by Leonard Schapiro

Eyre & Spottiswoode, 63s.

leonard schapiro’s recent book is the first general history of the Soviet Communist Party by a Western scholar, and it contains a great deal of information not previously available in English. It is the only place, for example, where the names of Politburo members between 1917 and 1958 are fully listed. The author has enriched his work with interesting material from unpublished studies by competent scholars such as J. L. H. Keep and T. H. Rigby.

But the publisher’s claims for this study are very large. “The author’s treatment is factual and non-partisan”, and the history is “fully documented”. “Its purpose is to show, against the background of the social, economic and intellectual history of the country and of its foreign relations, the evolution of the ideas, aims, structure and social composition of the party; its relations with the life of the population; and, especially, the effects upon the party of the circumstances in which it grew up, seized power and stayed in power”. These claims have been endorsed by most reviewers so far, so much so that the Economist’s reviewer, in expressing dissatisfaction with the book, described himself as “a dissentient voice”.

I believe that the book does not come near fulfilling the publisher’s claims, and that the consensus of expert opinion will prove to concur with this view, after the year or so which the academic world requires to absorb and think over a book of this size. It is strongly to be deplored that journals such as the New Statesman (unlike the Economist) should be so unserious in their attitude to Soviet affairs that they should employ reviewers who failed to note even the more obvious weaknesses in Mr. Schapiro’s study.