- The Twilight of the Comintern 1930-1935 by E.H. Carr
Macmillan, 436 pp, £25.00, December 1982, ISBN 0 333 33062 5
The historian Edward Hallett Carr died on 3 November 1982, at the age of 90. He had an oddly laconic obituary in the Times, which missed out a great deal. If he had died ten years before, his death would probably have been noticed a great deal more, for Carr was an eminent left-wing historian, had a huge record of publication, and had embarked, 35 years before his death, on a History of Soviet Russia which has been described as ‘monumental’ and ‘a classic’. By the time he died, the 15th separate book of this History – The Twilight of the Comintern – was just about to appear, and in his papers there is the larger part of a manuscript for the 16th volume. It may perhaps be edited by Carr’s friend, Tamara Deutscher, with whom he frequently collaborated.
Carr began to write his History just after the Second World War, when the Soviet Union appeared in something of a heroic light. The origins of the Stalinist colossus were of very wide interest. The Bolsheviks could well be said to have brought off a miracle. In the First World War, Russia had been a weak ally, continually losing battles; and Tsarist Russia was generally regarded as inefficient, backward and tyrannical. In the Second World War, the Red Army had taken on the bulk of Hitler’s war-effort, and had done most to defeat his armies in the field. What lay between the two was, of course, Stalin’s hectic ‘modernisation’ of the country, to which Isaac Deutscher, in his famous biography of Stalin, had devoted more than a few ecstatic pages. Carr’s own work concerned the origins of the Stalinist apparatus that was able to carry out such a feat. He wrote three volumes on the Revolution, and several more on the Soviet Union’s development in the Twenties; being a tireless worker, he was prepared to read through quantities of indigestible Soviet material to the end of his life. Regularly, despite his age, the volumes succeeded each other.
Carr brought many gifts to the study of Russia. He could handle many languages, and his training as a Classical scholar gave him a capacity for careful drafting and textual criticism. He had also had a very wide experience of life, for he had been a diplomat and a journalist (assistant editor of the Times) as well as an academic. The Russian character fascinated him. His early books, in the Thirties, concerned Dostoevsky, Bakunin and Herzen, who interested him, he said, because they represented a world so far removed from that of his four-square Anglo-Saxon, practical and liberal upbringing. Like so many pro-Soviet people of his vintage, he had experienced Edwardian Progressivism. That world was rather bleak: it had moved on from the comforts of religion, and was stridently secular (Carr himself was violently anti-religious, and among the worst remarks he could make about anyone was that they would end up reading the lesson in Chapel). It believed in callisthenics and Town Planning, in Free Trade and women’s emancipation. Before 1914, there were already stories, such as E.M. Forster’s ‘The machine stops’, which, by way of warning, talked the language of Brave New World.
Carr was born on 28 June 1892 (and so celebrated his 22nd birthday on the day the Archduke was shot). He was born rather higher in the social scale than H.G. Wells, for his father was the manager of a small factory which had been built up, from artisan beginnings, by his own father. The family was quite prosperous, and Carr went to Merchant Taylor’s, where he shone. Even as a child, he was a somewhat unpopular figure, for he did not like fools, and his definition of ‘fool’ was generous. At his infants’ school they had to stop him from playing chess because he did not get on with anything else; later, it was a toss-up whether he turned to Classics or Mathematics. At school, the largely Tory boys – it was the Mafe-king and Joseph Chamberlain’s stumping the country – did not like a professed Free Trader.
It would appear that his own parents did not much care for him either. It is said that they farmed him out to live with an aunt, one of these sad Edwardian spinster-dependents. She adored him; she even learned Latin so as to help him with his homework. Once he reached Trinity College, Cambridge he dismissed her, and she died in loneliness and penury some years later. It was not the last act of cruelty which Carr was to perform. There were three Mrs Carrs (not one, as the Times obituary claimed), and each marriage ended in hideous circumstances: one wife was left when she already had terminal cancer, another abandoned, when Carr was almost ninety, because she was ‘depressing’. He died in an old people’s home, the matron of which he would ask, piteously, to hold his hand. For Carr very greatly wanted to be loved, and he much preferred women’s company to men’s, although he treated his women so badly. Curiously enough, his money survived these disasters. He was cannily generous when it came to settlements, and he was – until his declining years – adept at the Stock Exchange. He was also, it is said, very mean. The charge most often levelled at his work on the Soviet Union was that it lacked a dimension of humanity. Towards the end of his life, Carr was interviewed by the New Left Review. He was prepared, he said, to recognise the achievements of the Russian Revolution despite all the millions of casualties. It was characteristic of him not to see anything odd about adding: ‘An English historian can praise ... Henry VIII without being supposed to condone the beheading of wives.’
Carr’s views and prose style owed much to his experience of the Foreign Office, which he did not leave until his mid-forties. At Cambridge, he excelled as a Classicist (he won the Porson Prize, and with it bought a set of Macaulay) and proceeded to the Foreign Office in the middle of the First World War, escaping conscription for reasons, apparently, of health. He attended the negotiations for the Peace Treaties, and was awarded a CBE for his efforts, even though he was not yet thirty. There is a glimpse of him in Harold Nicolson’s diaries, at the Ritz with Kenyes.
