LENIN’S PRIVATE WAR by Lesley Chamberlain


The Voyage of the Philosophy Steamer and the Exile of the Intelligentsia
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Companion to Chamberlain’s Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia (2007, etc.) detailing the Bolshevik suppression of non- and anti-Bolshevik intellectuals.

Lenin, no enemy of intellectuals as such, was at least good enough to send his philosophical opponents into exile, even some who had supported the Whites in the bloody Civil War; by the time Stalin came to power, the exile was to the Siberian gulag or the grave. But it is true, as Chamberlain reveals, that Lenin had developed a rather particular hit list by the summer of 1922, including professors, physicians, writers and especially “Petrograd writers” and “Anti-Soviet agronomists and cooperatists.” Chamberlain catalogues Lenin’s quarry, most from Moscow and St. Petersburg. One was the Christian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, who considered himself a socialist and whose sin of commission was, writes Chamberlain, that he “spoke for something decent and good, at once radically modern and medieval, and he was wise about Russia.” Not so Lenin, who sent Berdyaev and many other Orthodox thinkers out of the country on a slow steamer out of Kronstadt, off into exile to places such as Prague, Berlin and Paris. Some were taken decades later by the Red Army and went to the gulag after all; most, such as Berdyaev, died without ever seeing Russia again. Surprisingly, one of Lenin’s targets, the novelist Evgeny Zamyatin (We), “avoided deportation in 1922 but left with permission from Stalin in 1931.” Almost all of the exiles continued their scholarly and literary work, writing at difficulty and at a distance from their sources; if anything, their stature as critics of the Soviet regime was furthered and enhanced by being outside the country and free to speak.

Readers of Solzhenitsyn, Nabokov and other exiles may not know of these figures, many of whom are obscure even to Russians. Though the story is but a footnote to history, Chamberlain makes good work of it.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-312-36730-5
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2007


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