The Russian Revolution and British Society


The Russian Revolution set British society on fire from the moment in February 1917 when its first instalment happened. From the moment the tsar abdicated and Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government took over from the chic salons of Bloomsbury to the political leaders in the palace of Westminster everyone was talking, and in various measures worrying and exulting in the future of a liberated Russia.

The intensity of interest was stimulated by a period of Russomania that had begun pre-war.  The publication of  Constance Garnett ’s translation of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov in 1912 was seminal.  Garnett (1861-1946) introduced a generation to Russian literature with her translations of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Her version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment followed in 1914, and perhaps especially because of how that radically religious and self-consciously Russian novelist became known,  it seemed to spawn a widespread Western notion of the Russian soul as close to the earth, downtrodden, sincere, thinking about first and last things. The West generally, in the two decades before the great political upheaval of 1917, acquired a sense of the Russian people as possessing a deep knowledge of suffering.

The novelist Virginia Woolf  (1882-1941) was reading The Brothers Karamazov on her honeymoon the autumn of 1912 and her Russian immersion continued indefinitely. She wrote  in 1919: ‘the assumption that in a world bursting with misery the chief call upon us is to understand our fellow-sufferers, “and not with the mind — for it is easy with the mind — but with the heart”— this is the cloud which broods above the whole of Russian literature… We become awkward and self-conscious…we cannot say ‘brother’ with simple conviction.’ (See ‘The Russian Point of View’, The Common Reader (1925). ) Woolf set the scene for a certain emotional sympathy for ‘the Russian people’ which has endured in Britain country ever since.

Another Russophile who in many ways anticipated Woolf was  Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928). Harrison, like Garnett, was a classicist by training. Having fallen in love with Russia at an early age because of her father’s extensive business dealing with Russian timber merchants, she took up the study of Russian to get at the literature, and in October 1914  wrote that Russia ‘still cares more than any other nation for things of the spirit’. The trajectory that led her from the study of Greek vases to contemporary Russia also led her to embrace primitive religion, a point of fascination for cultural anthropologists of the day. In short, despite Woolf’s reservations about the British ability to say ‘brother’ and mean it, the phenomenon ‘Russia’ fitted with an upsurge of counter-cultural emotionalism that would only be exacerbated in the aftermath of the first world war.

Britain’s famous enthusiasm for the Russian ballet, the ballets russes, fitted the same mould. Tamara Karsavina  (1885-1978) danced Stravinsky’s Firebird in 1910. Diaghilev’s company of whom she was part made their London debut in 1911 at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and returned for seasons in 1912, 1913 and then again after the war. Listen to the Firebird and you can hear how revolutionary that music was, in its earthy elementalism and its extraordinary vitality. Elgar, our greatest living composer at the time, was shy and sentimental by comparison.

A combination of modernism in literature and primitivism as it was then identified by the anthropology of the 1890s spilled over into new modern forms of sculpture to create a cultural climate in which the Russian revolution might seem like the apotheosis of a new age of mankind [1]  This was really a revolution from Darwin onwards which coincided with Russia’s political upheaval, itself accompanied by an extraordinary artistic outpouring. For this artistic explosion in its philosophical context see my latest book, published to coincide with the anniversary of 1917, Arc of Utopia The Beautiful Story of the Russian RevolutionThe conventional boundaries of psychology, religious belief and polite society were being deconstructed. A probing psychological newness was unearthing new cultural energy. Unearthing seems right because there was something wild and improper in those ferocious pulses by Stravinsky to the leftover Victorian mentality. Raw Russian literature and vibrant Russian dance:  the visceral exuberance of the ballet and the empathetic range of Russian literature presaged a stepping-outside of the stultified cultural  and social hierarchies of the past.