Somehow, his career at the Foreign Office rather petered out. Socially, he did not belong in the same drawer as the Etonians he had to deal with. They called him ‘Spots’, and he despised most of them. By the later 1920s, he had been sent to Riga as Secretary of the Legation, and he became very bored with it all. The only thing to do was to go to the opera with local big-wigs and Russian émigrés which gave him, he said, a lasting hatred of opera. He learnt Russian, and would wander round the second-hand bookshops in search of Russian literature. It was from this moment that he dated his interest in Russia. It was a strangely abstract interest, for he never learned to speak the language fluently, and spent only a few weeks there in all of his life – two visits, one in the later Twenties, and one in the mid-Fifties (to a historical conference). He continued at the Foreign Office, advising on League of Nations affairs, but his heart was in the Russian past, and in the years 1931-37 he wrote on literary and political figures of the 19th century.
His Dostoyevski (1931) is often claimed to be his best book, though I do not think that he himself liked it very much (he preferred his Bakunin). It was a wonderfully concise account of the life, and it combined psychological penetration with a capacity for irony: Ostrovsky, for instance, ‘was addicted to that particularly Russian form of sentiment which believes that the minor vices, such as drunkenness and dirt, ordinarily cohabit with the major virtues.’ The book is especially good in its treatment of the caesura in Dostoevsky’s life, the years 1863-5, which preceded marriage to Anna Grigorevna and the writing of Crime and Punishment. On the other hand, the book is weak on Dostoevsky the writer, and Carr had a great blind spot when it came to the religious side. The Pushkin memorial speech of 1880, a famous set-piece of conservatism and orthodoxy, is dismissed as ‘nebulous ... obsolete ... platitudinous’. Still, Carr’s Dostoevsky survives in a way that the effusions on the subject of Lawrence, Gide or even Berdyaev do not, and his evocation of the Dostoevskian ‘double’ (Zosima/Ferapont or Ivan/Smerdyakov) has never been bettered.
Carr’s other outstanding book of this period is The Romantic Exiles (1933). It is extraordinary that he managed to combine an active Foreign Office career with study of the quite voluminous sources that went into that book. It described the life and tribulations of various Russian exiles in Western Europe in the mid-19th century, and the book’s centre-piece is a description of the messy love-affair between Alexander Herzen’s wife and the German revolutionary poet, Herwegh. On a first reading, the book is a brilliant performance, for it treats the affair (and other later ones) with insight and irony. On a second reading, I am not so sure of its quality. It is a cruel and rather depressing work, and you end up feeling rather sorry for Natalie Herzen, the butt of Carr’s knowing asides. The poor woman was wrecked by the Herwegh affair, which, like all such involvements, can be made to look funny: but she made a pathetic effort to rid herself of the obsession, went back to her husband and children, and soon died.
 The interview is reprinted in his volume of essays, From Napoleon to Stalin (Macmillan, 1980).
 Macmillan (1980).
 Leopold Labedz’s ‘Deutscher as Historian and Prophet’ appeared in Survey, April 1962, No 41, pp. 121-144. It put Deutscher into a litigious frame of mind, and the successor article did not appear until after Deutscher’s death (Survey, Summer 1977-8, No 104, pp. 146-164).
 The Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin, 1917-1929 (Macmillan, 1979).
 Gavrilov and Kutuzov: ‘Perepis Russkoy Armii’ in Istoriya SSSR, 1964, ii, pp. 87-91.
 R.W. Davies’s The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia was published in two volumes (The Socialist Offensive and The Soviet Collective Farm 1929-1930) in 1980.
Vol. 5 No. 2 · 3 February 1983
From Rachel Kelly
SIR: My half-brother and I have both read the review of the works of our father, the late E.H. Carr, by Norman Stone in this week’s edition of your journal (LRB, 10 January). We are neither of us competent to comment on the merits of the criticism in that article on our father’s work, but we both have knowledge of E.H. Carr’s early life and upbringing, as well as the period during which we were still both at home. The passages in the review which deal with our father’s personal life contain many defamatory untruths. I propose to bring to your notice only two of them.
Our father was never farmed out. He spent his childhood and school years in the family home of which the spinster aunt formed part, for more than twenty years, where indeed I met her. The fact that she was not poor when she died could easily have been verified. Equally untrue is the reference to a wife dying of terminal cancer. Our mother suffered from cancer which was cured ten years before the marriage broke up. She lived a further 15 years and died of pneumonia. There was no recurrence of cancer. We are appalled that a historian, in writing of a colleague lately dead, should publish defamatory untruths which he could have researched. He has caused distress to the family.
Norman Stone writes: I am sorry that my version of Carr’s first divorce was inaccurate and glad that the correction has been made.
Vol. 5 No. 3 · 17 February 1983
From R.W. Davies
SIR: E.H. Carr’s History of Soviet Russia is a complicated work, and demands diligence and hard thinking from the reader. Mr Stone’s denunciation (LRB, 10 January) is deficient in both respects.
