP’s hegemony. In Spain, it was a victory made possible by the CP’s willingness to murder revolutionaries, including Andres Nin. Nin and many others on the left were trying to overthrow capitalism, while the CP was dead-set on keeping the capitalist Spanish Republic intact even if that meant opposing worker control of the telephone building in Barcelona. When the largely anarchist workers refused to surrender, the CP-led security forces laid siege to the building, which provoked a general uprising. As might be obvious from what is going on in Spain today, Catalans were not only seeking national independence but also class independence. It was the CP’s “effective” control over the Popular Front that gave them the power to tame the unruly Catalan working class. Surely, Usmani and Kilpatrick are aware of this history. Why they would apply Stalinist varnish to it is a mystery.

Following the above citation, the authors get down to brass tacks:

The unprecedented success of Bernie Sanders’s run and his enduring popularity should have been a wake-up call to much of Leftworld: the country is ready for working-class politics, and even for the s-word, as long as we talk about it in everyday, tangible terms.

If you click the link in the paragraph above, you are directed to an interview with Adolph Reed from the August 8, 2016 Jacobin. If Usmani and Kilpatrick were half as open about their beliefs as Reed, the debate on the left that this article has provoked already on Facebook would have a lot more clarity. We have to assume that they agree with Reed who says:

Some who are eager to pronounce the campaign a failure are motivated by other ideological objectives. For example, Trotskyists and others who fetishize association with Democrats as the greatest sin in politics want to argue that Sanders would have been more successful if he’d run as an independent.

That’s a delusional position. In the first place, an independent candidacy outside the Democrat and Republican primaries would have received no attention at all to this point, which means we’d have wasted the last year, and almost none of the unions or other entities would have endorsed it.

Left out of these considerations is the big question about class independence. Until the CP’s Popular Front turn, Marxists never backed bourgeois parties. Maybe the irritation that Jacobin (at this point, we can probably assume that the article expresses the editorial board’s thinking) feels over the Russian Revolution is its connection to Lenin’s obdurate refusal to bloc with or vote for capitalist parties, which in Czarist Russia meant the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets). This is not the Lenin they want to have anything to do with.

Today, the relevant Lenin is not Lenin the indefatigable revolutionary, but Lenin the disconsolate strategist — the man who in 1920 chastised Communists “to convince the backward elements, to work among them, and not to fence themselves off from them with artificial and childishly ‘Left’ slogans.”

What astonishing disregard for Lenin’s views. They are quoting “’Ultraleftism’: an Infantile Disorder”, which most people remember as a qualified endorsement of voting for Labour Party candidates (even if the qualification is along the lines of supporting them like a rope supports a hanging man.) So, if you are enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn and view Bernie Sanders as the American Corbyn, why not? Maybe it fudges over important theoretical questions to liken the Democrats to Labour but let’s put that aside momentarily. It is far more important to take another look at what Lenin actually said.

He is mostly trying to wean young CP leaders off of the ultraleftism that sounds a lot like the “yay, revolution” straw man Usmani and Kilpatrick were tilting at, especially Sylvia Pankhurst who wrote “The Communist Party must not compromise. . . . The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure, and its independence of reformism inviolate, its mission is to lead the way, without stopping or turning, by the direct road to the communist revolution.”

Lenin’s advice to Pankhurst and other impatient young revolutionaries is not anything like that of Usmani and Kilpatrick’s despite their predictable exploitation of a stance that mimics his like a funhouse mirror. There is nothing about becoming the leftwing of the Labour Party or that would sanction what DSA is doing today running as Democrats and stumping for Bernie Sanders’s next bid for President.

In my opinion, the British Communists should unite their four parties and groups (all very weak, and some of them very, very weak) into a single Communist Party on the basis of the principles of the Third International and of obligatory participation in parliament. The Communist Party should propose the following “compromise” election agreement to the Hendersons and Snowdens: let us jointly fight against the alliance between Lloyd George and the Conservatives; let us share parliamentary seats in proportion to the number of workers’ votes polled for the Labour Party and for the Communist Party (not in elections, but in a special ballot), and let us retain complete freedom of agitation, propaganda and political activity. Of course, without this latter condition, we cannot agree to a bloc, for that would be treachery; the British Communists must demand and get complete freedom to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years—1903–17) the Russian Bolsheviks demanded and got it in respect of the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., the Mensheviks.

I don’t mind particularly that Jacobin has decided to breathe new life into the Fabian Society, which evidently is more to their liking than Bolshevism. I suspect that most young people today are waiting with bated breath for the next big confrontation with capitalism as occurred during the Occupy movement and will have little interest in ringing doorbells for some Democrat, DSA member or not.

I only wish that if they are going to recruit V.I. Lenin to their sorry project, they’d at least respect what he actually wrote rather than jamming words into his mouth. He deserves better.

UPDATE:

In a comment below, Dave Grosser denied that Ben Ewen-Campen ran as a Democrat. I guess this was photoshopped or something.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 6.45.43 PM

October 22, 2017

Russian Revolution: a Contested Legacy

Filed under: art,Russian Revolution — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

One of the ironies of post-Communism is that two of the artists making the most radical statements in N.Y. right now are émigrés from China and Russia respectively, the two nations that were at one time the top fixations of the Cold War establishment. While Chinese and Russian émigrés tend to be seen reflexively as new-found admirers of American freedom (especially of free markets), Ai WeiWei and Yevgeniy Fiks are throwbacks to the day when artists were expected to be the visual counterparts of the poets that 19th century radical Percy Bysshe Shelley called the “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”.

I plan to post about WeiWei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” later this week but now will report on a show at the International Print Center in New York that features the work of Yevgeniy and another Russian émigré named Anton Ginzburg. Titled “Russian Revolution: a Contested Legacy”, it is the most thoughtful and necessary show you are likely to see during the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, whose legacy was trashed in the NY Times Book Review today by a motley crew of Cold Warriors.

Curated by Masha Chlenova, an art historian at the New School, it reflects the spirit of the Russian revolution in a dual sense. It is a spirit that animates the human being and leads to greater aspirations but is also the spirit in the sense of a ghost whose presence haunts someone like Hamlet or Scrooge.