This expectation of new cultural freedom already coloured political attitudes to Russia. When Kerensky and his liberal party took over after nearly three centuries of tsarism, The Times on March 16 1917 expressed the hope ‘that Russia would emerge from the ordeal with the new strength of a united people who are led by a constitutional government of their own choosing [my emphasis LC]’.  The left-leaning Manchester Guardian carried an interview with a Russian Jewish commentator who stressed that it had never been possible to view the tsar as a champion of liberty and democracy but that the revolution promised a more worthy partner in Russia for the Allies and especially the US ‘The Comittee of Rights’, if only reaction didn’t set in. (April  19, 1917). Amongst those who evidently agreed with were Jane Harrison and Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard. They experienced ‘a strong sense of good riddance to the tsarist regime.’[2] And it was with that liberal sentiment in mind, and also as a counterweight to social and political conservatism in London that Leonard Woolf founded The 1917 club in Gerrard Street in London’s Soho that same year. Future Labour Prime Minister  Ramsay Macdonald was its best-known political member, alongside writers  H G Wells[3], E.M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, and the philosopher future Brains Trust panellist C E M Joad.  It was a membership drawn mostly from the Labour and Liberal parties, and the Bloomsbury set.

What was discussed at the 1917 Club was likely to be in tune with the views of Bloomsbury-ite John Meynard Keynes who declared, of the Russian Revolution, that ‘I was immensely cheered and excited by the Russian news. It’s the sole result of the war so far worth having…’ A Russian prince in exile and an eminent literary figure, Dmitry Mirsky, who socialized with the Woolfs and their friends after the war said they had ‘an idea that Russia, lying outside the cultured world, cared more for things of the spirit’.[4] They had this ‘idea of Russia as apart, different, preserving primordial spiritual values that had been lost in the West.’

But just like this painting by Vanessa Bell called The Memoir Club, of Bloomsbury fifteen years on,

the 1917 Club was limited in terms of British class. Black Jamaican poet Claude McKay (1889-1948) who arrived in London via the US in 1920 and joined the Soho club because of its socialist credentials found it far too posh and nice.[5] The Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917 would be a step too for what were essentially tea-time socialists.

Once Nicholas II had abdicated another major problem presented itself. In a kind of replay of the issue that the First World War had been for the would-be internationalist British left, the British government intensely desired to keep Russia in the war against Germany. That became, across the political spectrum, the patriotic position, and to that end the British government sent  Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst in July 1917 to Moscow. The Guardian rediscovered the story fifty years later, with a tart report on August 3 1967, ‘She was to use her glamour and prestige as a woman revolutionary to appeal to Russian women to keep their men fighting against the Central Powers of Darkness…She told journalists…once a socialist herself, she had been repelled by the narrow, stifling materialism of Marx.’ While ‘Kerensky found her mission incomprehensible’ Russian friends implored her to dress more simply, lest she be taken for a bourgeoise and attacked in the street.

What this story tells us, I think, is how confused the ideological battlelines were, not least because Britain was such a different country from Russia. Intellectuals and politicians  flirted with Communist theory but rarely in a way that transcended national interests. For the British upper class emancipated womanhood was a major issue, of the kind embodied in independent clever women like Constance Garnett and Jane Harrison and for them the newness of Russia correlated with their own hunger for and readiness to take new opportunities for intellectual understanding and social and political action. However for Lenin’s Russia, of course,  it was the proletarian who was to be liberated from capitalist state ownership of his labour. How far apart, in fact, Russian and British society were, in facted reflected their radically different historical experience, as what the philosopher Bertrand Russell would note in the opening paragraph of his report on Soviet Russia in 1920. Russell said Robert Smillie, the miners’ leader, and one of the most militant figures on the British socialist scene at the time, had more in common with prime minister David Lloyd George  — as did indeed, we might add, Mrs Pankhurst with both  —  than any of them had with Lenin. Mrs Pankhurst indeed realized the distance between the situation of the two countries when she  ended up telling reporters that she had fought for women to be fully part of society, not to destroy that society. (It’s worth noting that her mission included meeting Maria Bochkareva, the commander of the Women’s Batallion of Death, formed during the time of the Provisional Government. Bochkareva had intended to shame Russian men into continuing the war against Germany, and this was also the cause that the British Government had entrusted to the great British suffragette. Both women were of course ultimately unsuccessful, when Lenin’s Russia pulled out of the first world war early by signing the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.)

