In this gripping political memoir Alfred Rosmer gives us a very clear, detailed look at what went on during his time in Moscow as a delegate to the Comintern and as a member of the executive committee to the Communist International, from 1920 through to Lenin’s death in 1924.
The book begins with a useful introduction by Ian Birchall that provides a background to Rosmer and his interesting life as a revolutionary. He spent most of it dedicated to the cause of revolution and, in particular, to Lenin’s ideas. Rosmer came to Britain at one stage and met founder of the International Socialists Tony Cliff. He also reviewed Cliff’s book on Eastern Europe. Birchall rightly says that Rosmer’s memoir “still has a message for a very different world than the one it was written for”.
As someone who has only become savvy to the politics of Lenin in the past couple of years, I found this book really fascinating, but also very challenging to read. As Russia was going through a vast change in this period, there are several significant events that occur and so this book is quite intense.
But I think it is a necessary read for someone who is new to these ideas and wants more insight to the reasons why socialism didn’t last in Russia. This book debunks many of the myths about this period in Russia, including that of the supposed Bolshevik totalitarianism.
There were several reasons for the defeat of the revolution, none of which are simply that socialism doesn’t work. Rosmer gives his account of the difficulties faced during the civil war, for example, and how that had massive consequences, such as the Kronstadt rising in 1921, which according to Rosmer, “All of the enemies of the Bolsheviks hastened to join.” He also explains the arguments that went on within the Communist International, including those around the politics of reformism and Trotsky’s united front theory.
I read Lenin’s final speech to the Communist International (the fourth congress on 13 November 1922) and got chills when I realised I was reading it on the same date 94 years later, as a young revolutionary, still able to learn and be inspired by these events.
Although Lenin wasn’t perfect and the Bolsheviks didn’t get everything right, they still achieved a great deal and it is very important that we reflect on what went on during this period and adapt the ideas to present day struggles. Trotsky’s theory of united fronts, for example, is still very much alive and we see that in the unity of the Stand Up To Racism campaign.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants clarity about the reason for the eventual defeat of the Russian Revolution and an intimate insight to some of the true legends that were involved in the fight for socialism at that time.