His specific references to the History are misleading and slipshod. He reproves Carr for dismissing the Stolypin reform ‘in a few sentences’, but Carr has over three pages on the reform in the History (Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, pp. 20-4). To prove that Carr did not ‘keep abreast of scholarship in the pre-Revolutionary field’ he cites a book review by Carr which gives 1908 not 1906 as the date of the Stolypin reform. But Carr summarises the decree of 1906 (loc.cit.) and refers to it again with the correct date on several occasions later in the History: obviously ‘1908’ was a misprint. Stone implies that Carr did not know that Ukrainian agriculture differed on the East and West banks of the Dniepr. But see the specific references in Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, p. 289, and Foundations of a Planned Economy, Vol. I, p. 120.
According to Stone, to prove economic differentiation among the peasantry, Carr too often cited the North Caucasus, and this was misleading. My rough count of references to specific regions in the sections on differentiation in Socialism in One Country, Vol. I, pp. 222-40, and Foundations, Vol. I, pp. 18-26 and 130-43, discloses about a dozen relating to the North Caucasus out of a total of about 75. This hardly seem too high a proportion. It was a major grain area, and Carr clearly explained its specific features. This evidence also gives the lie to Stone’s extraordinary assertion that ‘there are precious few place-names’ in Carr’s History. There are so many that I have always felt that what it lacks is a map! There are many other errors of detail in Stone’s article.
Stone’s carelessness also leads him to make unjustified charges against Carr on larger matters. To back his claim that ‘opposition is seldom considered’ by Carr, he cites Carr’s ‘cursory treatment’ of the 1920 peasant rebellions in Tambov. But Carr’s account of peasant unrest in Tambov and elsewhere, though brief, treats it as a crucial factor in Lenin’s decision to introduce the New Economic Policy in February-March 1921 (Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, pp. 169-70, 271-2). Stone himself believes, however, that it was the Kronstadt rising which ‘caused a dramatic reversal of policies (NEP, at the Tenth Congress in spring 1921)’. Carr and others showed over thirty years ago that the policy reversal was approved by the party central committee before the Kronstadt rising (Carr’s footnote on this was overlooked by Stone in the very passage he is criticising – ibid. p. 272, published in 1952).
In his rage against Carr, Stone frequently bashes the wrong nail on the head. He grumbles that Carr’s style is ‘frequently clogged and pompous’. Carr’s serious critics reprove him for oversimplification, but they all praise the clarity of his exposition. Stone also declares that ‘Carr’s real talent lay in mathematics.’ But Carr freely admitted that inadequate talent at mathematics was one of his weaknesses!
When Mr Stone pauses in his invective and tries to discuss matters more seriously, his own approach to historical problems is extraordinarily unsophisticated. Consider, for example, his comments on the major crisis at the end of the 1920s, the collapse of NEP. Here Stone is mainly criticising the volumes on which Carr and I collaborated, so I will comment in a little more detail. Stone seems to believe that an honest historian should adopt a straightforward unambiguous attitude to these great events and stick to it. He argues that there are ‘three ways of looking at’ the breakdown of NEP. It may be explained by the backwardness and family orientation of the peasantry, or by the incompatibility of emergent capitalist farming with the Soviet order, or by mistakes in industrial policy which adversely affected agriculture. According to Stone, Carr never ‘quite made up his mind what he was arguing’.
But Stone has not provided us with ‘three ways’ of looking at the collapse of NEP. He has merely listed some of the factors involved in that collapse. The problem is to interrelate them. Even a cursory reading of Foundations, Vol. I, should make it clear that this was what Carr and I were trying to do. Our account goes something like this. Peasant farming in the 1920s was backward, with low yields and low labour productivity. Attempts to improve it gave rise to economic differentiation, especially in the first half of the 1920s, and this was perceived by the party as a threat to its socialist objectives (the passage which stresses growing differentiation is not as Stone claims on p. 229 of Foundations, Vol. I, but on p. 229 of Socialism in One Country, Vol. I, and refers to developments not at the end of the 1920s but only up to 1925!). In spite of economic differentiation, ‘a strong solidarity of interest and feeling existed among all sections of the peasantry’; neglect of this by the party was a ‘major miscalculation’ (Foundations, Vol. I, p. 143). (Stone appears to believe that this important factor, which for him is ‘the heart of the peasant problem’, was ignored by Carr.) In this unpropitious context, relations with the peasantry were greatly exacerbated, and their solidarity was greatly strengthened, by the enforcement of the policy of rapid industrialisation. Cart and I, unlike Stone, assess the policy of industrialisation, not primarily in terms of ‘mistakes’ (though mistakes there certainly were), but as stemming from much profounder causes, which we also tried to analyse.
The complex chain of events which led to the collapse of NEP was frequently a subject of discussion between Carr and myself, and will continue to be hotely debated among historians and economists. But it would hardly improve our understanding to follow Stone’s naive approach of seizing on one of his ‘three ways of looking at’ the problem as the primary explanation.
Finally, on more personal matters. Stone’s hostility to Carr has utterly warped his judgment. He makes the ridiculous assertion that it was my collaboration with Carr on Foundations which ‘saved Carr’s book from going to bits’. Insofar as my function differed from Carr’s, it had entirely the opposite effect. My role was to bring to Carr’s work the professional scepticism of an economic historian, to test with detailed research the validity of alternative explanations about the interconnections between politics and economics. We spent many months going through every chapter and every sentence together, and in this exacting revision Carr’s ability to distinguish what was important in the clutter of detail was of enormous value. Fortunately, I have hoarded some drafts, with both our emendations. If necessary, a footnote in some future PhD thesis can confirm that my indignation at Stone’s libel on Carr is not due to modesty or loyalty.
