Glotzer Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Gates

Books in Review

Moscow Under Lenin

(September 1953)

From The New International, Vol. XIX No. 5, September-October 1953, pp. 299–300.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“It is a paradox of our time,” Camus writes in his preface, “that I should have to introduce Rosmer today whereas the contrary would be more decent.”

To us Rosmer’s credentials should be well known in any event: revolutionary syndicalist before World War I, internationalist during the war, rallied to the Russian Revolution in 1917, participated in the second, third and fourth congress of the Comintern, member of the executive committee of the Comintern from June 1920 to June 1921 and of its bureau since the Congress of Tours; Lozovsky’s collaborator and co-founder of the Red Trade-Union International; member of the Comintern delegation to the Congress of the three Internationals in Berlin and to the fusion congress of the 2nd and Vienna (2½) Internationals; in the French CP, member of the Executive Committee, the Political Bureau and the Directing Committee of L’Humanité from 1923 to March 1924; took sides with the Left Opposition in the struggle against the bureaucracy, participated in the French Trotskyist movement, later joined the group around La Revolution Proletarienne, where he is today, defending an independent, third-camp revolutionary position.

“He has now written a very necessary and timely book. [1] It is necessary because few living records subsist of the first years following the Russian Revolution, the ‘origins of communism.’ There is, of course, John Reed’s Ten Days and Arthur Ransome’s Six Weeks in Russia published in 1919, but they are more limited in their scope. The period covered by this book extends from 1920 to Lenin’s death in 1924 – decisive years for the Russian Revolution and for the fate of the World Revolution. Rosmer describes the congresses of the Comintern and of the Red Trade-Union International at which he was present; also episodes from the civil war, Kronstadt, the Workers’ Opposition, the trial of the SR’s, the origins of the French and the Italian CP; the discussion on the trade-union question in 1921, the war against Poland, the NEP, Genoa, Rapallo, the occupation of the Ruhr, the collapse of the German revolution in 1923, Lenin’s death. Through the sober descriptions clearly appear the immense hopes of these years, the intense participation of all in the shaping of policy, the democratic, informal habits, the honesty and sincerity of what was then the communist movement, the revolutionary passion. Also the insane fear and hatred of the bourgeoisie, especially of the French bourgeoisie under the Poincare government. All the great leaders of international communism appear in these pages, particularly Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Radek, Zinoviev, but also many others. In these years, Rosmer saw Stalin exactly twice: once intriguing with Zinoviev and Kamenev against Trotsky, and another time lobbying in the corridors of the 4th Congress of the Comintern, “in uniform even though the war was over for four years and in high boots even though it was in the month of July.”

Rosmer’s purpose in writing the book has been, above all, to re-establish historical truth. “I will have achieved my purpose,” he says, “if I succeed in focusing attention once again on a forgotten epoch, and if my contribution to its study helps to better understand it.” He sets out to uncover painstakingly all the historical facts that have been smothered through the years by several successive layers of lies, so that we may once more learn from them. Among the falsifications he has specifically in mind are not only the Stalinist ones but also those like Ypsilon’s Pattern for World Revolution or the piles of nonsense written about Kronstadt. His tone is restrained throughout: a sober, matter of fact account of events. In his introduction he writes: “I will simply say: I was there, and this is the way things happened.” His comments are measured and few – too few almost. One might have wished a fuller discussion of certain political issues such as the trade-union question, the early opposition groups, perhaps others. Only at the end he draws a conclusion. After having shown by his account how different the revolution was in its beginnings from the outfit that today pretends to govern in its name, Rosmer writes:

“Stalinism, in order to maintain itself, to maintain its hold over the working class, has to appear as the heir and the mainstay of the socialist revolution, as the incarnation of the Russian Revolution. This is a lie; it is neither one nor the other. Why allow it to claim descendancy from a revolution it has betrayed? To identify its totalitarian state with the October Revolution is to serve its aims and to support its propaganda. For its power will collapse when the socialist mask is torn from its face and when the workers, seeing it as it is, in its totalitarian nakedness, cease to support it.”

It is best to conclude this brief survey with some excerpts from Camus’ preface, because they contain as good an evaluation of the book as can be made:

“It is difficult indeed to be a witness to the degeneration of a revolution without losing faith in its necessity. This problem is precisely one that concerns us, and for this reason Rosmer’s book is relevant today. It concerns itself with a historical phenomenon which is in the center of our preoccupations: the rise and degeneration of revolutions ... But, in order to be able to think rationally about this problem, one must not be one of those who insult revolution itself and who see an abortion in every birth. To draw the necessary conclusions from the decadence of a revolution, one must be one of those who suffer from this decadence, not of these who greet it joyfully.

“As far as I am concerned ... of all the guides that offer themselves so generously, I prefer to choose those, like Rosmer, who do not offer themselves readily, who do not rush to the aid of the winning side and who, refusing both dishonor and desertion, have preserved for years, in day-to-day struggles, the precarious chance of a revival. Yes, our comrades in this fight are those who are scoffed at because they are not powerful and because they seem to stand alone. But they are not alone. Only servitude is lonely, even then it drapes itself in a thousand voices to applaud its own power. What those few have maintained, on the other hand, is what we still live by today. If they hadn’t maintained it, we would have nothing to live by.”

* * *


1. Alfred Rosmer – MOSCOU SOUS LENINE – Les origines du communisme – 316 pages. Preface by Albert Camus. – Editions Pierre Horay. Paris, 1953. 600 frs.

Glotzer Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 20 February 2019