David Shub

David Shub was born into a Jewish family in Fastiv, Ukraine, in 1887. He became involved in politics and joined the Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903. Shub later became associated with the Mensheviks group.

In 1904 Shub left Russia and lived in London, Paris and Geneva where he met and worked with George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Leon Trotsky, Vera Zasulich, Jules Martov, Lenin, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Nickolai Bukharin and Victor Chernov.

Shub returned to Russia to participate in the 1905 Revolution. In 1906 he was arrested for revolutionary activity and sentenced to internal exile in Siberia. Shub escaped in 1908 and made his way to the United States and kept in close contact with the Russian political figures. He was highly critical of his former Mensheviks colleagues for not joining the opposition to the Bolshevik government during the Civil War.

In 1924 he joined the staff of the Jewish Daily Forward, a post he held for over 48 years. Shub wrote in three languages, English, Russian and Yiddish. In 1930 Shub published an highly critical article on Joseph Stalin in the New York Times. Over the next twenty years he wrote extensively about the Russian Revolution including his acclaimed biography of Lenin.

Books by Shub include Heroes and Martyrs (1939), Lenin: A Biography (1948), Social Thinkers and Fighters (1968) and Political Figures: Russia, 1850–1928 (1969). Shub's memoirs, From Bygone Days, were published in 1970.

David Shub died aged 86 at Miami Beach on 27th May, 1973.

Primary Sources


(1) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

To build that 'strongly organized party' was Lenin's main objective. Although sufficiently concerned with every comma that appeared in Iskra to do the proof-reading himself, he allowed Martov, Potresov and Zasulich to do much of the editing, while he followed closely the workings of the Iskra machinery inside Russia. There the fight against the Economists and other revisionist groups was carried by Iskra supporters into the underground Social Democratic committees and workers' organizations. Iskra also conducted a strong campaign against the use of individual terrorism as a political weapon. Discussions on this subject raged for weeks on end. It was not easy to convince men bred in the tradition of the People's Will to abandon political assassination in the fight against Tsarism.

To combat all forms of heresy Iskra agents in Russia started an intensive campaign of propaganda and agitation among workers and students. Lenin drew this distinction between propaganda and agitation... To carry their message home, Iskra agents distributed leaflets and newspapers at every opportunity. They addressed special leaflets to the intellectuals, to workers in various industries, dealing with their specific problems. Often the Social Democratic committees took the lead in organizing strikes. (There were no legal trade unions at the time.) More intensive propaganda was conducted in small clandestine groups called 'circles'.

But systematic work was impossible. It was difficult to find safe quarters, arrests were frequent, propagandizing was a dangerous business. Moreover, educated propagandists were hard to find; when one was arrested his circle usually disintegrated because there was no one to take his place. Although the curriculum of the propaganda circles called for between six and ten lectures, the course was seldom completed. In many cases the lecture consisted of reading lskra to the members. Each issue gave the propagandists material for discussion, for winning new adherents. Workers to whom the propagandist read several copies often became sufficiently interested to read the paper to their comrades. Thus Iskra passed from hand to hand, until the newsprint was so worn it could barely be read.

Most of the early Iskra propagandists were university and high-school students. These young men and girls were full of enthusiasm and revolutionary romanticism, but they were short on practical experience. Satisfying the curiosity of mature, albeit poorly schooled workers was a difficult assignment for the young zealots.

Often they had little actual knowledge of the conditions under which the workers who made up their audience lived, and frequently their answers to questions of economics rang false. Later, in the large cities, propagandists drawn from the ranks of self-educated workers began to appear and to exert a larger influence among their comrades.

Agitation was carried on by various means. In some cases one trained man read the latest issue of a legal newspaper to his fellow workers, injecting his comments. At the same time he tried to pick out those among his listeners who showed promise. These he took in hand, and furnished with 'legal' books on current problems. If the worker showed interest, he was given clandestine literature. After a probationary period he became a member of the Party.

