Book Review: Medhurst, John, “No Less Than Mystic. A History of Lenin and the Russian Revolution for a 21st Century Left.” Repeater Books, London, 2017. Second review
I found out who gifted me this lousy book, but I did not strangle him on the spot. It’s just a very old friend from 50 years ago who made a lot of money but lost track of things and made peace with the bosses. He meant well. Because another old friend of 50 years ago, who has also lost track, urged me to, I finally finished the darned thing.
My opinion of the book hasn’t changed since I first saw the cover page endorsement by armchair socialist Noam Chomsky and wrote my pre-review. https://wordpress.com/post/genelantz.org/7644
The book is anti-revolutionary and pro-idealistic-backbiting all the way through, just like Chomsky.
There are many interesting historical dates and events in there, but the interpretation is wrong from beginning to end. Medhurst seriously wants to prove that all revolutionaries in history were wrong, and that all the armchair socialists, who sat back and criticized, were right.
In the first chapters, Medhurst exposes his basic thesis: The Bolsheviks failed to create Heaven on Earth 1917-1921. The reason, as he explains for 594 pages, is not because of the desperate fight against reactionaries. Medhurst has a psychological explanation: Lenin was an egotistical monster.
The book lauds the Medhurst’s great men of armchair ideas: Bernstein, Kautsky, Martov, Orwell, and Chomsky. He might as well have added Nixon and Reagan, because their aims and effects were the same, even though their methods differed.
Medhurst’s basic thesis against Marx and Lenin gets greatly muddled as he reviews a pageant of middle-class scholars with a panoply of themes that include everything except that the workers must oppose the bosses. Examples are too many to list. Here’s just one from page 54: “Marxism had too much about the hours of work and not enough about sex and celebration.”
As one might expect, the Red Terror that Lenin unleashed takes up a considerable portion of the book. To be sure, there is one line in there somewhere that says that the White Terror from the imperialist forces was just as bad or worse. Elsewhere, there is one line that says that the American CIA has been worse than all of them. That doesn’t keep the single-minded Medhurst from raving on throughout the book about the great Mensheviks and the horrible Bolsheviks.
If one looks carefully, one can find, on page 380, two sentences that validate Lenin and condemn both Martov and Medhurst: “On 17th October Yudenich’s [white army] forces were only twenty five miles from the city [Petrograd]. On 19th October they were 9 miles away.” Despite having taken extreme measures, the Russian revolution almost lost to imperialism! The revolution barely survived.
Armchair socialists, then and now, are forever condemning revolutionaries for taking strong measures. But if they hadn’t, they would have made no progress against imperialism. Trotsky would have lost to Yudenich at Petrograd. Stalin would have lost to Hitler at Stalingrad. Castro would have lost to Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs. Alternately, if stronger measures had been taken in Chile in 1973, Allende might have prevailed over Kissinger.
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