In the catalog for the show Chlenova sets forth the dialectical method that is severely lacking in the NY Times:

The exhibition Russian Revolution: A Contested Legacy at IPCNY uses a similar strategy. It celebrates the centennial of the Russian revolution by highlighting those genuine objectives that are important to preserve today: namely its pursuit of individual freedoms, such as the emancipation of women; racial equality and the rights of ethnic minorities (especially Jews) as part of a push towards internationalism; and sexual and gay liberation. While the rhetoric of individual freedoms and civil rights in the Soviet Union outlived their actual implementation and thus largely lost credibility by the mid- to late 1930s, it is important to remember the real gains that did take place, even if their lifespan was limited.

To capture the emancipatory spirit of the heady days of the revolution as well as contemporary examinations of how to recapture that spirit, Chlenova has curated works from the early Soviet Union as well as Yevgeniy and Anton Ginzburg’s artistic meditations on the past.

While Stalin was cracking down on the opposition in the late 20s, there are some works on display in the show that demonstrate the living spirit and rebelliousness of its artists who would eventually be pushed aside by the Socialist Realism imposed by the bureaucracy by the mid-1930s. Among them is a poster for a lottery to raise funds for Birobidzhan, the Jewish state that Stalin decreed.

Like much else that was happening until the Stalinist regime imposed a totalitarian straightjacket on society, Birobidzhan was an experiment that both expressed the top-down nature of the regime that decided for the country’s Jews where they would live as well as a genuine pioneering spirit that captured their imagination.

Among Yevgeny’s works on display is one titled “Leniniana” that fully expresses the overall theme of the show. It is based on Aleksandr Gerasimov’s iconic “V.I. Lenin at the Tribune”, a work that while anticipating the sort of adulatory and culturally degraded portraits of Stalin and Mao also captured the burning embers of 1917. For many Russians, 12 years of growing bureaucratization were not sufficient to extinguish the memory of last century’s greatest revolutionary uprising.

Gerasimov

Fiks

Yevgeniy’s portrait of an absent Lenin was part of a series of works painted in 2008 that were united around the theme of Lenin’s place in Russian history. By removing Lenin from a series of paintings such as the one depicted in the show, he challenges us to come to a deeper understanding of what he represented. He describes the aim of the paintings on his website:

This project is a post-Soviet “Leniniana,” a “Leniniana” of denial and repression, which questions Lenin’s place in the Russian historical narrative as well as the place of the legacy of the Russian Revolution in that narrative today in general. This project presents Lenin as a silenced figure of the post-Soviet era. The project suggests that only through return of this figure (as any other repressed historical figure) from the repressed of our collective memory, can the narrative of Russian history regain its wholeness.

As a gay, Jewish man, there is probably nobody more qualified than Yevgeniy to understand the dual character of the former Soviet Union. Like most people with a deeper and unbiased understanding of Soviet history, Yevgeniy knows that the Bolsheviks took radical steps to decriminalize homosexuality in the 1920s while the Soviet state reintroduced repressive laws in the 1930s as part of a general retreat from the revolution’s ambitious social goals.

The troubled past of the Soviet Union’s relationship with society’s underdogs—gays, Jews, and Blacks—have been the enduring themes of his work that I have documented since meeting Yevgeniy in 2012. I invite you to see the record of my interaction with this great artist over the years and even more so to see the show at the International Print Center that continues until December 12th.

A conversation with Yevgeniy Fiks, a Post-Soviet Conceptual Artist: https://louisproyect.org/2012/11/26/a-conversation-with-yevgeniy-fiks-a-post-soviet-conceptual-artist/

A Gift to Birobidzhan: https://louisproyect.org/2014/09/19/a-gift-to-birobidzhan/

The Lenin Museum: https://louisproyect.org/2014/12/17/the-lenin-museum/

 

October 11, 2017

Did the Bolsheviks Advocate Socialist Revolution in 1917? A reply to Eric Blanc

Filed under: Lenin,Russian Revolution — louisproyect @ 5:19 pm

Eric Blanc

As most of my readers are probably aware, Lars Lih and Eric Blanc have been writing articles for the past couple of years taking the side of the “old Bolsheviks” against Trotsky on the question of whether Lenin abandoned previously held positions on the character of the Russian Revolution and especially on whether the April Theses were symbolic of such a break.

The latest installment can be read on the Historical Materialism blog. Titled “Did the Bolsheviks Advocate Socialist Revolution in 1917?”, Eric Blanc’s article makes an amalgam between Trotskyists, Sovietologists and—somewhat surprisingly—Stalinists over their supposed adherence to the “breach” version. Blanc cites a 1939 Soviet article making the case that “Lenin’s April Theses laid down for the Party a brilliant plan of struggle for the transition from the bourgeois-democratic to the Socialist revolution.” I am not sure how much relevance this has to the ongoing debate since Stalinist words come rather cheap. In fact, everything that the Kremlin had been doing as opposed to saying at least since 1927 indicates an adherence to the discredited “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”.

This was most obvious in the struggle between Leon Trotsky and the Stalinists over the dynamics of the Chinese revolution as I pointed out in a commentary on Lars Lih on May 15th of this year. Virtually the entire “old Bolshevik” cast of characters made the same arguments against Trotsky that they did in the 1924 “Lessons of October” debate except that in this instance it was the Kuomintang rather than Kerensky’s Provisional Government it was adapting to. After Chiang Kai-Shek had become an honorary member of the Comintern upon Stalin’s urging, he turned his guns on the Communist workers whose interests were considered of less importance than the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” in China. In a Pravda article titled “Questions of the Chinese Revolution”, Stalin describes two phases of the Chinese revolution. In the first, “the national army was approaching the Yangtse and scoring victory after victory, but a powerful movement of the workers and peasants had not yet unfolded—the national bourgeoisie (not the compradors) sided with the revolution. It was the revolution of a united all-national front.”

It is easy to become frustrated with Lih and Blanc’s special pleading for Kamenev et al since it is so narrowly focused on March and April of 1917. Since Lih makes no pretense of being a Marxist, his micro-focus is understandable. That is what the scholarly journals he writes for expect. Unfortunately, Eric Blanc seems to be following in his footsteps as a search on Google based on either of their names and Kuomintang produces zero results. I doubt that Lih will ever move out of his March-April 1917 comfort zone. Let’s all root for Blanc breaking out of his time-space tunnel as his career as a historian evolves.