(2) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

Lenin understood quite clearly that the success of his blueprint for tight party organization depended on the degree of discipline he could enforce from the start. He began, therefore, by pushing through a motion which set up a presidium consisting entirely of Iskra men, with Plekhanov as chairman and himself and Pavlovich-Krasikov as vice-chairmen.

He won on this motion, despite the protests of Martov that the procedure was undemocratic. This was the opening skirmish in the Lenin-Martov battle which was soon to have far more serious repercussions.

Later, Lenin admitted quite frankly that the purpose of his move had been to wield the 'iron fist' against all Social Democratic groups that resisted Iskra's control over the Party.

Lenin lost to Martov, however, by a vote of twenty-three to twenty-eight on the wording of the rules defining Party membership. Lenin wanted to limit membership to those who not only subscribed to the party programme but participated actively in one of its organizations. Martov, on the other hand, was willing to admit all who accepted the programme and gave the Party 'regular personal cooperation under the guidance of one of its organizations'.

To many delegates this difference seemed merely verbal. Actually the minor variation in language contained the fissionable element that was to smash the Social Democratic Party into its ultimately irreconcilable Bolshevik and Menshevik factions.

Although Martov carried the Congress by a small margin on the paragraph defining Party membership, Lenin won on almost every other important issue. And he owed his victories largely to Plekhanov's support.

The members of Lenin's 1903 majority became known as 'Bolsheviks' (after bolshinstvo, the Russian word for majority), Martov's group were dubbed 'Mensheviks' (after menshirestvo, meaning minority).

The Congress voted for the dissolution of all independent Party organizations and their fusion into a single Party apparatus. After this vote the Bund and a number of other groups walked out. This left the Iskra group in complete command. But the elimination of the dissident factions brought no harmony. The fight between Martov and Lenin continued, with Plekhanov lining up on Lenin's side.

Lenin won on his motion for cutting the Iskra editorial board to three - himself, Plekhanov and Martov. This meant the elimination of Axelrod, Potresov and Zasulich - all of whom were Martov supporters in the growing ideological war between Lenin and Martov. Lenin was confident that in this three-man board he could wield control. Plekhanov would not take an active part in the day-to-day politics of the paper and on the broad issues Lenin felt certain Plekhanov would support him against Martov.

His confidence was reinforced by Plekhanov's fateful speech at the Congress on the subject of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. On Lenin's insistence Plekhanov had already written in the programme draft that the concept of proletarian dictatorship includes 'the suppression of all social movements which directly or indirectly threaten the interests of the proletariat'.

A delegate named Akimov-Makhnovetz spoke against the dictatorship clause, pointing out that no such provision was to be found in the programme of a single European Socialist Party.

Plekhanov replied by telling the delegates that `every democratic principle must be appraised not separately and abstractly, but in its relation to what may be regarded as the basic principle of democracy; namely, that salus populi lax suprenra est. Translated into a revolutionist's language, it means that the success of the revolution is the supreme law.

(3) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

In the early days the Soviet set for itself the task of spreading and consolidating the revolutionary gains and fighting military and ideological attacks from the Right. The Soviet was not a conventional parliamentary body. It functioned from day to day, without set rules. Its membership soon reached 2,000; by the middle of March it had 3,000 delegates.

It was to the Soviet that Rodzianko appealed for permission to secure a train to see the Tsar; it was the Soviet that stopped the general strike, reopened the factories and restored streetcar traffic.

At the Duma the situation was still chaotic. No one knew what would happen next. Kerensky and Chkheidze, accompanied by several other Socialist deputies, took a bold chance. They appeared on the streets and made a direct appeal to the soldiers to join the rebellion. The soldiers responded.

With their mandate from the Petrograd Soviet, Kerensky and Chkheidze now persuaded the majority of the Duma to elect a Provisional Committee to take over the reins of government. Both became members of this committee.

The walls of the city were plastered with the first issue of Izvestia, calling on the people to complete the overthrow of the Tsarist regime and pave the way for a democratic government.

"The fight must go on to the end. The old powers must be completely overthrown to make way for popular government. All together, with our forces united we shall battle to wipe out completely the old government and call a Constituent Assembly", the proclamation read.