Stone has many bitter and irrelevant things to say about Carr as a man. This is not the Carr I knew. ‘Very mean’? He was generous to me in the matter of royalties, and in other ways. And when we began our collaboration in 1958, I, an unknown research fellow aged 33, soon found that this famous historian twice my age welcomed and encouraged even my sharpest criticisms of his drafts, on matters small and large. Collaborating with Carr was personally enjoyable as well as intellectually stimulating. Stone stigmatises Carr as ‘something of a coward’. It seems to me that this phrase would be better applied to a man who published a vituperative attack on the most eminent historian of his college a few weeks after his death, while praising his still-living collaborator.
Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham
From E.J. Hobsbawm
SIR: E.H. Carr will survive his obituarists, if only because his History of Soviet Russia constitutes, with Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China, the most remarkable effort of single-handed historical scholarship undertaken in Britain within living memory. (This is described as ‘gigantomania’ by the ungigantic.) Whatever the judgment of his work in the 21st century, it is rather unlikely to be like Stone’s. Still, his exercise in defamatory prose may be useful, inasmuch as it gives future readers an idea of the rancour, in and outside some quarters of Cambridge, which was concealed behind expressions of polite respect in Carr’s lifetime.
My purpose is not to defend Carr’s work against the accusations and innuendos of posthumous hatchet-men. It is rather to draw attention to the essentially rhetorical technique of Stone’s enterprise. I choose one example. In one paragraph he suggests that Carr (‘under pressure from the Left’) got Soviet agrarian history wrong, and in doing so concealed the fact that ‘most Bolsheviks misunderstood agriculture in a terrible way.’ He treated kulaks as big farmers (‘although the word originally means “usurer” – a different idea altogether’). He strained very hard to show them essentially as employers of hired labour (‘though even he had to admit’ that little labour was employed). He should have recognised that ‘the heart of the peasant problem’ lay in its family and communal arrangements. Now quite apart from the fact that Carr uses the word ‘kulak’ either in the usual sense, or in that of his sources (whose lack of definition he deplores), and that he supplies Stone with the arguments purporting to invalidate his position, I defy any reader of the section on rural differentiation in the volume to which Stone refers (Foundations I, 18-26) or of Chapter Four on ‘Land and the Peasant’ to interpret Carr’s text as meaning what Stone implies. (The – irrelevant – quotation from Carr from p. 229 of that volume is not to be found on that page.) Without quoting at length from Carr, he makes it quite clear that class differentiation among the peasantry was ‘largely mythical’, that hired labour was insignificant, and that the CP misunderstood agriculture badly, inasmuch as its assessment of the situation ‘proved, in the sequel, a major miscalculation’. Stone’s critique proves to be a nonargument.
And then, what exactly is that single and homogeneous ‘the Left’ which, as Stone says on at least two occasions, put Carr ‘under pressure’? What ‘pressure’ did or could ‘it’ put on him? Is ‘the Left’ a synonym for the official position of Soviet orthodoxy – whatever that might signify – which, by means of a familiear smear, is implied to be the position of which all the disputing schools of the Marxist and non-Marxist Left are somehow variants? What exactly is Stone trying to say? Clearly what Stone says about Carr can also be said about him: ‘He never quite said what he meant.’ But he can hardly be surprised if disagreeable constructions are put on his hints and nudges.
From John Barber & Jonathan Haslam
SIR: Reviewing Norman Stone’s The Eastern Front, 1914-1917, E.H. Carr wrote of the author’s ‘slap-dash impressionism’ (New York Review of Books, 29 April 1976). The same characteristic marks Stone’s defamatory review of Carr’s life and works. Among the many distortions, half-truths and mistakes, the following stand out: 1. The unjust claim that Carr was mesmerised by the ‘power of Stalin’ and so resolved to write the history of ‘this colossus’. If so, it is a little odd that his History should end in 1929, when Stalin’s absolute dominance over Soviet politics was just beginning. The only truth in this claim is that Carr recognised Stalin’s undeniable ability as a political tactician, and that he saw the positive as well as the negative consequences of his rule for Soviet society. The rest is fabrication. To show, among many other things, how Stalin rose to power is neither to approve of the process, nor to regard it as inevitable. Carr in fact described Stalin’s victory over his opponents as ‘the triumph not of reason but of organisation’, (Socialism in One Country, Vol. II, p. 224). And for a man supposedly ‘something of a coward’, who was ‘reluctant … to condemn’ and ‘never quite said what he meant’, Carr was surprisingly articulate when it came to describing ‘Stalin’s extreme brutality and indifference to personal dictatorship’, the ‘bleak and inhuman character’ of his rule, ‘the darkest period of Soviet experience’ (Foundations of a Planned Economy, Vol. 2, p.45l). Curious expressions to find in an ‘unreconstructed Stalinist version’ of Soviet history.