Pankurst on the right

Jane Harrison as painted at her Cambridge College (Newnham) by Augustus John

As to what was actually happening in Russia immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution on 26 October, when the issue of Revolutionary Russia’s withdrawal from the war became all the more pressing in London, the diplomat with particular Russian expertise, and self-confessed adventurer Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart was the man of the moment, unafraid to send home telegrams that refused to cater to London’s whims.[6]  He told London politicians that ‘I had long foreseen the inevitability of the Bolshevik revolution. I could not share the general belief, stimulated by the opinion of nearly all the Russian experts in London, that the Lenin regime could not last more than a few weeks…still less could I believe that the Russian peasant would return to the trenches…I was successful [at least in this] when I argued that it was madness not to establish some contact with the men who at that moment were controlling Russia’s destinies.’[7] Lockhart looked back from his compelling Memoirs of a British Agent (1932) to a time when, ‘Hate of the revolution and fear of its consequences in England were the dominant reactions of Conservatives…I found the same fears among the Labour patriots.’[8]

Lockhart became the man whom Prime Minister David Lloyd-George despatched to Russia in March 1918, unofficially, to make contact with Lenin and Trotsky. [9] London, so preoccupied with the war, feared they were German agents and the mission was ‘unofficial’. It coincided with the return of British Ambassador  George Buchanan, though as a gracious Lockhart emphasized,  ‘[Buchanan] understood the wild men’ perfectly well. [10] Indeed, the cost of understanding them in ‘the first ten months of the revolution [had] added ten years to his life.’ What London wanted to do was fudge the issue of whether it was in contact with the Bolsheviks or not. The whole devious affair of despatching Lockhart was, as he said,  ‘arranged over the luncheon table at a Lyons’ shop in the Strand…[where] …on the rough linen of a standard Lyons’ table, [the Russian ambassador Maxim] Litvinov wrote out my letter of recommendation to Trotsky.’[11]  Just as his own mission was ambivalent, so Lockhart found, when he got to Russia, that the British Embassy in Petrograd was thoroughly divided as to whether to recognize the Bolshevik regime or not.[12]

On the side of non-recognition, he could report that the majority of Russian bourgeois wanted British or even German intervention to suppress Bolshevism and thus, they hoped, secure peace in Russia.[13]  And that indeed became British policy. So when in August 1918 a British force attacked and occupied Archangel, in northern Russia, to support the White Army of General Wrangel the Bolsheviks promptly imprisoned Lockhart in the Kremin, having lost almost all faith in him. In fact he had made friends among them and friendship was remembered in certain kindly concessions. Further, when he was released in October 1918 and returned to London, he was full of greater sympathy for the Bolsheviks than his masters could imagine. He had shared with them ‘a mixture of banter and seriousness’ and admired their selflessness and dedication. ‘I had no special sympathy for the Bolsheviks…[but] I could not help realising instinctively that behind its peace programme and its fanatical economic programme, there was an idealistic background to Bolshevism…For months I had lived cheek by jowl with men who worked eighteen hours a day and  who were obviously inspired by the same spirit of self-sacrifice and abnegation of worldly pleasure which animated the Puritan and the early Jesuits…I was living in a movement…likely to assume even greater proportions in history than the French Revolution.’[14]

Again, I’d like to add that this is the attitude I also take in Arc of Utopia.

Anti-Bolshevik, revolution-fearing London, was meanwhile increasingly full of white refugees, a number of whom found their social counterparts in Bloomsbury. Bertrand Russell’s earlier mistress and lifelong friend Ottoline Morrell entertained the mosaicist Boris Anrep at Garsington. Anrep who had studied in Paris and Edinburgh and was steeped in Russia’s Silver Age of Theatre and poetry and painting. A friend of the poet Anna Akhmatova, he was in charge of the Russian section of Roger Fry’s 1912 post-impressionist exhibition and introduced British audiences to the avant-garde painting of Goncharova and Larionov. He fought in the Russian army during WW1 but settled in England after 1917. The parents of the future British actor Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)  meanwhile arrived in 1920, Peter’s mother-to-be Nadia Benois, a relative of the theatrical designer for the ballets russes Alexander Benois and a distinguished artist and stage designer in her own right. British diplomat Henry James Bruce had meanwhile turned up in Lockhart’s Moscow, married Karsavina  and brought her back to live in Oxford.[15]

