Lenin Neglected The Vital Factor Of Nationalism
Lenin. By Christopher Hollis. (Longmans, 10s. 6d.) Reviewed by BERNARD WALL R. HOLLIS has written a straight
life of Lenin from an impartial
_1\4 and European point of view, which has, at the same time, much bearing on contemporary Europe, Lenin was one of the great political leaders the war period threw up and he probably had more influence upon subsequent events than any one man, save, perhaps, Mussolini.
Lenin's own life seems to give the lie to the extreme Marxist theory of the natural development of revolution. The Russian Revolution might, in fact, have taken quite another turn had it not been for the momentous decision of the Germa] Government to allow Lenin and his followers in exile to cross Germany in a sealed train during war-time. Once in Russia, Lenin showed that he had a political genius and an ability to lead men which is perhaps uncommon amongst Russians and is very rarely allied with a literary production of the size of Lenin's.
While he points out the mistakes that Lenin made, mistakes in his general view and mistakes in tactics, and gives due importance to Trotsky's influence—which has been absurdly diminished by Stalin's adulators—Mr. Hollis is on the whole rather sympathetic with Lenin. What I find attractive in Lenin is a kind of true and clear vision in him, roughly the absence of cant or hypocrisy. The Russian side of Lenin, Mr. Hollis leaves undiscussed, but what he does do—and that's what I mean when I say that he writes from the European point of view—is to point out how, on some points, Lenin's outlook was so different from the normal European outlook as to be largely incomprehensible to us. This I believe to be really valuable, as it gives the key to thinking that if Bolshevism, or anything like it, ever happened amongst us, it could only be the result of
some appalling catastrophe. and even then we wouldn't behave like the Russians owing to deep differences of character. Russia is not Europe, as Mr. Hollis points out—and perhaps we would understand modern Russia better if we thought of it less in terms of England or France and more in terms of the mechanisation of China, without forgetting to bring in Peter the Great. For this reason 1 always feel the peculiar absurdity of talking about Bolshevism and Hitlerism in the same breath, owing to the absence of similarity between Germany and Russia.
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Lenin's attitude to the Great War is peculiarly instructive in view of modern developments. For Lenin the war was just one lot of capitalist bourgeois fighting another lot, and the war to him was a good thing because it weakened the structure of capitalist society. The more war amongst capitalists the better. Lenin had only to fear that the capitalist bourgeois would see the advantages, for them, of Tacifism : though it was his consolation to believe that capitalism means war anyway.
Here Mr. Hollis gets at some of the weakest points of Marxist theory. Marx and Lenin after him misunderstood the character of the European peoples, and underestimated the force of national feeling. National feeling in Russia was at least of a different kind from ours. It wasn't a huge popular force which has repeatedly arisen in Europe since the war when threatened by Bolshevism, in Germany, in Italy and in Spain. The Socialist Mussolini realised that socialism could only become a force if welded with the all-powerful patriotism of Italians. Marx was a Jew, and hence less inclined to feel this force than others. Many of Lenin's followers were Jews, and indeed Marxism would be a much weaker force in Western Europe than it is were it not for its Jewish connection—or, as in England, it would filter down to a kind of liberalism often chauvinistic in tone, though in a disguised and derived way.
Hence we get to the basic error of the Marxist calculation. The explanation of history in terms of economics, in terms of money, is as one-sided as the explanation of men in terms of psycho-analysis and Freud. One factor has been made the whole thing. The other day I heard the Sudeten German discontent explained by a Marxist: Sudetenland was a depressed area I Lenin, as Mr. Hollis shows, neglected the vital factor of nationalism to the end, and hence he went on hoping for a world revolution on an international basis. Such a hope, I think, is bound to be destroyed by a real study of history, nor do I think it is entertained by the old civilised peoples who have, as it were, history in their bones. Lenin was not civilised in our sense, great man though he was, nor in the deepest sense was he an educated man. (He was what is nowadays called an intellectual, i.e., somebody definitely not educated in a wide and humane sense but in a kind of potted way.)
I think this book deserves a special recommendation to readers who want to know more about one of the most significant figures of modern times. Mr. Hollis has added a great deal of stimulating comment and argument to the book, passim, as he proceeds with Lenin's life. But the most attractive feature is the effort to place Lenin in history, neither treating him in a niggardly way nor giving him the kind of apocalyptic importance with which so much Marxist comment has been inclined to surround him.