BORODIN: Stalin's Man in China by Dan N. Jacobs
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BORODIN: Stalin's Man in China

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As the eminence grise in Sun Yat-sen's entourage, Mikhail Borodin, revolutionary Russia's representative in tumultous China, has always drawn a lot of attention--and, until now, evaded the full-scale scrutiny of a full biography in English. Secretive by custom, Borodin kept no diary, and there are no collections of letters extant. As an agent of the Moscow-based Communist International, moreover, he left no documentary record open to western view. Jacobs, then, has had to construct Borodin's life from his often-contradictory autobiographical utterances, the memoirs of others who crossed his path, police-files, and a lot of speculation--especially for his early years. A Jew who grew up in Latvia, Borodin--nÉ Gruzenberg--was active in the radical Jewish Bund before joining Lenin's Bolsheviks in 1903, when he was 19. In the aftermath of the 1905 revolutionary upsurge in Russia, Borodin was sent into exile; eventually he arrived in Chicago, where he quietly, circumspectly taught English to foreigners. Upon the 1917 victory of the Bolsheviks, however, he heeded the call to return to Russia--a call no Bolshevik could resist, says Jacobs, to explain desertion of a wife and two children. And thus, as an international courier, he began a long series of escapades. On one mission, Borodin managed to lose half a million dollars worth of diamonds, which caused him some problems--an episode to which Jacobs keeps returning, though it had no lasting importance. But his picture of the younger Borodin is flavored with telling vignettes--like the Russian Borodin and the Indian Communist M. N. Roy founding the Mexican Communist Party. All this intrigue led to Borodin being chosen, in 1923, as the secret emissary to Sun's fledgling movement of national liberation in Canton. Out of touch with his superiors, Borodin had to carry out his vague instructions by the power of his wits; and Jacobs shows them to be formidable. His prior experience organizing and cajoling helped him to first gain Sun's confidence, then to hold it amid a dizzying series of maneuvers and deals. Often acting against the wishes of China's Communist Party, Borodin held to Moscow's line: a broad front was to be maintained while China went through the stages necessary to prepare for a communist future. This line became harder to hold after Sun's death, but Borodin clung to it--even following Chiang's massacre of Shanghai's Communists in 1927. Later that year, Moscow's policies collapsed and Borodin himself had to flee China. As the title indicates, Jacobs sees Borodin as Stalin's ""man""--which would account for Borodin's relatively good treatment back in Moscow, where he did not have to pay the price for Moscow's failure because it was Stalin's failure too. But after holding assorted jobs (including editorship of a Kremlin mouthpiece for English readers), Borodin fell victim to the last gasp of Stalin's paranoia, and died after two years in a prison camp in 1951. We may not come away knowing the man very well, but we have a vivid sense of the perils of being a revolutionary political functionary.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press