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Socialist Review Index (1993–1996) | Socialist Review 180 Contents

Nicolai Gentchev


White wash


From Socialist Review, No. 180, November 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Russia under the Bolshevik Regime (1919–1924)
Richard Pipes
Harvill £25

One of the most prominent right wing historians of the Russian Revolution, Richard Pipes, looks at Russia during the three years of Civil War which followed the 1917 revolution, and the years up to Lenin’s death in 1924. This was an extremely tragic period, in which the hopes were pushed aside by the realities of fighting a bitter war. All the resources of the new workers’ state were thrown into fighting for survival.

A central theme of Pipes’ approach is a defence of the old order. Most historians, despite their criticisms of the Bolsheviks, have little sympathy for the autocratic monarchy which existed until 1917 and have a similar distaste for the anti-democratic and anti-semitic views of the White armies who fought to bring back the old order.

Pipes stands out because he is firmly on the side of the counter-revolutionary Whites. In the first section on the Civil War, he denies that Western powers played a significant role in the White attack, as if the hundreds of thousands of guns sent by Britain alone were of no importance. Later, however, Pipes states that ‘without foreign intervention ... there would have been no Civil War’. The Western governments made their support for the Whites conditional on a recognition of the independence of Finland and an abandonment of the monarchy. This is condemned by Pipes as undemocratic!

During their campaign, the Whites made systematic use of anti-semitism and murdered somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Jews in pogroms. Yet Pipes devotes considerable time trying to prove that this was not condoned by the White generals, and quotes General Denikin saying that any attempt to condemn pogroms ‘will only make the situation of Jews harder’. This sordid attempt to absolve the White leaders of responsibility for mass murder sits uneasily next to the fact that Admiral Kolchak’s favourite reading was, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a textbook of anti-semitism.

In an effort to produce a decisive demolition of socialism, Pipes moves outside the period of 1919–1924, leading to misleading implications that the 1928 policy of labelling social democrats as ‘social fascists’ was in place during Lenin’s life. The 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact ‘took shape in the early 1920s, when Lenin was alive and in charge’. We are told that Lenin and Mussolini had a ‘similar’ attitude to the First World War (similar in that one supported it while the other opposed it). Pipes even speculates that if the Tsar had not brought Russia into the war, the Bolsheviks would have agitated for war so as to create the conditions for revolution (yet not a single piece of evidence is produced).

This book by a former National Security Adviser for Ronald Reagan ignores recent historical research on 1917 on the grounds that the revolution was a product of a Bolshevik conspiracy and so is not related to workers’ attitudes. Socialists need to know about and understand the degeneration and bureaucratisation that occurred in this period, the fight against which Lenin and Trotsky began. Pipes’ book won’t provide this but this is as much a polemic against socialism as it is a history of the Civil War.

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