Isaac Deutscher 1967

Menshevik Stalwart

Source: The Times Literary Supplement, 10 August 1967. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Eva Broido, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (translated and edited by Vera Broido), pp 150, Oxford University Press, 25 shillings

In this slim but handsomely published volume one of the minor figures of the Russian revolutionary movement tells the story of her life and struggle up to the year 1917. The narrative is in parts vivid and moving, but its fabric is modest and its scope limited. It is made up of two strands, one depicting the cruel barbarity of Russian life in the pre-revolutionary epoch, the other describing the great hopes and the idealism of the revolutionaries.

Eva Broido grew up in a Jewish-Lithuanian peasant family, amid harrowing poverty and insecurity. From her early childhood she was haunted by memories of savage feuds between Russian and Lithuanian peasants who senselessly and in cold blood slaughtered each other. The impression of this kind of ‘elemental’ barbarity persists through most of the story, but the scale on which it manifests itself grows until, in 1905, we are confronted by the horrible massacre of Armenians in the Caucasus. This, however, was no mere elemental cruelty, for, as the author indicates, the racial antagonisms were surreptitiously fanned by those who were interested to use them as an antidote to the revolutionary movement in the Caucasus.

The author joined underground Social-Democratic circles at the turn of the century. She organised a ‘Labour Library’ in St Petersburg which published one of Korolenko’s banned stories, brochures on the French revolution, the Russian working woman, and similar subjects. For such innocent activities she and her comrades were deported to some of the remotest places in Eastern Siberia. En route, in prison, she married Mark Broido. Chained convicts were their witnesses, and she had to borrow her wedding ring from another prisoner. In Siberia, in the Yakutsk Province, conditions were so oppressive and unbearable that the deportees organised a rebellion, barricaded themselves in a large house, and sustained a long siege, until the besiegers, troops sent by the Governor, starved them into surrender. The Broidos managed to escape and make their way to London and Geneva. They found the Russian émigré colonies there agitated by the fresh split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and after a while they joined the latter. In 1905 they returned to Russia and went to conduct Social-Democratic propaganda in Baku.

The author’s description of racial strife in that part of the Caucasus, though familiar from various Russian sources, will be highly instructive to English readers. Frustrated in their Social-Democratic work by the racial massacres, the Broidos moved on to Moscow and St Petersburg, where they soon became stalwarts of the Menshevik Party. Eva Broido later became secretary of the Menshevik Central Committee. This office, however, never had any of the importance which, much later, was attached to its counterpart in the Bolshevik organisation. In any case, neither the author nor her husband belonged to the élite of Menshevik leaders: they were rather functionaries of the Menshevik ‘apparatus’, sincere, dedicated, and quite unaware of how unequal they were to their formidable Bolshevik competitors. The spell of work in the capital was again followed by deportation and exile, this time to the much milder climate and conditions of southern Siberia. They regained their freedom after the February revolution of 1917, and on this happy event the author ends her narrative.

While these Memoirs offer, as the publishers say, ‘an exciting account of underground political life, imprisonments and escapes’, they are definitely not ‘an important document in the history of Menshevism’. On this aspect Eva Broido is rather uninformative and inarticulate. She relates a few minor incidents, of which the most important were her coming face to face with Plekhanov, Martov and Zasulich in Geneva and her brief and embarrassed encounter with Lenin at a party forum in St Petersburg. But she neither tries to portray the personalities nor does she attempt to discuss the issues; and so the great schism never comes to life in her pages. Her heart was probably not in it:

In our district of Vassilyevsky Ostrov in St Petersburg the two wings of the party were more or less equal in influence. When the time came to elect our delegate to the... party centre the two wings could not agree on the candidate. The Mensheviks put me forward and the Bolsheviks proposed Mikhail Kalinin, the future President of the Soviet Union... Personally Kalinin and I were very good friends. We lived not far from each other and we invariably walked home together after the meetings, talking amiably all the way. We were neither of us rabid fanatics and we often tried to persuade our comrades to find a compromise. But neither his Bolsheviks nor my Mensheviks would yield an inch.

Contrary to an impression left by the introduction to this book, Eva Broido was not a ‘fanatical’ Menshevik even in later years. In line with her conciliatory attitude, after having left Soviet Russia in 1920, she decided to return in 1927. A Russian version of these Memoirs was published in Moscow in 1928 and was warmly recommended by a leading Bolshevik party historian. From the moment of her return, her daughter says in the introduction, ‘her fate was no different from that of other Mensheviks in the Soviet Union and she is believed to have perished like so many others in June 1941’. However, about her activities after 1927 and the circumstances of her death little or nothing is evidently known. Her book, for all its limitations, will give beginning students a fairly good idea of the life and the spirit of Russian revolutionaries, who, regardless of faction, fought against Tsardom during the epoch which preceded the great explosion of 1917.