2. The ill-formed assertion that Carr was unable to provide an adequate explanation of the political struggles of the 1920s. For instance, Stone writes that ‘the discussion of politics in the first volume of Socialism in One Country, p. 320 ff., is extraordinarily weak.’ It supposedly fails to show how Stalin consistently defeated his opponents at party congresses. ‘Where did all those votes come from?’ Stone asks, oblivious of the fact that the volume in question deals largely with the economy and the pages cited with agriculture. Had Stone read as far as the second volume, he would have found a precise analysis of how the central party machine’s ‘control was exercised through mass propaganda, through the power of appointment and through the threat of reprisals’, how ‘conformity was encouraged by the hope of rewards’ (Socialism, Vol. 2, p. 210). And instead of needing to advance his ‘own’ hypothesis that this ‘reflected a struggle that had been going on in local parties, in which “mini-Stalins” (Medvedev’s phrase) were emerging’, he would have discovered that Carr, a quarter of a century earlier, had demonstrated how ‘the drift towards personal dictatorship, the greater prestige and influence of the individual leader … first emerged in local organisations’ (ibid, p. 224).
3. The jibe that Carr was ‘simply dishonest to end a history of the Soviet Union in 1929’. In fact, Carr had originally intended to go much further. In a BBC talk in 1948, he said: ‘I hope to go as far as the Stalin Constitution  … perhaps even to the beginning of the Second World War,’ though he added: ‘I do not yet know exactly how difficult it is to get adequate sources for the 1930s, and it is obviously much more difficult than for the 1920s.’ Furthermore, Carr was already an octogenarian when he completed his History. It is scarcely surprising that instead of taking on another major project, he contented himself with working on the Comintern, a much less demanding task than a political history of the 1930s.
4. The unfounded allegation that Carr’s views on international relations in the 1930s led him to a defeatist position in 1940. No one would deny that Carr (along with many of his peers) advocated appeasement up to 1939. But there is no evidence for Stone’s assertion that in 1940 he ‘would certainly have preferred to make peace with Hitler had it been possible’. On the contrary, in his leader on ‘Britain and Hitler’ in the Times on 22 July 1940, Carr denounced Hitler’s ‘bankruptcy’, declared that ‘Britain epitomises everything that degenerate Nazism fears and hates,’ and concluded that ‘two visions of the future are offered to the world. It cannot be doubted where the choice will lie.’ Hardly the voice of appeasement in 1940.
5. That not until ‘Stalin began to win battles’ did Carr argue ‘for recognition of the rule that the Soviets would have after the War’. In fact, from mid-July 1941 onwards, Carr urged the closest possible co-operation with the USSR: ‘Britain and Russia’, the Times, 14 July 1941 (diary entry, 13 July 1941), ‘Russia’s War’, the Times, 19 July 1941 (diary entry, 17 July 1941), etc.
6. The gross misstatement that Carr wrote the history, not of the Soviet Union, but merely of its Communist Party: and this largely from ‘quantities of indigestible Soviet material’. It is not surprising that a study of a country being transformed under the direction of a one-party state should have a good deal to say about the nature and role of the ruling party. But simply look at the chapter headings of the History: agriculture, industry, classes, personalities, labour, the trade unions, the Red Army, religion, literature, migration, finance, planning etc, etc. How much broader could the scope have been? To sneer at Carr for having used Soviet materials so fully, moreover, is unworthy of a serious historian. Besides, as Stone must know, Carr made extensive use of foreign archives and published sources. He also knew, met and corresponded with many of the émigrés he is accused of ignoring. The assertion that Carr should have visited the USSR more in the course of his work only illustrates Stone’s ignorance of research into Soviet history. When Carr was undertaking the bulk of his work, facilities for such research were closed to foreign scholars. By the time they became available, Carr was too old to make this sort of expedition. And to suggest that he might have tried to meet Molotov in Moscow to discuss questions of Soviet history suggests a lack of even the most elementary understanding of conditions in the USSR.
A final word about Stone’s dismissive comment that ‘Carr was not a good teacher … and did not do much to advance his subject through research students.’ How many distinguished academics at the age of 74 or 81 would agree to take on research students, as he did in our own cases? What is impressive is that although time was his most precious asset, he was more prepared than many to expend it to help younger scholars. He would meticulously read work submitted to him, would quickly return it with detailed comments, and was readily available to discuss problems. Moreover, Stone’s jibe is as irrelevant as it is inaccurate. Even if Carr had never taught or spoken to a single student, his writings alone would have made him, as they have, an influence second to none in the study of Soviet history.
John Barber & Jonathan Haslam
King’s College, Cambridge & University of Birmingham
Vol. 5 No. 4 · 3 March 1983
From Norman Stone
SIR: I am grateful to Professor Davies (Letters, 17 February) for his spirited defence of his collaborator, and greatly regret that I am crossing swords with him. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with some of his judgments. As to the point on the Ukraine, one difficulty – and it recurs – is that Carr’s vast work said rather different things at different times. The basis of my own accusations as to his ignorance of the Ukraine lay in Socialism in One Country, I, 214, where we hear that in the Ukraine the commune ‘was obsolescent, since the Stolypin reform had made far greater progress here than elsewhere’. In other words, no differentiation between east and west; and is the assertion even true for much of the western Ukraine? I did not feel, on balance, that Carr really knew much about Tsarist Russia, and I quoted several instances in that respect. In the context of his three-volume Revolution, to devote three pages to othe Stolypin reform, a central issue, is tantamount to ‘a few sentences’; his referring to the reform as occurring in 1908, not 1906, occurred in a quite separate place (a review of Shanin) and I did not feel he deserved the benefit of the doubt of a misprint. I did feel that he overweighted Stavropol as an instance in his analysis of the grain problem: to base quite a high proportion of his evidence on an untypical area was surely an error, even though I do, to some extent, take Professor Davies’s point. Then again, if Carr regarded the Tambov peasant upheavals as vital for the making of NEP, why did he discuss them in such a very neglectful way? The impact of Kronstadt is surely a matter of opinion, or at least of legitimate disagreement, though I do bow to Professor Davies’s knowledge. Again, I find that Carr’s concentration on the political centre makes the reader strangely unaware of the vastness beyond, and – always, of course, relatively to the enormous size of the work – the sense of place or place-names appears to me deficient. It is, of course, a matter of opinion; so is Carr’s style, which strikes me, and many others, as a grim and plodding degeneration from his good days in the Thirties.