Devoted to human rights, Claude McKay was meanwhile in search of something more serious than champagne socialism as a focus for his isolated Bolshevik sympathies. His credo was impressive: ‘Bolshevism… has made Russia safe for the Jew. It has liberated the Slav peasant from priest and bureaucrat who can no longer egg him on to murder Jews to bolster up their rotten institutions. It might make these United States safe for the Negro.’[16]  And he turned to fellow members of the International Socialist Club to share it. But unfortunately their Bolshevism didn ‘t preclude racism. In 1921 Mckay wrote to Trotsky that even the newspaper of the Communist Party of  Great Britain, which must have been The Communist, founded in 1920, was racist.[17]

Britain, like Russia, was, one might say, its own place, with its own political and social tensions, and a fair amount of hypocrisy to boot.  What we might want to say is that an English emotional rebelliousness finally and painfully liberated by the first world war wanted to pour its new-found soul into a revolutionary politics but had to back off in the face of the extreme nature of Bolshevism. The causes of the left remained disjointed. Here was Robert Smillie, petitioning on behalf of the miners; pursuing the Labour party cause which was to extract more money from the economy on behalf of the working-class but was far from fomenting revolution. Here was Emmeline Pankhurst, who, as she said, had fought for the right of women to participate in sociey, not to destroy that society. And here was Jane Harrison who according to the Russian émigré and Bloomsbury visitor D.S. Mirsky framed for herself, concomitant with her love of Russia, an ‘historic mission: the destruction of the morality on which the mentality of the ‘governing people’ […] of England was based’. [18]

‘The heterodox and unacademic Miss Harrison’ transposed the vitalism she associated with Russian culture into a transformed, unstuffy, unregulated and socially and sexually more open British future. And if, as we can say with hindsight, the actual politics of that country remained moderate and small c conservative until after the second world war, never again would those politics be free from consideration of capitalism as a moral problem and concomitant with strife between different socio-economic classes, a political theme therefore that ever after Russia 1917 blended with the cultural legacy.[19]

The economist Keynes, who had meanwhile fallen in love with a celebrated Russian émigré ballerina Lydia Lopokova, felt that this turn under the influence of Red Moscow was not in any sense scientific, as Marxism claimed, ‘not a stage in the development of capitalism, but the emergence of a new world religion; not based on changes in the real world but engendered in the minds of the leaders, Lenin and his associates.’[20] Bolshevism stood for the opposite of what he himself believed in: ‘How can I accept a doctrine which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete text-book which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world? How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, whatever their faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement? Even if we need a religion, how can we find it in the turbid rubbish of the red bookshop? It is hard for an educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe to find his ideals here, unless he has first suffered some strange and horrid process of conversion which has changed all his values.’[21] ‘Like other new religions, Leninism derives its power not from the multitude but from a small minority of enthusiastic converts…’ But it was this new egalitarianism and the influence of those Bolsheviks, ‘whose zeal and intolerance make each one the equal in strength of a hundred indifferentists’ was now about to transform British society, piecemeal over the next century.

The important battle for and against Bolshevism was thus happening not in government but in British cultural circles, whose leading figures, not concerned with the twists and turns of late imperial politics,  and the realities of war and trade, were considering the values which a transformed twentieth century Britain might live by. [22]

The British government however did finally turn its attention to understanding the new Russia when the Red side prevailed in the Civil War and inward travel resumed in the second half of 1920. August 1920 was when it asked Betrand Russell to undertake his journey and write a report. In his autobiography, Russell mentions that he found Lenin disappointing, sensing an ‘impish cruelty’ in him and comparing him to ‘an opinionated professor’. His experiences, he wrote, destroyed his previous tentative support for the revolution though he was unable to dissuade his twenty-four companions – an official Labour Party delegation — all of whom came home thinking well of the régime. When he told them that he heard shots fired in the middle of the night and was sure these were clandestine executions, his companions sympathetic to the Bolsheviks maintained that it was only cars backfiring. [23]   Russell avowed: ‘I went to Russia believing myself a communist; but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts, not only of communism, but of every creed so firmly held that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.’

