Monday, June 25, 2012
Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution (PublicAffairs), by Robert Service
The Bolshevik Revolution has been written about many times from many perspectives, but the balance of research and wit in Robert Service's account is outstanding. The Oxford University history professor focuses on the nascent Soviet regime and its relations with the West through a colorful cast of diplomats, journalists and spies, among them W. Somerset Maugham as writer-turned-secret-agent. Service colors in the margins without ignoring the central theme: Putting old differences aside, Lenin and Trotsky were determined to impose their interpretation of Marx, and although they spoke of land for the landless and peace for the war-weary, they allowed no freedom to dissent and were eager for violence. Feeling history was on their side, they moved forward despite the fact that few Russians were Bolsheviks or even understood their ideology. Some of the Westerners in Russia during the Revolution continued as apologists for Stalinism; some fell silent; and others became models for Ian Fleming and other spy fiction authors.