When we come on to problems of collectivisation, we are into very difficult country indeed. One difficulty about Carr’s book, as noted above, is that it has many and sometimes contradictory aspects. In attempting to unravel these, and to suggest ways in which the problem might be re-examined, I incur the hostility of Professors Davies and Hobsbawm. Again, we are dealing in interpretations rather than matters of detail, and I do not quite see what Professor Hobsbawm is trying to say.
Turning now to Messrs Barber and Haslam, their contribution in the same issue contains an important correction in points 4 and 5. I had situated Carr’s conversion from Hitler to Stalin around January 1942, and accept the correction that it occurred earlier. My information came from people who had known him at the time: either I misunderstood them, or they themselves did not quite remember. Carr certainly opposed the war in 1939, and especially the guarantee to Poland. As to the rest, it was always easy for Carr, like Deutscher, to put in a sentence or two to say that Stalin was terrible. In that way, he could cover his tracks against a possible charge of Stalinism (which I make, I think, largely indirectly). In the days when I knew Carr, he certainly endorsed the killing-peasants view of Progress, and that emerges in his New Left interview. As to Messrs Barber and Haslam’s other points, I think they have misunderstood me. My point in discussing the Carr account of politics in the Twenties was largely to suggest that it was unreadably intricate, with main factors obscured – though of course mentioned, as Messrs Barber and Haslam can demonstrate. The rest of their letter is about opinions, and we have simply to disagree.
Trinity College, Cambridge
From Roger Morgan
SIR: I met E.H. Carr (who was 40 years my senior) fairly frequently between the mid-Fifties and the mid-Seventies. The relationship began with Carr (still at Balliol) agreeing to see me to discuss my Cambridge PhD thesis on the early German Social Democrats. He continued to give generous advice as I completed it; introduced me to other specialists, to my great benefit; acted as a sympathetic examiner when the thesis was submitted (although he was very far from being in personal agreement with my approach or conclusions); recommended the work for publication by the Cambridge University Press, and me for a lectureship in his old department in Aberystwyth; continued to exchange arguments about many subjects (including Soviet-German relations in the Twenties, while I was working in this field); entertained me several times at the High Table at Trinity (what can one say of Stone’s ‘he was also, it is said, very mean’?); acted with scrupulousness and generosity in the case of another Cambridge PhD which we examined together; and – in his mid-eighties – invited my family and me to tea and gave friendly advice to one of my sons who was interested in history degree courses.
It is not true, as Stone says, that Carr ‘disliked talking to anyone with whom basic principles had not been agreed’. He knew that my own explanation of the differences between the rival groups in the German labour movement in the 1860s gave much less weight to economic factors than his own: yet we discussed the subject amicably on many occasions, and his review of the book (in the TLS in July 1965) was kind and favourable. Stone’s assertion that as a reviewer ‘he never sympathised’ is untrue. Carr and I disagreed, again, about why German heavy industry invested in the Soviet Union in the Twenties: although his original assumption was that the economic motive must have been predominant, he accepted the evidence of my research in the German diplomatic archives, which showed that German industrialists were pressed into Soviet ventures to support the political aims of Stresemann’s foreign policy, and sometimes undertook them only reluctantly.
For a professional historian Stone is amazingly ready to write of Carr from hearsay: his phrase ‘he was also, it is said, very mean’ is echoed throughout the article by ‘it would appear’, ‘it is said’, ‘apparently’, ‘perhaps’, ‘he seems’ and, a third time, ‘it is said’. And what can one make of Stone’s assertion that the Nonconformists of Aberystwyth objected to Carr’s ‘affair with one (or perhaps more) of their professors’ wives’? For the record, Carr was warmly welcomed back by the University of Wales when the Aberystwyth Department celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1969. As for the truly astonishing statement that ‘it is said’ (again!) ‘that Richard Pipes … is not impressed by Carr’s scholarship,’ Stone might be advised to make a practice of verifying his statements by the interview method (or by correspondence), as well as preaching it at Carr.
Stone makes it appear that Carr’s statement in The Foundations of a Planned Economy about ‘the oddly distorted amalgam of bourgeois and sociallist revolutions’ was the result of pressure he was ‘clearly’ (sic) under ‘to make statements as to the proletarian or socialist content of the Revolution’. This totally ignores Carr’s long-standing fascination with the ambiguous distinctions between democratic and socialist revolutions, reflected in more than one of the essays in the much earlier book Studies in Revolution (1950), one of the works – like the life of Marx (1934) and several others – which Stone ignores.