The Tsar's Council of Ministers now offered to disband and to instruct Prince George Lvov or Rodzianko to form a new cabinet. Frantically Grand Duke Mikhail telephoned Chief of Staff General Alexeyev, asking him to make an eleventh-hour appeal to the Emperor to grant a responsible Ministry. The Tsar replied that he was grateful for his brother's advice but would do nothing of the kind. He did not know that the Duma conservatives were already swept into the background by the revolutionary masses of workers and soldiers.

(4) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

On 30 July Kerensky appointed Boris Savinkov, former Political Commissar of the Eighth Army, as deputy Minister of War, at the same time naming as Commander in Chief General Kornilov, a man characterized by General Brusilov as "a man with the heart of a lion and the brains of a lamb". The son of a Siberian Cossack, General Lavr Kornilov had distinguished himself during the retreat of the Eighth Army in Galicia. After the Revolution, he had briefly commanded the Petrograd garrison. Transferred to the south-western front, he took command once more of the Eighth Army, where he met Savinkov, a right-wing Socialist Revolutionary and former terrorist. On 19 July the Executive Committee of the south-western front had wired Kerensky requesting that the armies of the front "be placed under the command of a leader capable of uniting and inspiring all the wavering elements and securing a victorious offensive by the sheer force and determination of his will". The next day Kornilov received the appointment.

Three days later Kornilov demanded an immediate cessation of the offensive on all sectors, in order to preserve the Army, and the introduction of the death penalty for deserters at the front. His demands were met, and within another week Kornilov was Commander in Chief of all the Russian armies.

Kornilov and Kerensky saw eye to eye in military matters, although neither man trusted the other. Both felt that demoralization at the front and growing unrest in the rear would ultimately bring defeat and total chaos for Russia. Kornilov, in addition, wanted to eliminate the influence of the Soviets and 'Bolshevik Petrograd'. For the businessmen and Cadets, who stood on the right fringe of the Revolution, Kornilov represented `the salvation of the motherland'.

(5) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

Promptly upon his arrival in Petrograd Lenin took over the task of preparing the armed uprising. At a secret meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee on 23 October 1917, attended by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Trotsky, Sverdlov, Uritsky, Dzerzhinsky, Kollontai, Bubnov, Sokolnikov and Lomov, Lenin insisted that the Bolshevik uprising could not wait for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly.

"The international situation is such that we must make a start," Lenin said. `The indifference of the masses may be explained by the fact that they are tired of words and resolutions. The majority is with us now. Politically things are quite ripe for the change of power. The agrarian disorders point to the same thing. It is clear that heroic measures will be necessary to stop this movement, if it can be stopped at all. The political situation therefore makes our plan timely. We must now begin thinking of the technical side of the undertaking. That is the main thing now. But most of us, like the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, are still inclined to regard the systematic preparation for an armed uprising as a sin. To wait for the Constituent Assembly, which will surely be against us, is nonsensical because that will only make our task more difficult."

A long and bitter discussion followed Lenin's summons to insurrection. "Late at night, probably past midnight, the decision was reached", recalls Yakovleva. "The meeting lasted about ten hours without a break, until far into the night", Trotsky wrote in 1933. Eleven years earlier, when the details were fresher in his mind, he had declared, "The meeting lasted all night, people began to leave at dawn. I and some other comrades remained to sleep over."

The official Soviet version is as follows: "Lenin proposed the organization of an armed uprising; this proposal was enthusiastically endorsed by all participants, with the exception of Zinoviev and Kamenev. On 7 November 1917, Lenin's plans were translated into action."

But, according to Trotsky's reminiscences, published in Moscow in 1922, Lenin's proposal for immediate revolt met with very little enthusiasm.

"The debate was stormy, disorderly, chaotic", wrote Trotsky. "The question now was no longer only the insurrection as such; the discussion spread to fundamentals, to the basic goals of the Party, the Soviets; were they necessary? What for? Could they be dispensed with?"