Blanc writes, “We will see that while the Bolsheviks throughout the year hinged their politics on the imminence of international socialist revolution, their orientation within Russia itself remained significantly less socially ambitious.” In denying that Lenin was fighting for a socialist revolution as of April 1917, Blanc parts ways with those who have argued that the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” was just an “algebraic” formulation that might have a “socialist” outcome. Chief among them were the American SWP and the Australian Trotskyists led by the Percy brothers. In an article that makes many of the same points as Eric Blanc’s but stops short of denying that Lenin’s goal was a socialist revolution, Jack Barnes told his cult members in 1983:

Trotsky viewed this algebraic character of Lenin’s formula to be its weak point. Lenin, however, was completely aware of the social contradictions bound up in the revolutionary process he sought to capture in his formula. He was completely aware that the proletariat and peasantry were classes “whose interests only partially coincide.” The key to proletarian strategy in Russia was to forge a worker-peasant alliance around those interests that did coincide that is, around the fight to bring down absolutism and landlordism – and to establish a dictatorship based on that alliance to carry out those democratic tasks while opening the door to the socialist revolution. The Bolshevik formula was exactly the kind .of algebraic approach needed to orient the proletariat toward leading an alliance of exploited classes through the transition from a victorious democratic revolution to the establishment and consolidation of a workers’ state.

Ironically, I agree with Blanc that Lenin disparaged the idea that socialist revolution was on the agenda as long as the cut-off point is 1916. But unlike Trotsky, I don’t think that there was that much of an “algebraic” quality to Lenin’s concept. Indeed, in the 1905 revolution that was considered a dress rehearsal for 1917, Lenin was absolutely clear that socialist revolution was not on the agenda: “It is absurd to confuse the tasks and prerequisites of a democratic revolution with those of a socialist revolution, which, we repeat, differ both in their nature and in the composition of the social forces taking part in them.” In a nutshell, Kamenev and company were writing articles in Pravda before Lenin’s arrival that were in the spirit of 1905 even though history had moved forward irrevocably. Indeed, immediately after Lenin published the April Theses, Pravda wrote: “As for the general scheme of Comrade Lenin, it seems to us unacceptable in that it starts from the assumption that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is ended, and counts upon an immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution.”

There is one sense in which I lean more in Blanc’s direction then you might expect from the criticisms leveled above. He makes a rather cogent argument that in 1917 Lenin saw the revolution in Russia as igniting revolutions in Europe that could culminate in the worldwide overthrow of the capitalist class. This view was consistent with the one put forward by Karl Marx in his letters to Zasulich. As opposed to Plekhanov, Marx believed that a revolution could be based on the rural communes but he did not specifically say that this meant a socialist revolution. If anything, the state might have looked something like Mexico had Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa triumphed.

Lenin obviously became convinced that socialism could be built in Russia but not in the manner dictated by Stalin. One of his last thoughts on the direction socialism might take in Russia was “On Cooperation”, a work that viewed peasant coops as the hub of future development. You might even say that this was a logical retreat to the conception found implicitly in Marx’s letters to Zasulich.

Since Blanc remains comfortably ensconced in 1917, he finds scant references to “socialist revolution” in Lenin’s writings. However, after 1917, his articles are replete with them, especially in “State and Revolution”, a key text of Lenin’s thinking on the conquest of power by the working class that Eric Blanc tried to reconcile with Karl Kautsky’s electoralism in “The roots of 1917: Kautsky, the state, and revolution in Imperial Russia”, an article written a year ago. It is consistent with Blanc and Lih’s attempt to rehabilitate Kamenev, since he tended toward Kautskyism in his Pravda articles in 1917, so much so that Lenin wrote a letter to J. S. Hanecki and Karl Radek on April 12, 1917, declaring that “We hope completely to straighten out the line of Pravda, which has wobbled towards ‘Kautskyism’”.

Unlike a lot of the contradictory and imprecise formulations of the Bolsheviks in 1917 in the months before October, out of which Blanc’s thesis seeks legitimacy, “State and Revolution” can be regarded as a systematic ex post facto defense of October 1917 as a model for socialist revolution in the 20th century. It rests not only on the experience of the Soviets but on the Paris Commune of 1871. Furthermore, it has a chapter that singles out Kautsky for betraying what Marx wrote about the Commune:

From 1852 to 1891, or for 40 years, Marx and Engels taught the proletariat that it must smash the state machine. Yet, in 1899, Kautsky, confronted with the complete betrayal of Marxism by the opportunists on this point, fraudulently substituted for the question whether it is necessary to smash this machine the question for the concrete forms in which it is to be smashed, and then sought refuge behind the “indisputable” (and barren) philistine truth that concrete forms cannot be known in advance!!

Lenin takes aim at Kautsky’s 1902 “The Social Revolution” as “a formula which makes a concession to the opportunists, inasmuch as it admits the possibility of seizing power without destroying the state machine.” However, Blanc regarded this article as being beyond reproach since it was “republished, and illegally distributed by the most radical of the Tsarist empire’s Marxist parties.” I can understand the logic of seeing Lenin’s party-building efforts as being modeled on Kautsky’s party in Germany but despite this, you need to recognize that there were structural problems in German social democracy that led to its eventual capitulation to German imperialism. Lenin might not have been clear on this in the early 1900s but by 1918, he describes Kautsky as a renegade.

Blanc calls attention to what perhaps has led to a lot of confusion on the left:

It has often been overlooked that in 1917 there was no clear Marxist definition of socialist revolution. Nor was there a general agreement on the exact political boundary between a democratic and socialist revolution, or for that matter between a capitalist and socialist society.

That, of course, is obvious just from the sharp differences over Cuba. Perhaps what leads to the confusion is a departure from the original concept found in Marx and Engels that socialism was a world system that would be born out of the triumphs of socialist revolutions in countries that had advanced capitalist systems.

Blanc’s latest article begins with a statement “A critical engagement with the past remains an indispensable instrument for critically confronting the present.” It is hard to argue with this but I only wonder when he will begin to critically confront the present.

You can search in vain for anything that he has written about Venezuela, Greece, Syria or any other country that has been poised on the edge of revolution, either socialist or democratic. What exact bearing does “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” have on the situation in Venezuela today, a rentier state that has been torn apart by the contradictions of declining oil prices?