To say that The Twenty Years’ Crisis was later ‘published with a different title’ is wrong: to dismiss this profound and subtle work on the nature of international politics as a mere tract in favour of appeasing Hitler is ridiculous, and also unhistorical in ignoring the historical context of utopian writing against which Carr was reacting. (Perhaps Stone is just ignorant of it: he even gets the title of the Oxford Chair of International Relations wrong.) For Stone to quote Carr’s own plea for ‘a compromise’ (my emphasis) ‘between the Utopian concept of right and the realistic conception of a mechanical adjustment to a changed equilibrium of forces’, and then to chip in with ‘in other words, if a state has power, recognise the fact,’ needs no comment.
If Stone is qualified to criticise Carr’s interpretation of Russian history, it would have been more seemly for him to use your columns for doing so (and perhaps to devote a line or two to the work whose title appears at the head of his ‘review’, and of which he presumably received a copy) than for producing the spiteful and in many particulars mendacious piece you printed.
Policy Studies Unit, SW1
Vol. 5 No. 5 · 17 March 1983
From Brian Porter
SIR: Whatever may be said of E.H. Carr as a historian of Soviet Russia (and on this subject I leave it to the specialists to judge), I wish it to go on record that in this department, which he headed from 1936 to 1947, and no less, I believe, in the field of International Relations studies generally, his is an honoured name. The Twenty Years’ Crisis is assuredly a classic, even the classic work in the subject, and generations of students have profited from this and other books characterised by his brilliant, analytical mind. If they do not always have the impact that they did, it is because many of Carr’s ideas have won universal acceptance, and one needs to go back to the thought-world of the mid-Thirties fully to understand the magnitude of Carr’s achievement. To commemorate this achievement, largely realised while he held the Woodrow Wilson Chair of International Politics here at Aberystwyth, it is the intention of this department to establish an annual E.H. Carr Memorial Lecture, which, it is hoped, will each year be given by a distinguished scholar drawn chiefly, but perhaps not exclusively, from the field of international politics.
On a more personal note, I met E.H. Carr only once, when he attended a five-day conference I convened in 1969 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this department and chair, but on that occasion we were all impressed by a great scholar of gracious and modest bearing, which made the brutal attack on his memory doubly painful to read.
Department of International Politics, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth
Vol. 5 No. 8 · 5 May 1983
From Geoff Eley
SIR: Your issue containing Norman Stone’s extraordinary obituary of E.H. Carr (LRB, 10 January) has just reached us on this side of the Atlantic, and we are sure that by the time you receive this letter other voices will have been raised in Carr’s defence. There is perhaps little that can be said in the space of a letter to counter the promiscuous distortions, half-truths and omissions Stone has chosen to perpetrate, and those with a closer knowledge of Carr’s life and career are better positioned than ourselves to discharge this responsibility. But, in any case, a blow-by-blow refutation of Stone’s finely calculated invective would be somewhat beside the point. For it is clear that the exercise has little to do with any genuine evaluation of Carr’s career, his historiographical achievement, or his place in 20th-century British intellectual history. It is certainly nothing at all to do with a serious critique of the monumental History of Soviet Russia itself. The intention is really quite different. It is, in the least honourable traditions of British intellectual politics, a cynical and mean-spirited hatchet job on a major committed intellectual whose reputation (much to the annoyance of his more conservative colleagues) extends far beyond the boundaries of the intellectual Left. All the familiar ingredients are there – character assassination, snide innuendo, knowing references to personal immorality, the slighting of scholarly achievements, the praising of early publications the better to denigrate the rest, the constant intimations of privileged personal knowledge (right down to what Carr did at infant school, believe it or not). Carr was even disliked by his parents (it is said). He was very mean (it is said). He was a wrecker of personal relationships (it is said). He was a cruel man (it is said). He misused his influence to harm whose he disagreed with (it is said). He was not a good teacher (it is said). Stone’s ‘review’ is staggeringly insensitive to the traditions of civilised discourse his institution supposedly upholds. It is as though the nightly routine of high-table gossip and parlour-room malice has spilled uncontrollably into the public realm. How Stone has the nerve to call Carr ‘mean’ and ‘cruel’, given the sustained nastiness of his polemic, is not the least remarkable thing about this unseemly affair.
It is so very easy to sink to this level of gossip-mongering malignancy, masquerading as intellectual toughmindedness, especially when the victim cannot respond. It is doubtless fortunate that Stone’s own life and career provide such a model of blameless personal and professional rectitude. But there are also serious historical and intellectual issues involved, which deserve not to be confused by Stone’s disingenuous obituary-cum-review. These have, of course, to do with the Russian Revolution and Carr’s contribution to our understanding of the Soviet Union, and indeed Stone devotes about two-thirds of his space to a discursive attack on Carr’s multi-volume History. Now buried amidst the general unfairness there are some useful observations – e.g. on Carr’s intellectual origins in early 20th-century progressivism, or his relationship with Isaac Deutscher in the 1950s. It is also true that the History’s view of socialist construction is mainly an administrative one, though one which is carefully informed by a detailed grasp of socioeconomic determinations. There is little social history of the kind which has recently permeated the thinking of the profession. In the end Stone is probably right in one of his general assessments: the work ‘is really to be seen as a study of how Great Power is made out of revolutionary origins’.