In what seems to me now to have emerged as a defining moment for moderate and left-wing British public opinion vis a vis Russian Communism Russell wrote of ‘the profound difference between the theories of actual Bolsheviki and the version of those theories current among advanced Socialists in this country. Friends of Russia here think of the dictatorship of the proletariat as merely a new form of representative government, in which only working men and women have votes and the constituencies are partly occupational, not geographical. They think that “proletariat” means “proletariat,” but “dictatorship” does not quite mean “dictatorship.” This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he uses the word in a Pickwickian sense. He means the “class-conscious” part of the proletariat, i.e., the Communist Party. He includes people by no means proletarian (such as Lenin and Chicherin) who have the right opinions, and he excludes such wage-earners as have not the right opinions, whom he classifies as lackeys of the bourgeoisie. The Communist who sincerely believes the party creed is convinced that private property is the root of all evil; he is so certain of this that he shrinks from no measures, however harsh, which seem necessary for constructing and preserving the communist state.’[24] 

Russell added: ‘Marx has taught that communism is fatally predestined to come about; this fits in with the Oriental traits in the Russian character, and produces a state of mind not unlike that of the early successors of Mahomet. Opposition is crushed without mercy, and without shrinking from the methods of the Czarist police, many of whom are still employed at their old work. Since all evils are due to private property, the evils of the bolshevist regime, while it has to fight private property, will automatically cease as soon as it has succeeded.These views are the familiar consequences of fanatical belief. To an English mind they reinforce the conviction upon which English life has been based ever since 1688, that kindliness and tolerance are worth all the creeds in the world—a view which, it is true, we do not apply to other nations or to subject races.’

Admirably he concluded: ‘My objection is not that capitalism is less bad than the Bolsheviki believe, but that socialism is less good, at any rate in the form which can be brought about by war… For these reasons chiefly I cannot support any movement which aims at world revolution.’

Russell’s lover Dora Black (1894-1986), a British author, feminist and socialist campaigner, visited Russia independently and at the same time as Bertie, after he inexplicably set off without her. She was rather angry to be left behind. Another Cambridge graduate with a passionate left political leaning, Dora was less circumspect than her lover. The sentiment she expressed to Claude McKay’s friend the poet, linguistician and publisher C R Ogden in September 1919 was  ‘I wish we could all be Bolshevik quick and have done with it.’[25] (Ogden, who had founded the anti-traditionalist Heretics Society at Cambridge, was at the centre of the counter-culture that included Harrison and the Woolfs and Russells, and also McKay) In contrast to Bertie, Dora was enthusiastic about the Russian revolution. In this she was close to the Labour Party. Yet her general remarks were in the romantic cultural mould of Woolf and Harrison about the birth of a new culture and her love of the Russian people. But there was something special about her, in my view, for on her visit to Russia she grasped something mainly European, and especially German visitors to Soviet Russia were thinking about, namely Russia’s culture compared with that of America, and the nature of the machine age. Her plan, never fulfilled, was to write a book, Religion of the Machine Age, because ‘I knew the trade union and Labour element…hadn’t a clue; the communists were in blinkers imposed by their ideology; and here was Bertie, usually so right about most things, reacting like an old-fashioned liberal to a great people in torment and travail to bring forth their future.’[26] Of the Bolshevik version of Marxism, she wrote, ‘here was the creed which might civilize industrialism and tame it to be the servant of mankind.’[27] In contrast to a Nazism that was still in the crucible, one would want to add.