"The most striking thing", said Trotsky in 1922, "was the fact that people began to deny the possibility of the insurrection at the given moment; the opponents even reached the point in their arguments where they denied the importance of a Soviet Government..."

In the early hours of the morning Lenin finally won his victory.

"Hastily, with a stub of a pencil, on a sheet of graph paper torn from a child's exercise book, he wrote: "The Party calls for the organization of an armed insurrection." 'The resolution was put to a vote. The official minutes record: "Votes in favour - 10; against-2." But Trotsky claims: "I do not remember the proportion of the votes, but I know that 5 or 6 were against it. There were many more votes in favour, probably about 9, but I do not vouch for the figures."

(6) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

The immediate calling of the Constituent Assembly had been one of Lenin's main slogans from April to November 1917. One of the most serious charges made against the Provisional Government by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and the entire Bolshevik Press was that it did not intend to hold elections for this legislative body. Time and again Lenin had promised that when the Bolsheviks took power the Assembly would be speedily convened.

On 5 November 1917, two days before the Bolshevik coup, Stalin wrote in Pravda: "Having overthrown the Tsar, the people thought that within two or three months the Constituent Assembly would be summoned. But the convocation of the Constituent Assembly has already been postponed once and its foes are preparing for its final destruction. Why? Because in power sit enemies of the people, for whom the timely convocation of the Constituent Assembly is not profitable."

The Bolshevik pledge was plain enough. But the Bolshevik leaders were well aware that the elections, scheduled by the Provisional Government for 25 November, would not give them control of the Constituent Assembly. On the other hand, after having taken power they could not flatly repudiate their promise.

"On the very first day, if not the first hour of the Revolution," relates Trotsky, "Lenin brought up the question of the Constituent Assembly. "We must postpone the elections. We must extend the right of suffrage to those who have reached their maturity (eighteen years). We must outlaw the adherents of Kornilov and the Cadets", said Lenin.

"We tried to argue with him that it would not look right. We ourselves had accused the Provisional Government of delaying the elections to the Constituent Assembly.

"Nonsense," Lenin replied. "It is facts that are important, not words."

Despite considerable Bolshevik coercion, the election results were even worse than Lenin had expected. In the overwhelming majority of electoral districts. the elections were held on 25 November 1917 - more than a fortnight after the Bolshevik seizure of power. In other districts, the voting took place on 1 and 7 December.

Nevertheless, in a total vote of 41,686,000, the Bolsheviks received only 9,844,000 - less than 25 per cent of the electorate. The Socialist Revolutionaries received 17,490,000; Ukrainian Socialist parties (mostly allied with the Socialist Revolutionaries) 4,957,000; Mensheviks 1,248,000; Constitutional Democrats 1,986,000; candidates of Moslem parties and other national minorities some 3,300,000. Of 707 deputies, the Socialist Revolutionaries elected 370, a clear majority; the Bolsheviks only 175; the pro-Lenin Left Socialist Revolutionaries 40; Cadets 17, Mensheviks 16, national minority groups and others 99. The Russian people, in the freest election in their history, voted for moderate democratic socialism against Lenin and against the bourgeoisie.

From the standpoint of Soviet public relations, no more disastrous result was possible. A "reactionary" victory would have been easier to handle. But Lenin was prepared, even for this.

On 10 December 1917, the Bolsheviks arrested Pavel Dolgorukov, Fyodor Kokoshkin and Andrey Shingarev, Cadet deputies to the Constituent Assembly. Three days later, they issued a decree proclaiming Cadet leaders "enemies of the people", subject to arrest and trial by revolutionary tribunals. The decree nevertheless concluded with the statement that `the country can be saved only by a Constituent Assembly made up of representatives of the labouring and exploited classes of the people".

In spite of this assurance, a few days later the Bolsheviks arrested a number of prominent Socialist Revolutionaries who had been elected to the Constituent Assembly. These included Nicolai Avksentvev, chairman of the All-Russian Soviet of Peasant Deputies, Andrey Argunov, Alexander Gukovsky, Pitirim Sorokin and others. Many other Socialist leaders escaped arrest only by going into hiding.

