“Russia, my lords and gentlemen, is the decisive factor in the history of the world at the present time,” observed Britain’s then-Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill in 1919. In his new book, Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution, Oxford historian Robert Service shows that not only Churchill, but also most of the West, were aware of the emerging Soviet presence. For a crucial five years, though, the West remained passive while the new Bolshevik government teetered on the brink of failure.
Service offers an important lesson in international politics and foreign affairs. While diplomacy and peaceful negotiations should always be the preferred approach, early Soviet history proves that some situations call for military intervention. The millions of innocent Russian men, women, and children who perished under seven decades of Soviet rule would no doubt have traded everything for a chance at a government based on inalienable rights and free choice. By standing aside when they knew what was occurring in Russia, the allies condemned millions to tyranny. Service’s excellent book is a stark reminder to the free world that the price of freedom is high but sometimes needs to be paid.