The June 2022 edition of the BBC History magazine has kindly provided Counter-prop with a beautiful example of textbook good-old-fashioned British anti-communism, its cover design given over to promotion of a new book by veteran imperialist propagandist Antony Beevor on the history of the Russian Revolution and Civil War.
If you haven’t got the message by now regarding your duty as an upright British subject to despise everything Russian, ‘Russia’s Doomed Revolution – Antony Beevor on why the uprisings of 1917 turned into a disaster’ is here to remind you that Lenin and the Bolshevik Party were the reason why Russia ‘went bad’ in the first place, just in case you missed that bit earlier on in the BBC’s century long history of broadcasting.
As the centrepiece article of this edition of the magazine, Beevor’s eight page interview with editor Rob Attar is the capitalist class equivalent of repainting the exterior of a house; a periodic, humdrum affair that is necessary as part of the general upkeep of the structure – if that structure was actually the rotten edifice of British imperialism and the bureaucratic establishment that protects it.
The job that Beevor has carried out over his career, let us not be in any doubt, rests on his ability to present a combination of historical detail and opinion in a way that reinforces existing anti-Soviet prejudice, and his feted position as one of Britain’s most popular history writers is due in particular to the work he carried out in slandering and demonising the Red Army in a number of bestselling historical accounts of the Second World War.
If we continue with the metaphor above, the contribution made by Beevor to the cause of anti-communism through these previously published works would be akin to repointing, damp proofing and refurbishing the narrative material available to this cause. So it is natural that he would be the go-to choice for penning a new anti-communist history of the October Revolution which, happily for Beevor, his publishers and the wider capitalist establishment, has the added bonus of tying-in with the current western media narrative on the conflict in Ukraine.
The first and most obvious example of the article’s propagandist nature is the title, which harks back to the most fundamental argument in the bourgeois arsenal of anti-communist argument: that the October Revolution and the socialist state that it gave birth to was a failure, and that the outcome of the Soviet experiment in building a socialist society was an unmitigated disaster.
This is the whole point of the article, and indeed of Beevor’s literary output in general, although there is not any evidence presented for this claim, which rests on insinuation and implication from Beevor and the presumed ignorance of the reader regarding Soviet history.
Regardless of the fact that the period of socialist construction following the defeat of the imperialist backed monarchist armies in the civil war saw unprecedented improvements to the lives of workers and peasants across the USSR, outstanding developments in industry, science, art and agriculture, the building of a modern socialist state, its defence against all manner of imperialist plots and intrigues, the development of a powerful worldwide communist movement, the coordination of this movement in a successful global war against fascism, and the growth of a communist-influenced movement against colonialism and imperialism that broke nations free from these shackles in a flood of national liberation struggles, Beevor harps on about how ‘even Trotsky’ was worried the Revolution would collapse at the first hurdle, and how ‘even the Bolsheviks thought they might lose the civil war’ etc, in his mission to portray the Soviet Union as a grotesque totalitarian nightmare ruled by hapless thugs and goons.
When Attar poses a question regarding why the ‘potential for democracy’ offered by the provisional government of Kerensky never materialised, Beevor includes the following bizarre claim in his answer:
“There was a frustration with the lack of decision making – which, of course, increased the power of the Bolsheviks, simply because they were seen to be the only ones who were in a position to really force through change. Of course, nobody knew what those changes were going to be, because Lenin had kept his plans very quiet.”
So, according to Beevor, Lenin materialised with his machiavellian secret plans, and tricked everyone into overthrowing the provisional government – a notion which can only be entertained if one is willing to ignore the fact that Lenin had been working intensely for many years in the Russian socialist movement, writing a huge volume of articles, engaging in polemical debates with other socialist theorists, and publishing, through both legal and underground presses a veritable library of practical, theoretical advice for the working class to use in their struggle against tsarist oppression and capitalist exploitation.
If you want to check how ridiculous Beevor’s claim is, just check the Lenin Internet Archive on the marxists.org website, which hosts titles by V.I Lenin spanning from 1893 to 1923, and marvel at the sheer volume of this material written and published over the two decades prior to 1917, and which constitute key contributions to Marxism on the basis that they are regarded, by friend and foe alike, as having produced the October Revolution. This clearly flies in the face of the claim that Lenin’s position was somehow kept ‘under wraps’ until the Bolsheviks had taken power.
A little further on, and Beevor is invited to elaborate on how the Bolsheviks ‘..didn’t have the full support of the majority of people in the country at the time of the revolution’ and whether this put them at a disadvantage during the civil war.
