on 12 October 2011
Israel Getzler's biography of Martov appears to be the only available one devoted to such a significant figure. That's a shame because the work is essentially flawed.
Getzler's work is a hatchet job on Lenin, Bolshevism and the October Revolution using a biography of Martov as a cover. In fact, the subtitle of this book could easily be: 'The Trial of Julius Martov' for Getzler seems to regard Martov as having failed in what Getzler imagines should have been Martov's historical mission - to oust Lenin from socialist politics in Russia, to stymie the rise of Bolshevism and thus prevent October 1917 from ever happening - and this book sets out a prosecutorial case as to how and why Martov 'failed'.
Getzler misrepresents Lenin and the Bolsheviks political position at every key moment from the unwarranted charge of wanting an elitist party as opposed to Martov's vision of a mass party, itself a distortion of Martov's position, at the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party through to October insurrection, the subsequent walk out of Martov from the Congress of Soviets and beyond. So inaccurate is Getzler's portrayal of Bolshevism that the reader is left wondering whether his protrayal of Martov is in any way accurate. So consistent is Getzler's misrepresentation, that it must be deliberate. Fortunately, a reader informed of the history of Russian Marxism and the Russian Revolution can pick some value and some new insight from Getzler's book in the clear explanation of Martov's position and the impression gained that, ultimately, he was a brilliant but flawed idealist. It comes as no surprise that Getzler lands on Martov's Marxism as the ultimate reason for his failure.
Oddly enough, I'd recommend this book as an example of the lengths that ostensibly respectable historians will go to in order to distort the record for their own political purposes and particularly in the case of the historiography of the Russian Revolution.
on 19 March 2004
The moment when the Russian communists split into Menshevik and Bolshevik factions in the early twentieth century would have devastating consequences for subsequent world history. While the latter would go on to wreak havoc and birth such grandiose historical figures as Lenin, Trotsky et al, the former - men of equal intellectual weight and political foresight - have been consigned to footnotes.
It is the fact that the Mensheviks were truer to Marxist doctrine, more realistic about the prospects of communist revolution in agrarian Russia, and generally slightly more level-headed that makes them such fascinating 'nearly men'.
Martov, a Russian Jew whose nose was deep in theoretical books more often than it was seeking out insurrection, is no exception. Israel Getzler's brilliant study of the Menshevik leader is the only work about him available in English, and it is a true blessing that CUP have decided to reprint it. Getzler leaves no stone unturned in exploring the foibles of someone who always remained a close friend of Lenin's, despite taking such a different ideological path.
Martov's paralysis in the face of ever-changing events, and his failure to marry theory with practice, rendered him a man who was always wracked with internal conflict. Trotsky dubbed him 'the Hamlet of democratic socialism', and his life reads so dramatically that this comparison with the Dane is more than justified.
on 30 July 2010
Dr. Getzler's is a rather deep and by no means easy to read political biography of Iulius Martov, maybe the the main menshevik leader. A man that trod a difficult and, in the end, failed path, a balance between bolshevik revolutionary radicalism with no scruples towards terror and bourgeois and reactionary counterrevolution.
The book covers the whole of Martov's life but is a bit thinner on his early and late life, concentrating on his years of collaboration and later antagonism to Lenin before the October Revolution.
Despite being a rather interesting book on an unduly neglected character (I'd call him the revolution's lost chance), it has two main drawbacks from my personal point of view: it has no background explanations and assumes a deep knowledge of Russian history and terminology from the reader, and the author's style can not be called gripping by any standards. Dr. Getzler is certainly an expert on the subject but, unfortunately, I cannot call him a gifted reader, the reading is dry and turgid.
If you are interested in one of the mensheviks' main figures or in what the Russian Revolution could have become in less harsh hands I would recommend you this volume, but I would be ready for some serious reading.
on 5 February 2012
Getzler's work serves as a perfect example of cold-war historiography, devoted as it is to proving the 'inherently dictatorial' nature of the scheming figure of Lenin, in his opposition to Martov. The political differences in this reading are reduced to differences in temperament. The genesis of the conflict between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, relating to differing formations on party membership, is dealt with spuriously in this text. It is ignored that Lenin was attempted to establish a bulwark against 'every kind of trend of opportunism' with his definition of party membership. Along with all this is, now discredited, claim that What is to be Done represented Lenin's dictatorial party blueprint. I would recommend reading this work in conjunction with Lars T. Lih's work on 'What is to be Done in context' and Marcel Liebman's 'Leninism under Lenin' to get a far more balanced view of the politics of this period.