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Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution    by Robert Service order for
Spies and Commissars
by Robert Service
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

There's been much written about the Russian Revolution, its aftermath and the subsequent rise of Communism, but Robert Service sheds new light on some aspects of the well documented story that hasn't been discussed before.

Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution draws on declassified personal papers of the people who traded information, hobnobbed with the political elite in Petrograd and Moscow, arranged deals and went underground with the Red Army. The resulting narrative offers a balanced history of international espionage and intelligence played out during the early days of the Soviet period.

Noted historian Robert Service, who has written extensively on the history of Soviet Russia, exposes the dissolution of conventional diplomacy after the October Revolution and addresses the means used by both the West and Soviet governments to know what the other side was doing.

Because of the delicate political and economic situation after World War One, no major campaign was overtly launched to overthrow the new Soviet regime. As tensions grew and normal diplomatic relations disappeared, other means were devised to not only amass intelligence but to also possibly subvert the plans laid out by the new Russian government.

The author's contention is that not only high profile leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky shaped the country and charted its destiny. There were many other diplomats, reporters, intellectuals, dissidents, opportunistic businessmen and, of course, spies and commissars who had a hand in the proceedings.

Admittedly, no matter which end of the stick they held as they stirred the political pot, some of these individuals had little to no effect on the course of history, but there were others who were listened to and very influential.

'What happened in Petrograd in late 1917 transfigured global politics in the inter-war period,' writes Service. 'The October Revolution gave rise to questions which remain important today, questions that find expression in the polarities of democracy and dictatorship, justice and terror, social fairness and class struggle, ideological absolutism and cultural pluralism, national sovereignty and armed international intervention.'

Reading at times like a literary spy thriller, this book discusses colorful figures of the espionage world. Among their numbers are double agents, conmen and lovers, low-level functionaries and journalists.

You'll see how the U.S., Britain and France did all they could, short of war, to subvert Bolshevism. And, naturally, there's plenty of fascinating material about the bizarre plots, successes and blunders of both Soviet and Western espionage and subversion that marked this period.

A highly readable and interesting look at the early days of the Soviet Union from a different perspective, this is a book anyone who enjoys reading history will relish.

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