Review: Bruce Lockhart - "Memoirs of a British Agent"

R.H. Bruce Lockhart was a British Government agent in Russia before and after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He met all the main leaders of the Tsarist regime, the Provisional Government as well as the Soviet leaders, Lenin and Trotsky. His first-hand experiences and lucid observations were published in his remarkable book entitled Memoirs of a British Agent in 1932. It became an instant best-seller in Britain and America. Although it presents things from the standpoint of a staunch supporter of the British establishment, it is nevertheless a fascinating account.

Coming from a privileged upper class background, Lockhart found employment in the higher echelons of the British Foreign Office. In early 1912, he was responsible for overseeing a Parliamentary Delegation to Russia and was soon appointed as Vice-Consul at the British Consulate in Moscow. In this capacity, he met a whole host of dignitaries with connections to Russian upper class life.

The Tsar and the War

The First Word War proved a fundamental turning-point. The tsarist regime entered the war with great confidence and its early triumphs stiffened its resolve. However, the wave of patriotism which swept the country did not last.

Russia was dominated by the autocratic Tsar Nicholas and above all his wife, the Tsarina. His blind obstinacy gave rise to frequent frictions within the regime. “Moscow, always much more anti-German that St Petersburg, was a perfect cesspool of rumours of pro-German intrigues in high places”, writes Lockhart. In his diary for February 1915, he notes, “Today an officer telephoned to ask when England was going to rid Russia of ‘the German woman’”, which was a reference to the Empress. “This is the third time that this kind of thing has happened this week.” It was to happen still more frequently as the months passed.

Things started going badly on the German front. The Russian advance into Austria had stalled. Lockhart reported the growing anti-government mood, with increasing socialist anti-government and anti-war agitation taking place amongst the workers. There was a growing antagonism between the masses and the regime, especially against the Tsarina. Riots broke out in Moscow. “For the first time since 1905”, wrote Lockhart, “the mob had felt its power. It's appetite for disorder had been whetted.”

Lockhart greatly admired the British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, who had foreseen the catastrophe that was approaching and attempted to warn the Russian autocracy. But to no avail. One day, Buchanan went to see the Tsar personally. “He informed me that if the Emperor received him sitting down all would be well. The Tsar received him standing.” Typical of the Foreign Office, Buchanan was treated as a scapegoat for the coming revolution.

“To the aristocracy”, states Lockhart, “the complete absolutism of the Tsar was something more than a religion. It was the rock on which its own sheltered existence was built.”

Things got progressively worse on the Russian front. There was retreat in Galicia and the Carpathians as the Germans advanced on Warsaw, which finally fell in the summer of 1915. Rumours quickly spread of Russian troops manning trenches with no guns or ammunition. But there were worse things to come.

The Liberal politicians politely demanded reforms and more representative government. But the authorities resisted, fearing that reforms would open the road to revolution. “The Tsar’s reply was to dissolve the Duma and dismiss the most popular ministers. He then appointed himself ‘Supreme Commander’”, states Lockhart. “It was the most fatal of the many blunders of the unfortunate Nicholas II, for Commander-in-Chief he became personally responsible in the eyes of the people for the long succession of defeats which owing to Russia’s technical difficulties were now inevitable.”

“In my own mind, the feeling of inevitable disaster became stronger and stronger”, he wrote. “The inexorable hand of fate was already stretched out over the ruling class of Russia.” Rasputin, the mad monk, had so much influence over the Tsarina and the Tsar, that it caste a cloak of mysticism over the whole regime. “Under the strain of so much madness the last props of Tsarism were falling away.”

There was increasing discontent not only in the villages but also in the trenches. The Tsar simply brushed this to one side. “What is all this talk about my people’s confidence?” he barked. “Let the people merit my confidence.”

Not surprisingly, the Tsar and Tsarina were great admirers of the fascist Black Hundreds and their pogroms against the Jews.

The revolution begins

Lockhart reveals that the atmosphere in St Petersburg was more depressing than ever. “Champagne flowed like water”, he wrote, describing the frivolity of the upper classes. “And in the streets were the long queues of ill-clad men and garrulous women, waiting for the bread that never came.”Putilov workers during February Revolution. left banner Feed the children of the defenders right banner Increase payments to the soldiers families defenders of freedom and world peace Public Domain

In the factories, revolutionary propaganda had a huge impact. The shortage of bread provoked a series of riots. Then, on 12th March (new calendar) a bread riot turned into a “revolution”, to use Lockhart’s words. Within five days, the old regime had collapsed and the Tsar had fled. “In Moscow there was no bloodshed. There was no one left to defend the old regime”, notes Lockhart. “My most vivid memory of that afternoon was the warmth of the surging mob before the Town Duma.”