There is much to be learned from Lenin but a lot of it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Lars Lih wrote an 880-page book on “What is to be Done”, a work that Lenin described as only bearing on the “concrete historical situation of a definite, and now long past, period in the development of our Party.” [Emphasis added]

If I look askance at the idea of holding the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” in reverence, I also treat the theory of permanent revolution in the same way. What we need today is a vigorous and intelligent application of Marxism to the current world as I have tried to do with Syria over the past 6 years or with Indigenous societies for the past 25 years or so. If reading Lenin’s 1905 articles helps you carry out such a task, don’t let me stand in the way. The proof is in the pudding. But if Eric Blanc’s intention is to carve out a scholarly niche that will help his career in academia, that would be a sorry waste of a promising talent. I would just advise him that this is not what Lenin would be doing in 2017 if he were alive. Or Kamenev for that matter. What about Stalin? I am quite sure he would be writing for Alternet or The Nation.

July 22, 2017

Boris Souvarine: No, the Kaiser did not fund the Bolsheviks

Filed under: Lenin,Russian Revolution — louisproyect @ 4:49 pm

Boris Souvarine

On June 17th, I posted an article titled “Did the Kaiser Fund the Bolsheviks” that was prompted by several articles that made this case, including in the liberal Nation Magazine—perhaps unsurprisingly. This elicited an interesting comment on the article that showed up this morning:

For a discussion of Zeman’s documents see Souvarine’s Solzhenitsyn and Lenin, in Dissent 1977, online here

There’s also Souvarine’s response to Carmichael in Dissent January 1978 (Letters, pp.113ff), only available to those who have access (Louis perhaps you can put this online?)

Zeman was mentioned in my article as a scholar who dismissed the alleged ties between Lenin and Alexander Parvus, who was both an early theorist of Permanent Revolution and a successful businessman who was supposedly a funnel of German funds to the Bolsheviks.

Souvarine’s article was a critique of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Lenin in Zurich”, a hybrid novel/history that concurred with the German funding of the Bolsheviks hypothesis. Souvarine even went so far as to argue that there was no “sealed train” to the Finland Station, a staple of belief by all sides on this debate—until now, at least for me. I find Souvarine most convincing.

As per the commenter’s request, I am posting the exchange of letters between Joel Carmichael and Boris Souvarine from the Summer, 1978 Dissent. Carmichael is obviously a hardcore anti-Communist who was outraged by Dissent magazine’s temerity in publishing an article that cleared Lenin’s name of a charge going back to the early 1920s, namely that his party was subsidized by the Kaiser. His main distinction was translating Sukhanov’s essential memoir on the Russian Revolution.

Souvarine is a notable figure by any standard. At the time he wrote his article and the letter below, he was 83 and as he mentioned in the response to Carmichael half-blind. I hope I am half as sharp as Souvarine when I get to be that age.

My strong recommendation is to read the entry on Souvarine in Wikipedia, which would quickly establish his credentials:

Souvarine was born Boris Konstantinovich Lifschits in Kiev to a Jewish family. Souvarine’s family moved to Paris in 1897, where he became a socialist activist from a young age. He trained as a jewelry designer. And at the age of fourteen came into contact with the French Socialist movement while working as an apprentice in an aviation factory. During this time he began attending meetings held by Jean Jaurès.

Souvarine experienced his first trauma with the outbreak of the First World War. Mobilised as part of the French army in 1914, he quickly discovered the horrors of Trench warfare and in March 1915, lost his older brother who died fighting on the front-line.

War pushed Souvarine into politics and the antimilitarist movement. He joined the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO) in 1916 and begins contributing to publications of the anti-war socialist minority like Le Populaire, signing articles with the pseudonym he held onto for the rest of his life: Souvarine, patronym borrowed from a character in Émile Zola’s Germinal.

LETTERS

On Lenin and Solzenitsyn

Editors:

Boris Souvarine (Dissent, Summer 1977) twists Solzhenitsyn’s somewhat mythological Lenin in Zurich into a springboard for a peculiarly lopsided account of the evidence for the German subsidy to the Bolsheviks in 1917-18.

The tone of this lopsidedness is set by his throwaway reference (p. 327) to “every insinuation about German gold” as a “calumny pure and simple—until April 1917.” The effrontery of this is all the more astonishing since it is precisely Lenin’s penury until then that indicates the starting point of the subsidy.

Souvarine does not even mention the two articles written by Eduard Bernstein—never accused of corruption or stupidity—in January 1921 in the official organ of the German (Social Democratic) government. Bernstein sets down a specific figure—”more than 50 million gold marks.” It was this staggering sum—the equivalent in today’s currency of more than $800 million—that made me look into the question for both my Encounter articles and my Trotsky. Beforehand I had been mesmerized by the 50-year-old discussion in which Lenin’s revolutionary integrity played the principal role.

Nor does Souvarine refer to the 41 Bolshevik periodicals published by August 1917: these came out at the rate of more than 300,000 a day and were often distributed gratis. Avowed Party revenues could not have covered a fraction of this. (This is all detailed in Leonard Schapiro’s history of the Soviet Communist party.)

It was not I who “revealed” the German financing of the Bolshevik regime after the putsch: among other sources I mentioned Kurt Riezler, counselor of the Stockholm German Embassy, who in his memoir refers matter-of-factly to the allocation in July 1918 of 40 million gold marks between the Bolsheviks and some moderate monarchists. Souvarine attacks the plausibility of this like a rationalist ideologue: how could the Germans support “the confiscation of private property”? As though they were thinking of anything but the immobilization of the Eastern front!

Souvarine’s remark that I “deduced” the German subsidy from the “sealed train” is, I should think, deliberately fraudulent. He may belittle the evidential value of the numerous sources I mention—in fact he simply omits them all—but how can he say I “made a blinding deduction from a luminous premise”? His authority explodes here in a puff of duplicity.

