The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia J. H. L. Keep o.u.p., 45s.
The author’s account of the development of and the struggles—organizational and ideological—within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party is full and detailed. Despite the advantages of hindsight, however, his grasp of the issues involved is often more confused than those of the protagonists.
His central insight is that Russia at the turn of the century was ‘the most advanced under-developed society’ in the throes of an ‘industrializing’ crisis. A believer in ‘westernization’, in the ‘individualization’ of the working class as societies move from ‘industrializing’ to ‘industralized’, it is not surprising that his sympathies are with the Mensheviks (‘For Axelrod, as for Plekhanov, Western Europe always remained the symbol of progress’) even when his basic insight defines their strategy as profoundly mistaken. Their ‘Europocentric’ orientation convinced them that Russia was the most backward developed society, and the result of their misconception was that ‘the Revolution, when it came, took a turn of which Plekhanov and his colleagues strongly disapproved’. He kindly draws lessons for latter-day Plekhanovs:
Neither such odd asides, nor the lack of adequate analysis (Lenin oscillates between ‘emotion’ and ‘intellect’: Russia is in ‘an age of faith’), nor his own free-world faith with its ritual warnings about ‘the horrors of totalitarian rule and ‘all-embracing ideological creeds’ (what is a part-embracing and nonideological creed?) can impair the documentary merits of the work. Special thanks are due for this classic Theoretician’s Lament: ‘In my circle I twice delivered talks on the aims and methods of socialism, but real life kept on breaking in.’ t.w.