"What is important to realise is that from the first the revolution was a revolution of the people”, explained Lockhart. Describing the sweep of the revolution, he says that “The floodgates of three hundred years had been swept away.” The Allies were stunned by the revolution, which they were forced to greet “first with feigned enthusiasm and then with increasing alarm.”

As in 1905, the revolution threw up workers’ councils or Soviets. The old regime had collapsed and power was in their hands. However, under the influence of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, they handed power to a Provisional government, headed by Prince Lvov. “He would have made an excellent chairman of the London County Council,” writes Lockhart. The Provisional Government was composed of bourgeois representatives, who threw away their tsarist braids for “democratic” credentials.

The Allied powers were desperate to get the new Provisional government to continue the war. However, the masses wanted bread, land and above all peace. The new government resisted these demands, and therefore became increasingly unpopular. Even when the “socialist” Kerensky assumed the premiership, there was no change of policy.

“Caught between the cross-fires of the Bolshevik Left”, explains Lockhart, “which was screaming peace at every street-corner and in every trench, and the Right and of the Allies who were demanding the restoration of discipline by Tsarist methods, he [Kerensky] had no chance. And he fell, because whoever had tried to do what he did was bound to fail.”

The Soviets under pressure from the masses talked of “peace without annexations”. But as Lockhart reveals, “It was a formulae which caused considerable annoyance and even anxiety to the English and French governments, which had already divided up the spoils of victory not yet won, in the form of both annexations and contributions.”

Bolsheviks in power

Finally, in September, the Bolsheviks succeeded in winning a majority in the Soviets on the basis of bread, land and peace and all power to the Soviets. Within a month, the Bolsheviks were in power. “I had long foreseen the inevitability of the Bolshevik Revolution”, states Lockhart. “I could not share the general belief, stimulated by the opinion of nearly all the Russian experts in London that the Lenin regime could not last more than a few weeks and that then Russia would revert to Tsarism or a military dictatorship.” He then adds, “Rather futilely I sought to combat the firmly-rooted conviction that Lenin and Trotsky were German staff officers in disguise or at least servile agents of German policy.”Lenin arrives in Petrograd Fair Use

Lockhart had been forced to leave Russia for medical reasons before the Bolsheviks had taken power but was soon sent back to “unofficially” establish links with the Bolsheviks. However, his diplomacy ended in failure as the push for military intervention by the imperialist powers gained the upper hand. 

The October Revolution was greeted favourably by workers everywhere. However, the capitalists internationally saw it as a deadly threat. The Russian bourgeois were desperate to overthrow the revolution by any means they could and get back “their” property. As Lockhart explained, “The one aim of every Russian bourgeois (and 99 per cent of the so-called ‘loyal’ Russians were bourgeois) was to secure the intervention of British troops (and, failing British, German troops) to re-establish order in Russia, suppress Bolshevism and restore to the bourgeois his property.”

“The consensus of official opinion in London seemed to be that Bolshevism would be swept away within a few weeks”, explained Lockhart. The bourgeoisie were openly delighted at the prospect of a German advance, which had emboldened the anti-Bolshevik press to attack the Bolsheviks with a frenzied fury.

Lenin and Trotsky

When Lockhart returned to Moscow he had an interview with Trotsky in the Russian Foreign Office. “He struck me as perfectly honest and sincere in his bitterness against the Germans”, he says. “He has a wonderfully quick mind and a rich, deep voice. With his broad chest, his huge forehead, surmounted by great masses of black, waving hair, his strong, fierce eyes, and his heavy protruding lips, he is the very incarnation of the revolutionary of the bourgeois caricatures.”trotsky lenin petrograd

He also met with Lenin. “He received me in a small room on the same floor as Trotsky's. It was untidy and bare of all trappings except a writing desk and a few plain chairs. It was not only my first interview with Lenin. It was the first time that I had set eyes on him… Yet in those steely eyes there was something that arrested my attention, something in that quizzing, half-contemptuous, half-smiling look which spoke of boundless self-confidence and conscious superiority.”

“Later I was to acquire a considerable respect for his intellectual capacity, but at that moment I was more impressed by his tremendous will-power, his relentless determination, and his lack of emotion.”

Lockhart gives a frank appraisal of life in St. Petersburg during this period. “The Bolsheviks had not yet succeeded in establishing the iron discipline which today (1932) characterises their regime”, he says. “They had, in fact, made little attempt to do so. There was no terror, nor was the population particularly afraid of its new masters. The anti-Bolshevik newspapers continued to appear and to attack the Bolshevik policy with violent abuse… The bourgeoisie, still confident that the Germans would soon send the Bolshevik rabble about its business, was more cheerful than one might have expected in such disturbing circumstances. The population was starving, but the rich still had money. Restaurants and cabarets were still open, and the cabarets at any rate were crowded.”

