Letters - Unenlightened Bolsheviks

Peter Wilby ("The forward march of history", 2 September) seems to accept Martin Amis's point that Bolshevism stood in the tradition of the Enlightenment. But it didn't. The old Russian social democrats did, but they were done away with by the Bolshevik coup. Lenin's all-wise, all-powerful party, supported by security services (the party's "sword and shield"), was no child of the Enlightenment. Lenin and the Bolsheviks used the language of socialism to clothe a system more "oriental" than occidental. Many western socialists did not see that, some out of ignorance, others because it was so hard to admit that the flagship of world socialism was more prison hulk than cruise liner.

Wilby is also wrong to say that eastern Europe saw the Red Army as liberators. The Czechs were partial exceptions, but Poland, Hungary and Romania expected no good from the Soviet arrival, nor did they welcome the Moscow-trained communists who were imposed on them.

As Wilby says, Russia redeemed itself at the end, but the Leninist party certainly did not. Mikhail Gorbachev and those like him had, through their experience of the system, turned against it. They were no longer Bolsheviks in mind or spirit. Gorbachev's problem was that the party and democracy could not coexist. The Bolsheviks' last hurrah was the 1991 coup attempt in which, once again, they were happy to shed blood in the cause; but the army, by then itself a multiple victim of the Bolsheviks, would not do the dirty work for them.

Mark Frankland
Former Observer Moscow correspondent
London SW6

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Bush and Blair, on a wing and a prayer