Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution

Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution

Robert Service

Language: English

Pages: 480

ISBN: 1610391403

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The early years of Bolshevik rule were marked by dynamic interaction between Russia and the West. These years of civil war in Russia were years when the West strove to understand the new communist regime while also seeking to undermine it. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks tried to spread their revolution across Europe at the same time they were seeking trade agreements that might revive their collapsing economy. This book tells the story of these complex interactions in detail, revealing that revolutionary Russia was shaped not only by Lenin and Trotsky, but by an extraordinary miscellany of people: spies and commissars, certainly, but also diplomats, reporters, and dissidents, as well as intellectuals, opportunistic businessmen, and casual travelers. This is the story of these characters: everyone from the ineffectual but perfectly positioned Somerset Maugham to vain writers and revolutionary sympathizers whose love affairs were as dangerous as their politics. Through this sharply observed exposé of conflicting loyalties, we get a very vivid sense of how diverse the shades of Western and Eastern political opinion were during these years.

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ceaseless polemics. At the same time they shared an admiration for Lenin and Trotsky, the October Revolution and Soviet Russia. They praised industrial and agrarian reforms under Sovnarkom’s rule. They depicted Lenin’s foreign policy as being oriented towards peace; they believed that only communists could put a permanent end to war. They showered plaudits on Trotsky and the Red Army and represented the Bolsheviks as innocent victims of reactionary internal and external forces. The American

own revolver. She was delayed by a punctilious sentry at the entrance to the building, which made her late through no fault of her own. This did not save her from being rebuked, albeit not executed, by the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs. He soon became charm incarnate and obviously liked being sculpted. The fact that the artist was a glamorous, uninhibited woman was a further stimulus: He looked up suddenly and stared back, a steady unabashed stare. After a few seconds I said I hoped

Buchanan, My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, pp. 120–1. 2. Russia on its Knees 1. L. Bryant, Six Red Months in Russia, p. 44; J. Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World (1960), pp. 13, 219 and 331; G. A. Hill, Go Spy the Land, p. 84. 2. J. Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World (1960), p. 14. 3. See R. Service, The Russian Revolution, 1900–1927, p. 63. 4. See R. Service, The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organisational Change, pp. 53–4 and 57. 5. See K.

meeting. Lenin used the excuse that only Yakov Sverdlov as Central Committee Secretary could convoke such a meeting and he was nowhere to be found. Sverdlov’s elusiveness was probably a contrived one. Lenin too made himself unavailable. This meant that when the leftists assembled they could not designate it as a meeting of any authoritativeness.30 It was the kind of behaviour that would have thrown Lenin into a rage if anyone had tried it on him. Although no one now remained under any illusions

he recorded that Trotsky dubbed Noulens ‘the Hermit of Vologda’. Noulens supposedly shaped his attitude according to ‘the prevailing policy of his own party in the French Chamber’, whereas Della Torretta spoke Russian but allowed himself to be bullied by Noulens. Rumours proliferated in Vologda’s fetid diplomatic atmosphere; and Lockhart had to chuckle when Noulens, who had heard that the Germans had installed one of Nicholas II’s ministers in power in Petrograd, nervously asked whether the story

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