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H. G. Wells made three visits to Russia, this book being the result of his second in 1920. It’s an understatement to say it was an interesting time to be in Russia. The Bolshevists were in power but still hardly in control, the Civil War having only just ended. The country was in a state of exhaustion and collapse. Wells visited St Petersburg and Moscow, and, most memorably, had an interview with Lenin (the chapter is called ‘The Dreamer in the Kremlin’).
The tone of the book is remarkably fair-minded and realistic, much to the annoyance of the right-wing press at the time in Great Britain, but Wells does have delicious fun at the expense of Marx. Here he is commenting on Das Kapital, ‘his vast unfinished work … a cadence of wearisome volumes about such phantom unrealities as the bourgeoisie and proletariat, a book for ever maundering away into tedious secondary discussions …’
And better still, here he is on Marx’s beard: ‘About two-thirds of the face of Marx is beard, a vast, solemn, woolly, uneventful beard that must have made all normal exercise impossible. It is not the sort of beard that happens to a man, it is a beard, cultivated, cherished, and thrust patriarchally upon the world. It is exactly like Das Kapital in its inane abundance …’
This book deserves a higher place in the H. G. Wells canon, it is journalism of the first order providing reading of interest and continuing relevance.
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