The world was ripe for revolution in 1919—so thought Lenin and Trotsky. In reality, as Read (The Devil’s Disciples: Hitler’s Inner Circle, 2004, etc.) demonstrates, it was ripe for repression.
The end of World War I saw Russia weakened by military defeat and revolution, so much so that, as Read observes, the Germans were able to impose on it a peace treaty so punishing that “the later Treaty of Versailles, about which they complained so piteously, seems remarkably mild by comparison.” Alarmed by the rise of communism, the Allied powers landed a small army in Russia, consisting mostly of Polish-Americans from Michigan and Wisconsin presumably chosen for the job because of their ethnic background. Against all this, the Bolshevik leadership committed itself to imposing a stern dictatorship pledged to sweep the nation of “bourgeois putrefaction.” In the West, and particularly the United States, the Red Scare set the tone, and it enabled all manner of suppression, as when government and business collaborated to crush the radical Wobblies and other labor organizers, elements of which responded with bombs against their persecutors, bringing charges of terrorism upon their heads. Meanwhile in Russia, the Allied force, divided and scarcely reinforced or supplied, began to crumble as Trotsky’s Red Army gained ground against the Whites, who were “badly led and had little stomach for the campaign.” Back in Washington, thousands of citizens were arrested by the homeland-security apparatus of the time, while Woodrow Wilson trumpeted, ironically, that his Republican opponents were Bolshevik dupes. The Republicans won nonetheless, having promised to end the Red Scare and return America to “normalcy.” Before they did—“normalcy” being the corruptions of the Harding administration—it was a field day for the forces of reaction, as newspapers thundered that communists were behind every door and civilization was doomed.
A coherent rendering of this complex, tumultuous and little-known history.