The answer given is entertaining enough to reproduce in full:
“It put them at a disadvantage in certain areas, and there were uprisings against the communists immediately after the coup d’etat of November 1917 [called the October Revolution, based on the use of the old Julian calendar in Russia]. However, what’s interesting is how few of the White officers in Petrograd, Moscow and many other places actually joined the revolt against the communists at that stage. I think they were all so dispirited and demoralised by everything that had happened that most of them had sunk into apathy. But yes, there were certain areas where there were very strong reactions against the Bolsheviks. And that early part of the civil war, in the winter 1917-18, showed that the outcome largely depended on what happened in local areas. It was a geographically fragmented civil war that was taking part across the whole of the landmass.”
It seems that the author finds such things ‘interesting’ because he remains genuinely perplexed by the fact that the October Revolution took place, even if he is able to write with competency on matters of military tactics and logistics in a way that brings his interpretation of historical events to life for his readers.
We can only assume that the reason for this lies in an inability of Beevor to comprehend the essence of Bolshevik political tactics, the effectiveness of which resulted in the winning over of wavering elements in the working class and peasantry to the communist cause and the eventual triumph of the Red Army in the civil war.
While it does seem rather strange and slightly amusing that a historian would struggle to comprehend why forces that at one point in time did not look like they had enough support to achieve their aims, did, at a later date, gather enough support to do so, it serves us a good example of why the selective method of taking historical events in isolation, choosing to ignore their true historical context in favour of a simplified, distorted version that fits with the existing western narrative is no use for anyone who wants to understand something about social and historical development, but is a good method for confusing readers about how and why ‘things happen’.
Eventually, when asked how the Red Army was eventually able to triumph over the Whites, Beevor admits: “The Reds had a huge advantage with internal lines. They were based in one of the most populous areas of Russia, between the Volga and the Polish frontier. They had some of the largest cities and many of the factories, particularly the arms factories.”
He can even afford to concede that the sympathies of many of the troops sent by imperialist powers to support the White armies actually lay with the young Soviet state.
To wrap up, the final question is reserved for a timely comment regarding the current Russian military operation in Ukraine.
Here Beevor asserts that Ukraine developed modern nationalism as a result of the Russian civil war, painting a hazy picture that leaves any essence of the class struggle out of focus. He insinuates that the granting of autonomy and right of secession to the Ukrainian SSR (and the other constituent republics of the USSR by extension) was simply an idle mistake of Lenin’s, rather than a carefully worked out constitutional framework for a multinational socialist state.
That the reason for the eventual dissolution of this state was its abandonment of the Marxist-Leninist principles that it was set up to operate on is neither here nor there for the purposes of such material, nor that the stoking by western imperialism of a fascist ideology which thirsts for Russian blood lies at the centre of the reasons for the current conflict.
However, it can’t have failed to come to the author’s attention that the workers and peasants of Ukraine played a rather important role in the Bolshevik revolution and the Russian civil war, and anyone who has read Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel was Tempered would have an awareness of the proud heritage of Ukrainian workers when it came to fighting for and consolidating the socialist revolution. One may also think that Beevor would have had some cynicism regarding the puppet governments of Ukraine that have ruled at the behest of US imperialism since 2014; after all, his bestselling book on the battle of Stalingrad was actually banned by the Ukrainian authorities in 2018, evidently for not being Russophobic enough to be suitable for sale in Ukrainian bookshops.
For the purposes of the propaganda currently being produced in order to shore up the western narrative against Russia and Putin, such inconvenient facts are simply left unmentioned, ensuring that this interview simply serves to grease the chute through which readers are force fed material of such war-mongering, militarist nature that we witness ‘anti-war’ demonstrations during which the slogan “Arm, Arm, Arm Ukraine” is seen to be chanted by liberals and leftists draped in the blue and yellow flag.
Beevor and many others of his ilk are well trained in producing textbook anti-communism.
For textbook, bona fide Marxism-Leninism, we should look to the vast wealth of recorded experience that we inherit courtesy of Lenin, Stalin and the Soviet people.
For anyone wishing to read a detailed, scientific and dialectical history of the period and how the events within it relate to the work of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, one could not do better than to start with the History of the CPSU(B), a Soviet textbook published in 1938 with the aim of giving a precise Marxist-Leninist appraisal of the origins, work, development, struggles and achievements of the Bolshevik party, covering the years between 1883 – 1937.