(7) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

Kronstadt was the proudest bastion of the Bolshevik Revolution. The sailors of the island fortress off Petrograd had marched against Kerensky in July 1917 and had stormed the Winter Palace in November to install Lenin in power. Later, when Red Petrograd was threatened by General Yudenich, the Kronstadt sailors had rallied to the defence of the Soviet regime.

On 1 March 1921, the sailors of Kronstadt revolted against Lenin. Mass meetings of 15,000 men from various ships and garrisons passed resolutions demanding immediate new elections to the Soviet by secret ballot; freedom of speech and the press for all left-wing Socialist parties; freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant organizations; abolition of Communist political agencies in the Army and Navy; immediate withdrawal of all grain requisitioning squads, and re-establishment of a free market for the peasants.

The Kronstadt revolt came as the climax of a series of rebellions, disturbances and protests embracing large areas of Russia. As a result of 'War Communism', Russia in March 1921 was on the verge of economic collapse and new civil war in which foreign intervention played no part. The White Armies had been decisively defeated in the autumn of 1919, and were no longer a factor after the capture and execution of Kolchak and the departure of Denikin early in 1920.

(8) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

Lenin might well have said: "I created the Bolshevik Party. I was the brain of the November Revolution. Several times, when our power seemed about to crumble, I saved it by bold improvisation, by signing an unpopular peace in 1918, by introducing the NEP in 1921. I created the Comintern and gave it the revolutionary theory and strategy through which Russian Bolshevism became a world force. Lenin could rightfully have said all this, but never did, for no dictator in history was less vain. In fact he was repelled by all attempts on the part of the men around him to set him on a pedestal.

When the Moscow Committee of the Bolshevik Party staged a celebration on his fifticth birthday he refused to listen to the eulogizing speeches. In order not to offend the audience, he appeared for a moment, but only after the barrage of idolatry was over.

"Comrades," he said, "I must thank you for two things: for today's greetings and even more for excusing me from listening to the anniversary speeches."

The fulsome praise constantly heaped on him by the Soviet newspapers disturbed him even more. "What is it for?" he asked Bonch-Bruyevich, showing him some of the headlines: "I find it difficult to read the papers. Wherever you look, they write about me. I consider this completely un-Marxist emphasis on an individual extremely harmful. It is bad, entirely inadmissible, and unnecessary. And these portraits? Everywhere! What is the purpose of all this?"

In reply to a Comintern question whether he spoke any foreign language fluently, Lenin wrote "none", although he spoke at the Comintern's Third Congress in very good German, only occasionally being at a loss for the precise word he wanted. "What are your specialities?" asked the questionnaire of the Tenth Party Congress in 1921. "None", replied Lenin.

(9) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

On 20 December 1917, Lenin instructed Dzerzhinsky to organize an Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Speculation. Under the name Cheka, this Soviet secret police soon became the symbol for a system of terror such as the world had never seen. In later years its name was changed to OGPU, NKVD, MVD, KGB, but its purpose remained the same. Dzerzhinsky became the first head of the Cheka.

In his first address as chief of the Soviet secret police Dzerzhinsky declared: "This is no time for speech-making. Our Revolution is in serious danger. We tolerate too good-naturedly what is transpiring around us. The forces of our enemies are organizing. The counter-revolutionaries are at work and are organizing their groups in various sections of the country. The enemy is encamped in Petrograd, at our very hearth! We have indisputable evidence of this and we must send to this front the most stern, energetic, hearty and loyal comrades who are ready to do all to defend the attainments of our Revolution. Do not think that I am on the look-out for forms of revolutionary justice. We have no need for justice now. Now we have need of a battle to the death! I propose, I demand the initiation of the Revolutionary sword which will put an end to all counter-revolutionists. We must act not tomorrow, but today, at once!