Dora Russell

So Dora Russell earns my admiration for her response to 1917, as does the sculptor Clare Sheridan, the nearest history came to giving us a female counterpart to Bruce Lockhart.  Sheridan too was an adventurer who strayed out of her upper class confines and travelled to Russia, spurred on by the tragedy of losing her husband in 1915 and being left to provide alone for two young children. Sheridan found she could earn her living as a sculptor and it was as an artist that she approached the representatives of Bolshevism in London in person at a time, in August 1920.  Chief among them was Lev Kamenev who, against all we came to believe of Bolshevism subsequently, at that time  had an office in Bond St. For Sheridan turning up at Red Russia’s London W1 HQ was her way of finding out ‘what in their lives [of Kamenev and his staff] had made them into Bolsheviks and what sort of mentality it was and whether the scheme it upheld was a workable concern.’ [28] Whisked off to Russia by an adoring Kamenev with whom she had lunched at Claridges and dined at the Café Royal and picnicked on a white fur coat on Hampstead Heath, all the while conversing in French, the beautiful young Sheridan was treated with as much care and concern as nascent Bolshevik institutions could muster.

Sheridan in the fur hat that was a gift from the admiring Kamenev

Lodged in the Kremlin ‘ as a guest among people who have been much talked about, [29]she shivered and wept, until finally they found her an aromatic old fur coat in which to keep warm. ‘There are moments in life when it is necessary to have blind faith,’ she reminisced.[30] The least of her problems was learning to eat black bread for her breakfast. Someone asked whether she wasn’t Sylvia Pankhurst, of Emmeline’s three suffragetist daughters the only Communist.[31] Soldiers from the Red Army carried Sheridan’s artists’ materials into Kremlin apartments where she sculpted. The subjects who sat for her in turn were the outstanding members of the first Politburo,  Zinoviev, Lenin, Kamenev and Trotsky. Her Russian experience, the most intimate with Bolshevism in every sense that could befall an English visitor, made her a witness of the names of Lloyd George and Winston Churchill being ridiculed at the Bolshoi Theatre and gave her great insight into the nature of Russia, where, ‘it is the deep religious feeling…that has prevented a greater chaos.’ It seems possible that she had a love affair with the handsome and charismatic Trotsky, whose sexual attractiveness to women was immediately apparent to Bertie Russell that same summer. Sheridan wrote: ‘I am not a Bolshevik but overwhelmingly interested in the spirit of Communism.’[32] And, all the more tellingly, for that living dialectical encounter between England and Russia that these revolutionary years produced, she told Trotsky: ‘Russia with its absence of hypocrisy and pose, Russia with its big ideas, has spoilt me for my own world.’[33]

Her sculptures, remarkable especially of Trotsky, and Kamenev, men to whom she responded emotionally, and the circumstances of their creation, plunged her into deep social difficulty when she returned to London, for not only was she a Bolshevik sympathizer but she was Winston Churchill’s cousin. Winston, whom she didn’t flatter in her 1921 volume by noting that he was ‘of the stuff that Bolsheviks are made of’[34], imposed on her the condition that they would never mention again between them what she had done, sculpting ‘those bloody Bolsheviks’.[35] An immediate visit to New York took the edge off the shock of her return to a hostile society. Looking back from 1942, when Russia was once more Britain’s ally in the second world war, she observed: ‘It is easy to be the friend of Russia when all your world is with you. But when I was the friend of Russia my world resolutely turned its back on me.’[36]


(This post is an edited version of a talk I gave at the National Portrait Gallery, London, on 2nd November, 2017)

[1] See Helen Southworth, ed. Leonard and Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism The Hogarth Press (London, 2010). Also Rebecca Beasley, 2017, forthcoming.

[2] Southworth p.161. Also for Jane Harrison.

[3] Wells, who visited Russia in Sept-Oct 1920, published Russia in the Shadows in 1921.

[4] G.S. Smith, D.S. Mirsky (Oxford, 2000), p.98. Smith p.99 cites an observation by Virginia Woolf: “[…] it is no longer within the power of the English mind – the gift may be enjoyed perhaps in Russia – to see fur grow upon smooth ears and cloven hoofs where there are ten separate toes”.

[5] West Indian intellectuals in Britain, ed. Bill Schwarz, (Manchester, 2003) p.79.

