Forum für osteuropäische Ideen- und Zeitgeschichte. Herausgegeben von Nikolaus Lobkowicz, Leonid Luks and Alexei Rybakov. Jg. 11, 2007, H. 2: Schwerpunktthema „Die Russische Revolution“. Böhlau Verlag Köln, Weimar, Wien 2007. 202 S., Kte., Tab. ISBN: 978-3-412-21406-7.

The volume under review is a special issue of the journal “Forum” devoted to the Russian Revolution on the occasion of its ninetieth anniversary. The main articles devoted to the revolution are on Alexander Parvus by Boris Chavkin, who also publishes a dozen pages of facsimile documents on Parvus; US public reaction to the revolution by John David Fuchs; a comparison of Germanys and Russia’s weak ‘first democracies’ and their authoritarian antecedents and totalitarian successors by Leonid Luks and an assessment of the published minutes of the Politburo for the 1920s and 1930s by Alexander Vatlin. There are a number of other items not directly related to the revolution such as book reviews and discussion articles.

Is there anything new to be said about Parvus? Chavkin, like most predecessors, focuses on the tangled relationship between Parvus and the German government. The subtext, of course, is the existence or otherwise of ‘German gold’ being channelled to the Bolsheviks. Like many such questions, painstaking and detailed analysis comes to ambiguous, or should one say interpretable, conclusions not very different from earlier ones. In the end, the conspiracy theorists who enjoy such games, tend to remain unsatisfied. Clearly Parvus did have contact with the German authority and did divert money to the Bolsheviks. His motives are not fully revealed even now. Was he, as Burtsev, the SR’s chief unmasker of traitors, claimed, an agent of the Kaiser or was he playing the Germans on behalf of the Social Democrats? Even this evidence could be looked at either way. However, the author is in many ways asking the wrong question. Resources came to the Bolsheviks from many ‘dirty’ sources – most famously bank robberies in the south, the scandalous Schmidt inheritance and the collaboration with Germany over the ‘sealed train’ – but what does that mean? The real issue is, was Lenin in any real sense a German agent? Of course not. He did not take orders from anyone nor was he deflected from his political path by any consideration of obligation to any financial backers. Lenin and the German authorities – like Churchill and Stalin in 1941 – shared a common enemy but they were not each others’ agents in any true sense of the term. Semion Lyandres fine account, which Chavkin does not mention, says all that needs to be said, short of a radical breakthrough in source materials, about the real issues here. Besides that, Chavkin is simply underlining the ambiguity and curiosities about Parvus himself, in an interesting and better documented way, but without impacting on the larger issues.

In a sense, Fuchs’ article is the reverse. It deals with a topic which is too often neglected – the reception of the revolution of 1917 in elite circles in the United States. He points to Ambassador Francis’s keenness that the US should take the initiative and be first to recognise the Provisional Government and the exaggerated hopes placed in Russia’s new ‘republic’ (which was not officially proclaimed until September) by American opinion. Jewish hopes also rose. Expatriates were not immune. So excited was the congregation of one New York Russian Orthodox cathedral, that traditional prayers for the Tsar were instantly omitted from the liturgy. Once the Bolsheviks came to power the mood quickly soured and turned to stories of child murder and mass killings for fun. The only feature shared by these accounts is inaccuracy. The US did not really create a lasting impact by first recognition; the republic had little solid foundation; the lot of Jews did improve but not in line with expectations and the atrocity stories were often exaggerated or unsubstantiated. However, Fuchs’ excellent account does remind us that, although they were in conflict, liberal opinion in the US opposed both Tsar and Kaiser. Had the Tsar not been overthrown the chances of the United States joining the war would have been greatly reduced.

Of the remaining articles having some significant resonance for the revolution, Leonid Luks’ account of one aspect of the fatal ‘intertwining’ of Russian and German history focuses interestingly on the Weimar and Provisional Government periods. In what he describes as a ‘sketch’ the author, despite the imbalance between the very different lifetimes of the two systems, makes thoughtful and stimulating comparisons about the roots of the weakness of these ‘first democracies.’

Finally, Alexander Vatlin gives a brief but insightful glance over the three volumes of Politburo minutes published in Moscow in 2007. While there is no collective theme in or interaction between the articles, all are worthy of a glance and Fuchs’ theme, in particular, deserves a deeper and more systematic treatment.

Christopher Read, Coventry, West Midlands

Zitierweise: Christopher Read über: Forum für osteuropäische Ideen- und Zeitgeschichte. Herausgegeben von Nikolaus Lobkowicz, Leonid Luks and Alexei Rybakov. Jg. 11, 2007, H. 2: Schwerpunktthema „Die Russische Revolution“. Böhlau Verlag Köln, Weimar, Wien 2007. ISBN: 978-3-412-21406-7, in: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas. Neue Folge, 57 (2009) H. 4, S. 612-613: (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)