But otherwise, Stone’s article is a mélange of inaccuracy and uncontrolled prejudice. Much of this we don’t need to take seriously, like the references to style and long paragraphs or to Richard Pipes’s lack of respect (it is said) for the quality of Carr’s scholarship. Some of the criticisms are irrelevant, like Carr’s omission of the Revolution’s social prehistory. As Stone should know, the project originated as a single-volume study of the post-Revolutionary order, and the three volumes of The Bolshevik Revolution retained their character as a scene-setting introduction to the main concern, which was to be a study of the years after 1923. Given the imposing dimensions of the History as it eventually took shape (stigmatised by Stone as ‘gigantomania’), it hardly seems reasonable to demand a detailed treatment of the period before 1917. Other criticisms are simply bizarre, given the History’s actual contents. Stone says there is no discussion of politics in the first volume of Socialism in One Country, which leaves the reader no means of understanding how Stalin could defeat the various oppositions: yet half of Volume II (Chapters 11-19 of the overall work, some 250 pages) is devoted to exactly this question, stressing amongst other things precisely the factor (local struggles for control of the party apparatus) which Stone taxes Carr with ignoring. Stone also says that Carr evaded the question of collectivisation, which is extraordinary given the contents of Volume I of Foundations of a Planned Economy (11 chapters, almost 300 pages of agriculture, quite apart from the concluding contextual discussion of the Five-Year Plan). The suggestion that this was really the work of R.W. Davies won’t hold water, as even a glance at Volume I of Socialism in one Country should confirm.
There are problems with the organisation of the History as a whole, it is true, and key events in the Civil War tend to disappear into the spaces between the individual sections of The Bolshevik Revolution. Yet Volume II of The Bolshevik Revolution remains the single best study of economic policy and its consequences in the first half-decade of Soviet power and has yet to be displaced as a source for this under-studied subject. It is often hard to abstract Carr’s general theses from his densely empirical analysis. But for those prepared to give the various volumes a careful reading, the task should not be too difficult and on the contrary is immensely rewarding. To an extent, this has to do with the improvised origins of the work (the unanticipated expansion of an introductory chapter to a single-volume work into a three-volume study in its own right), and it was not until Socialism in One Country that Carr paused to take stock. There, in Part I of Volume I, Stone will find four chapters and 200 pages of text which lay out as clearly as one could expect Carr’s view of the post-Revolutionary stabilisation. Chapter Three in particular (‘Class and Party’) is an extraordinary example of sustained analytical synthesis, which systematically confronts the political dynamism of the Bolsheviks with the structural inertia which constrained and distorted their actions. This, in conjunction with the previous chapter (‘The Changing Outlook’), is still one of the most sensitive accounts of the context which facilitated Stalinism (in the sense of ‘revolution from above’ and the policies implemented after 1928-29). This is the argument which is picked up in the concluding chapter of Volume II of Foundations of a Planned Economy (‘The New Soviet Society’) which Stone finds so inadequate. Now it is true that this dwells on contradiction, and for those who prefer their history to consist of tidy resolutions (as opposed to ‘the infinite complexity of the factors that determine the course of history’, as Carr put it in the aforementioned chapter of Socialism in One Country) this is bound to be uncomfortable. But then, since the nature of history is for Stone such a ‘boring subject’, impatience with complexity should not really surprise us.
There is a great deal more to say if Carr’s achievement is to be properly appreciated, and if the motivations of his detractors are to be properly laid bare. For the moment, however, we find two things particularly important. One is the extraordinary pioneering quality of the History. In the scope of his work Carr went where no one had gone before and where only a few have really gone since. He mapped the territory of Soviet history in the 1920s and delivered an agenda of questions which will be pursued for the rest of the 20th century. For a work begun three decades ago and brought to its conclusion with little recognition from the profession, in an ideological climate which until the later stages was hardly very propitious, this is not a small achievement. Secondly, whatever Stone claims, Carr’s analysis is now an indispensable starting-point for understanding the dynamics of Stalinism. At one level, his work is more straightforwardly about the stabilisation of a post-Revolutionary order (what Stone calls the making of Great Power from revolutionary origins). More subtly, it is a sustained exploration of the complicated relationship between political contingency (the rise of Stalin) and structural determinations (the constraints of Russian backwardness). Inscribed in that relationship was the castastrophic grandeur of the Russian Revolution, and E.H. Carr renders this more powerfully accessible than most other published works we know.
In the long run, we are satisfied that the virtues of Carr and his work – their own grandeur, in fact – will easily survive attempts such as Stone’s to besmirch them. In the short run, it is necessary to protest. Among ourselves we may differ in our interpretations of Leninism, Stalinism and, indeed, the whole Soviet phenomenon, but we feel ‘tempted to exclaim that no more useless’ diatribe has ever masqueraded as a review. Carr’s achievement will be with us long after his more misanthropic reviewers have been forgotten.
Geoff Eley, University of Michigan
William Rosenberg, University of Michigan
Moshe Lewin, University of Pennsylvania
Ronald Suny, University of Michigan
University of Michigan