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My letter on Lenin and history

The Independent London Newspaper
6th January 2013


Lenin and history rewritten

Published: 3 January, 2013

• TOGETHER with Heather Johnson, the Mayor of Camden, I unveiled the plaque commemorating Vladimir Lenin’s stay at 36 Tavistock Place and I also made a short speech, reported in the New Journal of December 6).

Cllr Andrew Marshall’s letter (But do we really want Lenin? December 20) accuses Lenin of “crimes against humanity”, committed in the course of the “red terror”.

Cllr Marshall fails to mention that the so-called “red terror” is the name sometimes given to the Bolshevik victory in the civil war which continued from November 1917 to October 1922. He forgets that no less than 14 states intervened in Russia during this period, against the revolution and to restore tsarism.

These states sent more than 250,000 soldiers to Russia, including 40,000 from Britain. Military casualties numbered at least 300,000: 125,000 Red Army soldiers, and 175,500 in the White armies – for comparison, 620,000 soldiers died in the American Civil War.

As in every civil war in history there were atrocities on both sides. But the only evidence for the crimes with which Cllr Marshall charges Lenin is to be found in the White propaganda of the time. These allegations are highly questionable.

As I pointed out in my speech, Lenin’s policies, including liberation for many nations in the Russian Empire, and a restoration of market relations in Russia (the New Economic Policy), did not lead to the crimes of Stalin.

Lenin ended his life in sharp conflict with Stalin over independence for Georgia. Stalin, not Lenin, murdered or executed most of the Bolshevik leaders and engineered the deaths of millions in famine and repression.

By the way, standing outside the House of Commons, sword in hand, is a statue of Oliver Cromwell, the victor in the English Civil War.
I look forward to Cllr Marshall’s campaign for a full list of the alleged crimes of Cromwell, including the execution of Charles I, to be attached to this statue. I will oppose him.

Professor Bill Bowring
President, Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies

After the tsars

• The latest Marchmont Association blue plaque describes Lenin as “Founder of the USSR”.  

How would Cllr Andrew Marshall (December 20) have managed the job of creating a post-imperial Russia? His word picture of Lenin-the-torturer is hard to reconcile with one’s reading of the history, and he gives no sources for his version.

We’re remembering 1917, the 1914-18 war still taking lives of Russian soldiers at the mercy of their tsarist officers, and wanting nothing more than peace. Those from a background of rural bondage might have been attracted by the revolutionary vision of “land to the peasants” and all could respond to the promise of “bread to the starving”.

In possibly the least democratic of the various empires over which the First World War was being fought, the creation of councils (soviets of workers, soldiers and communities) drawing people into the business of government might not have been Cllr Marshall’s answer.
The response of the British media one imagines would have been to spread fear and confusion in the hope that any possibility of an end to empire could be nipped in the bud.  

Is this the origin of Cllr Marshall’s account?

I once met a policeman in Cyprus who had suffered the equivalent of today’s water-boarding at the hands of the British authorities, and was subsequently trained by those same British police, his erstwhile torturers.

There are those in our community in Camden from India, Cyprus, Kenya, and around the then British Empire, who will have family stories of this kind that are now making headlines.

Nicola Seyd
Brunswick Centre, WC1

Blood and gore

• Andrew Marshall paints a Cold War picture of the Russian revolution – Marx never claimed revolution was a tea party.
He acknowledged the blood and gore of the French Revolution and saw it as a child being born bloodied from head to foot. England’s Cromwellian change to a republic was quite a ghastly affair, as was the beheading of Charles I and the death of thousands.

There comes a point when people can no longer bear oppression like the semi-slavery of the Russian masses and the brutal tsarist campaign against the Jews and the peoples of the colonies. Basically the letter is one of pots and kettles. He should remember that the Britain killed millions in its colonies. It was going on right into living memory with the disgrace of the Kenyan atrocities and the suppression of Cyprus through more atrocities, not to mention the horror of the colonial occupation of Aden. These imperial adventures were still going on in Iraq, Libya – and now Afghanistan and Syria.  

Remember when you wear the poppy next time that you are just not remembering and celebrating WW1 and the fight against a competitor for world markets but all shameful episodes carried out by Britain over the last 100 years.

Wear the white poppy for peace. It also remembers all those unemployed and poor who fought these wars and sacrificed themselves so Bullingham-style clubs may survive.


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