Anyone who read my Encounter articles will see that I was linking the train and the subsidy only in order to highlight a possible Marxist defense of the latter: if Lenin accepted the train for the Cause, why not the subsidy? The notion that the Bolsheviks were given vast sums in actual banknotes is, of course, so silly that it is easy to sneer the fact itself out of existence. The transfer of funds highlights the key role played by Alexander Helphand (Parvus). It was precisely here that Helphand’s business network played a primordial role: he owned not merely a coal-mining company, but a freight company registered in Copenhagen: with German funds he bought countless items, shipped them to Scandinavia, and from there to Russia via Lenin’s agents Radek and Furstenberg (Hanecki).

Souvarine tucks all this away in his Postscript, detaches it from Helphand, and at the same time refers to bookkeeping records as though it were all a matter of conventional commercial transactions. But how could ordinary records have been kept in this very dangerous relationship?

To my mind the factual data add up to a lot. The gaps are accounted for by the obvious necessary secrecy: this applied to both Lenin and Helphand. There is surely an element of high comedy in Souvarine’s “dismissal” of von Kuhlmann as a plain “liar” when juxtaposed to his incredible acceptance of the institutionalized mendacity of the Bolsheviks, including Radek —Radek! This is surely of a piece with Souvarine’s pious priggishness in saying that as soon as Lenin “got a whiff of Parvus’s views he sent him packing” (p. 330). He could have got this only from a memoir by someone like Shlyapttikov, a cementheaded acolyte who may have believed everything Lenin told him. But Souvarine?

It is the psychological factors, however, that seem to me to complement the objective indications in a way that is even more convincing.

The most remarkable piece of evidence for the German subsidy is something intangible—the titanic fact of Lenin’s flight. This is the core of the Bolshevik putsch: it explains Trotsky’s cardinal function.

Trotsky devoted two chapters (one in My Life, one in his History of the Russian Revolution) to an overwrought denunciation of the story of the German subsidy as the “vilest slander in history.” He is forced into this extravagant language because he must explain Lenin’s flight from Petrograd in July 1917, in the aftermath of what seems to have been an abortive insurrection accompanied by the fragmentary disclosure of the German connection. This last involved high treason in wartime: all the Bolsheviks were in mortal peril.

Trotsky must disprove the commonsense reaction— especially among old-fashioned Marxists—that Lenin should really have stayed on in order to clear himself: to do this Trotsky must persuade his readers that the “Right wing” hated Lenin so much that they would have stopped at nothing, hence Lenin’s flight was natural. Yet on the face of it, his version is nonsense. Sukhanov—quoted approvingly by Trotsky and by Souvarine, when it suits them—shows most circumstantially that any possibility of lynch law was “absurd, in the summer of 1917”!

But there is a still weightier aspect to all this.

How could Lenin, aflame at the prospect of seizing power in a vast country as a preamble to the triumph of the World Revolution, abdicate his leadership at the crucial moment? Abdicate it, moreover, to someone whom he and other Bolsheviks had been denouncing for a decade, a man detested by one and all?

Trotsky did not merely stage-manage the putsch, he defined it as it were constitutionally. Since Lenin, throbbing with euphoria, thought the inevitable upheaval of the German proletariat would safeguard the Bolshevik sortie, he wanted the Bolsheviks to proclaim their seizure of power as Bolshevik. Trotsky wanted to camouflage the putsch by presenting it as a function of the Soviet. (Isaac Deutscher makes a particularly comic attempt to reconcile these two ideas.)

Trotsky was, of course, chairman of the Soviet, a priceless vantage point. Since the Bolsheviks were not to have any “enemies on the Left” for a decade or so, the parvenu dictators could claim and secure the support of the bulk of the population, e.g., of the peasants, too, until the Civil War was won and the swiftly consolidated apparatus could put the whole population through the mangling machine of the crash collectivization and industrialization programs that still constitute the fabric of life in the Soviet Union.

Lenin, remote from the scene of action, was forced to swallow Trotsky’s initiative, including his version of the putsch. Once in power, the Bolsheviks could exploit the camouflage of the Soviet very effectively. The very name of the Soviet Union keeps the fiction alive.

Thus Souvarine, in saying I “tried to involve” Trotsky in the German subsidy, not merely falsifies what I wrote in Encounter, he succumbs to an unaccountable flash of foolishness. My whole explanation of Trotsky’s brief eminence in the Bolshevik party is based on his not having been involved: that was just what made him indispensable.

I think Lenin’s refusal to accept a trial, together with his eliminating himself from the putsch, is an overwhelming argument for the factuality of the German subsidy.

Souvarine is particularly harsh on Solzhenitsyn’s blunders. He dismisses Radek’s remark to Lenin in April 1917: “In six months we’ll be either ministers or hanged.” But the point of the anecdote, after all, is to illustrate the ardor of all Marxists at the time: a great state had fallen to the forces of socialism, as it seemed—who knew what the future held! Radek’s quip is perfectly natural, indeed, banal—and Souvarine brings up passport formalities!

At the same time Souvarine seems incapable of grasping Solzhenitsyn’s true interest. Not only does he refer, rather comically, to Helphand as a “Russo-German,” but he is baffled by Solzhenitsyn’s obsession with Lenin’s ancestry.

Yet Solshenitsyn’s preoccupation is the very axis of his mythology. He is saying something basic: the Russian people—simpleminded, holy—has been duped by aliens, i.e., Jews and Germans. For this mythology the figure of Helphand is ideal, indeed, indispensable—he was a caricature of all the required factors. With a huge head, heavy torso, and spindly legs, Helphand lived in a sea of champagne, large-scale business deals, and luscious blondes. From Solzhenitsyn’s point of view, and of course from his own, he had not a drop of “Russian” blood. He was simply a shtetl Jew who became the only Marxist multimillionaire. Solzhenitsyn is so intent on establishing the links between the Jew Helphand and the German General Staff that he disregards the true point— the dimensions of the German connection. No doubt his homework was geared to his fundamental views; Souvarine has found it easy to exploit these on behalf of a different polemic.

Souvarine admits Lenin was “no paragon of morality.” I suppose he means Lenin was a liar as well as, at the least, an architect of massacre, of course in the service of the Cause. He follows this low-key summation with a curious point: Lenin was nevertheless very careful “not to let himself fall into disrepute with the Russian people whom he aspired to … lead toward social revolution.”

The Russian “people”! This piece of—for a Marxist— silliness tells us a lot about Souvarine. If the evidence of the German subsidy is all worthless, why does he weasel about so much in bypassing it? What, after all, is he defending?