Then followed a series of uncovered plots, some true, others fantastic, against the Bolsheviks and conspiracies against the lives of the leaders. In his little room Dzerzhinsky was constantly sharpening the weapon of the Soviet dictatorship. To Dzerzhinsky was brought the mass of undigested rumours from all parts of Petrograd. With the aid of picked squads of Chekists, Dzerzhinsky undertook to purge the city. At night his men moved from the dark streets into apartment houses; towards dawn they returned with i their haul. Few if any challenged the authority of these men. Their password was enough: Cheka, the all-powerful political police.

Little time was wasted sifting evidence and classifying people rounded up in these night raids. Woe to him who did not disarm all suspicion at once. The prisoners were generally hustled to the old police station not far from the Winter Palace. Here, with or without perfunctory interrogation, they were stood up against the courtyard wall and shot. The staccato sounds of death were muffled by the roar of truck motors kept going for the purpose.

Dzerzhinsky furnished the instrument for tearing a new society out of the womb of the old - the instrument of organized, systematic mass terror. For Dzerzhinsky the class struggle meant exterminating "the enemies of the working class". The "enemies of the working class" were all who opposed the Bolshevik dictatorship.

Furthermore, Dzerzhinsky was conscious that terror was perhaps the only means of making "proletarian dictatorship" prevail in peasant Russia. In a conversation with Abramovich, in August 1917, he expressed impatience with the conventional socialist view that the correlation of real political and social forces in a country could only change through the process of economic and political development, the evolution of new forms of economy, rise of new social classes, and so on. "Couldn't this correlation be altered?" Dzerzhinsky asked. "Say, through the subjection or extermination of some classes of society?"

Dzerzhinsky was the man who directed the actual operations of the Cheka, but Lenin assumed full responsibility for the terror. On 8 January 1918, the Council of People's Commissars set up battalions of bourgeois men and women to dig trenches. The Red Guards stationed as their 'surveillance' received the order to shoot anyone who resisted. A month later the All-Russian Cheka declared that "counter-revolutionary agitators" and also "all those trying to escape to the Don region in order to join the counter-revolutionary troops... will he shot on the spot by the Cheka squads".

The same punishment was ordered for those found distributing or posting anti-government leaflets. Not only political crimes were dealt with in this fashion. In Briansk the death penalty by shooting was ordered for drunkenness, and in Viatka the same was ordered for violators of the eight-o'clock curfew. In Rybinsk "shooting without warning" followed any congregation of people on the streets, and in the Kaluga province those failing to meet military levies in time were likewise ordered to be shot. The same "crime" was punished in Zmyev by drowning the victim in the Dniester River "with a stone around his neck".

(10) David Shub, letter to New International (March-April 1950)

My attention has been called to Mr. Max Shachtman’s article on my book Lenin, A Biography in your December 1949 issue. I am sufficiently familiar with the tradition of Bolshevik polemics not to be surprised by the abusive and defamatory character of Mr. Shachtman’s review. I reply in your columns only because I believe I am entitled to keep the record clear on the facts upon which Mr. Shachtman rests his case...

Mr. Shachtman finds it impossible to believe that when Martov, the veteran Russian Socialist leader – addressing the German Independent Socialist Party Congress in Halle in 1920 – spoke of the wholesale terror which Gregory Zinoviev had conducted in Petrograd, there were outcries in the hall of “Hangman” and “Bandit” directed at Zinoviev. Because these words do not appear in the published minutes, he claims they are a forgery. Mr. Shachtman goes on to charge that I invented the speech by Rudolf Hilferding, leader of the German Independent Socialists, which is quoted in the book. “It does not exist!” Mr. Shachtman proclaims in italics. Had Mr. Shachtman pursued his research beyond the minutes to the Berlin Freiheit, official organ of the Independent Socialist Party (editor-in-chief, Rudolf Hilferding), he would have found the epithets “hangman” and “bandit” hurled at Zinoviev, as well as the Hilferding speech – including Hilferding’s words, quoted in my book, which remain a classic Socialist indictment of Bolshevism. " Between us and the Bolsheviks there is not only a wide theoretical difference, but an impassable moral gulf. We realize that they are people with quite a different morality and ethics."