Full Citation

  • Title Beware the trap that Lenin laid
  • Author Stone, Norman
  • Publication Title The Daily Telegraph
  • Collection The Daily Telegraph
  • Date Saturday,  Nov. 11, 1989
  • Issue Number 41799
  • Page Number 14
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Telegraph Media Group
  • Copyright Statement © Telegraph Media Group Limited.
Beware the trap that Lenin laid JUDAH PASSOW Lenin recognised what Mr Gorbachev knows—that communism will never be fully established until Russia is part of a world communist order WHERE WERE you on the night the Berlin Wall came down? is probably going to be the same kind of question as: Where were you on the day of Kennedy's assassination? When the East Germans poured through, the West German parliament stood up and sang the national anthem — and do not let us be bothered about that: Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles is not really sinister, meaning only "think of Germany before anything else", and not "Germany above all else", which would be Allem rather than Alles. I intone that anthem with the West Germans. This is a magnificent moment, the end of a 40 years' tyranny, of an unreal, nasty state, of an epoch in European history that has been very ugly. I have kept The Daily Telegraph with its headline, "The Iron Curtain is swept aside", and told my six-year-old that this is probably the most remarkable year that he will live through. He did not quite understand, being impressed by policemen with guns. So am I. The question underlying the euphoria is really, what are the policemen with guns doing? On one level, they are near-helpless. But there are other policemen with guns and brains, and there is a strategy at the bottom of all of this which is worth bearing in mind. When can we expect the communist counter-offensive? What form will it take? Mr Gorbachev is a man of high intelligence, and the team with which he has surrounded himself is also of high intelligence and plausibility. They are Leninists, reading The State and Revolution. It contains a good remark: "We shall hang the capitalists with rope that they themselves will have sold us." At the moment, virtually the entire Western world is full of admiration for Mr Gorbachev, and delighted with what has happened. We seem to have won the Cold War. The question comes, what will happen in Eastern Europe, and especially in Russia? Can the Soviet regime put up with these endless humiliations and retreats? It is not as if perestroika has worked in the Soviet Union: on the contrary, there has been an endless catalogue of empty shops, blackmarketeering, inflation, corruption, revolt among the nationalists, and now, it seems, the prospect of a very cold winter, as the coal supplies give out and the transport grinds to a halt. How long can Moscow put up with this? Will the Soviet military adapt to this kind of demotion? Lenin's The State and Revolution Amid this week's euphoria over developments in Berlin, historian NORMAN STONE points out that the Western world ought not to forget that Gorbachev remains a convinced Leninist is quite a good book. It recognised what Mr Gorbachev now obviously knows, that, in the short run, communism would encounter many problems. It would never be fully established until Russia was part of a world communist order. Russia itself was really too backward to promote a new social and economic order on its own, and it would have to have the benefits of capitalist technology — especially German and American (Lenin even proposed to hand over his half of the island of Sakhalin, in the Far East, to German or American capitalists, with a view to showing Russians how it could be done). Armand Hammer was invited to run a private pencil factory in the Urals in the 1920s, in the same spirit. Then, having learnt from the West, Russia could copy and reproduce — as, ir. effect, Stalin did in the 1930s and 1940s. The fact was that there always would be "capitalists" who, for a short term profit, would supply the technology. Therefore, said Lenin, you consciously make for policies that will appeal to the world's liberals — ecology, women's rights, nationality, education, etc. The outside world will say: they are becoming like us, and will do business. The benefits of that business, we shall take over in the State machinery, whereas they will simply waste the benefits in dividends. But there is more. Capitalism will be weakened by its own success. The more profit it makes, the less it will think. It will split apart. There will be battles between farmers and workers, between this nationalism and that nationalism, over silly mat- ters such as the language in which town names are printed. In the end, sensible people will recognise that communism has the answer. There will be proper planning of an economy, so that unemployment goes, and privilege disappears. There wili also be an internationalist approach: the brotherhood of peoples, each one having its homeland in anything that matters, such as press, education, court cases, while, nevertheless, making common cause with other peoples for "social progress". IN THE end, said Lenin, the communists would win, because capitalists would simply hand over the technologies on the one side, and the problems which "freedom" created would drive everyone to see the folly of their ways. Mr Gorbachev is a very good Leninist, and he read The State and Revolution three years ago, by his own account, compulsively. What would Lenin have done in the circumstances of post-1987? I suspect, precisely what Mr Gorbachev has done. He would have played "good egg" — talking a common language with European liberals. He would have made a serious play for German money, and would have been nice to the British. He would have talked peace, brotherly love, disarmament, perestroika — just as Lenin did in 1921. He would have said nice things about Russian patriotism, religion included. He would also have encouraged nationalities, in the expectation that the nationalities would cause chaos — as is now happening — and that the West would dread that kind of chaos. What would he have gained thereby? Useful technology for the Soviet Union, and a lot of possible allies, who would say that Russia, rather than quarrelsome little nationalities, offered a sensible way forward. That strategy, in the 1920sT was plausible, and it did work. In all the euphoria about the end of the Berlin Wall, that strategy needs to be borne in mind. Leninists play a long and interesting game. They do not expect short-term results, not least because they do not really have an electorate to whom they have to play: no incomes policies, mortgage interest charges and whatnot. They can accept strategic retreats. Mr Gorbachev is obviously prepared to accept the reunification of Germany, the independence of Hungary and Poland, perhaps even an autonomous status for the Baltic states. These things will cause him dreadful headaches in the short term. At the end of the short term, he may find that communism bounces back. It has, after all, kept, as in Lenin's time, the vital mainsprings — the armed forces, and Party control. In a few weeks, the West Germans will be fed up with East Germans working for lower wages and occupying scarce housing. The Poles and the Hungarians may deafen us with recriminations about borders. The West Germans may make noises about leaving Nato, and the EEC may become intolerably strained because the British and the Americans pull away from the Germans. If all of that happens, then Soviet communism will benefit, as it did in the 1920s and 1930s, and to some extent even in the 1940s, when the West wrote off Central Europe. Faced with what seems to be the end of communism, the West will concentrate on its own quarrels, complicated by those of the emancipated East. A Leninist in these circumstances would expect to bounce back, laughing all the way back from the banker, and chuckling over Lenin's line about the rope that was sold. In this euphoria about East Germany, it is worth remembering the two real tests of all of this. Is the Soviet Union Leninist, and, if not, will it remove that horrible waxwork from the Kremlin? And is it genuinely peaceminded, and will it then run down that horrendously high figure for conscription? Until these things are done, let us keep the powder dry, Nato in place, and Anglo-AmericanGerman defence arrangements. □ Norman Stone is Professor of Modern History at Oxford