Surely, I imagine, his youthful ardor. In this respect Souvarine seems to typify a category—all those who, while appalled by the monstrosity brought about by the rosy dreams of their youth, nevertheless balk at abandoning those dreams.

This comes out in his final piece of chicanery: in his starry-eyed description of the atmosphere in Petrograd around October 1917 he shows that the Bolsheviks did, after all, represent genuine opinion while functioning within the democratic arena of the Soviet: one could call oneself a “Bolshevik” while meaning no more than disgust with the war. His quotation from Pierre Pascal makes much of the absence of Marxism “either among the people or the poets or the October decrees.”

But that’s the whole point! The Bolsheviks took advantage of just that state of mind—which of course they shared—and, because they could not remotely represent the real interests of the people, installed the most ferocious apparatus of repression in history.

There German subsidy invalidates the “legitimacy” of the Bolshevik putsch—but not by much. Whatever the meaning of legitimacy, it was lost once and for all by the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and by the conduct of the dictatorship ever since. Since the Bolsheviks collided with the interests of the whole population—except the handfuls of idealists and the crowds of careerists—they were in essence wholly illegitimate—unless, of course, one believes in their mission!

I was, I admit, very surprised by Souvarine’s disingenuous account of all this. Perhaps his deceitfulness, like Trotsky’s, should also be construed as evidence for the German subsidy.

JOEL CARMICHAEL New York City

Boris Souvarine Replies:

My article on Lenin in Zurich (originally in Est et Quest, Paris, April 1976) was somewhat abridged in Dissent (Summer 1977) with my consent. In consequence, some arguments and references were sacrificed. I am no longer in a physical condition that permits me to compare the two texts, for I am too old and half-blind. My reply to Mr. Carmichael’s diatribe may allude to some passages that were omitted in the shortened English-language version. I would ask Dissent to indicate such passages, if any, in footnotes.

The unnecessarily irascible letter that takes issue with me is scarcely persuasive when it taxes me with not having read everything or quoted everything. A magazine article is not a doctoral thesis, and mine dealt with Lenin in Zurich, which implies certain limits. However, I have read Bernstein and Sukhanov and Leonard Schapiro, who are deserving of comment. The difficulty is that my accuser shows little concern for the meaning of words, and that what he terms “source” is mere hypothesis or echo or deduction.

Eduard Bernstein’s articles were known initially in France only through unreliable press resumes. Because I had then—and have still—the highest opinion of their author, the articles perplexed me at the time in that they contradicted all the unquestionable, given facts. I was able to read the articles in full only later and, in English, in David Shub’s book on Lenin. Then everything became clear. Bernstein’s material is not a primary source or document but the echo of the gossip of unscrupulous bureaucrats. Two major statements he makes suffice to prove this: (1) the (pseudo-) sealed railway car becomes a “parlor car”; and (2) Lenin allegedly received more than 50 million gold marks. Such nonsense discredits even gossips.

(I) The railway car was a second-and third-class coach, and the travelers paid for their tickets. The car was coupled to an ordinary train in Zingen. Proofs of this exist.

(2) The German documents published by Hahlweg and by Zeman mention 1 million marks—only one—which Parvus claims he sent to Petrograd. (To whom? not to Lenin.) Parvus is obviously lying, for private letters of Lenin and statements of Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Molotov make it clear that at that time the Bolshevik committee in Petrograd was almost nonexistent. Only Shliapnikov managed sometimes to make fleeting contact from Stockholm. In any event, 1 million is not “more than 50 [million].” Parvus surely pocketed the money; there is no other plausible explanation. Lenin was in Zurich.

Solzhenitsyn has rightly noted that after January 22, 1916 the Wilhelmstrasse “paid Parvus not a pfennig” [p. 176]. In other words, the payment of I million in late 1915—the only such payment, and the fate of which no one knows—was unique. With all my regard for Bernstein, I concluded that he had reported idle talk. In 1921, he was much younger, yet he would no doubt have checked such hearsay. Now, however, reliable documents and testimony are available, and in my article I quoted them. It is permissible to disagree with a respectworthy person on a specific point. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas. The same documents and testimony refute also the “sealed train” that, according to the article in Encounter, was offered by Ludendorff (sic) to Lenin alone. The German document signed by Captain Hillsen (No. 19 in Zeman) mentions 300 to 400 Russians who were to be transported. To deal with them by pretermission so as to take cognizance only of Lenin is “star-worshipping;’ not historical criticism. Martov, Axelrod, Riazanov, Lunacharsky, Bobrov, Angelica Balabanoff, and many others made the same trip as Lenin in a similar railway car (not sealed), for all that the fact thwarts a blind Leninophobia.

The role attributed to Ludendorff is quite simply comical. No more than any other non-Socialist at the time did he even know Lenin’s name. The German General Staff merely approved the Wilhelmstrasse’s proposal that a few hundred Russians (of all political colorations, not Bolsheviks only) be permitted to pass through Germany. The decision was natural enough: every government at war tries to encourage domestic difficulties within the enemy country. It is unnecessary to invent an imaginary connivance between Ludendorff and Lenin.

The initiative to cross Germany came not from Ludendorff, not from Parvus, not from Lenin, but from Martov—a man who was above reproach—and this has been proved to the hilt. The proposal dates from March 19, 1917. The available documentation shows that at first Lenin did not want to travel via Germany. He tried in vain to go via France and England. Only on March 30th, when he learned that Chernov had been refused permission by the British authorities, did he decide to carry out Martov’s idea. Surely it suffices to consult correspondence of the period; it was not written to serve the ends of controversialists 60 years later.

The other German documents that mention transfers of funds—never of 50 million marks—indicate they were for “revolutionary propaganda,” a term used in the vaguest sense. In those days, the Revolutionary Socialist party held center stage. The money seems to have been intended for separatist movements (one of Parvus’s fixed ideas, by the way). It benefited primarily intermediaries and parasites. In any case, there is no question of Lenin’s having been involved. The peak of the absurd is reached and overtopped in insisting that he was, for the German documents indicate that the most sizable remittances were sent after the October coup. So they were not intended for Lenin or for the Bolsheviks, who had seized public bank deposits, nationalized the banks, cleaned out the state coffers, nationalized the Mint, and taken possession of the plates for printing banknotes—in a word, they had at their disposal more money than one would know what to do with.