[6] Vice-consul in Moscow  in 1912, and again from 1914, at home in London on ‘sick leave’ because he had been having an affair and was close to a nervous breakdown, in autumn 1917, he returned to Russia as Britain’s unofficial agent in March 1918. Of his lover at the time Moura Budberg he described her as “A Russian of the Russians … She was an aristocrat. She could have been a Communist. She could never have been a bourgeoise.”

[7] Memoirs of a British Agent pp.196-7.

[8] Labour had internal divisions, with Henderson the avant-garde labour (Snowdenite) man and  O’grady and Thorne circumspect.

[9] Memoirs, p.200

[10] Memoirs, p.187.

[11] Memoirs, pp.201-03.

[12] Memoirs, p.220

[13] Memoirs, p.213.

[14] Memoirs, p.288.

[15] Memoirs, p.290

[16] Schwarz, ed., West Indian Intellectuals, p.73.

[17] Schwarz, ed. West Indian Intellectuals, p.83

[18] See Marilyn Schwinn-Smith ‘Bears in Bloomsbury’, downloaded 31 Oct., 2017

[19] Antonio Negri: He [Keynes] realised that the Russian revolution had completely changed the political economy of capitalism, the market was definitively broken, and that ‘one divided into two’ (as a Communist leader would later say) (3). The fact that capitalist development was traversed and prefigured by class struggle and its movements had to be acknowledged, and Keynes definitely expressed a first sign of this realisation when he wrote: ‘Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency. […] Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society’ (4). So he scientifically tackled this political problem: how to use currency and finance to defeat communism. On Keynes’ trail this became the main question of political economy for the whole of the 20th century. Deriding the ‘hegemony of real production’, Keynes believed that when confronted with production – production intended here as ‘civil society’ – finance could become the mediation of opposite class interests, the construction of a new model of capitalism. Against Bolshevism Keynes refuted the slogan ‘power to the workers’ and its corollary legitimisation ‘he who will not work shall not eat’ (7). He also realised that socialism and communism went beyond the prospects of constructing a new order of labour and these primitive watchwords and banal political objectives. According to Keynes, communism could represent the totality of abstract labour extracted from the totality of workers in society, every citizen, and hence all socialised human beings. Accepting these paradoxical exclamations, we could now say that communism is the form of the ‘biopolitical’, intending by ‘biopolitical’ the fact that not only society but also life has been put to the work of commodity production and that not only social relations, but the relationship between minds and bodies has been made productive. With great foresight, Keynes seems to have understood the advent of what we now call ‘the communism of capital’. …His response to the Soviet revolution was adequate and representative of the hegemonic urge to bring class struggle under the control and development of capital, but no more than that.

[20] Quotations from JMK A Short View of Russia (London, 1925)

[21] The commentary at claims that Keynes had no sense of the historical development of society and showed little appreciation of the problem which faced Russia, as it does all countries in the early stages of capitalism, of accumulating capital to build up large-scale industry. His advice to the Russian government was to lower the wages of town workers, and “get itself into a sufficiently strong financial position to be able to pay the peasant more nearly the real value of his produce. ” As the town workers were a small minority and the peasants the vast majority of the population, it certainly wouldn’t have solved the problem. It was about as useful as telling a starving man that what he ought to do is to get hold of a large sum of money without telling him how.


[23] He wrote a four-part series of articles, titled “Soviet Russia—1920”, for the US magazine The Nation.  See also his book The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism published the same year.

[24] Ibid. p.122

[25] Dora Russell The Tamarisk Tree My Quest for Liberty and Love (London, 1975) p.65

[26] The Tamarisk Tree p.104.

[27] The Tamarisk Tree, p.94.

[28] Clare Sheridan, Russian Portraits (London, 1921),  p. 11

[29] Russian Portraits, p.8

[30] Russian Portraits, p.39.

[31] Russian Portraits, 68.

[32] Russian Portraits, p.172

[33] Russian Portraits, p.145

[34] Russian Portraits, p.134.

[35] To the Four Winds, (London 1957) p.151

[36] To the Four Winds, p.147

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