Review: Through Bolshevik Russia, by Mrs. Philip Snowden

Ethel Snowden.

I first learned of this book because Ethel Snowden was one of the European socialist and labour leaders who visited independent Georgia in 1920. Georgia was at that time ruled by the Mensheviks, democratic socialists who rejected the dictatorial rule of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In her account of that visit, she contrasted the happy, well-fed Georgians with the people she’d met during her earlier visit to Russia, which is the subject of this book.

Published in September 1920 while she was in Georgia, this book offers a surprisingly balanced and nuanced view of the Bolsheviks in power. Snowden was no fan of the Bolsheviks, and is furious at the “Extraordinary Commission”, the organisation that later became famous as the Cheka, the GPU, NKVD, KGB, and so on. But she meets many decent Bolsheviks, committed to making the revolution work. She is a strong opponent of the British blockade and British support for the White armies of Denikin and Kolchak.

Oddly, she doesn’t mention Georgia even once, though she encounters Russian Mensheviks. By this time, the Mensheviks, who enjoy a kind of semi-legality before the Bolsheviks finally outlaw them, are winning election after election in the local Soviets. But it is not to last.

The book is very clearly written, and Snowden fully understands the unfolding tragedy in Russia. A forgotten gem.