Furthermore, an appendix to the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk later stipulated that Russia pay Germany a war indemnity of up to 300 million gold rubles. Yet according to the article in Encounter. Berlin subventioned the Bolsheviks right up to the end of the war. I have said, and I repeat. here is the wherewithal “to make hens laugh” (a Russian saying). The Encounter article sought support not in the available evidence but in the cogitations of two eminent, trustworthy personages who merit our full consideration. First, Sukhanov: he could not explain to his own satisfaction why Lenin went into hiding after the July 1917 riot. To him it seemed suspect, for, he believed, Lenin was in no danger. Then what was he afraid of? Of having some accounts to render?

Sukhanov was my friend. His wife (Galina Constantinovna, if memory serves me after a half-century) gave me hospitality when I was expelled from the Party and driven from my lodgings in 1924. 1 helped Sukhanov when, together with Volski, he founded the Vie économique des Soviets, in Paris. My sister was his collaborator. And the memory of this martyr I preserve in all affection. This said, I contend that he is in error about Lenin’s flight in July on the following grounds: Sukhanov reasoned as a distinguished St. Petersburg intellectual, who was incapable of conceiving that one could inflict harm on a prisoner. He did not put himself inside Lenin’s skin when Lenin was obsessed by “implacable” civil war.

We know from several unchallengeable sources that when Lenin returned to Russia, he was convinced he would be arrested en route, then sure he would be imprisoned on arrival. Later, during the troubles, he expected he would be shot, and still later, that he would be assassinated. He invested his opponents with his own terrorist’s turn of mind. In a secret letter to Kamenev, in which he asked Kamenev to publish his manuscript on the state, he wrote: “Between us, if they kill me …’ (oukokochat). The idea haunted him. Sukhanov had no understanding of this terrorist mentality. Hence his mistaken line of reasoning. But that is not all.

Lenin’s flight did not follow from his own wishes. One has to know how that milieu functioned: the question was debated secretly by the Central Committee of the Party. Stalin was of the opinion. Roy Medvedev tells us, that Lenin should place himself in the hands of the courts in order to vindicate himself. The majority decided otherwise. This Sukhanov could not know. What’s more: the Sixth Party Congress, no more no less, had to confirm the Central Committee’s decision.

The reference to Leonard Schapiro deserves, of course, a comment. With all the respect owed this peerless historian, I think that his error on this particular point is of the same order as Sukhanov’s. It is the error of a British intellectual who transposes conditions obtaining in England to the Russia of 1917: he cannot conceive how the Bolsheviks were able to publish 41 periodicals without outside help. No doubt he believes that this calls for money to pay for offices, business staff, salaried editorial personnel, plus paper and printing costs. No such thing in the revolutionary storm of 1917. The devotion of the militants, in particular the typographers, made all kinds of improvisations possible. The success of the Bolshevik press is explained simply by its out-and-out pacifist propaganda in a country that could continue the war no longer.

Has Mr. Schapiro tallied the publications of the Mensheviks and the Revolutionary Socialists and analogous groups? The comparison would be interesting. There was a swarm of more or less short-lived news sheets, which had no German money. But there were financial contributions from well-to-do philo-Socialist, pacifist bourgeois who gave generously even if they were not Morozovs. Of interest in this connection is the response of Maxim Gorki to Pravda’s slanderous charges about the source of funds for Novaia Jizn (No. 127 of the paper): it appears in the collection Untimely Thoughts. Gorki also was accused of receiving German money. As were my comrades and I in France, in the same circumstances.

To illustrate the point, may I be permitted a personal recollection of Lenin’s making fun of French Socialists. He said to us, in the course of a rambling conversation,

In la Guerre Sociale and in I’ Humanite, I’ve often read the lists of contributors and come across such remarks as: “For the social revolution, 10 centimes.” Hah! These French! Ten centimes for the social revolution! Hah, hah, hah! At home, the workers contribute one day’s pay every week or every month to their newspaper! Just think of it: ten centimes for the social revolution! Hah, Hah, Hah!

(I am quoting from memory, of course, but the recollection is accurate.) It’s one of the answers to the sempiternal question: Where does the money come from?

In an article dealing with Solzhenitsyn’s book, and in particular with his sources, I did not have to discuss Mr. Schapiro’s reflections. I mentioned Encounter only briefly among several references to texts that attest to the steadfast survival of legends about the sealed railway car and German gold, the one factually correct passage in the London magazine having to do with Lydia Dan, Martov’s sister. My task was not to refute everything that touches indirectly on the same subject. Also, Riezler’s book is not found among Solzhenitsyn’s sources. There was enough to do in dealing with the German documents and the book of Zeman and Scharlau about Parvus —The Merchant of Revolution—which was Solzhenitsyn’s principal source.

Having devoted 15 pages in Contrat Social (Vol. VIII, No. 4, December 1968) to an analysis of the Parvus biography, I am not inclined to begin anew. My review did justice to the authors as the first biographers of Parvus, but it also pointed out manifold errors, contradictions, misleading statements, as well as inadmissable insinuations. In retrospect, I do regret not having been more critical, for this book led Solzhenitsyn into error on many scores. However that may be, in the Introduction [to the Merchant], there is an embarrassed passage that completely clears Lenin in connection with “German gold.” And on page 181, there is another passage that deserves to be quoted once more:

The Bolshevik groups in Russia took no part in Helphand’s [Parvus’s] activities. Their cooperation depended on Lenin’s consent, and their leader had never given this. Anyway, the Bolshevik underground organization was so weakened by the war that it was hardly in a position to take effective action… . Alexander Shlyapnikov, who supervised the Bolshevik organization on Lenin’s behalf, has emphatically denied the suspicions that the Bolsheviks cooperated with Helphand at this point of the war. It is impossible to doubt his statement… .

Is it going too far to say that these few lines cancel out all the implications, the equivocations, the malicious allusions in the work, which influenced Solzhenitsyn, some of them involving various minor characters who were mixed up in the money affairs but were no part of Lenin’s life?