Lockhart actually pins the blame for violence not on the Bolsheviks but on the imperialists. This is in complete contradiction to today’s “historians”, who do everything to blacken the name of the Bolsheviks. “I mention this comparative tolerance of the Bolsheviks, because the cruelties which followed later were the result of the intensification of the civil war. For the intensification of that bloody struggle, (the) Allied intervention, with the false hopes it raised, was largely responsible… I do suggest that our intervention intensified the terror and increased the bloodshed.”

Lockhart reveals that the situation was so easy going, that the Bolsheviks gave him practically a free hand. He was even able to attend a meeting of the Executive Meeting of the Soviets. Again, this flies in the face of those modern-day “historians” who are keen to play up the so-called dictatorship of the Bolsheviks. “We had no difficulty in seeing the various Commissars”, relates Lockhart. “We were even allowed to be present at certain meetings of the Central Executive Committee. On one occasion we went to hear the debate on the new army. In those early days the Bolshevik Parliament held its meetings in the main restaurant of the Metropole Hotel, which had been renamed the ‘First House of Soviets.’”

At the debate he met Lenin, Trotsky (who spoke) and Radek. He says he also shook hands with another man. “I paid little attention to him. He himself said nothing. He did not seem of sufficient importance to include in my gallery of Bolshevik portraits. If he had been announced then to the assembled Party as the successor of Lenin, the delegates would have roared with laughter. The man was the Georgian Djugashvilli, known today to the whole world as Stalin, the man of steel.”

This again confirms the position of Stalin as a “grey blob” of the revolution, only brought to power with the victory of the bureaucracy.

Imperialism, counter-revolution, and civil war

Lockhart reveals the actions of the German occupation, which supported the counter-revolution. “They had set up a bourgeois Russian Government in the Ukraine, whose first action was to restore the land to its former owners. This naturally provoked a peasant revolt which was suppressed with great cruelty.”

“Moreover, the military support which the Germans had afforded to the White Finns in the Finnish civil war, was another factor to our advantage. Germany seemed to be taking the side of reaction.”

The Allied armies also sided with the Whites. The British intervention did not take place until 4th August. Lockhart relates that “as a result of the increased danger which now threatened them, the Bolsheviks tightened up their discipline.”

“The Whites were led to believe that Allied military support would be forthcoming in decisive strength. The figure generally mentioned was two Allied divisions for Archangel and several Japanese divisions for Siberia. Encouraged by these hopes, the anti-Bolshevik forces began to increase their activities. On 21st June, Volodarsky, the Bolshevik Commissar for Press Affairs in St. Petersburg, was assassinated on his return from a meeting at the Obuchoff Works. The Bolshevik reply was swift. In his speech to the St. Petersburg Soviet, Uritski, the head of the local Cheka, made a violent attack on England in which he accused the English of organising the dead Commissar's murder. The next day Schastny, the Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Fleet, who had been a prisoner in the Kremlin, was condemned to death and shot. At the trial, Trotsky distinguished himself by the violence of his language. The Terror was beginning.”

Clearly, the Bolsheviks were involved in a defence of the revolution, attacked by both the Whites and the Allied Powers. Lockhart conspired with the counter-revolutionaries. “...I increased my contact with the anti-Bolshevik forces”, states Lockhart. “As far as we were concerned, they were represented in Moscow by an organisation called the ‘Centre,’ which was subdivided into two wings of Left and Right, and by the League of the Regeneration of Russia founded by Savinkoff. [...] The White generals regarded Savinkoff with suspicion. Indeed, about this period I received a letter from General Alexeieff in which he stated that he would sooner co-operate with Lenin and Trotsky than with Savinkoff or Kerensky. Both organisations were agreed on one point only. They wanted Allied aid and Allied money.”

The Bolsheviks faced a new threat. This time from the Left Social-Revolutionaries, who were part of the government, but who resigned in protest at the Brest Litovsk treaty. “Secretly, the Left Social-Revolutionaries began to prepare fantastic plans for the overthrow of the Bolshevik Government and for a renewal of the war with Germany.”

The foreign intervention added to the alarm. According to Lockhart, “It raised hopes which could not be fulfilled. It intensified the civil war and sent thousands of Russians to their death. Indirectly, it was responsible for the Terror.”

Lockhart’s book is very revealing. The fact that it is written by an opponent of Bolshevism is even more remarkable. It is certainly far more honest than the books churned out today about the Russian revolution.