Book Review: Memoirs Of A Bolshevik

Memoirs Of A Bolshevik, by O. Piatnitsky

In reading this short book, where the author proudly displays his misguided loyalty to Lenin and his devotion to Communist revolutionary politics, a nagging feeling came to me that for sure this author found himself killed in the purges.  Even without remembering his name (I had to look it up to confirm it), I knew that this was not a story that was going to end well.  The revolution always eats its own, and the author’s portrayal of his service in helping to encourage the development of illegal unions and his writing of revolutionary articles and his involvement in the transfer of people and writings illegally across the Russian border and his use of false passports and fake identities were things that were simply not going to be rewarded.  And indeed, I found that the author had indeed been killed in the 1938 purges because he doubted that the Old Bolsheviks who were being killed were in fact guilty of counterrevolutionary activity.  It is ironic, but just, that the author’s loyalty to the cause made him too sane of a man to survive the Soviet Union of the 1930’s, although it should be noted that this book does not deal with anything in the aftermath of the 1917 February Revolution at all, sadly.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and it contains 17 chapters.  The book begins with a preface and a few remarks by the author.  After that there is a discussion about the beginning of the author’s revolutionary activities (1), and the author’s first arrest, imprisonment, and escape from that imprisonment (2).  After that the author discusses his political activity abroad (3), his party work in Odessa and the arrest and imprisonment he faced there (4), as well as his party work in Moscow (5) and what he labels as as stupid arrest there (6), as if leftist political activity was not stupid in general.  The author discusses his return abroad (7), the confusion involved in the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in the Russian Social Democratic party (8) as well as his involvement in the All-Russian Congress (9) and the German Labor movement (10).  There are chapters about the author’s time in Paris (11), his being with Lenin at Poronino (12) as well as his party work in Volsk (13) and Samara (14).  The book then ends with a look at his arrest, imprisonment, and exile to Siberia (15), the life of political prisoners there in Siberia (16), and how he heard of the February revolution which led to his freedom (17).

In reading this particular memoir, I was struck by the way that the folly of leftists is frequently repeated generation after generation despite the way that reality tends to disabuse the individual leftists of their follies or, as was the case with the author, slays them in their wickedness and naivete and suicidal courage to face their own corrupt tyrants.  The author’s comments about his revolutionary conduct and the contempt he had for the agents of the czarist state could have been written in the 1700’s to discuss some French revolutionary and his contempt for the ancien regime and its police establishment or of a Vietnamese communist with contempt for the French colonial establishment or of a contemporary Antifa terrorist with contempt for the American police establishment.  Nor is the course of any of those revolutions, whether failed or successful, any less disabusing of the revolutionary idealism of those who risk prison to spread to doctrine of leftist uprisings, only to find that tyrants are in charge and comrades who are rivals for positions of power find themselves guillotined or imprisoned in gulags or shot because loyalty for past deeds is not high on the list of qualities possessed by authoritarian leftists.  Too bad most who read a book like this will fail to draw the appropriate conclusions behind the author’s experiences.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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