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From the Other Shore: Russian Social Democracy after 1921 (Harvard Historical Studies) Hardcover – May 30, 1997
[An] important new book...From the Other Shore raises the question of what would have happened if the Mensheviks had prevailed in 1917. Would they have gone the route of the Bolsheviks, laying the groundwork for the repressive totalitarianism to follow? Or would they have found another path committing themselves to a radical transformation of Russian society while at the same time...respecting the political liberties of their opponents?...Although Liebich identifies closely with Martov's group, he avoids the temptation of reading back into its history an early and absolute division from the Bolsheviks...Liebich asks us to see the Mensheviks as something more than political losers. They stand, he writes, 'at the very heart of the crisis of Marxism.' Our judgment of them as political actors and thinkers--as a possible alternative leadership for a revolutionary Russia--can help determine whether Marxism has any legitimate claim as a serious and honorable political tradition or deserves nothing better than its current consignment to the dustbin of history. (Maurice Isserman New York Times Book Review)
This book is a tremendous piece of scholarship, charting the evolution of the Russian Menshevik leaders during 40 years of exile and their influence within the wider social-democratic parties, especially in Germany and Austria for uncovering the extent of their influence and the significance of their analyses, Professor Liebich deserves our gratitude. (Paul Hampton Workers' Liberty)
While the Bolsheviks have long had books--even libraries--devoted to them, the Mensheviks have had to wait until now for a first-rate account of their work and fate. André Liebich...has finally done justice to a group which history had dealt with unjustly. (Theodore Draper New York Review of Books)
From the Publisher
Winner of the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History of the Wiener Library, London --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Liebich reveals just how principled they were. As Marxists, they did not side with the Whites against the Bolsheviks after the October coup d'etat, but rather offered a loyal opposition, intending by their commentary and criticism, often severe, to moderate Soviet policy and to keep it from devolving into absolute tyranny, which they feared would discredit the idea of a proletarian revolution altogether. They held fast to this "Martov Line," so called after their first leader, Yuly Martov, during the years of the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), when they served in the government with the Bolsheviks; and then again, after their expulsion, through the years of their first emigration in Berlin (1921-1933), when they established themselves as the so-called "Foreign Delegation" and published Sotsialisticheskii vestnik ("The Socialist Herald") with political commentary and news from SDs still functioning in the underground in the USSR; and then again, after the rise of Hitler, through the years of their second emigration in Paris (1933-1940), when they endured the physical extermination of their home base and the abuse of the Soviet press. And then finally, after the outbreak of war, in their third emigration in New York City (1940-1951), when they were obliged to sum up "the science of exile" and the "sociology of defeat," as one member (Pyotr Garvi) put it. They were a "foreign delegation" only in their dreams.
All the while, through these three emigrations, the Mensheviks remained aloof from other anti-Bolshevik parties, became "an emigration within the emigration" (Garvi again) and held to their socialist ideals, sometimes living together and finding each other work. They circulated the Vestnik and tried to find positive factors underlying negative developments in the Soviet Union. To this end they interpreted Stalin's policy decisions as the results of objective forces, reasoning in the abstract Marxist categories of class struggle and proletarian demands. Ultimately the arbitrary nature of Stalin's rule became impossible to ignore, and their arguments turned on the problem of democracy vs. totalitarianism. In 1944 they split into pro and con, and the Martov line died out. The majority came to realize that democracy was inseparable from a viable socialism and that the only mission left to the party was to uphold that ideal. Amazingly, the SDs adhered to a policy of accepting no new members abroad, insuring the eventual dying out of the "foreign delegation." They called this pure but suicidal policy "liquidationism."
Liebich details the many twists and turns in their thinking and in their fortunes. Like other Russian émigré groups, they endured many indignities in exile, yet unlike others enjoyed remarkable successes. They won respect in national and international socialist circles, exerted influence on Marxists worldwide and often appeared at forums as the legitimate voice of Russia. The information published in their journal was reliable and historically valuable, in contrast to the patently false reports and false statistics produced by the Bolsheviks. Their views were intellectually rigorous, unlike the Marxist-Leninist boilerplate produced by Stalinist robots. They were erudite, polyglot and cosmopolitan, unlike the captive minds of the Soviet state. And, as Jews, they were twice persecuted, yet unsentimental and stoic in the face of adversities.
Now that the Bolshevik state has failed and disdain for the loser of 1917 has lost its rationale, the Mensheviks emerge historically as the more reasonable, moderate and humane side of the socialist equation, intellectually and morally superior to their politically stronger counterparts. In America they laid the foundation for responsible anti-Communist criticism and the discipline of Sovietology, a foundation temporarily undermined by the buffoonery of Joseph McCarthy. Through their periodical The New Leader they influenced many American intellectuals and kept alive the theoretical premises of an economically just society.
Publishing with Harvard University Press, Liebich is obliged to maintain tight academic standards, yet excels in crunching great masses of complex material into exciting and graspable concepts. He turns many an apt phrase and touches titillatingly on private lives. Unfortunately, his punctuation and grammar exhibit a number of irritating features, yet I suspect that the abominable Chicago Manual of Style, designed to emasculate, depersonalize and deface the English language, is at fault, since many editors insist upon it. The author's only shortcoming is that he stopped too soon: it would have been good to have his account of the CIA funding of The New Leader and the problems it caused during the Cold War. Hopefully others will build on his work, which is heroic in scope and mighty in intellectual stamina.