Mr. Carmichael accuses me of having called von Kuhlmann a liar. Every fair-minded reader can verify that it is Sir Lewis Namier (Avenues of History, London, 1952) whom I quoted. It must be added that Kuhlmann does not altogether lie except when he credits himself with a role in the October coup. Certainly, he did dispose of funds for propaganda, as did all his counterparts in other countries. He never names Lenin. And as to such funds, generally they are money down the drain, for they have never brought one historic event to pass. I have said again and again that “money is not the measure of all things.”

I am replying here to a polemic that entirely disregards the facts, arguments, proofs, quotations, and references that abound in my article. So it is useless to add others, for they would meet the same fate. However, addressing the readers of Dissent, I wish to defend the memory of my friend Shlyapnikov, who has been gratuitously insulted with deliberate lack of scruple [“sans-scrupule conscient”]. Shliapnikov was an upright man, a self-reliant spirit; he was not “cementheaded,” but was endowed with critical intelligence, a person of intellectual and moral integrity. He was among those who resolutely opposed Lenin after the October coup. Later, he inspired the “workers’ opposition” with courage and got himself read out of the Party, as a result of which he fell into the clutches of the GPU. His life was devoted entirely to the cause of the workers, and it ended in unspeakable sufferings. In the words of the French adage: “Don’t insult him who tries.”

As to the verbiage about Trotsky, which is as obscure as it is wanting in substance, I will confine myself to a single categorical denial: in 1921, I had a conversation with Trotsky about the “German gold.” He expressed his opinion with persuasive, straightforward indignation and revulsion. When other Soviet citizens were questioned by French delegates who were disturbed by press campaigns at the time, they were astonished, especially that one could still pay any attention to such an old “calumny.” Let us not forget that when the travelers arrived in St. Petersburg in their “sealed railway car” (which was not sealed), they were exonerated by the Soviet, which was composed of a large majority of “patriotic” Socialists.

It is not I who “brings up passport formalities” in connection with Radek. Like Hanecki, Radek was an Austrian subject and could not enter Russia: under the Provisional Government, you did not enter Russia the way you walk into a cafe. The frontier was guarded by French and British officers, there in their capacity as allies, as well as by Russian police. This is an incontrovertible matter of fact. “Facts are stubborn things.” Radek was able to enter the country only after the October coup, which in March was unforeseeable. As for Lenin, in March he was still in agreement with Plekhanov and Martov in thinking that the imminent Russian revolution must be a “bourgeois revolution,” whereas Trotsky, the theoretician of the “permanent revolution,” thought otherwise. Lenin changed his mind when he came to consider the Provisional Government incapable of ending the war. In September he contemplated seizing power. The fictitious remark Radek made to Lenin in March (Solzhenitsyn, p. 266:”… six months from now we will either be ministers or we will be hanged”) therefore struck me as incongruous even in a novel, and there is nothing in it to feed a base quarrel.

Solzhenitsyn has understood perfectly well, on the other hand, that it would have been impossible for Lenin to accept German subsidies: it would have meant giving up his freedom to choose his own direction and to maneuver, subordinating that freedom to silent partners. Solzhenitsyn writes:

“Should he ask what price the Russian Revolution would have to pay for German help? He refrained from doing so, but kept the question in mind for the future. It would be naive to expect such help for nothing” (p. 160). And further on: “Let myself be tied to someone else’s policy? Not for anything in the world!” (p. 185).

Solzhenitsyn has read the German documents well and has well understood that they are not compromising for Lenin. At no point does he accept the doctored version of “German gold” paid out to Lenin up until the departure of the “sealed carriage” that was not sealed—i.e., up until April 1917. This date is not mine; it marks the conclusion of Lenin in Zurich. On this point, a fresh dispute from my disputant who disputes everything and nothing. There is nothing to quibble about.

What I have challenged about Solzhenitsyn’s book is the use he made in it of the Merchant, which is a work filled with equivocations, unfounded insinuations, and risky deductions. I questioned the inadequacy of his sources regarding Zimmerwald no less than on the Russian Revolution of 1905. And fearing from certain allusions that in the book to follow the author might venture so far as to permit himself to be influenced by the false “Creel-Sisson” documents and by the genuine Nikitin documents (supplied by the very incompetent French espionage service) when no doubt I would no longer be in a condition to comment on them, rightly or wrongly I spoke out in the hope of sparing the great writer’s being misled. (The Nikitin documents have to do with business affairs of Parvus, Hanecki & Co.; see Northern Underground, Michael Futtrel, London, 1963). The rumors aroused by their business dealings induced the Central Committee of the Party to deprive Hanecki of his position in Stockholm, to Lenin’s great displeasure. This decision alone explodes the legend of German gold accepted by the Bolsheviks.

Fair-minded readers who wish to know more will be interested to read the articles of Professor Alfred Senn on “The Myth of German Money During the First World War” and “New Documents on Lenin’s Departure” (references previously supplied). Also My Life as a Rebel, by Angelica Balabanoff, who also traveled to Russia in a “sealed” (unsealed) train. And my analysis of the Merchant, entitled “L’or et le wagon,” in Con! rat Social (Paris, Vol. 7. No. 4, December 1968). 1 would like to suggest also the serious, circumspect review of the Merchant by Leo van Rossum, in the publication of the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, which I happened upon only very recently.

Above all, it is important to be familiar with Lenin’s secret letter to his Stockholm office, written from his hiding place between August 27-30, 1917, when he was expecting the worst. A short passage touches on the matter of money: it is decisive. One can even go so far as to say that these few lines should dispense with having to read the kilos of material about “German gold.” The letter, which was recovered long after Lenin’s death, appeared only in 1930 in Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 8. Later, the outline of this letter—or rather, a laconic aide-memoire—was found and published, in 1933, also in the Collected Works (No. 21). The letter now appears in Lenin’s Complete Works, Vol. 49. It cannot interest a prejudiced fanatic, but readers in good faith will appreciate it.

It is for them to appreciate no less the unseemly letter that has called forth mine, and to decide to whom are to be applied such choice terms as “effrontery,” `fraudulent,” “duplicity,” “priggishness,” `falsifies,” `foolishness,” “chicanery,” “disingenuous,” “deceitfulness,” and other civilities of an uncommonly elevated mind, not to mention the letter’s tone—which, as the French say, makes the message. And may they not overlook the inexpressible “Marxism,” which is as out of place as hairs in the soup.

Translated by ADRIENNE FOULKE

 

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